Why Albanese has benched Plibersek, one of Labor’s most popular pollies

Here’s today’s dose of gossip and scuttlebutt from the campaign trail … if you’ve got a hot tip, email election.confidential@news.com.au
The benching of Tanya Plibersek during the campaign has got many wondering: when exactly did the MP for Sydney fall foul of Labor leader Anthony Albanese? Representing neighbouring electorates in inner-city Sydney, the left faction colleagues debuted in parliament around the same time (Albo in ’96, Plibo in ’98), and they formed a unity ticket on many issues back in the day, especially on LGBTI law reform.
Labor HQ denied Plibo had been benched, but given her star power, her comparative lack of visibility does seem hard to deny. So when did the cracks open up?
Party insiders suggested the two drifted apart when Plibo was deputy Labor leader to Bill Shorten (“Shorto” from here on in), while others suggested Albo might be concerned she’s just that little bit too popular, an Aussie Jacinda Ardern if you will.
Campaign Confidential notes the charismatic MP for Sydney remains favourite to become opposition leader after the election, should Labor lose. (We also note odds are now being offered on Jason Clare becoming Labor leader, after some impressive recent press conferences. Keep your eye on the Bolter from Blaxland, that’s our tip.)
Behind every great political leader fronting those ferocious press packs on the campaign trail – or technically in front of them – it would seem there’s a party operative who’s pulling some interesting strings. During this campaign, our spies have noticed the regular presence of staffers up the back of press packs, making subtle gestures to the leader while they field the tough questions from reporters.
At a press conference in Rockhampton on Wednesday, our spy noticed the Prime Minister’s press secretary Andrew Carswell motioning to Scott Morrison, with messages that seemed to urge him to moderate his tone, and later to take one last question. Prior to Anthony Albanese’s Covid-enforced break, our spies were reporting something similar in the Labor leader’s pressers too.
It’s all part of the job we guess, but fascinating to get a peek behind the curtain.
It’s the bloodsport that has made the first weeks of previous federal election periods bearable, but so far this campaign has seen a complete lack of candidates being dumped by their parties. Every other election someone’s been disendorsed, so what’s different this time?
The Liberal Party has stuck with its uber-controversial candidate for Warringah, Katherine Deves, while the revelation that Labor’s candidate for Hunter Daniel Repacholi once said something about tits on social media, and had some uncharitable words about Delhi, does not seem to have caused too much anguish.
Campaign Confidential turned to ANU politics whisperer, Dr Jill Sheppard, for her take. “The parties knew this was coming,” she said. “They used to say eventually we’ll have to accept that everyone has skeletons on their social media timeline, and they can’t hide because everything on the internet lasts forever. I think we’ve hit that point.”
For a seat that nobody expected to change hands come May 11 (the Liberals hold it on a 6.9 per cent margin), Bennelong is pulling a lot of focus. As yet, punters aren’t convinced – on SuperVoter, just 17 per cent of players are backing Labor’s Jerome Laxale to win the seat, which is being contested by Simon Kennedy for the Liberals after the retirement of John Alexander.
And yet … on Saturday John Howard hit the hustings in the electorate he held for 33 years, and on Tuesday Mandarin-speaking Kevin Rudd revealed he would be also be paying a visit to the strongly Chinese electorate. (Some 43,000 people in Bennelong have Chinese ancestry.) Why the heavy-hitters, and why now? Is it because it’s ON in Bennelong?

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