The Federal member for Fenner and former shadow assistant treasurer, Andrew Leigh, has paid a high price for being an independent non-aligned MP as he’s dumped from Anthony Albanese’s shadow ministry.
He will return to the backbench, while returning Left aligned Senator Katy Gallagher has regained a shadow portfolio amidst a shake-up that’s revealed the factional divides that still rule many ALP internal decisions.
Congratulating the new leader’s front bench, Dr Leigh said “I am privileged to have had the chance to serve for the past six years as part of Labor’s frontbench economic team”, nominating a number of achievements in the portfolio and in his roles as Shadow Minister for Competition, and Shadow Minister for Charities and Not-for-Profits.
Pledging his support to the new leader, Dr Leigh urged non-aligned members of the ALP “to stay engaged with Australia’s oldest and greatest political party. Working in conjunction with the union movement, ours is a powerful force, and millions of voiceless people are counting on Labor”.
But ANU political scientist Dr Norman Abjorensensays the choice to drop Leigh, a former professor of economics with a PhD in Public Policy from Harvard University, is “an appalling loss. He was one of the few genuine original thinkers in the party and they need all the intellectual firepower they can get”.
Dr Abjorensen says that while the factions serve a purpose in bringing together a coalition of interests in the Labor movement, Dr Leigh’s plight illustrates a significant downside.
“It shows the limits of Anthony Albanese’s leadership if he can push for the inclusion of Kristina Keneally but is powerless to include someone like Andrew Leigh with his strong economic background and intellect”.
Newly elected Member for Canberra Alicia Payne indicated to RiotACT before the election that she’d be an independent. Member For Bean David Smith is believed to be aligned to the Right but was also not keen to discuss his factional affiliation pre-election.
Former Chief Minister Jon Stanhope has been unaligned for the duration of his 43 year ALP membership and says he believes the factions are “the great negative of the Labor Party. If Andrew Leigh can’t take a place simply because he doesn’t have factional support, that speaks volumes about the lack of commitment to selection on merit that bedevils the ALP and consequently, the calibre and quality of our representatives”.
“Factions mean that we preselect candidates who are quite clearly not always the best available and that feeds into quality of our membership and ministry. We don’t talk about it openly, because nobody wants to suggest that some people aren’t all that smart”.
Mr Stanhope said he was also disappointed that despite the Rudd reforms, the ALP rank and file had not had the chance to vote for the current leadership, a situation he said had been “clearly confected through factional manoeuvring”, adding that the exclusion of ordinary members as a consequence was “an enormously retrograde step”.
Dr Abjorensen said that while the non-aligned choice might be ethically appealing, it was not necessarily helpful for Canberra’s parliamentary representation despite the fact that our three Federal electorates and at least one Senate seat are all but guaranteed for the ALP.
“I think the fact that Anthony Albanese has gotten up unopposed is a sign that there is not that much generational change going on after the election loss. There are factional people who have frankly been around too long like Joel Fitzgibbon, you look at the lack of numbers for Tanya Plibersek, the energy that went into dissuading Jim Chalmers to run for what looked like factional reasons.
“It’s a retreat, not an advance, and it encapsulates Andrew Leigh’s plight,” he said.
But Senator Gallagher described the shadow ministry as the right balance of experience and fresh faces and said she was honoured to be on the front bench again.
She said she would make sure Canberra was well represented at Labor’s decision making table.”I will serve in whatever capacity Albo thinks is best for the Labor team, and hold this government to account,” she said.
“I would also like to acknowledge the hard work of my ACT colleague Andrew Leigh in the economic team leading up to the last election. Andrew is an enthusiastic member of the team and I am sure he will continue to have a lot to contribute to the Labor agenda heading towards the next election.”