Mark Riley: Albanese’s fast-paced start sets challenge for new Opposition
Anthony Albanese declared soon after taking office that he wanted Australia and the world to know that there was “a new show in town” in Canberra.
It’s an easy thing to declare but a much harder one for a government to prove through its actions.
In the less than four weeks since, though, Albanese has given it a good crack.
He has reinforced Australia’s stance on regional security at the Quad meeting in Tokyo with the US, Japan and India; he has deepened Australia’s relationship with Indonesia; he has prised open the door on a possible rapprochement with China; he has settled the subs squabble with France and saved the nation $1.1 billion in the process; he has formalised Australia’s increased international commitment to emissions reductions; and, on the domestic front, he has helped secure a real wage rise for low-paid workers; returned the Nadesalingam family to Biloela and stared down the power giants by suspending the east coast electricity market to help solve an escalating crisis.
It’s not a bad record for just 32 days. And Albanese says he’s just getting started.
The most impressive element of this swift and broad redirection is that it has occurred without the nation being spooked by the fear that it is undergoing a period of radical reform.
The changes are substantial, yet they’ve been implemented with an ease that has made them feel more like a natural evolution than a revolution.
Governments are given much greater latitude in this so-called “honeymoon period”.
But that still doesn’t grant absolute forgiveness for poor decisions or poor timing.
The absence of criticism on both those levels from other than a depleted Opposition struggling to find its line and length in the new game suggests that Albanese is getting the decisions and the timing right.
His guiding principle in this early period of Government is one of “healing” and “reuniting”.
“I want to reach for solutions, not arguments,” he said after signing Australia’s new United Nations commitment on emissions reduction.
That event gave a perfect insight into the Albanese approach.
It borrowed heavily from the US tradition, in which the president scribbles his John Hancock while surrounded by an array of stakeholders who all clap dutifully as the signed document is displayed before the cameras.
Albanese brought together representatives of business, unions, the clean energy industry and the climate lobby to witness his signature on Australia’s increased commitment to reducing emissions by 43 per cent over 2005 levels by 2030.
The symbolism was strong. All the key stakeholders were not just at the same table but now on the same page on climate change.
And the political objective was ambitious.
“This will end the climate wars,” Albanese declared.
It won’t. Of course.
But it will give Albanese much more leverage in the debate.
He says the increased commitment means Australia can now “come out of the naughty corner” at international climate conferences as a country now in lockstep with first world trends away from fossil fuels.
Domestically, it presents an early and important strategic decision for new Opposition Leader Peter Dutton.
His instinct, as demonstrated in his immediate response, will be to attack the commitment as a threat to the economy and to power prices.
But the kumbaya moment at the signing ceremony shows how isolated he will be if he maintains that line.
His natural constituency — the business community, including the biggest emitters — are quite literally standing behind the Government.
It would also be an act of political self-harm. One of the loudest messages from all those blue ribbon seats that turned teal at the election was that Liberal voters want action on climate change, too.
The “Axe the tax!” and “Ditch the witch!” choruses are now unlamented echoes of the old show in Canberra. There really is a new show in town and the Coalition should buy a ticket or run the risk of being left out in the climate cold.
Mark Riley is the Seven Network’s political editor
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