Voters in Braddon and Longman probably aren’t even aware they could be pivotal to the future of Bill Shorten’s leadership and Anthony Albanese’s ambition.
Only the crazy brave would firmly predict how these knife edge ALP seats, in Tasmania and Queensland respectively, will fall out. And only those closely following politics would fully appreciate how carefully Anthony Albanese, Shorten’s bete noire, has been positioning in the event Labor tanks in them on Saturday.
Albanese’s long-odds chance to lead Labor now rests with circumstances beyond his control – in the first instance, with the decisions of voters more concerned with local health services than a tug of war within the opposition.
Weeks ago, the aspirant strutted his stuff in his Whitlam oration, arguing Labor needed a better relationship with business and should give more attention to non-unionised workers.
Interestingly Albanese, though from the left, was coming at Shorten from the right. The speech was cleverly drafted; the aim was to send a message but to deliver it subtly enough to minimise accusations he was undermining Shorten.
Albanese has been on the byelection trail and in the media, reminding people of his presence, but equally careful with his words. He’s visited twice each of the four seats Labor holds (the other two are safe contests in Western Australia) in Saturday’s five byelections.
Behind the scenes, there have been quiet preparations and assessments of potential support by the Albanese forces, in the event opportunity comes. Albanese backers – who include members of a divided NSW right faction – are confident the “anti-coup” protections Kevin Rudd put in place can be swept aside if the numbers are there for change.
But only a limited amount could be done. Albanese has had to avoid overstepping a line marked “disloyalty”. On Thursday he flatly ruled out challenging Shorten (a pledge to be regarded with scepticism – for example, would a delegation be regarded as a “challenge”?).
Caucus members don’t want a return to those horror days, in government, when Julia Gillard knifed Rudd and he speared her. Albanese supporters, however, look to an earlier precedent: Rudd’s overthrow of Kim Beazley when Labor was in opposition.
That was the ALP taking out “insurance” for a win. On the polls, Labor is headed for victory at next year’s election. But the numbers have tightened, Malcolm Turnbull’s performance has improved, and Shorten’s deep unpopularity has become an increasing concern for the party. Some in caucus would see a move to Albanese as today’s “insurance”. But the questions are: is this judgement correct, and how costly would the premium be?
Hardline advocates of a change would say that even if Shorten retains Braddon and Longman, the size of his margin will be important. On this argument, byelections normally see a solid anti-government swing, so wins by a sliver wouldn’t cut it.
This, in my view, is raising the bar ridiculously high, especially since Labor grabbed Longman in 2016 on One Nation preferences, which it isn’t getting this time. Two wins, whatever the margin, and those flirting with the thought of a leadership switch should recognise reality and get behind Shorten.
There’s little doubt a double loss would take Shorten into a period of upheaval that could end in his downfall. The alternative would be an impasse that saw Shorten survive with gaping wounds – a gift to Turnbull.
One byelection loss, and there would much instability.
In either event, Labor “talking heads” would be everywhere, division on display, and the party atmosphere tense ahead of parliament resuming mid-August.
In any consideration of a leadership change, Labor would have to weigh the “transactional” costs. Moving from Beazley to Rudd was helped by Beazley behaving well after he was ousted, and by Rudd (in those days) being a popular breath of fresh air.
A deposed Shorten, to say nothing of some of his union allies, could behave badly. And while the personable Albanese, with his laid-back style, looks good by comparison with Shorten at the moment, he could become vulnerable as the Liberals dug into his political past, with some tough left positions. The thing about putsches is that a party can never be sure beforehand whether it will ultimately be better or worse off.
Having such a long byelection campaign (more than two months) was initially seen as a strike against Labor, which also had to postpone its national conference. If the ALP holds Braddon and Longman, however, the time will have worked in its favour.
As of Thursday Shorten had made (from early May) seven visits over nine days to Longman and eight visits over 11 days to Braddon.
If Shorten comes out of Super Saturday unscathed, or even enhanced, he should temper his elation and relief with self-appraisal, because complacency would be a risk.
