ANTHONY ALBANESE – TRANSCRIPT – RADIO INTERVIEW – ABC DARWIN MORNINGS WITH JO LAVERTY & ADAM STEER – MONDAY, 2 NOVEMBER 2020
ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
ABC DARWIN MORNINGS WITH JO LAVERTY & ADAM STEER
MONDAY, 2 NOVEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Climate change; gas; Northern Territory; net zero emissions by 2050; US elections; Labor’s Rewiring the Nation policy; renewables; Queensland election; manufacturing; environment; Aussies stranded overseas; Howard Springs facility used for quarantine; NAIF; Laksa festival.
ADAM STEER, HOST: Speaking about the heat, it has been a heatwave again this week. And that hasn’t stopped people coming to the Northern Territory, including yourself, Anthony Albanese, Leader of the Federal Opposition. So, let’s start with the heat and climate change. The economy is down. But here in the Top End, we’re hopeful that the Northern Territory will be a big part of that recovery. The Federal Government has said the economy rebound will be led by gas. And they’re very excited about the Beetaloo Basin. Do you agree that the economic recovery should be led by gas?
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, gas has a role. But I think it’s very short-sighted to think that you’re going to just move towards a gas-led recovery when what we need is both immediate jobs, and that’s why today we’ll be looking at social housing where you could create immediate jobs in terms of fixing up social housing, expanding social housing, as well as in the long-term, our long-term future is in renewables. Now, gas will play a role and continue to do so. But if you look at projects for the Territory, in that report that’s out today, the potential project by Mike Cannon-Brookes, looking at the world’s largest solar farm here in the Territory exporting energy to Singapore, they have a deal that’s already signed, it’s an incredibly exciting project. And if we get this right, good action on climate change will create jobs as well as lowering emissions. We can be a renewable energy superpower. And the great beneficiaries of that will be Northern Australia.
STEER: We just got a text in from Sophie in Katherine. We’ve been covering this story for the last week or so. She said ‘last week, people were on standby to deliver bottled water to every Katherine household. This week, we are cooking at 42 degrees. We are living climate change here and now. Opening a new gas fuel field in this day and age is pure negligence’. She asks, ‘Will Anthony Albanese reconsider his support for gas?’
ALBANESE: Well, gas will play a role. But the markets are showing that there is a shift to renewables. That is a global phenomenon. We had last week, Japan and Korea sign up to zero net emissions by 2050. We’ve had China announced zero net emissions by 2060. And there’ll be an incredibly important event happening tomorrow, but Wednesday our time, the US elections. The difference between Joe Biden and Donald Trump on climate is substantial. Joe Biden, if he is successful, will bring the United States back into the global community. And I think we’ll go from the US being outside the tent, if you like, to showing leadership on those issues. Australia has a role to play. But we also need to acknowledge that it is a global problem and therefore requires a global solution.
JO LAVERTY, HOST: The Prime Minister has today said, and in the past as well, said that we can achieve zero net emissions, but it’s something that we should focus on later in the century. For now, we should really make sure that energy, which is unaffordable for so many people, that bites into a huge part of their budget, we need to make sure that it is affordable for households and we don’t drive those prices up. How do you respond to that?
ALBANESE: I respond to that by saying he’s wrong. We need to join the world and have net zero emissions by 2050. And good action on climate change will also reduce power prices. In the Budget Reply, I had a Rewiring the Nation policy. What we know is that part of the problem is that our national energy grid is made for last century. And so, renewables can’t fit into the grid and be transported, if you like, transmitted around where they are needed when they’re needed. So, we need to upgrade the national energy grid. We put forward a plan to do that. The Australian Energy Market Operator has identified that as a priority issue and have identified where the projects will be with their Integrated System Plan. So, it’s not like we’re coming up with policy in abstract. The plan is all there. All it requires is the political will to do so. And what that indicates under all of the Energy Market Operator’s scenarios, under all of them, renewables are the big growth sector. Yes, gas will continue to play a role and coal-fired power will continue to play a role, but there won’t be any more, in my view, very strong view, any newer coal-fired power stations because the market is saying that it’s simply not affordable compared with renewables.
