Aug 22, 2011

Press Conference – Canberra

Subjects: Convoy of No-Confidence, Craig Thomson, gay marriage

Anthony Albanese: Today there is a demonstration being held outside Parliament organised by the National Road Freighters Association led by its president, Mick Pattel. Mick Pattel is well-known to some people in this building because before recently he was a candidate for the Queensland Liberal National Party at the state election which is due next year. Mr Patel has some interesting views on the world, including his new world order theory. Indeed he posted on his website: I don’t think you are being extreme. It is possible that a global government could bring in an international army to quell any uprising in the rogue countries if we shut down after the treaty – that is the Copenhagen Agreement – is signed. We could be seen as militant radicals that threaten the essence of a supreme world order. They wouldn’t allow us to bring undone all the work they have put into building a new world government and I doubt that they would use a domestic force. Now The Courier-Mail of course reported that MrPatel initially denied making these comments until they pointed out that his photo and mobile phone number posted on his profile to the discussion board.

Of course most people would regard those elements as extreme, but not Warren Truss, the Leader of the National Party in the Parliament. And the alternative Deputy Prime Minister has indeed said that he would present the petition – hand deliver a petition from the organisers of the convoy. We saw last week that Tony Abbott was quite happy to be at the same demonstration as Pauline Hanson. We saw last night that Tony Abbott was totally supportive of this convoy and the people who have organised it. And indeed, Tony Abbott has a history of calling for a people’s revolt such as the sort of activity and views that we’ve seen from the tea party in the United States being transformed to Australia regardless of our position of our constitution, our respect for the right of law, indeed those people who I’ve heard arguing on radio this morning that we now have a communist totalitarian state might like to think about the irony that they are of course being allowed, as is perfectly their right, to demonstrate their views in a democratic fashion.

It seems to me that Tony Abbott is prepared to talk up these issues and to use whatever strategy he deems fit to achieve his one objective. His one objective is if he can’t control the place he wants to wreck the place and that is Tony Abbott’s strategy. It’s clear over issues of the economy he doesn’t have a plan. Indeed, he has a $70 billion black hole that he – that he can’t account for. This follows his $11 billion black hole during the election campaign. He doesn’t comment on issues that are real and specific to the industry and it is significant I think that the main stream of the industry, the Australian Trucking Association, the Livestock Transporters Association, the Australian Logistics Council, the mainstream organisations, historically that haven’t been strong supporters of my side of politics, have disassociated themselves from this rally, but not Tony Abbott.

Indeed, last Friday we achieved a great significant gain for the heavy vehicle industry when each of the premiers and territory leaders agreed with the Prime Minister at COAG to have one single national heavy vehicle regulator. Now the single transport regulators stand to benefit the economy to the tune of $30 billion over 20 years and yet Mr Abbott or Mr Truss, the alternative Deputy Prime Minister and alternative Transport Minister, couldn’t be bothered putting out a release or making any comment about this incredibly significant reform which has been described by senior people in the trucking and logistics industry as the most significant reform in 100 years. Truckers who operate down the east coast have to have three sets of books; there’s three sets of rules in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales. There are also of course separate rules right across the country over issues such as fatigue laws, the keeping of log books, different weight limits allowed on trucks, different regulations and paperwork.A significant reform uncommented upon by the Opposition because they’re actually not interested in the serious policy debate and the challenges and meeting them that face this country.

Happy to take Questions.

Question: [Indistinct] they agreed with you?

Anthony Albanese: I’m – perhaps they did agree, by which case they should have put out a statement congratulating the – both the Government of Australia and also the state governments of course who also signed up, both conservative and Labor. This has been a project in which – which should certainly be above party political politics, something that we worked very hard to achieve. We had 10 meetings of transport ministerial councils, something that the Opposition indeed for a long period of time this has been spoken about, for decades, but it’s taken this Government and hard work to get it done.

Question: Within the convoy there are some reasonable people who you would expect [indistinct]…

Anthony Albanese: Of course.

Question: Would any – why won’t any minister go or the Prime Minister indeed go and talk to them about their concerns?

Anthony Albanese: Look I speak to the industry each and every day. Indeed I’ve got a meeting this morning with the Livestock Transport Association. I of course spoke to the industry including a number of individual truck drivers about the issues that confront them in the lead up to Friday’s COAG meeting; regular discussions with the Australian Trucking Association. I attended just a little while ago during the last session of Parliament I attended the Australian Trucking Association National Convention. I couldn’t get a pair by the way to go and speak to them so I had to speak to them on a Thursday afternoon late which was inconvenient because the ATA had invited me to – to open the conference, but nonetheless I stayed here on a Thursday, went and spoke to them and I regularly speak to people in the industry.

