Shortcuts / 21 July 2022

The new Federal Government and Opposition

It’s been 2 months since Anthony Albanese and his Labor team beat the Coalition led by Scott Morrison and Barnaby Joyce to reclaim government at the federal level. With Parliament set to resume on 26 July, we set the scene and take a look at the who’s who on the front line, and the government’s priorities that will shape the federal political scene in the weeks and months to come.

Gee, those 2 months went fast…
You can say that again.

Let’s start with the winners, shall we?
Let’s do it. That’s Labor and its leader Anthony Albanese – although, of course, it wasn’t just about the major parties, with some remarkable results from the independents and Greens as well.

Gimme the lowdown on Albo…
He was raised by his single mother, Maryanne. When he was young, his mother told him that he had died in a car accident. But that wasn’t the case and he ultimately met his dad, who died in 2014. Albanese then went on to Sydney University where he studied economics – and there’s been a bit of buzz about his DJing…

What about his love life?
He was married to former Labor heavyweight Carmel Tebbutt, who was the NSW Deputy Premier from 2008 to 2011. They have a son together, Nathan, but they divorced in 2019 after being together for more than 30 years. He’s now with Jodie Heydon, a fellow Sydney Rabbitohs supporter who works in the superannuation industry.

What are his political leanings?
Albanese is a member of the Left faction of the Labor Party. So just explain that a bit – Labor has formalised factions in a way that the Liberal Party does not. The Left generally backs socially progressive and economically interventionist policies, whereas the Right are more aligned to economic policies that aren’t dissimilar to the Libs and they can be more socially conservative.

Do those factions impact Labor’s electoral success?
Funny you should ask because Albanese was the first from the Left to have taken Labor from opposition into government, and just the 2nd Labor leader since 1967 to have come from the Left faction – Julia Gillard was the other.

So it was pretty groundbreaking… Who are the other key people in Albanese’s ministry?
Helping balance out the Left with the Right at the top of Labor is Richard Marles – he’s the deputy Labor leader which makes him our Deputy PM. He’s also the Minister for Defence and he’s from Victoria. The Treasurer is also from the Right – that’s Jim Chalmers from Queensland.

Chalmers sure has his work cut out for him…
He sure does… He’s busy working on a new Budget that will be announced in October. As for some other senior people, Penny Wong is the Foreign Minister – we’ve already seen a fair bit of her, particularly in the Pacific Islands. She’s also the leader of the Senate. And the leader of the House is Tony Burke – he’s also the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations.

What do the leader of the House and Senate positions involve?
Managing the government’s priorities takes some wrangling both strategically and tactically, both on and off the floor of the chambers of Parliament. So the government and the Opposition appoint people to do that – they work out the agenda, the hours that the chambers will sit – and when it that doesn’t work and they want to fight it out, they’re the people who know the procedures to try to get a win for their side.

Just like in Question Time… What does the Coalition look like post-election?
It looks very different to the one that finished up before the federal election. Scott Morrison – our former prime minister – he’s decided to stay on as a local MP and is now a backbencher. The leader of the Coalition is now Queenslander Peter Dutton.

Tell me about him…
He’s been an MP since 2001 in the federal seat of Dickson, which takes in the northern suburbs of Brisbane. He was 30yo when beat Cheryl Kernot in that seat – she was the leader of the Democrats who joined Labor and was a big name in federal politics for many years. Dutton has remained on the Libs frontbench since 2004, starting during the Howard Government.

And wasn’t he a former police officer?
Yep – he did that for nearly a decade after leaving school. During that time he worked in the drugs and the sex offenders squad in Brisbane and with the National Crime Authority. He left the force after a car crash during a covert surveillance operation. He then finished his business degree and went into business with his father building childcare centres. Not long after that, he was elected to parliament.

Let’s not forget his personal life…
So Dutton first married when he was 22yo – that lasted a few months. His eldest child is a daughter Rebecca – she was from a brief relationship, and she’s now 20yo. He married Kirilly in 2003 and they have 2 teenage sons, Harry and Tom.

