Labor leader Anthony Albanese will shake up his frontbench in a major reshuffle that will eject Mark Butler from the climate change portfolio amid growing leadership speculation.
The long-awaited reshuffle, to be announced this weekend, will slot new faces into the frontbench just days before Parliament resumes next week for the first sitting in 2021.
The new timetable was flagged in a brutal interview on the ABC’s 7.30 program, where the opposition leader was asked “what is the point “ of his leadership.
“You often ask the question, ‘What’s the point of this government?’ What I would like to ask you is, ‘What’s the point of the Albanese opposition’?,” 7:30 host Laura Tingle asked.
In a follow up question Tingle then asked the Labor leader: “You’re proceeding with a frontbench reshuffle. What do you hope to achieve with this?”
“What I hope to achieve is to show what Labors priorities are,’’ Mr Albanese said.
“It’ll be announced at the weekend and I’m talking through with colleagues and I’m sure that will it achieve a stronger team going forward with the right people in the right jobs, and it will be, I think, a positive move,’’ he said.
Mr Albanese plans to shift Labor frontbencher Mark Butler from the climate change portfolio, a role he has held since 2013.
The architect of Labor’s climate policy at the last election, who was once dubbed “the Grim Reaper” by internal critics, has publicly indicated he is happy to be moved to a new challenge after nearly a decade in the vexed portfolio.
Mr Butler previously called for some “serious reflection” into Labor’s 2019 election loss to Scott Morrison lamenting that Labor had “it’s backside handed to it by Fozzie the Bear and Kermit the frog”.
There is also talk of a job swap between Mr Butler and health spokesman Chris Bowen.
Mr Bowen, the party’s former treasury spokesman, is said to be keen to take on the climate portfolio.
There is also speculation that deputy Labor leader Richard Marles will be moved from defence and slotted into a more frontline role prosecuting the opposition’s arguments.
Over the weekend former Labor leader Bill Shorten implied Mr Albanese’s policy package was “tiny.”
But he’s not angling for a return to the leadership with Tanya Plibersek remaining the frontrunner but Jim Chalmers, Tony Burke and Richard Marles in the mix.
Mr Albanese, who survived a horrific car accident just weeks ago when a P-plate driver in a Range Rover smashed head on to his car, was also probed over whether he could name a single big ticket policy idea he had prosecuted beyond childcare reform.
“Is that it?,’’ Ms Tingle replied.
But Mr Albanese insisted his leadership was safe and his colleagues were backing him.
“My leadership is secure. I’ll continue to advance an aggressive position for Labor. Last year was a tough year for everyone, 2020,’’ he said.
“But when you look at the position we’re in going into what may well be an election year at the end of the year, in terms of all the polling, we’re very competitive.
“Most importantly, we’ll focus on the people who we need to vote for us rather than focus on oysters — focus on ourselves.”
Tingle then turned to his call for a referendum on constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
News.com.au revealed this week the idea was “Captain’s Pick” that had never gone to shadow cabinet and one senior MP described the ideas as “f***ing stupid. Another said it was “C.R.A.Z.Y.”
“Some of your closest supporters are frustrated that you don’t take advice. Did you consult, for example, on your idea for a referendum for a Constitutional question on the question of 26 January?,’’ Tingle asked.
Mr Albanese confirmed he had not consulted the shadow cabinet on the big idea.
“No, it was put forward in 2018. As a constructive idea,’’ he said.
“How do we stop having every January 26, the same debate each year, but with more and more division? Now, I don’t pretend to have the precise solution and that there’s a simple solution to it.”
Mr Albanese first raised the idea in 2018, before he was elected Labor leader. It has never been discussed by shadow cabinet.
“Somebody made the observation to me that the problem, for you, is that in finally defeating Bill Shorten and becoming Opposition Leader, you’ve achieved your lifetime ambition, and that you seem to lack that burning desire to actually become prime minister. That was from a Labor person,’’ Tingle asked Mr Albanese.
“No, no – my – my ambition is for Labor to be in government. My ambition has never been about myself. It’s about what Labor Governments can achieve for the sort of people that I grew up with, the sort of people who need Labor governments,’’ he replied.
“For some people, who, in government, it is a bit of an academic exercise, it’s something of interest to them. For the people who really need a Labor government, it makes a difference.”