There were a couple of big questions before the new Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, announced his shadow ministry on Sunday.
One of those was where would former leader Bill Shorten end up after the party’s humbling loss in last month’s federal election. (The answer: head of the NDIS and government services portfolio.)
One of the biggest beneficiaries of Albanese’s changes was Kristina Keneally, who was handed the powerful portfolio of home affairs – opposite an immediately dismissive Peter Dutton – in addition to immigration and citizenship. She will also be the deputy opposition leader in the Senate.
Our experts have already analysed the chief challenges faced by the new ministers in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s cabinet – now, we’re asking them to look at Labor’s shadow ministers, as well.
In some cases, the shadow ministers hold more than one portfolio. To simplify the policy analysis, we’ve chosen a key policy area for which they’re responsible and asked our experts to analyse this.
Kristina Keneally is continuing her rise and rise, appointed to “shadow” Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton, in Anthony Albanese’s frontbench bench line up announced on Sunday.
After last week obtaining a place in the shadow ministry and becoming Labor’s deputy Senate leader, with two men standing aside to make way for her, Keneally now takes on one of the toughest players in the Coalition. She’ll also cover immigration, which comes under the home affairs portfolio but has a separate minister in the government’s ranks.
At Bill Shorten’s side all through the election campaign, Keneally didn’t recoil from the task of head kicking. She called Dutton a “thug” and “the most toxic man in Australian politics”.
Dutton is a head kicker from way back. On Sunday he was quickly out of the blocks. “Kristina Keneally I predict will be somebody who is very spiteful, very nasty and very personal in her attacks, that’s been her history,” he said, adding, “I’m not going to attack Kristina Keneally on a personal basis”.
They could make the perfect matchup for those into political blood sports.
Home Affairs to continue under Labor
The appointment does mean, and Albanese confirmed, that the opposition is committed to the home affairs portfolio long term, despite Labor’s platform providing for a review.
Asked “now that you have a home affairs shadow minister, does that mean you will preserve the portfolio if in power?” Albanese said: “Obviously the position we have as a shadow ministry is the one that we hope to take to an election and one that we hope to then implement if we were in government”.
Keneally tweeted:“@AlboMP’s decision to introduce a Shadow Home Affairs portfolio sends a clear message that Labor will ensure Australians are kept safe. Labor fully supports offshore processing, boat turnbacks where safe to do so, and regional resettlement”.
Another notable feature of the Albanese frontbench is Bill Shorten’s appointment as shadow for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and government services, where he will be up against minister Stuart Robert.
It brings Shorten (who wanted health) back to where he started on the ladder after arriving in parliament at the 2007 election, when he was appointed parliamentary secretary for disabilities and children’s services. His work in the disabilities area laid a foundation for the NDIS.
NDIS is now politically important
This is not a high profile post for Shorten but because both he and Robert will have a good deal to prove, it could further ensure the NDIS gets a lot of attention, which will be a good thing.
Albanese made a point of his shadow cabinet having equal numbers of men and women, 12 each, when shadow cabinet secretary Jenny McAllister is included.
The four new members of the shadow cabinet are all women: Keneally, Katy Gallagher, Terri Butler and Madeleine King.
At every opportunity Labor highlights that it does way better on the gender front than the government; frequently, Scott Morrison seeks to argue he is doing better than the Liberals did before.
Chalmers is Labor’s voice on economics
As expected, former finance spokesman and Queenslander Jim Chalmers becomes shadow treasurer. Chalmers has a formidable job in front of him, having simultaneously to carry the day-to-day economic argument while being at the centre of the overhaul of Labor’s most controversial election policies.
His colleagues and the public will have abundant opportunity to assess someone who aspires to be leader in the longer term.
Chalmers’ first task and Labor’s first test will be when the new parliament considers the income tax cuts legislation at the start of July. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann reiterated on Sunday that the government will not split the package, which includes tax relief for higher income earners in later years.
As part of the new economic team Gallagher, one-time ACT chief minister – who has returned to the Senate from her exile in the citizenship crisis – becomes shadow minister for finance.
Albanese performs a balancing act
Former shadow treasurer Chris Bowen will be health spokesman; the previous occupant of that post, Catherine King, moves to infrastructure, transport and regional development.
Tony Burke goes from environment to industrial relations, with Brendan O’Connor, who previously had employment and workplace relations, keeping the former but losing the latter and acquiring industry. This removes the conflict of interest he had, with his brother Michael being secretary of the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union.
A number of shadows remain in their old portfolio spots – one is the new deputy leader Richard Marles (defence). Others include Penny Wong (foreign affairs), Tanya Plibersek (education), Mark Butler (climate change and energy), and Michelle Rowland (communications). But Plibersek loses responsibility for women, which goes to Julie Collins. It remains to be seen how much refashioning Butler will have to do to Labor’s climate policy.
There will be the odd interesting balancing act, such as on coal issues. Queenslander Terri Butler, from the left, gets environment and water; Joel Fitzgibbon, from the right, who was concerned how the coal debate swung votes against him in his mining seat of Hunter, has resources added to his responsibility for agriculture.
Linda Burney will cover Indigenous Australians in addition to her previous responsibilities of families and social services. It will be important how she and the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, both themselves Indigenous, choose to balance conflict and consensus in this area.
Leigh gets looked after, Husic declines offer
Shayne Neumann has taken a big tumble, from immigration and border protection and a member of shadow cabinet, to veterans affairs and defence personnel in the outer shadow ministry.
Pat Dodson is shadow assistant minister for reconciliation, and Andrew Leigh, who lost his shadow ministry because he didn’t have a faction, has been awarded a position as shadow assistant minister for treasury.
But Ed Husic, who stood down so Keneally could get one of the right’s spots in the shadow ministry, is not even in a shadow assistant minister position. He could have had one – they were in the gift of Albanese – but declined. Which is rather a pity, given his talents.
The Coalition is likely to win 19 of the 40 Senate seats up for grabs at the 2019 election. As they hold 16 of the 36 that are not up for election, they will probably have 35 of the 76 total seats (up four since the pre-election Senate). The new Senate sits from July 1.