After all, it was complacency – about Labor having proper citizenship checks in place – that led to the byelections in these two seats in the first place (as well as in its seat of Fremantle).
Meanwhile, post Saturday Shorten will have a big problem in another marginal seat that will need resolution. The scandal surrounding Emma Husar, Labor member for Lindsay (NSW), who is accused of misusing and bullying staff, is being investigated by the party. Claims of bad behaviour keep flowing into the media.
Lindsay is ultra-vulnerable. The party needs to wrap up its inquiry ASAP; if its findings are against Husar her preselection should be withdrawn. But the last thing the ALP would want is another byelection, so she’d have to stay until the election – a messy scenario with a replacement candidate campaigning. If the party verdict is in Husar’s favour and it sticks with her, she’d still go into the election with immense baggage.
While all the attention is on Shorten, what are the consequences for Turnbull if he does badly on Super Saturday – failing in Braddon and Longman as well as in Mayo (South Australia) where crossbencher Rebekha Sharkie (also a citizenship casualty) is expected to hold off the challenge from the Liberals’ Georgina Downer?
It would be a setback for him, reinforcing the polls’ message that Labor remains favourite for the 2019 election. The government’s noisy conservative wing would become more assertive. But the outcome would be unlikely to trouble his grip on the leadership. The Liberals do not have an alternative who is hungry for Turnbull’s job right now, in the way Albanese is for Shorten’s.
Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese has urged Labor to “engage constructively” with business, empower its party branches and make sure it avoids “allowing tactics to marginalise strategy”, in a speech that will be seen in the context of leadership.
Albanese’s Gough Whitlam Oration comes against a background of speculation that Bill Shorten’s leadership could come under pressure if Labor did badly in the Super Saturday byelections on July 28. Albanese is considered the only alternative to Shorten.
The address was carefully crafted to keep away from any direct criticism of Shorten, but it had a clear subtext. In saying what Labor’s approach should be, Albanese was also differentiating himself from Shorten who, for example, has been criticised for being too “tactical”.
Albanese’s tone on business contrasted with some of Shorten’s more strident attacks on the top end of town.
He noted that “successful Labor governments collaborate with unions, the business sector and civil society to achieve positive outcomes in the national interest”.
Criticising Malcolm Turnbull for setting business and unions against each other, he said a better course would be to encourage collaboration and compromise.
“That’s the approach of the best Labor governments. Our job is not to sow discord. It is to bring people together in the service of the national interest,” he said.
“Labor doesn’t have to agree with business on issues such as company tax rates, but we do have to engage constructively with business large and small.
“We respect and celebrate the importance of individual enterprise and the efforts and importance of the business community.”
Referring to his area of infrastructure and transport, he said he had maintained a close working relationship with the sector.
“Working with industry helps us to understand its perspective and also helps business to understand ours,” he said.
Albanese also confronted the issue of “aspiration”, which the government is using to attack Labor, especially on the back of its tax cuts legislation which passed this week. The government is claiming the ALP rejects or doesn’t understanding the aspirations of Australians.
Albanese conceded the importance of aspiration – but sought to cast it differently.
“The key to an effective plan for government is an understanding of the aspirations of our fellow Australians,” he said. “We in Labor must always ask ourselves, ‘what do Australians want out of life and how can we help them achieve it?’”
Malcolm Turnbull or Scott Morrison would say people wanted more money, Albanese said, but “I’ve got a different view. Australians do care about quality of life. But they define quality of life as something more than the value of their share portfolio or how much money they have in the bank”.
They wanted happy and productive lives and to build a society where their children had more opportunities than themselves, he said. “While Australians have personal aspirations, they extend beyond individual needs to family, community, environment and indeed, to encompass a fair nation.”
Albanese said Labor needed to recognise the importance of its branches to understanding what was happening in Australia.
“This is not 1950, when most Australians were members of trade unions. Indeed, many people from working class backgrounds are not members of unions because they were beneficiaries of Gough Whitlam’s education reforms,” he said.
