SKY NEWS ; AUSTRALIAN AGENDA ; SUNDAY, 12 OCTOBER 2014
SUBJECTS: National security, Iraq, press freedom, Paid Parental Leave, Budget, Party reform, cities & urban policy, infrastructure, climate change
PETER VAN ONSELEN: As mentioned off the top of the program we are joined now by Rabbitohs supporter Anthony Albanese. Thanks for your company.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you. Bit different from last Sunday, very nervous last Sunday.
VAN ONSELEN: I was trying to get you on my show on Monday night but for some reason you weren’t available.
If we can, we will talk a little bit about what Paul was just talking about, this whole issue of bipartisanship in the national security space. Joe Hockey has stood by his comments that he thinks that if you’re not supporting the financial measures to pay for national security initiatives then you’re not being bipartisan in those national security initiatives. Now, Paul Kelly, in a sense, has had a bit of a crack at the PM for not backing his Treasurer up on that. Is Joe Hockey right?
ALBANESE: Joe Hockey is wrong and Joe Hockey is wrong because of the nature of the cuts; not just that there are cuts in the budget, it’s the nature of them, it’s the impact of them. And we saw yesterday that the electorates that will be least affected by these cuts are the electorates of Warringah and North Sydney; the electorates of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer. It is the electorates that will be worst affected, have the greatest impact, were Blaxland and Watson; areas which have higher unemployment, areas that we saw today released from ACOSS Sydney has the worst figures when it comes to poverty in Australia of any regional area around the country and that’s why to say because you oppose a new tax being put on every time you visitor the doctor somehow that draws you to question your bipartisanship, that is where Joe Hockey made not just a strategic error but a fundamental political error as well.
VAN ONSELEN: I know, Paul, I want to ask you about this as well, but just as a quick follow-up, let me put it another way then, isn’t it incumbent on Labor if it is being truly bipartisan in the national security space to at least have alternative funding mechanisms for the kind of funding that is required in that space, if it doesn’t like the specific cuts, as you talk about?
ALBANESE: We know that in the Government’s statement at the end of last year they added $65 billion to the budget deficit. We know that on top of that they have got areas like the paid parental leave scheme, areas of new structural expenditure that will have an impact on the budget that gross over a period of time, so let’s by all means have a debate about the budget but don’t draw into question our position on national security, which is a bipartisan position that Tony Abbott has recognised as such and he is sensible to do so.
PAUL KELLY: How does Labor think the Iraq commitment ought to be financed; by higher taxes, spending cuts or a higher deficit?
ALBANESE: Well, we are not the Government, of course, Paul.
KELLY: But has Labor got a view on this?
ALBANESE: We will speak to the treasury spokesperson, but we will consider measures on their merits. That’s what we have done, Paul. If you look at some of the changes, for example, on the last sitting day of parliament there were some changes made to social security measures with Labor’s support but some others that Labor opposed because of their impact. We will not support a fundamentally unfair budget that has an impact on those people who can least afford it. And we won’t be lectured about responsibility by a mob that want to introduce a paid parental leave scheme at a cost of above $5 billion per year that won’t –
VAN ONSELEN: But it’s paid for by a company tax increase?
ALBANESE: No, that’s the impact in terms of the budget. There is an impact on the budget as well of the paid parental leave scheme and in addition to that they withdrew measures cutting down on tax avoidance, they withdrew measures – the hysteria that was there when we introduced a measure that said to comply with the FBT rules on cars, if you were getting basically a rebate for using your car for work, you had to actually show for two weeks in every five years that you were using the car for work. That was met with a hysterical response by the media, it must be said, but also by the now Government when they were in opposition. There were a range of measures that we put in place that they opposed as soon as they came to office.
VAN ONSELEN: But isn’t Labor being equally hysterical about the paid parental leave? Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people in the Government that don’t like his paid parental leave scheme but this idea that it is giving money to millionaires and that it’s people on these enormous salaries, 98% of people who would qualify for the PPL scheme are not earning over $100,000. All that’s going to happen though is that they will have their wage replaced not at the minimum wage level but at their already modest wage level for six months.
