ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
3AW WITH NEIL MITCHELL
FRIDAY, 24 APRIL 2020
SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; constructive role of the Opposition during the coronavirus crisis; need for accountability during COVID-19; post-coronavirus reshaping of Australia; tax reform; industrial relations; cooperation between political parties.
NEIL MITCHELL, HOST: On the line is the Federal Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese. Good morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning, Neil.
MITCHELL: Is Scott Morrison doing a good job?
ALBANESE: Look, I think the Australian people are doing a good job. And when the Prime Minister has got together with the state premiers and territory leaders, it is a good thing that we are getting more cooperation than we have historically in our Federation system. I think in terms of listening to the medical experts has been good. And that engagement has been constructive. I think that it is a good thing, for example, and I met with the Prime Minister and other senior ministers last night.
ALBANESE: It is a good thing that now there is a bit of certainty. I was concerned about the day-to-day changing of messages. But it is good now. We know essentially the framework that was announced would be in place for four weeks, they announced last week. It means that people at least know where they are going. And I think that is really important for the security of the country.
MITCHELL: So, he is doing a good job? Can’t you say those words?
ALBANESE: Well, I think that there are issues of difference that we have had. But we have been constructive. And we have, for example, I think that one of the really good things that the Prime Minister was opposed to was wage subsidies when we first proposed them when Parliament sat. But he listened to unions, to Labor, and to business, and he did the right thing.
MITCHELL: I agree. But this is not the time for point-scoring, is it? For heaven’s sake, I mean, if we can’t have our politicians unified at a time like this, when the hell can we?
MITCHELL: It doesn’t mean you don’t question them, of course.
ALBANESE: I agree. And when the Parliament has met, one of the things that we’ve done, of course, the Parliament couldn’t have met under the circumstances of much smaller gatherings, whereby there’s been, we’ve made it very clear that we would be constructive and that we would pass both the packages, that we would move amendments with improvements that we suggested, but we wouldn’t stand in the way. And I don’t think you could ask any more of us than that.
MITCHELL: Okay. What about accountability? Do you agree there needs to be accountability on the money spent, even though it is a crisis?
ALBANESE: Of course there does. And that’s why I think Parliament should have been meeting much more. It’s good that we’ll meet in the second week of May. Parliament will meet between the 12th and the 14th of May. But we should also be meeting in June. The idea that in March, we would just put off Parliament until August, I think was a mistake when we were saying to nurses and police officers and teachers that they should continue to go to work but we should stop sitting.
MITCHELL: Can you tell Daniel Andrews about that? Accountability for $24.5 billion dollars?
ALBANESE: I say very explicitly to all leaders that we do need to be accountable for expenditure. I think the public expect that. And we’ve got now the Senate Select Committee started its meetings. Yesterday was the first hearing. Next week they’ll hear from the head of Treasury. That’s a really important thing. This is an unprecedented level of expenditure. This is taxpayers’ money that will have to be repaid at some stage. And we need to make sure that there’s value for money, every single dollar that goes out the door.
MITCHELL: Okay. The new normal. When we come out of this, I’m making the point that I think there should be a new sense of energy to say, ‘Okay, we’ve got through that, now we’ve got this huge economic problem, which we will have for years. But let’s reshape. Let’s do the things that we have been putting off. Let’s reshape things’. What would you do differently after the pandemic?
ALBANESE: I think we need to look at what the future opportunities are there for Australia. How do we take advantage of the fact that we’re just south of the fastest growing region of the world in human history? What are the industries that we can grow? How do we make sure that young Australians and retrained older Australians…
MITCHELL: I’ve heard all this before. Well, let’s be specific. What about we get rid of waffle. And I’ve seriously put this point to Federal members.
ALBANESE: Okay. Neil. Hydrogen. Hydrogen is an industry that can absolutely power steel and can power aluminium. How about we look at, for example, in Gladstone, they’re looking at, Rio Tinto own the aluminium refinery there, what they want to do is to power that up with solar energy in order to operate. They reckon they can double their capacity.
MITCHELL: Good, let’s look at hydrogen.
ALBANESE: That would be regional jobs.
MITCHELL: What about tax reform?
ALBANESE: Well, how about we look at tax reforming.
MITCHELL: What do we do? What do we do there? Increase the GST? Or do we reduce personal income tax? Do we reduce company income tax? What do we do? Have we been talking about bloody tax reform for decades, and we haven’t done it properly? I don’t even know, the Government’s fiddling around with tax cuts but no indexation of them.
ALBANESE: Well, one of the things that we could look at, for example, is go back to the Henry Tax Review. And one of the things that it said was that when you look at tax, you change behaviour. What sort of behaviour do we want?
MITCHELL: How would you change tax? What would you do?
ALBANESE: Well, for example, rather than looking at just company tax cuts, I think what makes far more sense is to look at how do we encourage investments in Australia that creates jobs by companies.
MITCHELL: What about industrial relations, reform that?
