This observation is more whimsy than science, but it indulges me momentarily. Australians don’t change the stripe of their federal government often, and when they do, they invest emotionally in the new regime.
The emotional investment often translates as hope. But this time, the prevailing atmosphere feels more like relief. Relief is adjacent to hope, but it’s not the same.
I honestly can’t remember if Tony Abbott looked relieved when he faced the media for the first time as prime minister. It’s too long ago. But Anthony Albanese and his praetorian guard certainly looked relieved this week as they took their first questions after being sworn in.
Anthony Albanese, Penny Wong, Richard Marles, Katy Gallagher, and Jim Chalmers stood together at parliament house shortly after they returned from Government House. I watched all of them process their new reality in real-time. They were in government. This was happening. They were in the Blue Room. This was not a drill.
While the election vote count grinds on and on, the transition has been lightning-fast. A short time later, Albanese was in Tokyo, reacquainting himself with Joe Biden and introducing himself to the prime ministers of India and Japan. Wong went to Tokyo and then separately to Fiji, flying headlong into the geopolitical challenges that would define this period in government.
For Albanese and Wong, critical figures in the Rudd-Gillard era, returning to the government benches carries significant emotional freight because they understand from experience how easy it is to botch the opportunity conferred by voters. These people endured the consequences of gaining power, losing it, and watching their opponents dismantle their legacy and write the first draft of history. Chalmers knows this too, as a senior adviser to then treasurer Wayne Swan during that whole period.
So this group understands at a cellular level that voters have given them the last opportunity of their professional lifetimes to be a Labor government.
Discover the Australia Weekend app.
Grasping the gravity of the present opportunity certainly doesn’t guarantee success – this is the Labor party, after all – but the collective intention is to make the time count. Albanese has mulled what went wrong during the last period in government and has concrete ideas about how to avoid a similar fate.
Labor is coming to the government in incredibly difficult times. The pandemic is not yet over, and reducing the current death rate will require sustained public health interventions that the Australian public may not be happy with.
Inflation is back. Interest rates will rise, hurting the many massively leveraged households. When Scott Morrison cut the petrol excise in his pre-election budget, he made it clear that the relief at the bowser was only temporary – but Albanese will preside over the return to normal arrangements, which is a poison pill.
Labor is also politically locked into implementing the Coalition’s stage three tax cuts when the budget desperately needs more revenue and systematic expenditure control. Labor says it wants to lift wages but has limited power to do so, and if the new government elects to use the powers at its disposal, businesses will kick up a stink; that is the natural way of things.
Sticking with the natural way of things, events will shape the Albanese prime ministership. China is marching in our region, elevating the imperatives of national defense and healthy alliances with major powers nurtured by muscular middle-power diplomacy.
Anthony Albanese, US president Joe Biden, prime minister of Japan Fumio Kishida, and prime minister of India Narendra Modi at the Quad leaders’ summit in Tokyo. Photograph: Getty Images
The new government wants to crack on with implementing a climate policy that isn’t a joke, given Australians have voted for action in overwhelming numbers.
Labor’s suite of climate measures buttressed the first week of the new Albanese government. A higher medium-term emissions reduction target was a point of connection and easy rapport between Albanese and Biden, a promise of more enlightened regional times that Wong could take to the Pacific nations being duchessed or coerced by China, and a diplomatic downpayment to help repair Australia’s battered relationship with France.
But domestically, the progressive bent of the new parliament will be complex for Albanese to navigate. Labor is set to govern in the majority, which makes life easier than the parliamentary conditions he was called upon to manage in the 43rd parliament.
Sign up to receive the top stories from Guardian Australia every morning
Electorally, Labor has to maintain and consolidate its terrain between the teals and the Greens while holding its traditional blue-collar territories because, as the Liberal party has just learned, taking your heartland for granted is a recipe for a swingeing defeat.
Just before we persist with the imperative of climate action in the new parliament, a quick note on the electoral realignment that happened last Saturday night. The rout of the Liberal party in this contest is comprehensive and crushing. To win a parliamentary majority in 2025, the Coalition must gain 17 or more seats. Normally in a parliament where the governing party has a slender majority like Labor is expected to have, we’d all be writing columns about how the opposition remains within striking distance. Not this time. Truly extraordinary.
Now let’s return to climate change. On 21 May, voters told Australia’s political class to get on with reducing the risk of runaway global heating, so it would be tremendous if all political actors in the federal arena could approach the coming parliament in the spirit of ending the climate wars, rather than just winding up one phase before launching another.
I will say this to all protagonists upfront: Australians in 2022 have voted for the transition to low emissions. We are already living with an altered climate. Global capital has already placed its bets, informed by climate science. The risks to lives and livelihoods are not speculative but present and observable. So I will have zero tolerance for any self-serving political bollocks over the next three years, whether the bollocks are progressive or conservative.
I am out of patience with the decade of stupidity and insanity and many other voters. We have wasted time that Australia couldn’t afford to waste on sanctimony, stunts, and outright lies.
We’ve made the perfect the enemy of the good. We’ve repealed a perfectly good carbon price that reduced emissions without crashing the economy. We’ve endured the peak partisan bastardry of the fraudulent “war on the weekend” and the grating non sequitur of “technology, not taxes” (when the taxes bankrolled the technology).
So, enough. Stop posturing. Get on with it.
In no particular order – Peter Dutton: get over yourself, deal with it; the Liberal party’s metropolitan heartland has sent you a message too definitive to ignore.
To whoever leads the National party after the leadership spill on Monday: farmers have everything on the line as the climate changes – how about representing their interests and the interests of communities that rely on the prosperity generated by the production of food and fiber while helping create future jobs for miners, who know the world is changing? Not that hard, surely.
Adam Bandt: bank the increments over the next three years, allow the public to see the world won’t end if we manage the transition, then keep focused on ratcheting up ambition while bringing people with you.
Teals: bring the voices of your communities into these deliberations, and model democratic representation done differently.
Finally – prime minister: you want to model a different style of political leadership, something measurably distinct from entitlement, arrogance, and hubris. Have the courage of that instinct. With some empathy, ambition, political smarts, a bit of luck, and reciprocal goodwill, you can change the trajectory and make ending the climate wars an enduring Labor legacy.