Australians awoke on Sunday to a new prime minister in Anthony Albanese, the centre-left Labour Party leader whose ascension to the nation’s top job from being raised in social housing by a single mother on a disability pension was said to reflect the country’s changed fabric.
The 59-year-old career politician, who has described himself as the only candidate with a “non-Anglo Celtic name” to run for prime minister in the 121 years the office has existed, referred to his humble upbringing in the inner-Sydney suburb of Camperdown while thanking electors for making him the country’s 31st leader.
“It says a lot about our great country that a son of a single mum who was a disability pensioner, who grew up in public housing down the road in Camperdown, can stand before you tonight as Australia’s prime minister,” Mr Albanese told jubilant supporters after tipping Scott Morrison out of office to end nine years of conservative rule.
“Every parent wants more for the next generation than they had. My mother dreamt of a better life for me. And I hope that my journey in life inspires Australians to reach for the stars,” he said.
It is unclear whether Mr Albanese’s party could form a majority government or will have to rely on an increased number of independents and minor party lawmakers who won seats in Saturday’s election, in results analysts described as extremely complicated, and which also mirrored the face of modern Australia.
With counting set to continue for many days as postal votes are tallied, one prospect that emerged was that Mr Albanese may need to be sworn in as acting prime minister to attend Tuesday’s Quad summit in Tokyo with US president Joe Biden, Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.
Mr Biden congratulated Mr Albanese on his election victory in a phone call on Sunday, the White House said, and reaffirmed Washington’s “steadfast commitment to the US/Australia alliance and his intent to work closely with the new government to make it stronger still”.
Australian National University constitutional law expert professor Donald Rothwell said that the country’s governor general, the representative of the country’s ultimate head of state, the Queen, would “only be prepared to swear in Albanese as ‘acting PM’ until such time as the results are much clearer”.
Mr Albanese, speaking to reporters on Sunday morning, merely said he would be among “five people who’ll be sworn in tomorrow (Monday)” before attending the Quad meeting, then returning to Australia on Wednesday when “we’ll get down to business”.
The four colleagues he mentioned included lawmakers set to step into key financial portfolios and his deputy leader.
The election delivered a clear rebuke to Australia’s traditional two-party system, both to Labour and the heavily defeated conservative coalition led by the Liberal Party’s outgoing prime minister Mr Morrison.
The major parties bled votes to fringe parties and independents, including in many seats considered Labour or coalition strongholds.
Analysts described the result as a fierce rejection of Mr Morrison and his team’s handling of many issues in its three-year term, including climate, Covid-19, women’s rights, political integrity and natural disasters such as bushfires and floods.
Mr Albanese vowed to bring Australians together, increase investment in social services and “end the climate wars”.
“It’s something that’s a big moment in my life, but what I want it to be is a big moment for the country,” he said. “I do want to change the country. I want to change the way that politics operates in this country.”