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Anthony Albanese open to cabinet reshuffle if Labor wins election

By Katharine Murphy Political editor
Anthony Albanese during a break in campaigning
Labor leader Anthony Albanese during a break in campaigning. He has left open the possibility of changing his cabinet lineup if he defeats Scott Morrison in the federal election. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

Anthony Albanese has left open the possibility of changing his cabinet lineup if he beats Scott Morrison and the Coalition on 21 May, noting the mix of senior personnel will ultimately be a decision for the caucus post-election.

In a wide-ranging interview with Guardian Australia on the hustings this week, the Labor leader said all of his colleagues were worthy of their current roles, “but we are certainly not getting ahead of ourselves”.

Asked whether the current lineup would remain if he won, Albanese said: “Caucus determines our frontbench. We have democratic processes.”

Kevin Rudd altered Labor’s historical practice in 2008 by insisting the leader and not the factions should have the power to appoint his or her frontbench team.

Rudd later reflected: “I think that might have been the wrong call because it did add to a sense of powerless on the part of various members of the parliamentary party and, as I’ve reflected on this and discussed it with ministers, a lack a sense of independence on the part of ministers as well.”

The power reverted to the caucus in 2013.

While the factions now select their candidates for the frontbench, the party leader can and does exercise significant leverage in the event they want a redux of key personnel.

If Albanese wins, he will need to balance experience with renewal. Several Labor frontbenchers are veterans of the Rudd and Gillard governments, but the Coalition’s three terms in government have necessitated an influx of newer MPs in the outer shadow ministry and junior assistant shadow minister positions.

There has been sustained speculation about whether or not the current shadow defence minister, Brendan O’Connor, will remain in his role post-election. Albanese’s deputy leader, the rightwinger Richard Marles, is said to want the job.

Asked specifically about O’Connor’s future during an appearance on the ABC on Thursday night, Albanese said the Victorian leftwinger, who squared off against Peter Dutton in a National Press Club policy debate this week, was “doing a fantastic job”.

Albanese said as a “starting point” his view was “those people who have their existing portfolios will continue in those roles”.

Two weeks remain until the election. Albanese will face off against Scott Morrison in the second leaders debate of the campaign on Sunday night, with a third debate in the middle of next week.

National opinion polls suggest Labor is in front of the Coalition as the campaign enters the home stretch. But with high voter interest in alternatives to the major parties, backroom strategists aren’t sure how the contest will ultimately break.

Liberals are pessimistic about the chances of holding some city seats currently under challenge from teal independents, but MPs say Morrison and the Coalition continue to track well in Queensland, where the government enjoys a significant electoral buffer, and in outer suburban areas.

Labor holds a notional 69 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives, so Albanese will require a net gain of seven seats to form majority government. But Labor could form a minority government with a gain of five seats.

The Liberals hold 75 seats and will need to offset any losses with gains elsewhere.

Albanese told Guardian Australia he is not prepared to make Labor’s climate policy more ambitious to secure confidence and supply agreements from any teal independents that ultimately make it to the crossbench, but he can deliver another key item on their wishlist – a federal anti-corruption body.

As the campaign enters the final fortnight, neither side is prepared to countenance concessions in the event of a hung parliament. Morrison is also ramping up pressure on Albanese over his performance during the campaign.

Ahead of the opening of pre-poll voting on Monday, the Liberals have kicked off a grassroots fundraising drive focusing on Albanese’s missteps on the hustings.

In a call to action to supporters, Liberal campaign director Andrew Hirst said on Friday: “In the last three weeks, Mr Albanese has got the unemployment rate wrong, he didn’t know the RBA cash rate, he fibbed about his policies being formally costed, and he flip-flopped on our border protection – not once but twice.”

Hirst said ahead of early voting opening on Monday, he needed donations to “help to raise awareness about the risks Mr Albanese poses to Australia and our future”.

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Dive Deeper:
Anthony Albanese: five key questions for the Labor leader ahead of the 2022 election
From negotiating with independents to strengthening the relationship with Pacific neighbours, Albanese on the big issues facing Australia
Australia election: climate and cost of living in focus as leaders stumble
Labor hope to end a decade in opposition by ousting Scott Morrison’s government on 21 May, but independents have grabbed…
Albo fumbles another gotcha before a day of fiery debates — but does anyone care?
Albanese faced another gotcha question, and stumbled. But the real fireworks came during two high-profile debates.
Malcolm Turnbull says voters will consider independent candidates in blue-ribbon Liberal seats because party has lost its way
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull denies he is encouraging voters in traditional Liberal strongholds to consider backing so-called 'teal independents',…
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
A heated issue
Good morning, early birds. The Morrison government’s plan for climate action will lead to nearly 4 degrees of global heating…
‘I am who I am’: Anthony Albanese rushes towards his date with destiny
Can the Labor leader persuade Australians that his passion and emotional investment are the qualities they need in a PM?
Get all your news in one place