Subjects: Asylum seeker policy, Sarah Hanson-Young advocating for offshore processing, Gonski reforms, infrastructure cuts, company tax rate, Budget.
EMMA ALBERICI: The Greens chose the inner-city Sydney seat of Grayndler for their campaign launch today. It’s always been held by Labor. Since 1996, the ALP’s Anthony Albanese has been the local member.
But the boundaries were changed last year, making his hold on Grayndler less assured, as the Greens target progressive inner-city voters.
Today, the Opposition frontbencher told the Greens to back off Labor seats and target Liberal-held seats. Anthony Albanese joins me now in the studio.
Thank you for being here.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good evening, Emma.
ALBERICI: Did someone in the party – first of all, before we get to your seat in particular, did someone in the party forget to tell Labor’s candidate for Melbourne Sophie Ismail about your asylum seeker policies?
ALBANESE: No, not at all, Emma. What’s happened is that Sophie’s put forward a personal view. That doesn’t change the Labor Party’s view. She’s a candidate. From time to time, candidates will put views during election campaigns.
ALBERICI: Just to clarify, you are on a unity ticket with the Coalition on border protection, on boat turnbacks and offshore processing.
ALBANESE: But we have a very different position, Emma. We want to double the intake to 27,000. We want to give support to the UNHCR.
ALBERICI: But on those two particular policies, which are the ones Sophie Ismail was railing against –
ALBANESE: We want to give the UNHCR real support. $450 million will make us the fifth biggest donor in the world, given we’re the 12th biggest economy.
ALBERICI: That unfortunately won’t solve the problem of the countless millions who are seeking asylum around the world.
ALBANESE: No, there are 10 million people seeking asylum. We can’t solve all of that, Emma, but what we can do is be –
ALBERICI: – and in the meantime, I just want you to clarify you’re on a unity ticket with the Government.
ALBANESE: We have a different position that was adopted at our platform –
ALBERICI: On boat turnbacks and processing offshore?
ALBANESE: No. But we have a different position on asylum seeker treatment. We regard the fact that people have been left on Nauru and Manus without being resettled as being outrageous and an abrogation of the Government’s responsibility to solve –
ALBERICI: Doesn’t that indicate they haven’t been able to find anywhere?
ALBANESE: – to solve those issues. Well it might indicate they haven’t been trying too hard, Emma. But we’ve been very critical of that.
We would establish independent oversight of everyone in detention. We would support all children being out of detention.
And by working with regional solutions, particularly because we’re funding the UNCHR –
ALBERICI: Sorry, you’d support all children being out of detention and go where?
ALBANESE: That’s our position in terms of –
ALBERICI: Back here in Australia?
ALBANESE: No, our position is children should not be in detention.
ALBERICI: Well where should they be? If you took government tomorrow, where would they go?
ALBANESE: Our position is, Emma, that we do support offshore processing, but we also want to have a policy that’s humane. I think you can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity.
And one of the things that we don’t want to start is the trade to start up again. We’re very clear about that. But we also think that people can be treated humanely.
And it’s not that different, Emma, from a position that Sarah Hanson-Young, the Greens spokesperson, wrote in Mamamia just the other week. She said this –
ALBERICI: Well, let me show you something else she said today.
ALBANESE: She said this –
ALBERICI: You’re talking about a few weeks ago. Today she said –
ALBANESE: Well – well you haven’t heard what she said yet.
ALBERICI: Today she said, “I’m really glad the Australian Labor Party are coming to their senses. Sophie Ismail confirmed MPs will not adhere to boat turnbacks.”
ALBANESE: Well what she said earlier on, just in the last six months in a written, considered article was this: “We could be processing people’s claims for asylum in the region before they are forced onto boats in the first place.”
She went on to say, “We need to work with the UN to set up processing centres in Indonesia and Malaysia and then when we know who needs protection and who doesn’t – ”
ALBERICI: With respect, Anthony Albanese, the Greens are not in government.
ALBANESE: ” – we take those in need and send the others home.”
ALBERICI: But with respect, she’s not in government.
ALBANESE: That’s correct, but that is when you have to –
ALBERICI: Isn’t it a – let’s just go back to the issue we started with.
ALBANESE: Well, when you have to actually have a considered position beyond just a slogan, then it’s not simple, the solutions, and that’s why –
ALBERICI: I just wanted to ask you, on the issue of the Melbourne seat, which will be hotly contested now between Sophie Ismail and Adam Bandt, isn’t it a little –
ALBANESE: It’s a very safe Greens seat, actually, Emma.
