Labor left MP Anthony Albanese has used a major speech to position himself as alternative Labor leader and in the process of doing so, made a point of criticising Bill Shorten from the right.

The speech came in the context of Shorten’s effort to tap into community anger at Turnbull’s proposed tax cuts for big business and the rich, which has led the Murdoch media to accuse Shorten of “waging class warfare”. In this context Albanese’s claim that, “our job is not to sow discord, it is to bring people together in the service of the national interest” distanced him from Shorten’s approach.

To draw a contrast to Shorten’s populist pitch, Albanese held up the reformist approach of the Hawke and Keating governments, which, he claims showed that, “Successful Labor Governments collaborate with unions, the business sector and civil society to achieve positive outcomes in the national interest”. But Hawke and Keating were responsible for restricting the right to strike, holding down wages, jacking up university fees and privatising government services as part of massive neo-liberal economic “reform”. These economic reforms, sold as being in the national interest, ended up benefiting capitalists at the sole expense of the working class.

Albanese stood as the Labor Left’s candidate against the Right’s Bill Shorten in the leadership contest to lead the Labor Party in 2014. His speech indicates how small the ideological differences are between him and Shorten. Other leading left MPs like Tanya Plibersek, Mark Butler, Penny Wong and Jenny Macklin have also shown themselves to be prepared to jettison a principled stand in the interests of taking up positions on Labor’s front bench. As back benchers, Albanese and Plibersek were willing to speak at refugee rallies but have since made a determined effort to defend the Labor leadership’s position.

The Turnbull government has to go. A Labor win at the next election would bring some changes over workplace laws, such overturning cuts to penalty rates, and tax increases on the rich, such as taxing family trusts.

But this won’t be enough to deliver the change we need. Over refugees, union rights and many other issues we will need to keep up the fight under a Labor government.

Whoever ends up as Labor leader, it is by generating pressure from below that we can force serious change.

By Steven Kwon

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