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Why Albanese is demanding discipline

Paul Bongiorno on Albanese’s agenda and why he’s demanding discipline from the Labor party room.
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As the new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese attempts to set the agenda and tone of the next parliament, Labor’s challenges are crystallising. 

Climate policy is shaping up as a key battleground, with Labor confronted by a Greens dominated senate, and an Opposition that won’t back Labor’s targets.

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno on Albanese’s agenda and why he’s demanding discipline from the Labor party room.

 

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper, Paul Bongiorno.

 
Read Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

 

RUBY:
From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

 

As the new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese attempts to set the agenda, and tone, of the next parliament, Labor’s challenges are crystallising. 

 

Climate policy is shaping up as a key battleground, with Labor confronted by a Greens dominated senate, and an Opposition that won’t back Labor’s targets. 

 

Today - columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno on Albanese’s agenda, and how he’s likely to prosecute it. 

 

It’s Friday, June 3.

[Theme Music Ends]

 

RUBY:
So Paul, earlier this week Anthony Albanese addressed the first caucus meeting of Labor's newly elected government. How important is that first speech? 

PAUL:
Well, caucus is the name given to the meeting of the Parliamentary Labor Party. All of its elected members and senators. And unlike the Liberal Party room, Labor's caucus has the power to elect the members of a Labor Government's ministry. In fact, Labor's factions draw up lists and negotiate, taking into account affirmative action and geographic distribution. Also, the leader can influence the choices. Now, once the lists are voted on, which is a mere formality, really, the leader in this case, the Prime Minister Albanese, then allocates the portfolios. So caucus really is the engine room of a Labor Government. And we saw all of these processes earlier in the week which culminated in the swearing in of the full ministry of the new government on Wednesday. So it's historically an important meeting for any New Labor Government. And the Caucus meeting is a huge opportunity for the Labor Prime Minister in his speech to it to set the tone for the party and crucially set expectations. 

RUBY:
Okay. So tell me about what Anthony Albanese said then. What expectations is he setting and what key messages is he wanting members of his government to take away from this? 

PAUL:
Well, in a nutshell, Ruby, it's all about discipline.

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:
“Been a while!”

PAUL:
Albanese told the party room that the reason they'd won government was discipline and unity. And they needed to keep that same approach if they want to stay in government. 

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:
“One of the reasons why we're here in this room rather than the other room is that we showed discipline, we showed unity, we showed a sense of purpose…”

PAUL:
And what that means, if you read between the lines, is stick together, don't undermine each other - especially don't undermine me - and don't go rogue with what you say in the media. 

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:
“We can control the way that we handle ourselves, the way that we conduct ourselves as a government. We can stand tall. We can reach out to people. And I intend to do that.” 

PAUL:
He reminded the party that he's been in Parliament for 26 years and only six of those had been spent in the government party room. He told them he didn't intend to ever go back to the opposition party room. 

Archival Tape -- Anthony Albanese:
“For those newbies, you really struck gold. Because ahh…’cos opposition is not fun. At all. At all…”

PAUL:
And it's interesting, Ruby, those six years were during Albanese's time in the Rudd and Gillard governments and the trauma of that experience is seared into his brain. That party instability was fatal for the Labor government. The most enduring lesson from the Rudd Gillard Rudd years, according to a senior minister in that government, was the failure on the part of Rudd to implement what he calls a proper cabinet government based on respecting the ability of ministers to do their jobs with some autonomy and noting their feedback and advice. In other words, not treating them like automatons. 

RUBY:
Hmm. Okay. And I suppose that is probably easier said than done though. So what do we know about whether Anthony Albanese will actually be able to keep the party room involved and consulted but at the same time disciplined and unified? 

