A confidential cable leaked today by WikiLeaks from the US consulate in Melbourne contains an extraordinary portrait of federal Labor MP Bill Shorten as a power hungry sycophant and contains similar allegations from last year that the foreign power is being provided detailed inside information about government ministers and the ALP.

The cable, covering a meeting on the 11th June 2009, appears to be in part an audition piece, with Shorten presenting his Prime Ministerial credentials to the US Consul General. In the leaked document he talks about his ambition, criticises the union movement, plays up his friendship with Melbourne business elites, and is disappointed about being overlooked in a recent cabinet reshuffle.

Aware that the US Consul General in Melbourne is largely concerned with US business interests in the country, Shorten was at pains to show he was no mere union lackey. “Shorten was highly critical,” noted the US diplomat, “of current Australian union leadership”. He goes on to outline his business-friendly credentials, including his “MBA from Melbourne University”, talking about how close he was to “to the late packaging mogul Richard Pratt”, and throwing his union comrades under a tram by pledging that “in comparison to other union leaders, he is willing to listen to business concerns”.

As well as being critical of the union movement, Shorten was also keen to appeal to the political sensibilities of the Americans. Under the heading “Anti-Federalist Approach to Bushfire Reconstruction” Shorten told the diplomat that the federal government “already has plenty of duties” and that he “he did not want to see additional powers delegated to the federal level as a result of the Royal Commission into the February 2009 fires.”

The cable is not entirely favourable to Shorten and may even contain some subtle mocking. It notes he was “somewhat rumpled in appearance” and recounts a moment of sycophancy where Shorten announces he is “deeply influenced by Martin Luther King Jr.” and during the meeting quotes “from several of his speeches”.

Shorten, who is married to the Governor-General’s daughter and is also number 1 on The Power Index‘s list of political fixers for his role in bringing down Kevin Rudd, “makes no bones about his ambitions”, writes the Consul General:

“Despite his lukewarm relationship with Prime Minister Rudd … Shorten struck us as highly ambitious but willing to wait … at least for a while … for his moment in the sun.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey