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Experts question Labor leader contest

Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese promise a clean fight for the Labor federal parliamentary leadership, but the chances of an amicable outcome are slim.

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That’s the view of at least two psychology experts who have spent decades studying workplace scenarios similar to the current contest for the top ALP job.

“The chances of them working together, one as the winner and one as subordinate, is extremely unlikely,” specialist Simon Brown-Greaves told AAP.

With more than 30 years experience working as an organisational psychologist in the field of leadership development, Brown-Greaves said the loser would struggle to recover.

“It is a really tough thing to come back from – this sort of fight – and it’s difficult to come back and report to the person who beat you in this race,” he said.

“You have to fit into the other person’s agenda, when you’ve been on record putting a point of view that’s a different point of view: that you’re the right man for the job and he’s not.”

The Labor movement also stands to suffer from the public contest, says head of the College of Organisational Psychologists, Leanne Faraday-Brash.

“By disenfranchising someone, a lot of their energy after that can go into protesting and back stabbing and undermining,” she said.

Labor’s successful leadership candidate will be determined by a ballot of rank and file members and a vote in caucus, under new guidelines aimed at creating leadership stability and increasing grassroots participation.

Both Albanese and Shorten launched their campaigns promising not to engage in negative tactics or personally attack their opponent, but within days the pressure was showing.

In veiled reference to Mr Shorten’s involvement in the dumping of prime ministers Kevin Rudd in 2010 and Julia Gillard in June this year, Mr Albanese said he had been loyal and never engaged in “internal shenanigans”.

Shorten responded Labor’s return to unity required MPs to move “beyond the sledging”.

“Everyone knows it doesn’t matter if you are a football team, a netball team, or indeed a political party. If you can’t govern yourselves, then Australians will mark you down.”

Three years ago, a very public battle for the UK Labour leadership saw the Miliband brothers pitted against one another in a stoush that resulted in a narrow victory to younger sibling, Ed.

Post-contest, his brother David Miliband – who had been a senior minister in Gordon Brown’s government – retreated to the backbench.

The elder brother said his presence in the shadow cabinet “would be a route to real difficulty” and instead of focusing on winning the next election, Labour would be distracted.

“The team would be subject to permanent scrutiny of body language, everything from sneezes to comments. Ed needs an open field to lead as he sees fit,” David Miliband said.

He has since resigned from parliament.

Brown-Greaves said it was typical in big business scenarios for the unsuccessful candidate of a senior leadership battle to move on once the winner was declared, but in politics “you are stuck with the loser”.

The ongoing presence of the unsuccessful candidate can prove divisive for a party.

“With what has been going on in the Labor party over recent years the level of trust is going to be critical in coming years and therefore the risk of having someone who’s a close second in a leadership struggle would lead to the potential of mistrust,” Brown-Greaves said.

But Faraday-Brash sees some hope for Labor, so long as the loser is given a significant role, acknowledging his skills.

“You’re talking about a scenario which will end in the ultimate success of one candidate versus the professional let down and public embarrassment of the other,” she said.

“But it depends entirely on whether, at the end of the day, they are able to put the good of the party or the organisation before their personal ambition and ego and accept the umpire’s decision.”

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