CANBERRA, Australia – Australia’s elected Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is a politician shaped by his humble start in life as the only child of a single mother who raised him on a pension in a cruel inner suburb of Sydney.
His friends pronounce his name “Alban-ez”, like bolognese. But after being corrected repeatedly over the years by Italians, his absent father’s nationality, he presents himself and is commonly known as “alban-let”.
He shared the stage during his victory speech with Senator Penny Wong, who will become Secretary of State. Her father was Malaysian-Chinese and her mother European-Australian.
“I think that’s good. A person with a non-Anglo-Celtic surname is the leader of the House of Representatives and … a person with a surname like Wong is the leader of the Senate government,” Albanese said.
Australia has been criticized for its over-representation in parliament by descendants of British colonizers. Britain is no longer the largest source of Australian immigrants since racist policies were phased out in the 1970s. About half of Australia’s multicultural population is born abroad or has an overseas parent. Chinese and Indians are now immigrating in large numbers.
Albanese has promised to rehabilitate Australia’s international reputation as a laggard of climate change with sharper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The previous administration stuck to the same commitment as it made by the Paris Agreement in 2015: 26% to 28% below the 2005 level in 2030. Albanese’s Labor Party has promised a 43% reduction.
His financially precarious upbringing in state-owned housing in the suburb of Camperdown fundamentally formed the politician who has led the center-left Australian Labor Party into government for the first time since 2007. He is still widely known by the nickname of his childhood, Albo.
“All parents want more for the next generation than they had. My mother dreamed of a better life for me. And I hope my journey in life inspires Australians to reach for the stars,” he added.
Albanese repeatedly referred during the six-week election campaign to the life lessons he learned from his disadvantaged childhood. Labor’s campaign focused on policies, including financial assistance to first home buyers struggling with soaring property prices and sluggish wage growth.
Labor also promised cheaper childcare for working parents and better nursing homes for the elderly.
Albanese promised this week to start rebuilding confidence in Australia when he attends a summit in Tokyo on Tuesday with US President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Albanese said he would be “completely consistent” with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s current administration on Chinese strategic competition in the region.
But he said Australia had been placed in the “naughty corner” of the UN climate change negotiations by refusing to adopt more ambitious emission reduction targets at a November conference.
“One of the ways we are increasing our status in the region, and especially in the Pacific, is by taking climate change seriously,” Albanese told the National Press Club.
The bid administration and Australia “will have a stronger relationship in our shared view of climate change and the opportunity they represent,” Albanese said.
Albanians accused Morrison of “damaging a whole range of Australia’s international connections.”
He said Morrison misled the United States that a secret plan to supply Australia with a fleet of submarines powered by American nuclear technology had the support of Albanese’s Labor Party. In fact, Labor first learned of the plan the day before it was announced in September.
Albanians also accused Morrison of leaking personal text messages from Emmanuel Macron to the media to discredit the French president’s complaint that Australia had given no warning that a French submarine contract would be canceled.
In November, French Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault described the leak as a “new low” and a warning to other world leaders that their private communications with the Australian government could become weapons and used against them.
Labor has also described a new security pact in China and the Solomon Islands as Australia’s worst foreign policy failure in the Pacific since World War II.
To spare Albanese the scandal of being “illegitimate” in a Roman Catholic working-class family in socially conservative 1960s Australia, he was told as a child that his Italian father, Carlo Albanese, had died in a car accident shortly after marrying with her Irish-Australian mother, Maryanne Ellery, in Europe.
His mother, who became a disability pensioner due to chronic rheumatoid arthritis, told him the truth when he was 14 years old: His father was not dead and his parents had never married.
Carlo Albanese had been a steward on a cruise ship when the couple met in 1962 during the only overseas voyage of her life. She returned to Sydney from her seven-month journey through Asia to the UK and continental Europe, nearly four months into her pregnancy, according to Anthony Albanese’s 2016 biography, “Albanese: Telling it Straight.”
She was living with her parents in their local government-owned house in Camperdown when her only child was born on March 2, 1963.
Out of loyalty to her mother and fear of hurting her feelings, Albanese waited until after her death in 2002 before searching for her father.
Father and son were happily reunited in 2009 in their father’s hometown of Barletta in southern Italy. The son was in Italy for business meetings as Australia’s Minister of Transport and Infrastructure.
Anthony Albanese has been a Labor minister for the past six years in power, reaching his highest office – Deputy Prime Minister – in the last three months of his government, which ended with the 2013 election.
But Albanese critics say it is not his humble background but his left-wing policies that make him unfit to be prime minister.
The Conservative government claimed he wanted to be the most left-leaning Australian leader for almost 50 years since reformer Gough Whitlam, a flawed hero from the Labor Party.
In 1975, Whitlam became the only Australian Prime Minister to be removed from office by a British monarch’s representative in what is being described as a constitutional crisis.
During his short but tumultuous three years in power, Whitlam had introduced free university education, which enabled Albanese to graduate from Sydney University with a degree in economics despite his meager financial resources.
Albanian supporters say that while he was from Labour’s so-called socialist left-wing faction, he was a pragmatist with a proven ability to deal with more conservative elements in the party.
Albanese had gone through what has been described as a makeover in the past year, opting for more fashionable suits and glasses. He has also thrown 18 kilos (40 pounds) in what many believe was an attempt to make himself more attractive to voters.
Albanese says he thought he was dying in a two-car collision in Sydney last January and that was the catalyst for his healthier life choices. He had briefly surrendered to a fate he once thought had been his father’s.
After the accident, Albanese spent a night in a hospital and sustained what he described as external and internal injuries, which he has not described further. The 17-year-old boy behind the wheel of the Range Rover SUV that collided with Albanese’s much smaller Toyota Camry sedan was charged with negligent driving.
Albanese said he was 12 when he became involved in his first political campaign. His co-tenants of public housing successfully defeated a city council proposal to sell their homes – a move that would have increased their rent – in a campaign that involved refusing to pay the municipality in a so-called rent strike.
The unpaid rent debt was forgiven, which Albanese described as a “lesson for the people who were not part of the rent strike: Solidarity works.”
“When I was growing up, I understood the impact that government had on making a difference to people’s lives,” Albanese said. “And in particular to opportunities.”
On election day, before the vote count began, he spoke of an advantage in his upbringing.
“When you come from where I come from, one of the benefits you have is that you do not get ahead of yourself. Everything in life is a bonus,” Albanese said.