Mark Riley: Labor backbenchers getting uncomfortable with how much time PM Albanese spends abroad

Headshot of Mark Riley
Mark Riley
The Nightly
4 Min Read
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has clocked up almost $4m in VIP travel costs. NCA NewsWire / Monique Harmer
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has clocked up almost $4m in VIP travel costs. NCA NewsWire / Monique Harmer Credit: News Corp Australia

Anthony Albanese heads overseas this weekend.

Again.

It will be his 16th international trip in 17 months as Prime Minister.

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It will be swiftly followed by his 17th, 18th and 19th in coming weeks.

That is a lot.

He heads to Washington on Sunday. That will be followed by the Pacific Islands Forum in the Cook Islands in the second week of November, APEC in San Francisco in the third week and a trip to Beijing somewhere in between.

There are good reasons for all these missions.

Toto
The PM's pooch Toto has enjoyed VIP travel since Anthony Albanese took office. (Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS) Credit: AAP

But ensuring that voters know and accept those reasons is vital.

Labor backbenchers tell me even their rusted-on supporters are getting uncomfortable with the amount of time the Prime Minister is spending abroad.

The “Airbus Albo” tag is beginning to stick.

And the timing of this latest US trip is challenging, to say the least.

The world is reeling in horror at the death and destruction being wrought on innocent civilians in Israel and Gaza.

King Abdullah of Jordan is warning: “The whole region is at risk of falling into the abyss”.

If it does, the entire world order as we know it could plummet into that darkness, dragging the global economy with it.

And Anthony Albanese is heading to Washington for a glitzy White House dinner with Joe Biden.

Getting the tone right while he is there will be essential.

Images of the Rose Garden festivities will share time on the evening news with the latest coverage of unimaginable human suffering from the Middle East.

It won’t be a good look for Albanese. It will be even worse for Biden.

Peter Dutton says the Prime Minister should at least travel to the US via Tel Aviv to show Australia’s solidarity with Israel.

Australian prime ministers don’t usually get invited to the White House so early in their terms.

This invitation is a way of Biden to make up for pulling out of the Quad meeting Albanese was scheduled to host in Sydney in May.

That trip was cancelled so Biden could stay in Washington to nut out a debt ceiling deal with Congress.

The only thing Albanese has cancelled now is the House of Representatives.

His Government has unceremoniously scrapped next week’s four days of sitting while he is away.

This is the same Anthony Albanese who railed against the Morrison government for cancelling sittings during COVID.

Scott Morrison did that on health advice.

Albanese criticised him, claiming there were serious issues the Parliament needed to debate.

QUESTION TIME
Katy Gallagher launched Labor’s first action plan to tackle violence against women in August, which included a reduction target of 25 per cent for female victims of intimate partner homicide. Martin Ollman/NCA NewsWire. Credit: News Corp Australia

Finance Minister Katy Gallagher went further at the time, noting pointedly that governments liked “less transparency, less accountability”.

Albanese came to power promising to improve both those essential elements of our democracy.

In the main, he has.

But unilaterally shutting down the House next week is a glaring departure from that.

And the official reason his Government has given the Australian people for doing it?

Absolutely none.

Imagine if Morrison had shut down Parliament to fly to Washington to clink champagne glasses with Donald Trump. Albanese would have smashed him for arrogance, self-indulgence and avoiding scrutiny.

They are allegations Albanese must now answer himself.

He can’t argue that there aren’t similarly serious issues for the Parliament to debate now.

The world is teetering on the edge of an apocalyptic war in the Middle East. Australia faces the biggest challenge to its proud multicultural cohesion in decades, with more pro-Palestinian rallies planned around the nation this weekend.

The cost-of-living crisis is biting deeply, with the risk of yet another interest rate rise next month.

On top of that, Albanese’s Government still hasn’t detailed its Plan B to advance reconciliation after his Voice referendum was comprehensively rejected last weekend.

In short, he has a lot on his plate.

We’re told this US trip is overwhelmingly ceremonial. No major announcements have been foreshadowed.

Albanese will get his Oval Office moment and he’ll open the new Washington embassy with our ambassador, and his old boss, Kevin Rudd.

I’m also told there is a plan for Albanese to address a joint sitting of Congress, just as another former boss, Julia Gillard, did in 2011.

But that is up in the air. The US House is yet to elect a speaker to replace Kevin McCarthy. It’s constitutionally unclear whether an interim speaker can invite an outsider to address US legislators.

And as Australians watch images of all this on the nightly news next week, many will be wondering what the Prime Minister is doing over there on his 16th international trip while there is so much going on over here.

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