New Australian leaders Albanese make their world debut

Hours after being sworn in as Australia’s new Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese found himself freshly thrown off a jet and into the world spotlight on Tuesday. He was rewarded with a warm welcome and a little gentle ripping from US President Joe Biden and other leaders at an international summit in Japan.

“You were sworn in and you got on a plane and if you fall asleep while you’re here, that’s fine,” Biden joked as leaders met at the Quad, an Indo-Pacific security and economic coalition, intended to counterbalance China’s growing influence in the region. Biden marveled at Albanese’s staying power. “I don’t know how you do it. But there is something very special about just getting out of the campaign.”

The weekend’s election victory for Albanese of the centre-left Labor Party marked a lively shift in Australian politics, ending nine years of Conservative rule, the last few years under former leader Scott Morrison.

Albanese has described himself as Australia’s first political candidate with a “non-Anglo-Celtic name”. He and Malaysian-born Penny Wong, Australia’s first foreign-born foreign minister, were sworn into office on Monday, just before they flew to Tokyo to meet with Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Albanese’s election came after a hard-fought campaign that saw him contract COVID-19. Because his predecessor set the election date a week later than expected, Albanese had little time to prepare for the Tokyo summit.

However, for his efforts, he received friendly greetings from other leaders.

In his opening speech, Kishida noted Albanese’s tight schedule and expressed his “sincere appreciation for coming all the way to Japan right after the election.” Modi said Albanese’s presence in Tokyo within 24 hours of his swearing-in “shows the strength of our friendship within the Quad and your commitment to it.”

At the summit, Albanese underscored Australia’s unwavering commitment to the regional forum, highlighting his country’s efforts to cope with climate change and seek greater cooperation with Southeast Asian countries. He made no mention of China’s aggressive security measures, which many countries in Asia are concerned about.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang wrote to congratulate Albanese on his election victory in what Australian media described as a thawing of ties after years of tensions over Australian laws aimed at banning covert foreign interference in politics many see as anti-China watch.

“I am honored to be attending this important gathering of Quad leaders here in Japan for the first time as Prime Minister,” Albanese said in his opening remarks at Tuesday’s summit at the Japanese prime minister’s office. “We have seen a change of government in Australia. But Australia’s commitment to the quad has not and will not change.”

After a smooth diplomatic debut, he will face a barrage of domestic demands when he returns home on Wednesday and tries to fulfill his campaign promises. Tackling climate change, affordable childcare and strengthening Medicare are on the list.


McGuirk reported from Canberra, Australia. New Australian leaders Albanese make their world debut

Bobby Allyn

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