Scandal makes Albanese's stamp indelible

Katina Curtis, AAP Senior Political Writer
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese acted swiftly on allegations of ALP branch stacking in Victoria

On Monday morning, Anthony Albanese didn't give a speech.

The Labor leader had intended to lay out his vision for Australia's post-coronavirus economy.

His office had even given the speech to reporters the night before to make sure it was in the morning's news alongside the prime minister's plans for deregulation and infrastructure.

Unfortunately, something else dominated the morning news: secret tapes, wads of cash and industrial-scale branch stacking in Victorian Labor.

No wonder Albanese looked discombobulated as he climbed on to the National Press Club stage to make awkward small talk with the Committee for Economic Development of Australia host before being invited to "have a chat" rather than deliver his prepared speech.

Scott Morrison made jibes about the non-speech during Question Time.

There's nothing quite like pinching an opponent who's already reeling from a body blow.

But Albanese has done what he can to quickly deal with that blow and make sure the injury doesn't fester - or, for that matter, interfere with Labor's hopes to retain the NSW seat of Eden-Monaro in a July 4 by-election.

He and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews acted swiftly to boot the factional warlord Adem Somyurek first from the state frontbench and then from the party entirely over the branch-stacking allegations.

Police and the anti-corruption watchdog were called in.

And then, just 48 hours from the story breaking, Labor's national executive agreed to take over the Victorian branch, run preselections for the next three years and task respected party elders with rooting out all the bad weeds.

Through all this, Albanese kept his face in the spotlight.

In multiple interviews, he's been clear: I knew nothing, I took action, I'm putting an end to this.

His stamp is firmly on the party now, a year after he took over as federal leader.

It doesn't hurt either that the alleged dodginess is among those on the other side of the factional divide from Albanese and Andrews.

This scandal has a way to run yet as formal investigations get going and Jenny Macklin and Steve Bracks start their spring clean of Spring Street.

It also seems likely to further engulf the federal parliamentary caucus.

Long-serving MP Anthony Byrne's role in the whole matter is yet to be fully explained and there are a suite of others that Somyurek claimed influence over.

Mysteriously, not a single member of the caucus raised the matter during Tuesday morning's meeting.

Down the corridor, the matter was also not discussed in the coalition party room, but then why would it be? Much more fun to gossip in corridors and heckle in Question Time.

Morrison told his colleagues his mind had returned to his "quiet Australians" during the past few weeks of protests about police treatment of Indigenous people and debates over historical statues.

Whatever the views of individuals on those issues, he was sure most Australians were asking how it helped their job security or to reopen their business.

The "quiet Australians" rhetoric seemed to have been shelved during summer when many of those people found themselves trapped in holiday homes, choking in smoke-filled cities or watching on in horror as fires ravaged the country.

They started to speak up about climate change.

Now tens of thousands of people are speaking up about race relations.

In the speech he didn't give on Monday, Albanese declared he wants to rebuild Australians' capacity to talk about big issues.

"It's a capacity that has been corroded by the culture wars - but it is not beyond repair," he intended to say.

The caucus meeting on Tuesday spent a significant amount of time discussing the report from its First Nations committee.

Indigenous affairs spokeswoman Linda Burney told colleagues the government had all but killed off a referendum recognising Indigenous Australians in the constitution and Morrison had made it clear he wouldn't spend any of his considerable political capital on the issue.

At the end of last week, minister Ken Wyatt acknowledged the referendum was unlikely to happen before the next federal election, saying it was too important to rush and too important to fail.

But Morrison has brushed away questions of timing and process over recent months.

It's hard not to agree with Burney's assessment when the prime minister is dismissing as too noisy the voices of people calling for change.