News National Shorten shores up support from both sides of Labor

Shorten shores up support from both sides of Labor

Bill Shorten
Bill Shorten said Tanya Plibersek would form part of an education "dream team". Photo: AAP
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Malcolm Turnbull expanded the size of his cabinet to maintain the peace and shore up his leadership. Bill Shorten has exponentially expanded the size of his frontbench for exactly the same reasons.

Labor has 48 shadow ministers and assistant ministers compared to Mr Turnbull’s 42. Two of Labor’s troops can’t even qualify for a pay rise.

One, shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh, had to take a $40,000 pay cut.

As one caucus wag put it: “Every child player has won a prize. It’s pathetic.”

But it’s the price the Labor leader has paid to restore peace after a brawl broke out between two heavyweights on the left, Anthony Albanese and Kim Carr.

Anthony Albanese
Anthony Albanese’s push to dump long-time factional enemy Kim Carr from the frontbench failed. Photo: AAP
Kim Carr
The Labor leader gave Kim Carr a reprieve. Photo: AAP

In the end, Mr Shorten emerged with his leadership position strengthened should any dark clouds gather down the track. His right wing faction got behind Mr Carr and his three left renegades. Their numbers are now in the Shorten column giving the leader a healthy buffer.

There’s no doubt Mr Shorten owed Mr Carr and his cohorts for their backing in the 2013 leadership contest with Mr Albanese. But Albo, as he’s universally known, was in a mood for payback. He organised for the left to dump Mr Carr. Mr Carr refused to go.

But the rest isn’t quite history. It also meant the left was less accommodating in who it would nominate for positions. That meant Mr Shorten had to exercise the one prerogative he had as leader. He could still nominate as many assistant shadow ministers as he liked. He did and tried to repair lingering ill-feeling by promoting people from the right and the left.

Malcolm Turnbull
Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition have a narrow majority. Photo: AAP

So, as he heads for the hills for a week away from phones and the relentless news cycle, the Labor leader is feeling safer in his job than he believes Mr Turnbull should feel in his.

Bolstering that view are the Kevin Rudd-inspired rules that make it very hard to dump a leader between elections. Hard but not impossible.

Should he falter badly a desperate caucus could vote to change those rules. On the government side there are no “Rudd rules”.

But Mr Turnbull himself has well and truly set the precedent. If a prime minister, even one who wins an election, fails to inspire confidence he will be dumped.

But with the parliament on a knife edge and an unpredictable senate, Mr Shorten is convinced Australia will be heading for the polls sooner rather than later. He says the longest campaign in history could be followed by the shortest parliament in 50 years.

Labor's Andrew Leigh says the government is dithering.
Andrew Leigh took a $40,000 pay cut to save Kim Carr.

But Labor hard heads don’t think that even though they are just five or six seats away from government they just have to play it safe – be a small target and work a few marginals harder.

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen at the weekend said Labor has to earn the next election and it does that by showing unity and by well-considered big idea policies.

Labor’s federal president Mark Butler holds the same view. The party like Gough Whitlam between 1966 and 1972 has to work on and adapt the manifesto it took to the last election.

“Inclusive growth” is the new mantra. When Bill Shorten got down to announcing his jumbo frontbench, one appointment was a strong indicator of his intent. His effective deputy, Tanya Plibersek, was persuaded to swap foreign affairs for the key domestic portfolio, education.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics. He is Contributing Editor for Network Ten, appears on Radio National Breakfast and writes a weekly column on national affairs for The New Daily. He tweets at @PaulBongiorno

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