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Australia’s Albanese banks on working class brand to restore Labor to power

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© Reuters. Australian Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese during the second leaders’ debate of the 2022 federal election campaign at the Nine studio in Sydney, Australia May 8, 2022. Alex Ellinghausen/Pool via REUTERS

By Byron Kaye

SYDNEY (Reuters) – When Australian opposition leader Anthony Albanese was only 12 years old, he says, he helped to organise a rent strike that kept his mother’s public housing property from being sold off to developers.

The campaign of his Labor Party, favoured by polls to oust Prime Minister Scott Morrison in this month’s general election, is spotlighting Albanese’s working-class bona fides and his image as a pragmatic unifier, in hopes of sidestepping divisive policy debates that eroded its lead in the last nationwide vote.

But this cautious stance, resting heavily on his humble beginnings and long years of public service, has bumped into unexpected risks on the campaign trail, where the media has fixated on perceived policy gaffes when he lacked details on the unemployment rate and his party’s disability insurance plan.

“I was a bit surprised that he didn’t seem as prepared at the very beginning for the intensity of a campaign,” said John Phillimore, executive director for the John Curtin Institute of Public Policy.

“But there’s campaigning and there’s ‘what’s the ability of the person to be in government?’ As a governing style, he’d probably have a reasonably strong team approach.”

Albanese, 59, entered parliament in 1996 – just as Labor entered the first of two decade-long patches in the opposition. The party’s time back in power, from 2007 to 2013, was marred by leadership squabbles in which he openly criticised both sides.

Those years forged his reputation as a collaborator willing to work outside ideological lines, as Leader of the House where he managed government business in the parliament.

After losses in the 2010 election, Labor was saddled with the country’s first minority government in 70 years, requiring it to win support from conservatives or independents to pass laws. But by one measure cited by political commentators – the number of laws passed compared to the number of days in office – it turned out to be Australia’s most productive parliament.

“There was an attempt to create chaos, but what Anthony did was to ensure that the work of government proceeded,” said Craig Emerson (NYSE:EMR), who was trade minister in that government.

Those who know Albanese say he is genuinely motivated by the mix of pragmatism and concern for social justice he gained during his childhood struggles, such as when he complained to a councilman about his mother’s broken stove while a teenager.

“It gave me a determination, each and every day, to help the people like I was, growing up, to have a better life,” Albanese told the National Press Club in January, recalling how he at times depended on neighbours for food when his mother, who relied on a disability pension, was unable to provide for him.

Morrison, the conservative prime minister, seldom refers to his middle-class suburban upbringing.

CAUTIOUS INSTINCTS

Adding to cautious instincts on both sides ahead of the May 21 election, leaders are leery of spooking voters with talk of major policy shifts at a time when pandemic, war, inflation, climate change, and an increasingly assertive China have left voters keen for reassuring voices.

Opinion polls have showed Labor maintaining a mid-single digit lead in the polls, but three years ago Labor blew a similar lead, and polls also show Morrison is slightly more popular than Albanese.

Media have seized on Albanese’s stumbles on policy details and forgetting the unemployment rate on the first day of the six-week campaign, undermining his credibility as Labor pledged to improve job security for casual workers and create hundreds of thousands of green energy roles in the transition away from fossil fuels.

The government, however, has also faced bad press in the conservative party’s traditional areas of strength – national security and the economy – hit first by the Solomon Islands signing a security pact with China and then by the first rise in interest rates in more than a decade, due to surging inflation.

Rising numbers of climate-concerned voters in affluent parts of Sydney and Melbourne have meanwhile embraced environment-focused independent candidates in traditionally conservative seats, prompting speculation that neither party may win an outright majority and raising the prospect of another minority government.

For Albanese, succession to the prime minister’s office would cap a career that began with the rent strike of his childhood and involvement in student politics, when he studied economics as the first in his family to attend university.

