What can Australia expect?

A week on from becoming Australia’s 31st Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese is in Canberra this week to continue Labor’s transition to government. A scheduled meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the Quad) in Tokyo on 23 May, necessitated an unusually rapid swearing-in, after it became clear that the Coalition could not secure enough seats to retain government after the 21 May poll.

As counting continues, Labor has secured a slim majority.

Reflecting his experience as Leader of Government in the House in the minority Parliament of 2010-13, Albanese ensured he had crossbench support on confidence and supply. This allowed an interim ministry to be appointed, with portfolios divided among Richard Marles, Penny Wong, Jim Chalmers and Katy Gallagher.

Albanese Ministry
Albanese Ministry from top left: Katy Gallagher, Richard Marles, Penny Wong, Jim Chalmers

Unlike changes of leader, changes of government are comparatively rare at the Federal level. As has been observed numerous times, Labor has come to office from Opposition only four times since World War II. Transitions are a window into how our system of government is functioning – how key institutions and norms have been shaped or changed by the former government. A new administration provides opportunities to distinguish the idiosyncratic from the systemic; and to identify the larger forces at work within the political system. 

“We can learn a great deal from the early decisions of a new government – what it changes and what it keeps; what lessons it has drawn from prior experience and from its opponents.”

In Australia, a transition to government begins when the election result is known and lasts until the new Prime Minister and ministry are officially sworn in. In reality, of course, the period is much longer. It lasts for as long as it takes to get the necessary arrangements in place in terms of people, priorities, process and policy. These ‘four p’s’ offer a framework for assessing what we can expect from the new Albanese government. 

We can learn a great deal from the early decisions of a new government – what it changes and what it keeps; what lessons it has drawn from prior experience and from its opponents. And how quickly it can shift from campaigning to governing; something Scott Morrison proved unwilling or unable to do, to his party’s and the nation’s detriment. 


Anthony Albanese returned from the Quad meeting and spent the balance of his first week finalising machinery of government arrangements and the structure of the ministry, following the loss of two frontbenchers in Kristina Keneally and Terri Butler.

The dynamics of the 47th Parliament will require all of Albanese’s acknowledged skills as a negotiator and relationship-builder. The large crossbench, comprising 16 members, including five returning MPs (Adam Bandt, Helen Haines, Bob Katter, Rebekhah Sharkie and Andrew Wilkie) three new Greens MPs and six ‘teal’’ independents, will require the more collaborative and respectful approach that the new Prime Minister has promised as part of his commitment to ‘fix politics’.

The Prime Minister has promised a constructive relationship with the public service, highlighting its strength in facilitating the prompt transition and in preparing incoming government briefs. He has announced Professor Glyn Davis as Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. The government has committed to ‘revitalise’ the public service – including by reversing the trend to outsourcing and reliance on consultants. Once appointed, ministers will start to engage with their departments and to assemble their private office teams.

A public expression of interest has already been issued inviting applications for over 400 ministerial office positions.

Australian PM Anthony Albanese, US President Joe Biden, Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Labor’s immediate priorities include establishing a national anti-corruption commission, advancing constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians, and convening an Employment Summit that will bring government, business, unions and employees together as partners in growing productivity, which Albanese describes as Australia’s most ‘fundamental economic challenge’. The Prime Minister used his remarks at the Quad meeting to signal that Australians had voted for stronger action on climate change – a priority Foreign Minister Penny Wong has communicated to Pacific Islands leaders during a whirlwind tour of the region.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers will deliver an October budget that will include an ‘audit of rorts and waste’ and measures to improve the quality of public spending. It will have to reckon with a gathering storm of global economic threats – rising inflation, looming interest rate increases and ballooning budget deficits. Chalmers has made clear that budget repair will be a long-term project; and has flagged ‘a conversation’ with the Australian public about ‘our national economic challenges’.

Another priority is to convene a meeting of Premiers and Chief Ministers. Albanese has referenced opportunities to make the federation work better. Federal Labor acknowledges the prominent role that State governments played during the pandemic and their support during the campaign. Albanese recognises they are critical partners in achieving his government’s agenda. The new federal government is unlikely to engage in broad reforms to Australia’s federation – opting instead for practical measures aimed at improving its efficiency and performance in priority areas, leveraging positive signals from Labor state governments in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia and the NSW Coalition government.


Albanese has emphasised the strength of his team and his intention to run an orderly Cabinet government – reversing the decades-long trend to centralise power in the prime minister’s office. The Prime Minister has promised respectful relationships across the Parliament, including the crossbench bench, but also the Opposition. He moved swiftly to chide Tanya Plibersek for insulting incoming Liberal leader Peter Dutton, prompting one of his most senior ministers to apologise, but also demonstrating his determination to act on a central theme of Labor’s campaign – to address ‘conflict fatigue’. The Prime Minister has committed to ‘seek common purpose’ and to look for ‘solutions, not arguments’, claiming ‘it is a show of strength to collaborate and work with people, not weakness’.

