If a week is a long time in politics, then 20 years is a lifetime. The member for Grayndler, Anthony Albanese (Albo) achieves this milestone next month, and on Friday night, 370 people gathered at a Sydney RSL club to celebrate the event.

It was a star-studded occasion — the guest speaker was former prime minister Bob Hawke (there with Blanche) — and several prominent members of Albo’s Left faction turned up, including former senator John Faulkner, current Senator Doug Cameron and MP Stephen Jones. From NSW, pollies Linda Burney, Jo Haylen and Penny Sharpe came, along with former secretary of Unions NSW Mark Lennon and ALP president Jenny McAllister. Quite a few burly men in bomber jackets, who appeared to be trade unionists, filled the back tables.

Clearly Albo still loves the fight, bounding up on stage to land a few blows on the Tories. He told the rapt crowd, “Is there a war between the Malcolm Turnbull forces and the Tony Abbott forces? You bet there is. I’ve never seen so many documents dropping off the backs of trucks.”

“But the bigger problem is that Malcolm Turnbull is at war with Malcolm Turnbull. On issues like climate change, the republic, marriage equality and public transport — on each and every issue, it’s the new Malcolm inside the old Tony.”

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The 52-year-old pollie reflected on his own faults. “I’ve been very open; a bit too open for my own good,” he said. “A bit too trusting; in 20 years, I’ve never told anyone I was voting for someone if I wasn’t. It’s old-fashioned, and I can honestly say that I’ve stuck to it.” He thanked “my dear friends who have been loyal to me through the good times and the not so good times”, giving particular thanks to his wife, “the love of my life” former NSW MP Carmel Tebbutt, and their son, Nathan.

Albo said he’d been brought up with three good faiths, the Catholic Church, the ALP and South Sydney Rugby League. “My values are a product of my upbringing I had in my two-person family. I’ve never forgotten where I came from, and that’s what characterises the Labor Party.”

He said he was proud to have served under Rudd and Gillard, saying they were both good people. “In policy terms, we will be well regarded. But you can’t put the internals above the externals — we suffered because of that.”

The ALP must defend its record on the response to the GFC, the apology to the stolen generation, the NBN, Gonski and the NDIS, he said.

During the hung Parliament, every day he went into Parliament with only 70 out of 150 votes, he said. Every morning, at the regular 7.30 meeting, he and former MP Stephen Smith would reassure each other: “We’re still here!”

“And we passed 595 pieces of legislation. Tony Abbott thought it was OK to say no to everything and be negative about everything. He didn’t transition into the prime ministership and even though the Liberal Party has changed horses they have the same arguments, there’s no narrative or sense of purpose. The problem is that people will not vote for a prime minister who does not have conviction.”

Albo told the crowd that he believed Labor could win the next election. “Fundamentally if we go out there and argue for a positive vision … and what sort of government allows the opposition to be setting the agenda on tax policy?”

He said that he was looking forward to a Labor victory, adding that as a South Sydney fan, he was very patient (the club took 43 years to win a premiership).

“Growing up where I did I had a much better chance of going to jail than to Parliament House. My first sentence after being sworn in as deputy prime minister was that it says something about this country that a kid who grew up in council housing with a single mother can be DPM of Australia. And it’s because of you — thank you.”

Bob Hawke gave a 35-minute speech about the history of the Labor Party, focusing on John Curtin, the Accord (veering off onto retail price maintenance) and secondary school retention rates. Finally he mentioned Albo, saying that he was the “epitome of all the fundamental beliefs and principles within the ALP, who has never allowed his personal ambition to get in the way of the implementation of Labor principles”.

The member for Grayndler now has a bit of a fight on his hands, as the redistribution has hived off a bit of Marrickville (Albo heartland) and added on Balmain and Rozelle, where the locals have voted twice for NSW Greens MP Jamie Parker. There, he could probably drop the “three faiths” — the Balmain Tigers limped to Ashfield years ago, and the last census showed the area has more dog owners than believers.

I failed to buy a raffle ticket — journalists shouldn’t give money to political parties — and so missed out on a chance to win bottles of bespoke beer Albo Corn Ale, a signed jersey from the Canterbury Bulldogs and some sausages from Chrissy’s Cuts, which carry the tagline, “Because Meat Shouldn’t be a Mystery.” Which was a pretty good slogan for the member, actually: “Anthony Albanese, because politicians shouldn’t be a mystery.” Go the Rabbitohs.