Oct 13, 2019

Transcript of Press Conference – Sydney – Sunday, 13 October 2019


SUBJECTS: The future of the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party; international students; dams.
JODI MCKAY: All right, I’m going to lead off. Thank you everyone for coming along today. As you know when we moved to suspend the General Secretary during the first week of the Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry hearings. I indicated that there would be further work that needed to be done and further announcements that we would make in regard to how we got our house in order and fixed what was wrong with the culture within our head office in New South Wales branch of the Labor Party. As I’ve travelled the State over the last month while the inquiry has taken place, I’ve heard from our party membership how distressed they are, how they want change and they want the Federal Leader and I to act and that’s what we’re doing today. So I want to thank Anthony very much for his support and his guidance in this and I want to introduce you to Professor Michael Lavarch who will be leading the review into New South Wales Labor’s head office. Now, can I say that this review will occur in two stages and the terms of reference will be given to you. But what is important is that Professor Michael Lavarch is a former Commonwealth Attorney-General and he will lead a two stage process. The first stage is looking at the role and responsibilities of the General Secretary. Now I think it has become obvious from the ICAC inquiry hearings that there is far too much power and responsibility vested in the general secretary currently. There has been some shocking and appalling evidence that has arisen from the ICAC hearing. So, the first stage of the process will look at the roles and responsibilities of the General Secretary of New South Wales Labor and indeed how that works in with the reporting and oversight with our administrative committee. The second part of the inquiry will look at the head office mechanisms; process; governance; risk; which just seem to be lax and deficient right now. It’s important that we have best practice governance within our head office. That is the expectation of our Party and it is what we are responding to today. It is clear that we need to let the sun shine into our head office and I have been distressed by the evidence that has emerged. It is no longer ‘whatever it takes’. That ended a long time ago, but our head office has to reflect that. This is about accountability, transparency, and honesty. It’s about living up to the expectations of our thousands of decent party members and it’s about ensuring that people can have confidence in who we are as a Party as we seek to rebuild trust in New South Wales Labor. So, again I want to thank Professor Michael Lavarch for agreeing to conduct this review into New South Wales Labor head office, and I also want to just thank Anthony for his continued support and guidance in this process.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Jodi. The fact is that New South Wales Labor has lost the last three elections. Federal Labor has lost the last three elections. Labor is the only party of Government in Australia that seeks to grow the economy, to grow jobs, whilst ensuring that no one is left behind. That’s why we have a great responsibility to ensure that at the organisational level we are as strong as we possibly can be, and to ensure that people can have confidence in the integrity of the New South Wales administration of the Party and clearly party officers have let the party membership down. The overwhelming number of people in our party who go out there and sell two dollar raffle tickets; who volunteer, who work for the community – not just on polling day – but work day in day out to sell the message of Labor are let down when circumstances occur that have been exposed by the ICAC. The fact is that we need to intervene to make sure that that can never happen again to make sure that the structures are in place to drive that reform and change so that the party membership as well as the general public can have confidence in the administration of the NSW branch. Now, I can think of no one better to lead that reform task than Michael Lavarch. Michael, of course, was the Attorney-General the highest law officer in the land in the Keating Government between 1993 and 1996. He’s been the Secretary-General of the Law Council of Australia, a Dean of Law at QUT; 20 year’s experience in the private sector working with organisations. And, of course, he is I think in a very strong position to make recommendations both to the Administrative Committee of the New South Wales branch, but importantly to the ALP National Executive. That has the power to ensure any rules changes that are recommended, any structural changes that are recommended can be implemented straight away, prior to them being endorsed and waiting for ALP conference proposals down the track. Now, Michael I have confidence we’ll be able to do that, and I’m also certain that the ALP National Executive and people who’ve looked at these circumstances objectively, with some shock, will ensure that change does occur. Now, change does occur through rules and organisation but of course we also need cultural change, and I think that will occur as well. From a federal perspective as well, can I make this point, and it’s the last point I’ll make. Is that the proceedings of the ICAC here in New South Wales reinforce the need for a national integrity commission at the Commonwealth level. The current Government says they support it, but they’re too busy playing political games to bring forward the legislation that’s required there. And I’d say this, if they’re at all serious, they need to bring forward that legislation and we need to get that done this year; so that the public can have confidence that at the Commonwealth level as well there is a body that can ensure integrity in our political system and in our public life; because I think that is essential.

