Which way, Albo?
The Labor leader has come under attack just as he was being proved right
Another poll has confirmed that Australians are grateful not to be dying in droves from COVID-19 like the citizens of comparable countries overseas, and that they are reasonably well disposed towards a prime minister currently handing them more than $200 billion in stimulus spending. So it doesn’t take a genius to work out that things are not travelling too well for Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese. What should have been fillips for Albanese – Labor re-elected in the ACT and Queensland, and decisive wins for Jacinda Ardern and Joe Biden overseas – have instead coincided with the rockiest period of his leadership, with the resignation of frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon and the beginning of commentary suggesting Albo is a “disappearing man” or a “dead man walking”, or, as Troy Bramston writes in The Australian, that jockeying has begun to replace him. A lot of it comes back to the inexhaustible pot-stirring of the Oz and Sky News on climate action – both being pro-coal, pro-gas and pro-culture warring on same – although that editorial line is increasingly divorced from reality, and is right now coming under unprecedented attack from two ex-PMs backed by half a million Australians.
On climate, as it happens, Albanese was just at the point of being proved right. Notwithstanding the fact that he has had to suffer the PM’s “each-way bet” jibes, Albanese was right not to have frightened the horses with an aggressive climate policy ahead of the Queensland election. He was also right not to have caved in to the demands of Labor’s “Otis group” ahead of the US election. Is it entirely a coincidence that Albanese is coming under the first sustained attack of his leadership just when he was being proved right? Highly doubtful.
The run of polls favourable to Scott Morrison cannot be dismissed, although it is worth noting that the PM’s approval rating is much higher than the two-party vote, which determines who forms government (sitting at 51–49, according to the latest Newspoll). It is frankly amazing that the Morrison government – which seems to forever lurch from scandal to bungle and back to scandal again, and which is being credibly described as the most corrupt federal administration in postwar Australia – continues to poll so well.
But most Australians clearly believe that the most important thing happening right now is the pandemic, and they feel lucky to have escaped, in relative terms, the fate of countries overseas. Incumbent governments continue to be rewarded – whether at federal, state or territory level – and approval ratings are heading into the seventies. Whether the favourable ratings continue for the Coalition will most likely depend on how the economy fares – the Reserve Bank of Australia is tipping a strong recovery – as well as the reaction as stimulus spending is withdrawn. In one scenario, it is possible that Labor will become competitive against a scandal-plagued government (on its third leader, and seeking a fourth term) sometime between now and the next election in 2021–22. Surely it cannot be ruled out, although plenty of commentators are trying.
Setting aside the polls, the more important question is whether Albanese has got what it takes to get Labor over the line. Clearly there is a growing divide on that question inside the party, and his office is currently in chaos, with a self-destructive boilover and bullying allegations that have been leaked to the Nine newspapers. The underlying frustration is to do with a lack of policy or direction. Albanese, who recently told colleagues that the Opposition was just getting into third gear, has taken too long to define what his leadership stands for, and there’s been far too much “taking a look at” whatever policy the government bowls up, or “we wouldn’t have done it that way, but we’ll support it”, or “we’re not the government, go ask them”.
Conflict fatigue is one thing, but all these each-way positions have way passed their use-by date. Albanese’s personal story – having grown up in housing commission, he thereby embodies aspiration – is no substitute for policy development and a sense of a higher purpose that goes beyond winning. According to his biographer, Karen Middleton, a classic Albanese trait is that he thinks further ahead, and he is right that there’s no point leading in the polls on the strength of good policy all the way to the only poll that counts, and then losing. But Labor’s cross to bear in Australian politics is that it’s the party of far-reaching reform, and that challenge can’t be squibbed forever.
On climate, Queensland points the way forward: everyone’s over the stupid debate, and it’s time to start building renewables. If the gentailer cartel won’t do it then the government should, and, if necessary, sell it back to them later. Transurban might not have built WestConnex the way it was built, but it still bought it. Ditto for Telstra and the NBN. There’s no point talking to blue-collar coal workers about transitions until the ads for the green-collar jobs they could switch to are already in the paper or up on Seek.
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“This campaign is primarily aimed at Australians with access to sensitive information, such as those of you working in government, defence industry or academia … be mindful of what personal information you choose to post online. You could be targeted for information that, if shared, could have serious consequences for Australia’s security, its economy or your business.”
“Santos has been eyeing the region’s gas resources for more than a decade, but a protracted approvals process only belched up a win for the company on September 30, when the state’s Independent Planning Commission (IPC) signed off on development consent to drill up to 850 coal-seam gas wells in an area that includes the Pilliga and surrounding farmland. The IPC’s decision wouldn’t have surprised many, not least given all the talk around a ‘gas-fired recovery’ from COVID-19, but it’s contentious nonetheless. The proposal attracted a record-breaking 23,000 objections, and seven days of public hearings in July and August saw hundreds of local residents line up to blast its perceived failures and flaws.”
“In a world where politicians could be held to account by the rest of us, the sheer cruelty, incompetence and illegality of the robodebt scheme would, I hope, lead to the downfall of a government that pursued it. But we don’t live in that world, not yet.”
““The case against News Corp could hardly have been made more vigorously than it has been by Rudd and Turnbull now they are out of office. Almost exactly three years ago, in November 2017, in an interview with The Saturday Paper’s Karen Middleton, Rudd first called the Murdoch media ‘a cancer on democracy’ – a description he has repeated many times since.”
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 Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.
Another poll has confirmed that Australians are grateful not to be dying in droves from COVID-19 like the citizens of comparable countries overseas, and that they are reasonably well disposed towards a prime minister currently handing them more than $200 billion in stimulus spending. So it doesn’t take a genius to work out that things are not travelling too well for Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese. What should have been fillips for Albanese – Labor re-elected in the ACT and Queensland, and decisive wins for Jacinda Ardern and Joe Biden overseas – have instead coincided with the rockiest period of his leadership, with the resignation of frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon and the beginning of commentary suggesting Albo...
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