ALBANESE: But Peter, we introduced a paid parental leave scheme and when we proposed that in government Tony Abbott said that he would support it over his dead body, to quote the now Prime Minister himself. He then came up with an extravagant, unaffordable scheme that rewards those people – the more you earn the more you get out of the scheme – as opposed to our proposition which has been legislated, that is in place, that people are now benefiting from.
VAN ONSELEN: I know this is a bit of a side issue, but we have got time on this program, it’s one of the things I like about the show, it’s the same as the Public Service scheme. Anyone that works on your staff, if they have a child they get essentially Tony Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme. Same for people working in departments.
ALBANESE: That’s negotiated through, that’s a part of the agreements that are reached and, therefore, are built into overall packages.
KELLY: Just all this talk of bipartisanship on the Iraq commitment, presumably bipartisanship doesn’t extend to how the commitment is financed.
ALBANESE: Well, in terms of you, as you know Paul, the idea that you fund an activity, (a) with a tax or a reduction in spending of equivalence is not the way budgets work. You have expenditures and you have revenues. You have both sides of the equation and they meet. So, it’s a false proposition that you have put forward and I suspect you are aware that it’s a false proposition you put forward.
KELLY: But just on this point about bipartisanship, do you agree that bipartisanship is about the commitment to Iraq, it’s not about how it’s financed?
ALBANESE: Of course it’s about the commitment to Iraq and what we don’t have in this country is hypothecation of every activity of government; something that you’re aware of and something that, with respect, the opposition can’t be expected, for every single measure that is made by the Government. That would be an absurd proposition.
VAN ONSELEN: I’m concerned, frankly, about the speed of some of the bipartisanship as far as things like the anti-terror laws are concerned. There’s been lots of people, not just on the left, I mean, Greg Sheridan in The Australian really had a red hot go at the Prime Minister over some of the restrictions on freedoms for the media as well as other restrictions from these laws that have just been waved through with bipartisan support. Shouldn’t we have more debate about this?
ALBANESE: Look, I think we should Peter.
VAN ONSELEN: So why was it supported?
ALBANESE: I’m fully supportive of our activity. I have a view, and there are some people on the left who say “Oh well, rushing into war” . I’m not a pacifist. I’m of the view that where you see action that would see essentially people be fair game for beheadings and brutal murder because they happened to disagree with the so-called caliphate of the so called Islamic state is something that the world simply can’t sit by and watch. So that’s the first point.
VAN ONSELEN: That might be a reason though, with respect, to rush in for the action but I’m talking about the laws that are designed to supposedly make us safer at home. I mean, surely we can have a longer, more nuance debate about what the unintended consequences of those laws might be but we haven’t had that.
ALBANESE: Look, I’m of the view, Peter, that the Government hasn’t been at its best when it comes to proper debate, including, I believe there should be more debate on the floor of The House of Representatives, not up in the Federation Chamber, about our engagement. When we put Australians at risk that should be properly debated. I’m very supportive of the Government’s position and I would have liked to have seen more debate on the floor of The House of Representatives about that issue. When it comes to the so called anti-terrorist laws I believe there has to be proper scrutiny of them. You can be fully supportive of our engagement in the middle east and still say we don’t protect freedom by giving it up and I don’t believe there’s been enough scrutiny. I believe that the media laws, much of them, are draconian. When we talk about potential penalties of five to ten years gaol for exposing what might be an error made by the security agencies then I think when people like Greg Sheridan, as you say, are drawing it into question, as well as, I’ve had approaches from the media alliance, you know, we are all concerned as Australians about the gaoling of Peter Greste in Egypt. Why has he been gaoled? Because he was reporting, and therefore seen to be somehow supportive of, these actions.
KELLY: Just on all these issues what’s Labor doing about this?
ALBANESE: I believe we should be arguing for more scrutiny of these issues. I think we should be working with the Government on them. It’s important that they not be partisan issues but I believe it is appropriate that there be greater scrutiny.
