Albo opens up on marriage breakdown and election loss
LABOR leader Anthony Albanese has officially dumped the party's disastrous franking credits policy.
Mr Albanese told the Herald Sun the plan - widely thought to have cost the party a federal election win last year - had deeply concerned retirees, and "we won't be taking the same policy to the next election".
The plan was a major contributor to Labor's shock loss under Bill Shorten last May.
"We won't be taking the same policy to the next election," Mr Albanese said.
He acknowledged that the plan to abolish cash refunds for individuals and super funds deeply worried retirees.
Mr Albanese said he was determined to be collaborative and ensure Labor followed proper processes to develop its policies.
But he said the franking credits policy, which would have saved the budget around $5 billion a year, would go.
In a revealing interview, he opened up for the first time about the sudden end of his marriage to former NSW deputy premier Carmel Tebbutt a year ago, saying he was still coming to terms with it.
"I thought Carmel would be my life partner and that wasn't the case,'' Mr Albanese said. "It wasn't my decision and I found it difficult.''
Mr Albanese also said he was no longer opposed to the turnbacks of asylum-seeker boats, because "they worked''.
THE YEAR THAT CHANGED ALBO'S WORLD
On January 1 last year, Anthony Albanese was a married man and Labor's shadow infrastructure minister.
This year, he's a single dad raising a teenage son, and the alternative prime minister of Australia.
"It's been a big year,'' the 56-year-old said, somewhat understating the seismic changes in his life.
"It's been an extraordinary year and it's been unexpected as well.''
There were many shocks thrown at Albanese last year - including Labor's unexpected loss to Scott Morrison at the May 19 poll. Instead of becoming infrastructure minister in Bill Shorten's Government, he became Labor leader, back in opposition for another three years.
In his personal life, the changes were profound too, when his 19-year marriage to former NSW Deputy Premier Carmel Tebbutt suddenly imploded on New Year's Day.
He remains deeply reluctant to discuss the ending of his relationship with Tebbutt. The pair, who married in 2000, share a son, Nathan, and his welfare is their priority.
But Albanese, who now shares the family home in Marrickville in Sydney's inner west with Nathan, 19, and their dog Toto, has opened up for the first time about the impact of his marriage ending.
"It was really tough. It was a really difficult period,'' he said.
"It wasn't something that I expected. It wasn't something that I was prepared for.
"I'm an emotional person and I found it very difficult.''
He said the break-up happened on January 1, and on January 7, he issued a media statement advising the couple, a long-time Labor power duo in NSW and Canberra, had gone their separate ways.
"I am deeply saddened that my relationship of over 30 years with Carmel Tebbutt has ended in separation," he said in the statement
"There are no third parties involved."
Albanese said he felt compelled to issue the statement quickly, to avoid repeated questions in coming days and weeks about the separation.
"It wasn't my decision, and I found it difficult to understand,'' he said of the break-up.
"It's not a unique situation. But I had to accept it and come to terms with it. And that took a period of time and is still taking a period of time.''
In the weeks following, Albanese kept a commitment to travel to the US but then decided to take a self-funded trip to Europe in March, to get away from the phones and the daily routine.
He went to London and Lisbon, observed the Brexit debate, met friends and associates, and spent time thinking and reflecting.
"It enabled me to get away and clear my head in preparation for what was going to be the upcoming federal election,'' he said.
"I came back with a renewed sense of energy.
"I look back at it and …I came out of that break much healthier.''
He said his feeling at the time had been one of "sadness.''
"I thought Carmel would be my life partner and that wasn't the case,'' he said.
A year on, he's full of pride for Nathan, who finished HSC and embarked on university life.
"I'm very proud of him. He's happy. He's a smart young man. He has a fantastic group of friends… and our relationship…is stronger than it's ever been.
"I think when a three-person household becomes two, it changed our relationship as well and meant that we had to rely upon each other a lot more.
"He spends time with his mother as well and has a good relationship with her. And that's really important.''
Albanese said polls had indicated a Labor win last year, and he had been expecting to become infrastructure minister in a Shorten Labor Government.
