Nov 20, 2020







SUBJECTS: NSW Koala Bill; plans for state government to merge four schools in Murwillumbah; importance of education; climate change; net zero by 2050.


BRUCE MACKENZIE, HOST: The leader of the Federal Opposition is in our neck of the woods today and he joins us now. Anthony Albanese, good morning.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning. Beautiful part of the world always, but particularly today.


MACKENZIE: Sure is. I’m sure that you’ve been following this blow up in the state Parliament involving one of our local MLCs, Catherine Cusack. I know we’ve got other issues to discuss. But can I start just by getting your take on that? Because crossing the floor has consequences, not just for the Coalition, but also for your Party, the Labor Party, doesn’t it?


ALBANESE: Well, it does. But Catherine Cusack has done the right thing here. The Liberal National Government is out of touch when it comes to protection of our natural environment, but particularly koalas. This is a part of a fix between the Liberal Party and the National Party to try and keep the Coalition together when you’ve got people like John Barilaro who have expressed, frankly, their contempt for koalas, treating them almost as if they’re vermin, and a consequential policy that would not protect koalas that are endangered and that are a precious part of Australian fauna, but also, of course, our natural environment. And biodiversity has economic benefits for us as well. The state government has got this wrong. Catherine Cusack is just one vote. Labor and other minor parties also voted against this. And they were right to do so.


MACKENZIE: But just to be clear, if she was a Labor MP doing that, given what the Party’s platform and policies and conventions are, you’d have her head on a platter as well, wouldn’t you? Because crossing the floor is a big no-no in the Labor Party.


ALBANESE: Well, that is right. We have a binding policy on our frontbench members. That’s expected. And that’s a price, I’m sure, that Catherine Cusack knew that she would pay for the decision that she made.


MACKENZIE: I’ve got to tell you, I’ve never seen such an outpouring of support for a politician as what I’ve witnessed this morning. You’ve been around politics a long time. Do you think people are getting a bit jack of that idea of you vote with the party no matter what, even if in your heart of hearts as a local representative you might think that it’s not what your constituents, the people that voted you in, actually support?


ALBANESE: Well, you’re part of a team. But I’m not surprised that there’s an outpouring of support because koalas are really important. They are precious animals. People love them. And people know that more and more we have cut down their habitat. They’ve been reduced to being endangered. They suffered particularly over the bushfire season. We saw devastation. And I’ve got to say that when I visited koala hospitals, one in particular that was set up in South Australia in a school hall over January, I got an extraordinary number of likes and supportive messages over koalas. People want to see them saved. And the Government, the state government, needs to get that message and get it very clearly.


MACKENZIE: Anthony Albanese, you’re in our region today to talk about this state government plan to merge four schools into one at Murwillumbah. We saw $100 million allocated to that project in this week’s state budget. It is obviously a state issue, though. Why are you getting involved?


ALBANESE: Because education is a critical issue for the Labor Party. It’s one of our defining values that we have. And what you haven’t seen, you saw money allocated for a single high school, but what you didn’t see was the savings or the revenue from the sale of sites of the schools that have been closed that I’m sure will flow from this. You have four schools cut down to just one. And in a circumstance whereby the state government made very clear promises about Murwillumbah East, for example, when they were impacted by Cyclone Debbie in 2017, that it would be rebuilt, the classrooms and the libraries that were damaged, by 2021. And now you have four schools being closed with one to reopen by the state government. And Justine Elliot is one of the passionate local members, along with Janelle Saffin in the state parliament, who are participating with local staff, students, and the community. And I was invited up by Justine, she was talking to me about it in Parliament last week. And she said it would be great if I could come up and meet with locals in Murwillumbah. And I was happy to do so.


MACKENZIE: Anthony Albanese, obviously the state Coalition is having its moment on the barbecue with some sort of environmental policy today, the koala bill that we’ve been talking about. But Labor, it strikes me, at a federal level and at the state level, perhaps finds itself also on the horns of a bit of a dilemma. It’s been suggested that the Party is really struggling to balance the interests of its traditional blue-collar voters who might work in industries such as mining, with its more progressive supporters who are demanding more affirmative action to address climate change and move towards net zero emissions. How do you pull off that balancing act? We’ve already seen one MP basically step down as a result. Is it a folly to think that you can bring those two groups together?


ALBANESE: Not at all. Joel Fitzgibbon stepped down not as a result of any policy principle but as part of a decision that he made, and arrangements put in place, which were that he would stay for 18 months on the frontbench. He has said that himself. What we have is to continue to pursue our position, which is that we have to listen to the science on climate change. We’re getting through the pandemic better than most other countries, because we are listening to the science and responding. And we need to do that. It is not a matter of a decision to be made other than that. And once you do that, you actually recognise that action on climate change will be good for jobs, it will be good for lowering emissions, as well as being good for lowering energy prices. What we know is that in Australia there is no case for a new coal-fired power station, for example, because it simply can’t stack up economically versus renewables. Now, as we transition, we need to make sure that the grid is stable, and we need the capacity, and some of that will come from gas. But some of it, as well, will come from renewables with storage. And we need to make sure that we’re transitioning in a way that supports communities. But we know that this is occurring. And in spite of the fact that the Federal Government have been all over the shop and have had 22 different policies, they haven’t implemented any of them. And what investors are crying out for is certainty. And the truth is that our policy of net zero emissions by 2050 is supported by every state and territory government. It is supported by the Business Council, the National Farmers’ Federation, Australian Industry Group, it is supported by all of our major trading partners, major companies, everyone from BHP to Santos, to Qantas, to the Commonwealth Bank. The only people who aren’t supporting that policy and who are frozen in time while the world warms around it is Scott Morrison and his Government.


MACKENZIE: Anthony Albanese, thanks for your time.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much.