Federal minister and MP for the inner-west Sydney seat of Grayndler Anthony Albanese will celebrate his 50th birthday and 17th anniversary as a Labor MP in a few days. He won his seat on his birthday - March 2 - in 1996. It is a safe bet that there will be no green icing on his birthday cake.
Between preparing for the big day he has found time to script lines putting the boot into the Greens, joining other Labor figures on the Left and Right, hoping to win back votes lost to the Greens. Meanwhile the likelihood of a Tony Abbott-led government grows. Albanese should ruminate on the possibility that after the next federal election it could be the first time since 1976 that voters have not had a Labor government at the state or federal level. The prospect of the Liberals and Nationals gaining so much power is disturbing to many.
NSW has long been viewed as a Labor state. Yet this power base is unravelling. Labor is reeling from plummeting poll results, damaging Independent Commission Against Corruption hearings and the loss of an active membership base.
While Labor in NSW may have become the poster child for the Gillard government's failings, key figures are scrambling to retain power. Leaders from the Left and the Right, well schooled in battles from years of factional brawls, are opening a new line of attack against the Greens.
Albanese, a key adviser to Julia Gillard, is a central player. A product of the NSW Labor machine, Albanese, for at least a decade, shared the leadership of his left faction with former NSW minister Ian Macdonald, who is now before ICAC. As leader of government business in the House of Representatives Albanese helps determine the day-to-day tactics Labor follows in parliament and beyond.
Last year during the orchestrated attack on the Greens by NSW Labor general secretary Sam Dastyari and Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes, Albanese publicly declared that he had been "engaged in hand-to-hand combat ... with the Greens for sometime". Recently he said: "The Greens (have) ... a parasitic relationship with Labor". We can expect to see more of this in the lead-up to September 14. The increase in the intensity of his attacks coincides with the fall in support for Labor in Grayndler, an 18 per cent drop in the past two decades.
Albanese has been the local MP for 17 of those 20 years. During the same period Labor has overseen a growing neoliberal influence on their policies for the economy and the environment. The watered-down mining tax, the reduction in entitlements for single parents and moves to weaken environmental laws are some of the changes disillusioning voters. Meanwhile the attacks on the Greens are stepped up.
Albanese's criticism of the Greens lines up with comments made by his colleagues in the NSW Labor Right, Howes and Dastyari. This triumvirate has resorted the tactics of misrepresentation and deception that have brought Labor into such disrepute. Howes makes out the Greens are against jobs, when we have comprehensive job creation programs and the most union-friendly industrial relations policy of any parliamentary party.
Dastyari made the focus of his keynote speech at the last NSW Labor conference an attack on the Greens. He called for his party to preference the Greens behind the Coalition and all the extreme right-wing parties. This ludicrous plan barely lasted a day before key Labor figures ruled it out of consideration, probably much to the relief of several Labor candidates who are keen for the negotiations for a preference exchange with the Greens to begin.
While Labor drags in the polls it appears that Labor's Right and Left are locked into this attack-the-Greens scenario. This tactic provides little space for any resurrection of a working relationship between the Greens and Labor. The need to avoid having the Coalition hold power at federal and state levels seems to be lost on the NSW Labor machine. To this end, Albanese and the other attack dogs would be wise to reassess at whose heels they want to snap.