Shorten Elected to Lead Australian Labor Party Back to Power

Australia’s Labor elected Bill Shorten to lead the nation’s oldest political party after Kevin Rudd resigned in the wake of its Sept. 7 election defeat.

Shorten won 52 percent of a combined vote, the party announced in Canberra yesterday. It was the first time rank and file party members had a direct say in the leadership choice, with their vote being given equal weighting to the parliamentary caucus under new rules introduced by Rudd in July. Shorten defeated former Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese with 64 percent of the caucus vote and 40 percent of the ordinary membership vote, the party said.

Shorten becomes Labor’s third leader in five months and has the task of reuniting a party riven by three years of infighting between Rudd and Julia Gillard, the nation’s first female prime minister. The former unionist and party power-broker has said he can drive Labor to victory against the Liberal-National coalition government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott in three years, when the next election is due.

“This ballot provides for the first time in a very long time not only a break with some of the past disunity, but indeed a very solid platform for the leadership of Labor and for the Labor parliamentary party to be able to offer a united alternative to the coalition,” Shorten said at a news conference in Canberra yesterday.

Female Ministers

Shorten announced today that Tanya Plibersek, a former health minister, will be the party’s deputy leader in a shadow ministry that includes 11 women. Six new ministers have been elevated including Andrew Leigh, a former professor of economics at Australian National University. Specific ministries will be set out later, the opposition leader said.

Shorten, 46, supported 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.

Take Up Fight

“The parliamentary members of Labor wanted someone who they thought could take up the fight to Tony Abbott directly,” said Andrew Hughes, who conducts political-marketing research at the Australian National University in Canberra. “In the short term they will be criticized for ignoring the popular vote of members. They’ll have to take a very long-term perspective on this and probably put up with some short-term pain in the opinion polls.’

Shorten is married to the daughter of Australia’s Governor-General Quentin Bryce, who as Queen Elizabeth II’s representative in the nation swore in Abbott and his new government last month. Bryce said she was willing to leave office early to avoid perceptions of bias, an offer the prime minister declined, according to an e-mailed statement from Abbott’s office yesterday. She is scheduled to retire in March.

With one seat yet to be determined, Abbott’s coalition has won 90 seats in the lower house with Labor gaining 55, according to the Australian Electoral Commission. It needed 76 seats to form government for the first time since 2007.

Abbott Plans

Abbott, 55, has pledged to revoke the Labor-implemented carbon-price mechanism and tax on iron-ore and coal profits, along with toughening rules against asylum seekers arriving by boat and cutting red tape as signs emerge of a slowdown in the nation’s $1.5 trillion economy. From July 1, when the new Senate convenes, he will have to negotiate with a bloc of minor parties holding the balance of power in the Senate to pass laws.

Under rules introduced by Rudd in July, Labor automatically holds a leadership ballot if it loses office. The new leader is chosen in a vote by its lawmakers and ordinary members, with both groups carrying equal weighting.

Lawmakers voted 55 to 31 in favor of Shorten, while Albanese was favored by 60 percent of the 30,426 ordinary party members who cast ballots, the ALP said.

‘‘This is a very tight result,” Chris Bowen, the former Treasurer who has been the party’s interim leader since Rudd stepped aside, said yesterday. “But it is a result which has the support of the entire party. There will be branch members who will be disappointed that their candidate didn’t win, but I think they’ll be very grateful that they had a say and they’ll have a say into the future.”

Credibility Gap

Shorten will need to restore the party’s credibility in the eyes of voters, who were disillusioned by the turmoil that saw Rudd ousted by Gillard in 2010, only to reclaim the leadership in June.

Along with infighting and a reputation damaged by corruption scandals, Labor has struggled to appeal to its traditional blue-collar base, resulting in a fall in membership and questions over its relevancy as fewer voters identify themselves as working class.

“Voters have expressed their dislike of leaders who have got an association with the brand they don’t like any more, being Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard,” ANU’s Hughes said yesterday in a telephone interview. “They need to start recruiting some other people into the party who might have broader appeal.”

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