LAVERTY: As we’ve seen with so many other really large issues, sometimes it doesn’t matter what the Commonwealth is doing, the states and territories will make their own commitments. And in the Northern Territory, we have a commitment of zero emissions by 2050. In the ACT, they just reached 100 per cent renewable electricity, I think, from this year. So, there are states and territories that have their own benchmarks. Is it enough to be able to let them just manage it themselves, especially given how desperate the energy providers are across Australia?
ALBANESE: Well, I think you need national leadership. And you need a national energy grid. Part of the problem is at the moment, each of the states and territories have their own operator that is in charge of the grid, their monopoly providers. And what we need is better coordination so that, for example, the vision whereby when the sun is shining up here and in the West in particular, there’s no reason why a more efficient grid can’t have the peak hour in the East Coast capitals powered from here, powered from the West if we get the transmission right and if we have an efficient and effective national energy grid. And that’s why you need that national leadership. Every state and territory has signed up to net zero emissions. The National Farmers Federation, the Business Council of Australia, all of Australia’s major companies have. We saw ANZ in the last week. And it is only Scott Morrison’s Government that are really behind where the rest of Australia is.
LAVERTY: How much is it going to cost to create the future that you envisage?
ALBANESE: It will actually benefit.
LAVERTY: But how much will it cost in the first place? We know that one kilometre of road costs one million to create. How much does a kilometre of an energy grid cost?
ALBANESE: Well, the national energy grid will cost, if you could do all of the Integrated System Plan, about $20 billion. The IEMO economic forecasting shows that would benefit the economy by $40 billion. So, it’s not a cost, it’s an investment. It’s an investment that produces a return that’s greater than the cost.
STEER: There are some questions locally that if we were to join that national energy grid, that it would push up prices in the Northern Territory.
ALBANESE: No, it would lower prices. An effective national energy grid will lower prices. And here in the Territory, the Territory has such enormous opportunity. The example of the solar project near Tennant Creek is just one of them. You have such extraordinary renewable energy resources. The Chief Minister is certainly onto this and has a vision for the Territory that’s about jobs, as well as lowering emissions.
STEER: You’re on ABC Radio Darwin. It is 8:41. Adam Steer and Jo Laverty with you. Anthony Albanese is the Leader of the Federal Opposition. Very briefly, I want to move to Queensland for a second. There was an election there over the weekend. Annastacia Palaszczuk won her third term. More importantly, Labor won key seats in regional Queensland. Why are voters happy to vote Labor in a state election but not a Federal election?
ALBANESE: Well, Annastacia Palaszczuk got the campaign right. She campaigned on jobs and the future. She also campaigned very strongly on keeping Queenslanders safe. And they responded accordingly. I don’t think Queenslanders appreciated Scott Morrison crossing into Queensland and spending a week campaigning, cancelling the National Cabinet so that he could do more campaigning and fundraisers for the LNP. And they simply don’t like being told what to do. And that was what was going on. Annastacia deserves all of the credit for running an extraordinary disciplined campaign. But it’s been a good Government. It’s been a Government that has prioritised infrastructure, that has prioritised jobs, that has prioritised looking after people, as well, during the pandemic and not leaving people behind.
STEER: So, what did they do right that you failed to do last year in the Federal election?
ALBANESE: Our review showed that we had lots of policies but not enough of a narrative. And we were punished for that. We’ve being very open and upfront about that. But the fact that the votes in places from Cairns, to Rocky, to Townsville, to Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Maryborough, shows that people in regional Queensland will vote Labor if we present a very clear position, if we prioritise jobs, if we acknowledge that regional economic growth is so important. And as a former Regional Development Minister, it’s something that I’m very conscious of. One of the first things I did upon coming Leader, I came here to the Territory twice. I also did a car trip around central and regional Queensland, going from regional town to regional town, talking about their priorities. Somewhere like Maryborough, where the local member, Bruce Saunders, got 54 per cent of the vote. He was the candidate just a couple of elections ago and got 25 per cent of the vote. So, he’s more than doubled it. What’s happening in Maryborough, its major economic boost has been rail manufacturing at the Downer EDI site, something that the LNP thinks should happen overseas. But something that the Palaszczuk Government’s determined to make sure is done in Queensland, employing Queenslanders, giving them the skills and giving Australia the economic boost. It also has the bonus that the trains will work, unlike all the trains that are built overseas, which don’t seem to.
