ANTHONY ALBANESE & RICHARD MARLES – TRANSCRIPT – PRESS CONFERENCE – PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA – THURSDAY, 28 JANUARY 2021
ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
RICHARD MARLES MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE
MEMBER FOR CORIO
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
THURSDAY, 28 JANUARY 2021
SUBJECT: Labor’s Shadow Ministry reshuffle.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much for joining me. Australia faced great challenges in 2020. We had a drought, we then had bushfires and we had the pandemic. The challenge, as I said when I did my vision statement in this very room, about the economic recovery isn’t to try to go back to what was there before. Because one of the things that has been identified during this pandemic is the strength of our society but also some of the weaknesses in our economy and when it comes to job security. It was the most marginalised casual workers and others who were first off who got left behind. The challenge is for us to build back stronger, for us to ensure that people aren’t left behind and that people aren’t held back. Secure jobs are the key. That is why we have introduced a child care policy, so that people don’t have the disincentive and the cost which stops them working a fourth or fifth day. That’s why we have introduced a Future Made in Australia in my Budget Reply. It had a comprehensive plan for investment in social and community housing, for investment in Australian manufacturing, for making sure that energy prices went down by fixing the grid and by helping manufacturing through that. That’s why we had, as part of that procurement policy, making sure every dollar that is spent in Australia by Government benefits Australian jobs, including through mandating apprentices and trainees on any Commonwealth funded project. That is why in terms of our policy in IR at the end of last year, we opposed the Government, and we will continue to oppose, them getting rid of the Better Off Overall Test. The key is secure jobs with secure incomes that people are suffering from. And that is why we oppose the Government breaching any commitment which is there in the legislations for superannuation increases. That is security in retirement. Secure jobs are about households. It is about whether people have the security to afford a mortgage on a home. It is about whether they have the security they feel confident about having their first child or their next. It is about security for business as well. Because business is impacted by the spending that occurs in the economy, by wages and we know that wages growth has never been lower since records were first kept. That has started under this Government and has continued since 2013. And security is also important for confidence in the economy. We know that confidence is so important. And when people don’t have secure work with secure incomes, then they don’t have the confidence to participate in the economy.
This reshuffle is about Australians getting the most out of Labor. The easy choice to make is to not make many changes and just keep things as they are. I’m absolutely determined, and events this year have reinforced my view, that I will do the right thing, not necessarily the easy thing. This is the strongest team to form an Albanese Labor Government. I’m interested not so much in being in Opposition on what titles people have. I’m interested in getting rid of the one word that’s the bad word from the titles of the people I’m about to inform you. And that one really bad word is ‘Shadow’. I want to remove that and I want to want to move us to the corridor down the end of this building.
So this is a strong team. The reshuffle is all about putting jobs at the centre of what we will do. And that’s why Richard Marles, my Deputy, is taking on a job leading Labor’s focus out of the national recovery that will be required out of this pandemic. In a new portfolio, Richard will be Shadow Minister for National Reconstruction, Employment Skills and Small Business as well as taking on Shadow Minister for Science. Richard’s singular focus as Deputy Leader will be to take the process that he’s had leading Labor’s policy agenda for the draft platform for the National Conference on to the policy focus between now and the next election. How do we deliver good secure jobs that Australians want and they need? His short title is the shadow minister for jobs, jobs and more jobs.
I want a future made in Australia. As we look to the future, we must look at new ways to give our traditional and emerging industries in Australia an edge in the global economy. There is no-one better to lead that than Ed Husic. Ed has been engaged not just since he has been here in Parliament but prior in issues like new technology, innovation. He will be an outstanding contributor as our newest member of the Shadow Cabinet. Richard and Ed will work very closely with Jim Chalmers who will continue to lead the economic debate on behalf of our team. Working with Katy Gallagher as the Shadow Finance Minister and Stephen Jones, who adds superannuation to his title to reflect what the Government has done. And most of our changes do reflect the existing Government portfolios so there is a consistency there. I think that is something that will be a positive.
