An amuse-bouche for the weekend

In the middle of trying to write some articles on social science polarisation research, and tend the Truth and Integrity Project website and Twitter feed, I was asked to write an article ranking the Labor Shadow Cabinet from one to 10.

At 3 am the next morning it was one of those moments when you wake up wondering what on earth you have done. The only names you can think of are Penny Wong and Tanya Plibersek. If you wake your wife she’ll be furious and, if you are lucky, suggest you have left out Kristina Kenneally.

By next morning – despite the benefit of more than 50 years reporting on politics, being a Labor staffer, devising and advising on election campaigns and consulting to Federal and State Governments – the brain still wasn’t cooperating and coughing up names let alone judging their performance.

Penny Wong is obvious but for some reason her Senate Estimates forensic work looms larger than the name of her portfolio. Tanya Plibersek is easy because she’s married to an ex-colleague. At a dinner where she spoke I asked her a question about war powers reform and, before answering, she told the audience that I had given her husband a job after he got out of prison (this was before they met) and they all applauded. The Labor policy on war powers reform was not so enthusiastically received.

I had sent him books to read during his time inside and supported the Sydney office’s then major shareholder in welcoming him back.

But determined not to cheat by consulting Google the problem was contemplated during the morning swim. The problem then was that I couldn’t actually remember many Labor MPs at all let alone Shadow Cabinet Ministers.

Andrew Leigh sprung to mind because of his policy smarts, and I had read his books, but he’s only an assistant Minister and his intellectual qualities probably disqualify him from the Ministry.

Backbencher Julian Hill was uppermost because of his great riff in Parliament on variations on the word liar after the Deputy Speaker wouldn’t let him make the statement that Parliamentary practice said you could not call the Prime Minister a liar – even though that statement was a statement of absolute fact.

Our local member Josh Burns also came to mind because his cousin’s wife arranged a fund-raiser featuring a dinner of Ottolenghi recipes cooked by John Thwaites and the then Shadow Attorney-General, whoever that was, at Thwaites’ beachfront apartment. Giving the money was preferable to attending so I didn’t get to meet the proposed A-G.

At the pool a quick survey of the regulars got mixed responses. One said: “I think there are a couple of pretty good sheilas and that Penny Wong’s OK.” Another remembered he had seen  one who sounded like an American on TV. One wondered about Dan Andrews and another nominated Albo which has to a bit of a relief for Labor.

So there was nothing for it but Google which produced a pdf listing 24 Shadow Ministers and about 30 odd Shadow Assisting Ministers. That’s more than half the total of Labor members of the Representatives and the Senate.

Andrew Leigh scored as a Shadow Assistant Minister for Charities which seems to be a bit of a waste of his talents even given the need to make the life of ACNC CEO Gary Johns as difficult as he and the Government would like to make those of charities bold enough to suggest Australia needs reforms.

So how on earth do you rate them on a one to 10 basis? The first few, in order, are easy: 1. Penny Wong. 2. Tanya Plibersek. 3. Kristina Keneally. 4. Linda Burney (do we detect some form of pattern here?).

Reluctantly one has to concede that Bill Shorten may be unelectable as PM but he was a good Disability Minister and he has taken the issue up to a government which would love to dismantle the system.

As for the rest what’s to say about them? On policy development there would be a negative score. On visibility – even allowing for lack of opportunities in Opposition – it is probably a good thing they are invisible.

But you’re welcome to have a go yourself and if you’re lucky you might get your list beyond four.

What the social sciences tell us about polarisation part 3 will be on the blog on Sunday.