Nov 27, 2020








SUBJECTS: Groom by-election, inland rail, mining approvals, EPBC Act, emissions reduction


DAVID ILIFFE, HOST: Are you expecting any sort of swing against the LNP in this weekend’s Groom by-election?


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, that of course will be up to the voters. But what we know is that we’ve got a very strong candidate in Chris Meibusch. He’s a long-term Toowoomba resident and community activist. He’s a lawyer. He’s someone who is absolutely committed to the local community and has been involved in campaigns in the past, indeed has led campaigns to save koala habitat. And we know that a whole range of Queenslanders, federal and state, have visited to support his campaign. And he’ll be certainly waving the Labor banner very strongly tomorrow. It of course is, we didn’t get to 30 per cent of the two party preferred vote at the election just a bit over a year ago. So, certainly, the LNP are very strong candidates. But it’s a good thing that Labor is putting forward an alternative and putting it forward strongly with a great candidate.


ILIFFE: So, moving on to one of the key issues that I know you’re aware of, Inland Rail in this part of the world. And I know, earlier in the year, you met with some of the farmers whose land will be affected by the proposed route. Now, the Deputy Prime Minister has finally said this week that the route corridor through southern Queensland will not change. What is your view on that?


ALBANESE: Well, I think it is a pity that the National Party that used to listen to farmers doesn’t anymore. And the farmers I met with had really practical issues about flooding that would result as a result of the route. And the fact that their concerns have been dismissed really without, in my view, having adequate examination of the concerns they have. I’ve always had the view that people on the ground know more about local communities than people from a distance in Canberra, whether it be myself in Marrickville or Michael McCormack from Wagga Wagga. And the fact that it hasn’t been listened to is a real concern. I’m a big supporter of Inland Rail. We put $900 million into it when I was the Infrastructure and Transport Minister to get the project underway. But we need to make sure that we get it right. It’s too important for the Government to stuff it up.


ILIFFE: With ARTC though and obviously, the Government would come back and say, well, the locals have been consulted, the alternative route that was proposed was properly investigated, it was taken on board, it wasn’t just dismissed in the consultation phase. But ultimately, after that fairly stringent process, the merits of the original route won out over the alternate route. Do we get to a time when consultation and investigation has to stop and we have to arrive at a decision and ride with that decision?


ALBANESE: Decisions, of course, always have to be made. But if you have a look at a simple examination of the map and the way that the route seems to be not so much in the most direct way, but it seems to have gone out of its way to arrive at the current route, and the concern that farmers have, certainly, they haven’t been placated and that is a real concern. And, of course, the Inland Rail line still stops at Acacia Ridge, 38 kilometres short of the Port of Brisbane and still hasn’t actually been finalised. That’s the truth of the matter. And until you actually have an Inland Rail line that actually goes to a port then, quite frankly, it will be underutilised and won’t be as efficient and won’t achieve its original objectives.


ILIFFE: Could I move on, Mr Albanese, your critics would say that any prospects of the ALP winning votes in safe LNP seats like Groom, or even winning the next federal election, are being scuttled by your party’s failure to send a clear message on issues such as coal mining that employs so many of you traditional support base, particularly in regional Australia. Do they have a point?


ALBANESE: No, not at all. What they should examine is the fact that they LNP have refused to stand up for mine workers. We’ve had a case in Queensland whereby Mr Skene took, with the support of his union, the coal mining union, took the company he worked for to court, asking to be considered to be a permanent worker. And he was successful. The Federal Government has spent $420,000 of taxpayers’ money supporting that same company that have brought a separate case in order to try to effectively overturn that decision. The fact is, we’ve got miners working next to each other, what some employed by labour hire companies earning some $40,000 or $50,000, next to the permanent workers for doing exactly the same work. And I released, along with the union, a report into those practices last year. This is a Government that don’t stand up for working people, whether they be miners, whether they be hospitality workers or retail workers with their penalty rates, whether they be particularly in aged care facilities who even during the pandemic have been denied appropriate personal protective equipment. This is a Government that seek to undermine the rights of working people at every opportunity. And we’re seeing at the moment attacks on superannuation, superannuation which is actually legislated.