KELLY: Essentially what you’re saying, I think, is that Labor has rolled over too far. That’s what you are saying, isn’t it?
ALBANESE: No, I think there should be greater scrutiny not just from Labor but from the Government as well at a time like this that security agencies will take every opportunity to impose things that have been in their bottom drawer for a long period of time. It’s important, I believe our security agencies do a great job for this nation, including ASIO, but it’s also the case that in a democratic country like ours where we are talking about fighting for freedom that we ensure that that freedom is, indeed, protected and not given up.
KELLY: Can we just clarify here, say in relation to the media, I think what you’re saying is that the proposed changes as they would affect journalists and the media are not acceptable, they go too far.
ALBANESE: I certainly believe that there are legitimate criticisms of them and I would hope, I would hope, that the Government has a look at what the impact of those changes will be, in practical terms. When we had a proposition, you’d be aware, Paul, when Labor was in government the response of the media was pretty full on. These changes are far more draconian in terms of their impact on journalists and anything that was ever proposed, even in draft form, by the former Labor government, so I think in terms of the criticisms that are there are legitimate criticisms and they need to be responded to by the Government. It’s understandable if sometimes things might have gone too far. If that is the case then they should be wound back.
VAN ONSELEN: I mean, I welcome this level of debate about it, I’m sure people that have written about this like Laurie Oakes and, as we have said, Greg Sheridan do as well but let’s just call a spade a spade here. It’s looking like there needs to be a movement for this kind of scrutiny to happen. You are the most senior figure on either side of politics to come out and express your concerns about the lack of debate about this.
ALBANESE: Well, I’m concerned about the rights of journalists. It’s consistent. I spoke on a motion in The House of Representatives that was bipartisan about Peter Greste. I’m someone who I think has consistently supported the rights of media to report. I’ve also been pretty consistent in calling the media out when I believe it gets it wrong. I think the media behaviour of particularly the News Limited tabloids, let’s call it, during the last election campaign was over the top.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: But do you have support from other senior Labor colleagues to try to slow this debate down, to have a proper debate about these laws and whether they impinge on freedoms?
ALBANESE: Well, I’m speaking for myself, which I do.
KELLY: Do you think that Bill Shorten shares your views?
ALBANESE: Look –
KELLY: Have you discussed it with him?
ALBANESE: I’ve had brief discussions with other members.
KELLY: Does he share your views?
ALBANESE: What I do, Paul, is speak for myself and I don’t discuss discussions that I have with either you or anyone else, as you’re aware.
KELLY: We might switch to –
VAN ONSELEN: Let’s do that after the break if we can, Paul, sorry to interrupt. We are going to a break. Anthony Albanese, appreciate your time. Stay with us on Australian Agenda. When we come back we are going to largely move into portfolio areas in the infrastructure and city space with Anthony Albanese and a little later in the program, as already mentioned, Warren Mundine will join us as well. Back in a moment.
Welcome back, you’re watching Australian Agenda. Paul Kelly and I are speaking to former Deputy Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese. We are going to get to your portfolio in a moment, I do promise, but first we have got to talk a little bit about Labor Party reform. You’ve worked with John Faulkner for many years, factional colleague on the left, both been assistant secretaries in New South Wales. He is big on Labor Party reform and he is worried that the party isn’t going there fast enough, nor far enough. What’s your view? There has been change, but do you agree that it’s been too slow?
ALBANESE: Of course we need to do more. The change that we have done that some people resisted has been successful. One of the reasons why Labor, I believe, is in a strong position now is the process that we went through a year ago in terms of opening up the leadership ballot to the rank and file membership of the party.
VAN ONSELEN: Sections of the right of the party are really worried about that change. They tell me privately when I talk to them that their big concern is that the membership of the Labor Party is not representative of the membership of the community and the more say that members have the likelihood is that Labor might risk itself lurching to the left in a way that takes it out of the game with mainstream voters.
