Having experimented with a step to the left under Bill Shorten’s leadership, the question now is what does Labor do if prominent left-wing factional powerbroker Anthony Albanese takes over?
The wholesale rejection of Labor’s economy-wrecking socialist agenda by the re-election of a Coalition government has completely vindicated Conservative Party leader Cory Bernardi’s calls to bring back common sense to Canberra. But will the Australian Labor Party have the maturity to realise that?
Will he be prepared to move the party closer to the political centre? Or will he double down on the economic agenda that played such a crucial role in Shorten’s downfall, hoping his personal popularity is enough to return Labor to power?
Albanese certainly knows how to engage with mainstream voters but his world view is as inner-city as the electorate he represents – fashioned around social justice causes and class-war rhetoric.
He has often described his life-long efforts “fighting Tories”, turning the political contests into a partisan scrap.
But Labor today may need to do what the Liberal Party did after its 1993 defeat at the last supposedly “unlosable” election: that is, jettison causes long considered core to the party movement.
Between 1987 and 1994, John Howard was at the vanguard of arguments to abolish Medicare, being opposed to its socialist underpinnings. But consecutive election defeats, including under John Hewson’s leadership in 1993, forced Liberals to finally concede that supporting Medicare was the price of winning government. In 1996, Howard did just that, going on to govern for nearly 12 years.
Even an entirely false Labor scare campaign at the 2016 election claiming Malcolm Turnbull planned to privatise Medicare was almost enough to bring the Liberals unstuck.
So what are the policy scripts modern Labor needs to jettison if it wants to return to power? And is Albo the man to lead such a change in direction?
He may well be, having shown a willingness over the years to crab-walk away from causes considered too radical for a mainstream politician. And his persona is relatable for many voters in working-class electorates. The son of a single mother, growing up in housing commission accommodation while attending the local Catholic school, he has the capacity to appeal to aspirational voters, even though he lives in inner Sydney.
But to do so in more than a superficial way – that might mean acknowledging the benefits of lower company taxes as a means of stimulating the economy, for example. Or reducing high marginal income tax rates as a way of encouraging ambition and hard work. Or indeed avoiding the easy pathway of taxing capital too much, thus discouraging people saving and investing for their futures.