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Incoming Australian PM says he wants to unite country

/ 10:40 PM May 21, 2022
Australian Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese. STORY: Incoming Australian PM says he wants to unite country

Australian Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese during the second leaders’ debate of the 2022 federal election campaign at the Nine studio in Sydney, Australia May 8, 2022. (File photo ALEX ELLINGHAUSEN / Pool via Reuters)

SYDNEY — Anthony Albanese, who is set to be Australia’s next prime minister, is a pragmatic leader from a working-class background who has pledged to end divisions in the country.

“I want to unite the country,” the Labor Party leader said after conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison conceded defeat following an election on Saturday.

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“I think people want to come together, look for our common interest, look towards that sense of common purpose. I think people have had enough of division, what they want is to come together as a nation and I intend to lead that.”

Labor’s election campaign spotlighted Albanese’s working-class credentials and his image as a pragmatic unifier.

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Albanese, 59, entered parliament in 1996 – just as Labor entered the first of two decade-long patches in opposition. The party’s time back in power, from 2007 to 2013, was marred by leadership squabbles in which he openly criticized both sides.

Those years forged his reputation as a collaborator willing to work outside ideological lines, as Leader of the House where he managed government business in the parliament.

After losses in the 2010 election, Labor was saddled with the country’s first minority government in 70 years, requiring it to win support from conservatives or independents to pass laws.

But by one measure cited by political commentators – the number of laws passed compared to the number of days in office – it turned out to be Australia’s most productive parliament.

“There was an attempt to create chaos, but what Anthony did (as Leader of the House) was to ensure that the work of government proceeded,” said Craig Emerson, who was trade minister in that government.

At 12, Albanese helped organize a rent strike that kept his mother’s public housing property from being sold off to developers. Those who know Albanese say he is genuinely motivated by the mix of pragmatism and concern for social justice he gained during his childhood struggles.

“It gave me a determination, each and every day, to help the people like I was, growing up, to have a better life,” Albanese told the National Press Club in January, recalling how he at times depended on neighbors for food when his mother, who relied on a disability pension, was unable to provide for him.

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Albanese was the first in his family to attend university, where he studied economics and became involved in student politics.

At 22, he was elected president of Young Labor, the party’s youth wing, and worked as a research officer under the economic reformist government of Bob Hawke, Labor’s longest-serving prime minister.

“Anthony has … a capacity to look beyond the party political alignment,” said Robert Tickner, a former Labor member who took the teenage Albanese’s call about his mother’s stove.

“(He) believes in this idea that there are people of good will in the community,” Tickner said in a phone interview. “He’s not someone who’s a sectarian.”

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