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Tuesday, 26th April 2022

5AA Adelaide

Discussing Labor’s Pacific policy and more.

SUBJECTS: Labor Leader’s COVID diagnosis; Labor’s strong team; Labor’s Pacific policy; Port of Darwin; Newspoll; Tax.

GRAHAM GOODINGS, HOST: Well, the election campaigning of Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese was thrown into confusion last week when he tested positive for COVID. He immediately went into isolation and had to watch the campaign proceed around him. But he joins me now on the phone. Anthony Albanese. Good morning. Thanks for being with us.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning. Thanks for having me on the program. 

GOODINGS: How are you feeling? 

ALBANESE: Oh, you know, okay. COVID isn't a lot of fun. So, you get a bit tired, but my symptoms are relatively mild, which is a good thing. I'm just in isolation for another few days and hopefully I'm then able to resume the campaign physically. 

GOODINGS: How much of a setback is it not being able to be on the campaign trail?

ALBANESE: Oh, look, I'm still able to talk with your listeners as I am now and able to get out and about. I'm very confident that one of the positives of this is that we're getting to showcase the Labor team, and it's a strong team. Today, we'll have Penny Wong and Brendan O'Connor and Pat Conroy announcing our plan for a stronger Pacific family, in Queensland, and that's a really positive initiative. We had Shayne Neumann and Brendan O'Connor announce our policy for veterans as to assist them on Sunday. And we'll have more policies rolled out each and every day during the campaign.

GOODINGS: On your Pacific policy, alarming comments from both Peter Dutton and Richard Marles that Australia needs to prepare for war. Just how serious is it?

ALBANESE: Well, I think one of the things that we have to do is to make sure that we actually do the preparation and the work. Rather than - I noticed that Peter Dutton’s rhetoric has become - in accordance with what Malcolm Turnbull said this morning, it's becoming more and more bombastic and belligerent. It's a pity the doesn't match it with actual preparation and work. So, we need to make sure that we actually increase our defence capability, rather than what we've had at the moment, which is a whole lot of rhetoric, but it hasn't been matched by any increases in our capability. And the best example of that is as South Australians are aware is the five and a half billion dollars on submarines that didn't actually build anything, just resulted in a torn-up contract.

GOODINGS: Now, your Pacific policies spending about $62 million to boost defence training, aerial surveillance, and pump more Australian media into the region. The Federal Government says much of what your proposing is already underway.

ALBANESE: Well, that's just not right, of course. What there is at the moment, there is some existing programs like the Defence Cooperation Program, but that isn't aimed at the grassroots, if you like, of training, which is what this focus would be. Quite clearly, we need to increase aerial surveillance activities as part of the program by increasing funding, because the theft essentially, or the lifeblood of so many of these Pacific Island nations is the seas around it, we need better surveillance, for ensuring that the fishing stocks are protected of these countries. We need an increase in aid. We need to have our Pacific Climate Infrastructure Financing Partnership, will look at ways of boosting infrastructure there. And when it comes to broadcasting, one of the things that happened, and this is as a result of cuts to the ABC, was that they withdrew from some of the presence in the region, and that was fueled by China. So we want to increase funding there by $8 million a year, over the next four years, to really increase that regional transmission and content production. We also want to engage with people-to-people relations as well, by having bipartisan Parliamentary Pacific visits but, most importantly, reforming the Pacific Island Labour Mobility Program on seasonal workers to make sure that it better meet the needs of Australian agriculture, but also so that it assists people in the Pacific as well.

GOODINGS: Do you accept that over the decades, both sides of politics have pretty much ignored the region. And now you're just playing catch up?

ALBANESE: No, I don't accept that. I think that, quite clearly, that when Tony Abbott was elected in 2013, he gutted aid to the Pacific in 2014. And that has had an ongoing impact because it's never been made up. And that has not been in Australia's national interest. It's easy to say, oh well, we should be spending money here in Australia. What that ignores is that we have a national interest in engaging in our region in supporting aid - is something that that does support Australia's interests as well as that of our neighbours. And on areas like climate change, we know that this Government just have not had a serious policy. And for our Pacific neighbours, it is the number one issue that they're concerned about.