"I had a different life in the second half of 2018 from what I do now,'' he said.
"But I believe in that old saying, 'that what does not kill us makes us stronger'.
"I feel as though I have come out the other side of what's been a difficult year both on a personal and a political level.''
First elected to the seat of Grayndler in 1996, Albanese has held many senior political roles, including as Deputy Prime Minister to Kevin Rudd in 2013. He built his powerbase in the Left faction in NSW, lined up on the hard Left in student politics before that, but seems now to be re-positioning towards the centre as he seeks election as prime minister.
Keen to reinforce his credentials as a careful economic manager and distance himself from the $100 billion policy suite taken by Shorten to the last poll, Albanese said governments had to get the economy right before it could address other issues.
"You have to win the economic debate in order to then be able to engage in the debate about social and environmental policy,'' he said.
In 2015, he voted against a motion to deter asylum-seekers by using the military to turn back their boats at sea.
Now in his new role, Albanese says he supports boat turn-backs, because "they worked.''
Asked if he would continue to support them into the future, he replied: "yep.''
"I believe you can be strong on borders without being weak on humanity.''
On another touchstone issue which Labor struggled with during the election, the Adani coal mine in Queensland, Albanese said the decisions of the markets and the approvals process ought to be adhered to.
"Adani has been significantly downgraded as an option because they weren't able to get finance and so they've had to internally finance it. That's the international market sending a (signal) about that,'' he said.
"The role of government is to set up appropriate environmental mechanisms, not to pick and unpick outcomes.
"Adani has become…symptomatic of a debate that has gone down to slogans. And what we need is comprehensive policies, not slogans, to deal with climate change,'' he said.
Much of the Albanese story is well known, but nonetheless fascinating. Born on March 2, 1963, he was raised by his single mum, Maryanne Ellery, in public housing in inner-western Sydney.
An only child, Albanese believed his mother had met and married his father overseas, but that his father died in a car accident.
In his mid-teens, his mother told him the real story - she had met Carlo Albanese overseas while on a cruise, fallen pregnant to him, but discovered he was engaged to someone else in Italy.
As a devout young Catholic woman in the 60s, Maryanne dealt with the situation best she knew how - buying herself engagement and wedding rings, changing her name to Albanese and telling her family her husband had died.
It took years before Anthony Albanese felt comfortable pursuing his family history. After many inquiries, in 2009 he travelled to Italy, where he met his father and two siblings for the first time.
They stayed in touch until Carlo died in 2014. Maryanne Ellery, the person young Albanese was closest to, had died in 2002.
On Monday, for the first time, Newspoll recorded Albanese topping Morrison in the preferred prime minister ratings, 43-39. While the poll numbers will move around, there's no denying Albanese, particularly in his trendy inner-city seat, is inherently popular.
He'll turn up at the pub for a turn on the DJ decks, doesn't mind being photographed in ratty old T-shirts at the footy, loves a beer (there's an ale named after him) and he cried in front of the cameras when he shifted support from Julia Gillard to Kevin Rudd back in 2012 as he said "I like to fight Tories. That's what I do.''
So how can "authentic Albo'', the darling of the Left, maintain his credibility and popularity as he makes the inevitable shift to the centre in pursuit of the prime ministership? Boat turn-backs will be just the start of the policy backflips required.
"I'm not trying to be something I'm not. I'm just me,'' he said.
"And I think I actually relate to people who have done it tough. I know what it's like to be in a household where you are reliant upon others or charity to get by.
"I lived by myself for long periods when I was quite young because …there was just me and my mother and she was in hospital for extended periods due to her illness arising from rheumatoid arthritis.''
He said his mother had a tough life, and that when she died, at the age of 65 years, "she was spent.''
"I have had opportunities because of her sacrifice and her determination and her unconditional love for me as well gave me confidence to go forward,'' he said.
"I do love going to the footy. I like music. I like being around people.
"I'm someone who enjoys a beer in a pub but can also sit down in a boardroom and talk with people. I engage. I get energy from interaction with people.''