Labor is likely to have 26 total seats (no net change), the Greens nine (steady), One Nation two (steady), the Centre Alliance two (steady). Cory Bernardi was not up for election, and Jacqui Lambie regained her Tasmanian seat following her disqualification on Section 44 grounds. While One Nation lost a WA seat, they probably regain Malcolm Roberts after his disqualification.
The likely losers were Fraser Anning, Derryn Hinch, the Liberal Democrats, Brian Burston (who had shifted from One Nation to United Australia Party), and Tim Storer, who did not contest his SA seat.
The Coalition plus One Nation and Bernardi is 38 seats for the right. To pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens, the Coalition’s best path will be these 38 votes, plus either Lambie or the Centre Alliance.
With six senators to be elected in each state, a quota is one-seventh of the vote, or 14.3%. With two to be elected in each territory, a quota is one-third of the vote, or 33.3%. Voters are instructed to number at least six boxes above the line, or at least 12 below, though only one above or six below is required for a formal vote. All preferences are voter-directed.
The Senate count is now at 84% of enrolled voters, while the House count is at 91%. The last few percent in the house count have been good for the Greens and bad for the Coalition, but this is unlikely to make a difference to the Senate seat outcomes. Senate results will be finalised by a computer preference distribution, probably by late next week.
Here is the table of likely Senate results for each state and territory. The Coalition was defending just two seats in each state except SA, where it was defending three seats.
In NSW, the Coalition has 2.70 quotas, Labor 2.10, the Greens 0.60 and One Nation 0.34. Labor preferences should assist the Greens, with One Nation too far behind to catch either the Greens or Coalition. Both Labor and the Coalition gain at the expense of the Liberal Democrats and Burston.
In Victoria, the Coalition has 2.54 quotas, Labor 2.19, the Greens 0.73 and One Nation and Hinch Justice both on 0.19. The Coalition appears too far ahead of everyone else to be caught. The Coalition is likely to gain at the expense of Hinch.
In Queensland, the LNP has 2.75 quotas, Labor 1.59, One Nation (Roberts) 0.71 and the Greens 0.68. Whoever finishes last out of the final four after preferences misses out, and that is likely to be Labor. The LNP and One Nation are likely to gain at the expense of Labor and Anning.
In WA, the Liberals have 2.90 quotas, Labor 1.93, the Greens 0.82 and One Nation 0.39. The top three are too far ahead. The Liberals gain at the expense of One Nation.
In SA, the Liberals have 2.65 quotas, Labor 2.13, the Greens 0.75 and One Nation 0.33. The Liberals and Greens are too far ahead. Labor gains at the expense of Storer.
In Tasmania, the Liberals have 2.21 quotas, Labor 2.15, the Greens 0.88, Lambie 0.61 and One Nation 0.24. The Greens and Lambie are too far ahead. Lambie gains at Labor’s expense.
In the ACT, Labor has 1.18 quotas, the Liberals 0.97 and the Greens 0.52. The Liberals will win the second seat. There will be no change.
In the NT, Labor has 1.11 quotas and the Country Liberals 1.10. Preferences are not required for either seat. There will be no change.
The reason for the right’s three-seat lead over the left is Queensland, where six of the 12 senators are likely to be LNP, One Nation two, Labor just three and the Greens one. All other states are likely to split evenly between the right and left, except for Tasmania (6-5 to the left plus Lambie). SA is tied 5-5 with two Centre Alliance.
The table below shows the seats up for election at the next half-Senate election, due by early 2022. While state senators have six-year terms, territory senators are tied to the term of the House.
The Coalition will be defending three seats in every state except SA, where they are defending just one seat. A bad Coalition performance would put their third seat in some states at risk. However, if the Coalition does as well as they did in 2019 in the mainland states, and wins a third Tasmanian seat, the Coalition and One Nation combined would have a Senate majority (39 of 76 seats).
The three senators most likely to lose at the next election are Bernardi and the two Centre Alliance senators, all in SA. At this election, Centre Alliance won just 2.6% or 0.18 quotas and Bernardi’s Conservatives had 1.5% or 0.10 quotas.
The Greens will be happy with their defence of the six senators they had up for election. A similar performance in 2022 would give the Greens 12 senators – the most they have had. But Labor needs to improve greatly to give the left a chance to gain the four senators they would need in 2022 to control the Senate.
Coalition’s national Senate vote increased over 3%
Senate vote shares are currently 38.3% Coalition (up 3.1%), 28.9% Labor (down 0.9%), 10.1% Greens (up 1.5%), 5.4% One Nation (up 1.1%), 2.4% UAP, 1.8% Help End Marijuana Prohibition, 1.7% Shooters, 1.2% Animal Justice and 1.1% Liberal Democrats. Vote shares in the House are 41.5% Coalition (down 0.5%), 33.3% Labor (down 1.4%), 10.3% Greens (up 0.1%), 3.4% UAP and 3.1% One Nation (up 1.8%). One Nation contested 59 of the 151 House seats.
One reason for the increase in the Coalition’s Senate vote is a favourable ballot paper draw. In all states and territories, the Coalition was placed to the left of the Liberal Democrats, so they were not hurt by name confusion. In 2016, the Coalition was to the right of the Liberal Democrats in NSW, Queensland and the ACT.
By state, the Coalition’s vote was up 2.8% in NSW, 3.2% in Victoria, 4.2% in Queensland, 1.7% in WA, 5.3% in SA (helped by the collapse of Centre Alliance since 2016) and up 0.2% in Tasmania. The Coalition’s gain in Victoria could be due to a 3.3% drop for Hinch Justice and a 9.7% drop for Senate groups that stood in 2016, but not 2019.
Another explanation for the Coalition’s vote jump in the Senate is that those with a lower level of educational attainment disliked both Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten in 2016, and were thus likely to vote for other right-wing parties. In 2019, these people liked Scott Morrison. There are many parties to choose from in the Senate, so the Coalition’s higher vote should be seen as an endorsement of Morrison.
In the House, the Coalition’s vote is down 0.5% from 2016. Far fewer right-wing parties stood for the House in 2016 than in 2019, so voters’ choices were more limited in 2016. If the same sorts of candidates had stood in the same seats at both elections, the Coalition’s primary vote would probably have increased in the House too.
