The former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce is positioning himself for a return to cabinet following the Coalition’s shock election win, as Scott Morrison prepares to unveil his new-look frontbench as early as next week.
The jockeying within the Coalition comes as Labor’s leadership contest crystallises, with a factional battle looming between the shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen, and leftwinger Anthony Albanese.
With ballot counting on Tuesday shoring up a majority for the Coalition of at least 77 seats, attention is now turning to how Morrison will reshape his frontbench following Saturday’s result.
Despite the Nationals’ electoral success, which saw them hold on to all of their seats and increase their hold on Queensland marginal electorates, the party is expected to go backwards in terms of their percentage representation in the joint Coalition party room.
In recent months, Joyce has flagged his interest in taking back the Nationals’ leadership but, given the party’s success, and an internal split about who would replace him, Michael McCormack’s hold on the position is now deemed safe.
However, Nationals MPs say Joyce will still agitate to be reinstated to the ministry after he was demoted following revelations of his affair with an adviser.
The Nationals will be hoping to retain five positions in Morrison’s cabinet, with a vacancy created by the departure of Northern Territory senator Nigel Scullion.
McCormack will decide who fills the cabinet positions, and will also face lobbying from Queensland MP Keith Pitt and Victorian MP Darren Chester.
Among the Liberals, there is an expectation that New South Wales senator Arthur Sinodinos may be returned to cabinet, and Western Australian MP Ken Wyatt is also tipped for promotion to the Indigenous affairs portfolio.
On Tuesday, Wyatt said he would “take on board” whatever Morrison demanded of him.
“What I want to do is make a contribution to a common sense approach across a number of areas in our country.”
Allies of Morrison, including Western Australians Ben Morton and Steve Irons, may also be rewarded, while Victorian moderates Jane Hume and Tim Wilson are also in the mix for the new-look frontbench.
Conservatives in NSW will also demand senior representation as a quid pro quo after Tony Abbott’s departure from politics. There are internal criticisms Abbott did not get enough support from Morrison during his campaign in Warringah.
A reshuffle is expected soon but the timing of parliaments’s return is unclear, given it depends on when the Australian Electoral Commission returns the writs to the governor general.
On the Labor side, the party will now embark on its month-long process to replace Bill Shorten, with a caucus ballot and membership vote to determine the new leader.
Queenslander Jim Chalmers is still weighing up whether he will enter the contest in what would provide an option for generational change, with the 41-year-old expected to declare his hand on Wednesday.
Announcing his candidacy yesterday, Bowen said he could connect with regional and suburban Australia, drawing on his suburban upbringing in Smithfield in Sydney’s western suburbs.
“I believe in growth and opportunity, economic growth,” Bowen said. “I believe in reconnecting with the suburbs like this, and the regions. I believe in connecting with people from all walks of life – manufacturing workers, for example.”
Admitting he was “devastated” by Saturday’s election result, which saw the party win just one additional seat nationally, Bowen defended the impact his unpopular dividend imputation policy had on Labor’s vote.
Nationally, the party suffered a swing of less than 1% but went backwards 3.6% in Queensland, where its primary support was a record low 27%. In seats where people over the age of 60 made up more than 15% of voters, swings were as high as 15% away from Labor.
“Some say Labor lost the election because of franking credits, which was a policy I designed,” Bowen said. “It is true, it was my policy. I designed it to invest more in schools and hospitals and give Labor a good program of investment.
“Franking credits was a controversial policy, a controversial policy for which, no doubt, we lost some votes. But I don’t accept it’s why we lost the election in entirety.”
But he said the party would be reviewing all of its policies following the shock defeat, declaring a “blank canvas” as it sought to reset the agenda to try to win government in three years’ time.
“No political party ever takes to the next election exactly the same policies that it took to the last,” Bowen said. “That would be dumb. They all have to be reviewed, it’s a blank canvas, we start again with new policies collectively.”
He also said he did not expect the right faction to vote as a bloc, with some splitting from the factional allegiance to support his leftwing rival. Backers of Albanese believe he will be able to corral sufficient support to win the caucus vote, despite the right faction controlling more members than the left.
Albanese, who Bowen conceded was the favourite, continued to make his pitch for the role, saying the two would run a “positive campaign” outlining their case for the leadership.
“I think I’m up for a big job and there is no job that’s bigger than being a leader of the opposition,” Albanese said. “I am tough. People know what my values are. I’m prepared to articulate them in a clear fashion and I like people.”