Thursday, May 23, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Albo set to lead ALP
Can a left-winger take the party to the right?

It looks as though the charismatic Anthony Albanese will be the answer for Labor, but what’s the question? After Saturday’s shocking defeat, where should the new leader take the party between now and 2022? Labor faces a diabolically difficult situation, with results showing its blue-collar base shifting to the Liberals, even after it fought an election campaign on a platform designed explicitly and deliberately to make the tax system fairer for the working class. It was ‘the most left-wing, redistributive platform since Whitlam’, as we heard constantly during the campaign. Is Left luminary Albanese the leader to take the party to the right?

Then there’s the vexing question of climate, with Hunter Valley MP Joel Fitzgibbon pushing a pro-coal message on ABC TV’s 7.30 last night. If Labor is to go back to championing fossil fuels, it will open the door for the Greens, and one thing is certain: the climate anxiety already in the electorate is sure to increase. Albanese loves eating his Greens – he’s been beating them in Grayndler for years – but going back to fossil fuels is not the answer: to climate, jobs, anything.

At a press conference today [$], Albanese stressed the magnitude of the challenge for Labor, which is now winning just one in every three first-preference votes, and called for a more positive agenda: “One of the things I intend to do, if I’m elected leader of the Labor Party, is to put forward a positive vision, positive messages, positive policies, about what I am for, rather than just what I am against.”

I’d argue that Albanese’s standing with the public and within the party is based more than anything on his loyalty to the party during the Rudd–Gillard wars: his opposition to the original disastrous knifing, and his evident distress at the damage the party was doing to itself. It went to character and, as Scott Morrison has just shown by recreating himself as a “daggy dad” without a team or a platform, that can be enough to drive voters. On top of this, as Albanese’s colleagues attest, he was an effective manager of government business in those years: there could not be a higher endorsement than Penny Wong’s statement yesterday that “Albo is the outstanding parliamentarian of our generation”. Given that Albanese is so clearly the answer now, however, the party’s factional hard-heads ought to be held to account as to why they ever overruled the party’s members in 2013, inflicting two perhaps unnecessary election defeats on the party.

The switch to Albanese suggests that perhaps the result on Saturday was a failure of leadership, and the result of strategic and tactical failures during the campaign, rather than of policy. Pamela Williams’ hefty three-part series, concluding in The Australian Financial Review today, portrays a Shorten campaign that slowly foundered as Labor’s “cuts and chaos” attack on the Turnbull–Abbott–Morrison governments failed to resonate, as shown by the response of focus groups and nightly tracking polls. The so-called “switchers” – Liberal voters who supported Turnbull, and whom Labor hoped to win over – had wandered back to Morrison. Williams writes [$]: “Morrison had inoculated against the ‘cuts’ message with his budget surplus, and he had inoculated against the ‘chaos’ message by simply being there and selling himself as an avuncular dad who wanted the nation to be comfortable, in the vernacular of Howard.” Williams sees clear parallels with John Howard’s small target win in 1996, on which she wrote the masterful The Victory. Williams identifies other failures: Shorten’s campaign failed to counter the misleading “Labor death tax” furphy; it missed a head-kicker like Stephen Conroy, who would not sugar-coat, at headquarters; it was out of touch with its most experienced pollster, John Utting, who has gone public this week on the failure of the party’s polling.

In an excellent piece, the Grattan Institute’s Danielle Woods wrote today that Labor’s chances were not sunk by self-funded retirees but by the very voters who stood to benefit most from the ALP’s policies. That is unlikely to happen again: as the saying goes, you can’t fool all the people all the time. There may not be a need for radical policy change between now and 2022 at all.

“We think it’s an important step towards making Australia a more spiritually generous and inclusive country that’s truly at peace with itself and its history.”

Investment banker John Wylie, speaking on behalf of 21 finance leaders who have pledged support for the Uluru statement and its call for the establishment of a First Nations voice in the Constitution.

“We are now on the cusp of opening up a brand new minerals province and bringing that online.”

Queensland Premier Anna Palaszczuk in response to questions about her intervention yesterday to provide a timeline for approvals of the Adani Carmichael mine.


The number of ministers to be appointed in Scott Morrison’s expanded cabinet, which is expected to involve a modest reshuffle in order to avoid disharmony and potentially allow Barnaby Joyce back into the fold. 

“A major climate change event leads to a global policy response that drives dramatic emission reduction focus.”

A scenario from a BHP strategy briefing, which includes a forecast that thermal coal may be phased out “sooner than expected”.

The list

“Leonard French’s life is like a novel by Balzac. From obscurity and poverty, he became the pre-eminent artist in Australia in the 1960s and early 1970s, with multiple prestigious public commissions. The Sydney Morning Herald declared that 1968 was ‘the year of Leonard French’. French knew the patronage and friendship of the good and the great, from Kenneth Myer to H.C. ‘Nugget’ Coombs. Yet from the mid 1980s to his death in 2017 aged 88, his reputation, even his fame, was slowly but inexorably eclipsed.”

“Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has overseen a murderous crackdown on the drug trade that has involved extrajudicial mass killings and left as many as 20,000 people dead. He has attacked judges, journalists, human rights groups and the United Nations, while issuing a steady stream of sexist and misogynistic invective. Yet his approval ratings are about 80 per cent, apparently due to support for his authoritarian approach and defiant bluster, as well as a growing economy and falling poverty rates.”

“A substantive treaty has always been the primary aspiration of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander movement. Perhaps that is why some people were confused last year when a series of 12 First Nations Regional Dialogues, followed by the First Nations National Constitutional Convention at Uluru, adopted a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament as the principal constitutional reform. This much should be clarified: these regional dialogues didn’t undermine the aspiration for treaty, they designed a sequenced reform in which a Voice to Parliament is the first step, and treaty-making follows.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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