By age 9, Anthony Albanese was already handing out flyers for the Labor Party, he recalls. He accompanied his mother and grandparents to local branch meetings in Sydney, joining the party as a student. His former wife Carmel Tebbutt, whom he divorced after nearly 20 years of marriage, was even a prominent Labor politician.
But according to the now 59-year-old Albanian himself, it only occurred to him late that he wanted to become leader of this party. He saw himself as someone who exerted influence in the background. That changed when former leader Kevin Rudd failed to win the 2013 election. Albanian ran for election to replace him and lost.
Fortunately, he is not a rushed type, he emphasized in a speech a few years later. “I’m patient, I’m a fan of the Souths,” he said, according to Karen Middleton’s biography of him. He was referring to rugby club The South Sydney Rabbitohs, where he was on the board for several years, and which had achieved mediocre results for decades.
His patience was rewarded: in 2019 he became party leader after more than twenty years in parliament. On Saturday, he dethroned incumbent Prime Minister Scott Morrison, making him Australia’s first Social Democrat Prime Minister in a decade.
Mother and son
Albanian likes to refer to his childhood in Sydney, where he grew up in a working-class environment with his single mother, Maryanne Ellery. He only met his Italian father in 2009. In his thirties, his mother suffered from severe arthritis in her hands. Even opening a tin can was almost impossible, according to Alex Bukarica, childhood friend and party colleague of Albanian, in The Sydney Morning Herald†
“Anyone who wants to understand Anthony Albanese needs to know a little bit about Maryanne,” he wrote. Because his mother was hospitalized regularly, the current Labor leader learned early on to take care of himself. At the same time, mother and son had a close bond. It taught him not to focus on ‘some grandiose ‘vision thing’, but on pursuing practical results that improve the lives of ordinary people,” Bukarica writes.
In any case, his character differs from that of Liberal leader Scott Morrison, who once claimed that he felt God’s encouragement when he came across a large picture of an eagle in a photo gallery. The current Prime Minister has a reputation for being ruthless and arrogant. Last week, Morrison admitted he had acted “a bit like a bulldozer,” something he wants to change. That he accidentally knocked over a child on Wednesday during a game of Australian football will not sit well with the Prime Minister.
Albanian meanwhile presents itself as solid and reliable, although you could also say: careful and unobtrusive. His program is significantly less daring than that of the previous Labor leader, Bill Shorten, who campaigned with massive redistribution plans. “Too many people were confused or even scared by our policy proposals,” Albanian said shortly after the election. Important election points for him include investments in care for the elderly, childcare, education and social housing.
The question is whether he will get much done as prime minister with that attitude, writes Paul Strangio, professor of politics at Australia’s Monash University, in a profile for The Conversation† “He’s a capable politician, but does he have the erudition and imagination to shape the country in meaningful ways?” Polls invariably show that a striking number of Australians answer ‘I don’t know’ when asked what they think of Albanians, he points out.
It is striking that he also does not make a big number of ambitious climate policy. While Australia has experienced the effects of extreme weather in recent years, with severe bushfires and droughts, the current Conservative government is very cautious about climate policy.
Labor showed more ambition, including a proposal to cut emissions by 43 percent by 2030, but Albanian has already said he is not against opening new coal mines. He too cannot live without votes from the influential mining regions, which make Australia the world’s second largest coal exporter.
That is not to say that climate does not play a role during the elections. Both the Social Democrats and the Conservatives risk losing precious seats to independent candidates who spearhead this. And if neither of the two major parties achieves an absolute majority, they may have to sit down with them.
This story is an updated version of an article written prior to Election Day. The headline and intro have been adjusted, and some changes have also been made to the text when it became clear that Albanian Morrison will succeed as prime minister.
3 x Anthony Albanian
In his teens, Albanian was told by his mother that his Italian father had not been killed in a car accident, as he had been told. He met his father in 2009. He himself has a son, Nathan, with his ex-wife.
While studying economics, he was put in charge of a very left-wing faction of the Labor youth movement, which had ties to the communist party, among other things. Striking, given his current moderation.
Albanian is a music lover. During an Australian music program election special in 2013, he shot Pixies, Pogues and PJ Harvey, among others.