GOODINGS: Isn't a part of the problem in the Pacific region that we're competing with China's deep pockets and the potential that Pacific officials are prepared to accept kickbacks or help on projects.

ALBANESE: Well, there certainly is financing available for projects in the Pacific. But that's one of the reasons why we need to step up. That's one of the reasons why we're stepping up with infrastructure in the region, as well, to provide that base there, which is so important. And in terms of the region, there are enormous opportunities that we have. We have enormous advantages, versus China. We have similar values, we have the large Pacific diaspora, which is here in Australia, we have similar cultural issues and interaction that we have over a long period of time. And we need to have similar views when it comes to the need to act on climate change and other issues. So, there is an opportunity for us to return to being the security partner of choice. That’s where we’ve been since the Second World War. This government has dropped the ball, we need to step up and make sure that we don't just withdraw from this support.

GOODINGS: What would you do about the Port of Darwin?

ALBANESE: Well, the Port of Darwin should never have been sold to the Chinese. That's the truth of the matter and at the time we opposed those interests. The Government likes to talk about China, but in my view, it shouldn't have been sold to the interests of any government, let alone any foreign government, let alone China. I find it just quite extraordinary. It clearly is a strategic port. And it is something that I've said we would examine if we were in government.

GOODINGS: Would you break the lease?

ALBANESE: Well, I've said that we would examine those issues if we were, if we're successful, in May. There are issues that you would need to take advice on. Issues of sovereign risk and other issues that you need to take account of and they are not unimportant. But it is important that Australia is prepared to stand up for our national interest. The question is – it’s beyond me why the government just waved through this sale in the first place.

GOODINGS: Now, I know that only one poll really matters. But two new polls out today show support for the Labor Party and the Coalition still pretty weak, the primary vote for both parties and the mid 30’s. Any comment?

ALBANESE: Oh look, I'll leave the commentators to commentate on the polls. And I'm concerned about May 21. But I do know that our primary vote has consistently been much, much higher than it was at the time of the last election.

GOODINGS: Why do you think that voters don't seem to be engaging with either major party?

ALBANESE: Well, I think the nature of politics has become very negative. This is a government that were elected in 2019 without really having a platform to deliver over the last three years and that's shown - what's the big reform that they've done over their time in office? They've been in office for almost a decade. There's no major economic reform, social policy reform or environmental reform. We don't have a climate policy, still. We haven't had any significant advancement. Real wages have never been as constrained as they have been under this government. We had a decline of 1.2%, in the last year. People are really, really doing it tough, and the government doesn't have a plan to get through it. I've got a plan for a better future. A plan to lift wages, cheaper childcare, cheaper electricity, a plan to deal with the aged care crisis, a plan to end the climate wars. We can be a renewable energy superpower; we can make more things here in Australia with advanced manufacturing. That’s my plan.

GOODINGS: Will you increase taxes?

ALBANESE: No, we've said the only tax that we're considering is on multinationals, that's consistent with the international negotiations that have taken place in order to make sure that you can't have this shift of profit so as to minimise taxes, globally. And we will have more detail to say about that. That's the only measure that we're considering.

GOODINGS: Anthony Albanese, good to hear that you're on the mend and out of isolation on Thursday. That's the Leader of the Opposition. back shortly.

ENDS

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Electorate Office

334a Marrickville Road
MARRICKVILLE NSW 2204

Phone: (02) 9564 3588
Fax: (02) 9564 1734
Email: A.Albanese.MP@aph.gov.au

Parliament House Office

PO Box 6022
CANBERRA ACT 2600

Phone: (02) 6277 4022
Fax: (02) 6277 8562

Phone: (02) 9564 3588
Fax: (02) 9564 1734
Email: A.Albanese.MP@aph.gov.au

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