Subjects: Newspoll; Government’s lack of an agenda; child care; marriage equality, Donald Trump; Labor Party.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: My second guest tonight is senior Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese. Anthony Albanese, welcome to the program.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good evening Patricia.
KARVELAS: Newspoll is out again this week. Now given the issues the Government has had over the summer period, obviously Sussan Ley having to resign and we saw a pretty difficult week for the Government last week, should Labor expect a boost in your primary vote?
ALBANESE: Well we will wait and see Patricia, but without being too clichéd, polling at this stage of the cycle doesn’t matter all that much. What matters is the fact that we return to Parliament this week with a Government that is out of steam, that’s out of an agenda so early in its term. I mean Mitch Fifield was asked on my count about seven or eight times about the marriage equality issue and couldn’t answer it. He couldn’t answer indeed any question on any subject without bagging the Labor Party. Now what a Government new in a term should be doing is outlining an agenda for the nation, an agenda for this year and for the term – an agenda on education and health and climate change and the environment and jobs. What we don’t have is that. What we have is a Government that is paralysed, without a sense of purpose and that becomes clear from the Prime Minister but also from senior representatives and we just saw it again repeated with Senator Fifield.
KARVELAS: Well the Government does have an agenda. It has told us about its business tax cuts and it has also said that this week it wants to prioritise its efforts on trying to push through that child care bill which is linked to the Family Tax Benefits reductions. Should Labor be revisiting its view on that piece of legislation given really child care reform has been at a standstill and people are looking to the Labor Party to work together in a bipartisan fashion with the Government to deliver relief and help for families that are trying to work.
ALBANESE: Well when Labor was in government of course we did just that by the significant increases in the child care rebate, by the support that we had for early childhood intervention and support and we regard child care as something we are very proud of our record on in government. What we don’t support is the sort of view that this Government has, which is in order to get any funding for one area, you’ve got to punish another section and of course when it comes to the Social Services portfolio, we have seen a debacle over the break since Parliament got up. We’ve seen the Centrelink fiasco whereby thousands of people have received debt notices and indeed there’s been an attempted intimidation of them to pay back money that they were actually entitled to receive and the Government itself has admitted that 20 per cent of those letters went out in error. So when it comes to social services and providing support for people in the community this is a government whose record, which was already poor, has been tarnished further over the summer parliamentary break.
KARVELAS: Coalition frontbencher Josh Frydenberg has responded on this same sex marriage issue, saying Labor needs to get behind the plebiscite and that he expects you to succumb to pressure on the plebiscite. Will Labor blink?
ALBANESE: There’s no pressure Patricia. There’s not a single person in my electorate, and I have a very large gay and lesbian community, is saying to me we want you to vote for the plebiscite. There’s no pressure in that regard. What there is pressure on is to get this reform done and when it’s done, people will wonder that the fuss was about because those people who currently have rights such as myself – I am married and was able to do so in front of family and friends to make that lifelong commitment to my partner – people in same-sex relationships want the ability to do the same thing. That will strengthen the institution of marriage and what should happen is what a whole lot of Coalition backbenchers know should happen and indeed Malcolm Turnbull and Christopher Pyne and others argued should happen as well in their own party room, which is let’s have a vote, get it done and, as I said, people will wonder what the fuss was about. And Tony Abbott said in 2015 that that – the last Parliament – was the last Parliament in which there would be a binding vote on members of the Coalition on marriage equality. He said after that it would be a free vote and I note Minister Fifield’s statement about the party room and how every vote is a conscience vote in the Coalition. Well that stands in stark contrast to the message that they are sending out there. If indeed every vote is a conscience vote, let’s just have one. Let’s have it this week.
KARVELAS: Tony Abbott says it would be a break of an election promise …
ALBANESE: Well, he said the opposite.
KARVELAS: Do you think it would be a break in a Coalition election promise?
ALBANESE: He said the opposite when he was the Prime Minister.
KARVELAS: I’m talking about what he said in the last 24 hours.
ALBANESE: Well of course what we see here has nothing to do with marriage equality. What we see is Tony Abbott out hunting down Malcolm Turnbull and saying whatever is convenient in order to promote division within the Coalition and that’s why they’re so paralysed. It is indeed the case that Tony Abbott is telling anyone who wants to hear that he is on the way back and those sort of statements and pronouncements on the front page of newspapers like we saw today stand in very stark contrast indeed to what he was saying when he was in a position, when he was the Prime Minister, not a backbencher on the hunt to become Prime Minister again.
KARVELAS: On Donald Trump and what we’ve seen over the last week, Labor appears very much to have backtracked Friday and all of a sudden said supportive things about Malcolm Turnbull and his negotiations with the new President. Did Labor go too hard against the Prime Minister originally against what was obviously a very difficult conversation with the President? Do you regret that you went just too hard, because the tone was really different at the end of the week?
ALBANESE: I don’t agree with your characterisation at all, Patricia. I think we’ve been very consistent, which is we regard the US alliance as important, but we also regard the fact that within that alliance Australia should stand up for Australian interests. Now when it becomes the case that the Prime Minister of Australia is referred to as the President, is referred to as Prime Minister Trumble on repeated occasions; when Australia is accused of using the United States and getting a bad deal out of the United States; given our record of being a very strong alliance partner since the Second World War, since that was forged, under Labor I might add. The fact is that given all of those circumstances, when you have anyone call out and criticise, essentially, the office of the Prime Minister of Australia, not just the individual, those comments that were made, then you can expect Labor to very much stand up for the office of the Prime Minister.
KARVELAS: What Labor will we see this week, Anthony Albanese? Will we see the Labor that did the deal on the Omnibus Bill in a spirit of bipartisanship, or will we see Labor playing politics on every single point, including potentially the gay marriage issue if it is raised in the party room to exploit tensions in the Government? Which side of Labor are we likely to see in the first sitting week of the Parliament?
ALBANESE: Well I might remind you, Patricia, that it was on this very program that I spoke about the weakness in the Government’s Omnibus Bill that they put forward that would have hurt some of the most vulnerable people in the community, including single parents. And I was very critical of that. I don’t shy from that criticism, and guess what? The Government’s folded on all of those issues and Labor achieved reform and change that was fair. That’s the Labor way, to stand up for fairness. And you can expect Labor to stand up in a principled way for fairness and for a progressive agenda in the Parliament, to be as cooperative as we possibly can on issues, to treat them on their merit. To not be like the Government was under Tony Abbott of saying we’re going to wreck the Parliament and we’re going to deliberately try to stop the Parliament functioning. That’s not what we’ve done, that’s not what Labor has ever done. We’re the constructive party in this country. We’ll continue to be so, and you can expect all of our actions this week and beyond to reflect that. And thank goodness we were critical, frankly, of some of the elements of the Omnibus Bill because what we got was actually more savings for the Budget, for the fiscal position, but in a way that was fairer and that’s thanks to the hard work of people like Chris Bowen and Jenny Macklin that that outcome was able to be achieved. Now we’ve got further savings on the table as well. If I was the Government, I’d be taking them up, and I’d be taking them up this week.
KARVELAS: Anthony Albanese, thanks for your time tonight.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.