Bill Shorten has sparked a political storm over sudden policy moves that appeal to the Labor left, as he breaks with bipartisanship on indigenous recognition and demands more transparency on border protection.
The Opposition Leader launched the new disputes with Malcolm Turnbull on two key policies, despite previously trying to close ranks with the Coalition on both issues, surprising his opponents by marking out new positions that could help Labor defend itself against the Greens.
The Prime Minister accused Mr Shorten of undermining the bipartisan goal of recognising indigenous Australians in the Constitution by airing his support for a treaty for Aborigines, a contentious idea that could wreck efforts to build community support for a successful referendum.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton then went on the offensive over Mr Shorten’s call for greater media access to offshore detention centres, warning that the Opposition Leader was trying to “play to the left” despite claiming to support stronger border protection measures. Observers said Mr Shorten was sending a “not-so-coded” message to progressive voters who might drift to the Greens on indigenous affairs and asylum-seeker policy, as Labor defends one flank while attacking the Coalition on the other.
Opening the new fights in the final weeks before the election, Mr Shorten told the ABC’s Q&A on Monday night that he backed a treaty. “Do I think that we need to move beyond just constitutional recognition to talking about what a post-constitutional recognition settlement with indigenous people looks like? Yes I do,” he said.
When asked if that settlement could look like a treaty, Mr Shorten said: “Yes.” He cautioned against any “gotcha” question and said there could be a discussion about a treaty.