Subjects: Tony Abbott’s leadership, submarines, Labor’s cities agenda, infrastructure, East-West Link, FBT, Labor policies
RICHO: Thanks for your company here on Richo. Now just a little while ago I recorded this interview with Anthony Albanese, the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure. But I think more importantly, he’s the working class hero. He’s the bloke who gets stuck right into the government and he’s very, very good at doing it when he does. I’ve got to tell you I used to take him on at ALP conferences and while I always had the numbers, which made it easy for me, this bloke is a tough opponent, believe me. Never, ever take him for granted. Here’s the interview. Anthony Albanese welcome to the program
ALBANESE: Good to be with you again Graham.
RICHO: It is. It’s been a while. Now tell me something. I mean, you have been there and you have done that when it comes to leadership votes and leadership changes. There’s a different culture in the Labor Party to the Liberal Party, but what does 61-39 mean to you?
ALBANESE: It means it’s over for Tony Abbott. It’s now a matter of how the transition occurs, whether it occurs after there’s a big mistake like the knighting of Prince Philip was what brought on the first attempted coup, or secondly whether it’s just the time factor and ongoing polls and they make a decision. He himself has said: “Give me six months’’. It is pretty hard now to turn it around because you have a government that is at loggerheads with itself. It has conceded that it’s been a bad government when they said good government starts today. What happened after they got elected?
RICHO: This is the second day of good government, is it not – the second day of good government.
ALBANESE: Well, they were so excited about graduating from Opposition they decided to have a gap year. Now they are back into Day Two what we are seeing is the disaster over the subs, where a very simple question today to Tony Abbott – was there a deal done already with Japan – couldn’t get a straight answer. And the answer to that surely should have been pretty simple.
RICHO: But this is the problem with Tony Abbott. He thinks he can spin his way through. You’ll remember he never wanted to admit that he had actually broken a promise when the entire nation knew that he had. And it has been sticking out like the proverbial you know what that he did with the side deal on submarines to get the trade agreement with Japan over the line.
ALBANESE: That just makes people even angrier. You are always better off fronting up. The argument that the Medicare changes, the education changes, the cuts to the ABC and SBS – all of these of these changes somehow weren’t broken promises, I think has made people particularly angry. And the fact that he ran a campaign from Opposition that was based upon vote for me and I’ll stick to all of the promises I give, you can trust me, I’m not like the other mob …
RICHO: No surprises.
ALBANESE: No surprises. And certainly the reaction to it has been quite extraordinary. And because he didn’t give the Gillard Government or the Rudd Government an inch in terms of the way that he conducted himself in opposition – we had the suspension of standing orders every single day, he called the government not legitimate, he spoke at rallies in front of offensive banners and said he wanted a people’s movement to throw the government out – Because of that, I think people who are sitting back won’t give him, and he hasn’t been given perhaps, a leniency that someone else might have been given.
RICHO: No, that’s right. He set the bar too high for himself. Let me ask you this though. On the second day of good government, and this is the second day, what is happening with the submarines? What are we actually going to tender for? Are we going to build the things here or are we only going to tender for the bits here that the Japanese don’t want to do?
ALBANESE: Well that’s a very good question Graham. I wish I knew. I’m just a Member of Parliament. I sat there watching the Question Time yesterday and today and watching the debacle of a press conference. I mean, they sent the Defence Minister down to Adelaide to clear things up and there was just more mud. He wasn’t even speaking English. No-one had any idea what he had said and to the follow-up questions he just prevaricated even more. That stands in stark contrast to what the South Australian Senator Edwards said on the weekend which was basically that he’d got a commitment out of Tony Abbott that the subs would be built or at least the tender would be allowed from South Australia at the very least, but the implication being, you know nudge nudge, wink wink, I get the issue of jobs in South Australia. Therefore he was going to vote for Tony Abbott and since then it’s gone pear-shaped for them.
RICHO: Anthony, tell, me. Who’s the mug? Is the mug Edwards for believing him or Abbott for giving the undertaking?
ALBANESE: I’ve never met the bloke but this is one sub issue that is sinking and sinking fast – just like Tony Abbott’s prime ministership.
RICHO: Let me have a look at Labor for a while. The Liberals are doing a pretty fair job on themselves. And it’s been wonderful for you. I don’t mean personally here but a plural you – the Labor Opposition – because no eyes have been upon you. No-one cares about you at the moment because all the focus is on who is going to be the prime minister in the next week or two weeks or two months or whatever it might be. But let’s have a look at you. I want to know, does Labor accept that there is a Budget crisis? Does Labor believe that the fact that here was an $18 billion deficit forecast and it turned into $48 billion in the last Labor Budget? Do you think that is a problem?
ALBANESE: Well they of course doubled the Budget deficit. The first thing they did when they got into office was cancel savings measures that were there – important savings measures about the top end of superannuation concessions. Savings measures to stop company tax off-shored. Savings measures that we put in for the FBT on cars. They got rid of all of those measures. They then introduced a new $10 billion payment they made to the Reserve Bank that that they didn’t have to do. So they doubled the deficit. That’s the first thing that they did. What we accept is that over time you of course have to balance budgets. But you need to do that in a sensible way and in way that is fair, that puts fairness at the forefront. What they have done is to refuse to take any decisions that might hurt some of their mates but been quite prepared to hurt people who are sick and have to go to the doctor’s, or people who are trying to get into universities or TAFE, or people who want to travel on public transport. They are the cuts that have been made and at the same time they’ve had this rhetoric about budget emergency. Well, I’ll say one thing Graham, which is that the issue of the $1.5 billion that was forwarded as an advance payment for the East-West project in Melbourne that we now know doesn’t stack up and isn’t proceeding: If there was a Budget crisis why did they have $1.5 billion to just forward on to a bank account so it could sit there for a project that was years away from construction?
