Subject/s: Millers Point housing, Budget, Senate election, trade unions, light rail, climate change, asylum seekers
HOST: Federal Infrastructure spokesman Anthony Albanese is here this morning, good morning.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you Linda.
HOST: The Budget in a moment, among other things, but you’ve penned a missive for the Sydney Morning Herald this morning telling your story of growing up in public housing in Camperdown, and accusing the State Government of cold hearted eviction notices to the Millers Point residents. You’ve also said the government has failed to weigh up the social losses against the financial gains. Aren’t you romanticising things when in the case of Miller’s Point, it’s more a question of how do we accommodate a long list of people wanting public housing when there are tight budgets?
ALBANESE: Not at all. Successful cities are ones that celebrate their diversity. They’re ones that don’t have suburbs of haves and have nots. If you take the principle of Millers Point to its logical conclusion, you’ll also be selling public housing in Balmain, in Glebe, in Newtown, in a whole range of suburbs where it currently exists. But most importantly, this is a question about community, and whether we value not just the heritage of buildings, but also the heritage of social history that exists in real people, in real homes.
HOST: The community services minister, Pru Goward joined us yesterday. She said the residents have two years to relocate and that’s reasonable, she said they would move to social housing in the city’s inner ring, that was her description. She’s also talked about injuries to older tenants in those older terraces, [climbing stairs] up and down, and that in the past they’ve had to move people because of that. What’s more she’s said that there’s a misconception about the makeup of Millers Point.
PRU GOWARD, COMMUNITY SERVICES MINISTER: I mean 94% of people who live in Millers Point properties are on Centrelink benefits, so this romance about a low income working class suburb might have been true once when the MUA used those properties for their workers but it’s not true today. I mean we’ve got a huge number of people with mental illness. We’ve got elderly people. About half the people who live in Millers Point are of working age, but they’re not working.
HOST: That was Pru Goward talking to us yesterday. Your response?
ALBANESE: Well they are people who’ve lived in that community for a long time. There are people who have lived there for more than 80 years. They deserve better than getting what effectively an eviction notice under their front door.
HOST: It might have been able to be handled better, but the wider principle of the changing mix of housing and the wider economic demands is very real, isn’t it?
ALBANESE: What they’re talking about is selling all of the housing. Moving everyone out, compulsorily, at one time. I noticed yesterday on your program you had someone talking about the economic nonsense of putting all the houses on the market at once. Even from that perspective, it doesn’t make any sense. This is a debate about community that we have to have. I grew up in a housing estate in Camperdown that was City Council housing. In that community we were surrounded by the Children’s Hospital and factories, and there was a real sense of community there. People looked after each other. I spoke today about my mother being born and dying in the one house. She lived there 65 years. For her, and for my family, that lived there for three generations, we renovated it, we painted it, we looked after it as if it were a private home.
Disconnecting people from their communities is of concern. The logic of Pru Goward’s comments mean that the next stage will be to move people on from Pyrmont, from Ultimo, where there is still public housing. Our city needs diversity. After the work that Frank Sartor did to attract residential living in the city it certainly changed the composition. And that’s a good thing.
HOST: But there are a lot of residents living in the cities. There are a lot of students. There are a lot of older people. Pru Goward mentioned various other facilities. It’s not as if they’re being banished just because they’re working people.
ALBANESE: They’re being told to leave because they live in public housing. This is an attempt to remove all public housing from that city area, from Millers Point. That’s an important part of its culture. It began as Maritime Service Board housing before it was transferred to the Housing Department. These are people who have a real connection with the area. From time to time of course, people should be found alternative accommodation, but not if the move is just about economics rather than people.
HOST: The economics are pretty real, I mean the waiting list…
ALBANESE: So is selling the entire Glebe estate. It would be worth a motza. If you don’t challenge that logic, then that will be next. We’ll find ourselves in a situation where we say no matter how long you’ve lived in an area, no matter how strong your connections to the local community, we can say we’ll move you on, because it suits the economics of the time. When I was at school and living in Camperdown and hanging around Millers Point, it wasn’t as desirable as it is now. It wasn’t the sort of place people were clamoring to live in. Now just because it is, to treat people with no respect is unacceptable. That is the problem here. We need to have that debate, about community and what makes up a successful community.
HOST: Anthony Albanese is here, a former Deputy Prime Minister, Member for Grayndler, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism as well. It’s twenty to nine on Sydney ABC Mornings. Let’s turn to the federal budget. It’s six weeks away. Did you booby-trap it?
ALBANESE: Certainly not. We left the Government with relatively low unemployment, low interest rates, low inflation, a triple A credit rating, and an infrastructure pipeline. One that they’re preparing to cut, in spite of the fact that they inherited the strongest economy in the world, outperforming all of our industrialised neighbours. In 2007 we were ranked 20th out of 25 in the OECD for infrastructure. Today we’re ranked first. In spite of that, you have rhetoric from the new government saying cuts need to be made. They really are just hiding and setting the budget up for cuts that they want to make. Some are just ideological, but all of them are being hidden from the Australian people until after the WA Senate by-election on April 5.
HOST: We’ll come to that in a moment, but Treasury, the same one advising you guys not so long ago, is saying there are issues here.
ALBANESE: Treasury provides advice to governments. I haven’t seen Treasury spokespeople out there employing the same sort of rhetoric that the Treasurer and the Finance Minister are. We have left the incoming government a very strong performing economy. What they’re struggling with is that they had a plan to get into government but not a plan to govern. We’re seeing that with ridiculous things like the return of knights and dames last week. They’re trying to fill the vacuum.
