Subjects: Marriage equality; energy policy; Perth Freight Link; child care.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Welcome to the program.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good evening.
KARVELAS: You heard Josh Frydenberg there commenting on Peter Dutton’s comments effectively backing Peter Dutton. What do you make of Peter Dutton’s comments? He has criticised CEOs, Alan Joyce. Doesn’t he have point that if they are spending this heard-earned money of shareholders that ultimately they should keep their opinions to themselves?
ALBANESE: Well, it says two things about Peter Dutton. One, it tells us that he is out there campaigning for the internal votes of the hard right of the Liberal Party and is prepared to make quite outrageous comments. I mean, sticking to their knitting? What message was he trying to send there? And secondly it tells us why he should never lead a major political party because he is so out of touch. What the CEOs have done is simply state the obvious, which is the failure to have marriage equality is a massive distraction from the governing of this nation; that once it is done and a group of people who currently don’t have rights get them, everyone else is not affected at all, their relationships, then we can get on with the business of discussing other issues. But the plebiscite of course was thought up by Tony Abbott as a way of distracting, or crab-walking his way to some social change and it was a way of blocking a vote in the Parliament. Now we should get on with it. This is impacting on the economy. That is what the CEOs have said and the singling out of Qantas, I’ve got news for Peter Dutton – there are a few people who work for Qantas who are directly affected by marriage equality who are no doubt saying to the leadership of that company: we want the same rights that straight employees have who work next to us. And there’s no doubt that for corporate Australia it’s a big issue. There’s also no doubt at all that Qantas and other companies would benefit from the fact that if there was marriage equality, people would be flying to weddings around Australia and people would be contributing to the economy. This would be good for the economy in terms of a stimulus.
KARVELAS: My colleague Peter van Onselen asked Greg Hunt this morning whether he thought that stick-to-their-knitting line was homophobic. Greg Hunt said it was not homophobic. Do you think it is?
ALBANESE: I think it borders … certainly on one interpretation it could be that it is. It’s not up to me to know whether Peter Dutton has misspoken or whether he has deliberately said a comment that certainly can be interpreted in that way. I think Peter Dutton of all people – I mean these are the people who talk about free speech and we’ve got to have free speech out there. I mean CEOs make a comment that is relevant. It’s relevant and people in their party room are talking about it. People in society are talking about it. It is reasonable that CEOs have a view and I disagree with those CEOs no doubt on a range of issues, but I have never ever said, nor have I seen a senior person in the Labor Party say, they have no right to have a view on an issue that impacts people in their companies and people who deal with their companies.
KARVELAS: On another issue, which certainly covers the areas that you cover, the Government has committed to a feasibility study on the Snowy Hydro Scheme. It’s the kind of nation building project Labor should traditionally support. So why have Labor spent the week talking it down?
ALBANESE: Well let’s be real here Patricia. What they have announced is a feasibility study for an idea, a concept that has been apparently worked on by the company for a period of time, by Paul Broad, the CEO and no doubt his predecessors going back. They didn’t have the courtesy to consult the shareholders who own 87 per cent of that company – the NSW or the Victorian state governments. They still haven’t consulted and have indicated they won’t consult Infrastructure Australia, that is supposed to advise on these infrastructure issues. And Labor has been quite right I think to point out the inadequacies of the process while saying that we are prepared to be constructive about all of these issues. But you know no construction was announced, no funding. Indeed there couldn’t be any funding announced because they don’t have a clue as to how much this will cost. There has been no environmental ….
KARVELAS: They say it’s $2 billion and they think that the feasibility study will show them that (inaudible).
ALBANESE: That’s a very neat figure Patricia –somewhere between $1 bilion and $3 billion; oh, we’ll make it $2 billion. It’s very clear that there has been no, not even a desktop financial analysis of this and indeed we had the remarkable thing of the Commonwealth, that owns 13 per cent of Snowy Hydro, and bear in mind that the Liberals were considering selling it not all that long ago, which would have made all of this impossible, they are saying that they’ll pay, or they are prepared to pay, the whole amount of $2 billion of whatever else it is.
But this is a problem with this Government that they keep getting themselves into, whether it is Perth Freight Link or the Westconnex project in Sydney. They continually just say yep, we’ll do that, and then work out the costings and the plans and consult the appropriate bodies like Infrastructure Australia after the event. Good infrastructure planning is to do it in advance and then to announce the funding.
KARVELAS: OK, let’s go to the Perth Freight Link. Turnbull will need to decide whether to make good on that pre-election threat of withholding the Perth Freight Link money. He hasn’t declared yet which way he will go. Is this something that you are going to apply pressure on?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. Look, the people of Western Australia spoke very loudly and clearly and unambiguously and what they said was they didn’t want Perth Freight Link. Perth Freight Link stops 3km short of the port, something that the Prime Minister didn’t seem to be aware of when we raised it in Parliament the last time that we sat. And indeed the Fremantle Port is reaching capacity. It will reach full capacity around about 2022. So we need to have the planning for the Outer Harbour. We also need, there’s a number of very important road projects in terms of congestion that are needed in Perth. But importantly, the centrepiece of Mark McGowan’s infrastructure plan is METRONET and what we need to do in that growing city is to expand the public transport network and Malcolm Turnbull of course had delighted in taking selfies on trams and trains. Here’s his chance. He can actually fund one. At the moment, all he has done is go to openings of projects that were funded by the former Labor Government. This is a chance for him to not play politics, not say we are going to punish the people of Western Australia for voting Labor like Victorians have been punished; who are receiving 7.7 per cent of the national infrastructure budget when one in four Australians live in the state of Victoria.
KARVELAS: Anthony Albanese, Parliament is back this week. That is why you are there. All the focus is on a couple of issues – the energy debate no doubt, lots about that, and also this Omnibus Bill, still sitting there in the Senate not getting much love. Now if you look at the reports out today parents who need child care relief are about to hit that funding wall where basically they are paying more out of pocket for child care. Isn’t Labor being a road block to a piece of reform that families have been waiting for now for years and years?
ALBANESE: Well Labor of course when we were in government, we substantially increased the child care rebate. We took action on child care. Of course this is an ongoing issue and the job of reform is never done.
KARVELAS: But it’s eroded since.
ALBANESE: And we are certainly prepared to be constructive about the child care issue. What we won’t do is do this intimidation which happens which is that if you support any reform in one area, you have to vote to punish some of the poorest people in society on the other hand. That’s absurd. This Government continues to act like an Opposition in exile on the Government benches. Even Josh Frydenberg before – he spoke about South Australia having responsibility. They are in their fourth year of government and they are continuing to not accept that they have any responsibility for the failure in terms of the National Energy Market. They continue to say they have no responsibility for the fact that the deficit has increased by eight times and debt has blown out under them. They continue to say they have no responsibility for the fact that their infrastructure investment has fallen off the cliff, as the Reserve Bank have pointed out. They won’t act like a Government in a mature and responsible way. It’s about time they did that. They have two weeks sitting before the Budget and they need frankly – in the interests of the nation I hope they get their act together.
KARVELAS: Thank you so much for you time tonight Anthony.
ALBANESE: Great to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.