Shorten accepts responsibility for shock election loss

 

Bill Shorten has taken full responsibility for his election loss, declaring he has to own the devastating defeat.

"I have to - I'd have owned it if I won,'' he told the Sunday Herald Sun.

"One thing that I did decide immediately right in the hour when I realised that we were going to lose is that I should take responsibility - that's why I stepped down as leader.

"I just thought the buck stops with me at me so I've got take responsibility."

In his first major interview since being trounced in the shock May result, the man who came close to being Prime Minister has reflected on what went wrong.

He said the last few months had been "a journey" but he never thought the election was in the bag despite polling showing he would win.

"I had always kept a little part of me reserving judgment about who would win the election - right up until about 6.30pm on election night,'' he said.

"The polls - everyone, everyone, said Labor was on track to win.

"That doesn't mean everyone was happy about it but everyone thought that.

"But I always sort of kept my feet on the ground.

"I remember texting people on the day when they'd say: 'Oh you got this in the bag' and I'd say: 'No, no - it's now in the hands of the people'."

Former Labor leader Bill Shorten has taken full responsibility for May’s devastating election loss. Picture: David Caird
Former Labor leader Bill Shorten has taken full responsibility for May’s devastating election loss. Picture: David Caird

 

 

Waiting at Melbourne's Grand Hyatt hotel for the results on election night, Mr Shorten had prepared three speeches:

"One where we won, one where we didn't know and one where we lost,'' he said.

At 6.30pm exit polls showed Labor winning.

"I thought well that's getting pretty clear,'' he said.

"But by about 7.30pm all of a sudden the movement that we'd hoped for or had been promised wasn't materialising.

"I remember saying around 7.30pm: 'Let's get speech Number 3 out'.

"I felt for my family who I had taken on the journey for the best part of six years and they'd invested a lot in giving sacrifice - from Chloe to the kids.

"I felt for volunteers, for my staff, for my MP colleagues who had worked so hard.

"There were millions of people who did vote for us - but not enough clearly.

"It's not just your own disappointment - it's also other people's disappointment.
"Now sure some are happy and periodically I meet one of those on the street who don't hold back in their opinion but a lot of people have come up to me and said that they were disappointed by the result.

 

 

Shorten was quickly aware on election night that that Labor’s ‘favouritism’ was out the window Picture: Kym Smith
Shorten was quickly aware on election night that that Labor’s ‘favouritism’ was out the window Picture: Kym Smith

 

 

"I was in Bali - I didn't realise so many Labor voters go to Bali - but anyway perhaps they were just the ones who spoke to me."

Mr Shorten said he believed too many messages and a pledge to abolish franking credit refunds contributed to his election defeat.

"I think we had too many messages in hindsight,'' he said.

"In a universe where you can re-run things - of course we can't - fewer messages.

"I also accept that our proposals our tax reforms around franking credits created a sense of vulnerability and anxiety among older Australians which I clearly underestimated.

"In hindsight the risk was bigger than we realised.

"Now I accept just the holus bolus rollout of franking credits created an anxiety in parts of the community especially amongst older Australians, both in reality, but also left them susceptible to the argument that there were further changes."

 

 

Chloe Shorten, Bill’s wife, says she still sees public service as a privilege Picture: Alex Coppel.
Chloe Shorten, Bill’s wife, says she still sees public service as a privilege Picture: Alex Coppel.

 

 

Mr Shorten's wife Chloe, who was at her husband's side throughout the election campaign, said she still regarded public service a privilege despite the ups and downs of politics.

She has thrown herself back into writing and family life since the loss.

"Political life is tough but it's also an honour to be able to be part of it," Mrs Shorten said.

"I'm proud of Bill's service to our democracy.

"Being the tight family unit we are has helped us through the disappointment.

"My focus has sharpened on the things I want to achieve for Australian mums and families."

Walking away from politics doesn't seem to have crossed Mr Shorten's mind.

A few days after the election he decided he wanted to be on new leader Anthony Albanese's front bench and has thrown himself into the role overseeing the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

"Something that's been really grounding is when you talk to people with disabilities and carers from my portfolio, they've got real issues."

 

 

Former Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says volunteering in a soup kitchen helped him put things into perspective. Picture: Alex Coppel.
Former Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says volunteering in a soup kitchen helped him put things into perspective. Picture: Alex Coppel.

 

 

Volunteering in a soup kitchen has also put things into perspective.

"I went down to Uniting Care - one of the Christian churches runs a soup kitchen in the morning for people who are homeless in Canberra - just to be reminded there are a lot of people doing it far worse than any of us on top of the hill," he said.

Mr Shorten intends to remain in public life for decades to come and confirmed he would run for his seat of Maribyrnong at the next election.

"I like being in public life: four months on I still believe in the battle between fair and unfair; I still believe that big ideas and thinking about Australia's future does matter, so I like being in public life, I don't want to go into corporate life - I like representing people."

The past four months haven't been without their funny side.

A few weeks ago Mr Shorten was taking the train back from the MCG with his daughter Clementine.

"We got on the train and we're packed like sardines,'' he said.

"One bloke looks at me and he might have had a couple of drinks but he was harmless and he sways and he looks at me, and he's like: 'I voted for you Malcolm Turnbull'. I say: 'Well that explains why I didn't win then!".

"He says: 'Sorry Bill Shorten I'm a Labor voter' and the train laughed and he said: 'How are you?' They said something like: 'Collingwood lost how sad is that' and I was like: 'It's been a bad year'. The whole carriage, they loved it."

SHORTEN RULES OUT SECOND STINT AS LABOR LEADER

Bill Shorten has ruled out returning to the Labor leadership but says he intends to stay in parliament for many years to come.

In his first major interview since Labor was beaten at May's federal election, the former Opposition Leader told the Sunday Herald Sun he had given up his ambition of being PM.

"I've hung up my leadership running shoes and I support Anthony (Albanese)," he said.

Pressed if wanted to be leader again, Mr Shorten was blunt: "No."

The 52-year-old said he took full responsibility for the loss to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

"I have to - I'd have owned it if I won,'' he said.

Trying to do too much and Labor's pledge to abolish franking credit refunds were the two major reasons for his defeat.

"I think we had too many messages in hindsight," Mr Shorten said

"In a universe where you can re-run things - of course we can't - fewer messages.

"I also accept that our proposals, our tax reforms around franking credits, created a sense of vulnerability and anxiety among older Australians which I clearly underestimated."

 

Shorten has ruled out returning to the Labor leadership. Picture Kym Smith
Shorten has ruled out returning to the Labor leadership. Picture Kym Smith

 

He said the danger the policy represented was not clear to him at the time.

"In hindsight the risk was bigger than we realised based on the information that we had on our dashboard the risk seemed to be a manageable risk," he said.

"But now I accept just the holus bolus rollout of franking credits created an anxiety in parts of the community especially amongst older Australians, both in reality, but also left them susceptible to the argument that there were further changes."

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He regrets not taking bigger tax cuts to the election.

"We were doing tax reform, but we should have been be providing more income tax cuts for lower paid Australians and by lower paid I mean start off with people under $125k," he said.

"I do think when you've got stagnant wages, taking some of the tax burden off 10 million working Australians, something if I had my time again I would have put to the fore: you can't do tax reform and not provide some tax relief to people.

"We had the same policy as the government but in hindsight I should have lent more into that."

Mr Shorten won't be stepping away from the political spotlight any time soon - confirming he would run for his seat of Maribyrnong at the next election.

"It is my intention to try and be in public life for the next 20 years," he said.

james.campbell@news.com.au

@J_C_Campbell