Shorten does the business: What you need to know about Labor’s new leader

Right-faction heavyweight Bill Shorten has been elected as the 20th leader of the Labor Party, beating Anthony Albanese by 55 to 31 caucus votes.

Shorten’s victory in the caucus was enough to outweigh Albanese’s win among the party member ballots, Where Albanese secured 18,230 of almost 30,000 votes.

Late yesterday it was revealed Governor-General Quentin Bryce, whose daughter is married to Shorten, offered to resign in the event of his election to avoid “perception of bias”, but this offer was rejected by Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Shorten is the fourth person since June to lead the Labor Party after a tumultuous few months which saw Julia Gillard ousted from office by Kevin Rudd, Rudd step down following a convincing election loss and Chris Bowen take the helm as interim leader.

Shorten, speaking after his election, said he would need to understand the Left branch of Labor better.

“I am going to listen to my colleagues… I fundamentally believe that there’s a lot of wisdom both within the ranks of the parliamentary party and in the broader community,” he says.

“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 at the last two elections.”

Shorten is well known for his role in both the downfall and resurrection of Rudd, but there are a few things worth knowing which could inform his approach to business.

Carbon tax

Following his election as leader, Shorten pledged on Sunday to stand firm on a price on carbon, a move supported by Greens leader Christine Milne.

Labor and the Greens combined numbers in the Senate to block any repeal legislation prior to July 2014.

“He has a mandate to form a government of Australia, but there is nothing in Australian democracy that says that Labor has to be a rubber stamp for every Coalition proposition,” Shorten told Fairfax Radio.

“I don’t support the Coalition putting off until tomorrow and next week and next year tackling issues of climate change and carbon pollution and leaving this issue for our kids to resolve.”


Shorten, 46, was born and bred in the Melbourne middle class and found support for his political career from the Australian Workers’ Union.

Shorten’s involvment with the union was unsuprising considering the Shorten family’s union involvement traces back to his great grandfather in Britain.

While studying arts/law at Monash University in the mid-1980s he joined the youth division of the Labor and developed a passion for the party and politics.

After graduating, Shorten joined the law firm Maurice Blackburn, although colleagues have reported his interest was always in public office.

Shorten first joined the AWU as a trainee organiser in 1994, in part on the advice of friend and former ACTU boss Bill Kelty, and in 1998 was elected Victorian state secretary.

In 2001 he was elected as the AWU national secretary and was re-elected in 2005.

Shorten’s union support is thought to have been a major force in his 2007 federal election win when he joined the party and he’s had continued support from the union in terms of monetary backing.

His history as a unionist also informs his position and popularity as part of the Labor Right, which is currently the dominant faction in the party.

Shorten also completed an MBA from the University of Melbourne in 2001.

Political background

Shorten’s rise to power has been a short story. Elected in 2007, he gained popularity quickly and has since had portfolios including education, financial services and workplace relations.

In his first role as the parliamentary secretary for disabilities he worked on the highly-regarded national disability insurance scheme.

While the NDIS was lauded as a success, if you’re a business owner looking for action on penalty rates, don’t expect to see any change under Shorten.

Shorten’s history as a union leader means he instinctively favours employees.

In early September Shorten made comments to ABC radio about employee wages:

“I don’t lose sleep over the fact Australian workers are being paid $150,000 a year. I think they’ve earned it,” he said.

He also said there was no room for farm labourers to be paid less and said workers in a first world country shouldn’t have to settle for being paid third world rates.


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