New Labor leader Shorten promises a positive agenda

Bill Shorten has been confirmed as the leader of the Labor Party. AAP/Lukas Coch

Bill Shorten has become opposition leader, with a strong win among Labor MPs comfortably overcoming his defeat in the party’s rank and file vote.

After a month long process in which nearly three-quarters of the party membership voted and the ALP gained thousands of new members, Shorten, from the right, beat Anthony Albanese, from the left, with 52.02% of the combined vote.

In caucus Shorten gained several more votes than expected, 55 to Albanese’s 31, which represented nearly 64% of the parliamentary party. The rank and file voted 59.9% in favour of Albanese compared with 40.1% for Shorten.

Shorten declared this “a brand new day” for the ALP - and promised to be a less “relentlessly negative” opposition leader than Tony Abbott had been.

“I believe it is important to hold the Coalition to account,” he told a news conference. “But what I also believe is that the Labor Party needs to be able to explain to people what it stands for, and I think we can.

"I am sufficiently ambitious for Labor and for Australia that at the next election people will seek the Labor how-to-vote card because we do have the best policies on science, research, innovation and higher education, because people do see our policies as speaking up for those who don’t have a voice in society.”

Governor-General Quentin Bryce, who is Shorten’s mother-in-law, offered her resignation to Prime Minister Tony Abbott to avoid any perception of bias.

But Abbott declined to accept it, indicating there was not a problem - she would end her term anyway in March and the government commanded a significant majority in the House of Representatives. Abbott said he had thanked her for her magnanimity, but believed it was “only fit and proper that she be permitted to conclude her term and be accorded the appropriate farewell that her exemplary service merits.” Bryce made the approach and she and Abbott spoke on Saturday.

Former prime minister Julia Gillard tweeted her congratulations to Shorten, a key figure in installing her but who switched to Kevin Rudd in June.

Albanese said the ballot - the first in which Labor’s grassroots has been given a vote - had been a success. This was not the end point for democratisation of the ALP, he said: “This is just the beginning.”

He had said at the outset of the leadership campaign that it hadn’t been his lifetime ambition to lead the ALP - he had always thought of himself as a team player. “I will be back to being a team player again.”

Shorten, who has endorsed left winger Tanya Plibersek as his preferred deputy in tomorrow’s caucus election of other leadership positions and frontbenchers, said Albanese would be “most welcome to serve in senior positions within our parliamentary team.” Sources said Albanese was expected to stand.

Shorten repeated that Labor’s challenge was to demonstrate to Australians how it could be relevant to their future lives; the party also needed to become more diverse and reach out to new constituencies including small business, country people and professional women.

“This ballot is the start of the process of developing the right policies which are then explained with persistence. It is the opportunity for Labor to start again the process of renewing the trust of hundreds of thousands of Australians who moved their vote away from Labor in the last two elections.”

Shorten reaffirmed that he would fight Tony Abbott’s legislation to repeal the carbon tax. But he said he would not be making a habit of commenting on every policy every day.

He recognised that his poorer showing in the rank and file vote meant that “there are still things for me to learn” and said he would be talking to Albanese about “how I can better reach out to our party members”. But he also noted particularly his strong vote in caucus, who were the people who knew him best. He said he didn’t accept that the vote had been just a factional one - both candidates had got votes across the party.

Chris Bowen who was interim leader said Shorten had dedicated his working life “to representing vulnerable people and to improving this nation.” These people “now have an alternative PM who is on their side.”

Congratulations to Bill Shorten on becoming Labor leader. A great honour! I wish Bill all the best. JG

— Julia Gillard (@JuliaGillard) October 13, 2013

Albo: Well done! A fantastic campaign and you have so much more to do for Labor. JG

— Julia Gillard (@JuliaGillard) October 13, 2013

First call to mum and the kids to tell them I’m new Labor Leader #thisislabor pic.twitter.com/npxDhnvbK1

— Bill Shorten (@billshortenmp) October 13, 2013

Congratulations to @billshortenmp on his election as #laborleader

— Anthony Albanese (@AlboMP) October 13, 2013

Congratulations to @billshortenmp on the great honour of being elected Labor Leader. Now to make him Labor Prime Minister.

— Chris Bowen (@Bowenchris) October 13, 2013