I am very pleased that we had someone ready-made to step into Richard’s shoes as a Shadow Minister for Defence in Brendan O’Connor. Brendan O’Connor will be outstanding. He has already, in Government, sat on the National Security Committee for a number of years. He has held Home Affairs and Immigration portfolios. He’s concerned also about jobs and Australian industry and, of course, the issue of the submarines and other issues that he and Matt Keogh will tackle will be important in terms of holding the Government to account.
Kristina Keneally, our Deputy Leader in the Senate, will take on additional responsibilities as Shadow Minister for Government Accountability. Kristina Keneally is someone of courage, she’s someone who calls things as they are, and she will be holding the Government to account across the board for the rorts, the abuse of process, for the fact that we have a Government that thinks that taxpayers’ money is the same as Liberal Party and National Party money. And she will join with Pat Conroy, assisting her as the House of Reps member, to hold the Government to account will be their job.
Labor has always regarded climate change and energy as a huge opportunity for the economy and for job creation. That’s why Chris Bowen, as a former Treasurer, will bring very much the economic perspective. I have said consistently, ever since I had the portfolio myself under Kim Beazley as the Leader, that climate change action is good for jobs. It is good for reducing emissions, as well as good for reducing power prices. It is an economic portfolio. And Chris Bowen will bring his perspective to that portfolio and as a supporter of strong action on climate change. And he will continue to be supported by Pat Conroy.
Healthcare in Australia has been one of Labor’s proudest achievements. Medicare, universal access to healthcare is so critical and one that I got to experience the benefits of a few weeks ago. During the 2020 pandemic we have seen Australia’s health system and those who work in it protect Australia and Australians. The role of our health system and our aged care system have never been more important. We know we have an Aged Care Royal Commission. Mark Butler has previously served in the Government as a Minister for Mental Health and Ageing. He is the only parliamentarian I know of who has written a book about ageing and aged care. He will do an outstanding job. And he will be assisted by Clare O’Neil, who will serve as Shadow Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services.
During COVID-19, Australia’s agricultural sector has kept Australians in jobs, food on our tables, and kept our economy afloat to exports. Labor will have a champion for agriculture in Julie Collins, particularly as Julie is from the state where agriculture is a higher proportion of their state GDP than any other state, Tasmania. Julie will bring her experience and her advocacy to that state and around the country.
Putting Australia’s resources sector at the heart of the trade portfolio is why I’m giving Madeleine King the task of Trade and Resources. It makes sense to do that. Madeleine King, as a proud West Australian, also knows the importance of the sector to our economy. Madeleine will be assisted by her east coast colleague, Murray Watt in Queensland, where the resources sector, of course, also plays an absolutely critical role. To ensure that WA continues to have a very strong voice on my frontbench, I have asked Patrick Gorman to serve as the Shadow Assistant Minister for Western Australia.
The fact is Australians have pulled together through the pandemic. And as a result of that, we have the challenge of how we come out of it. The focus has got to be on being the best that we can. How we’re not just satisfied with going back to the way that things were. How we recognise that we need to build our economy, build jobs, build fairness and equity and that we take the spirit that has been shown during this crisis, the spirit of Australians looking after each other, the spirit of Australians making sacrifices in the national interest, the spirit of ensuring that we can be proud of Australia’s performance in the world that we take those principles forward. The fact is, prior to the pandemic, there were real problems in the economy, as Jim and the economic team pointed out. Growth was sluggish and wages were stagnant, national debt had doubled, productivity was going backwards. Right now, insecure work and underemployment are at record highs. We have more than two million Australians who are either out of a job or can’t get the amount of work that they need. Australians deserve a Government who will show the strength that they themselves have shown over the past 12 months. I intend to provide that leadership with this outstanding team. I will back this team versus the Government every day. I have put head-to-head Opposition portfolios in the same areas in which the Government has its portfolios, I think, to sharpen that focus going into the future. I would ask Richard to make some comments and then I am happy to take questions.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thank you, Anthony. Let me start by acknowledging Anthony Albanese and what he has done in what is obviously, as you can see now, is a significant reshuffle. He’s given all of us an opportunity to take on new challenges in the run from here through to the next election. That is a very exciting challenge for me indeed. I want to acknowledge our economics team and the work that is being done by Jim Chalmers, Katy Gallagher and everyone in the economics team and particularly the work that has been done by Brendan O’Connor. And as Anthony has said, Brendan is going to do a fine job as the Shadow Defence Minister of our country.
