Anthony Albanese has vowed to form a constructive relationship with parliament’s expanded crossbench and has warned against underestimating Peter Dutton as opposition leader.
In a wide-ranging interview on Sky News, Albanese reflected on the “great responsibility” of serving as prime minister but said he would try to “keep it real”.
As the Labor government prepares to finalize its frontbench in the coming days, the finance minister, Katy Gallagher, has flagged tough decisions in the October budget, saying there were “huge” fiscal pressures in health, aged care, the NDIS, and defense.
Labor has won at least 75 seats in the lower house but is on the cusp of reaching the 76 necessaries for a majority, with all eyes on the Victorian seat of Macnamara.
Albanese said he wanted to win as many seats as possible but added that he had “always been respectful of people in the parliament”. “I’m very clear as well that I want to treat the parliament respectfully,” he said on Sunday. “I think we’ll have a good relationship with people across the crossbench.”
The House of Representatives is expected to have a crossbench of 16, including four Greens and six newly elected “teal” independents who won seats from Liberals in metropolitan areas on a platform of stronger climate action, an integrity commission, and gender equality. The Greens will likely have four seats, with the leader, Adam Bandt, joined by three new colleagues.
Labor has signaled it is “determined to fix” how parliament works as crossbench MPs submit long lists of demands to boost their voice and influence.
Albanese said he would “talk to people across the parliament” and “give Australia a good government that provides the changes necessary and brings people with us on the journey of change”.
Asked whether he would tell his Labor colleagues not to underestimate Dutton, who is set to become Liberal leader unopposed, Albanese said: “I never underestimate my opponents.”
He would “treat Peter Dutton with respect” and hoped to “get some agreement from him … on measures we have a mandate for”.
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Albanese said he had not had much time to reflect on his status as one of the few Labor figures who had led the party out of years of opposition, but the responsibility humbled him. “I’ll never take it for granted. I’ll honor it every day, and I’ll do my best.
“That’s not to say I’ll be perfect because none of us are, but I’ll try to keep it real on the way through and continue to keep my feet on the ground because I think that is also important.”
He acknowledged that Labor must learn lessons from the defeat of the former frontbencher Kristina Keneally by the independent candidate Dai Le in the seat of Fowler. Keneally was “a big loss to our team,” but it was “very clear that the community sent a message”.
Labor remained “committed to delivering what we said we would,” – including proceeding with the stage three tax cuts. They were already legislated, and people were entitled to certainty.
But he said Gallagher and the treasurer, Jim Chalmers, had launched an audit, overseen by Treasury and Finance, to find budget “waste and rorts”.
In an interview with ABC’s Insiders program, Gallagher said Labor was “inheriting a very serious set of economic and budget challenges, and we don’t want to pretend it is anything but that”.
She would not speculate whether the previous government’s deficit figures were accurate but said, “clearly some huge budget pressures coming”.
Health, aged care, the NDIS, defense, and national security were “growing faster than GDP and going to play significant pressure on the budget going forward”.
But she was “not softening up anybody” for spending cuts in those areas. The government wanted to have “an honest conversation” with the public because it would be wrong to pretend those budget pressures were not there.
“We are absolutely 100% focused on delivering our commitments to the Australian people,” she said.
Gallagher and Chalmers held a press conference on Wednesday to spell out what they described as a “dire” budget situation.
Chalmers is expected to address parliament on the economic situation when parliament returns.
While Dutton is on track to become the new leader of the Liberals, the leadership of the Nationals is in flux.
The deputy leader, David Littleproud, the former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce and the veterans’ affairs minister Darren Chester have all confirmed they will run for the position in a post-election party room meeting on Monday.