RICHO: Again, that’s looking at them. I want to look at Labor, because it seems to me that what Labor did – and some might call it clever, some might call it dastardly – with the NDIS and with Gonski, you left some bombs that blow up later and it looks to me like when you go out past the four-year mark, that trying to keep the Budget in balance at that stage, it’s going to be well-nigh impossible unless some dramatic structural changes are made now. And it seems to me Labor hasn’t stood up, put a hand up and said here are the structural changes we’ll go for. So what will you go for?
ALBANESE: We did some hard measures Graham. You might recall after there was a change of leadership, we had before the PEEFO – the forecasts that are done independently by Treasury – we had a mini economic statement from Chris Bowen. And that had some tough measures in it – real tough measures that go to the structural heart of the Budget. Take the FBT on cars. What we said was that you were perfectly entitled to have that concession as long as you were actually using your car for work. You had to provide evidence – I think from memory it was two weeks every five years. So it was minimal in terms of the paperwork but you couldn’t just get as part of your package if you were at the high end, a car thrown in. So the subbies and the people who are contractors and blue-collar workers who use their car and their utes of course would have still been able to use it – and a good thing – that’s what the concession is there for. But it stopped people who weren’t using it for work pretending that they were. That was the subject of the vicious campaign – a vicious campaign against us.
RICHO: I remember one of your colleagues told me that he was standing at a railway station campaigning during the last election having a furious argument with a bloke who was really upset about the FBT decision and your man said: “Well, what are you doing here getting a train?’ and he said: “Oh, I don’t drive it to work’’.
ALBANESE: That’s right.
RICHO: I mean this is the point. We’re all used to it. It’s a concession that we are using to fund private cars. I mean would you still support something like that? If the Liberals put up something like that in the Senate, what will you do?
ALBANESE: We’ll make decisions through our processes, Graham and unfortunately, I’m not a one-man shadow cabinet. But what we showed then was that we were prepared to take tough decisions on the economy. We were prepared to work through issues. We put them up. They were irresponsible and when they came into government they undid all that. I mean, why should someone who’s putting $2 million a year into their super get this huge tax concession? We don’t believe they should.
RICHO: Music to my ears. I can shove money into my super fund and wash it out. But the average bloke’s got Buckley’s of doing that because he hasn’t got any spare cash to do it with. It’s appalling and it needs to stop. But I haven’t heard anyone from Labor say they’d do it yet.
ALBANESE: We did do it. And they undid it.
RICHO: I accept that. But again, it’s a matter of what will you do now? I put this to you – I think that politics has changed dramatically. I think the last year has seen a fundamental change in the way people react to politicians. I think breaking promises is now death. You break them, they get rid of you. They really take a very dim view of it. But secondly, it seems to me that oppositions will not get away in the future, especially federally, with not having an alternative. I don’t think you can get away with going through to the next election in 18 months’ time and then saying: ‘Here’s what we’ll do’’. I reckon a long time before then, once the Libs decide that it is going to be Malcolm who leads them or whatever, once that’s done, aren’t you going to have to come forward with your own program?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. In my area, we have been out there on infrastructure issues. I was made the Shadow Minister for Cities. I gave a major speech at the National Press Club as the Shadow Minister for Cities where I had ten different policies – ten – announced at the National Press Club taking us forward. We have of course an ALP National Conference coming up in July. There will be major announcements around that. We have been prepared to do that. In my area, a vexed issue, Badgerys Creek airport. What it needed wasn’t a Government decision. What it needed was a Government and an Opposition decision together. Otherwise it wouldn’t work. When I was a Minister I tried to get a consensus about a way forward there and it simply wasn’t possible in the context of an election. But that shows how we’re prepared to be constructive. And yes I certainly hope it’s the case that all oppositions and all governments are held to account in the lead up to elections for their promises. But we don’t know at this stage what will be in their Budget this May and that of course will impact on the economic starting point as the Budget after it, if they last that long before going to an election, will of course have an impact on what we can promise. But one of the things that is very clear is that we need to not just make promises on the run and thought bubbles about subs being built in South Australia or anything else. If you make a promise and a commitment you do have to stick to it or you’ll be punished.
RICHO: No doubt about that. That’s pretty obvious. Just ask Campbell Newman. Last question. When it comes to Julie Bishop and/or Malcolm Turnbull, was it true that you were discussing at the Shadow Cabinet last Monday what would happen if one of them takes over and how you would react?
ALBANESE: I don’t talk about Shadow Cabinet, Graham, as you can imagine. But what is true is that around this building people of all different sides of politics; crossbenchers, members of the Coalition, members of the Labor Party, journalists, lobbyists, people who are just dropping by, are all wondering who it will be. Is it Turnbull who clearly has made the running, but I think there’s a possibility of Julie Bishop coming through the middle. I remember back when people thought it was Simon Crean or Kim Beazley, and Mark Latham – the Simon Crean supporters decided to support Mark Latham. We know how that went.
RICHO: Wasn’t that a great move.
ALBANESE: I think I had the same view as you had at the time and did my best to avoid that. But that was a decision that was made. And I think eventually you get worked out. The problem for Tony Abbott is that the mob have worked him out.
RICHO: Yeah, eventually has come. It’s come big time for poor old Tony. Thank you Anthony, I appreciate your time.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
RICHO: Good on you mate.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.