Labor learns government is not so easy as it seemed in opposition

The Russian invasion “has implications for the rules-based international order”, he said in a reference to Australia’s more immediate threat from China. But it was also “having an impact on Australians with rising energy prices, rising inflation, impact on supply chains, including on food”.

Moreover, while away, he had been in touch with his ministers about the NSW floods, all was in hand, and he would visit the affected regions first thing in the morning with NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet.

The Ardern example

In hindsight, had Albanese known about the floods, the Ukraine visit was not vital. It added three days to a week-long trip, making it 10 days. That’s a long time to be away when there is a lot happening at home, especially given it was his third trip since the election and there is another one next week.

New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, also at the NATO summit and so often the benchmark the left used when criticising Scott Morrison, declined a similar invitation to visit Ukraine. She sent best wishes and support, and Volodymyr Zelensky still gave her a shout-out on Twitter.

It is silly that a prime minister should have to justify his trip to the NATO summit in Spain, followed by a relationship-rebuilding mission to Paris, and then a trip to Ukraine to show solidarity against Russia’s aggression.

But stupid and politics often go hand in glove and Albanese was clearly sensitive to the low-level grumbling that had begun at home about his travel schedule, just as this column predicted a fortnight ago.

The mob is generally resentful and doesn’t always see things the same as those who are close to politics and who understand the importance of prime ministerial travel.

And the mob view on this occasion is not helped by the Parliament not having sat since the election and that it will not do so until the end of this month.

Nor the cavalcade of ministers who are also abroad at any given time, whether it’s Penny Wong on her essential Pacific blitz, Tanya Plibersek posting for selfies with Emmanuel Macron at an oceans’ summit in Portugal, or Richard Marles inexplicably posting pictures of himself on social media doing yoga in India.

The Opposition wasted no time in helping along such sentiment, with unsubtle references to Albanese being abroad while a crisis raged at home.

“There’s 30,000 people who have been told to evacuate their homes, but the PM is more concerned about his reputation on the global stage,” said Angus Taylor.

Disingenuous maybe, but something Labor, to a significant extent, brought on itself.

Its justified pursuit of Morrison holidaying in Hawaii while the east coast was ablaze in late 2019 was so successful, it became the template for other similar attacks that were less warranted but served ultimately to create unrealistic expectations of not just Morrison, but now of Albanese.

That’s the upshot of complaining your way into office. The next test will unfold over coming days and weeks as COVID-19 begins to worsen again.

Labor’s killer campaign line about Morrison always “going missing” in times of trouble was bookended by the fires at the start of the term and the floods in northern NSW and south-east Queensland earlier this year.

The Morrison government made political mistakes with the floods, which were of an unprecedented magnitude, but the central perception of Morrison not showing up fails to consider he contracted COVID-19 at the start of the disaster and had to isolate in Kirribilli for seven days.

At the same time, Labor ran around the flood zone fomenting discontent against the absent prime minister. Perceptions of the then-PM were so negative that Labor’s tactic worked a treat, and still does.

“Albanese had no need to mention the effort of former PM Scott Morrison who arrived at the calamitous flood zone of Lismore, northern NSW, nine days after water had swept away lives, houses, businesses and livestock while locals initially had to rely on their own resources to survive,” veteran scribe Tony Wright wrote in The Age on Thursday in an effusive piece about Albanese’s flood visit.

Albanese’s news conference under the plane wing on Tuesday was a telling moment in a telling week for the new government. Everything that seemed so easy from opposition became more difficult.

Just after the prime minister and the press re-embarked for the next leg of the trip to Sydney, the Reserve Bank of Australia lifted interest rates by another 0.5 of a percentage point.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers, so vocal in opposition, like his predecessor had no answers to what is a global scourge, other than to jabber about ridding the budget of rorts and waste, as if that will somehow help.

By Wednesday morning, even the ABC in Melbourne was calling it out after Chalmers protested there was no easy solution and the government was playing the cards it had been dealt.

Again, it was not a latitude the previous government had been afforded and host Virginia Trioli cut off Chalmers: “At a certain point – and I think that point is right now – that line is going to start to wear thin.

“Everyone’s going to turn to you and say, ‘yeah, you wanted the job, you got the job, now you have to do it’.”

That’s the upshot of complaining your way into office. The next test will unfold over coming days and weeks as COVID-19 begins to worsen again.

Given how hopeless the last lot was, the mob will be expecting near-perfection on that as well.

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