COVID-19 has rewritten our lives. The last year has been an astonishing year. While we maintain many criticisms of the way in which it has been handled and while we are not yet through it, the truth is that our country has fared much better than most and that is a great blessing. But as we look beyond COVID-19, we are now at a point where we have the opportunity to reimagine Australia, to reimagine an Australia which has an economy in it that builds and generates permanent long-term jobs. To do that requires vision. Vision is something that this Government simply does not do.
COVID-19 has brought out the best of Australians. We have seen neighbours looking after neighbours. We have seen the selfless bravery of our health and aged care work force. But COVID-19 has also exposed a number of areas where this country has been going wrong. What COVID-19 has made completely clear is we simply do not make things in this country today in the way in which we used to. If you want to think about where all the jobs have gone, you can start right there. As modern economies around the world have climbed the technological ladder when it comes to manufacturing, Australia has stood still. If we are going to become a high-tech manufacturing country which generates the kind of jobs that we need, if we’re going to become a country like Korea or like Germany, we are simply going to have to change the way in which we see science. Science is going to have to become front and centre in our national discussion. And that starts here in this building. And it actually starts in the discussions that are held in the media organisations that you represent. It is not too much to say that the most significant piece of micro-economic reform which is facing our country today is to infuse our society and our economy with science and technology. As a nation we have to change our cultural relationship to science. And I really look forward to being able to tell that story in the lead-up to the next election.
Right now, we are amongst the worst commercial ICERs of public research in the OECD. If our Olympic team performed at that level, there would be a Royal Commission. As long as that stat exists, we will not be building a modern manufacturing base in this country which generates the kind of jobs that we need. In recent months we have seen the troubles that have played out, in relation to our relationship with China, costs thousands of jobs around the country. And what that demonstrates is that this is a Government which is unable to manage the most important relationships that we have. There is no plan for how that is going to be fixed. And there is no plan for how we’re about to diversify our trading base.
When we look at the way in which COVID has played out over the last year, despite the establishment of the National Cabinet, our Federation has been put under enormous stress. There has been an abdication by this Prime Minister and by this Government from playing the Federal Government role within our Federation. And everything we have seen, in respect of our borders, every moment when we have watched this Prime Minister duck responsibility for an issue which should have principally been dealt with at a Federal level, gives voice to the fact that this is a Government which has not played the role that it should have in terms of the national presence within our Federation.
When we look at all of these issues, in terms of the reconstruction challenges that they offer us going forward, all of them come back to one place and that is jobs. Jobs in the here and now. Jobs that are generated by our small businesses which are the engine room of our economy. The kind of good, permanent, long-term jobs that come from having a manufacturing base. That is what we are going to be focused on. That is what is going to be central to our message each and every day in the lead-up to the next election. That is what the next election will be contested about. And that is the choice that we are going to give the Australian people when they next go to the ballot box. The vision we offer stands in stark contrast to the wasted, neglectful decade that has been delivered to this country by this Government. There are more than two million Australians today who are looking for work. At the end of the day, that is Scott Morrison’s record and that is what he should be judged upon.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, is your leadership more or less under threat as a result of this reshuffle?
ALBANESE: This reshuffle and every day that I do in the job is about the Australian people. Not about focusing internally. It is about the needs of the Australian people. Making sure that we have the right people in the right jobs. And in terms of our team going forward, we are able to articulate both holding the Government to account but also our alternative vision.
JOURNALIST: Does the change of personnel come with a change in policy or emphasis when it comes to climate change? As your Deputy has just said, the battle ahead for you guys is all about science.
ALBANESE: Of course it is about science. It is about science and markets. But one of the things about jobs going forward as well is that action on climate change creates jobs. It doesn’t cost jobs. It is one of the things that I have emphasised since I was the Shadow Minister myself when we established the 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target by 2020. Chris Bowen will bring a focus on jobs to the portfolio. I think he will do an outstanding job. We remain absolutely committed to a couple of things. Zero net emissions by 2050, consistent with what the rest of the world wants. Secondly, the capacity that we had, as I said in my Budget Reply, for Australia to become a renewable energy superpower. Think this one example, we are building the world’s largest solar farm in the Northern Territory to export energy to Singapore. There are enormous opportunities that we have not just to deliver clean, green, cheap energy here but also to export it.
