Albanese says time for navel-gazing is over after Labor's 'difficult' period

Katharine Murphy Political editor
Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

Anthony Albanese has challenged his colleagues to move on from post-election self-absorption and unite for the coming term of parliament and signalled the big social policy spending of the previous two terms must be wound back.

In an address to the National Press Club to respond to Labor’s official campaign review – which blamed weak strategy, poor adaptability and an unpopular leader for the defeat in May – Albanese said Labor would continue to prioritise spending on health and education.

But with the opposition likely to drop some or all of the controversial revenue-raising measures proposed under Bill Shorten, Albanese said Labor would have to work within a smaller funding envelope: “If you don’t have the same level of revenue, you can’t have the same level of expenditure. It’s just a fact.”

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As well as digging in on climate, Albanese also gave progressive activist groups a serve for assuming that Labor had already won the election, and escalating their wishlists in a way that compounded difficulties in the campaign: “I think that too many of the interest groups were concerned with influencing a future Labor government rather than getting one.

“They assumed it would happen, and they took it for granted.”

He counselled groups like GetUp that if they were interested in getting a progressive government elected federally they should concentrate on marginal seats rather than inner-city electorates.

“There are always a lot more people handing out for GetUp in my electorate of Grayndler than in Reid right next door – a seat that determines government one way or the other,” he said.

He also called time on the party’s post-election introspection: “Labor should not be fighting ourselves. We should be fighting the others. I want to lead a unified party.

“We’ve been through a difficult time but, frankly, some of the self-reflection stops today. That’s the point of the campaign review.”

He wanted to change party culture, moving on from the hostilities of the Rudd/Gillard era and in the process creating a platform where Labor could win government, and hold on to government for long enough to enact durable change.

Despite being in politics for most of his adult life, living through the leadership battles of the Rudd/Gillard period, managing the parliament during the period of minority government, and doing two terms in opposition after losing a bid to be party leader in 2013, he still had the energy for the fight.

He intended to attack the opposition leadership with “vigour and energy” and he challenged journalists at the National Press Club: “Try and keep up with me.”

As part of Friday’s reset, Albanese intended to change the substance of Labor’s policy platform, not just the style. The party’s national conference would be held next December and policies rolled out closer to the next election.

He insisted Labor would continue to pursue an ambitious climate change policy and would not be “dragged” into a suboptimal set of responses by a government that was a long way out of step with conservatives in the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

“We sometimes, I don’t think in this country, see just how far off the mainstream the Abbott forces are – and you know the mob who are not just climate-change sceptics but … market sceptics as well have dragged the political debate in this country. I’m not going to be dragged with it.”