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Vanquished Australian opposition shifts left with new leader

Australia’s opposition is set to anoint Anthony Albanese as its new leader, hoping to win back the working class after a shock election defeat to the conservative government.

The Australian Labour Party unexpectedly lost to incumbent leader Scott Morrison on May 18, despite leading in the polls running up to the election.

Albanese, from Labour’s left faction, replaced Bill Shorten when the former union chief stepped down hours after losing the vote.

The 56-year-old will be officially confirmed by the Labour caucus on Thursday after the uncontested leadership ballot.

Albanese vowed to create a “larger, more inclusive party” amid soul-searching within the ranks over the defeat.

“I understand that it is a big mountain that we have to climb,” Albanese told reporters in Sydney, where he holds his lower house seat, on Monday.

“I want to build relationships between the Labour Party and those people who voted for us, but also those people who wanted to vote for us, who were open to vote for us, but who felt like they couldn’t.”

Labour’s large and progressive policy reform agenda, which it campaigned heavily on, as well as Shorten’s unpopularity with voters, have been blamed for the election upset.

Morrison successfully cast Labour’s proposals, including tackling climate change, as too risky and damaging to household finances at a time when the national economy is slowing down.

The Labour party performed particularly poorly in Queensland state, where Shorten was perceived to be lukewarm about a potential large India-backed mine that promises to create thousands of jobs.

But Albanese argued it was possible to grow the economy, and create jobs while still pursuing a progressive agenda.

“The economy must work for people, not the other way around. I view unions and business as having common interests,” he said.

“But… we can’t judge the economy separate from the people it’s meant to serve. I believe in an inclusive society, one that looks after the most vulnerable.”

Albanese was raised by a single mother in public housing in Sydney and has previously touted his roots as helping him connect with lower-income voters, who deserted Labour in droves at the last election.

An economics graduate, he was first elected to parliament in 1996 and has been on Labour’s frontbench since 1998.

Albanese briefly served as deputy prime minister under former Labour PM Kevin Rudd in 2013, and was also infrastructure, transport and regional development minister.

© Agence France-Presse

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