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Labor's leadership choice: who has the Right stuff?


Former Shoppies union boss Peter Malinauskas is likely to be the next Labor leader if he wants the job, but a combative party veteran is also angling for a leadership position, insiders have told InDaily.

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Malinauskas, who switched from the Upper House to the Lower House seat of Croydon at Saturday’s election, is understood to be weighing up his candidacy for the leadership  ahead of a meeting of Labor MPs to be held later this week at the earliest, given several seats are still undecided.

Some party insiders tell InDaily the key to the leadership equation is really predicated on a sober assessment of whether Labor is facing eight years in Opposition, or whether they are well-placed to return to Government after just one term.

If the latter, the leadership is Malinauskas’s to refuse.

It’s Peter’s if he wants it, but he’s got to think carefully

If the former, Tom Koutsantonis looms as the key contender with the former Treasurer evidently auditioning publicly for the role with a series of pronouncements on social and mainstream media since polling day in which he variously blamed the electoral boundary changes for Labor’s loss and implied the new Opposition would block Steven Marshall’s promised shop trading hours deregulation in the Upper House.

“He wants it,” one Labor source said of Koutsantonis.

“He’s wanted it for a while now [and] Kouts would have nothing to lose… if he crashes and burns at least he goes out with ‘Opposition Leader’ on his resume.”

Another agreed that “Kouts would be a very good Opposition Leader, especially at this time”, with a fledgling Government full of cleanskin ministers.

“None of those MPs, apart from Rob Lucas, have even served in cabinet – none of them know the ins or the outs,” the insider said.

“Kouts has been a long-term, experienced minister, he understands the processes and knows how to trap the Libs… he’d take a lot off paint off the Marshall car in those first two years.”

But party strategists are also wary of the former Treasurer’s abrasive style, which has the potential to make the mooted two terms in Opposition a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Some party sources also suggest that Koutsantonis who, with Malinauskas, is a member of the dominant Right faction, is really angling for the deputy’s position. While the Left might lay claim to that position, it depends on the final factional make-up of the Labor caucus with two Lower House seats still in the balance and a fourth spot in the Legislative Council a possibility.

Many in the party’s dominant Right faction appear convinced that the ALP – which lost no frontbench talent in the election rout and is poised to finish with a respectable 19 or even 20 seats – “will be going for the win in 2022”.

“The Labor Party doesn’t take the mantra of setting themselves up for eight years [and] if the party is serious on 2022, the move they really need to make is for Peter Malinauskas,” one said.

“He’s really got leadership ambitions and would have that statesmanlike quality as Premier.”

“It’s Peter’s if he wants it,” another agreed.

“But he’s got to think carefully, because he’s a new MP… he’ll want to hang around a long time and if he takes it too early he might be two terms out of government and he might not be around that long.

“But there’s enough seats that we’ve won that he’s tempted.”

The great unknown is the performance of the Marshall Government and whether the next boundary redistribution hands seats back Labor’s way.

“I’m sure that’s something that would make him think carefully… it won’t be an easy decision,” one source said.

Malinauskas also has a young family, with infant son Jack born last year and daughter Sophie shortly before he first entered parliament.

In all likelihood, insiders say, the longer Malinauskas takes to make a decision, the less likely that decision will be to take the leadership.

But regardless, after 16 years in power, party powerbrokers are in no hurry.

“We’ve got time,” one caucus member noted.

And in time, the caucus will vote on the foregone conclusion determined by the factional machine.

“They’ll sort themselves out behind the scenes and then they’ll tell us,” the source said.

“It will sort itself out.”

Malinauskas has long been considered a future leader.

Left faction stalwart Jay Weatherill, who resigned as leader yesterday, was installed as Premier in 2011 after a Right faction delegation of Malinauskas – then state secretary of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Union – and frontbencher Jack Snelling, told Mike Rann his time was up.

Weatherill ruled with the pragmatic support of the Right, which viewed him as their best option for staying in power. However, the faction that has long dominated SA Labor politics will now certainly occupy the top position, having ironically not held the leadership during Labor’s reign (Rann was nominally unaligned).

Malinauskas and Koutsantonis did not return calls today from InDaily.

However, in an in-studio interview on ABC radio this morning, Koutsantonis was asked outright whether he wanted to lead the Labor Party.

“It’s not something I’ve ever really aspired to,” he said.

When pressed, he said: “It’s not something I’ve actively considered.”

He said Malinauskas and fellow former ministers Stephen Mullighan, Susan Close and Chris Picton would all make good leaders, however the party would decide collectively on the best roles for MPs.

“I’m happy to serve the party in the role that they think I’m best suited to,” he said.

Mullighan, often mentioned in leadership talk, has ruled out running.

“I have been saying it for four years and people don’t believe me, but the leadership is something I don’t aspire to,” he told InDaily.

He didn’t offer a view on who should replace Weatherill.

“I think Jay was right – there are a few people could could do it.”

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