Mr Albanese’s pedigree is in the progressive left, unlike right wing conservative unionist Mr Shorten, but he is no Jeremy Corbyn-style international socialist. He had a fairly solid record as a minister of infrastructure and likes to say he is following in the footsteps of the Hawke-Keating market-based economic reforms of the ’80s and ’90s.
Yet the challenge for Mr Albanese and the ALP is to work out what the Hawke-Keating heritage implies 25 years later. The ALP went to the last election with an ambitious agenda of social expenditure on health and education to be financed by higher taxes for middle- and upper-income earners, including ending cash refunds for unused franking credits, the so-called “retirees tax”.
Voters narrowly rejected that approach and Mr Albanese knows that he will have to recalibrate at least to some extent. If Mr Albanese decides he wants to cut back on his spending promises to prove his credentials as a conservative economic manager, he will face some tough battles within his own party. One thing that might help is that he was not a conspirator in any of the plots of the Rudd-Gillard years and is not infected by the poison they generated.
There is no rush for the ALP to produce a new platform but Mr Albanese could at least begin by dropping Mr Shorten’s rather awkward rhetoric about making the “top end of town” pay. That line might work at a union meeting but there are much better, more positive ways to appeal to Australians’ sense of fairness and their pride in institutions, such as Medicare and free public education, than attacking a caricature of 1930s capitalism.
Equally it is possible for the ALP to oppose the Coalition’s large tax cuts for higher income earners on the grounds that they are fiscally irresponsible at a time when the budget is under pressure rather than because they are inherently unfair.
While policies on these economic priorities as well as climate change, LGBTQ rights, immigration and all the rest must be thrashed out in coming months, Mr Albanese can begin by setting a new tone and choosing a front bench which not only keeps the factions happy but can also take the fight to the government. Mr Albanese faces a long period of reconstruction in opposition but the ease of his election suggests that the party has still retained some basic discipline which might help.
- The Herald’s editor Lisa Davies writes a weekly newsletter exclusively for subscribers. To have it delivered to your inbox, please sign up here