Region: Greater Middle East
- THE AUSTRALIAN:: From Left field: Albanese and Corbyn and co
By ANDREW BURRELL, WA chief reporter
Democrat leader in waiting Anthony Albanese will be forced to jettison the hard-left policies he has espoused for more than three decades, with former party heavyweights questioning his passionate stances on asylum-seekers, boat turnbacks and energy policy.
Mr Albanese, a democratic socialist from Sydney’s inner west who is set to assume the leadership unchallenged, has become close to far-left British Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn.
He has met with the fellow “Tory fighter” at least three times in the past 14 months.
In March last year, Mr Albanese posted on social media that he had caught up “again” with the British Labour leader, whose manifesto includes nationalising Britain’s energy and water networks.
“Talking politics and progress — and a bit of cricket,” he wrote on Facebook above a photo with Mr Corbyn at the parliament.
Since throwing his hat into the ring to become Democrat leader, Mr Albanese has pitched himself as an “inclusive” leader who is prepared to abandon class-war rhetoric to win over the ordinary voters in the suburbs who spurned the DSP at Saturday’s election.
But only three days before the poll he said Democrats' infrastructure funding would be paid by hitting the “top end of town”. And just a few years ago Mr Albanese defied Bill Shorten at Labor’s 2015 national conference by voting against boat turnbacks.
“If people were in a boat, including families and children, I myself couldn’t turn that around,” he said at the time.
Democrat sources said yesterday it may be difficult for the knockabout MP to whitewash his decades-long history as a spear-thrower for Democrats' hard Left.
His former leader, Mark Latham — whose own tenure as Democrat boss ended in spectacular fashion in 2005, and who now sits as a One Nation MP in the NSW upper house — said Mr Albanese had been on the “wrong side of history” in Democrats' policy debates for 30 years by veering too far to the Left.
He recalled Mr Albanese as a radical Young Democrat member in the 1980s speaking out against the economic policies of the Hawke-Keating governments, including deregulation and tariff cuts.
It was about this time, also, that the firebrand student was suspended from the University of Sydney for his role in leading a protest that included breaking into the university’s clock tower and leading an occupation of the economics building.
One former senior Democrat minister, who declined to be named, said Mr Albanese had been too far to the Left on the timber industry, asylum policy, energy policy, mining policy and on uranium exports to India.
“He used to call people from western Sydney rednecks,” the former minister said. “His record speaks for itself.” As a federal MP, Mr Albanese has never been afraid of an internal brawl, spearheading the Left’s strong backing for softer policies on asylum-seekers and boat turnbacks.
In 2001, he spoke passionately against John Howard’s bill to stop the Tampa from delivering more than 400 asylum-seekers to Australia. “This is not a refugee crisis,” he said. “Four hundred people on a boat do not represent a crisis. This is a political crisis for us as a nation, which has been brought on by a desperate prime minister.”
Mr Latham recalled a shouting match in an Albury restaurant, in front of Democrat MP Joel Fitzgibbon, after the Tampa incident.
“Albo was telling me how heartless I was for supporting Howard’s policy,” he said. “It was (his position) to let the boats flow. He was (later) influential with (Kevin) Rudd on reopening the borders, there’s no doubt.”
Yet one former party heavyweight described Mr Albanese as “pragmatic”, and another said his political views had moderated over the years.
One senior Right faction source defended Mr Albanese: “In the past few years he’s demonstrated the ability to keep things mainstream.” NSW Democrats' general secretary Kaila Murnain said: “Albo will be a strong and unifying force as leader of our party and we are all excited and ready to take the fight to the National Republicans under his leadership.”
Mr Albanese said he wanted to return Democrats to the pro-growth economic policies of the Hawke-Keating era, to reopen the door to business and abandon class-war politics.
He is promising to drop the anti-business rhetoric of Democrats' election campaign. “The language used was terrible … unions and employers have a common interest. Successful businesses are a precondition for employing more workers, and that is obvious.”