Friday, November 27, 2020
Politics

The Australian is out to get its former mate Anthony Albanese

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Unnamed sources have been briefing the Oz against the paper’s former mate Anthony Albanese.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

The faceless men and women are back. During a week when several senior Liberal MPs have covered themselves in odour, it is, apparently, Labor leader Anthony Albanese whose job is at risk.

At least, it is according to unnamed party figures quoted in News Corp’s national broadsheet, The Australian.

The narrative of Albanese in freefall kicked off in the aftermath of Joe Biden’s victory, and gained serious momentum last Tuesday, when member for coal and right factional leader Joel Fitzgibbon quit the front bench.

Then, overnight, Albanese’s deputy chief of staff Sabina Husic resigned, after an online dossier attacking her character did the rounds, indicating that something indeed is amiss in the leader’s office.

And these flashpoints have been accompanied by the all-familiar rumblings about leadership instability. Anonymous sources are forward-sizzling snippets of Albanese’s political obituary to gleeful News Corp scribes.

Nameless Labor figures continue to express their disappointment with the state of things in The Australian. And slowly, the outline of a target has begun to emerge on the opposition leader’s back. 

Biden victory and Fitz fallout

Biden’s election win, a rare recent success for a progressive in the West, gave Labor a bit of a jolt. After congratulating the president-elect, Albanese appeared to urge Scott Morrison to get on the blower and push Donald Trump to concede. 

The Australian wrote that Albanese “was privately ridiculed in Labor ranks” for the suggestion. It was, according to political editor Denis “the curve” Shanahan, “just nuts”.

The fallout from the US election, which marks the end of an administration firmly wedded to climate denialism, helped spur on Albanese’s next big headache: Joel Fitzgibbon. Ever since Labor’s shock loss last May, when Fitzgibbon’s formerly safe seat of Hunter turned marginal, the now-backbencher has been freelancing on climate policy, arguing the party’s ambitious emissions targets were the key reason for that defeat.

Fitzgibbon the hero

After months of bitching to the media, Fitzgibbon quit after a caucus shouting match brought on by left MPs using Biden’s success to talk about climate change. Fitzgibbon’s departure sent the hot takes about Albanese’s demise into overdrive, and gave the Oz a new hero. 

Within hours, the paper was arguing that the blowup “set the scene for a leadership challenge”, with Fitzgibbon the most likely alternative. Labor right figures (and lord knows who!) told national affairs editor Simon Benson the situation may be “terminal”. Fitzgibbon, Benson argued, had “broad appeal”, and could pose a threat to the Morrison government.

Over on Murdoch’s Sky News, Andrew Clennell said Fitzgibbon was “stoking the fires of leadership speculation”, and in an interview, discussed the “angst” brewing within caucus. Even Albanese’s decision to replace Fitzgibbon with Ed Husic on the front bench was a disaster, Benson claimed, as the western Sydney MP’s support for a live exports ban would surely be a disaster in the bush. 

By the start of this week, the Oz’s Troy Bramston had declared Albanese’s leadership on death watch, because, apparently, most MPs were certain he would be dumped before the election or lead them to another defeat. 

The Husic affair

Late on Monday, an anonymous dossier, alleging a culture of bullying in the leader’s office began circulating among journalists andstaffers. The Nine newspapers were first to jump on that, reporting yesterday about the dossier’s existence, and later adding Albanese’s insistence it was fake.

By this morning, Sabina Husic had resigned, calling out the “malicious, false, fake and defamatory” attacks made against her in the dossier. Husic, a well-regarded staffer, is the sister of Ed Husic, who took over the resources portfolio after Fitzgibbon quit.

The Daily Telegraph today reports Albanese’s claim that the allegations made about his office were false. Also today, the Oz has used Sabina Husic’s resignation to talk about division in Albanese’s office and how they were “now dividing and distracting every tier of the federal opposition”.

Should Albo care about all this? Just ask Kevin and Malcolm.

Peter Fray

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