The man who would be king

LUCINDA KENT

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It is sweaty, dark and loud in a crowded upstairs room in Brisbane’s confusingly-titled Melbourne Hotel on an unseasonably warm September night.

Lithe young things clutching their iPhones in one hand and their vodka, lime and sodas in the other, squeeze past bulky union men in overalls downing pints of beer.

About 100 of the young guns and the old guard are gathered together for the launch of Anthony “Albo” Albanese’s campaign to become the leader of the Australian Labor Party.

The crowd looks fatigued, still reeling from the federal election.

One young man is still wearing a ‘Peter Beattie for Forde’ shirt weeks after the former Queensland Premier conceded defeat.

Just a few weeks ago these were the people hitting the ground running, doorknocking and calling in an attempt to get the party they believe in back in government.

Now they are deciding who will be the man to lead them through opposition.

It is a radical shift, especially for younger members who have never experienced life in opposition.

For the first time in Australian Labor Party history, the two leadership candidates are appealing directly to the rank-and-file members in an attempt to unite the party by winning over hearts and minds after a landslide defeat.

Former Labor state candidate Luke Moore says Labor is on the precipice of a new beginning as all members of the party will vote for either Anthony “Albo” Albanese or Bill Shorten to become Australia’s new Opposition leader.

“Regardless of who you are voting for what you have to do is get out and vote, the reality is we won’t be badly served by either of them,” he says.

“In the past it has been the top-down approach that really hurt the party, when those at the top did not listen to the rank-and-file members, that is the sort of thinking that is really hurtful to the unity of the party.

“That being said, I will be supporting Albo and I think a lot of the younger members of the party will be backing him.”

Labor’s young members are not the only ones Mr Albanese will have to win over, as the unions will play a major role in deciding the future of the party.

The Australian Workers Union, one of the biggest affiliated unions in the country is backing Bill Shorten, which could mean tens of thousands of votes for the Member for Maribyrnong.

But Luke Moore says the sway of the unions is wavering over time and independently minded party members may defy their union’s choice for leader.

“The role of unions isn’t a dirty thing, it’s a big misconception, that Labor party members who are members of unions are playing games and getting involved in factional warfare,” he says.

“It is the rank-and-file members that will really decide who our next leader is going to be, the unions definitely won’t be the tipping point.”

When the man of the hour finally enters the crowded room to launch his leadership bid, his speech is anything but short and sweet.

For over nine minutes Mr Albanese outlines his policy experience, his support of gay marriage and the challenges he expects the party will face while in opposition.

The former Deputy Prime Minster seems careful to avoid the “three word slogans” of the Federal election campaign, but makes plenty of promises to his party.

“I firmly believe that I am the best candidate to lead Labor back into government at the next election,” he says.

“We have to change, we have to do better, for Australia and for Labor.”

At the conclusion of his speech, the crowd, young and old join in a fevered chant of “Albo, Albo, Albo”.

As he made his way out of the room, taking selfies, shaking hands and kissing a baby belonging to former Member for Ashgrove Kate Jones, Mr Albanese looks confident, though sweaty.

The result of Labor’s leadership ballot will not be known until October 13, but for now, the man who has been facing off against Tony Abbott since his days at the University of Sydney is travelling the country letting party members know he is ready to fight for them.

“I think I’m up for a hard job,” he says.

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