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Anthony Albanese and the art of political arithmetic

Jane Goodall writes in Inside Story (9.9.16) about the release of the biography of federal Labor MP, Anthony Albanese. The article’s author contends that “the story of a shrewd strategist tells us important things about the state of Australian politics”.

‘“A fascinating mixture of two stories,” was how Bob Hawke described this new biography of Anthony Albanese when it was launched at Parliament House last week. Hawke was referring to Karen Middleton’s skilful interweaving of Albanese’s personal history with a dramatic account of his life in politics. The personal story, culminating in an account of how he recently became united with the father he had never known, has a strong emotional dimension that will engage many readers. And the political side of the narrative was to take a sudden turn that very afternoon, only a few hours after the launch.

‘… Like most mass-market political biographies, Albanese: Telling It Straight is something of a promotional exercise. Middleton doesn’t avoid critical points, but nor does she pursue them; the more cynical eye of the seasoned political commentator is missing from her account. Its strengths are in the portrayal of intersecting political and social worlds, and here it invites a revitalised debate about how the terms of the relationship between those worlds have changed over the past two generations.

‘“Class warfare,” according to Treasurer Scott Morrison, is an outmoded model of opposition. The Australian people are over it, he asserted in a speech following last May’s budget. And yet the gap between the rich and the poor yawns wider than ever, and in an era in which wealth distribution is determined by international markets rather than by national hierarchies, government policies have more than ever to do with it.

‘The dispossessed, no longer a cohesive social class, are scattered across all demographics. Among them are professionals who have been laid off with little or no chance of re-employment, people rendered homeless after a marriage break-up, graduates burdened with debt but unable to find work above the minimum wage, and retired people with inadequate superannuation. And then there are the mentally ill, the disabled, the carers, those ruined as a result of bad financial advice, and those desperately in quest of citizenship. It’s a battle not about class, but about social justice, and Albanese is one of those who have always seen it that way.’

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