Turnout for House increases on 2016
Contrary to this article in Nine newspapers that suggested turnout had fallen to its lowest level since compulsory voting was introduced, official turnout for the May 18 election is currently 91.07%, up 0.06% from 2016. There are many votes outstanding, so turnout will increase further.
As the electoral roll is more complete than it has ever been, this increase in turnout is more impressive than it seems.
It is likely that Labor will hold Macquarie, the last seat in any doubt. That will give the Coalition 77 of the 151 seats, Labor 68 and six crossbenchers.
The national two party count is currently at 51.63-48.37 to the Coalition; the Coalition’s peak was 51.77% on May 30. There are 15 “non-classic” seats that are excluded from this count – ten are likely to favour the Coalition and five Labor. The current two party count therefore understates the Coalition.
Conservatives and Labour smashed at UK’s European elections
I wrote for The Poll Bludger that at the UK’s European Union elections held on May 23, the Brexit party won 32% of the vote and 29 of 73 seats, the Liberal Democrats 20% and 16 seats, Labour just 14% and ten seats, the Greens 12% and seven seats, and the Conservatives 9% and four seats.
Theresa May will resign as Conservative leader on June 7, and the next PM is likely to be a hard Brexiteer.
In the European Union overall, the Liberals and the Greens performed well.
In his first excursion as leader, Anthony Albanese this week visited the Queensland electorate of Longman. This seat tells, in microcosm, the story of Labor’s success and failure, hopes and disappointment between 2016 and May 18 2019.
The ALP wrested Longman from the Liberals’ Wyatt Roy in the election in which Bill Shorten became a Labor hero by bringing Malcolm Turnbull within a whisker of defeat. Then on Super Saturday last July, Shorten held the seat, reinforcing his own leadership and undermining Turnbull’s. But on May 18, Longman went back to the government, as part of Queensland’s rejection of the ALP.
Labor this week has looked like a routed army forced to regroup while it is still bandaging wounds and burying its dead.
The leadership transition was the easy part, with Albanese the only candidate, after the party’s right couldn’t muster support for an alternative. But installing a new frontbench has been a messy process, exposing the downside of factionalism.
The factions are devotees of the “iron law of arithmetic”, so when Albanese demanded Kristina Keneally be given a place, someone in her NSW right faction had to bite the dust. It was especially unfortunate that this was Ed Husic, widely seen as a talented performer, who incidentally is one of only two Muslims in the caucus.
“It seems right that a man should step aside for a stellar woman to take over,” Husic told the ABC.
At the same time, a Muslim friend texted me, “What kind of ‘diversity’ is Albo’s ALP presiding over, when a Muslim-background MP is elbowed out from the frontbench in deeply Islamophobic times? Husic has been very supportive of Muslim communities.”
There were, one would have thought, better candidates than Husic for the sacrifice.
In the Senate, right faction player Don Farrell has also made room for Keneally, who has replaced him as deputy Labor leader there. She was able to mount a claim to this position on gender balance grounds – with Tanya Plibersek replaced by Richard Marles in the deputyship, the two top opposition posts are in male hands.
All in all, the path of the one-time NSW premier has been much smoothed. Keneally only entered the Senate at the start of last year, after a middling performance in the Bennelong byelection. Shorten made her his “bus captain” in the campaign, and planned to ensure she was in a Labor ministry. Albanese has gone out of his way to back her. Not all in caucus are impressed and she’ll have a good deal to live up to in the next three years.
Apart from the loss of Husic from the shadow ministry, the other bad outcome was the dropping of Andrew Leigh. He was shadow assistant treasurer but is non-factional, so he lacked muscle men to preserve his place. Leigh, a former economics professor, did a solid job, and Labor could always benefit from more rather than less economic talent.
And in the week when Ken Wyatt became the first indigenous federal cabinet minister,
Indigenous senator Pat Dodson did not run for the frontbench. Wyatt is minister for Indigenous Australians, the post Shorten had foreshadowed Dodson would have. Dodson is likely, however, to be given some role on reconciliation.
Albanese will allocate portfolios, to be unveiled Sunday, and also announce parliamentary secretaries (the leader chooses these and this could, and should, provide an opportunity to use Husic).
Jim Chalmers, former finance spokesman, is set to be shadow treasurer. He’ll replace Chris Bowen, the architect of some controversial policies, notably the clampdown on franking cash refunds; in the pain of defeat, Bowen is being scapegoated by many. Chalmers, whom some wanted as a “new generation” leader, should be a credible economic face for the party.
Of particular interest will be what portfolio Shorten has. Of more concern, however, will be how the former leader sees his broad post-leadership role.
At this point, Shorten is not showing signs of taking much personal responsibility for the election disaster, although to be fair, he would still be in shock, and it is early days.
In the “grab” from his Thursday speech to caucus, Shorten lashed out. “We were up against corporate leviathans, a financial behemoth, spending unprecedented hundreds of millions of dollars advertising, telling lies, spreading fear.
“Powerful vested interests campaigned against us through sections of the media itself, and they got what they wanted,” he said.
“And I understand that neither of these challenges disappeared on election night. They’re still out there for us to face”.
To Labor voters he just offered “my regrets we did not win”.
Albanese, in his speech to caucus, struck a different note. “I accept my share as a senior shadow minister in the show, for the fact that we weren’t successful”.
Later at a news conference, he was open (as he has been since the election) in acknowledging the flaws in the franking policy, and the problem with “some of the language that was used” in the election (when Shorten targeted “the top end of town”).
More generally, Albanese’s emphasis before the election was different to Shorten’s and that’s also coming out in his early remarks as leader. He stresses his relationships with the business sector, the centrality of economic growth and jobs – and the importance of “aspiration”.
“ Labor will be seen, by all of us, our entire team, as being pro-business as well as pro-worker and I believe that’s exactly where Labor is and where we need to be,” he said.
Given Shorten has chosen to stay in parliament, it’s appropriate he has a shadow ministry and a substantial one at that.
But whether it is sensible for him, or good for Labor, that he remain in politics is another question.
He’s always been a factional player and he and Albanese have long been rivals. Adjusting to a diminished position, avoiding the temptation to criticise his successor even in private, being part of a team that has to move on from the Shorten-era policies – all that will be very hard.
If after a few months he feels he can’t do these things, Shorten should find another career.
The high tide of analysis concerning the Australian Labor Party’s shock 2019 federal election loss has been reached. It looks like so much flotsam and jetsam with the odd big log – leadership popularity, Queensland – prominent among the debris. Sorting through it, making sense of it, and weighting the factors driving the result really matters. It matters because decisions influencing the outcome of the next federal election will flow from it.
The learner’s error is to grasp onto a couple of factors without considering the full suite, weighting them and seeing the connections between them. What does the full suite look like?
Labor’s Bill Shorten was an unpopular leader, neither liked nor trusted by voters. The shift from Shorten in private to Shorten in leadership mode in the media was comparable to the shift in Julia Gillard when she moved from the deputy prime ministership to prime minister: the charm and wit went missing, replaced by woodenness and lack of relatability.
Shorten accepted advice to appear “leader-like”, creating a barrier Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who sought to directly connect with voters, was not hampered by. “It is often said of democratic politics,” historian David Runciman has said, “that the question voters ask of any leader is: ‘Do I like this person?’ But it seems more likely that the question at the back of their minds is: ‘Would this person like me?’” Morrison passed and Shorten flunked that test.
Shorten generally failed the “theatre of politics”. His suits often looked too big, making him look small. Television footage of him jogging in oversized athletic clothes during the campaign made him look small. Poor production of Shorten in these ways diminished perceptions of him as an alternative prime minister – a professionalism fail that could have easily been fixed but was not.
Lesson: Leadership unpopularity costs votes. Successful “theatre of politics” matters.
2.Supporting players’ unpopularity
Shorten was weighed down by frontbenchers in the key economic and environment portfolios who fell well short in the performativity stakes too. The camera is not kind to shadow treasurer Chris Bowen. While he developed serious policy chops, partly through sustained study of Paul Keating’s history as a reforming treasurer of historic stature, he also picked up Keating’s hauteur, but without actually being Keating and able to pull it off.
The arrogance of Bowen’s franking credits policy comment that “if people very strongly feel that they don’t want this to happen they are perfectly entitled to vote against us” was a defining misstep of the Shorten opposition. It made the leader’s job that much harder.
Shadow environment minister Mark Butler is another to whom the camera is unkind. He embodied the soft, urban environmentalist persona that is poison in those parts of Australia where Labor needed to pick up seats. An equally knowledgeable but more knockabout environment spokesperson – Tony Burke, for example – would have been the cannier choice in a “climate election” where regional voters had to be persuaded to Labor’s greener policy agenda.
Lesson: Appoint frontbenchers capable of winning public support in their portfolios.
The maths wasn’t wrong but the models on which the two-party-preferred vote is calculated have been blown up by this election, an event foreshadowed by recent polling miscalls in Britain.
Long-time conservative political consultant Lynton Crosby’s presence in the Coalition campaign has been invisible except for the tiny but crucial, and completely overlooked, detail that the Liberals’ polling “was conducted by Michael Brooks, a London-based pollster with Crosby Textor who was brought out from the United Kingdom for the campaign”.
The Coalition had better polling. Labor and everyone else were relying on faulty polling that misallocated preferences and uniformly predicted a Labor win – false comfort to Labor, which stayed a flawed course instead of making necessary changes to avoid defeat.
Lesson: Focus on the primary vote, the polling figure least vulnerable to modelling assumptions.
4.Media hostile to Labor
The Murdoch media have created an atmospheric so pervasively hostile to Labor that it has become normalised. It contributed significantly to Shorten’s unpopularity and Labor’s loss. Its impact is only going to get worse with Australia’s nakedly partisan Fox News-equivalent, “Sky After Dark”, extending from pay-TV to free-to-air channels in regional areas.
Lesson: Have brilliant ads in a sharply focused campaign that doesn’t fail to hit your opponents’ weaknesses.
7.Massive advertising spending gap
Along with the hostile media environment created by the Murdoch press, the unprecedented spending gap between the Labor and anti-Labor sides of politics and its role in the Coalition win has passed largely unremarked.
The previous election was bought by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with a $1.7 million personal donation that boosted Coalition election advertising in the campaign’s crucial last fortnight. That now looks like small beer next to the 2019 election’s anti-Labor advertising spending (approximately $80 million when one adds the Coalition’s $20 million spend to the Clive Palmer-United Australia Party spend of $60 million-plus). This is four times the size of Labor’s $20 million ad budget – a huge disparity.
Lesson: Australia already needed campaign finance laws to stop the purchasing of elections. It needs them even more urgently now.
8.Large policy target
Misleading polling showing it was persistently ahead gave Labor false comfort pursuing a “big” policy agenda – that is, making policy offerings normally done from government rather than opposition. If everything else goes right in an election, and with a popular leader and effective key supporting frontbenchers, this may be possible. That was not the case in the 2019 election.
Lesson: When in opposition, don’t go to an election promising tax changes that make some people worse off. Save it for government.
9.Green cannibalisation of the Labor vote
The primary vote of the Labor Party (33.5%) and the Greens (9.9%) adds up to 43.4% – a long way off the 50%-plus required to beat the conservatives. For a climate-action-oriented government to be elected in Australia, Labor and the Greens are going to have to find a better modus vivendi.
They don’t have to like each other; after all, the mutual hatred of the Liberals and Nationals within the Coalition is long-standing and well-known. But like the Liberals and Nationals, though without a formal agreement, Labor and the Greens are going to have to craft a way forward that forestalls indulgent bus tours by Green icons through Queensland coal seats and stops prioritising cannibalisation of the Labor vote over beating conservatives.
Lesson: For climate policy to change in Australia, Labor and the Greens need to strategise constructively, if informally, to get Labor elected to office.
10.Every election is winnable
Paul Keating won an “unwinnable” election in 1993 and pundits spoke of the Keating decade ahead. John Howard beat Keating in a landslide three years later, despite being the third Coalition leader in a single tumultuous parliamentary term.
