Albanese has emphasised the strength of his team and his intention to run an orderly Cabinet government – reversing the decades-long trend to centralise power in the prime minister’s office. The Prime Minister has promised respectful relationships across the Parliament, including the crossbench bench, but also the Opposition. He moved swiftly to chide Tanya Plibersek for insulting incoming Liberal leader Peter Dutton, prompting one of his most senior ministers to apologise, but also demonstrating his determination to act on a central theme of Labor’s campaign – to address ‘conflict fatigue’. The Prime Minister has committed to ‘seek common purpose’ and to look for ‘solutions, not arguments’, claiming ‘it is a show of strength to collaborate and work with people, not weakness’.
Importantly, despite running a modest campaign advocating ‘safe change’ after its 2019 election defeat, Labor was not a small target. Its agenda, priorities and governing style have been hiding in plain sight. Albanese made two key speeches during the campaign that highlighted his appreciation of the institutional and structural, as well as the policy challenges his government faces.
The first was at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI). In it, Albanese outlined his economic philosophy and ambition to develop ‘a new playbook’ of reforms to drive productivity and socially inclusive growth in the decades ahead. The second was a speech to the National Press Club where the then Opposition Leader highlighted the urgency of a long list of immediate challenges, but also of grasping the ‘once in a generation’ opportunity that presents for Australia to become a ‘renewable energy superpower’.
Albanese said something that he repeated in his victory speech – that ‘the how is as important as the what’. The what is policy. The how is governance and delivery.
The Prime Minister’s focus on cooperation is an important statement of intent – a signal to the crossbench and the Senate, to States and Territories and others seeking to influence his government. As this suggests, far from being a small target, the incoming government has a reform agenda and clear priorities about how it will be achieved. However, Albanese’s focus on governance capacity indicates concern about whether the government has the institutional wherewithal to realise its goals. It remains to be seen how quickly institutions habituated to the Morrison government’s preference for campaigning over governing can adapt to a more distributed and collaborative style.