Subjects: WA election, Perth Freight Link, housing affordability and superannuation, craft beer industry, penalty rates.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Anthony Albanese, live from the nation’s capital. Thanks very much for your company.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
VAN ONSELEN: You were the Infrastructure Minister for six years; you never looked into the Snowy Hydro 2.0 scheme. Why were you asleep at the wheel Anthony Albanese for all those years?
ALBANESE: Well that’s not the case. The fact is that Infrastructure Australia hasn’t even been consulted on this. What we’re having here is a feasibility study. We welcome the fact that there’s a feasibility study but it’s some time off. In terms of the issues that have been confronted, they have largely been created as well by the fact that the Government’s energy policy has been all over the shop. They said that they wanted to get rid of the price on carbon. Since then of course energy prices have doubled, have gone through the roof. They said they wanted a national energy market, but we’ve had chaos with circumstances whereby in South Australia the Pelican Point plant was ready to go and the national energy regulator told them not to turn it on, which is one of the contributing factors of the blackout that occurred in South Australia.
So the Government is playing catch up. The Government has put forward this plan. We recognise that there’s nothing wrong with that, but it is some time off and it, of course, doesn’t add to supply. What it does, of course, is essentially create a big battery that will ensure that there can be more efficient use of the energy that is produced.
VAN ONSELEN: That said though, I mean just very quickly on the polls, they’ve done well, better, it’s all relative, in today’s Newspoll post the Snowy Hydro Scheme announcement just before Newspoll went in the field. They’re back to 52-48. I mean, how can a Government be only four points behind you guys with a Prime Minister increasing his preferred PM lead and net satisfaction lead over Bill Shorten at a time when they’ve got the penalty rates problems, the internal fights, the same-sex marriage stoush? Problems with an energy debate against South Australia. You name it; they’ve got it as far a problem goes. And in the wake of what happened over in WA, Anthony Albanese, and despite all of that they’ve had a pick up.
ALBANESE: What the Government doesn’t have of course is a sense of purpose, is a narrative, is a reason for being. It’s like Malcolm Turnbull is in the Lodge to stop Tony Abbott being there. And apart from that it’s difficult to see what the Government’s plan is on the economy, on social policy, on environmental policy. It is all over the shop. Indeed in West Australia they did have a shocker of a result and we know that penalty rates had an impact there. We know also their failure to have plans, their Perth Freight Link was a dud project and now they’re threatening the West Australian Government with withholding $1.2 billion of Federal funds because they don’t like the outcome.
VAN ONSELEN: Do you think they will actually follow through on that though? I mean they did the same thing in Victoria and then buckled. Do you think they will buckle in the west?
ALBANESE: They absolutely need to recognise and respect the outcome of the WA election. West Australians voted for Mark McGowan’s transport plan, the centrepiece of which is METRONET; is an expansion of the rail network. And of course that expands into a whole lot of areas that are impacted…will be an issue in the next Federal election, will be very contestable for us, including in seats like Hasluck and Pearce. If they continue to prevaricate and take this position of intransigence and frankly arrogance then they’ll pay a price for it. What they should do is cooperate with the State Government like they should be cooperating on energy policy, on health policy and education policy and getting some things done. This is a Government that has excuses; it essentially is a Government that behaves like an Opposition in exile on the Government benches. Well if they’re not prepared to govern, we on our side are.
VAN ONSELEN: What about Paul Keating’s intervention in the Sydney Morning Herald today, talking about you know how scandalous the idea is that the Government could perhaps be looking at, we’re led to believe, that you can draw off your super to be able to pay for a home. It was his policy back in 1993 at the election and super was less then than it is now.
