Politics Analysis

Albanese much more than what the media portrays

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Anthony Albanese has led Labor since its defeat in the 2019 Federal Election (image by International Transport Forum via Flickr)

Anthony Albanese has been the alternative prime minister for two years this week. The image the mainstream media have shaped is far from the full picture, writes Alan Austin.

THERE SHOULDN'T BE much unknown about Anthony Albanese, given he has been a frontbencher in the Federal Parliament for more than 20 years, including minister for nearly six. But Australia’s media, it seems, has ensured that senior Labor figures are portrayed negatively and their qualities edited out.

Several surprises emerge from Albo’s recent headland speeches and press interviews.

Who knew he had a Keatingesque turn of phrase?

Some of Albanese's finest quotes include:

  • “A Government that’s always there for the photo op, but never there for the follow up”;
  • “This Government is all smirk and mirrors”;
  • “At a time we need muscle, the Government has left us only bone”;
  • “Mention the Enlightenment to these people and they reach for the dimmer switch”; and
  • “If only we could persuade the Government that R&D was the name of a sports club in a marginal electorate”.

He lost 13 kilograms in weight “to get match fit for the campaign” after his serious car accident last January.

Albanese's speeches reveal his broad priorities and some intriguing policy specifics. The six themes are the future of work, the economydemocracyolder Australians, the pandemic and science.

They also disclose plenty about Albo’s character and style, including but not confined to the following points.

Albanese is ahead of the curve on women’s rights

Albanese has said that: 

“Women in the workplace still suffer gender segregation, pay inequality, sexual harassment and discrimination. To ensure Australian women thrive in the workforce, we must change the culture of Australian workplaces ...”

Everyone agrees with this after recent scandals in Parliament, Kate Jenkins’ report and the advocacy of Grace Tame. But Albo made this comment long before any of that, back in 2019 well before Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s wife had explained to him why rape was wrong.

Albanese is strongly optimistic about Australia's future

In a speech in 2019, Albanese announced

“I do have faith in humanity – not just an abstract humanity, but everyday Australians, including those whose views differ from mine.”

Albanese has a bipartisan streak

Albanese recognises that bipartisanship is indeed possible and can produce better governance:

“As Leader of the House in a minority Parliament [2010 to 2013], I saw how it was possible to respect and work with your opponents ... The big economic reforms of the 80s, the gun law reform of the 90s, the NDIS a decade later. These national achievements required leadership, but succeeded because of agreement.”

Albo supported the Morrison Government in getting Mathias Cormann the OECD top job. That contrasted with the incoming Abbott Government, which reversed former Victorian Labor Premier Steve Bracks’ appointment as Australia’s Consul-General in New York in 2013.

Labor supported all recent Coalition stimulus packages, in contrast to Liberal Party opposition to most Labor legislation during the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).

Albanese is pro-market

In an interview with the ABC this month, Albanese told David Bevan:

“They are decisions for the market [on new investments in oil, gas, and coal] ... The role of the federal Government should be to set the policy framework, the parameters we're trying to hit in terms of reducing emissions ... [Government should] establish appropriate economic settings so that the investment goes to the lowest cost, most effective, best form of new energy generation.”

Albanese is an advocate of manufacturing in Australia

In 2019, Albanese pronounced in a speech that:

“Labor’s vision for Australia will always be of a country that continues to make things. I’ve always been optimistic about our great manufacturing sector.”

Albo has identified specific areas for expansion:

“We must invest in nation-building infrastructure including iconic projects like high-speed rail and we should build trains here.”

Albanese is enthusiastic about new industries

In another speech, Albanese said innovation and development are key to prosperity:

“The emerging lithium industry is a living example of how real-world economic progress happens – business, unions, researchers and government coming together to deliver on an aspiration bigger than just digging stuff out of the ground and letting the value-adding happen offshore.”

Albanese is willing to confront corruption head-on

Albanese is conscious of the importance of tackling corruption:

“We need to make disclosure of donations happen in real-time to provide Australians with more transparency. We need to examine caps on electoral spending to keep everybody’s voices equal.”

Disappointments from his speeches and interviews are few.

Despite his famous 2012 quip “I like fighting Tories, that's what I do”, he seems reluctant of late to castigate the corrupt and incompetent Morrison Government. 

Albanese said in 2020:

“To the best of our ability we have kept a straight face while listening to recent converts Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg talk about the importance of economic stimulus. And we have nodded politely when a Government that has ignored climate change now tells us we should follow science and listen to experts [on the pandemic].”

He doesn’t contrast Australia’s currently dismal economy with the vibrant economy Labor generated. His recollections of Labor’s actual accomplishments in government are rare.

He is muted on his own substantial policy successes in government and the international accolades he has received. Perhaps he sees all these as incompatible with his quest for consensus. Or, maybe they will come later.

Overall, the speeches bolster the Labor caucus’ leadership decision in May 2019. The three critical qualities for the top job – intellect, compassion and integrity – all shine through. But we should listen to Albo, not the prevailing, misleading portrayal of him.

Alan Austin’s defamation matter is nearly over. You can read the latest update here and contribute to the crowd-funding campaign HEREAlan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @alanaustin001.

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