Albanese to dump class war and try to charm business

Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese. Picture: AAP
Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese. Picture: AAP

Anthony Albanese will dump Bill Shorten’s anti-business, class warfare rhetoric and launch a charm offensive to win back corporate Australia in a move to reconnect with voters following Labor’s election loss.

In a speech to company chief executives on Wednesday morning, the Opposition Leader will also support the right of big business to back social issues and not “stick to their knitting”.

Amid pushback from the Morrison government against companies pursuing social crusades, Mr Albanese will urge the nation’s top CEOs to continue reflecting “the values of their employees and their customers”.

Mr Albanese’s speech, delivered to the Business Council of Australia annual forum at Parliament House, directly rebukes Labor’s anti-business rhetoric ahead of the May 18 election where Mr Shorten attacked corporate Australia, describing them as “fat cats” and the “top end of town”.

“I want to work with you. I want us to co-operate to confront the challenges facing our nation. We won’t always agree, but you will ­always have my respect,” Mr Albanese will say.

“I am not just saying this after the election. It’s consistent with what I said before the election. Just as I want to work with you, those of us in this building need to learn to work together and that is something Australians are telling us loud and clear.”

The speech, which avoids discussing Labor’s tax and climate change policies, which are under review, warns of headwinds putting Australia’s economy at risk.

“Despite a great run over a long period of time, Australia faces serious economic challenges. There are serious problems ahead but this government has no plan to deal with them,” he will say.

Mr Albanese’s speech, his first major address to big business since claiming the leadership, coincides with the re-emergence of Mr Shorten, who has begun rebuilding his public profile in recent weeks.

Asked by The Australian on Tuesday if he defended using class-war rhetoric to target the “big end of town”, Mr Shorten declared there was “no way” Labor should give up its status as the party of the “underdog”.

“If you think that to be a political moderate you walk past this robo­debt scam and don’t do anything, well, no, I’m not the person for that,” Mr Shorten said.

“The Labor Party will always fight for underdogs and I am very proud of that tradition.”

The former Labor leader said he accepted his policies failed to gain enough votes, but added “millions of people did vote for us too”.

In his address to the BCA, Mr Albanese will reference the Whitlam Oration he delivered in Shellharbour last year, which was viewed inside Labor as an attempt to undermine Mr Shorten.

“Last year I said, ‘Successful Labor governments collaborate with unions, the business sector and civil society to achieve positive outcomes in the national interest’,” he will say. “After the election I went on a listening tour across Australia. I wanted to hear directly from voters just where they thought Labor went wrong and how we could succeed in 2022.”

Mr Albanese will say Labor “wants to work with business” and that as a political movement the ALP aspires for people to have “good, stable jobs with decent pay”.

“We recognise that for that to happen, business has to have the conditions and the policies that allow it to grow. It’s a straightforward equation: successful businesses create jobs,” he will say.

The speech also discusses the need for “business, workers and unions” to work together in recognition that “both the ingredients and fruits of success are shared”.

“Partnerships are important. Business and industry need certainty. I don’t want to get bogged down in partisanship but I remain surprised by the policy inertia of the current government,” it says.