FRONT DORE: Anthony Albanese has let inexperienced ministers like Clare O’Neil and Andrew Giles run riot

Headshot of Christopher Dore
Christopher Dore
The Nightly
8 Min Read
THE FRONT DORE: We are in Anthony Albanese’s chaos era. And his inexperienced ministers are not helping.
THE FRONT DORE: We are in Anthony Albanese’s chaos era. And his inexperienced ministers are not helping. Credit: The Nightly

We are squarely in Anthony Albanese’s chaos era.

A ragged rolling rumpus. This is a messy government, bouncing off the walls. Underperforming, undergraduate ministerial understudies are up the front and out of control. Albanese has let inexperienced and inept ministers run riot, flailing on politics and frolicking on policy.

It has become so bizarre in Canberra that some ministers and their bureaucratic bulldozers are even forcing industry stakeholders to sign extreme secrecy provisions, and non-disclosure agreements, to keep policies under wraps and out of the public eye.

Sign up to The Nightly's newsletters.

Get the first look at the digital newspaper, curated daily stories and breaking headlines delivered to your inbox.

Email Us
By continuing you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

It’s going so haywire across several portfolios that Albanese must intervene, and also must now lean more heavily on Jim Chalmers to restore order, and return the focus to voter priorities — the economy and the cost of living.

Chalmers has remained calm and calming, an antidote to the calamity. He has toned it down in Parliament. The insults are measured.

He’s even being polite to crossbenchers, which is interesting. Dylan should be running through his head as he dusts off A Treatise on Money to deliver a Keynesian-lite May Budget: Stimulate, resuscitate, evaluate, don’t inflate, must deflate, all love, no hate.

A MATTER OF JUDGMENT

In the two years since soft-shoeing his way into the Lodge, Albanese has been exposed and found wanting on the single most important requirement of leadership: judgment.

This is often the result of the absence of another prerequisite of leadership: attention to detail.

Albanese doesn’t have the latter, so he keeps failing on the former.

The best example, not including the Voice, of that poor judgement marries with his weakness on detail. He has been caught not paying enough attention to what his ministers are up to, which in short can be described simply as: no good.

He has given too many of them too much rope, and they’ve obliged by tying the perfect running knots, ready to lynch themselves, and the Government.

MINISTERS GONE WILD

“He has let his ministers run their own show,” says an Albanese insider, “in doing so he leaves problems to fester”.

“He came to office, saying: ‘I’m going to be like Bob Hawke, I’m going to let ministers run their own portfolios’.

“He didn’t want (prime ministerial) staffers to stand over ministers. He thinks process is important. Sure it is, but it also means you have ministers running off in all sorts of directions.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Australian Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Australian Employment Minister Tony Burke speak during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, November 15, 2023. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING
Anthony Albanese wanted to let his ministers be ministers. But that tactic has failed. Credit: LUKAS COCH/AAPIMAGE

“Under previous regimes, someone would f..k up and the PM would come straight out and rebuke them in some way, or fix it.

“That’s not his inclination … unless it gets real bad.”

And it’s gotten real bad.

With the exception of a brief period of self-reflection after the Voice, the Prime Minister has, until now, coasted; comfortable, calm and confident. The picture of complacency.

TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGIN’

Not anymore.

Albanese has finally smashed the glass, and hit the panic button.

Several ministers are now having a rethink about their exploits.

No more so than the Minister for Lost Causes, Chris Bowen. He has found the reverse on his hybrid self-drive and backed over the top of his SUV tax. After carrying on in colossal style for weeks, blagging and blustering, Bowen has raised the white flag and executed a humiliating, but sensible, retreat. He should keep retreating, Homer Simpson-style into a witness protection program.

Clare O’Neil should follow. Her flag is red. Her crime: political ineptitude while exhibiting insane levels of self-confidence.

The Home Affairs Minister. Home Affairs. The security one. In charge of borders, spies and national secrets. O’Neil unveils, in a rush, an extreme never-seen-before measure to keep law-abiding foreigners, visitors and migrants alike, from entering Australia because she can’t find a way to kick criminals out. Bold. Innovative. Can we hear more … minister, minister, minister. Running away from media not once, but twice. In one day. That’s how to instil confidence.

Her sidekick Andrew Giles is so out of his depth and drowning, that the Opposition should be sending him a life raft, not holding his head underwater. Insisting Klutz be sacked is a bad strategy. They need him.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek, who should know better but has been blinded by rage at Albanese for treating her so poorly, facing an industry backlash has also suddenly hit the brakes on her secretish, mostly unnecessary, little scheme to re-invent green laws.

DID SOMEONE SAY KFC … ?

As the Coalition will attest when transparency is transposed with trickery, the cover-up will eventually catch up and you’ll get caught out. Temerity has a way of turning into treachery. It ruined the Morrison government, and it’s taking its toll on Albanese’s administration.

Albanese is a savvy bloke, and a pragmatist. The Prime Minister knows he is now likely moving into his final 12 months in a majority government. You think this is crazy and chaotic … wait until he enters into a governing embrace with the teals and the Greens next time around.

Rightly worried, he is now embarking on a major emergency phase of his prime ministership. Desperately taking out the trash, removing the garbage left by ministers before it starts stinking up the joint. For the first time, Albanese is gripped by a sense of urgency. He’s in a rush. Not to do stuff. To fix things. And not do stuff.

