Bill Shorten criticised by Penny Wong over working against Anthony Alabanese for Labor leadership


“Albo is the outstanding parliamentarian of our generation. He’s shown that in his previous capacity as leader of the House, and he’s shown that he can work with people across the Parliament to achieve the outcomes that benefit working people.”

Senator Wong urged her shattered colleagues not to rush their evaluation of the reasons for their unexpected loss on Saturday. The party should “not engage in easy scapegoating of any policy or any individual”, she said at a press conference in Adelaide.

“We need to take time to soberly reflect [and] understand the reasons for this loss.”

Senator Wong reiterated she was not interested in leading the party, but said she would nominate to remain Labor’s leader in the Senate, where she has served since 2001.

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Confronted with reports in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that Mr Shorten has been working behind the scenes against Mr Albanese – which other colleagues had found “weird” and distasteful – Senator Wong said such behaviour could undermine the party’s unity.

“I would be surprised if that were occurring,” she said. “I’d be surprised because it’s not consistent with the role he now has and I’d be surprised because it would potentially undermine the very unity he has been part of developing and building in opposition.”

Sources close to Mr Shorten said he remained in Labor’s caucus and had a right to a say in his replacement, but argued his involvement had been blown out of proportion.

“He supports the people he worked most closely with – Tanya [Plibersek] and Chris [Bowen] – but he’s not playing an active role,” one source said. “He’s determined to ensure the party remains as unified as possible.”

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Mr Bowen, of the NSW Right faction, is the only other declared candidate taking on Mr Albanese in the leadership ballot, although finance spokesman Jim Chalmers is yet to rule himself out. Ms Plibersek had intended to run, but then withdrew citing family reasons.

Other figures from the party’s Left confirmed their support for Mr Albanese on Wednesday, including health spokesman Catherine King and rising stars Andrew Giles and Terri Butler.

Environment spokesman Tony Burke and NSW senator Kristina Keneally – both from the NSW Right – are also supporting Mr Albanese above their factional colleague Mr Bowen.

Under party rules, the caucus and the party membership have a 50-50 say in who becomes its next parliamentary leader. In 2013, Mr Shorten defeated Mr Albanese by carrying a majority of the caucus, while Mr Albanese was the more popular candidate among party members.

Senator Keneally said she supported Mr Albanese in 2013 and would do so again this time.

“I have great respect for Chris Bowen, but after the election result, we need to listen to our members and supporters, and we must reconnect with working people who did not vote for us,” she said.

Michael Koziol is a political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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