Labor leader Anthony Albanese
(Image: AAP/Lukas Koch/Crikey)

Bill Shorten has stepped down as Labor leader, after more than five years in the job (a longer term than that of either of his immediate predecessors). Replacing him will be a messy task, but it will also determine the path Labor takes during these next three years in the wilderness.

How does the selection process work?

Formal nominations for the leadership close within the week, then candidates have 20 days to campaign to the country’s rank and file membership. Expect public debates over franking credits, Adani, and other policies many suspect (but haven’t exactly proven) cost Labor the election.

A ballot vote will then be held, with equal weight given to all Labor members (53,000 as of the end of 2017) and the caucus (MPs, senators etc). Members need to have been with the party for a full year before voting. 

There’s also an apparent arrangement that, if a Labor Right member wins, a Left member serves as their deputy. Since Tanya Plibersek announced she would not run on Monday, this means her future as deputy leader could depend on a Right member succeeding.

Shorten will continue as acting leader until the vote.

Who’s definitely running?

Anthony Albanese: In the Left corner, Albo practically announced his candidacy before Shorten had even finished his concession speech. Since entering Parliament in 1996 and presiding over a number of ministries, Albanese won the 2013 membership vote 60-40 but came in at a final total of 48-52 due to overwhelming caucus support for Shorten.

Since then he’s run as opposition spokesperson for infrastructure; pushed for his beloved pipe dream of a Very Fast Train; and done many, many DJ sets. More pointedly, he’s recently positioned himself further to the political centre than even Shorten on some issues. He publicly cosied up to business before the then-crucial 2018 byelections; he recently dismissed calls for a Newstart raise; he claimed Greens voters were suffering from “increasingly extreme groupthink” on the Adani mine; and, just last night, he flagged reforms on franking credits.

Basically, he’s the obvious choice for a party in damage control after too many slightly progressive policies.

Chris Bowen: On the Right, the shadow treasurer has just announced his candidacy this morning. The architect of Labor’s controversial scheme to end cash rebates for franking credits, Bowen is somewhat of a surprise nomination — especially since the unfortunate “don’t vote for us” gaffe earlier in the year.

However, Bowen has since handled the issue well under pressure during election debates (and a Q&A special). Like Albanese, he also has strong party experience. Bowen has previously served Labor governments as treasurer; minister for small business; minister for immigration and citizenship; and minister for financial services, superannuation and corporate law. During the Albo-Shorten fight, he also served as acting Labor leader.

Who might throw their hat in the ring?

Both shadow finance minister Jim Chalmers and shadow agriculture minister Joel Fitzgibbon have signaled interest in the role. As a young Queenslander and Adani-supporting regional representative respectively, they are similarly pushing for centrist reforms.

Tony Burke and Richard Marles have also been flagged as possible contenders. And, while she hasn’t actually declared interest in the role, Linda Burney was briefly trending on Twitter this week following calls for her to run. Labor has never had an Indigenous leader.

Who’s out?

While electorally popular, both Tanya Plibersek and Penny Wong have both outright rejected going for the role. So unless Burney goes for a surprise run, this is likely to be a contest fought between white men.

Who’s the hot tip?

Not that anyone should trust the polls after Saturday (although maybe leadership points count for more than we thought), but Albanese is the obvious frontrunner here. Time will tell if that translates to caucus support.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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