ALBANESE: Well, that’s a defeatist position, with respect. What we do need to do is to grow the membership. How do you grow the membership so it’s representative and engage with the community? You do it by empowering them and you do that by taking power off the factional power brokers and giving it to the membership and if you do that, if you have faith in the membership, I believe you’ll get good outcomes, you’ll get that engagement with people coming through. People nowadays expect something more than just attending a local hall once a month and hearing a report from their local councillor. People can be engaged in politics through social media in a whole range of ways that they couldn’t previously and they expect that engagement to give them rights and giving the membership increased say over a range of issues –
VAN ONSELEN: So what’s the next step? What’s going to actually happen next year?
ALBANESE: I think there needs to be a direct election of conference delegates, a component of that. Already we’re seeing state parliamentary parties agree and state conferences agree to have direct election of state leaders. I think we need to ban factional caucuses prior to any of the parliamentary parties meeting with regard to positions.
VAN ONSELEN: Is that realistic though? I mean, they will just meet informally, won’t they?
ALBANESE: The culture whereby people are bound in leads to problems.
VAN ONSELEN: This is like that old debate, you don’t change culture by formally banning, surely. Surely you change culture by actually just simply working on the culture rather than putting in place rules?
ALBANESE: Sure, but you need to recognise what the problem is and the problem when you have factional caucusing and you need to have the numbers within a subgroup of a faction then you have the numbers within a faction, then you have the numbers within a caucus is exactly the problem that occurred here in New South Wales. How did New South Wales Labor get to the point whereby someone like Eddie Obeid, who has never been on this program, never been on any program, never made a public speech that has been reported anywhere, is a power broker in the New South Wales Government? How does that occur? So, you need to recognise those issues and respond to them.
KELLY: If we just go to two of the main recommendations of John Faulkner. The first recommendation is that we bust open the 50:50 power sharing arrangement at conferences with unions having 50%. He wants a new 60:20:20 rule, more direct election and unions going down to 20%. Do you agree with that?
ALBANESE: Not necessarily. I support more direct elections. It’s a matter of the process rather than the strict numbers.
KELLY: Do you want to keep the 50% rule?
ALBANESE: Look, I think that’s up for debate. I think what is more important, for example, is the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union in New South Wales before the last state conference had a meeting where I attended, a range of people attended with their delegates and they actually had a participation out there in their work places about what the issues were coming up before that conference and engaged. The problem isn’t the unions getting a vote. The problem is a few union secretaries having too much power.
KELLY: Exactly, and Faulkner made that particular argument, I appreciate that argument, it’s very important, but if we can just go back to the numbers though, you think the 50% rule is open for review? You would like to see it reduced, would you?
ALBANESE: No, that’s not what I’m saying at all.
ALBANESE: I’m saying that I want to participate along with people in the unions and bring the whole party along on the journey of reform.
VAN ONSELEN: So you need the unions to agree?
ALBANESE: Well, I don’t want to get stuck up on a debate about numbers because I think that’s a distraction from the real issue, which is how do we make party conferences and our processes more representative, more participatory and I think that can occur at two levels. The union link can be a real asset to the party, if it’s engaging people at the work places. If it’s just a few union secretaries sitting round over a Chinese lunch then that is not using that link that we have with the Trade Union Movement effectively.
KELLY: Okay, let’s just go to the other recommendation. Senate and upper house preselections, he’s saying that she should be by the rank and file.
ALBANESE: I supported that proposition at the New South Wales ALP conference. I think you could have a component as well, an industrial component, from the Trade Union Movement but I think certainly in terms of if you had a rank and file component you wouldn’t need for it to be 100%, but you would need, therefore, there would be pressure on people to be able to stand. What we’ve had in a series of elections is people elected unanimously, not always, but quite often. If you had a process that opened it up to the rank and file then you could have a much more representative, I think, ticket out there. I think by and large we have produced very good senators from New South Wales, including John.
VAN ONSELEN: What about elsewhere around the country?
