Wong named as Deputy Senate Leader
Finance Minister Penny Wong has been selected as Labor’s Deputy Leader in the Federal Senate after a cabinet and frontbench reshuffle sparked by a number of retirements following Prime Minister Julia Gillard's decision to hold the next election in mid-September.
Wong, 44, and the highest profile lesbian in government, was elected into the position after Communications Minister Stephen Conroy was chosen as Labor’s new Senate Leader, replacing Chris Evans.
“I thank Chris for the commitment and leadership he has shown as Minister and as Leader of the Government in the Senate,” Wong said in a statement.
“I particularly want to thank him for his personal support and friendship. Chris is a trusted friend and mentor, a person of strong values and a true Labor man.”
Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and Evans, who was also Minister for Higher Education, both announced last week they would not contest their seats following Gillard’s decision last Wednesday to mark September 14 as the date for the next federal poll.
“I expect 200 per cent of myself, and I cannot honestly commit to that work rate for a sixth term in Parliament,” Roxon said over the weekend.
“Now is the right time for such an announcement. But it is a difficult one given the wonderful job I have and that there’s so much more good work to be done.”
Roxon’s decision to retire at the end of her current term came only a few days she announced that she had ordered her department to redraft sections of the proposed Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 to remove a clause that would have prohibited conduct that “offends, insults or intimidates” following widespread discussion that it could potentially limit free speech.
Along with the promotion of Wong, Gillard has made a number of changes to her cabinet and frontbench as the latest Newspoll showed Labor’s primary support had slipped to 32 per cent in the past three weeks with support for the Coalition rising four percentage points to 48 per cent.
Chris Bowen takes over as Minister for Higher Education; Mental Health and Ageing Minister Mark Butler is now also Minister for Housing and Homelessness; Brendan O'Connor replaces Bowen as Immigration Minister while Victorian MP Mark Dreyfus, a parliamentary secretary, has been given Roxon’s portfolio as Attorney-General.
“Nicola Roxon has had an impressive parliamentary career, culminating as Australia’s first female Attorney-General,” Wong said.
“She is one of Labor’s most senior women and the reforms she has achieved, both in this portfolio and previously as Minister for Health, have been tremendous.”
Born in Malaysia, Wong is the first Asian-born federal minister, as well as the first out lesbian member of the Australian cabinet. Prior to entering Parliament in 2002, she was a barrister and solicitor in Adelaide and an adviser to the Carr Labor Government in NSW. Wong’s partner, Sophie Allouache, gave birth to the couple’s first child, Alexandra, in December 2011 following an IVF-assisted pregnancy using donor sperm.
Still over seven months away from the election, Wong has said despite the high-profile retirements in the past week that her name won’t be found among those walking away from politics any time soon.
“Sometimes I think Sophie, my partner, would prefer I took another job, but no, I’ll absolutely be there,” she told reporters.
“Certainly we're in for a pretty tough fight and it’s a pretty hard time in politics.”