post election leadership, front bench selection and administrative arrangements

Deciding the Labor leadership

As you will see from page 196 of the text book, prior to the November 2007 election the federal parliamentary Labor leader was chosen by the caucus (the party room made up of Labor senators and MHRs).  This arrangement was changed in July 2013 at the urging of Kevin Rudd when he was restored to the Labor leadership after defeating Julia Gillard in a caucus ballot.

On 22 July 2013 the federal caucus approved a new process for electing the federal parliamentary leader involving a ballot of both caucus and eligible party rank and file members. The party membership and caucus votes each have a 50 per cent weighting in determining the result (see It was also decided that the process of removing a Labor leader would be changed from a simple majority vote of caucus to a no confidence vote supported by 60 per cent of the caucus.

The two ballots resulted in Bill Shorten being elected leader with 52 per cent of the weighted caucus and party member votes.  Anthony Albanese was the most preferred candidate of party members but the decision fell Shorten’s way because he secured a greater percentage of the caucus vote.

Liberal leadership

The process for determining the federal Liberal party leader continues to be a majority vote by the parliamentary party.

Choosing the ministry

Methods of selecting ministers are described on pages 195-196 of the text book.  Labor party practice traditionally had been for the caucus to elect the ministry, but in November 2007 that procedure changed when prime minister Rudd selected his ministry.  That practice was continued by prime minister Gillard.  Following the party’s defeat at the 7 September 2013 federal election, newly-elected Labor leader Shorten handed the selection of the ministry back to caucus to determine.  He retained the responsibility for allocating portfolios among those chosen by caucus.  The factions took control of the process with the result that the shadow ministry is made up of 16 from the right, 13 from the left and one unaligned MP.  Geographical representation was also a consideration in the factions’ selection process.

This process was strongly criticised by some who had missed out.  It was described by Warren Snowden as a ‘stitch up’ and by Anna Burke as ‘a reversion to the “faceless men” being in control…a couple of blokes sitting around the room carving up the results’.  Some MPs were not considered by the left because they had deserted their faction to support Shorten in the leadership ballot (Crowe, D. 2013, in

The Liberal Party places responsibility for selecting ministers and the allocation of portfolios with the prime minister.  Generally, there is little public comment from those who miss out, but on this occasion there was criticism from Liberal MP Dennis Jensen who missed out on the science portfolio he wanted that ‘Abbott’s front bench choices weren’t entirely based on merit’.  However, he also commented that this was ‘a political reality’, ‘that the decisions were based on keeping a balance between upper and lower house MPs and making sure states were fairly represented and internal political power issues taken into consideration (AAP, 17 September 2013

Is caucus deciding who will be in the ministry preferable to a prime minister making a personal selection?  Prime ministerial selection allows a prime minister to choose ministers at his or her own discretion.  Even so that choice has to be moderated by the fact that prime ministers from both Labor and Liberal parties have to take factional and geographical considerations into account.  As a negative, prime ministerial patronage could act as a strong disincentive for ministers to take a strong position or contrary line against the prime minister in cabinet discussions because of the risk of being left out in a future ministerial reshuffle.  This may  be less likely in a Labor government when caucus is responsible for ministerial selection.

Women in cabinet

Prime minister Abbott attracted widespread criticism when he included only one woman, deputy prime minister Julie Bishop, in his cabinet.  Labor’s shadow cabinet, by comparison, includes 11 women with Tanya Plibersek selected as deputy leader and Penny Wong as Labor’s Senate leader.

Abbott government administrative arrangements

Prime minister Abbott’s ministerial arrangements include 19 cabinet ministers, 11 assistant ministers in the outer ministry (a new designation introduced by Abbott to distinguish them from cabinet ministers) and 12 parliamentary secretaries.  A full list of the ministry can be found at  – click on the link Ministry List 18 September 2013.

It is explained on page 248 of the text book that secretaries of departments are employed on contract and that each prime minister has discretion whether to retain the incumbent heads of departments or replace them.  Prime minister Rudd chose not to replace any existing senior departmental heads when he became prime minister.  Prime minister Abbott, however, announced that three public service heads would be sacked.

Prime ministerial power to restructure the public service (see page 244 of the text book) was exercised by Abbott who reorganised several portfolios ( 


Gwynneth Singleton




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