SYDNEY, Australia – Anthony Albanese, who takes over as Prime Minister of Australia on Monday, May 23, is a pragmatic leader from a working-class background who has promised to heal the country’s divisions.
“I genuinely want to change the country.”
“I want to change the way politics works in this country,” the Labor Party leader declared on Sunday morning as he began planning to replace nine years of conservative administration following Saturday’s election victory.
“I’d like to have a collaborative relationship.”
“I want to bring everyone together, including states and territories, as well as local governments…just as I want to bring unions, employers, and other groups together in the coming months for an employment summit.”
Labor’s election campaign heavily spotlighted Albanese’s working-class credentials – a boy raised in public housing by a single mother on a disability pension – and his image as a pragmatic unifier.
His rise from humble beginnings was something the man he defeated in the election, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, pointed to when the leaders were asked to nominate something they admired about their opponent during a televised debate.
“The thing about Anthony I’ve always admired is he has never forgotten where he has come from,” Morrison said in the debate, complimenting the determination and drive of Albanese.
Albanese, 59, entered parliament in 1996 – just as Labor entered the first of two decade-long patches in opposition. The party’s time back in power, from 2007 to 2013, was marred by leadership squabbles in which he openly criticized both sides.
Those years forged his reputation as a collaborator willing to work outside ideological lines, as leader of the House, where he managed government business in the parliament.
After losses in the 2010 election, Labor was saddled with the country’s first minority government in 70 years, requiring it to win support from conservatives or independents to pass laws.
But by one measure cited by political commentators – the number of laws passed compared to the number of days in office – it turned out to be Australia’s most productive parliament.
Albanese was 12 years old when he helped organize a rent strike that prevented his mother’s public housing property from being sold to developers.
Those who know Albanese believe he is really driven by the combination of practicality and concern for social justice that he developed from his early tribulations, such as when he protested to a councilor about his mother’s broken stove.
“It gave me a determination, each and every day, to help the people like I was, growing up, to have a better life,” Albanese told the National Press Club in January, recalling how he at times depended on neighbors for food when his mother was unable to provide for him.
Albanese was the first in his family to attend university, where he studied economics and became involved in student politics.
At 22, he was elected president of Young Labor, the party’s youth wing, and worked as a research officer under the economic reformist government of Bob Hawke, Labor’s longest-serving prime minister.
“Anthony has…a capacity to look beyond the party political alignment,” said Robert Tickner, a former Labor member who took the teenage Albanese’s call about his mother’s stove.
The incoming prime minister “believes in this idea that there are people of goodwill in the community,” Tickner said in a phone interview. “He’s not someone who’s sectarian.”