Paul Bongiorno: It won’t be easy for Anthony Albanese, but he says he’s up for it

by Paul Bongiorno

At his first news conference as the newly sworn in Prime Minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese assured the nation he was ready for the top job, saying “I’ve been getting ready for some time”.

It is just as well, because he is on notice from Australia’s largest mainstream news supplier, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, and already the Nationals are signalling they will give no quarter.

The Murdoch antipathy comes as no surprise given the performance of its newspapers and platforms in the election campaign.

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, who is under threat of losing his job when the party room next meets, defines his party’s job as “opposing” from day one.

Of course, in a free, democratic nation such contestability is to be expected and indeed welcomed, but it serves as a reality check for the new government.

It won’t only be the Sky After Dark commentators portraying every action of the Labor government in a negative light but also News Corp’s national broadsheet and tabloids around the country.

These platforms gave up any pretence of objectivity in their advocacy for the Morrison government against Labor, the Greens and the independents.

Labor’s national president Wayne Swan, in an email to party members on the election result, said the victory came despite not having “a media company acting as a free publicity machine for us”.

The point here is not that this cabal of the reactionary right actually failed to get the result they wanted but why they failed.

They failed principally because of the product they were pushing.

The damaging legacy of Scott Morrison could be felt by his party for years to come. Photo: Getty

Scott Morrison and his tawdry government’s standing had collapsed in the estimation of an overwhelming number of Australians.

So while two-thirds of the nation breathed a sigh of relief when Labor, the Greens and the independents swept the Coalition from office at the weekend, Albanese won’t have the shield of the appalling Morrison in three years’ time.

I use the word “appalling” because Morrison did not baulk at using transgender children “as pawns in a disgraceful battle to win votes” – to quote the Swan email.

Albanese next time will be judged on his merits and what his government delivers.

It is only by fulfilling the promises made to working people on higher wages, the economy, climate change action and integrity that a second term can be assured.

In much of this agenda Albanese will be greatly assisted by a Parliament that has signed up to it, though history cautions that the Greens can be prepared to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

Greens leader Adam Bandt is promising this won’t be the case, but rare is the politician who won’t grasp partisan advantage if they think it is on offer.

Of course, we are yet to see how the independents perform when it comes to negotiating emissions-reduction targets and the shape of an anti-corruption commission.

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce refuses to accept any blame for the Coalition’s election loss. Photo: Getty

But ironically, if Barnaby Joyce and the Liberal conservative hardliners backed by the Murdoch media succeed in dragging the new opposition further to the right, then Albanese will be gifted a new shield.

By any analysis of the results, going further to the right is a recipe for disaster and a long stay in the political wilderness.

Australia has shifted emphatically to the left on climate, integrity and gender equity.

No seats were lost to more right-wing candidates. The United Australia Party and One Nation performed abysmally.

Joyce claims that the Nationals were vindicated by holding on to all their seats – he glosses over big swings against them, even in their Queensland heartland, and the fact they may yet lose one or two and failed to pick up targeted coal seats in the Hunter Valley and the Northern Territory.

Joyce rejects any suggestion he and his dissident coal champion mates like Senator Matt Canavan cost the Liberals dearly in their city seats.

“We are separate parties” he says, suggesting that’s the Liberals’ problem and not his.

The Liberals certainly have a problem with the most likely candidate to succeed Morrison as party leader, Peter Dutton.

He has long been associated with the hard right, though something of a metamorphosis could be on the way.

Peter Dutton faces a huge task to convince the public of his credentials as a leader. Photo: Getty

His allies are assuring us Dutton is really a personable pragmatist who facilitated the end of the impasses over same-sex marriage and he is no anti-abortion zealot.

One Labor insider quips he wouldn’t be surprised to see Dutton turn up to the next party room meeting in a teal dress.

If he does so metaphorically, it would signal a realistic shift away from the take-no-prisoners approach of Tony Abbott in opposition.

Albanese is much more in touch with the national zeitgeist and Dutton would be wise to adjust to it, but he will be under pressure from the Nationals and News Corp to keep the climate and culture wars going.

Before he departed for the Quad summit in Tokyo, Albanese said he was looking forward to leading a government that makes Australians proud.

“A government that doesn’t seek to divide, that doesn’t seek to have wedges but to bring people together for our common interest and common purpose. I think that’s one of the messages that came through on Saturday. People have conflict fatigue.”

Such idealism is to be applauded, but Albanese is a seasoned political warrior and must know one of his predecessors as prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, got it right when he warned “life wasn’t meant to be easy”.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics.