ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
ABC BRISBANE DRIVE WITH STEVE AUSTIN
FRIDAY, 4 DECEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Elbow bumps, The Write Stuff: Voice of Unity on Labor’s Future, representing workers, the future of coal, China, the flight to Lachlan Murdoch’s Christmas Party, the media
STEVE AUSTIN, HOST: Anthony Albanese is in town. And so I rang his team and said, look, can I talk to him and we expected it to be on the phone. But I’m delighted to say that he’s actually come into the studio with me, although he looks like he’s been out in the heat a bit.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: I have.
AUSTIN: Welcome to the air-conditioned studios of the ABC.
ALBANESE: It’s much cooler inside than it is outside. I walked here. Senator Murray Watt, bravely, and I, walked across here. And the ABC can provide very good cold water, I can confirm that, so it was much, much welcomed.
AUSTIN: We bumped elbows when you walked in.
ALBANESE: We did.
AUSTIN: Do you like bumping elbows with people as opposed to shaking hands? Which do you prefer?
ALBANESE: No, I like shaking hands. I really like shaking hands. I remember I grew up without a dad, with just a single mom, and I remember my uncle, it’s one of my earliest memories of him, you know, I shook his hand and it must have been a bit limp, must have been about six or seven, and he’s said “No, no, no, no”. And he’s showed me how to shake hands and always look in the eye, as you do, and it’s stuck with me forever and I’ve thought about it a lot.
AUSTIN: A young man should know how to shake a hand.
ALBANESE: Absolutely. Or a young woman, for that matter. I don’t think it’s gender specific. But it is very odd. And as a politician, of course, people instinctively, you know, you shake hands, and it’s all a bit awkward now there’s fist bumps and elbow bumps. And I think what we should do, if you’re going to avoid contact, is sort of just wave. That doesn’t work very well on radio –
AUSTIN: That’s a bit lame. That’s a bit lame.
ALBANESE: Well, is it lamer, really, than elbow bumping? I mean really?
AUSTIN: I think, if I understand it correctly, you’ve noticed that people here in Brisbane are a bit relaxed and are still reaching the hand out?
ALBANESE: They’re pretty relaxed. Yeah and –
AUSTIN: Some people still offer to shake your hand.
ALBANESE: There’s far less masks around Brisbane. I’ve been around here and Ipswich today and in the suburbs and went up to Parliament House to see Annastacia and Steven Miles and –
AUSTIN: Don’t tell me they shook your hand?
ALBANESE: I haven’t seen – No, no. They were very careful. The Health Minister is very conscious, as is the Premier. But I haven’t seen masks here which, people are still wearing masks around Sydney and around Canberra, even around Parliament House when people aren’t in their offices people are wearing masks. It’s not as policed as it was a couple of months ago but it’s still very much the option. Well it’s not supposed to be an option. It’s a directive from the Speaker.
AUSTIN: Alright, I’m grateful you came in the studio. I want to talk to you about sort of the Labor Party generally at the moment. I’ve seen the story today in the Fin Review that where a group of different sort of Labor figures, current and past, have written a series of essays about the Labor Party and what it should be on about. And Wayne Swan, Queenslander as you know here in Brisbane, former Treasurer, has written an essay arguing that Labor should prioritise very working class issues, you know, employment, wages, health and education, over sort of what I would describe as sort of inner city, goats cheese line, progressive issues. How do you see that? Do you, what’s your take on this?
ALBANESE: Look we had a review done by a Queenslander, Craig Emerson, with Jay Weatherill, a year ago now that was completed. We released it for all to see. And one of the things that it did in its recommendations was say that we needed a stronger narrative. That is, at the last election we had over 280 fully costed policies. The truth is, during an election campaign, you can’t explain 280 fully costed policies. So, he spoke, the recommendations were very much in line with what Wayne’s essay’s talking about. Wayne’s also saying, of course, that you need to deal with issues like climate change and the full spectrum of issues. But we need to prioritise things that really impact on people’s day-to-day. And one of the things I did in my Budget Reply was do childcare and then a future made in Australia. They were the two themes – making jobs, manufacturing, public housing, making sure that when the Australian Government has procurement, buys things, that it helps assist that process. We buy our steel, our processes, and we train young Australians and older Australians while we’re doing it.
