“Is my tie straight, Mike?” Often stony-faced and strained during a six-week election campaign, Anthony Albanese allowed himself to joke with photographers after being sworn in as prime minister on Monday morning – the official end-point of a journey of 41 days campaigning, three years as opposition leader and 26 years in federal Parliament. It was the first step in a day of quick-fire and symbolic moves for the incoming Albanese government. A victorious Labor party swept into Parliament House, and the defeated Coalition government cleared out – literally and metaphorically.
In front of his partner, Jodie Haydon, son Nathan and a select group of close staff, Albanese became Australia’s 31st PM on Monday morning in a short and brief ceremony with the governor-general, David Hurley. It was necessarily so, with Albanese and new foreign minister, Penny Wong, on a plane to Tokyo barely three hours later for the Quad leaders’ meeting.
Labor staffers milled around in the drawing room of Government House, black suits and fresh haircuts against the white walls of the austere building. A line of black Comcars snaked down the drive as Albanese’s “gang of four” – Richard Marles, Wong, Jim Chalmers, and Katy Gallagher, who comprise the interim ministry – popped out with their families in tow.
A snap-snapping of camera lenses from photographers restrained by a velvet cord on the edge of the room greeted the incoming ministers: Marles, to be acting PM during Albanese’s trip, in a pink tie; Chalmers, the proud Queenslander, in a red link and clutching a large red Bible; Wong and Gallagher smiling, clasping hands in triumph as they sat.
Lastly, the incoming PM entered the room, beaming as he shook hands with the governor-general.
“Congratulations,” Hurley whispered to each minister as they signed their official paperwork.
Prime minister Anthony Albanese with interim ministers Jim Chalmers, Penny Wong, Richard Marles, and Katy Gallagher. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP
An interim ministry of five: PM Albanese, Marles as minister for employment, Wong as minister for foreign affairs, Chalmers as treasurer, and Gallagher as minister for finance, women, and attorney general.
Walking out for the stock photo on the front steps of Government House, Albanese hugged his ministers in a tight embrace.
I am deeply honored to serve as Australia’s Prime Minister.
As Prime Minister, I want to unite people and lead a government as courageous, hard-working, and caring as the Australian people.
That work starts today. pic.twitter.com/qhu8JxHx2g
— Anthony Albanese (@AlboMP) May 22, 2022
“Hey Mike, is my tie straight?” Albanese joked as he posed for the portrait.
Albanese quipped to a photographer kneeling on the ground for a shot from below: “We want you to go high, not low.”
“I’ve lost 20 kilos, but still,” he said, gesturing to his stomach.
Within an hour, Albanese and his interim ministry were in the “blue room” of Parliament House, the press conference venue for senior ministers and the PM—a symbolic territory marking.
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As journalists filed in, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags were added to the podium alongside the Australian flag that previously stood alone.
Perhaps the timing was coincidental, or ey feared the change mamighte missed. In any case, everyone noticed. It was hard not to draw a parallel to Albanese’s victory speech on Saturday, using almost his first words after Scott Morrison’s late-night concession to recommit Labor to the Uluru Statement from the Heart and later singling out incoming Indigenous affairs minister Linda Burney for particular praise.
Just meters away from the first official engagement of the new government, the old government was starting the job of packing up. In the ministerial wing of Parliament House, Coalition staffers in casual clothes sidestepped the wheelie bins and white rubbish bags chock-full of shredded papers that dotted the corridors. They collected trinkets from their desks as cleaning carts and stacks of folded cardboard boxes appeared outside office doors.
Labor politicians and staff continually stressed publicly and privately they were not “measuring up the curtains” before the election results, much talking of trauma from the 2019 election loss. By Monday, many were pondering their new digs, some taking a casual stroll past the ministerial offices they soon occupy.
Albanese told his first press conference that he wanted to run a “family-friendly” government and avoid running Parliament during school holidays, promising an “orderly” transition between governments.
He said he “won’t be sacking public servants”. Still, he confirmed that Morrison’s former chief of staff, Phil Gaetjens, was no longer the head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet “as of yesterday” – the first day after Albanese’s victory. Gaetjens’s acting replacement, Stephanie Foster, was in the audience at Government House to watch the swearing-in.
Outlining a busy timetable – in Tokyo until Wednesday, a Labor caucus meeting next Tuesday, the swearing-in of his full ministry next Wednesday, and plans to resume Parliament in coming weeks – Albanese said he was keen to crack on with “implementing our agenda”. He cited Labor’s National Reconstruction Fund, Powering Australia, the Respect@Work report recommendations, childcare, aged care, and strengthening Medicare as his priorities. He said the work to implement a national anti-corruption commission had begun already. After just four questions, he finished sweeping away in the prime minister’s white C1 car to the airport; he and Wong grinned and flashed a thumbs up as they boarded the plane to Tokyo.