The Speaker
Wednesday, 17 July 2024 – 20:46
Photo Credit: Bruce Baker from Sydney, Australia, CC BY 2.0

Will Australia change leader, again?

Australia loves a leadership spill almost as much as it loves the Cricket. Since 2007, no prime minister has won two successive elections, and only one has even remained in post within three years of winning the general election. That one is Scott Morrison; the incumbent prime minister is seeking to break the cycle and win consecutive terms for the first time since John Howard won four successive elections between 1996 and 2007.

In that time, Australia has had six prime ministers – more than they have had Ashes victories over the same period. In 2007, Kevin Rudd ended Howard’s winning streak, before being ousted ahead of the 2010 general election by Julia Gillard. Gillard remained prime minister after the election, but after 3 years in office Rudd returned to lead the Australian Labor Party into defeat. He was replaced by Tony Abbot, who lasted just 2 years before being ousted by Malcolm Turnbull in another leadership spill ahead of the 2016 general election. Turnbull led the Liberal-National Party to victory, but within two years he too was ousted.

Turnbull’s exit saw Scott Morrison rise to the prime ministership, and he defied the polls to secure victory in the 2019 general election. By remaining in post as the 2022 general election campaign kicks off, he becomes the first prime minister to avoid a leadership spill for an entire term since Howard and has the opportunity to write himself into history as one of the most consequential prime ministers of the 21st century.

However, Anthony Albanese has different ideas. The Labor Party leader is seeking to deny the Liberal-National Coalition a fourth term under their third different leader; returning Labor to power for the first time in 9 years.

Albanese has consistently lead in the polls since early 2021, recovering a lead after Scott Morrison’s popularity soared in the early part of the pandemic. However, extended lockdowns and civil unrest collapsed his popularity and led to an opening up of the Australian economy, which hasn’t seen a similar rebound in his polling numbers.

Morrison currently sits on an approval rating of around 40% with close to 60% disapproving. This has translated to a lead of around 8% for Labor in the polls.

Following the recent string of live debates – which have focused largely around jobs and the economy – Albanese even gained a lead over Morrison in the all-important “which leader would you prefer to go for a pint with” poll. No Australian prime minister has won office without a healthy lead in this metric since 2010.

Despite being just 59 years old, Albanese is a veteran politician. He first entered Parliament in 1996 and served as deputy prime minister in the second Rudd administration. He has also served as Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, and as Leader of the House – both between 2007 and 2013.

He is a man steeped in politics, having worked in politics since he graduated from the University of Sydney with an economics degree. Albanese is considered a progressive and a strong campaigner for social justice. He is a republican, and advocates for the Queen to be replaced as Australia’s head of state.

He is also pro-choice and in favour of assisted suicide and a strong LGBTQ+ campaigner, often attending Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

These views and actions stand him in stark contrast to Morrison. Despite being elected to leadership of the Liberal Party as a moderating figure against right-wing figures pushing to take over, his strong Christian faith often influences his views.

Morrison abstained from voting on legislation to legalise same-sex marriage in 2017 due to his faith and has a long history of opposing same-sex marriage.

His record on environmental issues is also patchy. Early in his tenure as prime minister, Morrison received significant criticism for denying a link between Australian bushfires and the country’s environmental policies. He also has viciously opposed net-zero targets for CO2 emissions, and initially suggested that he would not attend COP26. He later committed to an effort to achieve net-zero by 2050 but has failed to enact any legislation in its favour.

Morrison, like Albanese, is steeped in politics. Morrison worked in research and public policy after leaving university, before working for the Australian tourist board. He later became the Liberal Party’s director in New South Wales in 2000.

He entered Parliament in 2007, having initially lost the selection ballot for his seat. It was later rerun due to the successful candidate allegedly branch stacking and embellishing his CV, which saw Morrison return victorious.

He almost immediately formed part of the shadow cabinet and assumed the position of Minister for Immigration and Border Protection when the Liberal-National Party won election in 2013. He pursued a strong border policy, including a policy of offshore detention centres similar to those now being employed by UK Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Morrison later became the Minister for Social Services, and later Treasurer. He served in this position until he assumed the leadership of the Liberal-National Party in 2018 and became prime minister.

Australiansf will go to the polls in just 10 days’ time and their national pastime looks likely to play out again. Another prime minister looks set to be ousted after serving for less than two full terms. Albanese’s Labor look poised to become the largest party and lead Australia for at least the next three years.

Whether he can last the full term is a different question.

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