Labor has just doubled down on a critical political strategy. The party has either just won - or lost - the next election. You decide.
First go way back to the exciting innovation of the '90s, because this is third-way politics at its best. Identify two extremes, split the difference, and occupy the middle. Triangulate! Find a third way! Or, in this case, assume Scott Morrison will be hobbled from acting on climate change by his belief or deniers, paint the Greens as extremists and hey presto, you can have your coal and eat it, too.
Almost shouting with glee that our coal, Aussie coal, burns brighter and warms longer, Anthony Albanese moved decisively. He dug in with the mining industry, down in the bunker.
For him it was a no-brainer - and a stunning demonstration of exactly the sort of political acumen displayed by Jeremy Corbyn. Given the choice of being "in" or "out" of the European Union, Corbyn came down firmly on the side of "don't know". He was trashed. But Albanese has ignored that result in order to pull a similar swiftie. He's pretending carbon emissions don't soar across national boundaries and hoping nobody will notice that, as a result, he doesn't actually have a real climate policy at all.
Achieving this sort of thing requires both precision in articulation and the sort of deft touch that, until now, Labor's leader hasn't demonstrated. Perhaps this will change. What should terrify Labor, however, is the fact that this is the same approach that has already destroyed one leader who actually did have a genuine capacity to connect with the electorate.
Remember Kevin Rudd and the "climate election" of 2007? Back then he could have negotiated his carbon emissions policy with the Greens, but he thought he'd be smarter. He triangulated, cutting the hardcore environmentalists out and going straight to the opposition to hash out a deal. Brilliant!
Albanese thinks he can rely on Green preferences. Perhaps he shouldn't be so sure.
Unfortunately this handed the power to make or break his deal to a rump of climate-change deniers. Guess what? They broke it! Obtaining a deal with green ideologues was always going to be difficult; bargaining with the devil, including conservatives determined never, ever to reach a resolution, demonstrated a bizarre lack of political nous.
Rudd paid the price when, unsurprisingly, negotiations were scuttled. Soon he was dispatched, first in the polls, then by his party. Labor never recovered. It's still wandering in the wilderness.
After that, neither major party worried very much about the environment, and it was left to drift in the wind until the air turned to fire. Now Albanese knows he needs to act on this burning political issue.
So last Friday - while the country was recovering from the firestorms and soldiers picked up the carcasses of dead animals and economists counted the broader economic devastation and people in cities choked from smoke and the tourism industry turned to ashes - Albanese declared himself on a unity ticket with Peter Dutton.
He's backing Aussie coal without qualification or reservation, because if we don't do it someone else will. It's a complete cop-out: the perfect excuse to encourage coal exports and justify Adani. If only ozone damage could be quarantined the same way. But it seems the jobs of tour operators and farmers - and the health and future of children - aren't nearly as important as a few coal mining votes in winnable seats. Who wants to be pure when you can split the difference to pick up votes?
Then, just in case anyone was confused (or thought he might still stand for something), on Sunday Albanese shot away his other foot. Emissions targets are, he insisted, completely negotiable. Success! A policy so bland and transparent it doesn't actually exist.
Albanese thinks he can rely on Green preferences. Perhaps he shouldn't be so sure. Voters tend to see through politicians who believe in nothing other than getting elected.
What has destroyed traditional, two-party politics across the world is a new reality: economic issues no longer frame the divides in society. When communism disappeared, class struggle was replaced with identity politics. The left-right divide was subsumed in other issues. This explains why people vote for One Nation even if they don't respect Pauline Hanson. People are angry and alienated. It makes for an unpredictable and volatile electorate.
This poses dangers for politicians like Albanese who dismiss good policy and let nothing stand in the way of victory. What if the voters he's counting on don't just do as they're told?
The Greens could call his bluff simply by urging their supporters to vote Green in the Senate and preference against sitting politicians in the lower house. They could say current politics is broken: a coherent slogan marrying ideology and pragmatism and leaving them the kingmakers, because Labor can't win without their vote. In 2019, 82 percent of people putting the Greens first sent their preferences to the ALP. In 11 seats these were critical, pulling Labor's candidate up from behind to push their vote above the Coalition's.
Albanese needs environmental votes far more than those of the supposed coal miners. He needs to discover policy if he isn't to turn into the next Corbyn.
The new Austrian government is a Green/conservative coalition. That will probably be the next German government. Young people stayed away from the polls in the UK, hurting Labour, just as the party's vote here dipped after a huge response for the referendum on gay rights. Lower turnout - despite compulsory voting - destroyed the opposition's chances.
Albanese doesn't seem to realise he's playing with fire.
- Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer and a regular columnist.