ALBANESE: Well, I raised issues about the WA election clearly where we ended up just getting one out of six. If you had that participatory process – one of the things the leadership ballot showed is that, one of the things I got when going round the country, was people thought themselves in the general public they were getting a say. People were talking about it in their local community and that meant that prior to that being determined we were on 52:48. This is prior to us having a leader, when Chris Bowen was still acting leader, because people responded to the fact that we were talking positive, that myself and Bill Shorten were treating each other with respect, which contrasted with the image of Labor which was of a fight between Rudd and Gillard.
VAN ONSELEN: So what or who are the barriers to more participatory selection of senators? Why isn’t this happening?
ALBANESE: Factions don’t like giving up their power.
VAN ONSELEN: Because it’s not just the right, is it, the left are split on this as well.
ALBANESE: All of the factions and all of the power brokers, myself included, have to accept that we will have less power in order for the many to have more power.
KELLY: If we look at your portfolio you have just assumed responsibility for cities. What’s the thinking there, what’s the game plan?
ALBANESE: Look, 80% of Australians live in cities. It produces 80% of our GDP. And yet we have a national Government that isn’t engaged. Its first actions, abolish the major cities unit, got rid of the urban policy forum, won’t invest in any urban public transport project.
VAN ONSELEN: It’s a state responsibility though, isn’t it?
ALBANESE: So are roads, but they’ll invest in roads but not public transport and you don’t address congestion in our cities without having both and The State of Australian Cities Report 2013, the last one that we did, showed this real disconnect for the first time of where population growth is in the outer suburbs and where jobs growth is, because of the decline of manufacturing, the changes in the economy with the growth in the finance and services sector. Now, what that means is that we’ve got drive in, drive out suburbs. There’s a lot of discussion about fly in, fly out work force. Drive in, drive out suburbs where people have no choice but to drive sometimes an hour and a half to work and an hour and a half back.
VAN ONSELEN: So what do you do about that?
ALBANESE: What you do about that is a range of measures. Firstly, you take cities seriously. You speak about where jobs growth will be, so in some cases measures like the Moorebank Intermodal terminal, the Badgerys Creek airport for Sydney are important in terms of changing where that jobs growth is. You also need to talk about transport corridors and where they are.
VAN ONSELEN: You’ve got to do more than that, don’t you? You need to be willing to embrace, and this is something that both sides at a state level at least have been loath to do in New South Wales, but particularly Labor. You need to embrace going up, not just going out, don’t you?
VAN ONSELEN: High rises in the city, ala New York and other international cities.
ALBANESE: You need higher urban densities around transport corridors.
VAN ONSELEN: But Labor at state level was very loath to support that when it was in government in New South Wales.
ALBANESE: Well, I’m talking about the future. I think Labor did a range of measures to improve that in terms of the planning provisions which are there.
VAN ONSELEN: Do you think there’s been a change of heart on that front in the Labor Party?
ALBANESE: I want to engage on the concept of the 30 minute city, whereby for all of your activities, going to work, where your kids go to school, access to health facilities, access to shopping and recreational activity, you should be 30 minutes walk, cycle or public transport from most of the activities in your life. We need to get back to a sense of community. There’s too much disconnect out there, I think, between where the growth is and where that community and hard infrastructure is.
VAN ONSELEN: Given the divide of responsibilities on this front between Commonwealth and state and you making the point that roads also falls into that category is this the kind of thing that you might even want to make a submission to the federation white paper on because it sounds like exactly the sort of issue that requires that kind of umbrella look?
ALBANESE: Look, without national leadership you’ll have very bad outcomes indeed. The decision by the federal Government to say “We will only invest in roads and not public transport” means that if you’re a state treasurer and you have two propositions, a road project where you can get co-funding from the Commonwealth and a rail project where you won’t, you’ll go with the road project. The Productivity Commission has already found that. Infrastructure Australia have found that. That will lead to very poor outcomes indeed, because you can’t deal with cities like Sydney and Melbourne that will grow to 8 million people by 2050, you can’t have a city of 8 million people without having an effective public transport system.
KELLY: Just how ambitious would you like to see Labor be at the next election when it comes to east coast high speed rail?
ALBANESE: I think it is a proposition that’s worthy of support. We did a cost benefit analysis.
KELLY: The idea? Are you talking about the idea in principle or just a cost benefit study?
ALBANESE: No, we’ve done the cost benefit study. It showed that between Sydney and Melbourne there would be $2.15 benefit for every dollar invested. This is a game changer, not just for the capital cities but also for regional cities and regional economic development for Canberra, for Newcastle, for Wagga Wagga, for Albury Wodonga and for the cities that will grow up the north coast.
KELLY: So you think this is a viable idea in financial terms, do you?
ALBANESE: It is, absolutely. It’s been found to be. It is very expensive but there is a large return and it can’t be done tomorrow but what we should be doing right now, I’ve got a private members bill before the parliament to create a high speed rail authority that would be responsible for dealing with the inter-jurisdictional issues, given there are a range of state and territory government and local governments, we need to make sure as the first step that we are preserving that corridor for the future.
VAN ONSELEN: So will Labor look to make a submission to the federation white paper process on this?
ALBANESE: Look, we are making our submissions out there publicly. I gave a major speech to the National Press Club. We’re concerned about the whole direction of infrastructure Australia.
VAN ONSELEN: You think that the Government are politicising in that space, don’t you?
ALBANESE: Look, their performance has been appalling up until now. They have legislation before the parliament that says that once a project has received $100 million of Commonwealth funding then you will do a cost benefit analysis. They have got it the wrong way round. You need to do the cost benefit analysis first and that should determine where your investment goes, so that in Melbourne, for example, they have taken money off the M80, which has a positive cost benefit analysis, given it to the east west project which the best case scenario that’s been published was 0.5, if you have an uplift factor it lifts to 0.8 which means you get 80 cents in the dollar return for your investment and they have taken money off the Melbourne Metro project which has a positive return, was recommended by Infrastructure Australia. So they have got it the wrong way round. We need to have cost benefit analysis for infrastructure and that needs to direct where the investment goes.
KELLY: Over the last couple of days Bill Shorten has made it clear yet again that Labor will go to the next election committed to a carbon pricing policy and clearly Labor is committed to the principle of a mining tax. Is there a risk for Labor the next election that if you are committed to both carbon pricing and a new mining tax you look as though you are locked in to the Rudd/Gillard period?
ALBANESE: No, you are, with respect Paul, verballing him on the second.
KELLY: I understand the position on the second, I was just trying to tease you out a bit on that.
ALBANESE: What he has said and Labor has said is that we take climate change seriously.
KELLY: What about the mining tax? I understand climate change. What about the mining tax?
ALBANESE: Well, the mining tax has gone and we will be talking about our positions on a range of issues closer to the date.
KELLY: Are you going to walk away from the mining tax, are you?
ALBANESE: Well, it’s gone.
KELLY: You going to leave that to The Greens?
ALBANESE: It’s gone.
KELLY: Will it come back?
ALBANESE: It went through the parliament.
VAN ONSELEN: You don’t look too unhappy that it’s gone.
ALBANESE: We will have our policies on resources and those issues and the spokespeople will develop them.
KELLY: I think there won’t be a mining tax then.
ALBANESE: What we have put out there, Paul, with respect, in our first year, more policy than Tony Abbott had leading up to the election, is that we think climate change is real. The best way to deal with reducing our emissions is through a market based mechanism. See, they’re not just climate sceptics, they are market sceptics as well. We believe the market is the best way to drive that change through the economy. Now, we will come up with more details about that, obviously closer to the election, but Bill is right, to make it very clear, that climate change is something that goes beyond the immediate. It’s something we have a responsibility to for our kids and our grand kids because there is a price of carbon pollution. The question is who pays it? Do we just pass it on, which will be at a higher cost to future generations, or do we act in conjunction with the rest of the world?
VAN ONSELEN: All right, Anthony Albanese, you are always generous with your time on this show. Thanks very much for your company, much appreciated.
ALBANESE: Good to be here.
VAN ONSELEN: Stay with us here on Australian Agenda. When we come back Warren Mundine will join us live in the studio.