Question: As the Leader of the House, has any time been allocated this week for Craig Thomson to make a full public statement about what exactly did go on during his time in the Health Services?

Anthony Albanese: Look the Government gets on with the business that we have. Before the Parliament the schedule is known to everyone and is available…

Question: So is that a no?

Anthony Albanese: …and – well the public – the publicly available information is what is there.

Question: Why is there not pressure on a man holding public office who has not yet given a full public statement about a matter which plainly has left him…

Anthony Albanese: [Interrupts] well the fact of the matter is that there is – there are charges available for one member of Parliament at the moment, has been charged. Those charges were made in May. Nothing was known about that and it wasn’t publicly stated that that was the case until July; that is the – we make no comment on that other than that is the fact of the matter. If there are – no, if there are to be any – any issues, then they should be dealt with appropriately and certainly…

Question: You’re saying there are no issues for the Member for Dobell?

Anthony Albanese: …and certainly it is the case that certain allegations have been made. The Member for Dobell has denied them. This has been an issue which has been around for some period of time. As I said, there are only charges against one member of Parliament and that member of Parliament is not the Member for Dobell.

Question: So here’s the Question then: why is the Government sacrificing its own moral authority by sticking up for a man who is noting accounting to himself to the public, though he holds public office, and who is now absent a proper explanation from him viewed by the public as a liar, a coward and a sleaze. Why is the Government diminishing itself by sticking up for him?

Anthony Albanese: As you would know Hugh and I would hope that you would actually support the statement that people are innocent of any allegations until such allegations are proven. And Mr Thompson is entitled to the same rights as every other member, not just of Parliament, but every other member of society. That is the decent thing to do, that is the right thing to do and that is certainly the position that I hold, whether it be for Mr Thomson or anyone else. David?

Question: Does that mean that he will stay as Chair of the House Economics Committee?

Anthony Albanese: Well there is absolutely no reason why that should not be the case, just as the senator who is under charges, by the way, is a chair of a committee and has stayed as the chair of that committee. What we need here is a bit of consistency, just a bit of consistency and I note Mr Abbott’s comments about that issue but he hasn’t had the same position about his own member of his own caucus and indeed, in terms of transparency, the fact that charges were laid in May, nothing was said until July, I think stands in stark contrast to the very public discussion that has occurred, has occurred over Mr Thomson and allegations that have been made about him.

Question: As a member of the Labor Party – as a member of the Labor Party, what is your view about whether same-sex marriage should go on the floor of the conference or whether it should be a conscience vote?

Anthony Albanese: Look, I think there are very strong-held views about this issue and where there are strong-held views, historically we have often determined to have a conscience vote whereby people regard it as – as a moral issue and a number of people clearly do regard this as that. It’s important, I think, that the party have a discussion about these issues. We will have that discussion. I made my views clear at the last national conference and not many people went and had a look at that speech, clearly, if they then have been asking me since then what my position is but I made it clear on the floor of the last national conference. I made my views clear about what position I’d advocate on the floor of the New South Wales state conference, but that’s a matter for the Party. The Party has a current platform. If people wish to change that, either to change the specifics of the policy or to change the way that votes are held, that’s a matter for the national conference.

Question: Mr Albanese, on Mr Thomson, do you personally believe the denials that he’s made to the allegations against him?

Anthony Albanese: Absolutely. I have a view in life that when someone tells you something, you believe them. I think people are entitled

Question: So you think he’s telling the truth?

Anthony Albanese: people are entitled to do that. Yes, I do. I have no reason to think – to think otherwise and frankly, in terms of debating it about people’s views or not, when – when allegations are made the appropriate – the appropriate authorities are ones that consider the matter. At the moment, you know, there’s – there’s nothing that I’ve seen that’s new about statements about Mr Thomson.

Question: As a senior member of the New South Wales branch, how do you justify spending many, many thousand dollars of branch members’ funds and union-donated funds on support for Mr Thomson when he, in fact, initiated legal action and then dropped it?

Anthony Albanese: That’s a matter for the New South Wales branch.

Question: You are part of the New South Wales branch.

Anthony Albanese: I stopped being an official of the New South Wales branch, Michelle, some time ago. I haven’t been to an administrative committee meeting since 1995 and I can assure you, Michelle, I have no intention of going to another meeting of the administrative committee. I am not a member of the New South Wales administrative committee. Those issues are a matter for the New South Wales branch.

Question: Just on the same-sex marriage issue, if the national conference is to change the party platform, would it still be appropriate for – if it came to Parliament that there be a conscience vote in Parliament even though the party platform has changed?

