Anthony Albanese’s long-awaited shadow cabinet reshuffle has ended up larger than planned, with an overhaul of the contentious climate portfolio and changes in other key areas of defence, health, employment, resources and industry.
The Labor leader has also invented new portfolios focusing on government accountability and national reconstruction, with all eyes on the opposition’s priorities and key personnel ahead of what is expected to be an election year.
Climate spokesman Mark Butler has had a direct swap with shadow health minister Chris Bowen. Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles has a new “super portfolio” under the title of ‘national reconstruction’, including employment, skills, small business and science, with a focus on the post-COVID economy.
Former shadow employment minister Brendan O’Connor will move into Mr Marles’ old portfolio of defence. Shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally takes on a new responsibility of ‘government accountability’, former resources shadow Ed Husic has moved into industry and innovation, while trade spokesperson Madeline King also picks up resources.
Tanya Plibersek, who some believe is positioning herself as a potential leadership rival to Mr Albanese, retains her education role. However, she had lost her previous responsibility for the skills portfolio, which will now be folded into Mr Marles’ super portfolio.
Mr Albanese had previously planned to announce the shadow ministry changes over the weekend. However, after Mr Butler’s switch from the climate role was leaked on Wednesday night, the Labor leader fast-tracked the rejig to Thursday afternoon.
New: here’s Labor’s shadow ministry reshuffle. New roles for Bowen, Butler, Marles, O’Connor (as expected) but also for Keneally, Collins, Husic, King pic.twitter.com/chzDcDk7fL
— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) January 28, 2021
Mr Butler, a left-faction heavyweight, has been attacked by former resources minister Joel Fitzgibbon for being too “enthusiastic” on climate. Mr Butler has been Labor’s shadow climate minister since 2013, but was criticised inside the party for not being able to sell the party’s environmental message.
The previous tension between the climate and resources roles means there will be particular attention on the working relationship between Mr Bowen and Ms King, who are both from the party’s right flank.
Mr Albanese said Mr Bowen’s CV meant he would be qualified for the climate role.
“I regard it as an economic portfolio and therefore someone who has been the Treasurer of Australia is eminently qualified to fill that role,” Mr Albanese said.
In a press conference to announce the changes, he shot down questions about whether switching the climate role to Mr Bowen was a sign of Labor downgrading its commitment to environmental action.
“Chris Bowen has a very strong position on climate change. I have a strong position on climate change. There is no way that a Labor Government that I lead won’t take action on climate change. Zero possibility,” Mr Albanese said.
“We will have a clear policy framework out there for all to see well before the election. It will be consistent with net zero by 2050.”
He also added that he believed Mr Butler would be an effective shadow health minister, and would “pick up very quickly” the new role.
Mr Albanese said the changes gave him “the strongest team to form an Albanese Labor government”.
“The easy choice to make is to not make many changes and just keep things as they are. I’m absolutely determined and events this year have reinforced my view that I will do the right thing, not necessarily the easy thing,” he said.
Mr Albanese said Senator Keneally’s new ‘government accountability’ role would be about “holding the government to account across the board for the rorts, the abuse of process”.
Mr Albanese’s team had spoken ahead of the reshuffle of how the new team would reflect the opposition’s priorities going into the election. As well as the new headline shadow ministerial roles, Labor has also invented a number of new special regional roles, including shadow assistant ministers for Tasmania, Northern Australia and Western Australia, and a new shadow minister for Queensland resources.
Those are states where Labor needs to pick up seats in regional areas, while Mr Albanese has been criticised for not having more focus on resources and mining.
In a Wednesday night interview on the ABC’s 7.30 program, the Labor leader said he expected to be “very strongly positioned” for an election, expected to be held late this year. Mr Albanese said he hoped to use the reshuffle to highlight Labor’s priorities.
“I’m sure that it will achieve a stronger team going forward with the right people in the right jobs,” he said.