Kill Bill and the failure of a smear campaign

Bill Shorten

Kill Bill is a series of two movies produced by Quentin Tarantino during 2003 and 2004 as a homage to martial arts films, samurai cinema, blaxploitation and spaghetti westerns. In the opening scene, Bill, the leader of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, after learning a former member of the squad, Beatrix Kiddo, is pregnant with his child, shoots her in the head. Kiddo survives, plots her revenge against Bill, which finally occurs at the end of Kill Bill: Volume II.

‘Kill Bill’ is also the name of informal strategy currently used by the Liberal Party, in conjunction with the mainstream media, to kill off the career of Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten.

 

Implementing a ‘Kill Bill’ strategy suggests Malcolm Turnbull is cast in the role of Kiddo – appropriate on International Women’s Day – where politically, he’s alive but comatose – somehow, despite all of his ineptitude and self-inflicted damage, he still survives, suffering the political equivalence of engaging in a knife fight, surviving an attempted lethal injection, a fight with the yakuza army and the Crazy 88, buried alive in a coffin, and a final struggle in a trailer after almost being bitten by a black mamba.

That’s the Hollywood version of the politics, but what’s really happening on the ground in Canberra? And will the real-world ‘Kill Bill’ strategy work? Probably not.

Kill Bill

Bill Shorten has been ridiculed and underestimated ever since he became Leader of the Labor Party after they lost government at the 2013 election. Even the rank-and-file membership of the ALP rejected him, with only 40 per cent voting for him in the leadership vote, preferring his opponent in the two-candidate race, Anthony Albanese. The media has had a field day wherever possible, ridiculing Shorten’s preferred Prime Minister rating of 14 per cent in December 2015, fabricating reports about ‘Labor factional wars’ and regularly claiming there was a challenge coming from Albanese, even though ALP rules for challenges have been set at such a high threshold that this situation is rendered impossible. There is never an opportunity the mainstream media will miss when it comes to finding and reporting negative news about Shorten.

Part of this ‘Kill Bill’ strategy occurred this week over the Adani proposal to develop a coalmine in Northern Queensland. As part of my work, I watch a lot of media and listen to a lot of radio, and for four consecutive days, Shorten was asked exactly the same questions by journalists, and gave exactly the same responses – almost to the point where I’m very sure the answers he gave on day one, were replayed four days later, as if the media wanted to extend the stories which were pitched in an extremely damaging way for Shorten, suggesting he was “two-faced”, “untruthful”, “unreliable”, “wavering”, “dishonest” and, of course, that Australian term that nobody ever uses, “not fair dinkum”.

According to The Guardian, the former chief executive of Optus and now environmental activist, Geoff Cousins, “mowed down” Shorten after facing a “torrid week”. And this was during a week when all the political spectacle was taking place in the government offices of Senator Michaelia Cash and National Party MP, Barnaby Joyce – affairs, sexual innuendos, moving whiteboards – but no, it was Shorten who had the “torrid week”.

In essence, this is what occurred. Early this year, Shorten sought Cousins’ counsel about the Great Barrier Reef, flying over the proposed location of the Adani mine, spent a great deal of time meeting different activists, and received legal advice that the Adani mine can be revoked according to two pieces of federal legislation.

As he likes to say, Shorten told Cousins that he “gets it”, but would take it to the Labor Caucus, although it might take time to talk some of his colleagues around to his perspective and agree – after all, he is “consensus” politician. He followed this up by repeating the same public statements that he’s made about the Adani mine since day one – he was not supportive of the mine proceeding if it didn’t stack up financially and environmentally, but also adding that if he was able to form government after the next election, he would need to inspect any agreements that have been made, emphasising that “Labor doesn’t rip up contracts and we don’t create sovereign risk”.

Irrespective of whether people agree with Shorten’s position, it has been consistent – he has never been supportive of the Adani mine, and has also said that he needs to inspect existing agreements. The mainstream media dovetailed, as they usually do, into the Coalition’s ‘Kill Bill’ strategy, pushing the line that Shorten was two-faced, equivocal, provided different untruthful messages to different audiences – and the age-old line that brings up all types of nefarious imagery: he has “questions to answer”.

