Subjects: MPs’ entitlements; Light on the Hill speech; Asylum seekers
ANDREW BOLT: Suddenly, Labor and coalition MPs agree on one thing – “Let’s not keep attacking each other’s expenses.” And cop this – “Let’s even defend the other side’s expenses.”
TONY BURKE, LABOR MP: Yesterday in the paper, there was reference to Barnaby Joyce having the highest charter allowance in the government. Can I just say on that, so he should? He’s the Agriculture Minister.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE, EDUCATION MINISTER: All of the stories about Tony Burke. So far, none of them have been in breach of the rules.
BOLT: The fix is in. Joining me is Labor Transport Spokesman, Anthony Albanese. Thanks for your time.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE AND TRANSPORT: Good to be with you, Andrew.
BOLT: Now, one MP told me he’d been told by Liberal colleagues to stop attacking the other side on expenses. Is there now a code of silence between both sides, you know, code Omerta, not to mention the expenses any more for fear that it’ll rebound on you all?
ALBANESE: Well, the expenses are clearly being mentioned and what I think it signals, to me, is something more important. The public are sending us a message. To me, it is symptomatic of the conflict that’s there that many Australians feel towards politicians. They’re sending us a message that they’re disconnected. There’s a distrust there, and I think it’s expressing itself in one way through these issues that are being raised.
BOLT: But seeing politicians defending the expenses of the other side, and both sides are doing it, that’s not good, is it? It smells like you’re all covering up for each other?
ALBANESE: Well, I think that if we, as politicians, expect respect from the Australian public, clearly we’ve got to respect them, which is why now we have… The Prime Minister’s set up this inquiry. It will make recommendations that should be done very much at arm’s length from politicians, as currently occurs in terms of our expenses are all determined not by us, but by the Remuneration Tribunal. It’s important that this inquiry do its job.
BOLT: And in the meantime, you don’t attack each other?
ALBANESE: Well, it’s important that it do its job. I think, to me, the very significant message that’s there is the disconnect between the Australian public and the political system, and that’s expressed in a whole range of ways. I think the concern that’s there about breaches of promises of the current government – that they said one thing before the election and another afterwards – but it’s not just them. I think when we were in government, the fact that we were focused very much on ourselves rather than the needs of the Australian public, we paid a price for that, and they’ve continued to send a message. I think in June 2010, the fact that we changed an elected prime minister caused people to wake up and say, “Hang on, I voted for one person, I got someone else.” And I think politicians often can underestimate the need to have that continual connection with the people who we’re elected to represent.
BOLT: Yean, a couple of times you mentioned double standards or saying one thing and doing another. Let’s talk about double standards. Labor said Bronwyn Bishop had to resign. Why shouldn’t Tony Burke?
ALBANESE: Look, I think the Bronwyn Bishop issue was pretty clear.
BOLT: What’s the difference?
ALBANESE: Who gets a helicopter from Melbourne to Geelong?
BOLT: Who flies their family business class to Uluru on the school holidays?
ALBANESE: That was completely extraordinary. Bronwyn Bishop made the decision herself to resign along with the Prime Minister, and that has set off a whole range of inquiries about individual politicians and what they’ve done, and whether it’s within the rules or not.
BOLT: So for you it’s –
ALBANESE: To me –
BOLT: It’s completely an issue about what mode of transport she chose. So, for you, taking the helicopter, $5,000, is worse than taking your family business class – cost $8,000 – to Uluru? That’s… For you, that’s worse.
ALBANESE: No, there’s an issue about rules and what they are, and getting a helicopter.
BOLT: So, Bronwyn Bishop broke the rules.
ALBANESE: Getting a helicopter to a fundraiser from Melbourne to Geelong is clearly a problem with regard to the rules.
BOLT: So, you think going to a fundraiser with a helicopter was against the rules?
ALBANESE: Well, quite clearly, the Australian public responded…
BOLT: No, you just said, “against the rules”, right? Going to the fundraiser.
ALBANESE: Well, quite clearly you have to sign… As an office-holder, you have to sign saying, “This is for an official purpose.”
BOLT: Alright, so if going to a fundraiser on the taxpayers’ dime is the offence that made Bronwyn Bishop different to Tony Burke, why are Labor politicians claiming to go to Labor’s Light on the Hill fundraiser in Bathurst?
ALBANESE: Well, the Light on the Hill fundraiser, if you have a look, is advertised on the NSW Tourism website. It is… I’m speaking there next month. It’s $60 a head, Andrew, at Bathurst.
BOLT: What’s the difference?
ALBANESE: It’s not about fundraising. It’s an event that pays tribute to Ben Chifley in terms of a great Bathurst citizen and a great Australian Prime Minister.
BOLT: And a Labor person. You say it’s not –
ALBANESE: That’s right.
ALBANESE: But it’s open to everyone. It is an event in this community.
