“I want to change the country. I want to change the way we do politics in this country,” the Labor leader said Sunday morning as he prepares to replace a nine-year-old conservative government after winning Saturday’s election.
“I want to have a collaborative relationship. I want to bring together people, including state and regional and local governments … just as I will bring unions and employers and other organizations together at an employment summit next month.”
Labor’s election campaign has widely illuminated Albany’s working-class credentials – a boy raised in public housing by a single mother on a disability pension – and his image as a realist integrator.
His rise from humble beginnings was something he defeated in the election, Prime Minister Scott Morrison hinted when leaders were asked to nominate something admirable about their opponents during a televised debate.
“The thing I always admire about Anthony is that he never forgot where he came from,” Morrison said in the debate, praising the determination and conduct of the Albanians.
Albanese, 59, entered parliament in 1996 – just as Labor entered the first of two decades of anti-Labor patches. When the party returned to power from 2007 to 2013, he openly criticized both sides over leadership disputes.
In those years his reputation forged a willingness to work outside the ideological line as a collaborator, as leader of the House, where he conducted government business in Parliament.
After losing the 2010 election, Labor jumped on the bandwagon with the country’s first minority government in 70 years, seeking the support of conservatives or independents to pass legislation.
But by a measure cited by political commentators – the number of laws passed compared to the number of days spent in office – it has become Australia’s most productive parliament.
“There was an attempt to create chaos here, but what Anthony (as Leader of the House) did was to make sure that the work of the government went ahead,” said Craig Emerson, who was the commerce minister in that government.
At the age of 12, Albanese helped organize a rent strike that prevented his mother from selling her public housing property to developers.
Those who know Albanese say he was inspired by a mixture of realism and concern for social justice that he achieved during his childhood struggles, such as a teenage Albanese complaining to a councilor about his mother’s broken stove.
“It gave me a strong determination every day, to help people like me, growing up, to lead a better life,” Albanese said at the National Press Club in January, recalling how he sometimes relied on neighbors for food. Her mother was unable to provide for her.
Albanese was the first in his family to attend university, where he studied economics and became involved in student politics.
At age 22, he was elected president of Young Labor, the party’s youth wing, and served as a research officer under the economic reformist government of Labor’s longest-serving prime minister, Bob Hawke.
“Anthony … has the power to look beyond the party’s political alignment,” said Robert Tickner, a former Labor member who accepted teenager Albanese’s call about his mother’s stove.
The incoming prime minister “believes in the idea that there are well-meaning people in the community,” Tickner said in a phone interview. “He is not a sectarian.”