Australian Labor opposition elects Bill Shorten as leader

The new leader of the Australian Labor Party, Bill Shorten Bill Shorten faces a tough challenge to unite the Australian Labor Party

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The Australian Labor Party has elected a new leader, a month after it was soundly beaten in general elections.

Bill Shorten, 46, a former education minister, said he faced a "hard task".

It was the first Labor leadership contest to be decided by all party members, not just the ALP's senators and members of parliament.

Correspondents say Mr Shorten will have to present a more united front if Labor is to retake power from new prime minister, Tony Abbott.

Mr Shorten, a former head of the powerful Australian Workers' Union, said he was under no illusions about the difficulty of his new role.

Pride

"Rebuilding the Labour Party is a hard task," he said, adding that he was "genuinely humbled at the significant honour and privilege that people in the Labor Party displayed by choosing me to be their leader".

Bill Shorten takes over the leadership of a Labor Party which is in the doldrums after a heavy election defeat.

The root of that loss of power was disunity and the soap opera politics of the Kevin Rudd-Julia Gillard rivalry.

Correcting the image of a party distracted by internal infighting will be a first priority.

Under a new system, this was the first Labor leadership contest where the party's rank and file membership got to have a say.

But the fact that those members backed the other man, Anthony Albanese, and that Mr Shorten needed to rely on the votes of Labor's MP's and senators to win the contest is not ideal.

Labor's new leader will need the party as a whole to unite behind him, if it's to reverse last month's election result that was not so much an endorsement of Tony Abbott and his right wing coalition but an emphatic rejection of Labor.

"No-one in my family's ever been in politics or public life before and I recognise that to be elected leader of the federal parliamentary Labor Party, Australia's oldest political party, is a great honour."

Mr Shorten's election followed a month-long vote by the ALP's 40,000-strong membership, which was combined with the results of a poll of party lawmakers.

He received strong support from Labor politicians but the other leadership candidate, Anthony Albanese, was more popular among the party's members.

Mr Shorten won 64% of the parliamentary vote - securing 55 of the 86 votes. Mr Albanese, a former deputy prime minister, won 60% of the party membership vote.

Infighting

Both ballots were weighted equally, leaving Mr Shorten with an overall total of 52%.

Chris Bowen, who acted as interim Labor leader following the defeat of Kevin Rudd in September's election, said he believed Mr Shorten would lead the ALP into power.

"The entire Labor Party has elected an alternative prime minister and I believe the next Labor prime minister of Australia," he said.

Labor held power for six years, during which time Kevin Rudd served as prime minister for three years before he was replaced by Julia Gillard, Australia's first female prime minister.

Mr Rudd eventually ousted her as party leader and prime minister just weeks before the election.

While in government Labor was badly damaged by the infighting between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, and will have to be more united if it wants to regain power, says the BBC's correspondent in Sydney, Jon Donnison.

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