JOURNALIST: Only a month or so ago you were publicly refusing to move Mark Butler from climate and Joel Fitzgibbon was activating. What has changed in your thinking between then and today’s announcement?
ALBANESE: I thought about over the Christmas break, as you do, thought about what was required. I was getting advice and a whole range of senior people who I consult, former leaders and former senior people who would say, ‘You just leave everything the same’. By and large there are a lot of portfolios that were the same, that we had had for a period of time. Richard was the Defence Shadow under the former Leader, under Bill, as well. There are only two people who were ministers in 2013 when we lost Government who kept their portfolio all the way through Opposition. Mark Dreyfus and Mark Butler. When I was the Shadow Minister in those dreary years of Opposition of the Howard years, I did eight or nine different portfolios. That is what traditionally has occurred. I agreed with Mark Butler on this change. I think it is a good change. I think he will make an outstanding Shadow for Health and Ageing. It is a pretty serious job during a pandemic and with an Aged Care Royal Commission. And Chris Bowen will do an outstanding job in climate change and energy.
JOURNALIST: This move of Mark Butler will be seen as potentially softening your climate policy. And yet this comes at a time when we have just been hearing John Kerry articulating a very tough American policy. Doesn’t this look a bit strange?
ALBANESE: No, that is up to you what the nonsense, frankly, that some of you from time to time write. There is no basis for it. Chris Bowen has a very strong position on climate change. I have a strong position on climate change. There is no way that a Labor Government that I lead won’t take action on climate change. Zero possibility. And if you go back and look at the Climate Change Blueprint in 2016, some people in the Labor Party objected to that at the time. There are some people who always said that we should never have a Renewable Energy Target, for example. They were wrong. They were wrong then. People who argue that today are wrong. We will have strong action on climate change. And what today is about is just making sure, across the board there has been a suite of changes, the focus point of the change is about jobs. I think having a former Treasurer in the position of Climate Change and Energy emphasises that.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned net zero by 2050, obviously one of the other decisions is whether to have an interim target to update the 2030 target perhaps for 2035. In principle, do you want to have an interim target or is that to be determined?
ALBANESE: I refer to my numerous answers to that question, usually not asked by you. Someone is taking your job, Greg.
JOURNALIST: Can you remind me?
ALBANESE: One of the things that occurred about when I became Leader of the Opposition, I asked people to do this, we published it all with my vision statements. If you look at the speech I gave when I became Leader, the speech I gave when I received the report from the National Executive about Labor Party reform, or the economic recovery speech I gave in this Caucus room last March or April, there is a complete consistency to my approach, which is taking account of strategy, not tactics. There is a big difference between the two. Making sure that when we make an announcement, we make it once and we get it right. Making sure that we recognise as well, as I put it at the National Press Club, that no-one remembers who was first in the Melbourne Cup the first time they go past the winning post. They remember it the at the 3,200-metre mark. I have taken that approach consistently. The fact is, look at what the Government has done and one of the weaknesses we had, perhaps, on climate was to take a position in 2015 based upon the advice of the Climate Change Authority and the idea that in 2022 you do what the advice said in 2015 is by definition a triumph of hope over experience and a triumph of attempting to turn back time. You can’t do that. You have to know what your starting point is before you know how you move forward. We will know what our starting point is.
One of the big changes that has occurred, and I spoke here before the US elections, I remember in response to a question by the esteemed Mr Coorey outside, I said there is an event being held next week, it is called the US elections and it will have a big impact. And indeed, it has. Joe Biden will also convene a summit this year which will have an impact. Glasgow will have an impact. We will have a clear policy framework out there for all to see well before the election. It will be consistent with net zero by 2050. It will be consistent with Labor becoming a renewable energy superpower. It will be consistent with ensuring we maintain jobs and the strength of our economy. And I would suggest to you that in the meantime, the Coalition have changed a range of their policies, but they are still a mess. And we saw that last week with the National Party.
