Australia’s Labor to Hold Leadership Ballot After Defeat

Australia’s Labor party will hold a ballot of its rank and file members and lawmakers to select a new leader after it was ousted from office in the Sept. 7 election and Kevin Rudd stepped down.

Bill Shorten, a former unionist and party power broker, and Rudd’s deputy, Anthony Albanese, will compete for the leadership, the party said in a statement. The ballot will take at least a month, delaying efforts to unify the party in the wake of the election loss to Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition.

“Labor has to rebuild and will be looking to take this chance to show it can reconnect with its members,” said Andrew Hughes, who conducts political-marketing research at the Australian National University in Canberra. “The delay in choosing a new party leader gives Abbott a head start. He’ll be able to cement his new team and policy agenda without there being an effective opposition.”

Labor has been riven by internal feuding that saw it switch leaders twice in three years, eroding its credibility among voters. The scope of the party’s loss, winning just 54 seats in the 150-member lower house to the coalition’s 91 with the vote count continuing, may see it out of office for three straight three-year terms, said Haydon Manning, a politics professor at Flinders University in Adelaide.

“The new leader has to build a story that Labor has learned from its mistakes and that Labor is now united,” Manning said in a telephone interview.

Switched Allegiances

Shorten, 46, who announced his candidacy yesterday, supported Julia Gillard when she ousted Rudd in a party coup three years ago. He switched allegiances in June, publicly backing Rudd minutes before a party vote that restored him to the leadership.

The son of a Melbourne waterside worker was a solicitor before joining the Australian Workers’ Union as an organizer in 1994. He was national secretary from 2001 to 2007 and was elected to parliament in November of that year. He has held ministerial portfolios including industrial relations and education. Shorten is married to the daughter of Australia’s Governor-General Quentin Bryce, who as Queen Elizabeth II’s representative in the nation will swear in Abbott and his new government next week.

Albanese, 50, is a member of Labor’s New South Wales left faction and entered parliament in 1996 representing the inner west Sydney district where he was raised by a single mother. He’s served as infrastructure minister and leader of the House of Representatives and was promoted to deputy prime minister after backing Rudd against Gillard in June.

New Rules

“In the coming weeks I will run for the Labor leadership on the same platform on which I would run for Australia’s prime ministership,” Albanese told reporters in Canberra today. “We have to change, we have to do better.”

The process, to be held for the first time after Rudd instigated changes to the party’s leadership rules in July to give rank and file members more influence, will take at least a month, interim leader Chris Bowen told reporters in Canberra today. Nominations for the leadership close next week, he said.

“The Labor party is big enough and mature enough to conduct this process in a way which shows the Australian people that we’ll be ready for government whenever we’re called upon next,” Bowen said. “We have two candidates who are putting forward a good case for the future.”

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