MCKAY: Anthony and I are happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Jodi, we have heard this before. Kaila Murnain came, when she took the reign of head office, it was about changing rules, was going to fix up the toxic culture and we ended up back at ICAC, and you saw her demise. How is this going to be fundamentally different to change the actual culture within the Labor Party?

MCKAY: Well, I think you have certainly a commitment from both Leaders that this will happen. Can I say that there has been progress since 2015. But, clearly, not enough; because the evidence that has occurred out of ICAC has been shocking and appalling and we need to do something to fix that, and that is the commitment we’re making today. This is also, can I say, about looking at the role of the General Secretary that hasn’t been done before. Out of the ICAC inquiry it’s become obvious that there is far too much power vested in the General Secretary. So, this review is different in that regard. We are actually going to look at the role of the General Secretary.

JOURNALIST: Ultimately, you can put in as a many rules as you like. But it comes down to human beings, right? And the dodgy deals done around ‘lazy susans’ in Chinese restaurants; I mean how do you how do you stop that.

MCKAY: What I will say to you is that, you know, this process is a sincere process to fix that. It’s clear that there is a cultural problem within the head office. I’ve said that previously, I’ll say it again. We’re not going to hide from that. And we need to address that and that’s the commitment we’re making today. The evidence that has emerged has shocked all of us. And as Michael said we have a very dispirited membership; thousands of decent good party members who feel terribly let down. None of us knew this was happening, and we have to fix it. And that’s what we’re doing from today. We’re shedding light on head office; we’re opening it up to scrutiny – independent scrutiny – by Professor Lavarch. And I’m confident that out of this we’ll get a far better process and a far more transparent and honest system which will guide both State and Federal Labor to winning those elections that we so desperately need to win.

ALBANESE: Can I make two points on that? First: many years ago at a New South Wales State Conference, I made the point that part of the cultural problem was that the New South Wales General Secretary was seen to be have a Papal Infallibility; I said at that time. That it was time the white smoke was raised for the last time. Indeed, what has occurred with this is a recognition across the Party from senior levels down to rank-and-file members, that that culture needs to change. That the culture whereby the General Secretary makes a directive and people fall into line needs to change; and that is something that is being looked at very explicitly by Professor Lavarch. The second point I’d make, is that the commitment that you have here if you want to look at the word integrity in the New South Wales Parliament, you’ll find a photo of Jodi McKay. She stood up in the ICAC, came out of that process – not many people go down there coming out with their integrity enhanced. Jodi McKay did. And her commitment as the Leader of New South Wales Labor is very clear; my commitment as the Leader of Federal Labor is clear. We have the support of all of our colleagues, but most importantly the rank and file membership of the Labor Party are demanding this change. And Michael Lavarch’s recommendations will be implemented. He will be allowed to do his work unencumbered by any vested interests, as a conscious decision to have someone who doesn’t have the experience in the New South Wales branch. He has experience in the law; in the private sector; in academia; in looking at structures to drive that change through. And I’m confident that he is absolutely the right person to drive this change.

JOURNALIST: We obviously need a new General Secretary, though, possibly before the review?

MCKAY: No. We will not be appointing a General Secretary before the review is completed. But we do realise the urgency of having someone leading the administrative part of our party; which is why that first stage will be completed before we get the whole report. But there will be no appointment of a General Secretary until we have a firm definition around the roles and responsibilities, and indeed how this position works within the broader party structure. Look, it may be that we see further roles created. We simply don’t know; I’m not going to pre-empt that. But there will be no one appointed to the role of General Secretary until this work is completed.

JOURNALIST: Do you perhaps suspect that you are going to have to look outside? You’ve had a lot of people come to this role, and they’ve been sort of marinating in this toxic culture of the Labor Party for a long time; or they have come from unions. Will you look outside that sort of framework for a new General Secretary?