AUSTIN: So is the Labor Party, with you as leader, a progressive party or a party of the working class, you know, the blue collar working class?
ALBANESE: Well I, look, the truth is Australian society has changed. And working class people don’t all wear a blue collar. The people who work in your studio, the people working around the city are workers. They need representation, as well as people who work in construction or in the mining sector. We represent the vast bulk of Australians, is what we need to seek to do. Not any niche. And some of this debate, I find, you know, a bit tired, is it this or that? The truth is that we seek, not as a niche party like the Greens or One Nation, we’re not trying to get 10 per cent of the vote, we’re trying to get 51 per cent –
AUSTIN: Well the argument is Greens are dragging Labor to the left, making you more of a sort of inner-city progressive party, rather than a party that connects with the aspirations of working class families and people. But when you were elected, when you took over the leadership of the Labor Party, the impression I got of you was raised by a single mother, aspirational working class, understood what it was to start with very little at all and build something.
ALBANESE: Absolutely. I’m the embodiment of aspiration.
AUSTIN: And that’s the appearance. But the inner city, goats cheese view of the world. I’ll give it a different example. Let’s look at the United States. So, does Australian Labor taken any lessons from Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton, you know, those, those blue collar states backed Trump when Clinton thought she had them in the bag. And of course, we’ve had three years of shock and awe or trauma or whatever you want to call, whatever you, however you see it, that it was a real surprise that many of those left-wing states, the blue, the working class states went with Trump and not with Hillary Clinton. The assumption was they’d go with her. And I’m wondering what lessons Labor takes from that?
ALBANESE: Well, it comes to an end on the 20th of January. And what Joe Biden put together was a plan that dealt with issues like health care and education and people’s working conditions. But also, of course, had a strong position on climate change. We need to do, not either or, we need to make sure though in all the positions we put forward that we bring people with us on the journey of change. The nature of work’s changed. Our economy has changed. The services –
AUSTIN: Here in Queensland, though, has not changed that much. Remember, when Jackie Trad, who’s no longer –
ALBANESE: I don’t think that’s right, Steve. I’ve been coming to Queensland for a long, long time. And this city, the city of Brisbane, and southeast Queensland, but as well, some of those regional cities have been transformed, by Labor Government it must be said.
AUSTIN: But Labor does not hold a seat north of Brisbane federally, not one.
ALBANESE: That’s right.
AUSTIN: And remember, I’ll give an example. So, Jackie Trad, who lost her seat at the state election. Jackie Trad last, when she was the Deputy Premier of the state, made this observation about the coal miners in Central Queensland. She, I’m simplifying it, “They’re going to have to retrain because coal’s on the way out”. And you can hear the jaws hit the floor. And there was a belief that Labor was somehow saying, “Coal miners, it’s all over”. Now, Central Queensland is riddled with mines of all sorts of different types. It’s so old industries, if you like, 19th century industries, but it’s still, the central Queensland regional seats are full of those older blue collars. Now, what do they do? How do they transform away from, eventually we’re going to have to get out of coal, how do they transform? Who’s actually helping them so that your kids have some sort of future in a different way or a different area?
