Australian Labor Party leadership battle down to two-horse race

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 September, 2013, 3:42am

The race for Australia's Labor Party leadership narrowed to two contenders yesterday, with ex-treasurer Chris Bowen bowing out as the vanquished party faces a rocky rebuilding from years of turmoil.

The tussle to replace Kevin Rudd looked set to involve Anthony Albanese, former deputy prime minister, and education minister Bill Shorten, after Bowen and party veteran Wayne Swan announced they would not be standing.

Centre-left Labor faces the difficult task of rebuilding after a comprehensive election defeat by conservative Tony Abbott's Liberal-Nationals as voters punished them for years of infighting that saw two leadership coups in as many terms in office.

With the election of Abbott, Australia has now had three prime ministers in little more than three months, following Rudd's ousting of Julia Gillard in June and his own dispatch at the weekend. Gillard toppled him just ahead of the 2010 elections.

Rudd stood aside as Labor leader after Saturday's defeat, saying the Australian people "deserve a fresh start".

"We now need to best determine how we can be the most effective, the most united, the most focused opposition that we possibly can be, to hold the new Abbott government to account," Bowen said.

"We need to acknowledge and learn from the message the people gave us … they want a Labor Party united, stable, focused on them, not on ourselves."

Shorten said on Sunday he was "genuinely undecided" about whether to run and Albanese would not say.

There are also questions about whether the decision will be put to a vote of the full Labor party membership under reforms brought in by Rudd after he deposed Gillard.

"I think if there are two candidates then clearly it must go to a vote of the full party membership. We've adopted that rule, it's an important rule," Bowen said.

If only one person ultimately stood, Bowen said, the party ought to take that as a sign "consensus" had been reached.

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.


  • Two Labor candidates vying to become the first ethnic Chinese members of the House of Representatives were defeated - Jason Yat-Sen Li in Bennelong, Sydney and Hong Kong-born Wesa Chau Wai-sum in Higgins, Melbourne.