Anthony Albanese’s ‘up-yours’ to vegans
A great leader is measured not just by the quality of his friends but by the quality of his enemies. And judging by the enemies Anthony Albanese has made since taking the helm of the Labor Party, he's on track to be the greatest of all time.
That might sound facetious now - and right now it probably is - but if Albo can hold the party together until it is in a winnable position, he will be the first Australian to perform a miracle since Mary MacKillop.
But don't take my word for it, nor the Holy Father's. Take the word of an old Labor mate of mine after five beers on Saturday night.
"We're f***ed," he said.
What he meant was that the party was falling apart at the seams.
For half a century Labor has struggled to stitch together the economic aspirations of the suburban working class with the social progressive value of the inner-city left. But now, as voters splinter and subdivide into ever more vocal, self-absorbed and often extreme tribes, that double helix has ended up looking more like a bowl of spaghetti.
When a new leader of any movement is confronted with something so tangled and messy it is impossible to determine what that movement is. And so the first thing you have to do is determine what it is not.
Albo answered my mate's two word assessment this week with two words of his own: "Vegan terrorists."
This spectacular phrase came to life during an ALP caucus meeting this week in which two hard left MPs suggested Labor should oppose a crackdown on animal activists breaking into people's farms and stealing their livestock.
Deciding whether to side with farm workers or burglars is such a no-brainer that you have to wonder how the debate could even be raised. It's a bit like deciding whether to have an ice cream or smash your testicles between two bricks.
But raised it was, and Albo dropped the mic.
"Trade unionists are part of our constituency, vegan terrorists are not," he said.
And with that he put the Labor Party back on the path to redemption.
But this wasn't just a brick Albo used to whack the lunatic left in the nuts, it was the latest brick in a foundation he has been slowly and carefully building since being elected - unopposed - as leader of his broken party.
Taking over a group as battered as the ALP was after its shock election bloodbath requires two contrasting sets of skills.
First you have to be a nurse, tending to the wounded and assuring them that everything will be okay. This applies to MPs and voters alike. You need to show that your party is a safe place and you are a safe pair of hands.
But you also need to be the trauma surgeon who is prepared to cut off a gangrenous limb if that's what it takes to save the patient.
In his early days as leader Albo was a veritable Florence Nightingale, crisscrossing the country listening to angry and disaffected voters. He also refused to be goaded into unnecessary fights with the government, another no-brainer for an opposition that has just been told that all its previous political instincts were wrong. Like Kenny Rogers' Gambler, he knows when to fold 'em.
But he also knows when to hold 'em.
While Albo has little time for bratty activists, when it comes to the seriously vulnerable in society, he has stood fast in the name of decency - even when there is hardly a vote in it.
Right now he is refusing to support a government push to drug test dole recipients, a policy that seems to have sprung more from cynical populism than hard evidence.
I know that plenty of people on welfare are drug-takers - I was once both myself - but for the life of me I have never heard an employer complain that they can't find enough reformed junkies to fill their factories.
Every serious person knows the only way to get more people into jobs is to create more jobs, train people to fit the jobs that are being created and pay people enough that they want to work in them. This will solve both the government's welfare problem and its wage growth problem. You're welcome.
The other notable stand Albo has made is rather more specific, namely his outspoken support for the Tamil family set to be deported after their asylum claims were rejected by multiple courts.
For this, he has been roundly attacked but the telling thing is that a vast number of the attacks - perhaps even the majority - have come not from the right, but from the left.
And it is this more than anything that demonstrates why Albo is so right to cut off and cauterise any extremist elements within the ALP.
There are two telling examples of this. One was in response to a tweet that Albo posted on the last day of last month, when there was still some hope for the Biloela family.
"Nades volunteered at Vinnies," he said of the father. "Priya made curries for the local hospital," he said of the mother. "They were married here. They had their two girls here. Please, @ScottMorrisonMP - #LetThemStay."
This was Albo at his pragmatic reasonable best, appealing to Scott Morrison's Christian family values in a way that might offer the PM a moral reason for granting the family residency when he clearly has no legal reason to.
Anyone who knows the first thing about the art of persuasion knows that this is the only hope of achieving a result. You don't abuse or insult the person whose good graces you are seeking; you offer them a chance to demonstrate their mercy.
Or at least, that's what you do if you actually care about the people you are trying to help.
For many of the respondents it was clear that they were far more interested in outrage than outcomes, including one who quoted Albanese's thoughtful comment and used it to abuse Albo for not abusing the PM.
I won't give this fool the glory of quoting him directly but he claimed that he had been a longstanding member of the ALP and was disgusted that Albo hadn't been vicious enough in his assault on the PM.
Like many on the extreme left, this was a person who placed a higher value on the punishment of their enemies than on the protection of their friends. Someone who got more satisfaction in an angry tweet than a life lived in peace. Yet another self-declared "progressive" who actually prefers protest over progress.
The keyboard warrior then angrily declared he was tearing up his membership of the Labor Party. And my first and only thought was: "Good."
But, I hear you say, surely this is just a random internet crazy? Surely, say, the country's most high profile online activist group would never be so dogmatic and stupid to hurt a family they are pretending to protect?
Well, I'm glad you asked.
As everyone knows, and as Albo and his Home Affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally have constantly said in their arguments on behalf of this family, the most powerful conservative voice in this campaign has been that of talkback radio supremo Alan Jones.
And so you would think, if you were genuinely committed to helping the Tamil family stay in Australia, you would be desperate to harness the one person who has both the ear of the Prime Minister and almost limitless influence over his support base.
Yet, just when the campaign for the Tamil family was at its white-hot zenith and Jones was at his most vocal in calling for them to stay, GetUp decided to relaunch its campaign to get him banned from the airwaves over his comments about the NZ PM more than two weeks earlier.
GetUp sent out a mass email on Monday, September 2 calling on people to pressure the NSW Government into pulling its ads from Jones's show. It told recipients: "Decision-makers don't have to listen to Jones anymore."
Well, GetUp got its wish. The decision-makers didn't listen to Jones and the Tamil family is locked up on Christmas Island waiting to be deported. Well done guys!
And this is not the first time GetUp has prioritised revenge over results.
At the last election they put all their efforts into targeting the seats of conservative MPs they didn't like and ended up failing to remove all of them except Tony Abbott. As a result, the Liberals got a thumping win while at the same time were miraculously liberated of their most destabilising member. With friends like these, the ALP doesn't need enemies.
And this is the perfect advertisement for why this grotesquely overblown bunch of hapless hipsters should be scooped out of the Labor movement like bowel cancer. They promised the ALP a Hollywood blockbuster and gave it a German snuff film.
And just like the gift GetUp gave the Coalition, Albo is just the right man to purge Labor of these rotting appendices. And if they want to vote Greens and then preference the Liberals over Labor then let them - it's not like they could help the conservative movement any more than they already have.
Besides, whatever Albo loses on the lunatic left he will gain twofold in the sensible centre and restore the ALP to its rightful place as the natural party of government of Australia.
Joe Hildebrand co-hosts Studio 10, 8.30am weekdays, on Channel 10. Continue the conversation @Joe_Hildebrand