The ‘Kill Bill’ strategy has gone into overdrive, even where there’s nothing to see. Much was made through a Liberal Party-driven social media campaign asking ‘what has Bill Shorten got to hide’, announcing that he was a founding member of the GetUp! activist website, ignoring the fact the former Leader of the Liberal Party, John Hewson, was also a founding member, and that all donations to GetUp! are publicly declared, legal and above board.

It might be an organisation the conservatives don’t like, but there’s nothing illicit or illegal about GetUp!, unlike the very secretive operations of an organisation owned by the Liberal Party, Parakeelia, essentially a company that is laundering tax-payer funds through parliamentary entitlements and has funneled up to $1.2 millions to the Liberal Party over the past three years. I’d suggest the correct question is: what has the Liberal Party got to hide?

This follows on from the raids by the Australian Federal Police on the offices of the Australian Workers Union in Melbourne in October last year, which ultimately blew back onto the minister responsible for the raids, Senator Cash, who is now the subject of an investigation that is yet to report back to the Prime Minister.

Focusing on the negatives of political opponents is a classic technique which all parties engage in and, as much as the electorate despises it, it’s a tactic that works if it’s carefully targeted and etched in an element of truth.

But when it becomes the only strategy of a political party, it’s bound to fail. It shows the desperation of a political party with nothing else to offer except for attacks on its opponent – and coupled with the recent debacles of Joyce’s possible misuse of taxpayer funds, Senator Cash’s decision to announce she was prepared to name all the women in Shorten’s office that he was having an affair with, Julie Bishop’s $32,000 travel spend for a boyfriend who wasn’t classified as a spouse or partner – it’s very clear that we have a government too busy with mud-raking and political opportunism, rather than governing.

Also, the ‘Kill Bill’ strategy doesn’t work when all it’s doing is playing to who Bill Shorten is – making outrageous statements about his union links is a mind-boggling facile approach by the Liberal Party. Shorten was the head of the Australian Workers Union, as well as being the leader of the Labor Party – created, supported and funded by the unions. It’s an inherent truth, and there’s nothing unreal about this.

And at a time where wages growth is at snail’s pace, a former union leader with links to unions would be advantageous to the many workers that make up the electorate, even if only 17 per cent of all workers across Australia currently hold union membership.

The Coalition has almost thrown everything they can at Bill Shorten – a Royal Commission, slurs and innuendos about his personal life, attacking his wife, Chloe Shorten, discrediting his links with the Australian Workers Union, his relationships with business leaders, his relationships with workers, and even which football team he supports – he was a South Melbourne Swans supporter, but switched to North Melbourne after the Swans moved to Sydney in 1982 – when he was fifteen, for goodness sake.

In the lead up to the 2013 election, the Labor Party’s messaging throughout the campaign focused on then Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott: “if he wins, you lose”, “a risk”, “highlight[ing] the savage cuts that Tony Abbott is trying to hide”. As it turned out, Abbott’s performance as Prime Minister was as hideous as the Labor Party suggested it would be. But, it didn’t stop him from becoming Prime Minister, and it didn’t stop the Liberal–National Party from forming government.

You’d expect the Liberal Party would understand and learn from these lessons. Attacking Shorten in such a maniacal manner is a waste of time and resources, as shown by the recent Newspoll, which shows Turnbull is preferred Prime Minister at 36 per cent, while Shorten rates at 34 per cent, just two percentage points behind. It would be better for the government to concentrate on what it was elected to do – govern – rather than reverting to juvenile and ineffective attacks on the Opposition Leader.

Five point

At the conclusion of Kill Bill, Kiddo uses the rare and difficult manoeuvre to kill Bill, known as the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique. It’s lethal and it’s effective, and was the only way to kill Bill.

And at this late stage, provided they have enough time to learn the technique, it might be the only way the Coalition will be able to kill off Bill Shorten.

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Eddy Jokovich

Eddy Jokovich is a Sydney-based journalist and producer of many books, magazines and handbooks and has worked as a war correspondent, journalist, lecturer in media studies and production.