PAUL:
Well, Ruby, we know that Albanese has not made those mistakes with his shadow cabinet over the past three years, and a former Cabinet colleague of Albanese in government says the new Prime Minister is a very different prospect to Rudd. Albanese can relate to people and he doesn't think he's the cleverest person in the room. Perhaps even more importantly though, he doesn't have any ranks and obvious alternative leader itching to replace him. I'm told former leader Bill Shorten is resigned to the fact his colleagues believe his moment in the sun has passed. Albanese would have to seriously stuff up to trigger a search for an alternative ahead of the next election. 

And at least right now, Anthony Albanese brings to the job the enormous authority of leading the party out of the wilderness and into government after almost a decade in opposition.

Albanese’s strategy, borrowing from an AFL metaphor to ‘come from behind, kicking with the wind in the fourth quarter’ was a worry for some. You know, it didn't sound convincing because Albanese is a rugby league Rabbitohs tragic and not really an AFL fan. Anyway. The new Prime Minister reminded his jubilant troops on Tuesday that his plan wasn't a small strategy but a smart strategy. 

Now, even though Albanese talks about a new, inclusive way of doing politics, he has no illusions the new Opposition Leader, Peter Dutton, won't be cutting him or the Government any slack.

RUBY:
We'll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:
Paul, we've been talking about the message that Anthony Albanese has been sending to his party room this week. But I guess the bigger context for all of this is that Labor now has 77 seats, which means that it can govern in majority. So what does that mean for how the incoming Labor government is going to approach this new Parliament?

PAUL:
Paul Well, Ruby, with a majority in the House of Representatives, Albanese now has the ability to push his legislation through the House without needing to negotiate with the Coalition, with the Greens or the 12 independents. Talk earlier in the week of shoring up the numbers by offering the speakership to one of the independents appears to be receding. But Albanese may still be attracted to the insurance it offers against voting mishaps on the floor of what still is a tight parliament. Some, mainly the independents, I would have to say, believe such a move - appointing one of them as speaker - would be a gesture of goodwill. We'll see. But the new leader of the House, Tony Burke, says Parliament's no genteel afternoon Tea Party.

On the other hand, the Senate is an entirely different matter though, and Labor will have to do a lot of negotiating to get legislation through with the Greens dominant in the Senate with a crossbench of 12 senators. Well, Labor would need either the Coalition to vote with it or the Greens and one other independent senator to get its legislation through. Greens leader Adam Bandt won't follow the party's founder, Bob Brown's 2009 example making the perfect the enemy of the good on emissions reduction legislation.

Archival Tape -- Adam Bandt:
“Look, we're in a climate emergency and we know that the single biggest thing that the biggest causes of the climate crisis are coal and gas. And we know that opening up new gas projects now is thoroughly irresponsible…”

PAUL:
Well, Bandt says he's prepared to accommodate Labor, but he will draw a line at allowing new gas or coal projects. 

Archival Tape -- Adam Bandt:
“We're saying we can have a discussion about that in the next Parliament about how we get out of existing coal, oil and gas in a way that supports the communities in the affected industries. And we can have a discussion about all of that…”

PAUL:
The Greens leader is unimpressed with the new Climate Change Minister, Chris Bowen, whose willingness to leave the transition to net zero to the free market bent told me Labor doesn't leave it to the market on wage setting, so why would it do it on something as existentially threatening as climate change? 

RUBY:
Okay, so it sounds, Paul, like climate could be an early showdown in the Senate then, given that it is such an important issue to the Greens. So how do you think that the Labor will approach that this time around?

PAUL:
Well, Labor, unlike the practise of the Morrison Government that withheld contentious bills from the Parliament, well Chris Bowen will chance his arm and put legislation to the Parliament on Labor's 43% target. He says it's the right thing to do but he won't be spending an inordinate amount of time in what he calls futile negotiations because the target can be otherwise mandated through other mechanisms that don't need a bill to pass the Parliament. But the Greens and the so-called deal independents will be able to leverage enormous political pressure on the new government by pushing for stronger targets through attempted amendments. There'll be a lot of interest in the performance of the raft of independents who took those six blue ribbon seats from the Liberals. Climate change and integrity after all of the top order issues for all those members and they'll want to make a mark. But Albanese is not about to adjust the target he took to the election. He says although he will treat the Parliament with respect, particularly the crossbench on Sunday agenda, he drew inspiration from his success in doing just that as the Leader of the House in the hung parliament of 2010 to 2013. 