ALBANESE: That’s not right. Paul Keating has been very consistent when it comes to superannuation policy and indeed Malcolm Turnbull when he was asked about the idea of using superannuation for the housing market dismissed it as an idea some years ago. We need to value the contribution that superannuation makes to retirement incomes. This is a policy that would undermine that, would undermine the job of investment managers whereby you’d have two tiers and they couldn’t be certain of how much was in a fund at any particular time. What we need is less change when it comes to superannuation, not more. And we certainly need it to not be undermined. All that it would contribute, of course, as well is to an increase in housing prices and therefore would be counterproductive.
VAN ONSELSEN: What’s this business about you writing an opinion article defending craft beer and wanting it to be taken seriously?
ALBANESE: Well the fact is that there are now around about 400 craft brewers around Australia. There’s 11 in my electorate. What they are doing is small business creating local jobs and potentially, or as well, there’s tourism benefits. There’s a couple of walking tours around my electorate. But it is a growth not just in our capital cities – in areas like Orange and Newcastle in regional NSW, in Ballarat, in Victoria. This is a major growth industry. It’s now captured 10 per cent of the national beer market but potentially as well it’s an export. There’s incredible figures about the growth that will happen in consumption of premium beer in China for example. And the Australian product is quality, does have potential growth for our national export market. So this is a growth whereby the policy-making is behind.
VAN ONSELSEN: In what sense?
ALBANESE: At the moment for example there’s two issues. One is red tape and the amount of time they have to spend filling in forms. But the second, which is pretty clear, is that if you sell beer in a 50 litre cask, then it attracts a lower rate of tax than if it is in a smaller cask in terms of made available to the pubs through kegs. And what that means is that the smaller craft brewers who might want to produce a premium product in smaller kegs aren’t able to do so and the big players get an advantage out of that.
So what the craft brewing industry is asking for is a bit more of a level playing field; is support also from local and state government in terms of planning regulations. A lot of these companies are establishing in former industrial areas and are coming up against bureaucrats who don’t want them to open at particular times. But these are all creating local jobs and it’s a great example of the changes in our economy whereby more and more small niche businesses providing a product or a service are the future of employment growth in our local communities. And in addition to that of course, local communities very much enjoy going to some of these establishments rather than the big beer barn of the past. It’s a good thing. Governments and policy makers should catch up with this development and my piece today is pointing that out.
VAN ONSELSEN: Just quickly is one last question if I can Mr Albanese. What about this story splashed on the front page of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph talking about I guess the inconsistency there of dodgy union wage deals and the Prime Minister – I’m going to talk to Senator Cash shortly – the Prime Minister coming out and putting forward legislation to deal with this.
ALBANESE: Well what that story misses of course and what the penalty rates dispute in the Parliament is about, and Bill Shorten’s Private Members Bill that he moved this morning is about addressing, is the fact that for many years under enterprise bargaining you have had a trade-off available so that you could say you will reduce your penalty rates but for an overall increase in other conditions, be it your general wage rates throughout the week, the number of shifts that you hold, the other leave entitlements for example.
VAN ONSELSEN: But this story is suggesting that’s not happening. That seems to be the essence of their proposed legislation isn’t it, to try to ensure that when that doesn’t happen it gets dealt with?
ALBANESE: Well I think the story hasn’t looked at the full details and the Shop Distributive Association – the union concerned with these particular agreements that have been raised – has put out a pretty comprehensive rebuttal of that where they have gone through what the trade-off is. But the problem with the Fair Work Commission decision is that it is just a cut in wages, it’s a cut in wages with no benefit so people who were earning x amount of dollars now earn x amount of dollars minus 25 per cent with no trade-off in conditions at all and that’s quite extraordinary. That’s why people didn’t see this decision coming from the Fair Work Commission because as long as we have had arbitration and conciliation in this country and various tribunals to make decisions, what they haven’t done is just cut real wages. What they have done is consider agreements in the workplace. That’s always been available and that’s why the Government’s argument in the first place about the inflexibility of workplaces doesn’t reflect the reality of enterprise bargaining which can be to the benefit of employees and employers.
VAN ONSELSEN: Anthony Albanese, always appreciate your time. Thanks for joining us on Newsday today.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.