Christopher Pyne: I Have To Say This To Albo, Before It's Too Late

The next federal election is now due in the third quarter of 2022. So if I was of a mind to say something generous about Anthony Albanese, now would be the time to say it.

Not three months before the next election, when the Australian voter’s mind will be focussed on the choice between a Scott Morrison-led Liberal and National Government versus an Albanese-led Labor Opposition.

Anthony and I have been friends and adversaries -- frenemies -- for 23 years.

I first noticed him when he gave a 'ball-tearer' of a speech in the House of Representatives slandering then-Prime Minister John Howard. I didn’t agree with the content of the speech, but I did make a mental note to watch the new Member for Grayndler because he was, what’s called in political parlance, a ‘dangerman’. In other words, he was prepared to go where other people would be too squeamish to go -- and that made him dangerous.

(Image: AAP)

But I also noticed him deliver a quite different speech.

One of the Labor Party icons had died, Hon. Tom Uren. Tom Uren had been a Minister in the Whitlam Government and was a long-term Member of the House of Representatives. He was a Labor true believer. Anthony gave a moving tribute to Tom in the House and was clearly affected by his passing. I realised then that Anthony had a backstory that impacted on him greatly. I also realised then that we had something in common that was powerful -- we both respect the past and those who have fought the great battles of the past for a cause in which they believe.

One of my heroes when I joined the Liberal Party at 17 was Hon. Steele Hall. Steele Hall had reformed the grossly gerrymandered electoral boundaries in South Australia in the late 1960s. He did it knowing it might cost the Liberal Party government but he did it because it was the right thing to do. In a similar way to the way Anthony respected Tom Uren, I revere Steele Hall.

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Over the following years, Anthony and I both rose through the ranks. We didn’t interact regularly until we were thrust together in the 42nd and 43rd Parliaments. He was the Leader of the House of Representatives and I was Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives.

In the 42nd Parliament, where Labor had a clear majority, that meant him politically beating up on me and the Opposition every day when Parliament sat. I was cast in the role of throwing political punches back and doing my best to hold Labor to account and keep the Liberal and National troops keyed up and ready for daily battle. Of course, my task was made easier as the Labor Government did their own share of holding each other to account -- they hatcheted then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to political death in 2010 and then promptly drew the subsequent election and went into minority government in the 43rd Parliament.

(Image: AAP)

The 43rd Parliament suddenly transformed into a ‘whole new ball game’. With neither side commanding a majority in the House of Representatives, this made for a rambunctious, at times bitter and difficult chamber. We weathered the Craig Thomson affair and Peter Slipper leaving the Liberal and National Opposition to become Speaker at the behest of the Labor Government. The Julia Gillard-led Government reneged on its promise in the 2010 election not to introduce a carbon tax and the people-smuggling business ramped up in earnest. The Tony Abbott-led Opposition gave the Labor Government no quarter and vice versa.

This was the time when Anthony and I really got to know each other. We had to, really. At least two people from opposite sides of the House in that noxious Parliament needed to be able to communicate!

I learnt that Anthony Albanese is sentimental, old-fashioned and loyal. Anthony remained loyal to Kevin Rudd despite his obvious deficiencies. He brings an old-fashioned sense of what is right and wrong in politics to his personal dealings and to the ‘rules of the game’. Once the battle is over, he’s the first to share a joke and a drink without rancour and with plenty of good humour. That’s how politics should be played. It doesn’t have to be personal to be professional; in fact, the opposite is true.

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Anthony is a friend of mine. I don’t want him to be Prime Minister. He’s way too far to the left of the political spectrum for my liking. But I don’t have to agree with his politics to like him.

So good luck to you, mate. I hope you do well -- just not quite well enough!