“My Government is orderly, my Government rolls out policies in an orderly way consistent with what our program was that we were elected to implement in 2022,” Albanese said today in the Hunter Valley. Cue the laughing man emoji.

Fearful of that program upsetting too many people, Albanese has in fact now shelved promised religious discrimination laws, and issued go-slow orders on essential aged care and NDIS reforms, and disappeared Indigenous policy altogether … did someone say KFC?

The exception of course is industrial relations. Unions gonna union, and Tony Burke is nothing if not a lover of happy unions.

Albanese can read an opinion poll. While he insists: “We haven’t lost a Newspoll yet”, Albanese doesn’t need a degree in psephology or Malcolm Mackerras to convince him something has to change.

Nothing like bad polling and a gently spiralling trend line to wake up a wistful, wasteful Prime Minister.

A TEAM OF TEAMS

As a politician Albanese is complex. He is stubborn, insular and insecure, the latter a feature of his character so often hidden beneath a veneer of confidence, hubris even.

That exasperated expression, characteristic of Albanese and so many of his mendacious ministers: we know better than you. Think Bowen. Think O’Neil. Think Wong. It’s a disease, symptomatic of a Government more concerned with the theatrics of Parliament and politics than with proper policy.

Minister for Immigration Andrew Giles and Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil during a division in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING
Andrew Giles and Clare O’Neil should be having a rethink about their latest exploits. Credit: MICK TSIKAS/AAPIMAGE

Despite a poor to average Opposition, Albanese has a front bench populated by too many amateurs too often burdened by mediocrity.

He is too stubborn to replace them. He is too insecure to reverse his churlish demotion of rivals into minor ministries, ignoring their obvious experience, expertise and competence.

SONG REMAINS THE SAME

Up until now, Albanese thought he was penning a classic record. He’s struggling to produce a one-hit wonder.

It has taken too long for the PM to realise he’s been murdering the melodies out the front of a band that can’t play their instruments and whose members struggle to hit the high notes.

Rather than taking control of the turntables, DJ Albo has been mimicking Happy Mondays’ playful but pointless percussionist Bez, off his head on pingas, shaking maracas, and making a mess of himself. Meanwhile his minnow ministers strike out into freestyle jazz runs to an audience who paid to hear pub rock.

He’s got lip-synching Milli Vanilli back up singers, when he thought he had Hall and Oates knocking out timeless bangers. The audience voted for the hits, and Albanese has been giving them fillers.

The vinyl-loving PM needs to switch over to Spotify, and hit the shuffle button.

GET INTO THE HOLE

Albanese thinks his front bench is doing great. He laughs at all of Jason Clare’s jokes and laps up the vibe of it all in question time. The Dixers. The Slogans. The theatre. Albanese thinks time stops in his happy place. The procedures and the points of order, the rules, the regulations. The pifters and the zingers.

In Parliament, Albanese has everyone’s number, this is his playground, Peter Dutton his plaything. Oh the games, the gotchas, the guffaws. The standing orders are this and the member over there will leave the chamber for that.

Albanese loves it. They all love it.

The rest of the country thinks they’re idiots.

HAVE A GUESS WHERE I AM

It is hard not to like Albanese.

Privately, Albo is great fun. He’s engaging, raw, sincere, real. He’s unguarded and genuine. He drops F-bombs. He doesn’t shy from colourful character assessments and doesn’t mind bringing on a stink. He actually does have a big heart and believes in a bunch of stuff not just how to keep his arse in the back seat of C1, as Malcolm Turnbull would say. He’s decent. Humble-ish.

So that’s IRL. But like so many politicians, prime ministers and premiers, what colleagues see behind closed doors, the charm, the wit, the sincerity and the character, fades to grey in public.

Why does sharp and snappy Albo transform into a humourless somewhat hapless Uncle Arthur in front of cameras? The jovial dopey bastard, who has no clue what’s going on. It’s either the jolly guy or the jerk, that other uncle who has seen too much and doesn’t like any of it, particularly the youngsters asking him stupid f...ing questions.

Very few of our leaders manage to reveal themselves, and revel in their true character, back themselves in. The authenticity shortage in politics is real. For the voters who care, insofar as they ever really do, they don’t understand it. “What’s Tony Abbott really like? … Yeah I thought so.” “Is Morrison a good bloke? ... Really!“

Australian Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese speaks to the media during the opening of Woolworths’ new distribution centre in Heathwood, Brisbane, Monday, April 4, 2022. (AAP Image/Jason O'Brien) NO ARCHIVING
Albo thought he would be in the Lodge for a while. He’s got a fight ahead of him to make that a reality. Credit: JASON O'BRIEN/AAPIMAGE

The thing is, Albanese loves being Prime Minister. Loves it.

He loves living in the Lodge. He loves playing tennis out the back. Even alone with the ball machine he bought himself. He loves the wood fireplace. How good is this? He’s never had one before. He loves The Saints, just like fire would, I burn up, just like firewood.

He loves it. Albanese is proud of himself. I got here. I did this.

Like all before him, when Albanese walked into the Lodge for the first time as Prime Minister, he expected this would be a long lease. He’d be hanging around for a while.

Marrickville is great. But he isn’t ready to head back home.

Not yet.

Comments

Latest Edition

The front page of The Nightly for 21-05-2024

Latest Edition

Edition Edition 21 May 202421 May 2024

The PM, the terrorist and the A-list barrister demanding war crimes charges.