Jan 25, 2021






SUBJECTS: Labor leadership; Federal Election; quarantine; coronavirus pandemic; Scott Morrison not taking responsibility during the pandemic; international and state borders; Aussies stranded overseas; Federal Government handing over decision-making to the states; Labor’s policy agenda; people being left behind.


ANDREW CLENNELL, HOST: He may be the guy with the baseball cap, shearing sheep as you put it, but he seems to have the political wood on you at the moment if polls have anything to say, doesn’t he?


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: No. What we have had is a pandemic. And this time last year when we spoke, and before the pandemic, I was preferred Prime Minister. If you look at the polls, it is up to you to comment on the polls, but the fact is our primary vote is up in every single published poll.


CLENNELL: It is still rubbish, isn’t it?


ALBANESE: I don’t think that it is rubbish, a three per cent increase on our primary vote which is there.


CLENNELL: It is not an election-winning primary vote, is it?


ALBANESE: Well, it puts us at 49 per cent, two-party-preferred in a context of this, Andrew, in a context of a pandemic where it is impossible to see how the Government could have had more advantage than they have up to this point.


CLENNELL: Isn’t that why you lose, though? Is it for that exact reason that you cannot win?


ALBANESE: No. If you want to see a boost, have a look at Jacinda Ardern. She had a primary vote, in actuality, not in theory, in actuality, above 50 per cent, and the two-party-preferred vote nearing two thirds.


CLENNELL: She was in Government.


ALBANESE: That is right. With a six in front of it. Scott Morrison hasn’t had that boost. I have been with the only, I think, one exception, in positive territory in terms of my standing. We come out of a pandemic having been constructive, having shown that we will put the national interest first, having been responsible, and being in a position to engage directly into who is best, not to build back to what was, but to imagine a better future and set about creating it. And that is our task. And the problem for Scott Morrison is that this Government have been in office for three terms. And they have no plan, no policy vision for a better future on the economy. They have no plan for social policy. They dismiss areas that we raised, like childcare, like even the superannuation policies about a better future, whether it be social policy of making sure people can get education and skills, whether it be a national agenda, such as a Future Made in Australia. The plan that we have for Rewiring the Nation, that’s a practical plan to lower prices of energy for manufacturing to allow growth of new industries. We could be a renewable energy superpower


CLENNELL: You painted a picture of the Government then which wasn’t very complimentary. It must annoy you to know that they could still beat you despite that picture you just gave. That they’re still in a position to beat you. History says that oppositions are usually ahead like 53-55 by now if the Government’s going to change.


ALBANESE: Well, that’s not right.


CLENNELL: Tell me where it’s not right. 2013, 2007, 1996.


ALBANESE: That’s not right. What occurs is that in terms of an election, if you look at where we’re at compared with, and where I’m at, compared with other opposition leaders around the country, the only place in the world whereby opposition leaders have done well is where the pandemic has been completely mismanaged, such as in the United States.


CLENNELL: So, Scott Morrison has managed this okay?


ALBANESE: No, the Australian people have managed it okay. And Labor has worked with the Government constructively. And at the next election, we’ll be able to say that we’ll be able to put forward the case, which you know is true, that it was Labor that was arguing for wage subsidies when Scott Morrison was saying it was dangerous. It was Labor that’s continuing to argue that the Government is evading its responsibility for quarantine, for a range of issues.


CLENNELL: Should there be remote quarantine? Should it be in remote areas?


ALBANESE: Well, it makes sense that Jane Halton has put forward remote areas away from the populations. Howard Springs in Darwin has been left virtually empty, certainly nowhere near capacity, for many months now, at the same time as 40,000 Australians can’t get home. They’re stranded. At the same time as when visitors have come back, they’ve quarantined in the middle of CBDs, they are in the middle of cities. It makes sense to have a practical plan. Scott Morrison has preferred to not take responsibility, even for areas, I mean, he’s responsible for quarantining since 1901. It’s in our Constitution. Scott Morrison obviously is in charge of international borders. We have a time whereby there’s never been more vacant planes sitting in the middle of deserts, but they’re not being used. Scott Morrison, of course, could authorise Mathias Cormann to use the VIP jet around Europe. But when I suggested that VIP jets could be used, the RAAF fleet, a national asset, could be used to bring Australians home, that was dismissed. Why?


