Shorten: empathising with anyone and promising money to everyone

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Kissing the overfriendly lady in Adelaide who wouldn’t let go – “good on you Margot” – and embracing the struggling young autistic man in East Maitland – “you’ll get there” – Shorten is doing as his motto says, “putting people first”.
The Labor party had already promised more than $16 billion in new spending in the course of the election campaign, more than triple the Coalition’s $5 billion.

Now the leader spelt out promises worth a further $3 billion. There was Cross River Rail for Brisbane at $800 million, a rail link for Sydney’s Badgerys Creek airport at $400 million, Metro Rail for Melbourne at $380 million, a park and ride plan for Melbourne at $120 million.

The nearest hospital, Nepean, was promised $86 million.

Less expensive but more appealing on a human level were Shorten’s announcements of $82 million for suicide prevention and mental health, $257 million for a new tax break to encourage small businesses to hire workers in special need, and then there was Medicare.

Medicare is the central pull of Shorten’s appeal. It’s a negative scare campaign cleverly disguised as a positive promise.

The Coalition government, as Malcolm Turnbull spelled out over the weekend, is fully committed to keeping Medicare intact. He emphatically ruled out the privatisation of any part of Medicare, even back-office processing.

But Labor’s campaign blithely dismisses this as the chicanery of the conservatives. The Tories secretly want to sell Medicare, Labor claims.

“This election is a referendum on the future of Medicare!” Shorten thundered.

The Coalition did cut the scale of government subsidy for pathology and imaging tests as a cost-saving measure. Shorten promised to reverse this, at a cost estimated by the Parliamentary Budget Office to be $884 million.

“When you are in the fight for your life,” Shorten said, “you need a government on your side and we will be that government.”

This is strong stuff, cleverly done.

There was more, much more, for everyone. Except big business.

Labor is behind in the marginal seats where it needs to be ahead if it is to win. But Shorten can see that millions of voters are undecided and unattached and he is searching for a way to appeal to every one of them.

The problem is that, with every new billion-dollar promise, all of his promises become less credible.

The people know that neither major party has curbed the deficit. And Labor has even less public trust on this than the Coalition, though both are equally culpable.

Shorten has campaigned well, but he cannot be all things to all people, and the more goodies he promises, the less credible he will be.

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