The federal Labor opposition is preparing for an election between September and November, even as Anthony Albanese continues to bat away suggestions he might not be the one leading the party to the poll.
Speculation of a spring 2021 election is mounting, as are internal ructions over Mr Albanese’s grasp on power, with his predecessor Bill Shorten warnings Labor can’t have a “tiny agenda” and needs to “stand for something”.
Early election not ruled out
The next federal election can be called by the Prime Minister any time between August and May 2022.
Scott Morrison has continually called himself “a full-termer” and has shrugged off suggestions he would go to the polls any earlier than needed.
But a suspiciously long break six-week gap between Parliament sitting periods in September and October set tongues wagging, with a hole perfectly sized for an election.
Senior Labor sources told The New Daily the Opposition is preparing for this year with the mindset that an election will be called some time between September and November.
TND also understands Mr Albanese is gearing up to reshuffle his shadow ministry in coming weeks, a frontbench refresh, which had been delayed due to his recent car crash.
Mr Albanese claimed an early election would only be called “because Scott Morrison doesn’t have the confidence in his own government to be able to last a three-year term”.
Speaking in a Sky News interview on Sunday, the Labor leader said the Prime Minister going to the polls early would be “a vote of no confidence in his own capacity”.
Mr Morrison said last week “the election’s due in 2022”, and that the government had other priorities in 2021, but did not rule out an election.
“We’ve got a very, very full deck here in 2021. We’ve got a lot to do,” the PM said in Queensland.
“It’s a very big year. That’s what I’m focused on. I’ll let the journalists and others focus on politics.”
In a Today interview last week, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also didn’t rule it out, saying the election “could be late this year, could be out as far as May next year”.
Shorten concerned over ‘declining vote’
The Coalition led Labor 51-49 in the latest Newspoll, published in November, which would give the government just 76 seats in the lower house – the bare minimum to hold power outright.
But Mr Morrison led Mr Albanese by 60-28 on the preferred PM numbers, and Labor’s primary vote hasn’t gone above 36 per cent since the Opposition Leader took office.
Great to launch The Write Stuff in Melbourne today – collection of some of the party’s best thinkers on the way forward for Labor pic.twitter.com/ro5WYjQRjC
— Bill Shorten (@billshortenmp) January 24, 2021
In a speech in Melbourne on Sunday, former Labor leader Mr Shorten had some choice words for Mr Albanese.
Mr Shorten, who lost the 2016 and 2019 elections as leader, said he had “learnt the lessons of defeat” but had sharp words for the current leader’s style.
“We must be an opposition that stands for something. We must be a party of Labor that stands for the real-world concerns of working men and women,” he said.
They were comments reminiscent of maverick MP Joel Fitzgibbon’s criticisms that Labor wasn’t paying attention to blue-collar workers.
Mr Shorten’s claimed warned Labor shouldn’t pursue a “tiny” policy agenda.
It came after Mr Shorten was criticised for having a policy slate that was too dense and complicated.
Mr Shorten said Mr Albanese was doing “a good, solid job”, but that Labor’s “vote is declining [and] has been for some time”.
Labor’s current 36 per cent primary vote is three points ahead of the share they captured under Mr Shorten at the 2019 election, but lower than the numbers shown in Newspoll during Mr Shorten’s tenure as leader.
Between February 2018 and May 2019, Labor’s vote was consistently between 37 and 42 per cent, according to Newspoll.
I hope the Labor Right contemplate their contribution to working class disaffection by their enthusiastic support of neoliberal policies.
“Free trade”, privatisation, competition policy, IR “reform”, balanced budgets, and welfare cuts have led to worker cynicism and concerns.
— Doug Cameron (@DougCameron51) January 23, 2021
Former Labor senator Doug Cameron shared a thread of tweets after news broke of Mr Shorten’s speech, claiming he had “seen this movie before”.
Shorten a ‘frustrating distraction’
Mr Albanese is “absolutely” adamant he is not budging as leader.
On ABC Radio National last week, he pointed out Labor’s current position “a three per cent increase on the last election where we lost the election by less than 2 per cent”.
But persistent rumours in media reports say the likes of Chris Bowen, Jim Chalmers, Tanya Plibersek, Richard Marles or some combination of the above may be angling for Mr Albanese’s job.
A senior Labor frontbencher and Albanese supporter said it was unclear what Mr Shorten’s strategy was in speaking out.
“There’s nothing in this speech that’s designed to help working people who need a Labor government, not another frustrating distraction, especially at a time when the government is tying itself up in knots,” they told TND.
“It’s hard to see what the point of it is.”
The frontbencher, who spoke on condition of anonymity, claimed Mr Albanese had a majority of support in the party room, and “an even bigger majority” among caucus members, and defended his policy slate.
“Anthony is playing a long game of putting forward a framework to the Australian people that’s relevant, bold and credible. We’ll be prepared at the time of the next election,” they said.
In the Sky interview, Mr Albanese said he would make “a series of announcements” on policy in the lead up to the election.
He promised a Labor government would be committed to economic reform and boosting productivity, while changing the industrial relations system to allow for proper bargaining and better outcomes.
“Everyone will know fully what our revenue polices are, what our expenditure policies are well before the election,” he said.