Morrison won the 2019 election despite internal Coalition leadership turmoil, political scandals and a revolt of the party’s women MPs against the Liberals’ bullying internal culture.
Lesson: Every election is there to be won or lost. Take note of Lessons 1 to 9 to do so.
The government’s tax relief package is shaping up as the first test of incoming opposition leader Anthony Albanese, with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg declaring on Friday it must be supported “in its entirety” when put to the new parliament.
But Albanese has only guaranteed support for the first tranche. As for the later cuts for higher income earners, “we will consider that,” he said on Friday.
But let me tell you, it is a triumph of hope over experience and reality that the government knows […] what the economic circumstances are in 2025 or 2023, in the middle of the next decade.
Appearing with Albanese on the Nine Network, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said:
Albo, it would be remarkable if your first act as leader of the opposition was […] to oppose a long term package of tax relief – that would show a real tin ear for the Australian people”.
In an interview with The Conversation, Frydenberg refused to be drawn on what the government would do if unable to get the whole bill through.
It would, however, be hard for it to avoid splitting the bill – to hold out would deny the immediate relief pledged in the April budget.
All or nothing
Nor could Frydenberg say when parliament will meet to consider the legislation, although the government has effectively conceded it will not be in time for the promised July 1 start of the additional tax offset promised in the budget. (A smaller offset from last year’s budget will be paid from then.)
But Albanese said the tax cuts could be passed in time for July 1, because it would only need a couple of hours of sitting. “We’ll do a deal. I can do that. One speaker a side, and Bob’s your uncle.”
Frydenberg said Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe had highlighted the positive impact the tax cuts would have on household incomes.
“Let’s too not forget that $7.5 billion will flow to households in the coming financial year, as a result of these tax cuts,” Frydenberg said.
Tax cuts as good as rate cuts
“This benefit to households and the economy is equivalent to two 25 basis point interest rate cuts and is one reason why growth and household consumption is projected to pick up,” he said.
“The tax reforms we are putting to parliament are not just providing immediate relief, but leading to long term structural change. This will tackle bracket creep and reward aspiration.
“Earning more is nothing to be ashamed of and should be encouraged not punished. Rewarding aspiration is in the Coalition’s DNA and will be a fundamental driver of our policies in government.”
In his assessment of the economic outlook, Frydenberg had two messages.
He said in his discussions with some of Australia’s biggest employers, “I’ve been buoyed by their confidence and their desire to work with the government, to support continued economic growth and job creation”.
But the economy “faces significant headwinds. Trade tensions between the United States and China have increased, with the potential to negatively impact global growth.
“Were there to be another round of US tariff increases, the potential for which has been flagged publicly, the proportion of global trade covered by recent trade actions would double from 2% to 4%.”
Also, flood, drought and fires had taken a toll and the housing market slowdown was hitting dwelling investment and having an impact on consumption.
The challenges made the government’s agenda for growth, including tax relief, so important and time critical.
Asked whether the “headwinds” faced by the Australian economy were stronger than at budget time, when he also spoke of headwinds, Frydenberg said: “I think the tensions between China and the US have increased”.
Frydenberg spoke with the US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin this week and the two will meet in Japan at the G20 finance ministers meeting in a few weeks. Frydenberg stressed in the conversation the importance of free trade to Australia and its wish to see disputes resolved as amicably as possible.
Asked whether, if the economy deteriorated further, the government would be willing to live with a smaller surplus next financial year than the $7.1 billion projected in the budget, Frydenberg said, “that’s the amount that we’re committed to”.
He would not be drawn on the signal this week from Lowe that an interest rate cut was coming.
The Treasurer said the current unemployment rate of 5.2% reflected “strong labour market performance”.
While there are no plans for an overhaul of federal-state relations by the re-elected government, Frydenberg said he would work closely with the states on infrastructure and managing population.
I recently had cause to look at a large file of material I collected about Mark Latham during 2004. It is full of many of the same columnists who have just campaigned successfully for the return of the Morrison government. They were buzzing with excitement and hubris. News Corps’s Miranda Devine saw an omen in the news that arrived from Paris as the polls opened in Australia:
Jacques Derrida, the father of deconstructionism, died in Paris of pancreatic cancer, bringing to a symbolic end a destructive era of postmodern truth-twisting.
While no one else seemed to draw a bow quite so long, almost everyone could agree that John Howard’s victory was “historic” and that Labor was in “crisis”.
But The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen’s response to that election brings us closest to the present. Howard’s very lack of a grand vision was precisely what had attracted voters to him, she claimed:
While the Left aches for a top-down vision imposed from above by some Whitlamite, Keatingesque leader, the rest of us prefer the bottom-up Howard version where we get to choose our own vision.
With Scott Morrison, we also have little choice but to choose our own vision if we want one. But Howard, it turned out, had plans if not a vision. He would use the Senate majority voters had sent his way to deal with Australia’s unions once and for all, through WorkChoices. At the 2007 election, Howard lost government as well as his own seat.
Labor supporters despairing of the result of Saturday’s election would do well to recall 2004. It is, to my mind, the closest parallel with what we have just seen. Labor took bold policies to the voters in 2004 and 2019. A Coalition leader managed to persuade enough voters that Labor couldn’t be trusted in economic matters.
Resources industries mattered for both elections, Tasmanian forests in 2004, and Queensland coal in 2019. Labor fumbled each, just as housing – interest rates in 2004, and property values and rents in 2019 – caused Labor grief on each occasion.
Shorten is no Latham, but there were question marks hanging over both leaders that told against their party. Shorten made his mistakes but ran a solid campaign in 2019, gradually hitting his stride.
Latham was no slouch in 2004, either; there has been a conflation of his behaviour after the campaign with that during its course. Writing straight after the election in The Australian, Paul Kelly had many criticisms of both Labor and Latham. But he also thought Latham had campaigned “very well” personally.
The more common comparison of 2019 has been with 1993, John Hewson’s “unlosable election”. There is, of course, something in that and, again, some hope for Labor.
