Sarah Gall is a political data scientist and membership secretary for the UK’s Conservative Friends of Australia. She previously headed up political and policy research for the Prime Minister of Australia.
The end of August marked 100 days since the Australian Labor Party (ALP) ended nearly a decade of centre-right government. For Anthony Albanese, the new Prime Minister, this honeymoon period has seen his popularity soar to a high of 55 per cent as preferred Prime Minister, dwarfing the leader of the opposition, Peter Dutton, on a meagre 17 per cent. This has boosted Labor’s two-party preferred vote by nearly ten points since the election, to 61 per cent.
While it is a common phenomenon for a leader to increase their popularity during the honeymoon phase, it is not surprising Australian voters are feeling positive towards the incoming government. After the perpetual meddling of the former, supposedly conservative, government during the Covid years, the relative absence of this government from their lives must feel like a breath of fresh air.
Taking off the media’s rose-tinted glasses however, Albanese’s first 100 days mimicked his vague and uninspiring election campaign promises. Rather than confronting the cost-of-living crisis, he has instead spent his time pandering to Labor thugs, inner-city latte-sippers, and lefty do-gooders. This focus on the superficial is not without risk; it will be the ALP base that will feel the pain of price rises more keenly than those on the right.
Ten days after the election, the electoral commission declared that Labor had won a majority. From there, the PM vowed to set a new tone in parliament; one that is kinder, more respectful and inclusive. This is something that he demonstrated by immediately calling out Tanya Plibersek, one of his own frontbenchers, who compared the opposition leader’s appearance to Voldermort.
Albanese’s reprimand of Plibersek’s faux pas was utterly undermined by his refusal to have bullying allegations independently investigated in relation to reports of a ‘Mean Girls’ culture within the ALP which came to light during the campaign. To not address these latter concerns, given their gravity, is tantamount to a dereliction of duty.
At the start of June, the new Cabinet was sworn in and instead of convening parliament within that month, as Albanese had pledged during the campaign, he travelled to Indonesia for his first bilateral visit. This visit marked the seemingly routine “reset” in relations; a relationship which was recently frayed by concerns from Indonesia over the AUKUS trilateral nuclear-submarine and security agreement between Australia, the US, and the UK.
His foreign missteps began here when he refused to answer journalists’ questions on Australia’s interest rate rise, stating rather arrogantly that he “won’t be commenting on domestic issues while overseas”.
In the age of the internet, there is no reasonable excuse as to why a leader is unable to answer questions on domestic issues of the day, particularly ones that will, on average, cost homeowners an additional £1100 per year. One could only assume that the PM wants to avoid a repeat of his election-campaign gaffes where he was unable to recall key economic figures, such as the unemployment rate.
In July, Prime Minister Albanese flew to Europe to visit Ukraine and attend the NATO summit in Spain. He then consoled the French with the most expensive dummy ever, giving half a billion pounds of Australian taxpayers money to the French following the cancellation of the over time and over budget submarine deal.
While in France, the PM’s travelling staff were described as arrogant, aloof, and out of their depth, with his head of press telling journalists, “I don’t have any more updates for you. And now, I’m going shoe shopping”.
This sort of uncooperativeness from his office towards the travelling media who were trying to do their jobs demonstrates a startling level of inexperience from the SpAds that have been hired. There is no better illustration of this than the advice provided to the government that resulted in the staffing allocations given to the crossbench being cut from four advisers to one.
Given that the government does not have a majority in the upper house and needs the support of the Greens and at least one other crossbench senator to pass legislation, the reduction of staff immediately put these MPs and senators offside with one stating that Albanese’s decision was “dismissive” and “arrogant” and others stating their future default position will be to oppose all government legislation.
It is therefore of no surprise that all Albanese attempted within his first 100 days – albeit in the just two sitting weeks that were scheduled during this period – was restricted to what he could get passed the freshly alienated climate-obsessed crossbench, such as enshrining in law a 43 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050.
The government has deemed the removal of cashless welfare cards, which prevents up to 80 per cent of welfare payments being spent on alcohol and gambling, and the removal of the construction industry’s watchdog, as more significant national issues, demanding their immediate attention than any of the myriad of issues they could be addressing.
Potentially the most pressing of which is the rising cost-of-living crisis. Already the government has refused to answer how it plans to achieve its election commitment to reduce power bills by AU$275 per year for households by 2025. Instead, power bills have increased substantially and Albanese has repeatedly obfuscated when questioned in the House.
With rising inflation, interest rates, and a cost-of-living crisis, Australians are in for a tough three years if Labor’s first 100 days are anything to go by. It is hard to see how any new government could perpetuate its honeymoon much longer, let alone one so beset by incompetence and bereft of imagination. As divorce can follow the honeymoon in marriage, so too can it in politics.