MCKAY: Well, it depends very much on what on what Professor Lavarch puts forward. I think it would be inappropriate for me to make comment and pre-empt any part of that. As Anthony said, Professor Lavarch has carte blanche here; he’s unencumbered; he needs to have the ability to do a very honest, transparent, review of our head office and that is what he is doing.
ALBANESE: The fundamentals of the current structure are as a result of National Executive intervention in 1971. That’s when the current structures were put in place. Now, there have been some changes when I first went to – after becoming Leader I went to a New South Wales Administrative Committee meeting – I was surprised at how big it was. Sometimes if you want to make a body undemocratic make it bigger, because then there’s less accountability there as well.

MCKAY: We have 48 members of our Administrative Committee.

ALBANESE: Clearly there’s a problem with oversight, and that’s one of the things that will be looked at.

JOURNALIST: How soon do you expect this first tranche of recommendations to be ready and implemented by?

ALBANESE: In about a month. But we’re not putting – Professor Lavarch should be allowed to do his work without it being pre-empted – and so we’ll wait and see. But we would expect the first part will be brought down in November.

JOURNALIST: And then will that require National Executive and not require national executive intervention?

ALBANESE: If there are any rules changes required that would need to be endorsed by the National Executive, because that’s the only way that rules can be changed.

JOURNALIST: What about Mr Clements’ comments, and he Tweeted again this morning; that on Monday morning the right-wing union secretaries will meet in secret and decide the new acting General Secretary or they would be rubber stamped from then on. How deep …

MCKAY: And doesn’t he have a lot of credibility?

JOURNALIST: What do you make of that statement? Because he said it in the ICAC and he’s reiterated it.

MCKAY: This is the former General Secretary obviously trying to claw back some sort of credibility. But, I think that pretty obviously that’s never going to happen. What I will say is that we have to – it would be my preference that we weren’t embarking on a recruitment process right now for an Assistant General Secretary. But, as you know, the General Secretary has been suspended and the Assistant General Secretary is resigning to take up another great job. So, we have to go through this process an Administrative Committee opened that process on Friday it closes this coming Friday. But, there’s a process the Party will work through. As I said it would be my preference we weren’t in this situation but we have to have someone leading our administrative part of our party and that’s the process. But, you know, I’m not going to take advice from him at all.

ALBANESE: Any other questions?

JOURNALIST: A couple of weeks ago when this all came out you didn’t want to comment because you hadn’t seen enough. Now that you’ve seen what you’ve seen and it seems like an absolute joke; are you shocked by what you’ve seen?

ALBANESE: Of course I’m shocked. I think that members of the general public are as well, and that’s why we’re acting.

JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, just a question on Universities and international students …

ALBANESE: Is there any more on this first? And then I’m happy to …

JOURNALIST: I’ve got one. Is there any appetite for actually relocating out of Sussex Street, just given the stigma that it’s now developed?

ALBANESE: I have seen some commentary on that. My view is that what we need is substantial change, not symbolic change. The address of where an office is located is about a symbol, and I want to see substantive change occur. I don’t care where it’s located; what happens in that office is the critical issue.

JOURNALIST: You want to change the culture, but there is a lot of, there is the old guard still working in the Labor movement. The old bully boys. You can’t pretend they don’t exist. We saw them come out with your leadership challenge, Jodi Mckay. So, what do you say to those people about how they’re going to fall into line?

MCKAY: Well can I say that you have the State Leader and the Federal Leader standing here today hand in hand, outlining what we need to do to change this Party. This is unusual in that both of us are involved in this. So, this doesn’t happen lightly. This is a process that we’ve embarked on genuinely and sincerely to change the culture within the head office of our Party.

JOURNALIST: The public might remain cynical because a lot of these deals are being done by individuals. The influence has …

ALBANESE: Let’s put some perspective on here. Scott Morrison had six votes in the Liberal Party Caucus and is now Prime Minister of Australia, six votes. He only got there because of deals. Because people who didn’t want him to be Leader, but didn’t want Peter Dutton to be Leader more; transferred their votes from Julie Bishop to Scott Morrison. So that is pretty significant. Who the Prime Minister is and their lack of base there. There are power structures in politics. The key is: are those structures implemented in a way which is transparent; is there integrity in the way that they operate? And that is what we will ensure. I reckon you would have got pretty good odds, frankly, about Jodi McKay standing here a few years ago as the New South Wales Labor Leader and me standing here as the Federal Labor Leader. And neither of us owe – in terms of those power structures which you’re talking about – we’ve got here on our merits and that is why we’re in a strong position to be able to demand integrity from the system.

