Anthony Albanese kicked off Hunter candidate Daniel Repacholi's election campaign in Toronto on Thursday while laying out Labor's strategy to dethrone the Morrison government.
In what will no doubt become a regular critique on the Coalition over the coming months, the Opposition leader portrayed Scott Morrison as an ineffectual leader presiding over a tired, pork-barrelling government lacking direction and a climate change plan.
"This week we've had the farcical situation of Barnaby Joyce waiting for the National party to tell him what he can tell Scott Morrison he's allowed to say if he goes to Glasgow to represent Australia at a global forum," Mr Albanese told the media.
Labor lost in 2019 after going to voters with policies opposing negative gearing and tax cuts and a confusing stance on climate change.
Outgoing Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon has spent the past two years attacking the party for abandoning its working-class base.
Mr Albanese has tried to reposition Labor to target what he sees as government weaknesses.
"At the next election, the people of the Hunter will be asking themselves this: What is this government's achievement after almost a decade in office?" he said.
"What's their big economic reform? Where's their big infrastructure project like the Hunter Expressway or Glendale Interchange?
"Where's their big social policy reform? We still don't have an energy policy in this country."
By contrast, he said Labor had "coherent" plans for governments to "buy Australian" and revive manufacturing, a $15 billion fund to boost investment, more generous childcare subsidies, jobs training, reigning in "cowboy" labour hire companies in the mining sector and criminalising wage theft.
On climate change, Mr Albanese said Labor would announce its policy on interim emissions targets after the Glasgow climate summit in November but was committed to net zero by 2050.
"No ifs, not buts. We believe that that, working with industry and working with unions, can add to employment," he said.
"We have a coherent plan for moving Australia forward and our place in the world, including being a part of global action on climate change."
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said this week that developed nations must adopt policies which would collectively reduce emissions by 45 per cent on 2010 levels by 2030, a target which would require rapid action on renewable energy in Australia.
Mr Morrison has not committed to attending the UN summit. The Nationals are due to debate emissions targets on Sunday before a full Coalition party-room meeting on Tuesday.
Mr Repacholi, a former mining union delegate at Mt Thorley Warkworth, said Australia should continue selling coal while pursuing a zero-emissions policy.
"If people want to buy our coal, we should be selling them our coal. There's no doubt about that," he said.
"It creates good, safe, secure jobs for so many people in this electorate."
Mr Albanese defended the lack of a rank-and-file vote to choose Mr Repacholi and said the decision was not part of a factional deal.
He said COVID-19 restrictions had made it too difficult for prospective candidates to meet party rules on attending branch meetings.
Many branch members in the Hunter were outraged when Mr Albanese made a captain's pick last month to install the 39-year-old, who joined the party in August.
"I absolutely respect that many members will feel frustrated that we're living under conditions that it's not business as usual," Mr Albanese said.
"What we've been trying to do is maximise local participation while making sure we have the strongest candidates possible."
Mr Repacholi was chosen despite publicity over his past activity on social media, including sexually charged remarks, links to websites displaying naked women and a comment describing India as a "shit hole".
He wrote to branch members on the eve of the national executive vote denying he was a "misogynistic prick".
The towering five-time Olympic pistol shooter from Nulkaba reiterated that he was sorry branch members had been denied a vote.
"I'm a genuine person, there's no doubt about that, and I'm sorry about the branch members, the way that they had taken away from them with the choice there for the preselection," he said.
"What I say to them is that was out of my control the way that got picked. I hope with hard work and dedication I'll show them that they will be able to see why I got picked this way."
He also apologised again for his social media history.
"I've said some things in the past that I would love to go back and take off Facebook, but unfortunately I can't. What I can do is I can show them the person I am."
The choice of Toronto for what Mr Repacholi described as a "soft" campaign launch was no accident.
The former miner has a relatively high profile in Cessnock but will need to win over voters on the western side of Lake Macquarie, which shifted into the Hunter electorate after a boundary redraw in 2016.
Mr Repacholi, 39, manages a mining services company which he said had struggled to find workers.
"I run a small engineering workshop with around 60 people, and we can't find employees," he said. "I could do with 20 people right now and I can't find them."
He said Australia had shed 143,000 traineeships and apprenticeships under the Coalition government.
Mr Albanese targeted the Coalition's record on pork-barrelling, saying the Hunter Expressway, which opened in 2014, was an example of how the former Labor government "made sure money was spent where productivity was going to be boosted ... not getting out a political map of red seats and blue seats to decide where funding went".
Asked if he should be in the Hunter given concerns about Sydney people travelling to the region, Mr Albanese said he had approval for the trip.
"I have approval to be here today, as I do whenever I travel. I'm coming directly here and then I will leave."
He said Australian jurisdictions would not be in lockdown if the government had listened to Labor warnings on vaccine supply, hotel quarantine and sharper lockdowns.
Mr Albanese has closed the gap slightly on Mr Morrison in opinion polls asking voters who they would prefer as prime minister but still trailed by 13 percentage points, 47-34, in the latest Newspoll two weeks ago.
Mr Albanese said the government was a "ramshackle lot" which was "absent" from climate action debate and "can't work out an answer" on the PEP-11 offshore petroleum exploration licence in NSW.
"I want to lead this country. He's not leading. He's given up," he said of Mr Morrison.
In the news
- King Street mural to go in Newcastle car park development
- Singleton swimmer Kevin Hallett remembered
- Raymond Terrace among hot spots as Hunter adds 103 COVID cases
- Port Stephens murder investigators seize car, raid house
- Respiratory clinic, Newcastle Private Hospital suite among COVID exposures
- Barry Toohey's Knights season review: the negatives
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: