The PM’s playing a dream hand, but there’s a reshuffle on the cards

As political honeymoons go, it’s been a long one. And despite Peter Dutton’s sensational decision this week to oppose what has become Anthony Albanese’s signature policy since winning government last year, the PM remains confident the Voice referendum will succeed even without bipartisan support, and that the two-term strategy he outlined to this masthead during the election campaign remains on track.

There is a level of confidence among Labor MPs that voters will give them another term in office, given the strong start the government has made and the historical precedents. After finalising the AUKUS deal, securing key legislation on climate policy and the National Reconstruction Fund, the government’s focus has shifted to its second budget and passing the Voice referendum.

Illustration: Simon Letch.

But discussion and planning is also underway in Labor ranks about what a second term frontbench could look like, including who might retire and who might be promoted into the outer ministry and cabinet.

This is the sort of medium-term planning a well-run government should be doing. The prime minister will have to manage three issues in a reshuffle that is likely to take place before the next election, due no later than May 2025.

First, MPs are jostling for promotion; second, there are just four senior ministers able to answer questions during Senate question time and that needs to be fixed; and third, in 2025 two men will have to leave the ministry to accommodate two more women, as Labor’s affirmative action target will rise to require 50-50 representation in the 30-member ministry.

At present, the split is 17-13, with the Left faction having seven men in the ministry and seven women, while the Right faction has 10 men and six women. In other words, the Right has a woman problem.

Who might stay and who might go?

Alex Ellinghausen.

In a series of conversations with members of the cabinet through to the backbench, the same names came up again and again as in line for promotion. Outer ministers Anika Wells, Kristy McBain and Pat Conroy are considered first in line to move up when cabinet vacancies open.

Assistant ministers Tim Ayres, Jenny McAllister, Malarndirri McCarthy, Patrick Gorman and Anthony Chisholm are the most likely to step up to the outer ministry in term two of an Albanese government. Four of those five assistant ministers are in the Senate, which would broaden the ministerial depth in the red chamber.

And there is a Melbourne Cup field of hopefuls eyeing off a spot as an assistant minister. They include South Australians Marielle Smith and Karen Grogan, Western Australians Josh Wilson and Zaneta Mascarenhas, NSW’s Andrew Charlton, Sally Sitou and Gordon Reid, and Victorians Kate Thwaites, Julian Hill, Josh Burns, Daniel Mulino, Jana Stewart and Peta Murphy.

Not all of them will win promotion – particularly those in their first term of parliament – but the depth on the backbench highlights both the renewal and expansion of Labor ranks since the 2019 election loss.

The three cabinet ministers considered most likely to retire at the next election are Minister for Skills Brendan O’Connor (61), Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus (66) and Indigenous Australians minister Linda Burney (66) – but none will be forced to move on, and none have given any indication that retirement is imminent.

The other two names discussed are former leader Bill Shorten and former deputy leader Tanya Plibersek. Again, neither has given any indication of planning to retire and both are seen as strong contributors to cabinet. But Plibersek is now the longest-serving woman in the House of Representatives and Shorten kept his spot in cabinet only with the help of Albanese. The expectation in Labor ranks is that both will look to exit after the second term.

The surfeit of talent in Labor ranks is a good problem for Albanese to have, but one he will have to manage carefully.

Peter Dutton, on the other hand, has narrowed his party’s path back to government after taking the biggest gamble in his time as opposition leader, announcing a full-throated no to a Constitutionally enshrined Voice to parliament and, in doing so, placing his leadership on the line – regardless of whether the referendum succeeds or fails.

If the Yes vote succeeds, as current opinion polls suggest it will, Dutton’s colleagues will question his judgment and the decision to place the Liberal Party on the wrong side of the vote, and of history.

If the No vote succeeds, the cause of reconciliation in Australia will be set back decades. Anthony Albanese will be damaged, but huge numbers of Australians will directly blame Dutton for being, as Indigenous leader Noel Pearson put it so devastatingly on Thursday, the undertaker of Uluru.

The Liberal frontbench is publicly united over the decision to fall in behind the No campaign – though a few backbenchers will campaign for a Yes vote. But the decision to impose a uniform No position on the shadow cabinet has not been universally well received.

Upon becoming leader he promised to focus on voters in the suburbs, and before the Aston byelection Dutton framed the contest as a test of the two leaders. After the thumping loss, Dutton shifted the goal posts: “I have one test of my leadership, whether we can keep the party together.”

If the opposition leader can’t win the suburban seats he is targeting and can’t win back the capital city seats the Liberals lost to the teals, Greens and Labor in 2022 – the majority of which will surely be voting Yes – then what is his route to power?

Under that scenario, it can hardly be surprising that Labor MPs are wondering who would stay and who would go if the honeymoon never ended.

( Information from was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )

Leave a Comment

Share to...