CLENNELL: Well, let’s talk about people not being able to get home. What about Dan Andrews? He wouldn’t let Victorian people come back home. And he had the Aus Open about to happen. That is not ideal, is it?


ALBANESE: This is one of the issues, Andrew, is that the Federal Government, the Federal Government, have handed over all the responsibility for the decision making to the states, and have then been selectively critical not of Liberal and National governments such as the one in New South Wales, or South Australia, or Tasmania, that had their borders closed as well, that still have their borders. I can’t, as of today, as we speak, I can’t travel to any state or territory in Australia without a permit [sic – prerecord]. And that’s not a partisan issue, that’s across the board. That’s something that Scott Morrison has allowed to happen. And Scott Morrison, of course, has also been prepared to join, as he did, the court case with Clive Palmer against the Western Australian Government, something that won’t be forgotten by them come the next election.


CLENNELL: I’m sure that’s the case. But what’s right and what’s wrong in terms of where Australia should be at the moment? I mean, are you going to piggyback off these hard border closures with the Labor premiers? Or do you have a view that the New South Wales model can work where contact tracing, as long as there are small numbers of the virus, can keep things such as borders open?


ALBANESE: My job is to be the alternative Prime Minister and to put forward constructive ideas, to put forward a critique and alternatives to the national Government. And one of the things that I know is that the state premiers, regardless of whether they’re Labor or Coalition, have done their best based upon the medical advice that they’ve received. And they’ve also had responsibility for a range of things that they shouldn’t have, that are clearly Federal responsibilities.


CLENNELL: Do you believe in these border closures?


ALBANESE: Now, I go back to a year ago. Let me make this point, Andrew. I go back to a year ago, Scott Morrison’s infamous comment, ‘I don’t hold a hose, mate’. That will characterise him in terms of the way that he provides national leadership in this country.


CLENNELL: Do you believe in these border closures? State border closures?


ALBANESE: I believe that state premiers are entitled to make the decisions because they’ve been handed that responsibility by the Federal Government. And I’m not going to be critical of any of the state premiers. I haven’t been. Unlike what the Coalition have done, which is for Scott Morrison to want to hug the state premiers except when it’s inconvenient and send out Josh Frydenberg and Greg Hunt and others to attack Daniel Andrews. He went up himself to the Queensland election and campaigned there. I’ve got to say, everywhere Scott Morrison went, the Labor vote for Annastacia Palaszczuk went up. And he even cancelled a National Cabinet to prioritise campaigning for the LNP. And we know how that worked out.


CLENNELL: I want to read you this tweet from the conservative commentator in The Australian, Janet Albrechtsen. Now, you may say to me, ‘Well, come on, it is Janet Albrechtson’. But look, she’s been criticising Scott Morrison lately. And she said yesterday, ‘Listening to Anthony Albanese on ABC Breakfast. The sooner Labor changes to a Labor Opposition Leader who cuts through, the sooner we might get a better Liberal Government. Scott Morrison is getting a free ride at the moment and it’s bad for the country’. Do you concede you could be a bit briefer and punchier with your media performance? Kim Beazley used to describe himself as prolix. Is that an issue that you’ve got?


ALBANESE: No. Janet Albrechtsen, you expect the conservatives to be out there. I mean that publication, The Australian, was out there backing in a poll commissioned by John Setka’s mates just this week.


CLENNELL: Do you talk too much, though?


ALBANESE: I have big ideas.


CLENNELL: So, they need a lot of words to express?


ALBANESE: No. I have big ideas. And I put forward Labor’s arguments. I’m interested in advancing those arguments. You yourself requested a long-form interview today.


CLENNELL: I guess you got me there. The Labor review of the election loss kind of found, and this is a bit of a black and white portrayal of it, but it found that more rich people were voting Labor, more people in the inner suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, and more of the poorer people were voting for the Coalition. Do you accept that’s a problem? And how do you get past that problem? Do you accept there’s people in the outer suburbs there who feel left behind by your side of politics?