ALBERICI: Well, she’s trying to prise it away.
ALBANESE: She is, as she’s entitled to do.
ALBERICI: And isn’t it a little disingenuous for a Labor MP to express a different point of view to her electorate to that which she would be then forced to take in the Parliament.
ALBANESE: Emma, we’ve had sitting Labor MPs saying very similar things – sitting Labor MPs, during the last term.
ALBERICI: But when you’re seeking election –
ALBANESE: And we’ve had sitting Labor MPs and under John Howard’s government, you had Petro Georgiou, you had Judi Moylan, you had Bruce Baird, you had a range of MPs putting views. We’re in a democracy. We don’t all speak with one voice.
Sophie Ismail has put forward her view. The Labor Party’s view is clear though. It’s not the same as the Coalition when it comes to working through solutions because we believe, yes, we agree that we need to stop people smugglers, but we also believe that people are entitled to be treated with respect.
ALBERICI: On economics, do you accept that it’s a clear choice now for voters this time around: higher taxes from Labor or lower taxes and economic growth from the Coalition?
ALBANESE: No, I don’t at all. What we’ve had from the Government is a doubling of the deficit. What we’ve had is a slowing of economic growth. We hear them talking about difficult, turbulent international economic environment.
We dealt with the Global Financial Crisis as well as of course bushfires in Victoria and floods in Queensland. We dealt with all that and we came through with the economy stronger than it was at the beginning of that process because of our economic management.
ALBERICI: But also what you did at the end of that process, having dealt with all those issues, was plant some debt bombs in the Budget, things like the NDIS and Gonski and hospital funding, things that would be recurrent and increasing …
ALBANESE: No, what –
ALBERICI: – in the Budget rather than having to deal with them and cost them in your own plan.
ALBANESE: Well what we did, Emma, wasn’t middle class warfare, with respect. What we did was things that were necessary economic reforms. Take the Gonski reforms –
ALBERICI: But they increased the deficit of the debt going forward.
ALBANESE: Take the Gonski reforms. If you invest in education and training of our young people, what you do is you increase the future economic capacity of the nation. It benefits the individual by allowing them to achieve their opportunity, but it benefits the nation as well.
If we’re going to compete in this century, we have to compete on the basis of how smart we are. That’s why it’s not just a giveaway, it’s an investment – it’s an investment in people.
We invested in people and we invested in capital through infrastructure. Now this government has seen infrastructure investment decline by 20 per cent on its watch.
ALBERICI: You talk about being internationally competitive on the education side, but Labor has opposed a cut to 27.5 per cent in the company tax rate for medium and larger businesses, yet your own policy, had you remained in government, would’ve seen company tax for all companies big and small by now at 28 per cent.
ALBANESE: Well what we’ve said, Emma, pretty clearly is – I was in the Budget lockup and when the people were examining it and we were being given our brief when we walked in after Question Time, that the definition of small business had grown into a turnover of a billion dollars. So, it included –
ALBERICI: Can I draw you back to the question, only because we’ll run out of time.
ALBANESE: It included just about every company.
ALBERICI: Whether the definition is this or not –
ALBANESE: It included just about every company.
ALBERICI: But your cut in the company tax rate when you were in government, which would have seen it implemented in full last year, applied to all companies, whether you were Coles, Woolworths or the local shop.
ALBANESE: But what we’re about here is the specific policy which we’ve been asked to support that was in the Budget was about small business. Now we support a reduction in tax for small business. We just don’t …
ALBERICI: But only the tiniest businesses.
ALBANESE: It’s not only the tiniest businesses. Overwhelmingly, small business have a turnover under $2 million. That’s overwhelmingly what the vast majority of small businesses do.
ALBERICI: But on the issue – I started the question on international competitiveness and you would know that on average, it’s about 20 per cent for the corporate tax rate around the OECD. So we’re quite well ahead of that.
ALBANESE: Well in terms of international comparisons, we think we are competitive. We think there’s a case to put reductions for small businesses, which is why we didn’t just reject the change overall. But we did say that given the circumstances and competing priorities, this government’s got it wrong.
Tax cuts for big business, in particular that multinationals would benefit; tax cuts for people above $180,000 by removing the deficit levy from when it was imposed by the current Coalition government when the deficit was less than half what it is today.
We think that when average earners got nothing out of the Budget – 75 per cent of Australians didn’t get a zac. That’s our priority. You know, and funding education and health and not cutting pensions and funding infrastructure – that’s our vision for the nation’s economy.
ALBERICI: Anthony Albanese, we’re out of time. Thanks very much.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.