The mural has the measure of the man

Originally published on Incite Politics. Incite is a subscriber blog, so I won’t re-post anything I write for them until a couple of weeks have passed. Which is why some of these posts might seem a little dated.

‘Street art’ is generally a pretty dismal affair. From the trite vandalism of Banksy to the lurid vomitations of muralists, street art rarely rises above risible. Banksy is a typical upper-middle-class snob playing at being ‘rebellious’, while muralists vie with carnival-ride artists in their pursuit the most hideous conflagrations of terrible draughtsmanship and eye-torturing colour (the Mexicans, at least, can lay claim to a genuine cultural tradition of mural art, and at times manage to be almost not bad).

But Sydney ‘street artist’ Scott Marsh has, for once, almost exceeded the dismal expectations of his genre, and produced a piece which, while remaining as technically challenged as any muralist, actually manages to make an interesting point. His new mural, in the Melbourne hipster suburb of Preston, depicts Shorten as a two-headed political chimaera: one side wearing a hipster scarf and asking about vegan options; the other in a shiny new hard hat and fluoro work vest, spouting unconvincing ‘blokey’ talk.

Marsh’s portrait of Shorten accurately skewers the Labor leader as a two-faced fake. The reference to the proposed Adani coal mine in Queensland points to the issue that, more than any other, exposed Shorten’s duplicity.

Adani has become a totemic issue for the left in Australia. To the green left, the proposed coal mine is a planet-killing reef-raping monster that has to be stopped at any cost. To the blue-collar unionists of Queensland, smarting from job losses as the mining boom grinds to a halt, Adani represents a massive employment opportunity. Queensland is also a key battleground state for Labor in the next federal election.

So, to the workers of Queensland, he maintained that Labor would abide by the environmental approvals process, which, as Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese pointed out, had already green-lit the mine. The powerful mining union also warned that Labor had to back the project.

But Labor also recently faced a critical by-election in the inner-Melbourne seat of Batman. Batman has been a solid Labor seat for almost all its history, but in recent years has found itself squarely within the ‘hipster-proof fence’ of wealthy inner-city suburbs that marks out the Greens’ power base. For both parties, Batman was a must-win electoral test. The Adani mine became a totemic issue in the campaign. To the hipster Greens of Batman, Shorten hinted that he might reverse Labor’s policy.

For months Shorten tried to walk on both sides of the barbed-wire fence, until finally he snagged himself. Caught out taking a ‘study tour’ paid for by a millionaire greenie, Shorten was forced to choose which paddock he was going to stand in. He chose the greener side of the fence, announcing that Labor would oppose the mine. With that issue declared, and with the help of a massive pork barrel for Catholic schools, Labor won Batman.

But Shorten has unequivocally been exposed as a two-faced political snake-oil salesman. Like another famous political Bill, Clinton, Shorten has shown himself up as a shameless political grifter who’ll say anything to anybody, if he thinks there’s a vote in it.

Even more critically, the Shorten Labor party have shown where their priorities really lie. Like the Democrats in the US, Labor have shafted their blue-collar base, preferring instead to pander to wealthy hipster elites in inner Melbourne and Sydney. Despite their feeble class rhetoric, the ‘party of the worker’ are no more. Labor have swapped the beer for the skinny soy latte.

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