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The politics of second chances

  • 24 July 2023
Billy Hughes famously remained in the House of Representatives all the way to his death, some 29 years after the end of his Prime Ministerial tenure. Hughes moved seats and parties, spent time in the ‘political wilderness’, remerged to play important roles in the political scene during the Second World War, and was re-elected to the House for the 20th time in 1951 with 79 percent of the vote.

 We are more used, now days, to Prime Ministers leaving the parliament soon after removal from the top job. Paul Keating was out of the parliament a month after the 1996 election.

John Howard’s seat went with his Prime Ministership, although it was 17 years since he had been first removed by his colleagues as Leader of the Opposition. He’d lost the 1987 election and wasn’t given a chance to contest the next. From 1977 to 2001, no two federal elections were consecutively contested by the same opposition leader.

Bill Shorten had two goes at being Prime Minister, at the 2016 and 2019 elections, as did Kim Beazley and Tony Abbott before him. Defeated Opposition Leaders are more likely to stick around than vanquished Prime Ministers, for obvious reasons. Some make ongoing contributions in the parliament; others wait, assessing their chances of another go at the top.

In recent years new leaders have been wary of appointing predecessors to positions of responsibility and trust. The inviable seal of cabinet confidentiality has seemingly too often been defiled, and the platform provided has often allowed for at least the public appearance of destabilising rivalry.

But after Shorten lost the 2019 election and resigned the leadership Anthony Albanese appointed him to the shadow cabinet with the portfolios of Government Services and the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). He now sits in Cabinet with these portfolios.


'A détente between them, calculated as it may be, allows a vanquished leader to positively contribute from the parliament to the public life of the nation with the imprimatur of a confident Prime Minister.'  

Shorten clearly has talent and passion in his areas of responsibility. He was a key driver of the NDIS as a Parliamentary Secretary in the Rudd Government. Throughout his time in opposition Shorten chased the Robodebt scheme, mobilising the class action which was key to its demise. He has been focused in establishing the process for its review since assuming office.

The NDIS is the fastest growing area of expenditure in the federal budget,