There were reasons to imagine after the 1993 election that Labor was in for the long haul – that it would be the modern equivalent of the post-war Coalition with its 23-year run. The Liberals continued with a broken Hewson, had a brief and disastrous experiment with Alexander Downer, and then settled on a failed leader from the previous decade, Howard.
Few saw the Coalition’s future as bright after Keating’s win. But Labor fumbled its post-1993 election budget and, for all of Keating’s bravado in the house and all of his “big picture” hobnobbing with world leaders such as Clinton and Suharto outside it, the foundations of Labor rule were crumbling.
Is Labor’s “crisis”, if it is a crisis, worse than that faced by the Coalition in 1993 and Labor in 2004? If the ultimate test is electoral success, only the next election will allow us to answer that question.
But there are some alarming indicators. Labor seems to have lost votes to the far right in Queensland and preferences then flowed helpfully to the Coalition. Morrison was able to have his cake – getting the Liberals to put One Nation last south of the Tweed – while eating it north of the Tweed, where he had no sway over LNP preferencing and the Coalition reaped the rewards.
There is an emerging narrative that Adani mattered in key Queensland seats, not so much in its own right but for its wider symbolic significance for the future of coal mining in Queensland and Labor’s commitment to traditional blue-collar jobs.
If so, Labor has a lot of work to do to clarify its policy and messaging, in a state where coal has formed one of the foundations of the economy since the 1960s.
And it needs to do so without damaging its prospects elsewhere by equivocating on commitments to renewable energy and vigorous action on climate change. The old calculation that alienated Greens votes will come back to Labor might still be largely correct, but Labor has never won from opposition when the electorate votes for it only grudgingly.
It was ironic, in view of Labor’s problems in some regions and outer suburbs, that the two front-runners who initially emerged as Labor leadership contenders were members of the Left faction representing neighbouring seats in oh-so-hip inner Sydney. With Tanya Plibersek withdrawing – and another Sydneysider, Chris Bowen, also bowing out – the leadership is now likely to fall to the Left’s Anthony Albanese. Queenslander Jim Chalmers, from the Right, is considering whether to run.
The terms in which the post-election debate about Labor’s future has been carried on could have occurred after any election defeat in the last 50 years. But the foundational issue for Labor is not where it places itself on the political spectrum, or even whether it can win back voters in the regions, but whether it has any capacity to grapple with the inequalities and frailties that lax, opportunistic and unsustainable policy – much of it dating back to the Howard era – has embedded.
At the 2019 election, Labor proposed chasing revenue by winding back tax concessions to some categories of shareholder, property investor and superannuant. This approach was rejected at the polls. But economic growth and productivity seem unlikely to provide an alternative pathway for a future Labor government, unless there is a miraculous turn-around in the global economy.
No prospective Labor leader should be taken seriously unless he – and it seems it will indeed be a “he” – is at least able to articulate this dilemma.
Labor has taken a major gamble by appointing Anthony Albanese unopposed as party leader. His speedy elevation came because he was not tarred with the Bill Shorten-Chris Bowen brush that failed so spectacularly on May 18. So a cross-factional deal for a unity ticket held sway.
“Albo” has carefully crafted his image as a knockabout but likeable scallywag. He mixes easily with ordinary folks, “does” the local pubs and community centres, volunteers his services as an occasional DJ. He is a rugby league fanatic who regularly marches in the Sydney Mardi Gras and has a beer named in his honour. He’s an impish politician with a nose for a pithy or humorous riposte; an iconoclastic puncturer of hyperbole and bunkum (remember his throwaway dismissal of the “convoy of no consequence” when a pitiful truck convoy descended on Canberra).
Albanese was also Labor’s smartest parliamentary tactician as the Leader of the House in the Gillard government. He sees himself as a “commonsense guy” who is prepared to “stand up for what [he] thinks is commonsense propositions”.
He also has the distinction of remaining loyal to both former Labor PMs Kevin Rudd and then Julia Gillard, and has earned respect for this among his colleagues, unlike Shorten.
Of more significance, he is from the left wing of the party, which could be a political millstone around his neck as leader.
He regards high office not simply as a vocation but as a messianic obligation. Given his advocacy of radical policies in his recent past, including death duties and redistributive taxes, his promotion to the leadership provides him with ample opportunities to shape the party’s policy agendas. He is, in reality, only the second left-wing leader of the ALP after the troubled H.V. “Doc” Evatt in the 1950s (Julia Gillard was nominally from the left, but more conservative than most of her party colleagues).
Similarly, his political opponents have described him as “too left wing” to become prime minister. And some of his Labor colleagues from Victoria have argued that he is “too old and tired” to win an election.
In the Labor Party, the only real difference between the right and left factions is that the right don’t believe in anything much except that power is an end in itself. By contrast, the left are ideological, believe in social engineering and consider power as a means to pursue transformational agendas.
So, coming from the left may be Albanese’s Achilles’ heel, a vulnerability to his leadership. He has the opportunity in the immediate term to defuse many issues that bedevilled Labor over the past parliamentary term. These include: passing the Coalition’s full income tax cuts; agreeing to a bipartisan emissions target; working with the government on a joint policy towards Indigenous Australians; advocating a moratorium on further changes to superannuation; abolishing the symbolic medevac policy that feigns assistance to offshore detainees; and helping resolve some glaring disparities in welfare benefits.
But such concessions to the government would likely infuriate Labor’s tribal adversarial spear-throwers and its throng of left-Labor lawyers. An initial consensual approach, however, may make sections of the right-wing media look more closely at Albanese’s qualities as leader. Others might argue that “leopards cannot change their spots” and that Albanese will be confrontational and fight for redistributive agendas – making him a prime target for conservative media attacks that he remains a dangerous leftie.
Albanese now has two important imperatives – unify the party behind a refreshed policy agenda, and increase the party’s appeal to the community in order to rebuild the vote. Neither of these tasks is particularly easy, especially as Labor is likely to engage in a bout of recrimination after its recent disappointing electoral tilt.
He also has to work out tactically how to deal with the Morrison government basking in the afterglow of victory – so far, he has promised not to be an opposition leader like Tony Abbott, who opted for outright confrontational tactics.
