Almost 10 years of coalition government between the Liberal and National Party in Australia came to an end on Saturday as Prime Minister Scott Morrison conceded election to Labour.
Mr Morrison, whose Liberal Party led the right-wing coalition, will be replaced by Anthony Albanese, who became opposition leader in 2019.
The Labor leader, nicknamed “Albo”, promised Australians “safe change” and unity in an election campaign dominated by post-pandemic recovery, the cost of living and national security against a backdrop of China’s increasing dominance in the region.
“I think people want to come together, look for our common interest, look for this sense of common purpose,” he said after the election victory.
“I think people are fed up with the split; What they want is to come together as a nation and I intend to lead that,” he added.
Despite being one of the country’s longest-serving politicians, Mr Albanese’s journey to the top was far from easy. The 59-year-old grew up in social housing as the son of a single mother living on a disability pension. He cites his early experiences as contributing to the formation of his progressive views.
He has become an advocate for the LGBT+ community and has built a reputation as a staunch defender of Australia’s free healthcare system.
The first in his family to finish school, Mr Albanese attended the University of Sydney where he earned a degree in economics and became involved in student politics. He was first elected to Parliament in 1996 when John Howard, then leader of the Liberals, came to power.
He is Catholic and a rugby league supporter who said during the campaign: ‘I got out [of the womb] with three major faiths – the Labor Party, the Catholic Church and the South Sydney Rabbitohs.”
Labour’s time back in power between 2007 and 2013 was marred by leadership disputes in which Mr Albanese openly criticized both sides. These years have cemented his reputation as an employee willing to work outside of ideological boundaries in his role as head of the house.
After losing the 2010 general election, Labor faced the country’s first minority government in 70 years and had to win the support of Conservatives or Independents to pass legislation.
But by a measure cited by political commentators – the number of laws passed versus the number of days in office – it emerged as Australia’s most productive parliament.
“There was an attempt to create chaos but what Anthony did [as leader of the house] was to ensure the government’s work continued,” said then-Trade Secretary Craig Emerson.
Aged just 12, Mr Albanese helped organize a rent strike that prevented his mother’s public housing from being sold to developers. Those who know Mr Albanese say he is genuinely motivated by a mixture of pragmatism and a concern for social justice gained during his childhood struggles.
“It gave me a determination every day to help people grow up to have a better life,” he told the National Press Club in January, recalling how at times he had to rely on neighbors for food gotten when his mother could not take care of him.
At 22 he was elected President of Young Labour, the youth wing of the party, and worked as a research officer under the economic reformist government of Bob Hawke, Labour’s longest-serving Prime Minister.
“Anthony has… the ability to look beyond the political direction of the party,” said Robert Tickner, a former Labor cabinet minister. “[He] believes in this idea that there are people of goodwill in the community.
“He’s not a sectarian.”
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