JOURNALIST: When your senior colleagues like Tanya Plibersek come out publicly and forecast what they would like to see in the future, that does then signal to the public that could be interpreted as seeing you as an alternate leader. Would you expect that posturing to stop as a result of the reshuffle and given we are potentially in an election year?
ALBANESE: I looked at Tanya’s comments today. Have a look at my speech, it is available to all of you, in this room a year ago. I spoke about Curtin and Chifley and national reconstruction and that is what we should look at that in terms of the post-pandemic recovery. This bloke here has got the job of looking after employment and that sort of activity along with Ed Husic and our economic team led by Jim Chalmers. It is perfectly consistent. I have no problem with members of the Labor Party putting forward the views which we all hold as the Labor Party. And the truth is, there is a consistency in those views. There will be one or two occasionally who will not be consistent with what the overwhelming majority is. But be very clear, my Shadow Cabinet and my leadership team are absolutely united in the sort of vision that we have for this country and united in a view, as well, built on experience that a Labor Party that focuses inward will not be successful, a Labor Party that focuses outward will be.
JOURNALIST: Ed Husic has only been in the agriculture portfolio for three months. Why have you made the decision to move him so fast and was he the wrong choice back in November?
ALBANESE: No, he wasn’t at all. That was, frankly, a position in which he filled the vacancy that was there. I waited for the Government to have its reshuffle that they foreshadowed, it must be said, many months ago when Mathias Cormann said that he would be moving on. It was appropriate to have, consistent with my view about policy, you announce things once and you get it right and that was the way forward. Ed, I have got to say, did a terrific job in Agriculture and Resources. He would have been more than happy to stay in those jobs. They’re important jobs. But I have got to say, if you look at Ed’s track record and you look at the tech sector, I think that his appointment will be welcomed, and that Karen Andrews today will be a nervous minister.
JOURNALIST: There is internal talk about wanting to change leadership selection rules. Are members of your team turning their minds to their next leader?
JOURNALIST: Does Chris Bowen being in this portfolio, is there a sense that you want to change Labor’s language around climate change, present climate change action in a more practical way that can actually unify different parts of the country rather than the believers and deniers’ paradigm that some people have fallen into? And the Prime Minister has confirmed he will not have a 2035 for Glasgow and effectively go to the election without one. Is it fair enough that Labor has the same view for the election?
ALBANESE: That is creative. I congratulate you on that question. I will make comments at the appropriate time with Chris Bowen. You will see our policy on climate very clearly out there. I will say this. I think that the debate about climate change in this country is counterproductive. Climate change is real. Last year, we not only got to see it, we got to feel it. The idea that you can just wish it away is just not real. Can I say this as well? We are missing out on an enormous opportunity. Some of the resources that we have in terms of manufacturing and jobs that we have, I will use one example, Tritium, a company based in South East Queensland is producing electric vehicle charging stations and exporting them to the United States and Europe. We produce everything that goes into a solar panel or a wind turbine, but we don’t produce them here, or not enough. There is a small amount but not enough. Copper will be absolutely critical in every electric vehicle going forward. We need to be more resilient in terms of manufacturing, take up the opportunities that are there. The opportunities for green hydrogen are enormous here in Australia. I see it as not only bad environmental policy, but bad economic policy for the Government to be hung up on these issues. And whilst they have Craig Kelly and Matt Canavan, Matt Canavan has proposed a levy on iron ore exports to China. That is a signal for an end of a large section of the WA resources sector. They should be called out on it. They are actually the Government. They should be called out on it. My team will be focused on calling out the Government, presenting our alternatives. I will give you a bit of a scoop coming forward, we will have more to say about industrial relations in Queensland during the non-sitting week, the break in between sitting. One of the reasons why I am here in Canberra for a couple of weeks is so that I can travel because of the various restrictions which have been on. We will have more to say there as well.
JOURNALIST: Can I just confirm that Richard Marles’ portfolio and Ed Husic’s portfolio, responsibilities have been shifted respectively from Tanya Plibersek and also from Clare O’Neill in terms of innovation and the areas that she had in previous portfolios? Back to point about party rules and leadership rules, Joel Fitzgibbon said this morning that the Labor Party should revisit the Rudd rule for this election. What is your response to that?
