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'Over-enthusiastic' Butler loses energy and climate role in Labor reshuffle

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South Australian Labor Left powerbroker Mark Butler has been moved from the contentious climate change portfolio but picked up the health shadow ministry, as Labor leader Anthony Albanese confirmed an overhaul of his frontbench line-up ahead of the next election.

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Albanese rejigged his frontbench line-up amid ongoing internal debate between the left and right factions about environmental and energy policy and its impact on industry and jobs, with big changes aimed at increasing the Opposition’s focus on pandemic recovery.

Deputy leader Richard Marles has dropped defence for the new portfolio of national construction, while also taking over from Brendan O’Connor in employment, skills, small business and science.

Ed Husic has been shifted to innovation and jobs, working closely with Marles, while O’Connor will be Labor’s new defence spokesman.

Butler has been bumped from the contentious climate change portfolio, swapping positions with former health spokesman Chris Bowen.

Clare O’Neill is taking on a new role as shadow minister for senior Australians and aged care services to work alongside Butler.

Labor’s deputy upper house leader Kristina Keneally will take on extra responsibility as the spokeswoman for government accountability with Pat Conroy to assist her.

Tasmanian Julie Collins has been appointed as shadow agriculture minister after losing responsibility for aged care.

West Australian Madeline King has added resources to her workload and will continue as trade spokeswoman, with Patrick Gorman appointed to assist her in a junior frontbench role.

“This reshuffle is about Australians getting the most out of Labor,” Albanese said.

“This is the strongest team to form an Albanese Labor government.

“The reshuffle is all about putting jobs at the centre of what we will do.”

Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon, who has been urging the party to tone down its climate policies, believes moving Butler is the right decision.

“It will send the right message to our traditional base,” Fitzgibbon told ABC radio.

“Mark has been somewhat over-enthusiastic in his approach to climate change policy. I believe we should see climate change as not a political opportunity but a policy opportunity.”

Fitzgibbon quit the frontbench in November and has spent months arguing the party is drifting too far to the left and losing touch with its traditional blue-collar base, and that the city-based focus on clean energy threatened regional and coal industry jobs.

“The job of every frontbencher is to serve in the portfolio allocated by their leader,” Butler told AAP.

“That’s always been my position under the four leaders I’ve had the privilege of serving under.”

Albanese has faced pressure within the Labor caucus to do more to make up political ground lost to the Liberal-National coalition since the coronavirus pandemic struck a year ago.

“What the next election will be about is who has a better plan for the future to deliver a stronger economy, a fairer society, and deal with challenges such as climate change,” he told the ABC on Wednesday night.

“I believe we’ll be very strongly positioned for it.”

Albanese said he hoped to use the reshuffle to highlight Labor’s priorities.

“It will achieve a stronger team going forward with the right people in the right jobs,” he said.

Asked whether he had allowed Prime Minister Scott Morrison to get away from him, in terms of approval, Albanese said: “No, not at all.”

“One of the things we’ve seen in the pandemic is people have wanted leaders to succeed,” he said.

“What the next election will be about is … who has a better plan for the future to deliver a stronger economy, a fairer society, and deal with challenges such as climate change.

“I believe we’ll be very strongly positioned for it.”

Former Labor leader Bill Shorten last week took what many interpreted as a thinly-veiled swipe at his successor for adopting a “tiny” policy agenda in opposition.

Launching a collection of essays by members of the Labor Right faction, Shorten argued the party must “stand for something” if it wanted to win.

-AAP

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