“Politicians who say ‘I’m not interested in social media’ are putting themselves above engaging with people. We have to engage with people on platforms they’re on. To me, it’s not optional.”
Anthony Albanese -- Federal Member for Grayndler and Shadow Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Cities -- is sitting in the courtyard of a pub in Sydney’s inner west. He’s sipping an Albo American Lager from the Willie the Boatman brewery in Tempe. Wearing a patterned blue loose short-sleeve shirt and jeans, he’s in celebration mode. It’s a party -- an anniversary, in fact.
Tuesday evening marked five years of @AlboMP, Albanese’s Twitter account.
Staff and supporters, friends, followers and journalists -- and bemused regular pub punters unaware of quite what was going on -- packed into the Petersham Public House to celebrate the “Twitterversary". Twitter Australia got behind the evening, bringing some large foam hashtag and bird props for photos, as Albo himself wandered the room taking selfies on an iPad fitted into a specially-designed holder meant to look like an antique hand mirror.
The Albo beer was on tap next to trendy drops like Fat Yak and Young Henry’s. The music playing over the sound system -- an eclectic playlist of Iggy Pop, Nirvana, PJ Harvey, Courtney Barnett, Florence + The Machine, Spiderbait and Joy Division -- was entirely of the man’s own choosing.
Slice of pizza in one hand, schooner in the other, 53-year-old Albanese proudly tells The Huffington Post Australia about his social media prowess. Despite a team of staff including media and communications advisors, he does all his own tweets and Instagram posts, and some of his own Facebook posts as well, unlike most of his colleagues at the senior level of the Labor opposition.
“It’s a chance to engage with people. A chance to do things like… well for example, I Instagrammed the playlist for the soundtrack tonight. Someone asked ‘did you do that or did your staffer,’ and I replied back ‘most of my staff weren’t even born when these songs were produced’,” Albanese laughed.
The man may well go down as one of the most popular leaders Labor never had. The affable Albo -- born and raised in inner-city Sydney, a Labor man for life including a stint as President of NSW Young Labor, a mad South Sydney Rabbitohs supporter -- has remained one of the most popular figures on the left even as his party’s support has waxed and waned in recent years. A senior member of the Labor team for more than a decade, as Manager of Opposition Business then Leader of the House and senior ministry positions in the first Rudd government, Albanese’s fierce competitive spirit in the parliamentary chamber and famous good-nature outside of it made it seem almost inevitable he was in the mix for the leadership at some point.
Being named as deputy PM when Kevin Rudd rolled Julia Gillard to re-take the Prime Ministership in 2013 didn’t hurt his ambitions; nor did the good-hearted way that he took being featured as a star player in the famous, infamous, short-lived satirical Australian politics Twitter account @Rudd2000.
Ablo squeeze in quick third breakfast before first brunch— Kevin Rudd 2000 (@Rudd2000) June 29, 2014
Ablo drink wagon of Carlton Draught then eat wagon also eat horses— Kevin Rudd 2000 (@Rudd2000) August 4, 2014
Ablo eat Kevern— Kevin Rudd 2000 (@Rudd2000) August 5, 2014
Unfortunately, Albanese's role as deputy PM lasted only a few months, as Labor lost the 2013 election. He stayed as deputy leader of the opposition for a month after the election loss, but handed over as leader Bill Shorten and deputy leader Tanya Plibersek were elected to the party's top spots; however, as Bill Shorten’s popularity remained stagnant, the thinkpieces started coming. This Sydney Morning Herald profile from August 2015 detailed Albo’s “waiting game” for the leadership, even as the man himself denied he still had thoughts about leading his party.
The day after HuffPost Australia finds him in Petersham, the Daily Telegraph reported Labor figures had recently pondered replacing Shorten with Albanese before the coming election, with Shorten only saved by his recent uptick in popularity and the stalling momentum of the Turnbull government.
When we asked of his leadership ambitions, Albanese’s answer was short and to the point.
“I want to be a minister in the Labor government, rather than leader of the opposition. That’s my ambition. I’m not looking further than that,” he said.
Fair enough. So, back to the #Twitterversary.
“You get some good ideas that people will forward to you,” Albo said of Twitter.
“I use direct messaging as well. For people interacting with me, or me making contact with them, I’ll DM [direct message] people and ask for their number, then I’ve rung them and had a conversation. Twitter, with 140 characters, it’s hard to have a serious policy conversation.”
Albanese is pitted against Greens challenger Jim Casey in the seat of Grayndler. He won in 2013 with 70 percent of the vote on a two-party basis against a Liberal opponent, but a major redistribution of the electorate’s boundaries and the fact Albanese is running against a Green in the trendy inner-west of Sydney might mean this election is not a walk in the park for the sitting member. He came out on the front foot against Casey earlier this year, criticising him as a “socialist” in a televised press conference before most people had even heard Casey’s name.
“I’m confident of being re-elected but not complacent. I’ve never taken the seat for granted,” Albanese said.
“I’ve got new constituents I’ve never represented, in Balmain and Rozelle. That means I have to engage with them. In this area, I know every street, every road, every lane, every avenue.”
How big a role will social media play in election 2016? For his part, Albanese said he’s prepared to step it up.
“It’ll be critical. I have an electorate with a lot of young people who have moved in recently; about one in every four voters in my electorate, at any time, have moved addresses since the last election. It’s a huge turnover,” he said.
“That means that getting through to them in the normal ways, like letterbox drops, doesn’t always work. You’ve got to engage with them on platforms they’re comfortable with.”
And as for his beloved Rabbitohs, currently with a 3-2 win-loss record in the National Rugby League, Albanese is tipping a Labor election win and a Bunnies premiership this year.
"They certainly can win. I think Sam Burgess on the field is worth three players. When you've got Greg Inglis at fullback, Adam Reynolds at halfback and Burgess in the forwards, plus George Burgess, John Sutton, Luke Keary, you've got a damn fine side. They'll step it up, take it to the next level," he promises.