ALBANESE: You know, I think people will make their own judgement as to whether Joel Fitzgibbon is playing a constructive role as to the prospect of the election of a Labor Government or not.
JOURNALIST: Would you support the rule?
ALBANESE: I supported the rule, the rule is there for a reason and so has the Liberal Party introduced a rule. It’s so that you can have an end to the sort of nonsense that frankly didn’t serve Labor well, either in Opposition or when we were in Government, and they were rules that were adopted unanimously. Can I say in terms of the question in terms of portfolios, what this reshuffle does is essentially do what, in my view, where the portfolios should be, I’m a former Shadow Minister for Employment and Training. Jobs and skills is where the Government has it. Jobs and skills is where we’ve always had it as well, and that was a change. Tanya Plibersek also picks up the tasks that she has held in the past and will do an outstanding job on status of women. For Clare O’Neill, it is pretty hard to say that Senior Australians and Ageing is anything other than a step up. There is going to be such a huge focus on that area this year.
Julie Collins, I’ve got to say, has done an outstanding job in that area. I also am former Shadow Minister for Seniors and Ageing. I knows that it is a great portfolio because one of the things that I have always said, and I maintain, is that older Australians are deserving of our respect and our dignity. A whole range of issues affect our seniors. One of those, of course, is something that affects our future seniors, including people in this room perhaps, in terms of superannuation and retirement incomes. There is a range of other issues as well. I, when I had the portfolio, housing, a range of issues that confront them. I think Clare will do a great job. She is a great retail spokesperson. Frankly, I want to see her out in electorates, marginal, safe Labor, safe Coalition, right around the country, selling those issues.
JOURNALIST: It has been a long press conference, so I want to double back. Was it your decision to move in or a mutual decision or did he ask for it and did he ask for a secondary portfolio?
ALBANESE: I’m the Leader. All responsibilities rests with me on all decisions.
JOURNALIST: Why would you change your Shadow Health Minister in the middle of a pandemic? Won’t Mark Butler have a lot of catching up to do?
ALBANESE: No, Mark Butler has been a former minister in the portfolio.
JOURNALIST: But not during the pandemic, not during COVID-19.
ALBANESE: I can assure you that the pandemic, I had a briefing this morning, the pandemic is something that we have been very focused on. There have been briefings made to our entire team. And during 2020, we in the Labor Party, like you, like the Australian people, have been very focused on the pandemic. Mark has a great interest in this area, always has. He has a particular interest in mental health, but across the board, and as I said, he has written a book on aged care. He is the authority in this building on ageing. And part of that, of course, is health needs. So, he will pick it up very quickly. And him and Chris Bowen are great mates. They will work together in terms of the transition that occurs.
Andrew? You get an extra one, Andrew, because I know the other bloke picks on you sometimes.
JOURNALIST: You said that the energy policy will be consistent by 2050.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible). You’ve got climate experts today saying it has to be 50 per cent by 2030 now. If you are going to pursue a policy that is consistent with net zero by 2050, doesn’t it have to be more ambitious than 45 per cent?
ALBANESE: Good try, Andrew.
JOURNALIST: Have a crack.
ALBANESE: If you ask the same question in different ways, you will expect the same answer.
JOURNALIST: A non-answer.
ALBANESE: Well, hold the Government to account, Andrew. They are actually there now, and they don’t have an energy policy. They are not going to meet their target of 26 to 28 by 2030. The fact is that sometime in the near future there is going to be as well as the target, and debate will move onto a 2035 target, as you know. That is provided under the UNFCCC. I have attended those conferences as a Shadow Minister in Montreal and Nairobi. I’m fully across the issues. And one of the things I know is you’ve got to know what your starting point is.
And I remind you that probably there were people in this room who predicted, indeed, I can think of a couple who told me it was absolutely certain, that Donald Trump would win re-election. Absolutely certain. It was a lay down misere. But a bloke who was a former Deputy Leader and an experienced politician who had held a wide range of portfolios and who was someone who was underestimated by some, he is now President of the United States. And I will be the Leader of this country after the next election.