ALBANESE: Well I’ll make three quick points on that. The first point is, it’s Labor that will stand up for those working people. What we’re seeing in coal mines in Queensland is contracting out, labour hire companies undermining conditions. So that I launched a report from the miner’s union in Mackay last year, whereby you can have two workers doing exactly the same job, one earning $40,000 less than the person working next to them. It’s only Labor, you never hear the LNP speak about those issues. So that’s the first one – standing up for working people who are there now. Secondly, as well, in terms of our export industry, they’ll continue to exist. Their decisions and their future is determined by decisions that are made in the boardrooms of Tokyo, or Washington or the region. And they will continue to exist, those jobs. The third is, though, one of the things we need to do is to make sure that we value add and I was talking with the Queensland Governor about this today. Seems to me that things like the renewable energy sector, we should be a renewable energy superpower for the world. And that shouldn’t be just exporting energy as we will be doing into Singapore from the Northern Territory in this decade, it should also be, why is it that we produce everything that goes into a solar panel or wind turbine, and we’re not making them here. We know Tritium, a company here in southeast Queensland, is making electric vehicle charging stations and exporting them to Europe and the United States. We need to do much better in terms of high value manufacturing good jobs. And it is the regions, and regional Queensland in particular, that is best positioned to benefit from that.
AUSTIN: We can’t compete with the Chinese because they can do it so cheaply, they can make those solar panels. No one in Australia labour wants to work, you know, for the price that they pay a Chinese worker to build the solar panels.
ALBANESE: No but one of the things that’s happening as well, Steve, is with automation has two bases to it. On the one hand, yes, automation means less people working. But it also means that as a percentage of the cost of production, labour is far less important and issues like transport are. So it makes no sense that we transport our natural resources up to the region to China or other countries, get them manufactured, have the jobs created there, then import it back in. The economics of the transformation in terms of renewable energy, in terms of new industries like hydrogen, are changing enormously. And one of the things that the Palaszczuk Government was emphasising during its re-election campaign was the potential for hydrogen, as well as the rare earths sector, to create jobs and economic activity right here in Queensland.
AUSTIN: Yeah the hydrogen sector does have some real promise. My guest is Anthony Albanese. He’s the Federal Labor Leader. This is ABC Radio Brisbane. Steve Austin’s my name. Let’s move on. I’ll change tack. How could, I’ll start that again. Do you think Prime Minister Scott Morrison is reasonable in very bluntly asking the Chinese to take down that Twitter post that was just a parody of Australian soldiers, really? You’ve seen how the thing’s playing out. It’s not clear to me what Labor’s position is on how you’d handle it differently. The Chinese Deputy Ambassador today has described it as unfortunate that he demanded an apology over this image. It’s not clear to me whether you’re backing the Prime Minister’s move on this, or China, or if you’ve got a different position.
ALBANESE: I’ll make two points. One is that Scott Morrison was quite right to demand that it be taken down. It was offensive. It was unproductive. It was not the actions of a friendly nation. And, given the nature of the regime in China, the fact that if it was a junior official at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia that would be a different thing. But in China, the way that the regime works was, is, that that would have been authorised. So, we were right to take offence and I stand absolutely lockstep with the Prime Minister in demanding that it be taken down. But I also said that we need to have a strategy to deal with the fact that the relationship has got far worse, has deteriorated in recent times. So we need to work with our exporters on other markets. It’s no good just saying, well, we need to diversify as a statement and not do anything about it, to not have a strategy to diversify. Under this Government, which is in its eighth year, we have never been more China-dependent than we are today. It was this Government.
AUSTIN: Are we too dependent?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. It’s this Government that finalised a free trade agreement with China and crowed about it. Hasn’t that worked out well? In barley, meat, coal, wine. You know –
AUSTIN: So the free trade agreement is not really a free trade agreement?
ALBANESE: The full gamut. The full gamut. It clearly isn’t working out. It’s under this Government. President Xi addressed the Australian Parliament under Tony Abbott. So, you know, you have a circumstance whereby in recent times, unlike what was occurring at the beginning of this Government and under John Howard and under the former Labor Government, we were able to still continue to speak up about human rights issues. Remember Bob Hawke over Tiananmen Square? There’s nothing new about Australian Governments speaking up for our values, which are different, we’re a democratic nation, from an authoritarian regime, and we should continue to do that. But somehow it is just a face we can all see, that the relationship has deteriorated and my concern is that I want to say a strategy from this Government of what we do about ensuring Australian jobs are protected, that we’re not damaged economically by what’s occurring and you can only do that as a Government. You can’t do that from Opposition. And I don’t see any evidence from this Government. They keep being asked, the Trade Minister all year has been asked, “Have you spoken to your counterparts?” And what we hear is crickets. You’ve got to be able –
AUSTIN: It’s a bit hard, though, if they won’t pick up the phone on the Chinese end.