ALBANESE: Well, they’ve been left behind by this Government. And that’s one of the themes that we have is people being left behind. They feel disappointed that this Government doesn’t have a plan for them. We’re reaching out to them.


CLENNELL: You’ve still got that challenge. How do you get the outer suburbs? How do you get the regions? How do you get that support? I mean, Morrison killed it in Queensland last time. Can you get those people back?


ALBANESE: Well, Queensland, of course, historically, has swung big. And I’m convinced it can swing big again, as it did towards the Palaszczuk Government, as it has in the past towards Labor. We will have a plan for regional economic development. I’m a former Regional Development Minister. I’m someone who’s engaged in Queensland over a long period of time. And one of the advantages that I have of having a track record is wherever I go, I can point towards projects and major infrastructure that I supported and delivered when in Government.


CLENNELL: Will you visit a coal mine?


ALBANESE: Look, I will visit a range of activities around the country. We’ll wait and see where I go during the election campaign. But I’ve got no problem at all talking to workers at any time. I certainly will be talking to the Miners’ Federation as their special guest at their conference and I’ve been the guest speaker at the Miners Memorial. I’ve been to Mackay and spoken, launched a report about what’s happening with the undermining of working conditions in coal mines. And I’ll continue to engage with workers, whether they’re coal miners, whether they work at a local bank, whether they work in retail, stand up for workers and respect the job that they do, whatever that task is.


CLENNELL: If you lost this election, would you run as Leader again?


ALBANESE: I’m not considering those options. I’m considering just one, which is winning.


CLENNELL: There’s a danger for you, I think, that you’re essentially an institutionalised opposition. I mean, you’ve been in the Parliament for 25 years this year. You’ve been in Government for six years. And one of the stunning things for me when I came back to Canberra last year was Shadow Ministers have Chiefs of Staff. Opposition is supposed to hurt, isn’t it? I mean, if you give someone that status, and they’re only in charge of three people, are you concerned about Labor’s future? I mean, this election really, you’ve sort of got to win, don’t you? For Labor’s future federally?


ALBANESE: I’m confident we will win. And I’m confident that we not only will win, but by the nature of the way that I’m conducting myself as Opposition Leader, one of the things I’ve said is that the weakness of the Abbott Government, that is still going, this current Government, is that they just opposed everything when they were in opposition. They said no to everything. They didn’t develop a plan. They behaved in a destructive negative way. I haven’t done that. I think the way that you conduct yourself in opposition will reflect the sort of Government you are, whether you’re inclusive, whether you’re prepared to listen to ideas and reach out. The lessons of the Rudd and Gillard Government, as you know, I despaired at some of the internal actions that we did. And we committed some errors.


CLENNELL: You guys completely blew it, really. A chance for Labor to be in Government doesn’t happen that often.


ALBANESE: Look, one of the things that I’m determined is that Labor, in order to achieve long lasting reforms, my model is the Hawke and Keating Governments. A long-term Government that entrenches reform, like superannuation, like Medicare, like the things that came out of the Accord, like the environmental program they had. You need to be in Government for the long term in order to entrench those reforms. Now, I’m proud of the Rudd and Gillard Governments. And many of the reforms have lasted. But some of them haven’t.


CLENNELL: Just finally, you mentioned before the Rudd and Gillard years and the problems there. There’s obviously speculation about your leadership around the place, not just on Sky News.


ALBANESE: Only on Sky, mate.


CLENNELL: You are asked about it. There are there are others who would love your job, obviously. How secure do you feel?


ALBANESE: Look, absolutely. I’m one of the few people to ever be elected to lead a major political party unopposed. That is something, Scott Morrison had to knife Malcolm Turnbull and then compete with Peter Dutton and Julie Bishop to get there. I didn’t have to do any of that. I had the support across the states, across the groups, men and women, I had the support of my team. And I showed, a few years ago when there was a ballot, I had the support of the Party membership as well. So, I’m very confident in my position. I have the support of my team. And my team is also focused on one thing and one thing only, which is making sure we get into Government with an agenda to change the country for the better.


CLENNELL: Anthony Albanese, thanks for your time.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, mate.