Former Labor leader Bill Shorten has defended the absence of the party’s most senior female MP from the frontline of the election campaign.
Frontbencher Tanya Plibersek is expected to join Mr Shorten’s successor Anthony Albanese on the road following speculation over disunity in the party after she had seemingly been sidelined.
The popular education spokeswoman and former health minister, who has long been slated as a potential future Labor leader, has not been seen with Albanese during the campaign.
Asked about her absence on Tuesday morning, Shorten described the matter as a “storm in a teacup”.
“Australia is a big place. Not all of us move around in a giant group with Anthony Albanese on the plane during the election campaign,” he told Today on Tuesday.
“We are out there winning votes all over Australia.”
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Plibersek did not appear Labor’s campaign launch in Perth on Sunday, instead attending a union rally in Sydney where she rubbished suggestions she had been snubbed.
Shorten on Tuesday said the debate about Tanya highlighted the “lack of line-up” on Scott Morrison’s side, accusing the Prime Minister of running a “one-man band”.
Nine News reporter Chris O’Keefe hit back by saying: “Sorry, Albo is threatened by Tanya, it is very, very clear”.
“Just like you, Bill, were threatened by Albanese back in 2019. You know how this works,” O’Keefe said.
“Nobody here is believing that you guys are sitting at the coalface and just chipping away at votes in your electorate.
“Please, this is politics. It is an election.”
Shorten may well have been reminded of the events of 2019, when he led Labor to its stunning federal election defeat and then lost the party leadership to Albanese.
O’Keefe said Albanese would be “looking over his shoulder” in a similar manner at Plibersek while hoping the election went well.
“Tanya is sitting there doing the numbers about what will happen if it doesn’t go well,” O’Keefe said.
“She will be the leader of the Labor Party. We all know that, Bill. Stop pulling our leg.”
Shorten wouldn’t be drawn on the speculation, instead taking a swipe of his own by suggesting the TV host “do some boxercise”.
“Chris, I understand it is Tuesday morning, you want to get the punch in and the boxing gloves on,” he said.
“Good on you, son … Let’s not make it down here. We will get you down to boxercise class and get it out of your system.
“Who does Scott Morrison have behind him? Nada, zilch. There is nothing there.”