Liberals launch campaign of personal attacks on Shorten
SENIOR Government Ministers have kicked off a long-haul strategy to convince voters that Labor's Bill Shorten lacks conviction and can't be trusted.
That's the objective behind the sledgehammer accusations such as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's claim Mr Shorten took "backhanders" from employers when Australian Workers' Union secretary.
This was a reference to money which went to the AWU, not to Mr Shorten personally.
But the Government believes the Opposition Leader is vulnerable to questions of character and is working to make it an issue in the lead up to the 2019 election.
In contrast, they want to present Malcolm Turnbull as a can-do Prime Minister.
The first obstacle is an opinion poll deadlock which currently sees Prime Minister Turnbull and the Opposition Leader equally - and hugely - unpopular.
In the latest Newspoll, both leaders had a 57 per cent disapproval rating. This means close to three in five voters don't like them or their work.
The plan is to bolster the leadership rating of Mr Turnbull while using Mr Shorten's record as a union secretary and MP to whittle away at his.
The ministers have launched personal attacks on the Labor chief which were conspicuously absent from the election campaign last year - a baffling omission for some senior Liberals.
The aim is to rebuild Malcolm Turnbull's standing over the coming year with displays of leadership and achievement, which so far have included the Snowy option in the energy debate and the settling of internal Coalition debate over section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Parallel with this has been the deliberate targeting of Bill Shorten.
Mr Shorten has been accused by ministers of:
• Being "duplicitous" on company tax cuts;
• Being "a hypocrite" on the Fair Work Commission to reduce Sunday penalty rates;
• Possibly not wanting to "tell the truth" on his past approval of 457 visas for foreign workers;
• Being a "simpering sycophant" to billionaires.
He has rejected the charges, saying the Turnbull corporate tax cuts were at the expense of the disadvantaged; that he had not expected the FWC to support the cuts; had allowed in workers when skilled labour was needed for the mining boom; and had made friends with business leaders through his first wife.
However, Government sources note that while Labor has the lead in opinion polls, Mr Shorten's own rating does not match the success of his party.
Mr Shorten and Mr Turnbull were given high marks for being intelligent and hard working in a February 28 survey of voters' opinions on their attributes.
However, only 43 per cent said Mr Shorten was a capable leader, to the 50 per cent for Mr Turnbull. Some 32 per cent said Mr Shorten was trustworthy to Mr Turnbull's 36 per cent. Just 29 per cent said Mr Shorten was more honest than most politicians compared to 34 per cent for Mr Turnbull.