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The AFR View

The AFR View

Labor’s war on two fronts fights Green populism

Australian politics currently has no strong centre, yet that is where Anthony Albanese knows he has to govern from if he wants Labor to stay in power.

The look back in anger on Anthony Albanese’s face as pictured on the front page of The Australian Financial Review on Thursday shows Labor versus the Coalition is not the nation’s only sharp political divide. An irritated prime minister turned again as he left the House floor to chip the smirking young rebel behind him on the benches, the Greens’ housing spokesman Max Chandler-Mather.

Mirroring the Liberals’ battle with the teals, Mr Albanese is now fighting a two-front war against the Coalition as well as the Greens to his left as they target Labor’s gentrifying inner suburban seats. That potentially includes his old working-class inner west Sydney electorate of Grayndler (think Balmain, Enmore and Marrickville).

Greens leader Adam Bandt, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Greens MP Max Chandler-Mather speak in parliament on Thursday.  Alex Ellinghausen

The Greens refuse to pass Labor’s $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund without an agreement for a rent freeze that economists from left to right agree would make things worse by squeezing housing supply. Writing in the left-wing Jacobin magazine, Mr Chandler-Mather said that “allowing the HAFF to pass would demobilise the growing section of civil society that is justifiably angry about the degree of poverty and financial stress that exists in such a wealthy country”.

So, a housing problem that Mr Albanese urgently wants to fix is for the Greens a bit of Leninist agitprop: the worse things become, the easier it is to foment rebellion among the masses, the conscripts in the new Green-Marxist class struggle. That enraged a Labor leader who needs to deal with the real-life housing stress for millions of Australians.

We have been here before: it was the Greens who sank the Rudd government’s emissions trading scheme in 2009, seeking the perfect over the good, and set up a decade of climate policy warfare.


Mr Albanese has keen insight into the self-indulgences of the left, having travelled from there himself as a one-time factional warrior and adviser to left-wing Hawke government minister Tom Uren. His impatience follows the transformation of sitting in government, – which, as the Jacobin piece demonstrates, the Greens will never experience. That always means compromises with reality and the problems it brings.

Mr Albanese comes from Labor’s Socialist Left faction. But he also wants to make Labor the natural party of government again, rather than filling in when the conservatives are not ruling. Parties can’t keep power and achieve results in government if they are not reliable, and backflip or break promises because it’s become more convenient.

So, Mr Albanese is sticking with the legislated stage three income tax cuts due to start mid next year despite all the pressure from the left to dump them, penalising millions of ordinary Australians because the tax cuts would mostly benefit the minority of Australians who disproportionately pay the most tax.

Labor unity carries a price tag

He has been helped by China’s decision to pull back on its trade war against Australia. But the Midnight Oil fan from the 1980s is also four-square behind the nuclear-powered AUKUS deal. And while state governments grandstand on emissions targets, nobody keeps power with the lights out.

He says that gas must be part of the capacity mechanism to back up renewables. He achieved the closest thing to a market-based carbon price with the safeguard mechanism; it was the Coalition that refused to engage, leaving Labor to be pulled leftwards by the Greens to get a deal.


Mr Albanese said he liked “fighting Tories” because of his experiences with Labor in-fighting. But Labor unity comes with a price tag the country has to pay.

Mr Albanese is not a natural creature of the unions. With the fate of Kevin Rudd in mind, he has to shore up union support in the party by letting Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke deliver them a Christmas gift list of industrial relations weapons that will inflame the economy’s great intertwined problem, high inflation and low productivity growth, and make it hard for Mr Albanese to sustainably raise real wages.

The prime minister talks about “no one held back” as well as no one left behind, but it’s the whole country’s aspirations that will suffer from his indulgence of the union movement.

Australian politics currently has no strong centre, yet that is where Mr Albanese knows he has to govern from if he wants Labor to stay in power. Labor’s primary vote is low and vulnerable to another wave of locally based teal independents, just as the Coalition is. It will keep those seats by building momentum and delivering results.

That needs more than just staring down Labor’s annoying challenger on the left; it will take the reform agenda Mr Albanese has yet to find, to provide a clear and credible alternative to the anti-market populism the Greens peddle.

The Australian Financial Review's succinct take on the principles at stake in major domestic and global stories - and what policy makers should do about them.

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