At 22, he was elected president of Young Labor, the party’s youth wing, and worked as a research officer under the economic reformist government of Bob Hawke, Labor’s longest-serving prime minister.

“Anthony has … a capacity to look beyond the party political alignment,” said Robert Tickner, a former Labor member who took the teenage Albanese’s call about his mother’s stove.

“(He) believes in this idea that there are people of good will in the community,” Tickner said in a phone interview. “He’s not someone who’s a sectarian.”

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Analysis-Australian women unleash new political force on climate, integrity

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Voters line up outside a Marrickville suburb polling station to cast their ballots on the day of the national election in Sydney, Australia, May 21, 2022. REUTERS/Jaimi Joy/File Photo

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By Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Professional women and voters concerned about climate change unleashed a third force in Australia’s election, taking a swath of seats that ended nine years of conservative rule even as votes for the winning Labor Party fell.

Women who left successful careers in business, medicine and media to enter politics as independents were on track to win five seats from Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal party in its affluent urban heartland in Saturday’s general election, as moderate voters abandoned the government.

Independents or the minor Greens party looked set to win at least 15 of the 151 lower house seats, ABC election analysts said. Labor remained five seats short of the 76 seats it needs to form a government as counting continued on Sunday.

Personifying the disruptive change were centrists, mostly women, dubbed “teal” candidates because of teal-coloured marketing material used as they targeted seats held by Morrison’s conservative party.

“You seldom see this in Australian politics – a campaign that springs up and catches fire,” said Simon Jackman, a University of Sydney professor, referring to teal community campaigns run by women volunteers.

The election showed women’s anger at Morrison and at inaction on climate change, underpinned by “a fierce desire to get accountability back into Australian politics”, said Chris Wallace, a professor at the University of Canberra.

“There was a large overlap between women outraged by the government and voters overall who wanted action on climate policy,” she told Reuters. 

This “mobilised women in never before seen numbers – including the affluent, middle-class professional women who donned teal T-shirts and took several safe seats off the coalition,” Wallace said.

Independent Sophie Scamps, a doctor who won a Sydney seat held by the Liberals for 70 years, told Sky News, “There were so many people in Mackellar saying, ‘I have voted Liberal my entire life and they no longer represent me.'”

‘AUSTRALIA HAS MOVED ON’

Monique Ryan, a paediatric neurologist who defeated Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in Melbourne, cited the gender pay gap and violence against women as key issues on Sunday.

Climate change struck the biggest chord with voters, said Jackman, who worked on polling data with Climate 200, a group funded by a former Liberal donor that gave money to around 20 independents.

Highly educated voters were also angry at the government on integrity issues, including the handling of gender and sexual assault claims in parliament that would not have been tolerated in most Australian workplaces, he said.

“Women were powerfully motivated,” Jackman said, while their male partners were also coming to believe “that the Liberals are the past. Australia has moved on, we’ve moved on on climate, we’ve moved on on gender equality.”

Former Liberal finance minister Simon Birmingham said the Morrison government should have embraced a more ambitious 2030 emission reduction target, and the election showed the Liberal Party needed to be more inclusive.

“Especially Australian women who are much more highly educated today,” he told ABC television. “It’s a cohort that we have clearly failed to have represented in sufficient numbers.”

Jackman said businesswoman Allegra Spender, who won the Liberal Sydney seat of Wentworth as an independent, should have been Liberal party royalty. Her father was a Liberal lawmaker for a decade and her grandfather negotiated Australia’s pillar ANZUS security treaty with the United States as foreign minister.

Instead, he said, Wentworth became a case study in how sophisticated moderate Liberal voters who understood climate science, and entrepreneurs who wanted to invest in greener technology had abandoned the party.

Greens appeared to have won two seats in the Queensland city of Brisbane that were badly hit by floods, and were leading in the flood-affected Brisbane electorate.

Greens leader Adam Bandt said Liberals and Labor both lost vote as a record number of people voted for the Greens. “This result is a mandate for action on climate and equality.”

