The Shellharbour speech that ‘fired the starting gun’ on a Labor leadership contest

Anthony Albanese (centre) at the Whitlam Oration dinner with Labor's candidate for Gilmore Fiona Phillips and Member for Whitlam Stephen Jones. Picture: Facebook/Fiona Phillips For Gilmore

Anthony Albanese (centre) at the Whitlam Oration dinner with Labor's candidate for Gilmore Fiona Phillips and Member for Whitlam Stephen Jones. Picture: Facebook/Fiona Phillips For Gilmore

Anthony Albanese has fired the starting gun on a Labor leadership contest, the coalition says.

But Labor emphatically denies any rift between the former 2013 leadership contestant from the Left and the man who defeated him, Bill Shorten.

Mr Albanese delivered the Whitlam Oration at the Shellharbour Club on Friday night, in which he set out an agenda for reforming the ALP and broadening the party's appeal to non-unionists and the business sector.

"Labor doesn't have to agree with business on issues such as company tax rates, but we do have to engage constructively with business large and small," he said.

Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne said Mr Albanese had directly contradicted Mr Shorten's "war with business" approach and placement of unions at the centre of public policy.

"Anthony Albanese has fired the starter gun on the Labor Party leadership contest," Mr Pyne said in Adelaide.

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten (left) and Shadow Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Anthony Albanese speak to media in Brisbane on April 16. Picture: Glenn Hunt/AAP

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten (left) and Shadow Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Anthony Albanese speak to media in Brisbane on April 16. Picture: Glenn Hunt/AAP

The cabinet minister, who regularly makes media appearances with Mr Albanese, said Mr Shorten's leadership had failed.

"We know where it's going to end, it will end in a ballot of the Labor Party membership and the caucus, and the sooner Bill Shorten gets on with it the better," he said.

Labor is contesting five by-elections on July 28, aiming to retain the seats of Braddon, Fremantle, Perth and Longman and pick up Mayo in South Australia.

The government's parliamentary win on personal income tax cuts could give Liberal candidates a popularity boost.

There has been speculation if Labor loses one or two seats there could be pressure on Mr Shorten's leadership.

Mr Pyne said there was "absolutely no expectation" the Liberals would win any of the by-elections, but if Labor lost it would put its leader "in very serious strife".

Coalition frontbencher Christopher Pyne says Anthony Albanese's fired the gun on Labor leadership.

Coalition frontbencher Christopher Pyne says Anthony Albanese's fired the gun on Labor leadership.

Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said the party was focused on policy not personalities.

"Bill Shorten is a fantastic leader of the Labor party," she said.

"We've never been stronger and more united than we are under Bill's leadership. We've got fantastic policy out there. We've got fantastic people."

She said the Liberals had been focused on themselves and marked down for it.

Labor has led the coalition in more than 30 consecutive Newspolls.

Labor should broaden its reach: Albanese

Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese has called on the party to work more closely with business and ensure it better connects with people who are not union members.

Mr Albanese outlined his vision for the party and a "fair go" for Australians in the Whitlam Oration delivered at the Shellharbour Club on Friday night.

He said Whitlam's lack of a union background made some colleagues joke he was born on the "wrong side of the tracks".

But the former prime minister understood that uplifting the working class and improving opportunities for women, migrants and the First Australians was critical to the nation's future capacity.

"This is not 1950, when most Australians were members of trade unions," Mr Albanese said.

"Indeed, many people from working class backgrounds are not members of unions because they were beneficiaries of Gough Whitlam's education reforms.

"They became the first people in their families to go to university, work in the professions and non-unionised industries, or start their own business. We cannot afford to ignore this demographic."

He called on the party to give grassroots members more direct say in elections for public office and internal positions.

The greater engagement of members would ensure the party was stronger and more broadly based.

"Policy ideas that come from branch meetings or workplaces are gold," he said, giving the example of marriage equality.

"That's Labor at our best - listening to the drumbeat of human empowerment and arguing the case."

The opposition infrastructure spokesman said to be a successful government Labor needed to work not only with unions, but the business and community sectors.

"Labor doesn't have to agree with business on issues such as company tax rates, but we do have to engage constructively with business large and small," he said.

"We respect and celebrate the importance of individual enterprise and the efforts and importance of the business community."

He reiterated his support for offshore detention and regional processing of asylum seekers, but argued more needed to be done to find third countries for settling refugees.

"You can protect our borders without losing our national soul."

Australian Associated Press

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