Labor has a new leader

The Labor Party starts the week with a new leader, Bill Shorten, who triumphed over Anthony Albanese to take the reins some five weeks after Kevin Rudd resigned.

This was the first Labor leadership vote to be held under the new rules implemented by Kevin Rudd, which give party members a say in the leadership vote, as well as ensuring there will be no change to the leadership before the next election. Under the new rules a petition by 60 per cent of MPs would be required to force a leadership change.

Bill Shorten polled 56 of the possible 86 votes from the parliamentary party on Thursday, leaving Anthony Albanese needing votes from 65 per cent of the branch members. He secured just over 60 per cent. Bill Shorten secured 63.95 per cent of the caucus vote and 40.08 of the membership vote, giving him a winning total of 52.02 per cent of the overall vote.

When asked at a press conference if the outcome of the vote meant that Mr Shorten did not have the support of his party colleagues, interim leader Chris Bowen responded that “the party was more than a sum of its parts”. “Yes, the branch members will be disappointed that their candidate didn’t win. But I think they’ll be grateful that they’ve had a say in the party’s future,” he told the press conference.

While Kevin Rudd has been quiet on the outcome, Julia Gillard, despite Bill Shorten’s role in ousting her as PM, was quick to post her best wishes, “Congratulations to Bill Shorten on becoming Labor leader. A great honour! I wish Bill all the best,” she tweeted.

Governor-General Ms Quentin Bryce, who is also Bill Shorten’s mother-in-law, offered her resignation to “avoid any perception of bias”. As revealed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, he said he has declined to accept her resignation given that “[Quentin Bryce] will retire in March next year and that the Government commands the House of Representatives with a significant margin”.

“I believe it is only fit and proper that she be permitted to conclude her term and be accorded the appropriate farewell that her exemplary service merits,” the Prime Minister concluded.

Tanya Plibersek is expected to be announced as Deputy Prime Minister.

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Opinion: Let the games begin

I can’t help but feel that for the last five weeks we’ve been in a period of political limbo as the Labor Party sorted itself out. Now it’s time for the gloves to come off.

Since coming to power as Prime Minister, Tony Abbott must have been thinking that running the country was the proverbial ‘walk in the park’. So little have we heard from Mr Abbott that one could be forgiven for thinking he had done a ‘Kevin Rudd’ and taken off on a series of overseas jaunts. But now the Labor Party has sorted itself out and will no doubt be preparing to hold Tony and his gang accountable for their actions, or inaction.

As Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott questioned everything the incumbent Labor Government tried to do, as was his role. At times this got personal, especially when Julia Gillard was Prime Minister and, to be fair, the Labor Party and its own in-fighting made it easy for Tony to attack. But now the Labor Party has apparently sorted itself out and is united in its goal of ensuring that it is only out of power for one term.

Bill Shorten is perhaps a surprising choice as Labor Leader, given that he had such a pivotal role in ousting the two Prime Ministers who held the party leadership before him. Often touted as a potential leader of the party, it seemed he was reluctant to challenge when Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were in the hot seat, leading to his perceived role as knife-wielder in the process. There were suggestions that he wasn’t quite ready, or that his mother-in-law being Governor General would make it difficult for him, but now it seems he’s ready to take on the might of Tony Abbott.

Bill Shorten is the face of a new Labor. He has had the last three years to watch and learn, being privy to the inner workings of the Labor Party and watching two leaders before him fail against a poorer political assailant, but one who read the mood of the country so much better. His team will be critical, for Bill Shorten does not appear to have the media savvy of Tony Abbott. Tanya Plibersek as Deputy Leader would be a terrific ally, as she is as unflappable and tenacious as her potential adversary, Julie Bishop.

Already we can see a younger, more vibrant Labor Party leadership start to emerge and we look forward to the many battles to come.

Is Bill Shorten a worthy leader of the Labor Party? Will he be a political match for Tony Abbott?

Written by Debbie McTaggart