“We cannot afford to ignore this demographic. We need the energy and ideas of our membership.
Labor must empower our membership by giving them more direct say in elections for public office and internal positions.
“Labor must also maintain our internal processes that emphasise policy making from the bottom up.
“Policy ideas that come from branch meetings or workplaces are gold. Sometimes they are ahead of their time. But they are always valuable,” he said, pointing to the push for marriage equality, that came from the community, up through the party and ultimately went through parliament.
Albanese trod carefully on refugee policy. “No mainstream politician believes in open borders, but a policy that uses its prolonged treatment of detained people as an ongoing deterrent to others has a deep flaw at its heart.
“Labor supports offshore detention and regional processing, in order to stop the people smuggling trade. But we call out the government’s failure to settle refugees in third countries, despite the clear offer of assistance from countries including New Zealand.
“You can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity. You can protect our borders without losing our national soul.”
Greens and Independents to Hold Balance of Power in Both Houses
It would seem that the likely outcome of the 2010 federal election in Australia is that of a hung parliament, with government going to the party that gains the support of one or two possible Greens members of parliament in the lower house, and three other independent members of parliament in the lower house. It seems likely that the Greens will hold the balance of power in the Senate.
The Greens have now clearly become the third major political party behind the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Liberal Party (Lib) – National Party (Nat) coalition. They have now gained a representative in the lower house with the seat of Melbourne in Victoria falling to Adam Bandt. It is possible that the seat of Grayndler in New South wales (NSW) could also fall to the Greens, with ALP member Anthony Albanese in a close fight with Sam Byrne of the Greens.
The three other certain independents, all former National Party members, are Bob Katter (Kennedy – Queensland, Tony Windsor (New England – NSW) and Rob Oakeshott (Lyne – NSW)
The ALP has also lost large numbers of seats in Queensland ( QLD – Flynn, Leichhardt, Forde, Bonner, Dickson, Herbert, Longman, Brisbane and Dawson) and seats in NSW (Bennelong, Macarthur, Macquarie and Gilmore), one in the Northern Territory (Solomon), one in Western Australia (Hasluck) and possibly one in Tasmania (Denison) to independent Andrew Wilkie. It would seem that a total of 18 or 19 seats have been lost by the ALP. They have gained two in Victoria, winning La Trobe and McEwan.
The ALP’s greatest hope would seem to be the seat of Boothby in South Australia, which still appears too close too call. At this stage Denison in Tasmania remains an ALP seat, but it also remains too close to call.
It seems to me that there will be 73 seats to the ALP (possibly 72 if Grayndler falls to the Greens in NSW), 73 seats to the Coalition, one seat to the Greens (possibly 2 if they pick up Grayndler in NSW – who would lean to the ALP) and 3 to the Independents (all formerly National Party members who would likely lean to the Coalition). If these predictions prove to be true, it would seem that the Coalition will be able to form a minority government with the support of the Independents.
After the promise of the ALP in the previous election and the result that occured, the ALP should have held office for at least two terms. However, the ALP has failed to deliver and instead gave Australia a very lazy, poor and mediocre government. Under Kevin Rudd the ALP successfully steered Australia through the financial crisis, for which Australians should be very thankful. However, there has also been poor management of ecomomic stimulus projects, environmental issues and other projects, which have left many Australians disillusioned with the government. This of course led to the downfall of Kevin Rudd prior to the election and the elevation of Julia Gillard to the Prime Ministership of the country. This was too little too late to save the ALP from electoral disaster and the Australian people have delivered swift punishment for their failure to deliver what we had hoped for under the Kevin Rudd led ALP government.
Perhaps the experience of a hung parliament and a minority government, from whichever side of politics, will result in someone or some party standing up with a real commitment to governance and leadership in Australia. At the moment there seems little of both and the Australian people are largely disillusioned with both major parties. The ALP should prepare itself for major defeats in state elections over the next couple of years, especially in New South Wales and Queensland, where voters are fed up with poor government – not that the alternatives are much better.