Nov 28, 2010

Transcript: Interview with Barrie Cassidy – ABC1’s Insiders Program

Subjects: Victorian election; Federal Labor Party; 43rd Parliament working effectively; Gay marriage; NSW Government

BARRIE CASSIDY: We’re joined now by the Government Leader in the House, Anthony Albanese, good morning, welcome.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Morning, Barrie.

BARRIE CASSIDY: If we can just go back momentarily to the Victorian election, do you get the sense that the state dominoes are starting to fall?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’ll take each election as it comes, and analyse them based upon the state issues themselves. But I think we’ve heard from time to time the idea that either the Liberal Party’s on the way out forever, or the Labor Party’s on the way out forever.

The major parties are resilient. The Victorian election is of course too tight to call; we’ll wait and see what happens with the counting over the coming days.

BARRIE CASSIDY: If the Government was to fall in Victoria though, it would make policy a whole lot harder to achieve, and particularly in the health area.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think we’re a Government that has to negotiate with people outside the Labor Party in both houses to get our legislation through. We obviously will take each state government as the respective electors deliver them to us, and negotiate with them. We’ll wait and see what happens in Victoria, I’ve been around a while, looks like it’s a bit early to call, to me.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Okay, I want to show you something that Kevin Rudd, the Foreign Minister, said on Channel Nine earlier this morning, he was asked about Paul Howes, the union leader, and the constant criticism of him by Paul Howes. Here it is:

[Replay, excerpt from Today on Sunday, Channel Nine]

KEVIN RUDD: We’re always in better shape when the troops are singing from the same hymn sheet, and I think it’s very important that people bear that very basic principle of politics in mind, and I think it’s probably time that a few folks like this, stop behaving like, you know, factional leaders and factional thugs, and just kind of grew up, and that’s nothing to do with me, it’s just about the general impact which that sort of rolling commentary has on the business of Government, distracting us from our agenda.

[Replay ends]

BARRIE CASSIDY: Now is Paul Howes a thug, and is that good advice?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think all of us in the Government aren’t focused on Paul Howes, or any other individual in the party. What we’re focused on is our future agenda.

It’s just a fact that it’s better if everyone, as Kevin Rudd has said, is singing from the same song sheet. And I think that in terms of any past issues, which have been there, they’re certainly not a distraction to the Gillard Government.

BARRIE CASSIDY: So you can understand why Kevin Rudd said what he did this morning?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m not going to get into any of that debate. It’s of no concern to me. What’s of concern to me is the Government’s agenda and making sure that we give good government to Australia.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Okay, I want to talk now about the five sitting weeks, the hung Parliament, and the experience of all of that. Before we do, let’s get a report card from Tony Abbott, and from yourself.


TONY ABBOTT: Lest I be accused, Mr Deputy Speaker, of not giving credit where it’s due, let’s look at the successes. Well, there’s a website, and there’s been a modest extension of welfare quarantining in one territory of this country. I think there are 11 extra hospital beds in New South Wales, if we think they were indecisive with a majority, they are now absolutely incoherent without a majority.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Government has passed some 51 pieces of legislation, the radio communications amendment, Social Security amendment, civilian corp, offshore petroleum and greenhouse gas, superannuation, native title amendments, indeed this is a Parliament that is functioning and passing out legislation

DEPUTY SPEAKER: The minister will return to his seat. Minister.

[Replay ends]

BARRIE CASSIDY: Okay, 51 bills got through, but you had to make a lot of compromises along the way?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’re up to 54 now, Barrie, we got another three through, after question time on Thursday.

Look, we’ve got big reforms through. The National Broadband Network legislation, or the related legislation for the structural separation of Telstra, is significant micro-economic reform talked about for a long, long time. Everyone knows it should have happened particularly when Telstra was privatised. We’ve done it. And we’ve also got through health and hospital reform, and major legislation on childcare. So we’re able to function effectively as a Government.

The fact that negotiations now occur sooner than they used to, given that in the previous term of course we didn’t have a majority in our own right in the Senate so those negotiations took place there.

What we’re showing is that we can effectively govern.

And the score card’s 54/nil. Not a single amendment not supported by the Government has been carried by the House of Representatives so far this year.

