Labor leaders have a difficult task in dealing with a front bench that is theoretically elected by the whole caucus. In reality, the election is a charade, and positions are settled beforehand by the factional brokers.

That does not necessarily improve the leader’s ability to get the personnel that they want, but Kevin Rudd seems to have done a good job in getting the infusion of extra talent that he wanted and needed. His clear mandate as leader allowed him to dictate to the factions who he wanted and prevent them from making room by dropping his allies.

Parliamentary Liberal parties have a much more subservient relationship with their leaders, so Ted Baillieu was given authority to select his own front bench following last month’s Victorian election. Yesterday he announced the new line-up.

Like most opposition leaders, Baillieu has a limited amount of talent to work with. But change of some sort was clearly required, so he has shuffled around most of the senior positions: Louise Asher moves from industry and employment to water and environment; Philip Davis from state development to education; David Davis from environment to industry and state development; Robert Clark from treasury to attorney-general and industrial relations; Martin Dixon from education to employment; Andrew McIntosh from attorney-general to police and emergency services; Denis Napthine from agriculture and water to rural and regional development; and Kim Wells from police and emergency services to treasury.

Defeated-and-reinstated upper house deputy Andrea Coote keeps community services but swaps arts for aboriginal affairs, while leadership aspirant Terry Mulder keeps transport but swaps ports for roads. Helen Shardey and Gordon Rich-Phillips stay put, in health and finance respectively.

Three shadow ministers have been dropped – Bruce Atkinson, David Koch and Murray Thompson – and replaced by three new MPs: Matthew Guy (planning), Michael O’Brien (gaming) and Mary Wooldridge (mental health and aged care).

For months, critics have been calling on Baillieu to make some gesture of reconciliation to his factional opponents. Now he seems to have done

so: Guy and O’Brien are both identified with the opposing camp, while Atkinson’s departure is the only one they would particularly regret.

Whether that will help the task of internal reconciliation, or the even larger task of making headway against the Bracks government, remains to be seen, but it’s not a bad start.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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