Dec 4, 2020







SUBJECTS: Visit to Queensland; Labor’s childcare policy; The Write Stuff: Voice of Unity on Labor’s Future; polls; Australia’s relationship with China; trade.


SCOTT EMERSON, HOST: The Federal Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, is in the studio here. Albo, thanks for coming on 4BC Drive this afternoon.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good afternoon, Scott. It is good to be here.


EMERSON: You’ve been out to my old home town of Ipswich there. A bit hot out there today?


ALBANESE: Your old hood. It certainly was hot. I was out there with Shayne Neumann at a childcare centre there on the main street of Ipswich. We got a great reception. One of the good things about our childcare policy, it is good for families, but it is also terrific to go into a childcare centre. Kids are so great. They are so welcoming. They had a wonderful Acknowledgement of Country. And then we did a bit of painting. And then this lovely little girl wanted me to read a book to her. So, we did that. It was just terrific. And for all those early childhood teachers out there as well, they are doing a great job with our youngest Australians.


EMERSON: Well, just talking about books, let me go very quickly to a book that’s in the headlines at the moment. This is The Write Stuff book, the book that came out of the right faction of the Labor Party. And Wayne Swan, the President of the Party, has contributed to that. And there’s a few rumblings about that today, particularly in terms of yourself, whether that was some of the comments Wayne Swan talked about in terms of where the Labor Party’s going were a slight reference to you and your leadership. Did you see it that way?


ALBANESE: Not at all. Swanny is a mate of mine. He’s been a mate of mine for a very long period of time. And one of the things that he’s doing is playing a terrific role as the National President. And he knows that we had the review into the Party last year by Craig Emerson, a great Queenslander, as well as Jay Weatherill. And one of the things that found was that we needed to have a more concentrated agenda. We needed to tell more of a story. I haven’t had the chance to read Wayne’s chapter.


EMERSON: Did he let you know that he was going to put it out?


ALBANESE: Well, he didn’t put a book out.


EMERSON: Did he give you a copy of the article he wrote before that?


ALBANESE: Well, there’s 30 chapters of it around. Richard Marles, my Deputy, has a chapter. I don’t see anything wrong.


EMERSON: Did Swanny say to you, ‘Albo, just letting you know, I’ve written this chapter of this book, this article in this book, here’s an early copy so you know what I’m going to be saying’?


ALBANESE: I don’t have time to read early copies of books.


EMERSON: So, he didn’t send one to you?


ALBANESE: Well, he may well have. We have been sitting in terms of Parliament. But there’s nothing in that article that I disagree with. It’s perfectly consistent with what we’ve been doing. And that’s why in the Budget Reply, we had two themes. One was childcare having a real impact on families. Every parent out there knows what the cap is on the subsidy, knows now that we’re going to remove that cap. They know how much they get. Women know, if they’re working three days a week, they know what the impact will be if they work an extra day or an extra couple of days, how it interacts with the tax system and what the taper rate is. They are so conscious about it. And that’s why we’re out there running that policy. And the second theme of our Budget Reply was our Future Made in Australia, about jobs, about manufacturing jobs right here.


EMERSON: Now, but Wayne Swan, in this article, he talks about Labor having to make sure it’s not fixated with niche issues, social niche issues there. If Labor is doing that under you at the moment, why does he feel the need to actually write an article for this book saying that?


ALBANESE: There’s nothing wrong with people writing articles. And there’s nothing wrong with books being published. We’re not book burners in the Labor Party, we’re book writers. And that’s a positive thing. I don’t see there’s a problem with it at all.


EMERSON: I guess the concern would be that Wayne Swan’s put this article, this chapter of this book out, a few of the other colleagues in the right have done that as well. And you got Joel Fitzgibbon saying, ‘Look, I’m out of the frontbench, and I’m putting on my cards, my business cards, putting labour back into the Labor Party’. Is there a concern there that Labor is losing its touch with the workers under your leadership?


ALBANESE: Not at all. The fact is that if you look at any of the published polls but look at also what our private polling is showing us, our vote is up since the election, not down. And that’s in the context of having a pandemic where right around the world, opposition, it’s a difficult time. People want governments to succeed. We saw here in Queensland what a dud Opposition Leader looks like. And we saw the outcome when Annastacia Palaszczuk, who I got to meet with earlier today, herself and Steven Miles, winning seats as a third-term Government. Quite a remarkable result. We’ve actually improved. Any time we’ve been put to the test, Eden-Monaro by-election, a seat which under the current boundaries we wouldn’t have won at any time during the Hawke or Keating Governments, we passed that test. In Groom here, just last Saturday, Labor had an eight per cent primary vote swing. That’s a good outcome. And I look forward to 2021. This is as good as it gets for a Government presiding at a time during the pandemic when the focus hasn’t been on politics, where people have just wanted to get on with outcomes. I make no apologies for the fact that I’ve been constructive during that period. We voted for every single package that was put forward. But what we’ve done also is make improvements. It was Labor that was out there arguing for wage subsidies, for example. It was Labor that was out there arguing that workers needed paid pandemic leave.


EMERSON: Well, you say you’re doing better in the polls, but your own personal polling, in terms of how you go against Scott Morrison, he’s going further and further in front at the moment.


ALBANESE: That’s not right. It’s positive. More people approve of me than disapprove, unlike Deb Frecklington. She would have loved to have been in positive territory, but she was never in positive territory. Nor was Opposition Leader O’Brien. In WA they’ve just appointed a bloke who looks like he’s just graduated from high school. He’s in his first term. They’re so desperate for someone to lead them. No one else really want to put themselves forward. He is their third Opposition Leader.


