When Anthony Albanese became Prime Minister last year, it surprised many who had seen him fumble only a month (or so) from polling day – on interest rates and RBA cash rate, two of the most talked about parameters in fiscal and money management credentials of a potential leader.
I still believe the result was hardly a Labor win, being more of a Coalition loss due to some important factors, also unattributable to Scott Morrison and his team. That issue perhaps is for another time.
Anthony Albanese was in, and his team was welcomed from the heart as they deserved. The election was fought on a whole lot issues other than the Voice.
Right at the top was the cost-of-living pressures, and the complementary guarantee by the then Opposition leader Anthony Albanese to give at least $275 relief per household on energy bills, among other sweeteners offered.
Since Anthony Albanese became Prime Minister, we have been inflicted with energy rate rises, increased supply charges, and the bills have gone up. It is hard to feel if the government has provided any net relief.
And the Prime Minister, spent the first 18 months globe-trotting and at home campaigning for the Voice referendum – one of the myriads of small promises his party made in opposition – seemingly running the parliament in his spare time.
I may be wrong, but to me the Prime Minister seems more comfortable doing gigs, other than running the country and offering himself to be answerable to Australians.
Everything that goes wrong is someone else’s problem, not his or his government’s. EVER.
So much so, that he, talking to Neil Mitchell of 3AW radio in Melbourne, even publicly refused to be responsible for the way his own Ministers conducted themselves in their official capacity. This was in reference to his Home Minister Clare O’Neil claiming that the Opposition leader Peter Dutton was ‘protecting paedophiles’. Minister O’Neil had made the comments while responding to questions on the steps the government was taking to mitigate its asylum seeker debacle. The ‘mess’ according to her, had originated under Dutton.
By any assessment, the comment was outrageous and should be placed in the ‘below the belt’ category.
While Prime Minister Albanese could not muster any better expression than ‘I’m accountable for what I say’, it was instead his deputy Richard Marles and his Minister for NDIS and Government Services Bill Shorten who showed leadership by refusing to endorse that characterization of Peter Dutton.
In my view, that interview will go down in Australia’s political history as evidence of the Prime Minister having little or no control over his own government and an indirect admission of personal surrender by a sitting Prime Minister to some faceless authority.
Instead, Australians should have seen the Prime Minister taking control of the Detention Disaster saga, and at least moved the two Ministers (Andrew Giles and Clare O’Neil) for extending the High Court ruling to other detainees, without a cogent and coherent explanation.
The High Court order of 8 November and the reasons provided on November 28, ordered the release of NZYQ, one Rohingya refugee from Myanmar alone.
That was the lone applicant before the High Court, at the time.
The Prime Minister should have been on the front foot to explain to the Australian public, why more than 140 other refugees were chosen to be released into the community, many of whom had been convicted of serious offending in Australia.
If all avenues open to Australia to resettle those (released) detainees had been already exhausted before November 8, the date of the High Court ruling, what was stopping the Prime Minister from swearing to it before the Australian public?
Had the Albanese government exhausted all options in each of the 145 plus detainees’ case, including writing to the ‘five-eyes’ nations as it did in NZYQ’s case?
Australians deserved to know.
It was absolutely incumbent on the PM to address the Australian public to reassure them that his government had a firm handle on the issue, in turn allaying any misgivings and safety concerns they would have had.
The other big issue on which the PM has been AWOL is the government’s position on the Israel-Hamas conflict. Completely devoid of any cabinet solidarity, the Albanese government members are on record making incoherent statements on the issue.
Sadly, members seem to be running their electorate agenda on almost everything they perceive ‘report worthy’, which seems to be targeted more at their own re-election.
That in itself may not be wrong or bad for the country.
But the issue seems to be diving Australia into three – those who follow each side and the rest of us.
A question on social media (I generally do not pay much attention to) caught my attention – why are we importing other countries’ problem here?
This was, as I understood, in relation to the concurrent protests (on Israel-Hamas/Palestinians) by supporters of both sides. In some sense these have become regular and recurrent events. The issue not only poses problems locally, but also has significant implications on our international relations.
Being a multicultural society that we are, where people of all sorts of heritage live next to each other, our politicians should not turn their back on the broader national responsibilities which they swear to, upon being elected to parliament which is to act in the best interest of the country.
For that to happen, there must be a TOP-DOWN direction, from the Prime Minister, which seems to be glaringly missing.
One could argue that the Prime Minister has failed to lead his team as a leader.
That raises the question – Are the factional warlords controlling the Labor party power structures running the show as ever? Some might be tempted to say his job is at the mercy of the ‘invisible’ faces (remember ‘faceless’ men of Rudd-Gillard-Rudd era?).
Factional power play is an integral part of the Labor party’s functional structure. But I think, independent of the factional settings, it is also the persona of the Prime Minister at play here.
There cannot be any argument about his intention to serve the country to the best of his ability. But I do not believe his knack of dealing with the robust, cut and thrust of the day-to-day politics is as good as perhaps once was. Politics is far more ferocious today than when he joined. I believe Anthony Albanese would have enjoyed his time at the lodge when Bob Hawke or Paul Keating had their turn.
The question now is – is he the right fit?
The times are really tough; the cost-of-living pressures are rising on a daily basis with no end in sight. And the government seems incapable of being able to do anything to control it, primarily because all essential services levers have already been privatized, only run to make maximum possible profit.
Without sounding partisan, do you not look for a leader like John Howard who, when the Port Arthur massacre happened, resolved to give Australia gun control laws in less than two months of being elected in 1996?
John Howard could have shirked it. He or his party had no case to answer but, like a true leader, he took charge and delivered what was needed.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, since his election, was busy running the Voice referendum as and when he was not jet-lagged from his trips overseas.
And his Ministers seemed to have been ‘subbies’ of a framework (of government) set to autopilot. Releasing 145 plus detainees from detention when ordered to release only one (NZYQ) and then having to re-arrest some of them within days, speaks volumes of how his government runs.
That brings us to the question of what’s in store for Anthony Albanese. Will he lead his party to the next election?
I have serious doubts. I believe he would rather move on (whether nudged or on his own) than losing an election as a leader.
And it may not be bad for the Labor party.
If the opinion polls are any indication, and the Voice referendum loss is anything to go by, Anthony Albanese leading at the next election could be catastrophic.
The primary vote for Labor being the lowest, the party would have to be led by someone else if it wants to save the jobs of many of its backbenchers.
That begs the question – will the person in waiting rise to the occasion or maintain the decency of the party discipline only leaving those backbenchers in the lurch?
That brings us to another question – who is the heir apparent to Anthony Albanese? Is it Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles or Minister for Government Services and for the National Disability Insurance Scheme Bill Shorten?
Although Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles is a good performer and enjoys the ‘Acting PM’ role as and when given, in my view, Australians see Bill Shorten as the real heir apparent.
It remains to be seen if Bill Shorten chooses the ‘decency’ of Peter Costello (who never challenged for the job) or follows Paul Keating who claimed what he thought was his, when Bob Hawke wanted to keep hanging on to it as the Prime Minister.
Those who analyzed the Voice results (Labor minders included) saw that Prime Minister Albanese could not connect with people beyond the social media influencers’ metro bubbles. Supporters of Bill and many Labor insiders believe Bill’s reach is far greater and deeper.
If the government fails to turn things around by mid-2024, depending how Peter Dutton moves between now and then, going to the next election with Anthony Albanese as its leader, Labor will be in real peril to fall into a minority government with multi-coloured scaffolding (The Greens, Teal or Independents) holding it together beyond 2025.
Thus, the question – Will Anthony Albanese be at the Lodge come December 2024?
Time will tell.