Ask any MP who has ever served in government, and they will tell you: the opposition is a miserable place.
Instead of shaping politics and making big decisions, you are reduced to criticizing from the margins. Sometimes reporters don’t even show up for shadow minister press conferences – a borderline tragedy for politicians who need media attention to thrive like plants need sun and water.
One of the few benefits of being out of power is the relative lack of control you are subject to. Until an election approaches, opposition leaders can reliably get away with taking pictures of the government without having to detail what they would do differently or how they would pay for it. It’s easy to promise the world when you know you won’t have to deliver it anytime soon.
That’s another story in government. To quote Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, you are no longer the critic, but the person “who is actually in the arena, whose face is stained with dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who is wrong, who misses again and again”.
Nearly two months into his term as prime minister, it’s a lesson Anthony Albanese learned firsthand after reluctantly and belatedly agreeing to resurrect a $750 payout for low-income people without leave of illness.
Unions, employers and health experts have been pleading with the government to reinstate the payment since it expired at the end of last month. Contingent workers, they argued, will likely show up for work and spread COVID to others unless they are paid to stay home. It’s also a matter of fairness given that, unlike other illnesses, people are legally required to self-isolate after being diagnosed with COVID.
Despite these persuasive arguments, labor ministers have continued to insist over the past week that it would be too costly to reintroduce the payment. They have repeatedly pointed out that the decision to scrap it was taken by the Morrison government, glossing over the relevant fact that Labor is now in charge and is responsible for managing the national response to the pandemic.
It was always risky to let the payment expire in the depths of winter, a time when cases would predictably increase. With the arrival of new highly contagious variants, it has become untenable.