Not so easy: Tough room looms for Albanese at Labor conference

COVID inquiries into measures like lockdowns and border closures should be handled by states and territories, Albanese says.

COVID inquiries into measures like lockdowns and border closures should be handled by states and territories, Albanese says. Photo: Getty

Now comes the tricky part.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese hailed a $3 billion package agreed to with the states on Wednesday as the most significant housing reform in a generation.

It may yet be.

But after four decades where public housing in Australia has decreased by 60,000 homes, the PM could be accused of making a modest boast.

Minimal political difficulty

Getting Labor leaders to agree to receive federal payments (don’t get between premiers and buckets of money, the cliche goes) takes minimal political difficulty.

Rank-and-file Labor members will be a much tougher crowd.

There’s no shortage of issues that 400 delegates are itching to bowl up to the Prime Minister at this weekend’s ALP national conference in Brisbane.

And it’s the challenge this poses from the left of politics that is the backdrop to Mr Albanese’s move on housing.

If getting a premier to open their bank accounts is easy, Mr Albanese’s critics say the opposite about loosening his hold on the national purse strings.

For that, the Greens’ housing spokesman Max Chandler-Mather is on an extended victory lap.

Mr Chandler-Mather rejected the government’s Housing Australia Future Fund as inadequate when it first promised to fund homes with returns on its investments of up to $500 million a year.

After the Greens first stood in the way, “up to” became a minimum of $500 million a year.

Pitch to the faithful

Fast forward a few months, and Mr Albanese has agreed to dispense more than $5 billion in extra cumulative funding, or a decade’s worth of investments from the fund he has been fighting so hard over.

The housing bill returns to the Senate in October after the Greens refused to pass it two months ago.

Mr Albanese on Wednesday rejected as “unserious” their demands that the federal government work with the states to freeze rents.

He wasn’t wrong.

But at a national cabinet where eight of the nine seats are Labor leaders, Mr Chandler-Mather did not ever expect to roll a Labor PM.

He was instead pitching to the Labor faithful after a year of a solid and successful but deeply centrist government.

With more than 2.6 million households in Australia renting and other living costs mounting, Mr Albanese heard the message and moved again to spend more on housing.

By announcing the funding at national cabinet, the PM made a show of sidelining Mr Chandler-Mather and the Parliament, where he still needs the minor party’s votes to pass bills.

But the spectre of the Greens will be looming over the three-day national conference, the ALP’s first such proper gathering in five years.

Much has changed.

The Labor left will be backing proposals like axing the $254 billion stage-three tax cuts for high-income earners; levying a super profits tax on fossil fuel companies to fund public housing and, not least of all, the $368 billion AUKUS submarine deal.

Until now, holding down the centre of politics has been a solid strategy for the Prime Minister.

This week, it won’t be easy.

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