Anthony Albanese (left) is the best person to lead Labor, says Penny Wong. Photo: Penny Bradfield
Labor Senate leader Penny Wong and former climate change minister Greg Combet have publicly backed Anthony Albanese in a leadership campaign that has even attracted the support of a party outsider, former key independent MP Tony Windsor.
The retired MP said he got to know Mr Albanese well during the minority Parliament and was impressed with his abilities, and with the fact that he held strong values.
His support came as rival candidate Bill Shorten claimed he was ahead among parliamentary colleagues as he visited a Melbourne school for autistic students, highlighting his part in the creation of the national disability insurance scheme.
''I've got a majority of caucus members to sign my nomination,'' he said.
Both men are canvassing votes within the constraints of tight ALP rules, specially drafted for the inaugural leadership ballot among rank-and-file members, and a mutual commitment to keep the contest positive in tone.
Senator Wong said Mr Albanese offered the party the best mix of experience, tenacity and parliamentary firepower.
''He's had some tough portfolios, which he's handled really well and he's also our best parliamentary performer,'' she said.
The popular Mr Combet officially launched Mr Albanese's NSW campaign on Tuesday evening, with other state launches to follow.
The rules of the first leadership contest to involve the 30,000-plus branch members stipulate that ballot papers will be sent by post and members will receive statements of a maximum of 1000 words and photographs from the two contenders.
It is expected to take 30 days from start to finish, with the winner announced on Sunday, October 13, three days after the blind ballot of caucus members.
No paid advertising is allowed on any medium, including the internet.
A process of random signature checking will be used to ensure integrity and scrutineers for each side will be able to challenge the validity of individual votes in the rank-and-file ballot.
While the Right faction claims to have a majority of Labor MPs lined up behind Mr Shorten, 46, Mr Albanese 50, is tipped to be the more popular option among Labor's branch members, who will account for 50 per cent of the overall selection process.
In a surprise development, Mr Windsor weighed into the contest, lauding Mr Albanese's qualities as a straight dealer and praising his consistent loyalty to Julia Gillard despite his open backing of Kevin Rudd during the last Parliament.
Mr Windsor said he had worked ''extremely closely'' with the former manager of government business who was chief wrangler of crossbench votes needed to pass legislation.
''It might sound strange … but for a bloke who'd put his name on the Rudd ticket his loyalty, and his attention to detail for her, was just unbelievable,'' Mr Windsor said.
He described Mr Albanese as ''dedicated and energetic''.
''Being manager of government business, he was really the one that was under the pump in terms of the vagaries of the numbers, where things were up to in negotiations with ministers,'' he said.
Among the specific rules set up for the contest, candidates will be allowed a maximum of two mail-outs to voters, but will have access to their phone numbers and email addresses.