EMERSON: You are talking about the WA Opposition Leader, I want to talk about the Federal Opposition Leader, who we’re hearing rumblings about your leadership. We know that on the preferred better Prime Minister, Scott Morrison’s way ahead of you at the moment.


ALBANESE: I was ahead as preferred Prime Minister before the pandemic. Ahead as preferred Prime Minister. Something that hasn’t occurred for a long period of time since Tony Abbott was Leader has an Opposition Leader led a Prime Minister. And I was in that position. The pandemic means that what people have wanted to do, not surprisingly, is they wanted governments to succeed. They were a cheer squad because it would have a direct impact on their health and also direct impact on the economy. So, they wanted that. They were the circumstances that were there. But throughout that period, compared with anyone else in terms of the preferred leaders, if you look at any of the states and territories, even Gladys Berejiklian in my State, who has had more than one or two difficulties, let me say, in recent times, is a mile ahead as preferred Premier.


EMERSON: Potentially you have an election next year. The vaccine is going to be rolled out. If you’re saying that you can’t beat a leader during the pandemic, it looks like you’re done.


ALBANESE: Not at all. You want to talk about polls, I’m not here to talk about polls, I’m here to talk about ideas. But if you go to the polls, the fact is that our primary vote is up by more than three per cent in the latest poll that was published on Monday, more than three per cent on the last election. That is a pretty good outcome.


EMERSON: I’m talking to Anthony Albanese, the Federal Opposition Leader. Anthony Albanese, obviously we’ve got a massive issue at the moment with China. Is the Morrison Government, and Scott Morrison himself, doing a good job in terms of dealing with China?


ALBANESE: Well, China has changed its position under President Xi. It is far more forward-leaning. And the cartoon was published, let’s be very clear, was a disgrace. It was an insult to all Australians. It was published by a Foreign Affairs official, which in a communist nation like China, is different from something that was published by yourself here or said on 4BC or said in an Australian newspaper. So, Australia was quite right to speak up loudly about that. And we did so in a bipartisan way. We are also right to continue to speak up about human rights and Australian values. At the same time, this Government has been there for eight years. At the beginning of the term, it was Tony Abbott that brought President Xi to the Parliament of Australia and had him address the Parliament. It was this Government that finalised the free trade agreement with China. And what we are seeing, including the impacts of the meatworks out near Ipswich, having a major impact of hundreds of jobs being lost. We’ve got 98 ships full of Australia’s coal waiting to get into China. We have lobsters and crustaceans that have gone off waiting to get into China. We have wine that’s been stopped from getting into China. And we have in some others that haven’t got as much publicity, take the forestry industry, what China does is take a whole lot of the lower value stuff, essentially the waste product from us, the stuff that won’t be used, and it is having a massive impact. And the Government needs a strategy to deal with this.


EMERSON: I think you said that, basically, they seem to be wanting to offend China for the sake of offending them.


ALBANESE: No. What I’ve said is that the Government needs to have a strategy and needs to make sure that everything that it does is within that strategy. It needs to explain it to the Australian people what it is. This isn’t a problem that’s arisen in the last week or the last month. And what I’ve had is senior executives from major Australian companies, major resource companies, forestry companies, agricultural companies.


EMERSON: Which companies? Can you tell me which ones?


ALBANESE: They’ve made statements to me in confidence. But you can say that every single major exporter, including, we’re talking big companies, I’m not talking two-bit operations here.


EMERSON: So, Twiggy Forrest, is that his view?


ALBANESE: Major Australian companies in the resources sector, including companies that are affiliated with the Minerals Council of Australia, have made concern about the relationship and about jobs. I’m worried about Australian jobs and the impact here.


EMERSON: So, what would you have done over the last couple of months differently from what Scott Morrison has done?


ALBANESE: Well, what I would have done was made clear that we needed to have a strategy to deal with this. And at the moment, there just doesn’t seem to be one. The fact is that you can have differences but still be able to pick up the phone and have relationships. That was the case under the Howard Government. That was the case at the beginning of this Government as well. There’s no doubt that China has changed. But Australia has to adjust its position and have a strategy for that.


EMERSON: Well, I think the concern out there amongst some people is when they hear about the criticism, what the Morrison Government has been doing, and you hear saying about some companies saying, ‘We’ve got to get the relationship back on track with China’, there’s a sense of almost appeasement from the Labor Party in terms of that?


ALBANESE: That’s nonsense. That’s nonsense. That’s the idea that those people who are representatives of big major Australian companies about appeasement. Take the wine industry. They were told by the Australian Government, essentially, ‘China’s your market. Get in there. Take advantage of the market’. They’ve done that. And now they have major issues with regard to their product, which will have an impact on jobs. My only concern is the Australian national interest. And the Australian national interest means that we have an interest in standing up for Australian values, but we also need to work through the issues of Australian jobs. And at the moment, I don’t know what the Government’s strategy is. Because the Government now, as it’s got worse, this relationship, over a period of time, you can see the deterioration occurring, it’s been industry by industry, barley, wine, meat, forestry products, coal, one by one they’ve been gone through, and the Government hasn’t changed its position during that time.


EMERSON: All right. Anthony Albanese, a pleasure to have you on 4BC Drive this afternoon.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Scott. Good to see you again, mate.


EMERSON: I look forward to catching up again when you’re in Queensland.


ALBANESE: Good on you.