ALBANESE: Well, quite clearly, both employers and unions were saying that industrial relations wasn’t working. The Reserve Bank was saying that wages weren’t keeping up with the cost of living. So, we need to look at enterprise bargaining, so that it’s fair, not so that it’s imposed WorkChoices Lite, but so that both unions and employers benefit. And that’s got to be possible. It has happened in the past. That happened in the 1990s when enterprise bargaining was introduced.
MITCHELL: Well, you are talking about an accord. Some sort of accord between employers and unions?
ALBANESE: Well, what I’m talking about is there is a common interest there.
MITCHELL: Oh, I agree.
ALBANESE: If you look at my speeches over many, many years, I’ve been speaking about that, Neil.
MITCHELL: Well, the late Bob Hawke was famous for them when he was in the ACTU. Unions and business would head in the same direction. Is it time for that approach again to get the unions and business to sit down and say, ‘We’re in this deep economic hole. What’s the best way to get out of it that’s fair to everybody?’
ALBANESE: Cooperation is always better than conflict. And one of the good things that’s come out of this is that if you look at those industries that have kept the country going, they tend to be the most unionised industries. Including our police and emergency services, our nurses, our teachers, our supermarket workers. They’ve kept the country going. There hasn’t been one example, during this crisis, of opportunism from any trade union or any workplace saying, ‘Hang on, we’re in a strong position here. We will abuse the change in the power relationship’. That needs to be recognised that unions have done that. And it’s time that the Government should withdraw its Ensuring Integrity legislation as a sign of good faith that it’s going to stop the union-bashing which has characterised this Government over the last six years.
MITCHELL: Well, back to this accord, if you get a price freeze, will you give a wage freeze?
ALBANESE: Well, it’s not up to me to do that.
MITCHELL: No, come on. You are the Leader of the Labor Party. You’ve got some influence with the ACTU, I think. Is that the way to do it? Price freeze, wage freeze?
ALBANESE: Well, I think it is up to the unions to sit down. I don’t go above my station.
MITCHELL: I am sure you’re in favour of a price freeze.
ALBANESE: Of course lowering costs. But inflation isn’t the big problem at the moment.
MITCHELL: You lower the costs, of course, but an accord is about both sides doing something. Your get a price freeze and a wage freeze.
ALBANESE: What an accord was about was lifting living standards and recognising, what the accord did, of course, was recognise the social wage through introduction of Medicare, through introduction of compulsory superannuation and other ways that lifted living standards. Now, it’s got to be possible for you to do that across a range of areas.
MITCHELL: All right. I noticed that Harper is talking about road pricing too, so that the user pays on the roads. Would you look at that? Will we get that dramatic?
ALBANESE: Well, some of that has been looked at in terms of heavy vehicles. And New South Wales and Victoria, while I was a minister, I instituted a trial that was looking at heavy vehicle road pricing. That made sense. We moved to, an example of micro-economic reform, one that wasn’t sexy was moving from 23 transport regulators down to three. That benefited the national economy by $30 billion over 20 years. An example of the sort of productivity reform that we need moving forward out of this crisis.
MITCHELL: Am I being overly optimistic to say, or to ask, can we have a new era of cooperation between the parties?
ALBANESE: Well, I hope that we can. I am somewhat concerned, it must be said, about the calls immediately that have been made by some members of the Government for just deregulation for labour market.
MITCHELL: But both sides have got to give a bit.
ALBANESE: Absolutely. But what we’ve seen from this Government up to now is essentially and anti-union position.
MITCHELL: There goes any hope. We are in the middle of a damn pandemic and we can’t get cooperation. What hope is there when it’s over?
ALBANESE: Well, Neil, you shouldn’t be so cynical.
MITCHELL: Oh, I am with you lot. And not just you personally. I said let’s ban waffle.
ALBANESE: What you should do, Neil…
MITCHELL: I will tell you what you should do.
ALBANESE: What you should do is sit back and have a look at what’s happened in the Parliament the last two times we have sat.
MITCHELL: And that’s good.
ALBANESE: And compare it with what happened during the Global Financial Crisis.
MITCHELL: Here we go. You’re going to have another slag at the Government?
ALBANESE: No. What it takes is a Government and an Opposition that are both prepared to be cooperative and to engage in a way that lifts up the political debate. And I think that is something that is in the interests of the Australian public.
MITCHELL: I agree
ALBANESE: And it is something that would be called for.
MITCHELL: And rule number one, ban waffle?
ALBANESE: Well, of course, one person’s waffle is another person’s statement or view. But here is an idea, Neil, when you look at what the Government has says during the current crisis, quite rightly about listening to science and listening to the experts, can we do that to climate change as well?
MITCHELL: Okay, thank you very much for that.
ALBANESE: If we do that, we’ll be far better off. And that’s a major long-term challenge that we need.
MITCHELL: That’s a fair point. Thank you so much for your time.
ALBANESE: Thanks, Neil.
MITCHELL: Federal Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.