A Crikey analysis of federal opposition caucus support shows that Maribyrnong MP Bill Shorten has the raw numbers to ascend to the Labor leadership against Anthony Albanese — if the caucus divides on strict national factional lines.

But there are several state-based complications that suggest Albo, if he decides to stand, could well tip the 80-member grouping in his favour.

Depending on final results in a number of cliffhanger lower house seats, the national Right is likely to commands a 45-35 advantage over the Left, a notional lead for Shorten.

However, if one were to strip out five caucus members of the Queensland AWU-SDA (Australian Workers Union and Shop Assistants Union) still angry at Shorten’s key role in the Rudd-Gillard leadership stoush, the numbers tighten. And remove the Shorten haters from the divided Right in Victoria and add them to certain Victorian National Union of Workers-aligned MPs still irate about the Hotham preselection (a further six) and the balance shifts well in favour of Albanese.

Holt MP Anthony Byrne confirmed to Crikey this morning that he would be supporting Shorten. “We need a candidate with broad appeal … and I’m not really sure that bashing up Greens in the new parliament is really a good idea. We need to get those voters back in the tent,” he said.

The NSW Right will also strongly back Shorten, and members are convinced that he’ll run. “There’s never been a promotion Bill’s said no to,” one senior NSW Right source told Crikey today. Of course, Shorten might not want to take the poisoned chalice at this point, perhaps rightly assuming that Albanese would take the party to a second election loss in 2016. “Ultimately, Bill wants to be prime minister, not an opposition leader”, another Right source said.

If Albanese were to jump first it is likely Shorten would wave him through and throw his hat in the ring for the deputy leadership instead. “It’s Albo’s if he wants it,” the Victorian Right source confirmed.

But assuming a contest, the chosen method of electing the leader would be crucial. This morning McMahon MP Chris Bowen confirmed that if there is more than one nomination for the role, the vote should comprise a 50% grassroots and 50% caucus component, in line with Kevin Rudd’s pre-election reforms that require a ballot if the party loses an election. If that were the case, Albo would likely romp it home on popular goodwill generated by pronouncements such as his “I just want to fight Tories” confession during the 2012 Rudd-Gillard leadership battle. Albanese also has the wood over Shorten as a parliamentary performer, with impressive smackdowns such as this one likely to be used as evidence of his ability to take it up to Tony Abbott.

There is hostility in some quarters to a grassroots vote; returned Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon is said to favour a direct caucus approach, and the trade union movement is agitating for further changes at a forthcoming national conference, when the Rudd reforms are to be be properly debated and formally adopted.

A further point of interest will be the makeup of the 30-member shadow cabinet. The expected departures of Don Farrell and Bob Carr and the defeats of David Bradbury, Sid Sidebottom and Yvette D’Ath creates some space, but 80 into 30 doesn’t go. The future of former mental health and ageing minister Jacinta Collins is expected to be closely scrutinised.

Somewhat curiously, former parliamentary secretary for schools Kelvin Thomson ruled himself out of contention for a frontbench possie this morning, but said he would continue on as the member for Wills.

“Anyone who thinks my decision to return to the backbench means that I am looking to lead a quiet life and slip out the back door is very mistaken. On the contrary, it is a necessary pre-condition for being active in the debate about the issues which are of greatest importance to the world and this country,” Thomson said.

Bowen ruled himself out of contention for the leadership today, but did not close off the possibility of serving as deputy leader or shadow treasurer. Wayne Swan has also ruled himself out.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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