LAVERTY: You went to the Federal election in 2019 with a strong message about the environment and what you were going to do. You had the ambitious emissions target of 45 per cent cut by 2030. It really was a very big push for the environment. It didn’t do so well, as you’ve acknowledged, the narrative wasn’t there. Yet, if you have a look at the ACT election and the Queensland election as well, Greens have made up ground in those two state and territory elections. How are you going to go into the next Federal election? Will you be concentrating on the environment again?
ALBANESE: Well, the Greens vote actually went backwards in Queensland on Saturday. They actually had less votes. And it was Labor’s vote that went up substantially. They did win an additional seat because they got preferences from the Liberal National Party that they didn’t have last time. But you know, the Katter Australia Party is still bigger than the Greens with three compared with two. We will have a strong climate change policy because any government worth its salt needs to have it. It’s not about politics, it’s about doing the right thing.
LAVERTY: So, have you got an idea of how you’re going to communicate that message?
ALBANESE: Well, we already have done two primary things. One is that we set very early on the net zero emissions by 2050, showing where we want to head. And the other thing I’ve been doing is talking about becoming a renewable energy superpower. Hence, one of the cornerstones of our Budget Reply was the Rewiring the Nation policy as part of a Future Made in Australia, which is all about how we become more resilient, how we create jobs, how we build a stronger economy.
LAVERTY: We’ve seen, again going back to the ACT and the Northern Territory elections, both were already held by Labor, as was Queensland. These elections were also held during a period of coronavirus. So, some might say, ‘Well, it’s the Labor Party and their strength and their policies and whatever else’. Others would say that people don’t like to see change during an emergency. How do you think that will play out for you federally?
ALBANESE: Well, the governments have responded very strongly in terms of our federated structure, our states and territories. Scott Morrison chaired the National Cabinet, but now we can see a lot of division in terms of the attacks, which were pretty opportunistic, against Annastacia Palaszczuk and also Daniel Andrews. And I think the Victorian Government has done the right thing and Victorians have done the right thing. During a pandemic, it has changed the politics, that’s the truth. People have not wanted disagreement for disagreement’s sake. They wanted people to unite. We have been constructive. So, at the next election, we’ll be saying, ‘Yep, the pandemic, we were constructive, we voted for every package and we suggested improvements’. Ideas like wage subsidies were Labor’s idea. They were opposed originally by Scott Morrison. It was only when those queues formed outside Centrelink that the Government shifted its position. We were concerned about superannuation and the fact that 600,000 Australians have a zero balance in their account now. But we haven’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. So, we have been constructive. We did vote for every package. But it will also be about the future, who has a plan for the future, a plan for economic recovery. And one of the things I found remarkable about the Budget is that there was $100 billion of new spending, a trillion dollars debt, and it will rise to 1.7 trillion in 2030, and nothing to show for it at the end of it. And that’s why we’re advancing childcare reform.
LAVERTY: I think the Government will argue that fewer jobs were lost, people were able to keep their households and keep food on the table. I think that they would argue that.
ALBANESE: But this Budget didn’t have any of that. This Budget had a withdrawal of support, in terms of JobKeeper, it was reduced last month, and it’ll disappear next March. And JobSeeker, the Government won’t say what the unemployment rate will be. So, potentially, it returns to $40 a day. There’s no new investment for Darwin and Palmerston, for example. When I was the Infrastructure Minister, we did Tiger Brennan Drive, we did big projects. And I would have thought that the Budget, with that much money in it, would have had some economic reform. What’s the big economic reform that will drive growth into the future? Now, Labor has put forward our childcare plan that will benefit 97 per cent of families, it will remove the cap, provide an increase in the subsidy and a levelling out of the taper rate. That will make a substantial practical difference to the ability of women in particular to participate in the workforce. It’ll boost productivity. The Government didn’t have any initiatives in their Budget which will boost productivity.
STEER: Let’s move closer to home. Last time we spoke to you, you were talking about the need to repatriate more Australians who were stranded overseas. Howard Springs has now been stood up as a place to do just that with about 500 people per session to quarantine there from overseas. Would you like to see that number higher?
