Left-winger Anthony Albanese will need to reconnect with lower income voters, including those in regional Queensland.
Anthony Albanese is set to take over the leadership of the Australian Labor Party as it tries to reorient itself after its defeat in the May federal election.
Although his position will only become official on Monday, when nominations close, no-one appears ready to force the leadership to an election. Deputy leader Tanya Plibersek decided not to run, treasury spokesman Chris Bowen withdrew from the race, and finance spokesman Jim Chalmers said yesterday he would not challenge.
Albanese is a leader of the party’s left wing and has been identified with a number of its less popular positions, including allowing asylum seekers to enter the country.
Labor now elects its leader based equally on the votes of its members and its federal MPs. Albanese’s popularity with party members – he was expected to win around two-thirds of their votes – meant that the party’s moderate wing lacked faith they could get a candidate elected.
The outcome of the Labor process means Albanese, nicknamed ‘Albo’, will oppose re-elected Prime Minster Scott Morrison, nicknamed ‘ScoMo’.
“We’ve been very good at standing up when people have felt they were being ridiculed for their race but we haven't sent the same messages, and the principle is identical, if you're receiving hatred for your faith. We've got a way to go,” @Tony_Burke tells @PatsKarvelas pic.twitter.com/0sHI1k6uWO
— ABC News (@abcnews) May 23, 2019
Albanese, 56, is the MP for Grayndler in Sydney’s inner south-west. He was shadow minister for infrastructure under Bill Shorten’s leadership after having briefly been deputy prime minister under Kevin Rudd in 2013. He is the second left-winger to lead Labor in recent decades, after former prime minister Julia Gillard.
Albanese is also a long-time supporter of the South Sydney Rabbitohs, where he was a board member from 1999 to 2002.
Supporters say that despite coming from the left, Albanese will be able to connect not only with the shrinking group of blue-collar workers who once made up the party’s base, but also ‘middle Australia’, and with Queensland voters who have left Labor with just five of the state’s 30 federal electorates.
His debating style is robust. He was once described as “Rudd’s headkicker in parliament”, and has said of himself: “I like fighting Tories. That’s what I do.”
Nevertheless, Albanese has made friends in politics including the Liberal Party’s Christopher Pyne and Labor moderates such as former NSW premier Bob Carr. Despite his left-wing stance, he has also made conciliatory noises towards the business lobby.
Full Jim Chalmers statement on his decision not to stand against Anthony Albanese pic.twitter.com/ly5AQItSSX
— Tom McIlroy (@TomMcIlroy) May 23, 2019
He stood for the leadership after the 2013 election loss, winning the vote among Labor Party members but not with the Labor federal MPs.
He has already begun pitching his leadership as “inclusive” and “respectful”. He and his team must reconfigure Labor policy after an election where Australian Electoral Commission voting data suggests Labor lost votes among lower income earners. He will need to reassure such voters that a Labor government will provide them with jobs, and find a climate change policy than will not alienate them.
Albanese’s first test may come over income tax cuts promised by the government. He supports the cuts scheduled for this year, but has suggested the government should legislate separately for 2024 tax cuts directed at higher income earners.
Labor environment spokesman Tony Burke said on Thursday that the party should look at a ‘Green New Deal’ policy like that of left-wing Democrats in the US. The party could no longer afford to retain a policy based on a market mechanism, he said.