What are his political views?
He’s known as a conservative, but he’s not religious, unlike the Coalition’s 2 previous conservative-aligned leaders, Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott. But Dutton does back many of the same policy positions on things like offshore processing for asylum seekers who come to Australia by boat, pushing back on China, more defence spending, and keeping Australia a constitutional monarchy.

What about the others at the top of his team?
The first to mention is Nationals leader David Littleproud, who beat Barnaby Joyce in a vote in the Nationals party room after the election. Littleproud is from Queensland and has risen quickly through the ranks after entering Parliament in 2016. The Liberals’ deputy is Sussan Ley, who holds the regional NSW seat of Farrer. The Coalition’s Treasury spokesman is Angus Taylor – he’s a farmer and a former business consultant for McKinsey. He was the Minister for Energy in the Morrison Government.

Who am I looking out for in those leadership roles in the chambers?
In the House it’s Paul Fletcher – the former Communications Minister – and in the Senate it’s Simon Birmingham, the former Finance Minister.

And while we’re on the new parliament, just remind me of the numbers…
Starting in the House of Reps where the government is formed – there are 151 seats and you need 76 to claim a majority. Labor finished up with 77 seats, the Coalition has 58 members and there are 10 crossbenchers, including 4 Greens.

What about in the Senate?
A bit more politicking will be required for Labor to get its agenda through there… Neither of the major parties has a majority in the 76-seat Senate. The Labor Government has 26 seats, and the Coalition has 6 more than that with 32. There are 17 representatives from the minor parties, including 12 Greens, and one independent – that’s former Wallaby David Pocock from the ACT.

What are some of the big issues that will be on pollies minds this term?
There are a few, but the biggest is the management of the economy given both interest rates and inflation are on the rise. Treasurer Jim Chalmers has said repeatedly since the election that both are going to continue to go up for a while yet.

So tricky economic times ahead…
That’s for sure, and we’re not the only country in the world facing the same scenario. COVID restrictions smashed global supply chains and when those restrictions were lifted there was some gearing up to do and that’s seen demand spike, which causes pressures in the system and price rises because there’s unmet demand.

There’s also the war in Ukraine…
Yep – the conflict over there has upped the economic pressure because of the sanctions put on Russian gas and oil supplies and export shutdowns in Ukraine. That saw the energy costs and the cost of food and other goods surge across the globe. Add to that a shortage of workers when businesses are looking to ramp up after our borders opened after 2 years, and it’s an economic dumpster fire.

Has the Albanese Government said anything about how it might start to tackle that?
We’ll get an update from Chalmers about the state of the books soon and then we’ll a whole new Budget in October. He’s already flagged that savings will need to be found, so we’ll get a sense then of the new government’s real priorities.

Any other big issues we’ll be talking about?
Another is the environment and climate change. One of the first steps the Albanese Government took was to notify the United Nations of Australia’s new short-term emissions reduction target. That’s to lower it by 43% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade, which has caused some friction with the Greens.

Because they want a more ambitious target?
That’s right – the Greens want a 75% reduction and a commitment to phase out coal and gas. That’s an issue because Albanese’s Government wants to legislate for their target even though they don’t have to, and it could get awkward if the Greens vote with the Coalition – who want a lower target – to oppose Labor’s target.

And speaking of domestic squabbles, what about international ones?
The Albanese Government has spent its first 2 months busy reframing our relationships with other countries. The PM flew to Japan for the Quad leaders’ summit just 2 days after his election victory in May and he’s since been to Indonesia, the NATO leaders summit in Spain, France, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, and Fiji for the Pacific Islands Forum.

That’s a lot of airtime…
It is, and some in the Coalition criticise him for being overseas during the latest round of flooding in NSW, comparing it to the criticism Scott Morrison faced over his Hawaiian holiday during the Black Summer bushfires. But many said that was unfair because Albanese was working, and Coalition leader Peter Dutton also said he didn’t have a problem with it either.

Ah, politics…
Yep – get strapped in, because it’s going to be an issues-rich term of government.

Squiz recommends:

2022 federal election promise tracker

What the start of a new parliamentary term involves – APH website

Squiz Shortcuts - A weekly explainer on a big news topic.

Get the Squiz Today newsletter

It's a quick read and doesn't take itself too seriously. Get on it.