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In Japan, Biden to launch economic plan for region sceptical on benefits

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© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks with Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Euisun Chung (not pictured) on the automaker’s decision to build a new electric vehicle and battery manufacturing facility in Savannah, Georgia, as Biden ends his visit to Seoul

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By Trevor Hunnicutt and Yoshifumi Takemoto

TOKYO (Reuters) – President Joe Biden headed to Japan on Sunday to launch a plan for greater U.S. economic engagement with the Indo-Pacific, facing criticism even before the programme is announced that it will offer scant benefit to countries in the region.

On the second leg of his first Asia trip as president, Biden is to meet with leaders of Japan, India and Australia, the “Quad,” another cornerstone of his strategy to push back against China’s expanding influence.

In Tokyo on Monday, Biden will call on Emperor Naruhito before talks with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. He and Kishida are expected to discuss Japan’s plans to expand its military capabilities and reach in response to China’s growing might.

Tokyo will also see the launch on Monday of Biden’s long-awaited Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), a programme intended to bind regional countries more closely via common standards in areas including supply-chain resilience, clean energy, infrastructure and digital trade.

Washington has lacked an economic pillar to its Indo-Pacific engagement since former President Donald Trump quit a multinational trade agreement now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, leaving the field open to China to expand its influence.

But the IPEF is unlikely to include binding commitments, and Asian countries and trade experts have given a decidedly lukewarm response to a programme limited by Biden’s reluctance to risk American jobs by offering the increased market access the region craves.

The White House had wanted it the IPEF announcement to represent a formal start of negotiations with a core group of like-minded countries, but Japan wanted to ensure broader participation to include as many Southeast Asian countries as possible, trade and diplomatic sources said.

Given this, Monday’s ceremony will likely signal an agreement to start discussions on IPEF rather than actual negotiations, the sources said.

“Japan wanted as many participants as possible … and also wanted the U.S. to conduct an inclusive process of dialogue after the launch,” a person familiar with the discussions said.

This source said the launch was expected to be attended in person by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Biden and Kishida, and by other leaders virtually.

LACK OF INCENTIVES

A Japanese Finance Ministry official said many Southeast Asian countries would not join IPEF because of the lack of practical incentives like tariff reductions.

“It’s not a cold decision but a practical one, probably because it doesn’t really have significant contents,” the official said.

However, an Asian diplomat said a least half the 10 nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) could join the launch ceremony.

“It seems the White House has decided to make the IPEF launch more like a party with an open bar that all are invited to, with the real work to start on Monday morning,” said Matthew Goodman, a trade expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Eventually the administration is going to have to offer more tangible benefits if it wants to keep countries on board.”

On Tuesday in Tokyo, Biden will join the second in-person meeting of the Quad group of countries.

All share concerns about China, but the Quad as a group has avoided expressing an overtly anti-China agenda, largely due to Indian sensibilities.

India’s strong security ties with Russia and refusal to condemn its invasion of Ukraine will likely prevent any strong joint statement on that issue, analysts said.

However, at their last summit in March, Quad leaders agreed that what has happened to Ukraine should not be allowed to happen in the Indo-Pacific – a reference to the threat posed to self-governed Taiwan by China, though Beijing was not mentioned by name.

Chinese envoy for Korean affairs Liu Xiaoming said on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) that Washington was “putting together a closed & exclusive ‘clique’.”

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Biden says ‘everybody’ should be concerned about monkeypox outbreak

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden pauses while speaking during a briefing from senior officials on efforts to prepare for and respond to future hurricanes, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., May 18, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

SEOUL (Reuters) – The monkeypox outbreak is something “everybody should be concerned about,” U.S. President Joe Biden said on Sunday, adding that U.S. health officials are looking into possible treatments and vaccines.

“We’re working on it hard to figure out what we do,” Biden told reporters at an air base in South Korea before departing on Air Force One for Japan.

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