Anthony Albanese, the new Prime Minister of Australia

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SYDNEY – When Anthony Albanese attends the Quartet summit in Tokyo on Tuesday, Australia’s new sworn-in prime minister will meet a US president who is in many ways his mirror image.

Like Joe Biden, a working-class Albanian Catholic, a center-left veteran of his party and a popular albeit uncharismatic activist who overcame a stumble to oust a divisive opponent.

But there is a notable way in which the two leaders differ. Biden, 79, began formulating a plan to become president as a teenager, and first ran for the White House when he was 44. At that age, Albanese, 59, said he had no idea he’d become Labor leader, let alone prime minister.

“He didn’t envision himself as a leader until late 2013,” said political historian Paul Strangio. He is now the country’s prime minister after only one term as leader of the opposition. This is so amazing.”

Biden called Albanese to congratulate him on his victory and thank him for attending the Quartet summit that brings together the leaders of the United States, Australia, Japan and India. Albanese was spending the day after the election receiving an outside briefing. He will be sworn in on Monday before heading to Tokyo with Foreign Minister Penny Wong.

Despite polls promising a victory, Albanese may be Australia’s most unexpected prime minister. Until this weekend, his political life was slow. Defeat could have made him a very cautious or kind person to reach the top. Instead, the narrow victory of the Albanese made him appear as an accomplished strategist who could remake his country in a way that his more ambitious predecessors had not personally done.

Going forward, his humble roots can help Albanese connect with his American counterpart and set countries on more parallel paths when it comes to fighting climate change.

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“I think there is potential for Biden and Albanese to have an important personal relationship,” said Michael Volelove, executive director of the Lowy Institute, a think tank in Sydney.

“They both came from humble backgrounds and lived exceptional lives,” he said. “And for Biden, the personal is political.”

Albanese touched on his working-class origins in his victory speech.

“It says so much about our great country that the son of a single mother who was a retired special needs pensioner, who had grown up in public housing on the road in Camperdown, could stand before you tonight as Prime Minister of Australia,” he said to a boisterous crowd.

He often says he was raised with three faiths: the Catholic Church, the Labor Party, and the South Sydney Rabbitohs, a professional rugby team based in a traditional working-class neighborhood not far from where the Albanians grew up.

As a child, he told Albanese that his parents met when his mother was traveling abroad, and that his father died shortly thereafter. His mother only told him the truth when he was a teenager.

“We sat after dinner one night,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “It was very shocking for her, I think, to tell me that in fact it wasn’t the case, that my father might still be alive, and that I had met him abroad, and I got pregnant with me, and I told him that and he said, basically, that he was engaged to a person from the city in Italy to which he belongs.”

“I think the complete guilt associated with having a child out of wedlock in 1963 when she was a young Catholic woman was a huge problem,” he said. Hence how far I have come in terms of adopting my father’s name. She was wearing an engagement and wedding ring. She – the whole family just believed this story. ”

Albanese cites the story as the source of his sympathy for others. As a boy at Catholic school, he attended local Labor Party meetings with his mother and grandparents. He joined the party as a teenager, was active in college and then went to work for a descendant of the progressive wing of the state party. He was elected a member of Parliament on his thirty-third birthday. (Biden entered Congress when he was 29.)

Unlike Biden, who has made no secret of his desire to run for president, Albanese has expressed no interest in leading his party or country for nearly two decades, according to biographer and journalist Karen Middleton. He rose steadily through the ranks, helping to hold the minority Labor government together. When Labor lost the election in 2013, a leading figure in the party urged him to collapse in leadership, but Albanese lost. He got another chance in 2019, after Labor was shocked.

“The party was so frustrating that no one else was willing to raise a hand,” Strangio said.

Last year, Albanese likened his chances to those of Biden, who had just been inaugurated.

“There were people in this room who expected Donald Trump to win re-election,” he told a news conference. “But a man who was a former deputy leader and seasoned politician, who held a wide range of cabinet positions and who was someone who was underestimated by some, is now President of the United States.”

Like Biden, he has been criticized for appearing happy to allow the election to be a referendum on his opponent. And he has been questioned for running a small-purpose campaign in which he scaled back some of his party’s most ambitious policies, including cutting carbon emissions.

Albanese’s modest climate strategy hurt some voters on Election Day and helped push the Greens and Independents into Parliament. But it also enabled Labor to retain some key seats in the coal states en route to what, as of Sunday, looked like a small majority.

“It was a gamble,” Strange said. But the adventure paid off.

It remains to be seen how ambitious Albanese will be in terms of climate, especially if they don’t need the help of greens and climate-conscious independents. He played the cause both ways during the campaign, calling for investment in renewable energy but also support for new coal mines.

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Even if he remains cautious, his climate policy will be more ambitious than that of outgoing conservative Scott Morrison, who has slowly frustrated the Biden administration’s path to net zero by 2050.

“Biden will appreciate the Australian government, which has more climate ambition,” Volelov said. He said the president would also welcome a re-establishment of relations between Australia and France — countries that disagreed under Morrison over his handling of a deal with Britain and the United States for nuclear-powered submarines.

Volelov said it will be important to see if there is a “meeting of minds” when Biden and Albanese talk face to face at a four-way summit.

“Because Biden is an old-school politician, I think the first meeting is important,” he said.

Australia finds itself on the front lines of a new geopolitics. The Biden administration sees it as a key ally in fending off growing Chinese assertiveness in the region. China started a trade dispute with Australia two years ago. It recently concluded a security agreement with the Solomon Islands that some analysts fear could lead to the establishment of a Chinese military base roughly 1,000 miles off Australian shores. (China and the Solomon Islands deny this possibility).

“An Australian historian said in a famous article that we suffer from the tyranny of the dimension,” Volelov said. But now, in fact, we are faced with the predicament of proximity. The world is rushing towards us.”

The world is now rushing towards Albanese, who will meet the US president on his second day in office.

“It’s just the beginning,” said Volelov.

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