Can Mr Kevin07 create a winning leader?

Australian Labor Party Politics Political campaigns Australia

Over the past few weeks Anthony Albanese has cobbled together a team of staffers untainted by any association with his predecessor’s regime. Just last week he poached the Australian’s popular “Strewth” columnist, James Jeffrey, to be his speechwriter. As chief of strategy he has reportedly gone back to the Gillard years, taking on her old cabinet director, Mathew Jose. Sabina Husic, sister of Labor MP Ed Husic, has been brought in as deputy chief of staff, having worked for several Labor premiers but mainly with the lobbying firm of NSW Liberal powerbroker Michael Photios.

But perhaps the most interesting hire so far is the new leader’s chief of staff, Tim Gartrell, once Mr Kevin07 but largely out of Labor’s orbit in recent years. Way back, Gartrell was a young party apparatchik from the NSW left who worked for unions, was a staffer for junior Keating government ministers, and even managed Albanese’s first campaign in 1996. By the early 2000s he had reached the commanding heights of the Labor machine, first as assistant national secretary and then as national secretary and campaign director for the federal elections of 2004 — Mark Latham’s failed bid — and 2007, the triumphant Kevin07 election.

Fresh from that victory, he retired as national secretary in 2008 and ended what had been a lifetime as a Labor professional. For the past eleven years he has been freelancing in the private and non-profit sector: for Andrew Forrest’s Aboriginal employment company, Generation One; for Recognise, the organisation working for constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians; and, most recently, for the official Yes campaign in the marriage-equality survey.

Gartrell returned to the party fold in 2017 in a somewhat ceremonial capacity, taking the position of vice-president of the NSW branch. Apart from that, he hasn’t been a Labor machine man for a solid decade now. Bringing him back after all this time suggests that Albanese sees something special in him — and not just his lack of ties to the Shorten era. What might that be? What is so distinctive about Gartrell as a campaigner? What does his selection tell us about the kind of leader Albanese wants to be?

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