Labor turns right under youthful new leader

By Greg Ansley

Bill Shorten.
Bill Shorten.

Labor has vowed to take the fight to the Government after electing right-wing factional powerbroker Bill Shorten as its new leader.

He won the month-long battle for the leadership from left-winger and former Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in a campaign marked by restraint and public good fellowship. Shorten won a majority of the party's MPs, sufficient to overcome Albanese's greater popularity among rank-and-file Labor members under the rules introduced by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd during his brief return to the leadership ahead of last month's election.

The new rules gave a 50:50 weighting to caucus and members' votes, with about 30,000 party faithful taking part. Shorten won 63.95 per cent of the caucus vote and 40.08 per cent of members' support, giving a final winning count of just over 52.

"This historic vote has changed our great party forever and is already making us stronger," interim leader Chris Bowen said. "Since the leadership campaign started more than 4500 people have said they want to join Labor ...

Today we start the work of holding the Government to account and showing we are a better and fairer alternative for Australia's future."

Shorten will have his work cut out. The party was punished heavily by voters for its bitter and self-destructive internal wars following Rudd's election in 2007. Its primary vote plunged to its lowest since 1903, with unrelenting factional warfare overlaid by larger, fundamental problems ranging from changing demographics and plunging membership to a loss of direction.

Labor will also be struggling with a greatly diminished presence in the Lower House, a toxic relationship with the Greens, and a new Senate from next July in which mining magnate Clive Palmer's United Party will effectively hold the balance of power.

Shorten and Albanese tried to put the turbulent recent past behind them during the campaign, avoiding any public conflict, expressing mutual admiration, and emphasising a new party unity. Labor will present Shorten, 46, as a the youthful new face of a reinvigorated party.

He sprang to national prominence as head of the Australian Workers Union during the 2006 Beaconsfield mine disaster in Tasmania. and the following year won the federal seat of Maribyrnong in Melbourne. His rapid rise through parliamentary ranks to the inner ministry saw him picked early as a future leader despite being instrumental in bringing down Premiers Rudd and Julia Gillard.

Governor-General Quentin Bryce is Shorten's mother-in-law and Prime Minister Tony Abbott revealed that she offered to resign to avoid any perception of bias.

"I have thanked her for her magnanimity but declined to accept her resignation," Abbott said. Instead he asked her to stay on until March 2014, when she is due to retire.

Bill Shorten

Born: 1967 in Melbourne.

Family: Married to Chloe, daughter of the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce. Has three children.

Union work: Served as national secretary of Australian Workers Union. Came to prominence as the public face of Beaconsfield Mine disaster.

Political life: Member for Maribyrnong since 2007. Former minister for workplace relations, education, financial services, superannuation and assistant treasurer. From ALP right faction. One of the so-called faceless men behind the knifing of Kevin Rudd as PM in 2010. In June 2013 switched loyalty back from Julia Gillard to Kevin Rudd.

- AAP

- NZ Herald

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