Sep 14, 2020







SUBJECTS: NRL, South Sydney Rabbitohs; valuing regional areas of Australia; growth in the regions after the coronavirus pandemic; regional infrastructure; importance of local government; Ben Chifley; rail; Bathurst Rail Museum; Morrison recession.


KERRY PECK, HOST: It gives me a great deal of place to this morning to say good morning to the Leader of the Labor Party, Federal Leader, that is. And, of course, Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese. Good morning, sir.




PECK: Thank you very much indeed for talking to me this morning. I have to start off with some very serious stuff this morning. So, are you ready for this?


ALBANESE: I’m always up for it.


PECK: Okay. All right, my mate Ron, who’s an ex-railway man, and also a rabid South Sydney supporter, said, ‘Listen, when you get Albo on, you got to talk to him and say, ‘listen, we’re not doing too bad and probably one of the best games of rugby league you have seen this year between Souths and Wests during the week last week’’. And I think you’d have to agree with that. It was a good match wasn’t it?


ALBANESE: It was a great match. But I’m one of those that would prefer when we got 20-0 ahead to go on with it rather than give us a heart attack. I will give it to the Tigers, they hung in there and they came back. And I think that I’m not sure how happy Wayne Bennett would have been with that second half, but we certainly are going pretty well. I prefer the Parramatta game, 38-0. It was much more relaxing.


PECK: You got my team this week, which is the Bulldogs.


ALBANESE: Well, I have a soft spot for the doggies. I have Canterbury in my electorate and they have had a tough year. But they’ve had a crack every week, they’ve been quite unlucky actually. It is a pity that they haven’t won one or two more games, they certainly deserve to. They are doing it tough this year. I know what that is like.


PECK: Of course, you do. Now, onto more important things. In regional areas at this stage, and I’ve been banging on this for the 50 years that I’ve been in Bathurst, the fact that regional areas, and I believe after the COVID pandemic is over and done with, are going to be very much more important to the economy of Australia, aren’t they?


ALBANESE: Of course, they are. And what we need to do is to value them. To look at what are the particular advantages that regions have. They’re all different. But what we need to do is to think firstly about job creation, because with job creation comes population and economic activity. We’ve seen substantial growth in some areas. In your region, in tourism, for example, has really grown around Bathurst, around Orange, around all those communities, you have a lot to offer. We need to make sure that we look at areas like Charles Sturt University that has really been hurt by the cuts that have been made. And that isn’t positive on the area. We need to make sure that we give young people opportunities to take up apprenticeships and get skills that will keep them in the area as well. But we need to, I think, also think about how many people have been able to work from home during COVID. And what that means is that for many people, that convenience will keep going. And there’s no reason whatsoever why we can’t have far more people working away from the CBDs of their capital cities and working in regions.


PECK: As you said in a statement recently, roads, railways, communications are some of the things that we are really going to have to look at, particularly in regional areas.


ALBANESE: Absolutely. They’re the three keys in terms of infrastructure. Communications, of course, isn’t just about work. It’s also about service delivery, health service delivery. And one of the things I spoke about in the speech was the fact that regional areas don’t have the same access to health services, aged care, and other services that are so necessary and that people closer to the cities will have. And we need to look at that as well as of course, rail and road access. I know that is so important for the regions to get access to each other and access to markets, of course, it’s very important.


PECK: Do you think that local governments going to play a bigger role in it after the pandemic?


ALBANESE: Well, I certainly hope so. I think the key isn’t for Canberra to decide what’s best for the regions, it is to empower the regions. And one way you do that is through local government. When I established the Regional Local Community Infrastructure program, what I did was all community infrastructure funding all went through local government. So, what that did was make sure that the priorities were really local priorities. And you had that local accountability as well. And that is very important, rather than what’s been, I think, the approach that the current Government has gotten into trouble through, sports rorts and through all these sort of programs, whereby ministers have determined where the dollars go, and often for competing interests. So, what we need to do is to empower local government. I think one of the bad things throughout the so-called National Cabinet is the exclusion of local government from the process it used to be involved in COAG.


PECK: There’s a big scream from local government about that, I might add too. Just on another note, in the Bathurst area, of course, we are very proud of our former Prime Minister Ben Chifley who came out of the war years. And, of course, was a Prime Minister at a time when the country was on its knees, which seems a bit familiar these days, by the way. Do you think we’re probably going to have to look at something similar to the way that Ben ran the country in our 2020/2021 sort of perspective and look at that the way he turned things around? Which he really did.


ALBANESE: Absolutely. Look at Chifley and even when he was Minister for Post-War Reconstruction, looking at him and Curtin prior to John Curtin’s untimely death. They were talking about victory in war, victory and peace. They were talking about that in the mid period of the war, while it was still raging. They were looking forward at how Australia could emerge. And they did things like, of course, the car industry, that the current Government dared to leave Australia, and they did. But they had the foresight to look towards industrial development like the Snowy Mountains scheme, developing manufacturing here.  One of the things that we need to clearly do arising from this pandemic is be more self-reliant and to have that vision and be prepared to invest in Australia, and to back ourselves. And Ben Chifley, of course, was an unbelievably great Australian and a proud son of Bathurst. And, of course, you have the magnificent house still there that people can visit, and I’ve had the honour and privilege of doing that. But we need to, as Chifley would put it, we need to look towards the light on the hill again and have the courage to be daring in the reconstruction from this. Because we’re in the first recession for 30 years. The Morrison Recession is seeing one million people being unemployed. There’s going to be another 400,000 unemployed further between now and Christmas according to the Government’s own figures. So, now we’re in this Morrison Recession that has originated from COVID, we won’t just fall out of it, we have to plan our way out of it and make sure that we get the policy settings right.


PECK: Thank you for that. Now, can I just issue an invite? At some particular stage in the future you must come and have a look at our brand-new rail museum which has been opened here in Bathurst down to the railway station. It is just something to behold. I mean, we’ve got all sorts of good things in town, as you mentioned, the Ben Chifley house, the rail museum is an add on to that. And we would love you to see it.


ALBANESE: I will have to have a look. I’m a complete nerd when it comes to rail. I love trains. And one of the great privileges I had as the Infrastructure Minister is increasing the federal rail investment by ten times. I think that the 21st century is the century of rail. And we need not just suburban rail, but we need rail to the regions. And indeed, we need high speed rail as well.


PECK: Thank you, sir. Look, I really appreciate your time. I know you’re a busy man. And we appreciate it very much. And it’s very good of you to talk to regional areas. And thank you for that.


ALBANESE: Thanks for having me on the program.