THE FRONT DORE: Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is Australia’s equivalent to Joe Biden

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Christopher Dore
The Nightly
Anthony Albanese is the Joe Biden of Australian politics. At his best he’s fire, at his worst he’s a gibberer, writes Christopher Dore.
Anthony Albanese is the Joe Biden of Australian politics. At his best he’s fire, at his worst he’s a gibberer, writes Christopher Dore. Credit: The Nightly

Anthony Albanese is the Joe Biden of Australian politics.

On his terms, Albanese can be fire. Attacking Greens in Parliament, he’s brutal and brilliant. Smashing young journalists, he is assertive and incisive. Scorching Peter Dutton, he’s consistent and concise.

Unscripted, and out of his comfort zone, Albanese is a gibberer. There is no polite way of putting it.

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Our PM is prone to talking nonsense. Under pressure, on topics he doesn’t want to talk about, he can barely string a meaningful sentence together, choosing instead in interviews and press conferences to jumble a bunch of phrases around hoping that anyone with the misfortune of listening might catch a few key words and make sense of it all. He communicates as if he’s reading a word cloud. A bunch of words, some small, others big and bouncy, bopping around in his brain, the largest ones happen to make it to his lips and out of his gob in what is a vaguely logical order.

We have never had a prime minister so incapable of stringing words together with clarity and precision. Albanese is becoming increasingly, maybe deliberately, incomprehensible. His predecessor Scott Morrison, in a rush to get his point across, was prone to a troubling tongue getting in the way, and would sometimes skip over or mispronounce words. But he was otherwise a thoughtful clear-minded and effective communicator.

Malcolm Turnbull’s mind worked in wonderful ways, quick-witted, the former barrister managed to construct quite brilliant sentences, drawing on an enviable vocabulary, and a provocative, blunt, turn of phrase. In order to manage a ferocious temper, Turnbull’s brutal use of the language was unfortunately, at least publicly, dulled as PM.

Sadly for Turnbull, his brilliant brain was not matched by political prowess.

Similarly Kevin Rudd could string a sentence together. Unlike others who would resort to standard tactics to bide time under pressure, Rudd would fill the silence, as he mined his thoughts for the right words to answer questions, with silly catchphrases or absurd bureaucratic nonsense words.

But he could talk. And mostly make sense.

Like many trained lawyers who turn to politics, Julia Gillard was robotic in her delivery, as she read the scripted, rehearsed, words seared into her memory. It was her most unfortunate trait. In private, she was colourful and captivating, in public, except on the rarest of occasions, she was a drone.

In public, Tony Abbott, educated and erudite, spoke like a blunt force instrument, minimising words, and maximising impact.

John Howard, Paul Keating and Bob Hawke were from another era. Each of them unique individuals, possessing a formidable capacity to captivate listeners, to speak with clarity, passion and force; each blessed with a focused mind, and a finesse with language that makes Albanese appear almost illiterate and increasingly illegitimate.

When under pressure, Albanese can’t or won’t give a straight answer. His brain is evidently not ordered in a way that allows him to strike with certainty on stuff he doesn’t want to touch.

He either doesn’t know the answer to too many questions, or can’t unlock them quickly enough from wherever they are buried inside his head. This means he talks too much, and too much of it is mush.

“I’m optimistic, I mean it, and I mean it, not just in a speech, I mean it by how that translates into our Budget that we handed down on the 14th of May and how that shaped that view of the world and seizing those opportunities going forward can be shaped.”

When Albanese is doing an “announceable” he tends to keep it together in the post-speech Q and A, listing off, in rote fashion, the Government’s achievements. He has the routine. He rambles and rambles but it generally makes sense.

It’s when under pressure that he is at his weakest.

“Now the directions that have been spoken about that I doubt whether anyone here has ever looked at a direction of what it looks like anyone got any idea of how many pages it is? All the journalists that will ask me questions about this. Anyone? No it’s not a paragraph, it’s many many pages because of the law and what occurs.”

But over the past week in particular, Albanese has switched to vaudeville. Focused and forensic on two topics — his list of achievements, and why Dutton is a dangerous dickhead.

Albanese reckons prime ministers should be rewarded for their brilliance with four years in the Lodge after each election, not three as we have today. He won’t shut up about it.

“I think three years is too short”, you can get more done, he says, during that extra year with, as Turnbull puts it, your arse plonked in the back of C1.

Curious position for Albanese given he is only two years into his first term, and the old goofball from Grayndler has stopped governing, put the cue in the rack, and started campaigning. Non stop. Full time. Two years in.

As with everything he does, Albanese makes a big deal about going full term — no early election on my watch. “I think governments should serve full terms.”

If that is true, and it’s highly unlikely it will be, then launching into an election campaign with a full 12 months to go is quite a manoeuvre. What better way to endear yourself to the restless mob than to subject them to a year of the ‘Peter Dutton is a monster’ monologue’.

Everything in politics is cynical. As much as we might hope otherwise, every orchestrated move is designed and executed for a political purpose, every frequented phrase finely tuned for maximum effect. Politics is choreography for flabby, flat-footed fellas, and pantomime for reclusive eccentrics.

Right now, Albanese is like Philip Seymour Hoffman in the Ben Stiller comedy Along Came Polly — he’s the former child star Sandy Lyle on the comeback trail in community theatre. He thinks he’s Marlon Brando. The cast of flakes and freaks is in awe.

The audience doesn’t know whether to walk out or laugh.

Voters don’t know whether life under Albanese is an epic dud they should walk away from or if they should hang around to see what happens next. Maybe it will make sense come the final scene.

As it stands, in his mind, Albanese has delivered all the lines, word perfect. He has checked all the policy boxes, come good on all the promises. Budgets, borders, even the failed Voice, he has down as a tick. I promised a referendum. I gave it to you. Tick.

It’s often forgotten that even in 2022, more Australians voted directly for the apparently despised Morrison than they did for Albanese. Almost 500,000 more votes went to the Coalition than to Labor.

And come the next election it will be exactly the same. More people will vote for Dutton than Albanese, by a big margin. The 1.8 million people who vote for the Greens, about 12 per cent of adults, delivered government to Albanese. He hates Greens, “the Trots”. Hates them, more than Tories. He would not be in the Lodge without them.

While Dutton will win more votes, on the electorate map he is coming from a long way behind, but he’s pushing hard into the suburbs, and it’s working. Albanese knows it.

Albanese is driving focus group content and responding to it. The Prime Minister has been obsessed with Dutton for months.

It’s a blood sport.

Every utterance about Dutton. Every character trait or policy position is now crafted into a narrative about this opponent’s personal and political flaws.

“He leads a divided party, he is a divisive leader.

“It’s just an attempt to create fear.

“Peter Dutton’s plan is to rip that all up, start again, go back to the climate wars.

“This is an extraordinary failure of leadership from Peter Dutton. It shows he’s not up for the job of being the alternative prime minister of this country.

“Peter Dutton is scared of the current, but he’s terrified of the future.

“Peter Dutton is isolated in the naughty corner.

“Peter Dutton is worse than Scott Morrison.

“Peter Dutton is the worst health minister in history.

“Peter Dutton Peter Dutton Peter Dutton.”

Mr Prime Minister, can we ask you about union boss John Setka making outrageous threats?

“No. I think that you probably encourage him by asking questions about him.”

We can only hope the election is sooner rather than later. November, five months, rather than May next year. Even that’s a long, long conga line of gibberish and invective.

At least we can actually laugh at Biden.

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