BARRIE CASSIDY: So a score card of 54/nil, it looks as if the Independents are soft touches.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, they’re not. What they recognise is that the Government has a good agenda. I mean structural separation of Telstra to make sure that you’re able to have a wholesale network through the NBN with retail competition built on top, is of great significance.

The National Broadband Network will transform the way that we work, and the way that we live. The Independents understand that. And in their heart of hearts there are some people on the Opposition benches who understand that as well but they’re all on Tony Abbott’s song sheet of oppose, destroy, stop, which is what their response is to every piece of legislation that’s brought before the Parliament.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Why didn’t the House of Representatives’ members stay back on Friday, and deal with this legislation after two o’clock, and save the country a lot of money?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We mightn’t have been able to Barrie. The real question is why did the Opposition filibuster and waste time, not change any of the outcome through Thursday. Thursday night they stopped for a dinner break then they suspended the sitting early. Friday they came back; there was more procedural nonsense. We couldn’t have received it because of the transmission time from the Senate to the House until after five o’clock on Friday. That would have meant it would have been difficult for many members to get back to their electorates before Saturday, so that would have been two extra days in Canberra anyway.

We made the decision, given that the Coalition was determined to frustrate, block and negate, that we would come back with certainty on Monday at 12 noon to deal with this legislation. There’s two other bills that will be dealt with on their return from the Senate on Monday as well.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But there are some amendments to the NBN, or the bill that impacts on the NBN, do you foresee any difficulties with those?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, we’ll be supporting the legislation as it’s been amended for each of the three bills, the NBN being the most prominent.

There’s also a tax bill, and there’s an airports bill as well in my portfolio.

Who knows Barrie? Clearly Tony Abbott and the Opposition – Tony Abbott wouldn’t have been there on Friday, by the way anyway, he’d said that he had other appointments – but it’ll be up to them how long the sitting goes for; whether they continue to oppose.

But given their whole sense of being seems to be that they’re only there to say what they’re against, it’s highly possible that we’ll have some other stunts tried by the Coalition on Monday. We’ll wait and see.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Is the vote a mere formality though?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, the support is very clear. It’s very clear that not just Labor; not just the country Independents who’ve said that they’d support the NBN, but there’s no stronger supporter in the Parliament than Bob Katter, who of course said that he would not support us being in a position to form government.

But he gets how important this is for regional Australia, and given that the NBN is being rolled out right now – both to the north and the south of Mount Isa – in his area of Queensland, it’s not surprising that he gets it.

What is surprising is that Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull still continue their destructive tactics.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Now Penny Wong yesterday came out and supported gay marriages, so did the South Australian branch of the Labor Party, so has the Northern Territory branch of the Labor Party, is there an inevitability about where this is headed, leading up to the Federal Conference?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’ll have the debate within the party, Barrie. We’ve had over a period of time reforms which granted greater equality to same sex couples. We had debates at the last conference and where we changed some of the policies. At the conference beforehand we changed the policy again to remove discrimination from pieces of legislation.

We carried, in our first term of office, some 85 pieces of legislation, more change giving equality to same sex couples than were put in place during the previous 107 years since Federation.

So we’ll wait and see how the debate comes at the National Conference, certainly as the person who first introduced a Private Members Bill into the House to give equality to same sex couples on superannuation. When I did that it seemed to be something unusual, something a bit radical. That passed the Parliament with no-one opposing it; it just went straight through during our last term of office.

So times do change, and we’ll wait and see what happens at the conference.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Why haven’t you already declared a conscience vote though for Federal members? Surely this is appropriate in these circumstances?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Because we have a policy and a platform, Barrie, and I support the processes of the Party. The Party has a clear policy adopted at the last conference; I moved the policy at the last conference. It requires a conference, a collective decision, in order to change that policy framework.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Now just finally, has your party president in New South Wales, Bernie Riordan, has he betrayed the party, as the Telegraph suggests this morning, in its front page headlines?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think probably that says more about Bernie than it does about the party. He can speak for himself.

My view is that Kristina Keneally is doing a quite extraordinary job under difficult circumstances. I mean every poll indicates that she faces an extraordinary uphill battle, but she gets up every day, she goes out there, she advocates for her position and I think that her performance is worthy of the support of each and every Labor Party member.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But not worthy of the support of the president, it seems?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I’ll leave Bernie to speak for himself.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Okay, thanks for your time this morning, appreciate it.