ABC RADIO BRISBANE DRIVE WITH STEVE AUSTIN
WEDNESDAY, 1 JULY 2020
SUBJECTS: 2020 Defence Strategic Update; Labor’s commitment to reversing ABC cuts.
STEVE AUSTIN, HOST: Anthony Albanese, sorry to keep you waiting. Thanks for coming on.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good to be with you, Steve.
AUSTIN: I want to ask you about the Prime Minister’s speech today, first of all, on the Defence spending increase. The increase in Defence spending announced by the Prime Minister, $270 billion dollars in total, it's a fair jump over what it was in the last ten years. Is it needed?
ALBANESE: Well, it is a substantial increase. The point is; are we're getting value for money? And one of the questions that is there is with the rollout of the submarine program. There are major questions to be asked about the Australian contribution, about the amount of jobs that will be created here and about the value from that program. So, that remains outstanding. But in general, we are certainly supportive of the direction that says we need to concentrate more on our region. And that is consistent with the 2016 White Paper.
AUSTIN: I've just spoken with Professor John Blaxland from the ANU in Canberra. And he rolled out some of the details of what, sadly, the Chinese Government has been building in the way of submarines and aircraft carriers, quite a high amount. Is there an arms race underway in the South China Sea in the Asian region?
ALBANESE: Well, certainly if you look at the amount of growth in Chinese armaments, it is substantial. And it's been growing in in recent times, both in terms of naval capabilities, but also in terms of aircraft and also armaments. And certainly, what our Defence capability has to be aimed at, of course, is ensuring our national security. It shouldn't be a partisan issue, and I don't seek to make it one. We have been briefed, my Defence Shadow and Deputy Leader, Richard Marles, this morning. We are broadly supportive of the direction that the Government is going. We await, of course, further detail including the Budget figures that one assumes will be included when the October Budget is handed down.
AUSTIN: It was a little nerve-wracking to hear the speech by the Prime Minister, to be honest. And it was also equally nerve-racking to hear how many submarines and aircraft carriers China is building. Are we handling the diplomatic trade relationship with China enough?
ALBANESE: Well, I think there is a question there when we see trade ministers say that they can't even talk to their trade counterparts. And clearly, there's an issue there that we need to deal with in our own national interest. Obviously, there's a lot of jobs dependent upon the relationship, not just with China, but throughout the region. We need to never-ever put economic issues before our own national interest, of course, and our national security. But we do need to be conscious about the need to be engaged economically in the region. Because so many jobs depend on it, not just in terms of natural resources, but also in terms of services. We have seen the major impact, for example, that the pandemic is having on our universities at the moment in limiting overseas students coming and that is having a real economic impact.
AUSTIN: My guest is the Federal Labor Leader in Australia, Anthony Albanese. Would Labor do anything differently when it comes to Australia's defence, Anthony Albanese?
ALBANESE: Well, one of the things that we are somewhat concerned about is the roll-out of the submarine program. We think that this Government is characterised by putting a lot of effort into the marketing of announcements and perhaps not enough into the delivery of actual programs. And that's why we're concerned about that. We think that we need to always ensure, as well, that we maximise Australian job creation from any investment that's made. And that is why it is a good thing that the submarines weren't just purchased overseas. But we need to make sure that national interest in terms of the economy is linked to our Defence budget, that it is not just purchasing overseas. That's something that I would like to see us concentrate on. I think that we made mistakes, frankly, in our region when we cut the foreign aid budget, when the Government changed in 2013. And that clearly has led to a bit of a gap that others have filled in the Pacific.
AUSTIN: My guest is Anthony Albanese, Labor Leader in Australia. On this day in 1932, the Australian Broadcasting Commission, as it was then, was established by Prime Minister Joseph Lyons. You have committed to restoring a funding freeze that's been placed on the ABC by the Federal Government. What are you going to do, Anthony Albanese, if you are in government?
ALBANESE: Well, we'll put back the $83.7 million cut to the ABC.
AUSTIN: The Government says it's a freeze not a cut.
ALBANESE: It is a cut. If it looks like a cut, walks like a cut and quacks like a cut; it's a cut. And the New South Wales Nationals Leader, John Barilaro, the Deputy Premier of New South Wales, has said that the Prime Minister's being "disingenuous" and he said, to quote him, 'I mean, be honest and upfront and say you have frozen the budget for whatever reason because of budget pressures. Tell the truth'. The truth is that they have cut the budget. A freeze means a cut in real terms. And the ABC, this comes on top of previous cuts, of course, and it has resulted in 250 job losses. Now, we're in the first recession in three decades. Now is not the time to see the ABC being in a position whereby they're forced to cut employment.
AUSTIN: Other government departments, the ABC is not a government department, but government departments have been required to make efficiency savings for many years. The CSIRO, a very important scientific institution, has had budget freezes placed upon it, universities are facing very real budget constraints as well. Why shouldn't the ABC tighten its belt?
ALBANESE: Well, the CSIRO shouldn't be cut either, by the way. But the truth, is the ABC has tightened its belt. Whatever could be cut and made more efficient has been done. What we're talking about now is that these cuts have directly resulted in job losses. And at a time where, particularly in regional Australia, we're seeing hundreds of publications, some of which have been around for a very long period of time, including, of course, in regional Queensland, those publications as you go up the coast, you run into the Sunshine Coast Daily and the Rockhampton Bulletin and you run into all those papers, many of whom are going to cease to exist in its previous form. And that is a real issue. The other thing is that during the summer period, we were really reminded of the important role of the ABC during crisis. So, during the bushfires, which occurred, of course, across four states, what we saw was the ABC literally saving lives. People who didn't have any other form of communication, relying upon being told whether to stay and fight in their homes or whether to leave, relying upon that radio broadcast. And at a time like this, I think the ABC should be seen as an essential service because I think it is.
AUSTIN: This essential service, though, has made a very surprising announcement. It's going to scrap the pivotal 7:45AM news bulletin. That surprised many people including some long-standing people inside the organisation. What's Labor's position about that unique 15-minute peak news bulletin on the ABC?
ALBANESE: Well, I will tell you what, many people make sure they're getting their breakfast and organise their day around listening to that 15-minute news bulletin. I've been listening to it since I was a kid. And it's something that I've relied upon for decades. And so many other Australians have as well. And what you get in that 15-minute news bulletin is the sort of information that doesn't fit in the sort of brief broadcast that we just heard from you before I started this interview. You get that information. You get to hear different sides of the story.
AUSTIN: So, should ABC management reverse the decision to scrap the 7:45AM news bulletin?
ALBANESE: ABC management should reverse that decision. But they should reverse it, as well, on the basis of the Government saying, 'This is a bad decision and we're going to put the funding back to make sure that happens'.
AUSTIN: Anthony Albanese, thanks for your time.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Steve.