“As someone born Labor”
Anthony Albanese took on the doubters today
On May 19, the Sunday morning after Labor’s disastrous election defeat, there was a lot of speculation about who might put up their hand to replace Bill Shorten. But it was Anthony Albanese who confirmedhe would make a tilt for the leadership, grabbing his dejected party by the scruff of the neck. Since then there has been policy and strategic drift; a “come here/go away” dance with the government on issues like tax and climate, trade and drought; incipient buyer’s remorse [$]; and a creeping back of the worst kind of media coverage, including off-record briefings from frontbench Labor MPs against their shadow cabinet colleagues, and this week even headlines referring to the “Shorten camp”. Perhaps Albanese needs his back to the wall, because today he came out swinging in a speech full of all the conviction that has been absent from his bruising first six months as leader, reaching back to the seminal figures of his mother and Labor Left hero Tom Uren. Albanese touched on the Emerson–Weatherill review, listed the accomplishments the party has racked up since he assumed leadership, laid out a plan for the next two years, and then declared: “The self-reflection stops today.”
There were signs of this new, invigorated Albanese last week in a well-received speech that could be boiled down to three profound words, which I first heard from an ex-plumber from Ballarat at a Greens meeting when he explained that he’d joined the party because “renewables equals jobs”. There was another sign yesterday, with The New Daily reporting the leader carpeted shadow resources and agriculture spokesperson Joel Fitzgibbon, saying his comments on climate post-election had been “unhelpful”. (Interestingly, if you read the speech Fitzgibbon gave to the Sydney Mining Club yesterday, the SMC might’ve felt like retracting the statement on its invites that “he’s one of us”, because it was full of pot shots at climate denial.)
There was zero wonkery in Albanese’s speech; none of the “technocratic, soporific” language identified by author Nick Dyrenfurth as Labor’s fundamental problem in communicating with blue-collar workers, in James Button’s essay on the Labor leader in the current issue of The Monthly. Today’s speech was from the heart. Albanese declared that “as someone born Labor” he felt the pain of the defeat, and was “itching to win” next time around, hitting back at critics of what has been perceived as policy indecision and capitulation. “Tom Uren taught me to fight,” he said, and he was able to round that out with war stories from Uren’s time on the Burma Railway, and the privilege of going back there with his mentor. Albanese spoke frankly about removing the “moral shadow” that has been cast over Labor by the culture of Sussex Street – closed for renovation – and Victorian CFMEU secretary John Setka. Then he talked about putting optimism and aspiration at the heart of Labor’s culture and platform. “Our movement was founded at a time when your destiny was anchored to your class. The Labor Party’s historic mission has been to sever that anchor chain. No one held back and no one left behind.”
That’s a true-believer talking. Asked what he would do about the fundamental problem that since 1993 Labor’s primary vote has fallen to 33 per cent from 45 per cent, Albanese acknowledged it was a problem for centre-left social-democratic voters around the world. There is no easy answer, but he sounded determined: “Labor’s values are eternal.”
Asked twice if he would step down should polls show that he is an unpopular leader, Albanese insisted that he would lead the party to the next election. Asked if he had the energy for the toughest job in politics after his long parliamentary career, he fired back: “You bet – just watch.” Asked whether he had a plan to attack the prime minister, given that the review identified Labor’s failure to negatively target the PM as a shortcoming of the 2019 campaign, Albanese responded with a surprisingly long and detailed list of the “amazing” failings of Scott Morrison and his government, from the downgrades in every economic indicator to rising debt, higher power prices, the number of unemployed Australians, the aged-care crisis, the flagging NDIS and the 250,000 people now grappling with a robodebt. “Across the board, this government has concentrated on wedgislation,” he said, calling it an “Opposition in exile on the government benches”.
If this kind of plan-free government continues, Albanese predicted, at the next election, after three prime ministers over nine years, the Australian people would be asking: “What was point of the Abbott–Turnbull–Morrison governments?” Sounds like Albanese is relishing the fight already.
“A few weeks ago the National Party released its own 10-point plan but not one dot-point was embraced by the prime minister yesterday. That says something about the modern National Party – ‘Black Jack’ McEwen would be rolling in his grave.”
“Evidence of having been told to cough and squat was disturbing and the legality of it should be carefully reviewed. I agree that there should be limitations to the practice in the field, specifically for our purposes at music festivals. The wholesale practice of searching young people for the possible offence of possession is of grave concern and out of line with the purpose set out in the second reading speech.”
NSW deputy coroner Harriet Grahame finds that intensive and punitive drug policing operations are increasing drug-related risks and harm, and recommends sniffer dogs and strip-searches be curbed after the death of six young people. Grahame also recommended pill-testing be introduced.
“Odell’s book doesn’t offer concrete steps to combat our digital compulsions, nor does it (thankfully) proselytise Luddism. Rather, her intricate, sprawling essays construct a thoughtful and convincing case for what we could gain if we directed our attention away from our screens, and towards our local communities and surrounding ecology.”
“At protests, when police start putting on gloves it’s a sign – arrests are coming. Tuesday, October 29, 7.15am. The International Mining and Resources Conference at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. Officers are lined up at the Clarendon Street entrance. They stand shoulder to shoulder, already gloved-up.”
“Poverty is usually thought of as a lack of money, but it also equates, tragically, to a lack of time. Wealthier Australians not only live better than the less privileged among us, but also longer. Six years. That is now the average gap in life expectancy between the bottom 20 per cent of the population and the top 20 per cent, according to a new study of health inequality in Australia.”
Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
On May 19, the Sunday morning after Labor’s disastrous election defeat, there was a lot of speculation about who might put up their hand to replace Bill Shorten. But it was Anthony Albanese who confirmedhe would make a tilt for the leadership, grabbing his dejected party by the scruff of the neck. Since then there has been policy and strategic drift; a “come here/go away” dance with the government on issues like tax and climate, trade and drought; incipient buyer’s remorse [$]; and a creeping back of the worst kind of media coverage, including off-record briefings from frontbench Labor MPs against their shadow cabinet colleagues, and this week even headlines referring to the “...