Importantly, despite running a modest campaign advocating ‘safe change’ after its 2019 election defeat, Labor was not a small target. Its agenda, priorities and governing style have been hiding in plain sight. Albanese made two key speeches during the campaign that highlighted his appreciation of the institutional and structural, as well as the policy challenges his government faces.

The first was at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI). In it, Albanese outlined his economic philosophy and ambition to develop ‘a new playbook’ of reforms to drive productivity and socially inclusive growth in the decades ahead. The second was a speech to the National Press Club where the then Opposition Leader highlighted the urgency of a long list of immediate challenges, but also of grasping the ‘once in a generation’ opportunity that presents for Australia to become a ‘renewable energy superpower’.

Albanese said something that he repeated in his victory speech – that ‘the how is as important as the what’. The what is policy. The how is governance and delivery.

The Prime Minister’s focus on cooperation is an important statement of intent – a signal to the crossbench and the Senate, to States and Territories and others seeking to influence his government. As this suggests, far from being a small target, the incoming government has a reform agenda and clear priorities about how it will be achieved. However, Albanese’s focus on governance capacity indicates concern about whether the government has the institutional wherewithal to realise its goals. It remains to be seen how quickly institutions habituated to the Morrison government’s preference for campaigning over governing can adapt to a more distributed and collaborative style.

“Albanese said something that he repeated in his victory speech – that ‘the how is as important as the what’. The what is policy. The how is governance and delivery.”
Australia’s 31st Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese

The 2022 Federal election has been described as marking a seismic shift in Australian politics. The nation’s political institutions are entering a phase of renewal – led by new leaders, and new ideas, responding to the expressed demands of Australian voters, particularly women and young people. The 47th Parliament will prioritise action on climate change, integrity, and gender equality, but decline in support for the major parties, fragmentation of the vote towards The Greens and independents, and the demographic, spatial and socioeconomic differences revealed through the result, means it must also focus on social cohesion.

Anthony Albanese knows that the social contract is at the heart of economic policy and that inequality is an impediment to productivity. This is reflected in Labor’s commitment that ‘no one [will be] left behind because we should always look after the disadvantaged and the vulnerable. But also no one held back, because we should also support aspiration and opportunity’.

Such concerns can be expected to guide the policy priorities the government has flagged – many of which align with the crossbench: growing productivity, increasing women’s economic participation, lifting wages and profits without adding to inflationary pressures, accelerating decarbonisation and the transition towards a low carbon economy. However, a confluence of economic, geopolitical, social, economic and other risks poses challenges for the new government’s agenda and priorities. It will need to gain and maintain the support of key crossbenchers, ensure discipline and coherence in decision-making and that it delivers on its commitments, particularly for disillusioned voters. The agenda will be constrained by institutional weaknesses, which is why Albanese has emphasised that the how is as important as the what.

Transitions of government offer unrivalled opportunities both for change and to achieve policy goals. Newly-elected leaders enjoy great reserves of authority and goodwill and face fewer constraints at the start of their tenure – particularly when they replace an unpopular regime. Often their ability to exploit these opportunities is constrained by a lack of experience, however, that is less likely to be the case for the Albanese Labor government, whose Cabinet includes seasoned hands, with strong links to government, industry and policy networks both here and internationally, and comparatively recent governing experience. The government is more likely to be constrained by institutional weakness, the need to balance a diverse crossbench and the inevitable threat of unexpected events. The Albanese government is off to a good start, but the hard work lies ahead.


Professor Anne TIernan

Adjunct Professor Anne Tiernan is a leading Australian scholar in public policy. Her career spans higher education, federal and state government, consultancy and teaching. Now managing director of mission-led consultancy firm Constellation Impact Advisory, Anne consults regularly to organisations committed to purpose and positive impact. She has written extensively on the political–administrative interface, governmental transitions, policy capacity and executive advisory arrangements. Her publications include The Oxford Handbook of Australian Politics (co-edited with Professor Jenny Lewis, 2021), Lessons in Governing: A Profile of Prime Ministers’ Chiefs of Staff and The Gatekeepers: Lessons from Prime Ministers’ Chiefs of Staff (both with RAW Rhodes, Melbourne University Publishing, 2014), Learning to be a Minister: Heroic Expectations, Practical Realities (with Patrick Weller, Melbourne University Press, 2010) and Power Without Responsibility: Ministerial Staffers in Australian Governments from Whitlam to Howard (UNSW Press, 2007).

Anne is a National Fellow of the Institute of Public Administration Australia and a Fellow of the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG). Anne is Adjunct Professor with Griffith University, and previously a member of the university’s senior leadership team.

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