But down-shifting gears can also involve some crunching. Albanese has promised to change the tone of politics for a “conflict-weary” electorate.
The resolution of the fate of the Nadesalingam family, who on Friday were able to return to their adopted home of Biloela, Queensland, was a glimpse of how Australia might look without the sort of punitive policymaking that kept the family locked up for 1500 days.
Albanese’s meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo in the gardens of Bogor was also refreshing – after so many years of male politicians mounting large vehicles and operating heavy machinery for the cameras, a companionable ride on bamboo bicycles was pleasantly chill.
But back home, the diabolical problem of the energy crisis awaited. Energy Security Board chief Anna Collyer said the challenge of switching the power grid from coal to clean energy was “mind-boggling” in its difficulty.
On Wednesday, federal Energy Minister Chris Bowen convened a meeting of his state and territory counterparts to forge a solution. He called the meeting “very co-operative and constructive” — not adjectives used for a while to describe a multilateral meeting.
The group also agreed to create a national transition plan to phase out fossil fuels. It’s a plan to make a plan, but even so, it would have been impossible for the Morrison government to make such a resolution, paralysed as it was with internal division on fossil-fuel policy.
The problem with the tender shoots of co-operation we are witnessing is that Opposition Leader Peter Dutton is not on board. He has already made it clear he “won’t support any policy that makes it unaffordable to turn the lights on for families and businesses”. A strange statement given it is the policies (or lack thereof) of nine years of Coalition government that have led to the current affordability crisis.
“If electricity prices rise by 100 per cent, then climate change won’t be as big a priority as it is now,” Dutton told my colleague, Peter Hartcher, last week.
Dutton’s newly pledged focus is on Australia’s “forgotten people”, the aspirational folk of the suburbs. He says they care more about whether electric cars are affordable than whether they’re good for the planet. But the two things are not in conflict over the medium and long term.
Clean energy, when it is established, is cheap and constantly replenishing.
Dutton knows that Labor will get a free pass for a while, that it will be able to rely on blaming its predecessor for a period. But it is in his interests to make sure that period is as short as possible.
Albanese is no lamb, but is he a natural-born brawler? For someone who grew up in the feral kindergarten of NSW Labor, it’s remarkable how little political baggage he carries with him into the prime ministership.
Albanese famously held together the fraying threads of Julia Gillard’s minority government (until they snapped entirely). As leader of the house for Gillard’s government, he had a cordial, businesslike relationship with her office, even though it was known by all sides that he was on Team Rudd during the noxious leadership wars of that period.
When the party disintegrated under the pressure of the Rudd-Gillard rivalry, Albanese famously gave a public speech in which he said he liked fighting Tories.
“That’s what I do. That’s what I do,” he said.
That line is sometimes used against him, with the context stripped.
He was close to tears as he spoke because his heart was breaking over the internecine warfare within the Labor Party at the time. He didn’t want to fight his own people. He wanted to fight his political opponents.
The good news is Dutton will give him plenty of opportunity for that.