leadership

Election 2016: ‘Our leaders are the finest men’

Colin Benjamin /

‘Our leaders are the finest men’ – Pete Seeger, What Did You Learn in School Today?

Now that the election is over, we can prepare for the next one and consider the leaders who are going to take us into the next parliament.

This week we received the details of the men who will make up the Abbott cabinet (and Julie Bishop) and the beginnings of Labor’s search for new leadership.  Investment in infrastructure projects and management of big business ventures will continue to crowd out early advances for small and medium business.

US consumer confidence dipped to a five-month low in September as interest rates moved higher, according to a consumer sentiment index released Friday at the same time as our media reported a post-election recovery in investor and business confidence here.

The LNP government will continue with the post-2010 strategy of being as boring as possible in the name of stability and drop all pretence of rapid returns to surplus, deficit reduction and cutting public service numbers, but may get round to a small tax reduction for incorporated companies before dealing with the carbon tax debate.

Albanese prior to a resolution of ALP leadership in about a month’s time. By then we should know the composition of the Senate with a raft of NOT representatives to the right of the Greens and Labor.

The selection is likely to come down to a choice between Albanese’s interest in futures for kids and families, major job creation projects and the development of service industries, and Shorten’s emphasis on economic and national institutional projects, new technologies and educational and employment programs.

Let’s have a look at the contenders and try to identify strategic intent:

The older contender: Anthony Albanese, 50

In his maiden speech to parliament, he spoke at length about aircraft noise and the need to build a second Sydney airport, as well as his support for funding public infrastructure in general, multiculturalism, native title, the social wage and childcare.

He concluded by saying: “For myself, I will be satisfied if I can be remembered as someone who will stand up for the interests of my electorate, for working class people, for the labour movement, and for our progressive advancement as a nation into the next century.”

One of Albanese’s first moves as minister in the Rudd government was the establishment of an independent statutory body, Infrastructure Australia, to advise the government on infrastructure priorities. Armed with advice from this independent body and his own persuasive skills in the cabinet, he was able to argue for a doubling of the roads budget and a tenfold increase in rail investment. Given that Tony Abbott wants to take on the mantle of “the infrastructure PM” this will make this an area of common interest across the divide as a contribution to working class job creation.

Anthony is married to Carmel Tebbutt, former Deputy Premier of New South Wales and the member for the state electoral district of Marrickville, which overlaps with Grayndler in Sydney’s inner west.  Born in 1963, Albanese was brought up in social housing in Camperdown, a once rough suburb in Sydney’s inner-west that has since undergone significant gentrification.

‘Albo’, as he is known, and Carmel have one son. Albanese describes himself as “half-Italian and half-Irish” and a “non-practising Catholic”. His mother, who raised him as a single parent on a disability pension, said he had “three great faiths: the Catholic Church, the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Labor”, adding that he had always remained faithful to the latter two.

Albanese has a long history of environmental campaigning that will lock him into opposition to support for climate change initiatives. He is opposed to nuclear energy saying it “doesn’t add up economically, environmentally or socially, and after more than 50 years of debate, we still do not have an answer to nuclear proliferation or nuclear waste”. He has a strong support base from the ‘left’ of the ALP membership and substantial support in the parliamentary party.

What can we expect to hear from him? Albanese can be expected to claim substantial experience in government and a commitment to national development programs and regional employment opportunities, with a focus on equity and access to regional and rural communities across the nation.

The younger contender: Bill Shorten, 46

In his maiden speech to parliament, Bill recognised that he had had a fortunate life and been surrounded by smart and capable people.

He went on to set out his agenda as: “I believe much more can be done to harness the capacity of Australian people. To do this, we need to confront the realities. Business and government must stop their periodic blame shifting. The old class war conflicts should finally be pronounced dead. The real conflict today, I suggest, cuts across the old divides. It is reflected within business, unions, the community and politics. The real conflict is between those who are stuck in a business-as-usual routine and those that pursue innovation, knowledge and creativity.”

Widely accepted as having played a major role in the extension of national superannuation and the development of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Shorten has been seen as consultative, diligent and disciplined.

In his address-in-reply speech he said: “I am excited by the opportunity to help empower another section of the community, not so people with disability receive special treatment but so they receive the same treatment as everybody else – the rights which are theirs, with the dignity that they deserve. I believe the challenge for government is not to fit people with disabilities around programs but for programs to fit the lives, needs and ambitions of people with disabilities. The challenge for all of us is to abolish once and for all the second-class status that too often accompanies Australians living with disabilities.”

Right faction chief Bill Shorten was educated at the private Jesuit school Xavier College, but he has gained wide acceptance as the son of a wharf worker and union officer. His mother, Ann Shorten (née McGrath), was a lawyer and university academic. Bill went on to head up the Australian Workers Union and was a delegate to the Victorian ALP State Conference from 1987 and the ALP National Conference from 1998.

What can we expect to hear from him? Shorten can be expected to focus on revitalisation of the Labor party, reaching beyond its traditional base to develop an accord with small business trades, corporate executives and skilled workers to promote productivity growth. He is also likely to appeal more to his parliamentary colleagues in respect of health, safety, financial reforms and new industries as his “new ideas for the nation” .

Who comes out on top of the member’s ballot then must run the gauntlet of the caucus and then it’s on to either a double dissolution election in 2014 (unlikely) or the rematch in 2016.

Dr Colin Benjamin OAM is the chairman of Cultural Infusion Ltd and director general of the Life: ‘Be in it’ Australia charity.

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