ALBANESE: I sure would. Last time I was here, I’ve been arguing for months, as has the Chief Minister, that Northern Territory was capable of not just taking people, but it’s the best facility in Australia. I spoke to someone last night who came here from Melbourne and quarantined at Howard Springs. They enjoyed the experience. They even spruiked the food as being good. And they thought it was very efficiently run. And what’s more, it of course has a benefit for the Territory in terms of jobs and an economic input as well. So, to me there are 32,000 Australians who are stranded overseas, many of them have been overseas for more than six months. They’ve made multiple bookings, had them cancelled, paid tens of thousands of dollars that they’re waiting for refunds on. This is a disgrace. The Government was completely complacent about it. This is a Government at the Federal level that has been prepared to chair the National Cabinet, take credit for anything that it thinks is good that the states and territories have done. But in areas of clear responsibility, such as migration, our national borders and quarantine, they’ve been pretty complacent.
STEER: What do you say, though, to locals? I know over the weekend there was a lot of anxiety on, at least on my social media feed, from people hearing that we had now imported COVID cases into the Northern Territory, where essentially COVID, at this stage, as far as we know, has been extinguished. What do you say to those locals that go, ‘Well, we better watch out, the COVID has now come to Howard Springs’?
ALBANESE: Because the medical care is there to make sure that it doesn’t spread from there into the community. And that’s a good thing. You need to have quarantine, I do not question that. But I think it has been a success. And it is bringing in economic activity to the Territory at a time that it’s needed.
LAVERTY: I just want to take you back quickly to your point that there was nothing in the Budget for Darwin, for example. But in the NAIF program. You are laughing?
ALBANESE: I always a bit of a chuckle about the NAIF.
LAVERTY: In the NAIF program, there was a huge investment for the Barramundi farm at Humpty Doo, the CDU.
ALBANESE: It is not investment, it’s loans. It is loans.
ALBANESE: And they have spent, the NAIF, the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility was created five years ago, five years ago as a short-term plan with $5 billion taken from other activity and put there. This wasn’t new money. And as of a month ago, around about the time the Budget was done, through Senate Estimates, three per cent of that funding, three per cent of that $5 billion had been expended. One of the things about this Government is it’s good at announcements. I don’t question that. It’s not good at delivery. I mean, Kakadu, the project that I’ve been speaking to this studio about for many, many years, they haven’t actually progressed it too far. And that’s typical of this Government. They’ve been in for eight years. They are full of announcements. The NAIF was supposed to be something that would enliven the north over a couple of years. As I said, five years and they’ve spent three per cent of the NAIF.
LAVERTY: Anthony Albanese, before we let you go, I do have a piece of laksa-inspired cheesecake for you to try. Now, I am going to ambush you Luke Gosling style with a piece of laksa-inspired cheesecake.
ALBANESE: It does look very yellow.
LAVERTY: Yes. Thank you.
STEER: Jo and I have had debates about eating on the radio, because I think eating next to microphones is not so good.
ALBANESE: No, it’s a bad idea. And even more so when there’s a camera on.
LAVERTY: And when you are the Leader of the Opposition.
STEER: We have got a television camera in here at the moment. You’re the Federal Leader of the Opposition.
ALBANESE: What can go wrong? Here we go.
STEER: So, he’s chewing it. He puts it into his mouth.
LAVERTY: Hang on, his face isn’t indicating that he is enjoying it.
ALBANESE: It is interesting.
ALBANESE: No, it’s good. It’s good.
LAVERTY: Don’t try and make me feel better, Anthony Albanese.
ALBANESE: No, it’s good. I’ll even eat all of it.
LAVERTY: Well, that’s very kind of you. Thank you.
ALBANESE: Well done. Can I put my vote for the cheesecake ahead of the Beef Wellington, because there is no way I’d try out laksa Beef Wellington.
STEER: So, that sounds terrible. So, is it lakos? Is that what we’re doing then? Laksa tacos?
ALBANESE: Go for the lakos.
LAVERTY: Thank you so much for making time for us this morning. That is Anthony Albanese who is Leader of the Federal Opposition. And perhaps you’ll see him around town and you can ambush him with something laksa-inspired yourself.
ALBANESE: My pleasure, verbally and also in whatever the term is for culinary delight. Do I have to declare that as a donation from ABC, a little bite of laksa cheesecake?
LAVERTY: Maybe you put it down as an OH&S issue rather than a donation. Thank you so much.
ALBANESE: Fantastic. Thanks very much.