HOST: On the Senate election, Tony Abbott says elections are being corporatised by Clive Palmer, who we hear has been really blasting the West Australian voters with ads. Neither of the major parties likes their patch being infiltrated by such interlopers, but is Mr Abbott right on this?
ALBANESE: This is Tony Abbott who raised a fortune that the Liberal party spent directly against us in the last campaign from corporate interests. Not just that but…
HOST: Surely you get a fortune from corporate interests as well?
ALBANESE: We get nothing like what they get. And we don’t have page one of tabloids in every major city essentially editorializing every day in the form of alleged news, like we had during the last election campaign.
HOST: Ok, but is there a problem about corporatising elections – the big money that Clive Palmer is spending – an individual whose wealth we don’t know – but able to bulldoze his way, is what the Prime Minister is saying…
ALBANESE: Absolutely. I support much greater controls on spending, greater controls on donations. We attempted to make changes last year and indeed Tony Abbott signed off on those electoral reforms and then walked away from them. I think they would have been very sensible. They were bagged by many in the media at the time. But they would have made sure you didn’t have this extraordinary spending of DVDs being mailed to every household, made overseas that no one watches.
HOST: Anthony Albanese is here, talking a range of issues in federal and state politics this morning. How soon will Labor split from its union ties, along the lines of what Tanya Plibersek was saying the other day?
ALBANESE: Well, she didn’t actually call for that. What she said was something that exists already which is that if you can’t join a union, you don’t have to. We’re a party of small business, of students, of pensioners – a range of backgrounds.
HOST: So why did she say that?
ALABNESE: That was in response to a question. What we need to do is empower our membership, and empower our membership directly through things like the leadership ballot that we had. I support direct elections for the Senate, and for the upper houses. I support giving our members a real say – encouraging people, whether they’re in unions or not – all those who hold values of social justice – to join the Labor Party and participate.
HOST: Just a light rail question, if I may. Last week we marked the opening of the Inner West light rail extension. The NSW Government has delivered it. Obviously the Labor Government had done a lot of work towards it.
ALBANESE: Just funded it all. You wouldn’t know it from the fact that no Labor people were invited to the opening, including the local members.
HOST: You’d be grateful that it’s there, that the O’Farrell Government finished it off for your constituents, wouldn’t you?
ALBANESE: I’m very grateful that the Government did the end bit, put the bow on it, but I’m more grateful that the Labor Government funded it. It’s unfortunate that the O’Farrell Government cut the Greenway, the cycleway and walkway which was to be part of the project. A necessary component of transport is to support active transport, walking and cycling,
HOST: If I may just turn to the very big issue that came up in the last 24 hours and that’s the latest report from the IPCC, the climate experts around the world, on the state of climate change. What will Labor do about climate policy? With no prospect of being in power anytime soon, I suggest, the carbon tax in its current form will go one way or the other eventually. How will you rework that as a policy?
ALBANESE: That’s something we obviously will have to deal with, but our view is that a market-based mechanism is the best way to price carbon. You do have to have a whole-of economy approach. You do have to move to a carbon-constrained economy. That doesn’t mean that you have one solution. It means that you need a range of vehicles to achieve the objective, including the Renewable Energy Target for example. That’s played an important role. Harnessing the power of the market is the best way we know of getting emissions reductions at the cheapest cost.
HOST: In the interests of everyone concerned, will you be making approaches to the Abbott Government to try and find more measures, because clearly the urgency in the message from the IPCC was there. Is this an opportunity for politics to be buried and something more to be done?
ALBANESE: I hope that’s the case. In 2007 we went to an election where both John Howard and Kevin Rudd supported an emissions trading scheme. In 2009 we had the support of the-then opposition leader, Malcolm Turnbull for it to go through. So we worked across the parliament, but then Tony Abbott came in as Opposition Leader and reversed all of that. The problem that I see is that every time Barnaby Joyce does his rant in the parliament of climate skepticism, Tony Abbott is there chuckling along. I think while you’ve got a Prime Minister who’s used a word – which I don’t think I can use at this time in the morning – to describe climate change, that’s going to be a problem. You need that leadership from the top. If we don’t act now on climate change what we’re doing is passing on the cost to future generations.
HOST: While we’re going around the world on these issues, a question from Jenny on the text, when will Labor change its policy on refugees and asylum seekers?
ALBANESE: We want humane treatment of asylum seekers, but we want people to stop coming by boat and risking their lives. This is a difficult question. You can’t solve it with slogans. You certainly can’t solve it with billboards, which seems to be the current government’s approach.
HOST: But people are not arriving in boats, as a result of the current policy the government would argue. Is the hard line working?
ALBANESE: What we’ve seen is the monsoon ending, so we’ll wait and see. But we also need to recognize that these people deserve to be treated with dignity. Some of the events that have occurred on Manus Island particularly the tragic death of Reza Berati are of real concern. And the government needs to be transparent about what’s going on. We don’t know a whole range of details at the moment. They were happy to go around literally with billboards on trucks prior to the last election and now they say that any information at all is encouraging people smugglers. I think transparency is important given that things are being done in our name.
HOST: Would you reinstate legal services of asylum seekers?
ALBANESE: That’s a matter for Richard Marles, but I do think you can have a position that discourages boats from coming, but which also treats people with the dignity they deserve. We do have responsibilities under the UN conventions and they are important.
HOST: Anthony Albanese, good to see you and thank you for your time.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.