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Anthony Albanese conquers the west, but we await the killer Albo blow

by Mark Sawyer | May 1, 2022 | Lobbyland

Did Anthony Albanese do enough to demolish the perceptions that plague Labor over the economy? A chance to remind Australians of Labor’s economic record and credentials was not fully grasped.

Labor’s official campaign launch in Perth on Sunday was as much a jamboree for the true believers as a pitch to the wider nation. Anthony Albanese, however, may have missed a chance to make a strong pitch on the faltering economy.

It’s worth questioning whether the Labor leader did enough to allay Labor’s perceived weakness on the economy. A chance to take the bull by the horns and remind Australians of Labor’s economic record and credentials was not fully grasped. The perception that the Coalition is the superior economic manager collapses under closer scrutiny, but Albanese didn’t take the chance to challenge it.

Jibes about Scott Morrison not holding a hose and playing the ukulele aren’t quite the same. Albanese will always turn up in a crisis. ”I won’t run from responsibility.” He – and we – will find the reality of a prime minister’s movements in a disaster a bit more complex.

The big applause lines came for pledges for a national anti corruption commission and the implementation of the First Nations Voice to parliament. ”I will lead with integrity and treat you with the respect you deserve.” Beautiful Labor stuff, if one ignores the parade of Labor figures through state anti-corruption hearings.

The first part of the leader’s speech more resembled more a Labor rally. The 600-string audience of party faithful at Optus Stadium, and viewers around the country, would have felt a warm glow, and not just from the opening ceremonies centring on First Nations.

Albanese was at one point in danger of being upstaged by members of his support act: Swan candidate Zaneta Mascarenhas, Penny Wong, campaign scene-stealer Jason Clare and local golden boy Mark McGowan. There plenty of nods to former prime ministers Paul Keating and Kevin Rudd. Maybe too many, considering one is more of a party hero than a universally beloved national figure, the other sort-of the reverse.

Having emerged from Covid with a noticeable spring in his step, Albanese played to Labor’s clear strengths in health policy. He reminded us of Labor’s achievements in the sphere: the creation of Medicare, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Labor is making big commitments on aged care and child care, even if somebody should ”tell him he’s dreaming” on super clinics at a time of a doctor shortage, ditto the 24-hour nurses at aged care homes.

The continuing crisis in home affordability got some touch-ups. More housing for emergency workers, more emergency accommodation for women. But in a country where the phenomenon of soaring house prices cheers as many people as it crushes, this remains tinkering. Labor, remember, is not going anywhere near negative gearing and the other factors that keep home ownership out of the reach of so many.

Plenty of interesting ideas, such as:

We’ll take resources like lithium and nickel – essential elements of the batteries that will power the vehicles of the future – and instead of shipping them to another country to make batteries, we’ll have what we need to make them right here. And we can sell them to the world.

But overall, the economy took a back seat, beside a commitment to reshoring manufacturing and making gender pay equity an objective of the Fair Work Act.

”We’ll bring manufacturing back home,” Albanese declared to whoops of applause. No time to explain how, but it’s a fabulous idea. Fabulous in both senses of the word, perhaps.

The Labor leader heads back east a likeable, but not yet inspiring figure. A crumbling government is yet to be demolished.

Mark Sawyer is a journalist with extensive experience in print and digital media in Sydney, Melbourne and rural Australia.

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