Anthony Albanese: No, you would have to have a determination by – the way that it works is you would have to have a determination by the Party. That could be done either by the national conference or by the national executive. Normally it would be, given that there is a national conference, the national executive would only do such a thing under unforeseen circumstances in between national conferences. So it’ll be a matter to be considered by the conference.

Question: On the trucking protest, do you think it has been a flop and how would you describe the participants?

Anthony Albanese: Look, I think – I think it has been certainly of considerably less size than it was anticipated by some. Clearly it was talked up by – by some. There’s a lesson there perhaps. Certainly the number of convoys is much lower. I certainly had no difficulty getting into the office this morning nor did any of my staff. But people have a right to express their views. We live in a vibrant democracy. That’s a good thing. I’m certainly not critical of anyone participating in any democratic protest. I’ve been to a few protests in my life as well. What I am critical of is people who are in positions of political leadership not showing leadership in the way that they deal with issues. For example, we have had, in this Parliament, 175 pieces of legislation passed by the Government through the House of Representatives. We haven’t lost a single vote on legislation or a single vote on any amendment without Government support has gone through the House of Representatives.

So the Parliament is functioning and it’s functioning effectively. In the coming months we will see a price on carbon, we’ll see a minerals resource rent tax and we’ll see national health reform go through during this session of Parliament, through the House of Representatives and the fact is the Parliament’s functioning and yet what we have out there is people talking up whether it is legitimate that a majority on the House of Representatives are able to form the Government or not. People should know better who are in positions of authority such as Tony Abbott and Warren Truss. They are failing the test of leadership which is there not just for governments but also for oppositions.

Question: You seem to be criticising them simply because they associate themselves with people whose right to protest you’ve just acknowledged.

Anthony Albanese: No, they are talking up. For example, Warren Truss has said that he’ll present a petition calling for the dissolving of the Parliament. We have a parliamentary system in which people vote every three years, in which confidence is shown on the floor of the House of Representatives in order to form a government.

Question: Somebody’s got to present the petition. It’s their right to petition. Were you saying they can’t petition?

Anthony Albanese: No. Warren Truss and Tony Abbott have deliberately, deliberately talked – talked up the issues that some people outside have promoted. Some of those views – some of those views are extreme, such as those people who have views about new world order and chaos and the talk about militias being formed against protestors. I think it is responsible upon political leaders to exercise some responsibility in their language.

It is Tony Abbott who called for a people’s revolt. It is Tony Abbott who then tries to distance himself from the consequences of – of his own rhetoric being taken up by people, some of whom I think clearly are, you know, in their statements Questioning the very – the very statement of the way that our Parliament functions itself.

Question: Just back on Craig Thomson, Senator George Brandis is writing to the New South Wales Police Commissioner. He argues that whether Craig Thomson is telling the truth or not, the crime’s been committed. Either he’s lying or someone’s forged his signature. Do you agree with that view?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well George Brandis usually gives legal advice to himself. We’ve had a number of examples of Brandis on Brandis. I don’t take him seriously at all and I think it’s very hard to take a Shadow Attorney-General seriously who gives legal advice to himself on behalf of the Coalition on a regular basis.

Question: Isn’t he right in saying that someone – if someone

Anthony Albanese: I don’t take him seriously. I don’t take him seriously.

Question: But what about the point that he makes, that someone

Anthony Albanese:  [Interrupts] I don’t take him seriously and let me tell you that authorities don’t need Senator George Brandis. It’s just a stunt so that you ask the Question which is everything which is everything that George Brandis is about which is why he’s not taken seriously in terms of his position as Shadow Attorney-General.

Question: Paul Howes has been very critical of resource companies for not using Australian-made products in developing projects. Do you share that criticism?

Anthony Albanese: Look, it’s certainly – it’s certainly not within my responsibility, obviously, but you would expect Paul Howes to make the statements that he has on behalf of – of his members. We have – BlueScope haven’t made their announcement today. I think it would be premature of me to comment prior to that announcement being made but I think Paul Howes is doing what you would expect a good union leader to do.

Question: Do you fear the Australian economy is catching a cold from this global economic sneeze?

Anthony Albanese: Well, you know, Tony Abbott’s out there talking down the economy, talking down Australia at every opportunity. There is no country in the world you’d rather be today rather than Australia. We have a strong investment pipeline. We have had strong growth unlike other parts of the industrialised world.I had some time off over the break and visited – on a personal basis, paid for myself to avoid the next Question – places like London and Italy. Let me tell you, you’d much rather be here. You’d much rather be here than there in terms of the economy, in terms of the whole mood of the nation which is why I think Tony Abbott should top – stop talking Australia down and should actually be – be more realistic and honest about what the position is.

Thanks very much.