Why Anthony Albanese’s ascendancy is historic for Labor


So much history will be made tomorrow when Anthony Albanese officially becomes Labor leader that a library of books will immediately be out of date.

The list of firsts will range from the political hardcore to the culturally significant, and few are pleasant precedents for the ALP.

Mr Albanese will be the first alternative prime minister without a spouse, or at least a live-in “significant other”. He has separated from wife Carmel Tebbutt.

His predecessor Julia Gillard wasn’t married when prime minister but had a long-term relationship with partner Tim Mathieson.

Mr Albanese will also be the first Labor leader from an inner-urban electorate since Arthur Calwell, MP for Melbourne, in 1960. A counter argument is Bob Hawke was the last when he held Wills in Melbourne.

Mr Albanese’s seat of Grayndler, which includes the Sydney suburbs of Balmain and Marrickville, is certainly an inner-city hub.

He also figures in one of the grimmest patches of Labor history.

Mr Albanese is the fifth Labor leader in 10 years, after Bill Shorten, Kevin Rudd (twice) and Julia Gillard.

That’s a party record and the ructions lingering from the 2010-13 battles played a role in Mr Albanese’s elevation. Senior figures on Labor’s right opposed him because he was seen as being too helpful to Kevin Rudd as he faced up to Ms Gillard.

The worst churn before this period was in the 10 years to 2006 — Kim Beazley (twice), Simon Crean and Mark Latham.

There are two other Albanese factors that are new and will figure substantially in his political battle with Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

For the first time in close to 50 years, the Labor right has not had ownership of the leadership. It didn’t even have a contender after Chris Bowen and Jim Chalmers declined to stand.

This win for the left indicates a deterioration in the faction system that has run the ALP brutally for at least four decades. The right is unlikely to surrender meekly.

Mr Albanese himself represents a first.

He is the first Labor leader to recognise the dramatic change in the party’s constituency.

Kevin Rudd had no significant trade union allegiances, but Anthony Albanese goes further.

He has recognised that the phenomenon of mass further education — university, TAFE — has created a new political grouping that is replacing the union membership on which Labor used to rely.

This new political generation has become small-business owners, professionals, and well-paid tradies and contractors.

They were some of the voters who listened more to Scott Morrison than Bill Shorten during the election campaign.

And Mr Albanese noted their emergence just short of a year ago in a speech he has referred to in recent days, in which argued the new constituency owed its existence to Labor and another ALP leader who had limited union ties, Gough Whitlam.

“From the perspective of traditional Labor, Gough’s lack of a trade union background made some colleagues joke he was born on the ‘wrong side of the tracks’,” Mr Albanese said in June last year.

“But he despaired when he looked around him and saw how many of his fellow Australians were denied the same opportunities that he enjoyed, due to the circumstances of their birth.”

The consequences are now stark.

Mr Albanese said: “Many people from working class backgrounds are not members of unions because they were beneficiaries of Gough Whitlam’s education reforms.

“They became the first people in their families to go to university, work in the professions and non-unionised industries, or start their own business.

“We cannot afford to ignore this demographic.”

The speech saluted unions for linking Labor to the needs of families.

But it signalled also Anthony Albanese will also pay more attention than Labor has recently to the 90 per cent of private industry workers who are not members.



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