by Maddison Connaughton
© Agence France-Presse
Sydney, AUSTRALIA (AFP) — Anthony Albanese, Australia’s 31st prime minister, was rushed to hospital a year ago, after a four-wheel-drive slammed into his car.
“I thought that was it,” he told a local radio station of the accident.
At the time, his Labor Party trailed the country’s ruling conservative government in opinion polls, struggling to cut through during the Covid-19 pandemic.
But the near-death experience changed his life, the 59-year-old later said.
In its wake, the then opposition leader recovered on all fronts: overcoming serious injury, shrugging off rumblings of a party leadership coup and shedding 18 kilograms (40 pounds) — an image revamp that raised some eyebrows.
His suits went from baggy to tailored, his bookish wire-framed glasses switched for “Mad Men”-style black full-rims.
Vitally, though, his party was able to pull ahead of its Coalition rival in the polls and hold the lead all the way to Saturday’s vote, ending nearly a decade of conservative leadership in Australia.
– Public housing –
Albanese, nicknamed “Albo”, was elected to parliament in 1996, and in his first speech thanked his mother, Maryanne Ellery, for raising him in tough circumstances.
The pair lived in public housing in Sydney during Albanese’s childhood and his single mother often struggled to make ends meet.
“It says a lot about our great country, that the son of a single mum… who grew up in public housing down the road… can stand before you tonight as Australia’s prime minister,” a visibly emotional Albanese told supporters at an election night victory party.
Albanese joined the left-wing Labor Party while still in high school and later became deeply involved in the bruising world of student politics at the University of Sydney.
– ‘Found each other’ –
The aspiring politician was the first person in his family to go to university and has said his working-class roots shaped his worldview.
Speaking to supporters on election night, Albanese reflected on the impossible situation his mother faced when she fell pregnant out of wedlock in the 1960s.
He was raised believing that his father had died, only to later find out that was not true.
“That’s a tough decision. It says something about the pressure that was placed on women,” Albanese said.
The prospective prime minister’s only child, Nathan, was born in 2000, inspiring Albanese to meet his own father with only a photo to help track him down.
The two were able to reconcile in his father’s Italian hometown, Barletta, before Carlo Albanese died in 2014.
“The last conversation we had was that he was glad that we had found each other,” the Labor leader told ABC.
– A historic victory –
In the 26 years since Albanese was first elected to parliament, Labor has only held government for five years -– during the tumultuous terms of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.
Albanese first became a minister after Rudd’s 2007 election victory and rose through the Labor ranks, finally taking over the opposition leadership after the party’s crushing loss in 2019.
Three years on, he was sworn in as prime minister on Monday — only the fourth Labor leader since WW2 to do so from opposition.
© Agence France-Presse