ALBANESE: Well you’ve, this week, well, I’ll say this, Steve, this week, we know that Frances Adams, from DFAT, spoke to her counterparts in China about the tweet. What discussions are taking place about trade and Australian jobs between officials, between ministers? There has to be a way through in terms of a Government being prepared to outline what its strategy is. And I just don’t see one from the current Government. And that’s a problem for Australian jobs and Australian business, in the resources sector, in the forestry sector, are beside themselves about what’s happened there. They see the entire industry as being under threat, because it’s China that takes the lower value waste products out of our timber industry.
AUSTIN: Are we sure though that the head of DFAT isn’t working? I mean that we don’t have a plan? We’re just, I mean, you don’t have to advertise the fact that you have to have a plan, you just have to work, make sure your agencies are working with the plan. So, my assumption is the head of DFAT is talking with the Prime Minister’s office, talking with, you know, saying, “OK, this is our strategy, this is how we’ve got to pull back a bit from our dependence on China”.
ALBANESE: Well, it would be reasonable that industry that I speak to, whether it’s the wine industry, the resources sector, they’re all saying that they need more support in having a plan to make sure that Australian jobs are maintained.
AUSTIN: Alright. I’m going to let you go in a moment. So I have one more question that’s unrelated to, well, I don’t think it’s related to any of that. But I was surprised today to see that the Prime Minister had authorised flights at taxpayer expense, so that he could reportedly attend Lachlan Murdoch’s Christmas party last year, the head of the News Corporation. Now, you move in these circles in Canberra, is that an appropriate spending of taxpayer money to fly? You know, a taxpayer expense $5000 or something it was to fly to Lachlan Murdoch’s birthday party?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s really a question for the Prime Minister, frankly, to defend. I try not to get into the argy-bargy of those things. I don’t know precisely what the circumstances are. But the Prime Minister needs to explain what they are.
AUSTIN: Apparently he went with Josh Frydenberg to this particular party. I raised this because Kevin Rudd, former leader whom you’re friends with, has been going hell for leather putting the boot into News Corporation and the Murdochs. And there’s a major petition tabled in Parliament with a huge number of, I think a record number of signatures on it, raising concerns about the influence of the Murdoch family and News Corporation in Australia. You don’t see them as connected, Anthony Albanese?
ALBANESE: Oh look I think that in terms of the media coverage in Australia, what I want to see is, is more fairness. I think it’s fair to say that when you pick up the newspaper, from time to time, you, I’m not someone who rings up editors regularly. I leave that to Josh –
AUSTIN: Paul Keating used to enjoy doing that and giving editors character assessments.
ALBANESE: I leave that to Josh. No-one’s been better in history since than Josh Frydenberg, let me tell you. Any slight on him. He’d struggle if he had to put up with what Labor does from time to time. But I think what people do in part is they take that into account. I have from time to time put in calls to people, for example, when a front page headline screamed that it was such a fantastic result for the Liberal Party in Eden-Monaro when they’d actually lost and when I’d informed journalists the night before clearly that they’d lost. I told them that our assessment was we’d win by at least 500 votes. We did. Kristy McBain’s now in Parliament. So, from time to time, I’ll pick up the phone. Largely, you let things go through to the keeper. But my job is not to be, I think if you’re in the Labor Party it can be difficult. We don’t expect an absolutely fair go. But we expect some level of fairness. And what I also think one of the problems with the media is that there’s been a real blurring of opinion from news reporting. And I really think it’s important that when you have opinion coming out there that it’s labelled as such so people can see it for what it is.
AUSTIN: You’re very generous with your time. Thanks for coming in.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Steve.