Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese

Labor in 'better position' with 'smart' Rudd as PM: Albanese

NEW Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has a simple way of explaining Kevin Rudd's popularity.

"He's smart," Mr Albanese said in one of his first one-on-one interviews since last Wednesday's Labor leadership showdown.

"People want someone who is smart, and they also want someone they can relate to."

The mood in Mr Albanese's ministerial suite, which has doubled as a makeshift Prime Minister Rudd's office since Thursday, was upbeat when he sat down with APN Newsdesk on Monday morning.

And why wouldn't it be? Every major poll since Mr Rudd replaced Julia Gillard as Labor leader has shown a major reversal in the party's fortunes.

Monday's Newspoll (51-49%) and Essential (52-48%) surveys showed Labor had significantly eroding the Coalition's lead.

Mr Albanese said there was no doubt the government was "much better positioned", but he admitted it came after one of the toughest days in his long political career.

"I'm really good friends with Julia, and will remain so. I'm good friends with Wayne (Swan)- he's my best mate probably in the whole building, so it was tough," he said.

"Both of them voted for me (for deputy) ... and so did Kevin, and so did (Chris) Bowen, and so did (Penny) Wong - so I had the confidence of the people regardless of where they lined up."

He also sought to clear up some confusion about how he came to stand for deputy: "There wasn't a ticket (with Mr Rudd). People think there was a ticket. There wasn't. I won that ballot in my own right and I think that was important."

Mr Albanese, the former minister for regional development, said under Mr Rudd's leadership Labor would continue to build on its "extraordinary record" of investing in regional Australia, highlighting the billions spent on the Pacific and Bruce highways and the national broadband network.

The latter is something he is set to become far more acquainted with, having it added to his already substantial transport and infrastructure portfolios.

While Mr Albanese was yet to be briefed by the department about the NBN, he said its significance to regional Australia was obvious in that it overcame the "great tyranny of distance".

"Regional Australia deserves the same speeds at the same costs as the CBDs. That's the great benefit (of the NBN) for regional Australia," he said.

Mr Albanese also pointed to Mr Rudd's decision to announce his revamped ministry in Newcastle as a sign regional Australia was important to the new government.

He said the government would stand on its "positive record" of infrastructure investment, the economy, jobs growth, low unemployment and interest rates.

So why was the government failing to sell these achievements under Ms Gillard's leadership? Opposition negativity, Mr Albanese said.

"You had them continually trying to create a climate on instability and that had an impact on the government and its standing ... and the parliament," he said.

"The problem for him (Tony Abbott) now is that that's gone."

But surely Labor's internal problems - three leadership showdowns in the space of 16 months - was equally to blame for the lack of cut through?

"Sure," was Mr Albanese said, adding quickly it was not the only reason for change at the top.

"There's also an opportunity to review some policies. But also changes in terms of style. Kevin is very much someone who is inclusive in his nature.

"He isn't a traditional Labor figure. He is someone who has very broad appeal and a wide range of interests."

"Inclusive" has not been a word heavily associated with Mr Rudd since 2010. A host of former Labor ministers have described him as anything but during his first stint in The Lodge.

Mr Albanese said there was already evidence this had changed: "You can see that in the way that things are playing out."

On the fate of the local government referendum, which cannot be held before September 14, Mr Albanese said it remained a priority.

He would not be drawn on whether the referendum would be held in its own right if the general election is held earlier, saying only it would need to be discussed by Cabinet.

"We think it's very important. It's a matter of when it happens, (but) obviously the election date could make a difference there," he said.

"It's vital that it happen. It's a common sense piece of housekeeping."



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