Subjects: Election timing, Arthur Sinodinos, Royal Commission into banking; Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal; High Speed Rail
MATT WORDSWORTH: Right now joining me in the studio is Labor’s transport spokesman, Anthony Albanese. Welcome to Lateline.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
WORDSWORTH: Firstly, Arthur Sinodinos. Labor wants to have him hauled before a parliamentary inquiry. George Brandis you would have just heard there said this is unprecedented, not happy.
ALBANESE: George Brandis showed his ignorance of his own Senate standing orders. Standing Order 177 specifically provides for senators to be directed to appear before Senate Committees.
Now, normally that wouldn’t be necessary because senators volunteer to come forward.
But it would appear that Senator Sinodinos and indeed people in the NSW branch of the Liberal Party, including people such as the good Senator who was of course the Treasurer of the Liberal Party at the time where the NSW Electoral Commission found that there are questions to be answered about the channelling, if you like of donations through organisations like the Free Enterprise Foundation and a lack of disclosure that essentially people were making donations through the Free Enterprise Foundation in order to not go through proper disclosure.
And in some cases it would appear, people making donations who weren’t eligible because it was against the provisions that were provided for in the NSW election.
WORDSWORTH: Now the NSW Electoral Commission issued that report that implicated Senator Sinodinos in knowing about this arrangement with the Free Enterprise Foundation and then they withheld those millions of dollars in funding. But he says they have got it wrong but what, you want to further investigate?
ALBANESE: He wrote, indeed to the Electoral Commission and asked them to withdraw the suggestion and they rejected that. So they obviously have a very strong view about this. Now there are real implications here.
Senator Sinodinos is the Cabinet Secretary. So he is responsible for decisions right across portfolios as the Cabinet Secretary, including issues relating to the electoral laws and in the lead-up to an election it is appropriate that the Senate examine these issues and that there be transparency.
The NSW Electoral Commission and those processes will take their place. But because of Senator Sinodinos’s position as Cabinet Secretary, there is an interest in getting to the bottom of this and doing it prior to the election being called.
WORDSWORTH: Will you get to the bottom of it, though, by the time that Parliament is wrapped up, dissolved and we’re heading off to the election campaign or is this just a way for you guys to score a few points?
ALBANESE: This could be resolved pretty easily if they just fessed up. We have a system of transparency that is required by the public. The public want to know who is donating to political parties.
They want it to be declared. They want it to be out there in the open. And if you have donations being channeled through organisations in order to avoid that disclosure, then that is of concern to the general public.
And it is of concern if the Cabinet Secretary has knowledge of these issues. It is important that he take advantage of the opportunity that the Senate is providing him.
And I would have thought that if there’s nothing to see here, he will quite happily appear and give his full exposition of his knowledge of all of these matters.
WORDSWORTH: OK, can I just move on to the election campaign that we are unofficially in at the moment? What is going to be the big theme here? Is it Labor versus the banks, the Coalition versus the construction and transport unions?
ALBANESE: It’s Labor with an agenda for the future.
Labor with an agenda for jobs and the new economy; with an agenda for public transport, with an agenda for renewable energy, an agenda for fibre not copper in terms of broadband, an agenda which puts the education of every child and the opportunity being given to them to be the best that they can, and to have that opportunity in life.
First as a government that simply doesn’t have a plan for the future, that doesn’t have a sense of purpose, that is running from itself. People I think were pretty relieved when Malcolm Turnbull took over from Tony Abbott.
They expected him to take issues like climate change and the republic and marriage equality seriously. Issues that he stood for.
But it’s clear that Malcolm Turnbull’s fighting with Tony Abbott but it’s also clear that he is fighting with himself. This is a government that has been acting like an opposition for its entire three years.
They don’t have an agenda and today we saw the Parliament –
WORDSWORTH: If I could just interrupt you, just on that agenda tomorrow it seems like we will get more of it. ASIC looks like its funding is going to be pumped up again.
This almost deflates your royal commission, doesn’t it, because if they put money back into it, will it pressure you into having to make a similar commitment?
ALBANESE: Not at all.
WORDSWORTH: So you won’t put more money into ASIC?
