Another knife-edge election is looming for Australia as Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese sharpen battlelines drawn under the shadow of a pandemic.
The Labor leader is aiming to become just the fourth person to lead the party to victory from opposition since the Second World War.
In an exclusive wide-ranging interview with AAP, the opposition leader indicated he would not lead a reform-shy government.
“We have a first-term plan. We want to not waste the opportunity that’s there,” Mr Albanese says.
“One of the things I’m very cognisant of is the fact that this government doesn’t have an agenda.”
He has revealed key priorities ahead of the poll which is due by May.
Secure work tops the agenda with policy changes across child care, aged care, climate change, manufacturing and government contracts.
Mr Albanese says changing workplace laws to make job security an objective of the Fair Work Act will be an “absolute priority”.
He plans to legislate a $6.2 billion childcare overhaul, which Labor claims will cut costs for 97 per cent of families and move towards universal child care, in 2022.
Labor’s first budget would include the “buy Australia” plan which aims to use government purchasing power to boost local businesses.
Mr Albanese also points to aged care as something Labor will need to deal with soon after coming to office.
The opposition leader’s critics accuse him of running a small-target strategy devoid of big-ticket items.
Former South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill and Gillard government cabinet minister Craig Emerson’s 2019 election review partly blamed Labor’s broad agenda for the party’s shock loss.
It found almost-daily campaign announcements of new multi-billion-dollar policies raised anxieties among low-income voters that jobs would be at risk.
Queensland again shapes as a key election battleground after Labor won just 20 per cent of the state’s seats at the last election.
A trio of WA electorates are in the opposition’s sights after the Liberals were almost wiped out at a state level.
Marginal contests in NSW are becoming increasingly crucial, with the state likely to be a bigger target than Victoria where fewer seats are expected to change hands.
One seat in SA and three in Tasmania also shape as crucial.
Labor leads in national polls and is slight favourite in most betting markets.
But the chastening experience of Bill Shorten’s 2019 surprise defeat has blunted ALP expectations.
Some Labor faithful are concerned a lack of reforming zeal could undermine the party’s chances of presenting an alternative to Scott Morrison.
Mr Albanese’s central criticism of the government suggests he will not stall if voters hand him power.
“After three terms they will have been in office for nine years. Where’s the big economic reform? Where’s the big social policy reform? Where’s the big environmental agenda that they have?” he asks.
“They’ve run up $1 trillion of debt and they have no big legacy to show for it.
“They’ve had two budgets in the last 12 months – what was the big infrastructure project that came out of those budgets? Nothing. What was the big nation-shaping reform?”
The 58-year-old served as infrastructure minister and leader of the house for six years when Labor was last in power and also had a brief stint as deputy prime minister.
“Labor governments certainly haven’t been perfect in terms of the Rudd and Gillard governments,” Mr Albanese says.
He argues six years produced the National Broadband Network, paid parental leave, a royal commission into institutional abuse, school building grants and Infrastructure Australia.
On foreign policy, the Labor leader backs the US “competition without catastrophe” approach to China and talks up ties with President Joe Biden’s Democratic administration.
He wants to elevate climate change to a national security issue, which he believes will strengthen ties with Pacific nations and allies critical of emissions reduction targets.
“People on the global stage – they’re not goldfish. They have memories,” Mr Albanese says.
He has also committed to regular visits to Indigenous communities if Labor wins.
The prime minister this week sharpened his attacks on Labor as the party of higher taxes and more regulation.
Mr Morrison is banking the incumbency, which has favoured governments through the pandemic, can deliver him another term.
Mr Albanese is adamant the election will be fought on vaccines and quarantine despite the prospect of those issues being in the rear-view mirror by next year.
“These are Scott Morrison’s lockdowns that people have had to endure,” he says.
“The Australian people have been magnificent during COVID but the government let them down and people will remember that.”
His case for the future will focus on making the economy more resilient through making more things in Australia.
“Part of what we will be saying at the next election is if you want to know where the coalition will be in 10 years’ time, look at where Labor is now.”
Greens leader Adam Bandt is targeting the balance of power under a Labor government.
Asked what sort of prime minister Anthony Albanese would make, Mr Bandt told AAP: “A better one if the Greens are there to push him”.
But Mr Albanese distanced himself from sharing power.
“People can look at what I did. I’ve been deputy prime minister in 2013. We didn’t make any deals with anyone. We stood by ourselves,” he says.
“I’m very confident we’re about getting a majority Labor government. That’s all I’m interested in.”