Albanese’s immediate problems are to construct a shadow ministry on talent, not seniority or factional standing, with the right mix of skills to hold the government to account. He needs to match up his best performers against the high-profile or difficult portfolios (treasury, Indigenous affairs, water, NDIS) and the weaker government ministers (Stuart Robert, Sussan Ley, Ken Wyatt, Bridget McKenzie, Michaelia Cash and Greg Hunt). He will have to work out whether to give Shorten a significant shadow portfolio or find something else for him to do.
There are many in Labor’s caucus who demand more responsibility, especially women of ambition including Kristina Keneally, Katy Gallagher, Linda Burney, Jenny McAllister, Clare O’Neil, Ged Kearney, Terri Butler and Kimberley Kitching, as well as the likes of Jim Chalmers, Ed Husic, Stephen Jones, Murray Watt, Nick Champion and Andrew Leigh. Many of Labor’s previous front bench under Shorten failed to cut through and should be demoted.
Albanese’s Labor must address a series of debilitating and contentious policy areas – most of which should be either settled or defused. It needs to clarify where it stands on the big versus smaller government debate and whether increased federal involvement in multitudes of policy areas is prudent and responsible.
It ought to focus on the economy and increased productivity, while being less opportunistic on taxation proposals. For all Australians, Labor ought to allow a coherent set of policies on climate change and emissions targets. It could then consolidate effective environmental policies, rather than engaging in the chopping and changing that has characterised this sector (unlike our nearest neighbours in New Zealand). Labor has to define its position in relation to mining and, in particular, the coal industry. There is also scope to advance Indigenous well-being and some form of constitutional recognition.
Some mainstream media have speculated that the deputy leader, Richard Marles from the Victorian right, will be able to moderate any leftward drift under Albanese. This is possible, but the right faction is divided and fractious.
Albanese’s leftism represents a potential debility in the opposition’s platform, which a conservative government with wind in its sails might easily exploit.
The battle for the hearts and minds of Australians is more likely to be fought over practical and pragmatic policies than any ideological lurch to either the left by Labor or to the right by the government.
Since the news broke of his passing, Bob Hawke has been feted as the “environmental prime minister”. From saving the Franklin River, to protecting Antarctica from mining, conservationists have praised his environmental legacy in the same way economists have lauded his financial reforms.
Hawke was in the Lodge during the crucial period when Australia first became aware of – and tried to grapple with – the issue of climate change. And the trajectory of his leadership, not to mention the manner and timing of his political demise, leaves behind a huge question of what might have been.
Hawke had been in the public eye since becoming head of the ACTU (a far more consequential body back then) in the late 1960s.
Famously, he took the leadership of the Australian Labor Party from Bill Hayden on the morning that then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser called the 1983 election. That election had a major environmental issue: the proposed damming of the Franklin River in Tasmania.
Labor promised to halt the project if elected, and it duly did so, winning the court case later that year. But elsewhere Labor remained reluctant to use its federal environmental powers in a wholesale way. Although there was a National Conservation Strategy, Hawke and his senior ministers remained focused on transforming Australia’s economy, bringing down tariff barriers, floating the dollar, and much else.
There were specific battles over the Wet Tropics, uranium mining, and other “green” issues. But something was coming down the track that would ultimately outstrip them all.
Barry Jones, Hawke’s science minister from 1983 to 1990, tried in vain to get ministers interested in climate change. Jones mournfully noted in 2008 that he had raised the alarm in 1984, but his cabinet colleagues did not listen:
The response from my political colleagues in Canberra was distinctly underwhelming. I think some of them were persuaded by (industry) lobbyists to say sooner or later a technological fix will come up.
Political journalist Niki Savva’s memoir, So Greek (p.136), gives a clue as to the possible reasons behind this:
Bob Hawke couldn’t stand Barry. A few journos, included myself, were talking to Hawke at the back of his VIP aircraft once about his ministers, when one of my colleagues said to him: “Take Barry Jones…” Hawke interrupted and said testily, “No, you take him.”
It would take a different, more politically cunning minister in Hawke’s next cabinet (1987-90) to bend his colleagues’ ears towards the climate question. The incoming environment minister, Graham Richardson, realised the electoral importance of green issues – whether the ozone hole, deforestation or sewage – in helping Labor differentiate itself from the Liberals. Meanwhile, Hawke had other advisors who were also fighting the green fight from within, and noisy large environment groups without.
After the Commission for the Future (a Barry Jones initiative) had launched the Greenhouse Project in 1987, Hawke began to give speeches about the importance of action against the emerging threat of global warming.
In June 1989, Richardson, having proposed a greenhouse emissions target only to see the idea nixed in cabinet by treasurer Paul Keating, noted:
The environment is galloping up the hit parade, and will be top of the pops pretty soon. It’s come from nowhere as an election issue to be Number Two to interest rates.
Hawke’s 1989 statement on the environment (jokingly called the World’s Greatest Environmental Statement) contained little detail on the idea of emissions reductions. Ironically enough, the Liberals went to the March 1990 election with a more ambitious emissions target than Labor.
After winning the 1990 election with Green preferences, the Hawke government established the “Ecologically Sustainable Development” policy process. It featured nine working groups in areas including agriculture, tourism, energy use, and so on, with an overarching “greenhouse” group added later.
However, by 1991, the climate issue was slipping down the charts once more, eclipsed by concerns such as the first Gulf War and the “recession we had to have”. What’s more, Hawke’s relationship with Keating had broken down after he reneged on his promise to stand aside after a third term, and the airwaves were now dominated by political intrigue.
Meanwhile, the business community was growing more organised in its resistance to environmental regulation. After Hawke vetoed a uranium mine in Kakadu National Park in 1991, industry formed the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network (see Guy Pearse’s High and Dry for the full story) to make sure climate policy didn’t follow the same path.
Hawke stuck to his guns. In October 1991, at a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, he pledged to go to the following year’s Earth Summit in Rio and apply maximum pressure for global action.
