SYDNEY • Australia's opposition Labor Party is set to anoint Mr Anthony Albanese as its new leader, hoping to win back the working class after a shock election defeat to the conservative government.
Labor unexpectedly lost to Prime Minister Scott Morrison's Liberal-National coalition on May 18, despite leading in opinion polls running up to the election.
Mr Albanese, from Labor's left faction, replaced Mr Bill Shorten when the former union chief stepped down hours after losing the vote. The 56-year-old will be officially confirmed by the Labor caucus on Thursday after the uncontested leadership ballot.
Mr Albanese has vowed to create a "larger, more inclusive party" amid soul-searching over the defeat. "I understand that it is a big mountain that we have to climb," Mr Albanese told reporters in Sydney, where he holds his Lower House seat, yesterday. "I want to build relationships between the Labor 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."
Labor's large and progressive policy reform agenda, which it campaigned heavily on, and Mr Shorten's unpopularity with voters have been blamed for the election upset.
Mr Morrison successfully cast Labor's proposals, including tackling climate change, as too risky and damaging to household finances at a time when the national economy is slowing down.
Labor performed particularly poorly in Queensland state, where Mr Shorten was perceived to be lukewarm about a potential large India-backed mine that promises to create thousands of jobs.
But Mr 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."
Mr Albanese, an economics graduate, was first elected to Parliament in 1996 and has been on Labor's front bench since 1998. He briefly served as deputy prime minister under Labor premier Kevin Rudd in 2013.