ILIFFE: Can I just interrupt though – I guess we’re talking about two different issues. You’re talking about more of a workers’ rights issue. But in terms of the mining issue, I mean, we have a mine in our area of that you’re well aware of, New Acland Mine, that even with the workers facing dismissal, facing the uncertainty over the future of that mine, which is in a cloud, when pushed on a different stance on whether that mind should go ahead earlier this year, you conceded that the environmental process that’s delaying it through the courts at the moment was possibly elongated and needed to be reviewed but stopped short of saying whether you would support the extension of the mine, the project actually going ahead.


ALBANESE: Because that’s the process that we have. We have a process of ensuring that there are proper environmental approvals in place. And since the Coalition came to office, the delays to project approvals have blown out by 510 per cent. This is a Government that’s presided over processes of delays at the federal level. And we have condemned that quite rightly.


ILIFFE: Couldn’t the, if we go back to ARTC though, couldn’t we sort of say the same thing about the proposal for them to change the route? That perhaps that’s a process that had gone on long enough as well? And perhaps that needed to sort of get back into just actually getting on with the project itself rather than being tied up with appeals and looking at alternative routes and that sort of thing? Aren’t they two of the same sort of topic?


ALBANESE: Well, it’s a matter of whether you’re getting it right the first time, making sure that you actually do have appropriate community consultation. And the farmers I met with were incredibly frustrated that they hadn’t been able to get a meeting with the Minister. They were able to meet me, as the as the Opposition Leader. They were able to meet with Labor senators. But they weren’t able to get a meeting with the Minister.


ILIFFE: Just moving on and just finally, because I know your time is tight, Mr Albanese, and I appreciate that. If you’ve just come in, it’s 14 to eight. I’m speaking with Anthony Albanese this morning on the eve of the Groom by-election. The LNP Groom candidate says that one of his top priorities is to pull apart the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to free up major infrastructure project approvals. Do you, is there a problem with the Act from what you can see?


ALBANESE: Well, there was a review, of course, of the Act. And maybe he hasn’t been briefed properly, because this legislation was before the Parliament and has gone through the House of Reps already. So, if the LNP are actually saying they’re going to have another process of review, then that would be quite extraordinary. The problem with the legislation is it doesn’t reflect the recommendations that were actually made in the review that was undertaken by this Government. And what it’s done is simply go back to essentially a trashing of the Act. I think we need efficient examination of environmental approvals but it also needs to be rigorous. And it needs to ensure that there’s confidence in the process. And that’s the concern that Labor has. When I was the Infrastructure and Transport Minister, I was the Minister for six years, and we had no complaints about any of the major projects that were undertaken while I was the Minister, including major upgrades to the Warrego Highway and other projects around the country. And there weren’t significant delays. We were on top of the issues. This Government, of course, has slashed funding for the environmental department. Processes have gone out, blown out massively by more than 500 per cent. And it’s presided over delays. And everything with this Government, whenever there’s an issue, they always point to someone else, particularly to state governments. This Government said, when they came to office, they’d build a hundred dams, for example. And they can’t point to a single one after eight years that they’ve opened.


ILIFFE: Anthony Albanese, just finally, and just very quickly, you’re the, there’s been a lot of criticism of Labor’s 45 per cent goal for 2030 emissions reduction, that promise that you took in the last election. Will this be the policy that you’ll take to the next federal election?


ALBANESE:  No, I’ve repeated that. That was a policy you can’t, you can no more do that than you can have a TARDIS in terms of a timeline. We’ve announced zero net emissions by 2050. That’s a policy of every state government, Labor and Liberal across the country. It’s a policy of the Business Council, the Australian Industry Group, the National Farmers’ Federation, as well as major companies like BHP and Santos and Qantas and Woolworths. They’re all supporting that.


ILIFFE: But what will the goal be before 2030 though?


ALBANESE: Well it’ll be consistent. That was a goal that was set in 2015. That was a 15-year target. By definition, in 2022, at the time of the next election, it will require a different response. And our response will be consistent with getting to zero net emissions by 2050.


ILIFFE: Anthony Albanese, I appreciate your time this morning. Thank you so much.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, David.