If Bill Shorten takes on the job as opposition leader, a powerful hoodoo stands in his path to The Lodge. It is 100 years since anyone who took over as opposition leader after a change of government has gone on to become Prime Minister.
Saturday's triumph for the Coalition was only the twelfth time that government has changed sides in Australia in the past century. After each of the previous 11 changes, the man (always a man) who became opposition leader never made it to the top job.
Bill Shorten is tipped to become the next Labor leader, but may never make it to the top job. Photo: Wayne Hawkins
Two of them were forced to surrender the leadership to defectors from the other side. Two died in office as opposition leader. Four of them ultimately resigned in the wake of election losses, and three were dumped by their own collagues.
The last to become PM was Labor's Andrew Fisher. Dethroned as Prime Minister at the nailbiter 1913 election, Fisher stayed on as opposition leader, then brought down his opponent Joseph Cook a year later when Cook tried to abolish preference for unionists in the public service. Fisher won the election, and was PM for a year before handing over to Billy Hughes.
Cook became opposition leader. But in late 1916 Labor rejected Hughes' plan to conscript all young adult males for wartime service. The PM walked out on his party. Cook was forced to make way for Hughes as leader, and the Liberal party was renamed the Nationalists.
Frank Tudor, a former hatter, took over from Hughes as Labor leader, had a win over him when the 1917 referendum rejected conscription, but lost two elections, and died in 1922. When Labor eventually regained power in 1929, it was under James Scullin, again with industrial relations as the main campaign issue.
Melbourne lawyer John Latham became opposition leader, and as the Depression crashed down, looked set to become prime minister. But a group of Melbourne businessmen led by Herald chief Sir Keith Murdoch, the father of Rupert, persuaded popular Labor moderate Joe Lyons to defect from his party. The austere Latham was forced to step down for Lyons, the party was renamed again as the United Australia Party, and Lyons took it to a crushing victory at the 1931 election.
In 1941, in the midst of war, the UAP government ended after the party dumped Lyons' talented but abrasive young successor, Robert Menzies, for the Country Party's Artie Fadden. The two independents holding the balance of power decided that Labor's John Curtin would be a better wartime leader; they crossed sides, bringing down the government. Fadden became opposition leader, but was crushed at the 1943 election, and handed back the job to Menzies.
Menzies learnt from his defeat, reformed the party again as the Liberal Party, and led the Coalition to victory in 1949, unseating Labor icon Ben Chifley. Chifley stayed on initally as opposition leader, but died of a heart attack in 1951. It would be 23 long years before Labor returned to power, under another talented but abrasive figure, Gough Whitlam.
In 1972 Bill Snedden inherited the Liberal leadership after its defeat, but lost the 1974 election, and was brushed aside early in 1975 by Malcolm Fraser. Within months, Fraser decided to block supply to the government, governor-general Sir John Kerr sacked Whitlam, and Fraser won the ensuing election.
Whitlam became opposition leader, but lost convincingly at the 1977 election and made way for Bill Hayden. But just as Hayden was on the verge of possibly winning the PM's job at the 1983 election, he was leant on to step down for the more popular Bob Hawke, to make Labor's victory a certainty.
Andrew Peacock became opposition leader. He lost an election, then was dumped for John Howard, who lost an election, and was then dumped to bring back Peacock, who just lost the 1990 election. Peacock then made way for John Hewson, who lost an election, was dumped for Alexander Downer, who was then dumped to bring back Howard, who led the Coalition to victory in 1996.
Kim Beazley took over as opposition leader. He lost two elections narrowly to Howard in 1998 and 2001, then handed over to Simon Crean. Two years later Crean abdicated for Mark Latham, who lost the 2004 election. Beazley was brought back, only to be dumped in 2006 for Kevin Rudd, who led Labor to victory in 2007 – again, on an industrial relations issue.
The Liberals turned to Brendan Nelson as opposition leader. He failed to match it with Rudd, and within months was dumped for Malcolm Turnbull. But Turnbull could not control the divisions in the party over emissions trading, and was dumped for Tony Abbott. Abbott lost his first election as leader, but ultimately broke through on Saturday.
Being opposition leader is a tough job that wears good people down. Tony Abbott solved the problem by waging non-stop war against everything the government did, keeping the focus on the government rather than his own side.
That's not Bill Shorten's style, and voters might throw up if a new opposition leader mimicked Abbott's 24/7 war on everything. If he's to break the hoodoo, he'll have to do it his own way.