JOURNALIST: You won’t be able to do much on replacing the General Secretary if Kaila Murnain continues to refuse to leave. What’s your view on what should happen on that front, given that she’s demanding a six-figure payout?

MCKAY: Well, can I just say the amount that is being put out there is quite possibly not correct. But, what I will say is that there are ongoing legal discussions and it’s inappropriate for us to make comment on that at this time. But, certainly, I have said and I will say again that Kayla has no role in an ongoing sense ever within our Labor Party. But, I have also said and I will say it again, that she’s paid a very hefty price. She made a terrible error of judgment and she has paid a price for that. But the discussions that are ongoing, happening now in a legal framework, and that needs to happen.

JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, just a question on universities and international students. Should Australian unis be doing more to encourage the teaching and study of Australian culture?

ALBANESE: I’m not sure what the context of that question is, to be frank.

JOURNALIST: There has been a lot of questions placed on the importance of international students; our relationship with China. Minister Dutton came out with some comments that the Chinese Communist Party has inconsistent values with Australia.

ALBANESE: I think it is the case that when we have international students here they benefit from being in contact with Australian culture. That’s a fact of life. Last time I was in India if you want to look at one of the major destinations, or original countries where students are coming from, and I spoke at the opening of the alumni association there. That brings for us – there’s something in the order of half a million students from India have studied here in recent times. That network can be of great benefit for Australia, and we benefit greatly from bringing students here. Having them participate in Australian culture, develop relationships, and then going back to their country of origin. Just like my experience as a minister. Whether it be meeting the transport minister of Singapore; ministers in Malaysia or other countries; benefiting from the fact that they feel close to Australia because they have spent time here. That’s a good thing. Thanks very much. The future. Well I’m not sure what that means.

JOURNALIST: So, you don’t think we need to encourage the teaching of international students?

ALBANESE: I’m not sure what that means, frankly.

JOURNALIST: Just on Australians in Syria. Does Labor want all 20 women and 40 children in a Syrian refugee camp repatriated, or just some?

ALBANESE: We’re not in a position to have – I’ve been overseas in the United States until last night, so I have not received a briefing in terms of security issues. I’ve received some security briefings in the United States but not on that particular issue. Given the decision by President Trump to withdraw US troops, which has resulted in Turkey’s invasion and people being under threat as a result of that has only occurred while I’ve been away. So I’m not going to make comments on national security issues on the run.

JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, does Labor support the announcement for funding for a new damn in NSW?

ALBANESE: The Government has spoken about dams some 1200 times. When Tony Abbott was elected, he was going to build 100 dams. Go and have a look at his commitment in 2013. Tony Abbott’s come and gone; Malcolm Turnbull’s come and gone; Barnaby Joyce has come and gone; Scott Morrison is there; they haven’t dug a hole yet. We’ll wait and see what happens. What I do know, is that this Government has no national drought strategy. What I do know, is that this Government speaks about its large number for drought funding, of which not a single dollar in the National Drought Fund will flow before July next year. That was announced in 2018; and people need immediate assistance now not waiting till 2020. Thanks very much …

MCKAY: Very different here, obviously, because John Barilaro has been beating his chest in the last month only about dams. They’ve had eight and a half years to lodge a development application; or indeed to plan a new dam and they simply have not done that. Now this is a Party that is scrambling quite frankly to drought proof this State. We know from the Natural Resources Commission report that they brought on a drought downstream from Bourke. And that was clearly laid out within the Natural Resources Commission report. But you know John Barilaro can beat his chest all he wants. He has done nothing in eight and a half years to actually build a dam. Now, all of a sudden John Barilaro has discovered dams. I mean that’s a bit rich.

ALBANESE: Thanks very much, folks.