Hawke’s days as prime minister, however, were numbered. In December 1991, after a lacklustre parliamentary response to John Hewson’s “Fightback!” policy launch, Keating’s forces moved in for the kill. Hawke’s time as leader had begun and ended with leadership coups – a tactic that has become an even more potent threat in recent years as the climate wars have heated up.
Keating didn’t go to Rio in 1992, making Australia the only OECD country that didn’t have its top political leader present at the landmark summit.
Australia produced an eye-wateringly weak National Greenhouse Response Strategy that was not worth the paper it was written on, and was within two years challenged by greens seeking a carbon levy.
There was an effort to get more meaningful domestic policy ahead of the first round of UN climate talks in 1995. But this was defeated by a beefed-up constellation of energy companies, academics and think-tankers, with newspapers and unions helping. Since then, Australian climate policy has been, to put it mildly, inadequate.
Could it have been different?
Hawke had a penchant for the grand gesture – from “no Australian child will be living in poverty” to “Australian servicemen not dying overseas” – and this naturally prompts us to ask “what if”?
What if he had been at Rio? What if Australia had invested properly in energy efficiency, solar and other renewables? Of course it’s entirely conceivable that the business community’s response would simply have been even more ferocious, and the environmental movement’s early-1990s malaise all the more pronounced. But it’s not impossible to imagine that Hawke’s forceful determination would have carried the day, as it did on so many others.
There’s been a lot of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere since Hawke was prime minister, and plenty of hot air pumped into the climate policy debate. But although Hawke fell agonisingly short of finding out who would prevail in 2019, the next prime minister’s climate task is clearer than his, and far more difficult: preparing Australians for inevitable consequences of past policy failures.
It’s always easy to romanticise the past – in celebrating the prime ministership of Bob Hawke it is important to remember it had its peaks and troughs.
Trouble marked many years – the fall of ministers, nasty spats between the PM and his treasurer – and it ended badly. After winning four elections, Hawke was dumped by caucus.
And Hawke’s successes look easier in retrospect than they were, or appeared, at the time.
Having imposed that reality check, another reality is that without doubt, Hawke did more, and did it better, than any of the prime ministers we’ve had in the last decade, and probably any PM since he left.
Many Liberals put John Howard up there with Hawke, but the totality of his achievements doesn’t warrant that conclusion, despite his legacies of gun control and the GST.
And Paul Keating’s major contribution was as treasurer. In the top job, his most singular success was clinching the unwinnable election; he had policy victories, such as the Mabo legislation, but it was a prime ministership of unfulfilled promise. Arguably, one factor was he got the post too late.
So if Hawke was the best of our modern prime ministers, what was special about his governing?
Partly – but only partly – the times make the leader.
When Hawke won power in 1983, the Australian economy was under pressure to open itself to the world. Any government would have had to deal with that. It was a question of how to make the adjustments, which inevitably would involve some pain.
While the challenges imposed by the time put exceptional demands on Hawke and his government, they also provided opportunities to shine.
Although it’s less than four decades ago, this was a very different political environment in which to operate, one with a vigorous mainstream media but without social media or the 24-hour news cycle. Paradoxically, it was an easier time in which to have a serious policy debate.
At the heart of Hawke’s political strength was his character, and his personal story. The Australian people had a great love affair with their future PM well before he entered parliament.
They admired, albeit wondered at, his freewheeling style – the I’ll-do-it-my-way nature of the man. For many people, Hawke typified what they thought of as the true Australian, even if that was a caricature.
This was vital politically because it enabled Hawke to connect with the public. People were inclined to trust him, even when his government’s policies demanded sacrifices or involved U-turns.
Days before the 1983 election, Hawke paved the way for breaking promises if the circumstances he inherited demanded it. When things panned out that way, there was more public understanding than you’d see today.
Hawke had the temperament for governing. Before he became leader, some critics wondered about his suitability for the job. Would he be too volatile to run a team? Would he lack personal restraint?
In fact, he was adept at disciplining himself and, in general, managing his ministers. Secure in his skin – he had a large ego but not a fragile one – he usually knew how much rein to give ministers, and when to rein them in. Gareth Evans wrote: “So long as ministers weren’t screwing up, or deviating too far from the government’s collective storyline, he let us get on with the job”.
The relationship with Keating was highly productive, though progressively harder to handle. On policy, Keating was angry when Hawke overrode him to abandon the push for a broad-based consumption tax, settling for more modest reform. For Hawke, it was a matter of what the traffic would bear.
Hawke’s biggest management failure was his own exit. Having agreed on a succession plan with Keating, he went back on it and stayed too long, fracturing the government and leading to his forced departure.
He was very fortunate in those around him – his cabinets contained some quality players.
Apart from Keating, ministers such as John Button, John Dawkins, Evans, Neal Blewett, Susan Ryan, Ralph Willis, Bill Hayden, Kim Beazley, Brian Howe, and Peter Walsh were among those who were notable not just in their areas but as contributors to the collective discussions. Hawke and those around him had also learned what not to do from the Whitlam experience.
In Hawke’s day, Labor’s caucus and the ALP’s extra-parliamentary wing were noisier beasts than now. Wrangling the caucus could be testing work, for Hawke, Keating, individual ministers and factional chiefs. Party conferences still had real teeth, and they too, had to be cajoled to endorse what many in the rank and file thought “unLabor” policies.
A linchpin of the Hawke government, facilitating trade-offs between economic reform and social wage benefits for workers, was the accord with the union movement. Keating did much of the negotiating under its framework, but Hawke’s deep roots and connections in the union movement were invaluable.
So what can be taken from then and applied to now?
We can’t conjure up a Hawke-style personality. No current leader touches him for charisma, popularity or communications skills, even leaving aside the larrikin history (which some say could never pass muster in our more politically-correct era).
These are harder times in which to govern – because of the low level of public trust in politicians, the nature of the news cycle, and much else. Nor are there those compelling circumstances to help shape a government’s agenda and drive change.
But Hawke’s emphasis on bringing people together, in the community, in his party, in his cabinet, carries lessons for a contemporary prime minister. The ability he showed to look to the longer term while still balancing out the immediate politics is much needed today, as are ministers able and willing to bring intellect to arguing their cases, not just talking points.