RUBY:
Yeah, we've heard a lot now from Anthony Albanese about wanting to set this new tone of respect in Parliament and that seems to extend as far as the new Opposition Leader, Peter Dutton. Albanese's comments about him have been pretty conciliatory, Paul.

PAUL:
Well that's right. Albanese says he will treat new Opposition Leader Peter Dutton with respect. Quote, If we can get some agreement from him, that would be good on measures that we have a mandate for. It didn't take long for the new softer Peter Dutton, who's promising to smile more to disabuse Albanese of those views, at least on the issue of climate change action.

Archival Tape -- Peter Dutton:
“Make no mistake and Australians understand this, that the next three years under Labor is going to be tough for the Australian people. Already they're breaking promises and foreshadowing. Policy shifts. They weren't ready to govern…”

PAUL:
At his first news conference as leader of the Opposition, Dutton couldn't hide his contempt for Labor. 

Archival Tape -- Peter Dutton:
“By the time of the next election in 2025, we will have presented a plan to the Australian people which will clean up Labor's inevitable mess and lay out our own vision…”

PAUL:
Dutton spurned the pleadings of the Liberal's defeated candidate in North Sydney, Trent Zimmerman, earlier in the week on radio. Dutton won't be adopting or backing Labor's 43% emissions reduction target, as Zimmerman suggested. In fact, he sees not identifying with it as a chance yet again to turn the issue into a cost of living weapon to wield against Albanese.

Archival Tape -- Peter Dutton:
“People will see an increase in electricity bills under Labor. Let's be very clear about that. Electricity prices under Labor will go up…”

PAUL:
How Dutton plans to win back the Teal seats with his persistent comfort to the coal lobby and climate sceptics is a mystery to me, I have to say.

RUBY:
Hmm. And Paul, it's still obviously very early days to judge Peter Dutton's opposition and what that's going to mean for policy, but are these early comments a hint of what to come? And do we think that Dutton could actually have any luck attacking Labor on climate policy?

PAUL:
Well, Ruby, Albanese says he doesn't underestimate Dutton. Back in 2001 when Peter Dutton first won his seat in Parliament. Some senior Labor figures couldn't see Dutton defeating Cheryl Kernot in the seat of Dickson. One senior Labor figure consoled himself by telling me at the time, I remember you ought to see the gormless dork that liberals have put up against Cheryl. Well, 21 years later, that dork is still the member for Dickson and now he's leading the Opposition. But there's no doubt the Australian electorate wants real action on climate change and energy. So Dutton faces a very different world to the one Tony Abbott did ten years ago. And if he doesn't realise that, he's doomed to failure.

RUBY:
Paul, thank you so much for your time.

PAUL:
Thank you, Ruby. Bye.

[Advertisement]

RUBY:
Also in the news today,

 

The incoming Energy Minister Chris Bowen has warned that Australia is on the precipice of a gas crisis. 

 

Chris Bowen said the new Labor government is seeking to meet with gas companies and state energy ministers, to address the issue of supply and soaring gas prices.  

 

A severe cold snap and outages of coal-fired power plants have driven wholesale energy prices up, with some smaller retailers dropping out of the market. 

 

**

 

And a US jury has found actor Amber Heard defamed her ex-husband Johnny Depp and have awarded him $15 million US dollars in damages.

 

Depp sued for defamation after Heard wrote an opinion piece in 2018 referring to herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse.” 

 

**

 

7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Elle Marsh, Kara Jensen-Mackinnon, Anu Hasbold and Alex Gow.

 

Our technical producer is Atticus Bastow.

 

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Scott Mitchell. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. 

 

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

 

And a special thanks to Hugo Hodge, who has led our social media – he’s heading off to other things. All the best, Hugo.


I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am. See you next week.

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