Final changes to the boundaries of the federal seat of Grayndler that reinforce Labor’s vote have convinced sitting MP Anthony Albanese to seek re-election in the seat he has held since 1996.

When preliminary boundary changes were released last year, Grayndler lost some traditional Labor-voting suburbs, and Albanese supporters urged him to switch to the neighbouring Barton electorate to protect his parliamentary career and fulfil his ambition to succeed Opposition Leader Bill Shorten as the next ALP leader.

Even though Albanese will soon announce he intends to remain in Grayndler, once regarded as Australia’s safest Labor seat, his victory at this year’s federal election is by no means secure.

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To remain in federal Parliament, Albanese will need to defeat strong challenges from two directions — NSW Greens candidate Jim Casey and the Liberal nominee (yet to be named).

There are now two state Greens MPs within Grayndler’s boundaries — Jenny Leong (Newtown) and Jamie Parker (Balmain) — and proactive community Greens sit on Marrickville and Leichhardt Councils.

Casey, state secretary of the Fire Brigades Employees’ Union, is a career firefighter who lives and works in the electorate. He is a committed environmentalist and socialist who will run an “unashamedly left campaign”.

If Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull decides to fight the election on curbing union rights and cutting penalty rates, 45-year-old Casey will be a formidable opponent and will probably poll in second place.

By collecting sufficient preferences, Casey could overtake Albanese, the frontrunner, and win the seat.

While Liberals were few and far between when the late Fred Daly held working-class Grayndler between 1949 and 1975, the newly gentrified seat is now home to many Liberal supporters as well.

They are buoyed by consistently favourable polling for the party’s current poster boys, Turnbull and NSW Premier Mike Baird. If the Turnbull-Baird voter popularity continues until election day, the Liberals could easily grab second place with a primary vote of around 28% and surge ahead of Albanese with the addition of second preferences from minority candidates.

Although Albanese and his partner, Carmel Tebbutt, the local state MP from 2005 until 2015, have ruled local Labor branches for more than 25 years, the “left” rhetoric is wearing thin.

Albo’s previous populism has given way to a suspicion that he is an ambitious numbers man absorbed by Canberra politics and not the problems of the voters of Grayndler.

Under electoral siege from the left (Greens) and the right (Liberals), Albanese appears to have forgotten the advice given to budding politicians by former Grayndler MP Fred Daly: “I always worked on the principle laid down to me by Ben Chifley: always be available to your constituents.”

Albanese is currently in Rome attending a Vatican-sponsored roundtable organised under the auspices of the Global Foundation, founded by prime minister John Howard in 1998. The opening keynote address was given by Cardinal George Pell, former archbishop of Melbourne and then Sydney, who is now the Vatican’s prefect of the secretariat for the economy.

Pell, 74, appears to have made a recovery from the illness that prevented his appearance at public hearings in Melbourne last month before the royal commission on child sex abuse.

Pell shared the limelight at the Rome roundtable with Rupert Murdoch heavyweights including Gerard Baker, editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal and Robert Thomson, CEO of News Corp, plus Mark Cutifani, CEO of the mining giant Anglo American, Oliver Pawle, chairman of Korn Ferry, Dominic Barton, the international head of McKinsey & Company and senior officials of the IMF and the World Bank.

The London Financial Times headlined Pell’s speech: “Vatican finance chief sings praises of free markets”, and said:

“A senior cardinal chosen by Pope Francis to manage the Vatican’s finances has launched into a spirited defence of free markets, countering the perception that the Catholic church under the Argentine pontiff has turned against capitalism.”

Sadly, none of the Rome attendees are registered to vote in Grayndler and the official two-page guest list contained no names of voters from Marrickville, Enmore, Newtown, Ashfield, Leichhardt or anywhere else in his constituency.

One Labor supporter interviewed by Crikey was angry that Albo appeared to be junketing while hundreds of jobs were being lost and the sharemarket was in free fall. “Who is paying for his trip — the ALP, Parliament, the Catholic Church or Anthony?” Good question.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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