ALBANESE: We will make our Budget announcements at the appropriate time. But what we have here –
WORDSWORTH: But if you wait until the royal commission is finished after two years doesn’t that put you two years down the road?
ALBANESE: We opposed the cuts to ASIC. We opposed them very clearly. What you have here is $120 million of cuts that were made to ASIC.
WORDSWORTH: Over four years.
ALBANESE: The report is that $100 million dollars is going to be put back, and they say ‘this is a good initiative. You should say thank you.’
This is the case across the board. The mean spirited cuts from the 2014 Budget are all still there.
WORDSWORTH: But Labor also cut ASIC’s budget by $38 million, didn’t they? In one year.
ALBANESE: When Scott Morrison hands down his Budget, what people will be looking for is the cuts to pensions, the cuts to health care, the cuts to education and to see whether they’re still there because the government, when Scott Morrison talks about Labor needs to support these savings, that is what he is talking about.
The 2014 Budget, that is still at the heart of their agenda. And they haven’t moved on from it.
WORDSWORTH: But still you are promising a $50 million inquiry. You could put that $50 million and it would more than reverse any yearly cut that’s happened to ASIC over the past couple of years?
ALBANESE: This is a royal commission that is in the public interest. Unlike the government that makes decisions based upon politics and who was involved in terms of past Labor Governments and has had those inquiries, we never did that between 2007 and 2013.
And we won’t do it next time. What we are saying here is that those families who have lost their life savings due to bad advice from banks or financial institutions deserve answers. They deserve a proper inquiry.
There hasn’t been just one or two incidents here. And I’m certainly not anti-banks. I used to work, to declare an interest, many years ago at the Commonwealth Bank. I am certainly not anti-banks.
But it is very clear that there are so many Australians including ones in my electorate who I have made representations for, who have been essentially done over and lost their savings and have been – they have broken people.
This has had a real impact on people. And this is the sort of thing that is deserving of a royal commission. We don’t take it lightly. But it is deserving of it because those people deserve that to happen.
WORDSWORTH: Another major difference in this election campaign is going to be over the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal which is going to be abolished after going through Parliament. Are Labor going to re-establish it if they win government?
ALBANESE: What we will do is provide for a mechanism in terms of road safety.
And we will talk with, as we did when we established the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, when I was the Transport Minister we talked with the Australian Trucking Association, with the livestock transporters, with the Transport Workers Union, with owner-drivers.
There was a long process to make sure that we got it right. Now, in terms of the process, what you have had is a single determination by the Tribunal, one that where the government didn’t even bother to make a submission about what that determination should be and when it’s handed down – and we think it was a flawed determination, we said were prepared to negotiate on that –
WORDSWORTH: Okay, but can you be clear to people whether you will restore it, re-establish it if you win?
ALBANESE: The real problem at the moment is that there is no road safety mechanism at all, by just abolishing the tribunal. That is not good enough.
We will sit down with the stakeholders but certainly it needs in terms of road safety, it should be above partisan politics.
What we have seen this week is not leadership. It’s been cheap politics.
And in my view, it’s moral bankruptcy because safety on our roads, where more than 300 Australians died last year, as a result of accidents in involving heavy vehicles, the government now has no mechanism at all.
WORDSWORTH: One really brief question, on I know a topic very close to your heart, very fast rail. The Canberra Times joked today that it only ever runs at election time. What policy are you taking to the voters?
ALBANESE: We’re taking a policy of establishing a High Speed Rail Authority. We took it last time. I have introduced the Bill three times. I had to reintroduce it this week because of the proroguing of Parliament.
We think you need an authority to establish the corridor. We think this is a project which makes sense.
What we would do is give the Authority the ability to call for expressions of interest because it’s very clear that there are global companies that have successfully promoted High Speed Rail in Europe and in our region and that we would be asking them to put forward their proposition.
We know there’s $2.15 of benefit for every dollar of investment, for example, between Sydney and Melbourne. This is a project that stacks up. It’s about the future and and it’s about setting us up for this century.
WORDSWORTH: Anthony Albanese, thank you for joining Lateline.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.