BOLT: So was Bronwyn Bishop’s fundraiser. But, listen, I don’t see the difference. I honestly don’t see the difference. You look at the flier for your fundraiser, and it makes absolutely clear in this little box here that it is part of an election funding… That’s the purpose – to fund the Labor’s election. It’s a fundraiser, so was the Liberal event. And I don’t see… Can’t you see people are actually gagging at the hypocrisy? There’s Tony Burke talking about extravagance of Bronwyn Bishop. He was more extravagant. He’s also… You’re also doing…claiming for election fundraisers. What’s the difference? The hypocrisy is enormous!
ALBANESE: Well, I think in terms of the chopper flight, that, I think, broke the rules in terms of what you have to do to claim. She claimed that as an office-holder, in terms of people going about their work, in terms of activity. What I’m doing is driving to Bathurst.
BOLT: Are you claiming?
ALBANESE: The people… No, I’m not.
BOLT: You’re giving the speech next month. You’re not claiming?
ALBANESE: Correct, because I’m –
BOLT: Why is Bill Shorten claiming?
ALBANESE: Because I’m driving there, because it is pretty difficult to drive from Melbourne to Bathurst. It’s a good thing that things are happening in Bathurst. He had other activities there as well as the lecture, and…
BOLT: If it’s a legitimate party function that you should be able to claim for, whether you fly there. Wayne Swan chartered a plane to go there – alright, not a helicopter, but a plane at a greater cost, you’re not charging the taxpayer. So why would Bill Shorten and Wayne Swan… why are they doing it?
ALBANESE: Because they don’t live in Sydney, Andrew.
BOLT: It’s not a question of which mode of transport.
ALBANESE: In terms of how you get there, if you’re going to have a lecture such as this, there’s an Earle Page lecture, there’s a Menzies lecture, there are these important public events. The Chifley lecture, the Light on the Hill lecture in Bathurst, in a regional city, is an important public event, and it’s good…
BOLT: It’s a fundraiser. I’ve just shown… The whole audience has seen. It’s a fundraiser!
ALBANESE: Father Frank Brennan was the speaker two years ago.
BOLT: Oh, well why don’t you make me the speaker next year?
ALBANESE: Well, that would be an interesting proposition, Andrew. I might put that forward.
BOLT: (LAUGHS) Open to the whole public. Now, listen, although you’re of the left, I respect you and I’ve said it on radio and TV, because you play straight. You say it… You mean what you say. Now, you voted openly at the National Conference against Labor’s new policy, on paper at least, to turn back the boats. You said you wouldn’t do it. You couldn’t do it, and so you couldn’t endorse it as a policy. Does that mean you’re not tough enough to be a leader?
ALBANESE: Not at all. It means that I’m tough enough to say what I think. And I believe that you can be tough on people smugglers, and we should be, without being weak on humanity. We had a proper debate at the ALP National Conference. We didn’t have a sort of show piece like the Liberal Party has, which is essentially a big fundraiser. There’s no policy discussion there. We didn’t do what the Greens political party do, which is to hide behind closed doors and have a sort of Stalinist structure.
BOLT: Don’t talk to me about the Greens.
ALBANESE: Where they don’t let anyone know about anything that is happening. They have leadership challenges that no-one knows about.
ALBANESE: We found out that they had a deputy-leadership ballot six months after it happened!
BOLT: Let me give you an anecdote, right, that really struck me, reading Boris Johnson’s terrific biography of Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill sank the French fleet rather than letting it fall in to Nazi hands after France surrendered, even though a thousand French sailors died. He knew it was tough, the cost was horrible, but he did it to save Britain. You wouldn’t actually turn back a boat, even though it would save lives –
BOLT: Because you would feel bad?
ALBANESE: No, I don’t believe it’s necessary because what we have in the policy is a real regional solution through the increase in numbers, through the increased engagement with the UNHCR, with our regional processing, so that we actually engage through the UN processes where we remove the incentive for people to get on boats.
ALBANESE: Now, we had a debate about the policy.
BOLT: And you were straight-up, as opposed to Tanya Plibersek, who weaselled out of it by getting someone else to cast the vote. But, listen, what would you do if the future Labor Government did turn back a boat? Would you resign as a minister?
ALBANESE: Absolutely not. One of the things that we do, Andrew, is we have debates in the Labor Party. And I’ve always been upfront about my position on various issues. At the previous National Conference, I was the lead speaker against selling uranium to India on the basis that it wasn’t a signatory.
BOLT: Don’t break a beautiful friendship, mate!
ALBANESE: It wasn’t a signatory.
BOLT: And you’re against uranium. What’s wrong with you?
ALBANESE: No, no, I’m against selling uranium to non-NPT signatory countries. It was our platform. So, in terms of… In terms of my position… The great thing is, as a party, we arrive as friends, we have a debate, a serious debate. It’s out there in the public for all to see. When a decision is made, we’re bound by it. I accept that that’s a decision of the Labor Party and I’m bound by the platform, just as when I’m in a majority position, other people are bound by that.
BOLT: Anthony Albanese, thank you so much for your time.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.