Federal Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation and head of the Short Cons
Born in: Melbourne
Foes: Greg Sword | David Feeney
Home Town: Melbourne
Small, friendly and charming, Bill Shorten looks like a cuddly koala. But take care: he can scratch. Last year he was one of the key conspirators in the plot to bring down Kevin Rudd, and it was he who marshalled the numbers for Gillard, working two mobile phones from a Canberra restaurant on the night of the spill, ticking MPs off his list.
Since then, he's been rewarded with the job of Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services, which isn't bad for a guy with less than four years in parliament, and he's been polishing his Mr Nice Guy image. But don't be fooled: Shorten has been a factional powerbroker all his political life and has huge ambition.
Bob Hawke and Kim Beazley long ago earmarked this former union star as a future Labor leader. And Shorten shares their high opinion. ''Bill is a future champion,'' the late Senator John Button once quipped. ''I know that because he's told me.''
One Power Index informant remembers Shorten grabbing a seat beside Button at a dinner and bending his ear for half-an-hour, at the end of which the shocked senator told the person on the other side that Shorten had been seeking tips on how to become prime minister.
Bill isn't in the top job yet. And he told The Power Index, "I'm a Gillard man. I don't lie awake at night thinking about whether I'll be leader."
But he has already come a long way. For starters, he's married to the Governor-General Quentin Bryce's daughter, Chloe.
He also heads Victoria's Right faction, known as Labor Unity, and leads the main sub-faction known as the Short Cons (whose co-leader is Stephen Conroy). The Short Cons have a firm grip on power in the state ALP because they did a deal with the Left in 2009 to divide the spoils between them, sharing party positions and safe seats right up to 2014, with a detailed schedule of who gets what.
That agreement is Bill's bedrock. But he also has the backing of Australia's largest blue-collar union, the AWU, where he was national secretary until 2007. And he sits on the immensely powerful five-man ''super committee'' of Labor's national executive, which can parachute favoured candidates into safe seats.
Best of all, Blinky Bill has the charm, personality and connections—in business, labour and politics—to make the most of his position.
On the other hand, he has enemies aplenty —on both sides of the Labor Party— though he's not quite sure why. "I admit I can step on toes," he ventures to The Power Index. "I'm a very enthusiastic person and I can probably grab a headline. I will tell people what I believe and I can be periodically abrasive and pushy."
"Yes, Bill has enemies; successful people do," says his friend John Roskam, who runs the conservative think tank, the IPA. "And some of those enemies have never even met him."
Like so many Labor powerbrokers, Shorten learnt how to build support and stack votes while he was still a student. At Monash University, while studying arts/law, he formed the right-wing Young Labor Network and worked part-time for Victorian senator Gareth Evans. Then in 1991—after 18 months with the plaintiff law firm Maurice Blackburn—he signed on as a union organiser with the AWU, at the prompting of ACTU chief Bill Kelty. Within seven years he was its 34-year old national secretary. Shorten reformed the union, increased its membership and made it a force again. And his members loved him.
Simultaneously, he was rising through the Labor Party ranks, taking control of the Victorian Right with his close friend David Feeney (a groomsman at his first wedding) and making enemies of rival powerbrokers like Greg Sword. In 2002 Feeney and Shorten were on the losing side of a factional battle with Sword who accused the pair of running a factional fiefdom.
In April 2006, Shorten's union helped him kick out a sitting Labor MP, Bob Sercombe, and win pre-selection for the safe seat of Maribyrnong, home of Dame Edna Everage, in Melbourne's western suburbs. He also had help from Victoria's champion branch stacker, George Seitz, whom The Age alleged had been exposed by the ALP for running a branch-stacking factory from his office, using false names, false signatures and false minutes of meetings that had not taken place.
There's no question that Shorten was a beneficiary of the branch stacking efforts of others.
Weeks later, Shorten hit the national stage when he borrowed billionaire Dick Pratt's private jet to fly to Tasmania to ''take charge'' of the Beaconsfield miners rescue. Once there, he hogged the limelight for two weeks. ''Not since Bob Hawke's heyday have we seen a union leader with such a genius for self-promotion,'' a critical blogger tartly observed, adding, ''I can't help but find Shorten's antics vaguely stomach-churning.''
Bill's eye for the main chance didn't surprise those who had closely watched his rise. Referring to him as ''Showbag Shorten'', one unionist observed a pattern: ''He's got an ego, which is OK in politics, but if there's no loyalty then what? The 'discard after use' label applies to most of us.''
But the miners were his AWU members, and their families had nothing but praise for the smooth union boss. Brant Webb, one of two survivors, remains a staunch supporter. So does veteran journalist Tony Wright, who says Bill was just doing his job and doing it well, keeping everyone informed of how the rescue was going.
Certainly, communication has always been Bill's forte. And theatre too. A champion debater at Xavier College, the Melbourne private school run by the Jesuits, he once tore up his notes to show his opponent's argument was so weak he could demolish it. Teachers at the Catholic school remember him as witty, a great writer and a good actor. Just the qualities you need to succeed in politics.
But Bill also has pedigree and passion. His father, Bill snr, was a seaman-turned-shipyard-manager, and his grandfather a union leader in Tyneside in the north of England. His mother, Ann, was a teacher before winning the law prize at Monash University (while her two boys, twins Bill and Robert were studying there). "Bill understands the Labor Party's working class base better than anyone else in the party," says Roskam.
Shorten is often compared to the young Bob Hawke, another likeable, smart champion of the common man. And he shares that uncanny ability to remember names and faces and connect with his audience. Like Bill Clinton, he knows how to make people feel special, listened to, noticed. And like both of these powerful men, he has an eye for the ladies. He dated and lived with the Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, before marrying his first wife Debbie Beale. He left Beale in 2008 for Chloe Bryce, the Governor-General Quentin Bryce's married daughter.
Watching him working the room at a charity function in 2009, while he was still minister for disability services, I marvelled at his capacity to listen patiently to all who approached him. But he also struck me as desperate to be liked and just a little too unctuous. Perhaps too good to be true.
In his speech that night, Shorten distanced himself from his heartless Labor colleagues, who were denying him taxpayers' money to spend on people with disabilities. ''It's not my fault,'' he seemed to be saying. And that also made me wonder. Good team players don't dump on their mates.
But others involved in the fight rush to his defence. Professor Fiona Stanley credits him for pushing the government to adopt a disability insurance scheme. "You need a political champion to get these things up and Bill was our champion," she told The Power Index. "And he carried it through with great passion, regardless of the effect on his political career." Others in the field echo her praise.
Bill's friends admire his people skills, his passion, his energy and his ability to sell a message. His enemies say he's two-faced, a fake, that he doesn't deliver, and that he's mainly interested in number one.
But his friend John Roskam is ready to vouch for him: "I can understand the question, 'Is he to be trusted?'" says John Roskam, "because at times he can be all things to all men. But I'm a mate of his and from my experience he can. I'm obviously biased, but I think he cares."