Anthony Albanese's bid for the Labor leadership has received a major boost after his left-faction colleague, Tanya Plibersek, pulled out of the race, but he still faces a likely showdown with a right-wing rival for control of the shattered party.
While state branches were hopeful of avoiding a long and potentially brutal leadership ballot, right-faction figures Jim Chalmers and Chris Bowen were giving serious consideration to a tilt at the top job on Monday night.
Ms Plibersek's decision not to contest the leadership set off a flurry of backroom phone calls on Monday, with those who may have served as Ms Plibersek's deputy leader now assessing their chances against Mr Albanese for leader, and Ms Plibersek now a potential deputy.
The right-faction leadership contenders would all face considerable problems. Mr Bowen is closely associated with the party's rejected economic platform, including its controversial franking credits policy, while defence spokesman Richard Marles hails from outgoing leader Bill Shorten's Victorian right faction, which orchestrated Labor's unsuccessful election campaign.
Mr Chalmers, the 41-year-old finance spokesman from Queensland, was seriously weighing a tilt as the candidate for "generational change". But others argue he is not ready for the job.
Senior Left figures in NSW believe Mr Albanese will enjoy a fairly clear run and garner cross-factional support from "all parts of the show". One source doubted Mr Chalmers would run in the end because "it's really only the Left that ever runs ballots for the sake of it".
After deciding on Sunday to contest the leadership and announce the move on Monday, Ms Plibersek changed her mind and said it would require too much time away from her family.
"Now is not my time," she said. "I know some people will be disappointed with this decision [but] at this point, I cannot reconcile the important responsibilities I have to my family with the additional responsibilities of the Labor leadership."
Ms Plibersek said she would serve "in whatever capacity my colleagues best think can help Labor return to government".
Her surprise decision came only hours after former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard had endorsed Ms Plibersek's bid. She also had significant support from Victoria's right faction.
However, it had become clear earlier in the day that many in the party's Left were backing Mr Albanese's leadership bid, including frontbenchers Stephen Jones in NSW and Andrew Giles from Victoria.
While Mr Albanese had been relatively isolated in his infrastructure portfolio, Ms Plibersek carried the weight of being associated with the failed election campaign as its deputy leader.
Meanwhile, Mr Albanese started making his economic case with a firm indication that the policy to abolish refundable franking credits would itself be on the chopping block.
"The dividend issue impacted on people's hip pockets, and some of those, of course, weren't very wealthy people," he told 5AA radio.
"They were people for whom a small cheque was what they paid their rates with or their car rego, or other essentials in life."
Labor's NSW division is determined to wrestle back control of the party from Victoria, accusing its southern cousins of running a state-like campaign that failed to resonate nationally.
Amid accusations that party secretary Noah Carroll kept senior figures in the dark about key research and information, it also emerged the party's tracking polling from Galaxy/YouGov was inaccurate.
Internal polling seen by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age put Labor's primary vote on a healthy 38 per cent in NSW during the campaign's final week. In the end, it was 35 per cent.
Sources claimed that at one stage, head office became so secretive that the NSW Right was accessing official tracking polls from a source who sent them via Snapchat.
Labor's national president, Wayne Swan, gave a subtle nod to Mr Chalmers, his former chief-of-staff, telling the ABC that the party should not be "ageist" when it came to choosing a leader.
He played down the ramifications of Saturday's shock loss, arguing it was not a repudiation of Labor's ambitious policy agenda, but showed the government had been able to "demonise" it.
Mr Swan acknowledged Labor had a "problem" in his home state of Queensland, where many voters identified the party as being "anti-coal". But that did not necessitate a wholesale shift in policy, he said.
"Regional voters still believe in renewable energy. They weren't clamouring for a coal-fired power station. They were clamouring for a bit of respect for their jobs," he told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
- SMH/The Age