Sep 1, 2016

Transcript of Albanese: Telling it Straight book launch – Parliament House, Canberra

HAWKE: Well let me say at the outset that I believe that this is a book, which is a must read for anyone who is interested in Australian politics. Karen, let me say that I think you’ve done an absolutely amazingly thorough and painstaking job and it leaves the reader, it certainly left me, with a feeling that there could hardly be anything else we could possibly learn about (inaudible). You’ve done a tremendous job.

And of course it’s not – I recommend the book not only for that reason, the subject, but also of course in telling the story of Albo you have some very interesting insights into the operations of a fascinating machine, the Australian Labor Party, and Australian federal politics more generally.

I guess at the outset the easiest, best way of getting the contextual perspective of the subject is to look at some of the tributes and character assessments of Albo that Karen has collected. She’s done that not only from his colleagues within the Parliament, but also very interestingly across the broader political spectrum.

I won’t exhaust you by going through all of them, there are so many, but I think you get some of an idea of the man from the nature of the tributes that are paid to him by his colleagues and also (inaudible) from people across the spectrum.

The first one I’ll refer to is an old friend of mine who was then in 1996 Albo’s campaign manager, Tim Gartrell. Tim was one of the many younger up and coming people who were in the party that Albo, himself still a young man, had mentored and Gartrell was extremely grateful for this.

He says, Tim was quoted by Karen, he said, this is Tim Gartrell who went on to become Federal Sectretary of the Labor Party:

He was a very important mentor in our generation of activists coming through NSW Labor, Tim says. He motivated people through his own personal courage and tenacity in a nasty tough internal party environment – the old days of hard, factional warfare in NSW Labor. But he also built a deep relationship with its younger activists, encouraging us and being generous with his time (inaudible). It was genuine but also very canny leadership. As a result we would have walked over broken glass for the bloke.

So that gives you an idea of how at a very early stage of his own career, this man was thinking of others, trying to help mentor those younger people coming on.

There’s a remarkable tribute also from Penny Wong and I would like to refer to that. This is at page 284 of the book and a remarkable, warm and compelling tribute to (inaudible). This is what Penny Wong has to say:

In Albo I’ll say this to you; I think he is the finest and toughest politician of his generation. He’s someone who knows how the Parliament works, and he knows how to make Parliament work for the people he represents. Grayndler, needs Albo, the Parliament needs Albo and I say to you the Labor Party and the Australian people need Albo. 

She went on to say that this claim, obviously this respect, came from his commitment to the concepts of equality. She said:

It’s as simple as that. Equality on the basis of class, equality on the basis of race, equality on the basis of gender, equality on the basis of sexuality. He’s been consistent about that.

There is a heartfelt expression of commitment. Not the picture of the hard, fighting man; a man of absolute commitment and integrity, commitment to the ideals which are part of his standards. And I also would like to briefly refer to something that Kim Beazley said. As you know Albo went into Parliament in 1996 and we copped a bit of a thrashing and Kim was the Leader and I’ll just read to you very briefly from what Kim had to say at that time, including about Albo:

Anthony’s provocative politics were also well employed in the post defeat environment across the Labor caucus. At their first meeting after the massive loss, Labor MPs and Senators were contemplating what would clearly be a yawning, disillusioning speech out of Government.

This new Leader Kim Beazley had a job to try and pull it all together. Kim told them that they needed to regroup and be robust to be responsible as Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition. But when the meeting finished he called over the new young leftie from NSW as Anthony tells it, the big man fixed on him and said, ‘not you, I want you to give them hell.’

Anthony was designated one of the chief bombchuckers. His reputation was that he was a brawler, Kim says. But you know the thing about him was, and I always thought this, he was an incredibly intelligent brawler. He was not going to conduct himself as a moron, but conduct himself strategically and he always did.

I think that’s a great tribute from Kim and summed up the strengths and particular characteristics of this man very well. Now those are tributes to Albo, coming from people within his own Party. But what’s very significant is the respect for Albo that can be found right across the political spectrum.

And remember, he was one of the tough head kickers, he gave them more hell than just about anyone. That’s true of all – there was a recognition of the integrity of this bloke and I just refer first to Bob Katter. I don’t know whether you’re here Bob? Where’s the bloody hat?

This is a very significant tribute I think both from Bob and I’ll just read it, it’s at page 397 of the book. He said this, Bob Katter was full of praise and he quotes him:

Albanese has what used to be called in Australia the common touch. He’s comfortable with ordinary people and that is a very rare commodity in Canberra. These people will love the downtrodden, or grovel to the rich. Albo treats them all the same. I have immense respect for Albanese. You could only describe his performance as brilliant.

That of course was given in the context of the extraordinarily difficult time of the Gillard Government and you were living on knife edge and you had to be engaged in the negotiations with everyone and Bob Katter got to know you well in that situation and I want to thank you for your assessment.

I think it’s absolutely accurate and there’s just a note that comes after that attributed to Tony Windsor, who also was (inaudible) which Anthony was handling so well and Tony Windsor said, quote, ‘He was the absolute glue in the machinery, which held everything together’, and you can’t get a much better attribute than that and it was accurate.

And just finally, in terms of these references, Joe Hockey, that’s not a bad spectrum – Katter, Hockey, and here’s what Joe had to say. He’s at page 276 of the book, you’ll find it too.

And he’s extremely warm in his assessment also of – this is Joe – he referred to the tutoring that Anthony received from Tom Uren and he said that Tom encouraged Anthony’s best qualities, quote, ‘to be a man of principle, to be honest, your handshake is your word and every moment I’ve ever dealt with Anthony Albanese his word is binding.’

I want to suggest my friends that it’s no accident; it’s also a very interesting (inaudible) reference here to the interesting relationship between Christopher Pyne. I don’t know the bloke but I can’t imagine that Christopher is the easiest bloke to fall in love with. But Christopher Pyne is quoted as saying, ‘he’s the only friend I’ve got in the Labor Party’. That says something about (inaudible) I’m sure.

But seriously my friends, when you look at those tributes you can’t avoid the conclusion, which is the right conclusion, that this is a truly remarkable man. You might ask yourself, how did it all start? And there is absolutely no doubt about the answer, it’s crystal clear; the centrality of the importance of this remarkable woman, Maryanne, Anthony Albanese’s mother.

I won’t go through all the quotations here where Anthony pays the most heartfelt love and appreciation and indebted to his mother. Everything he has done, everything he has been able to achieve is because of her. Now my friends, in going back and asking how Albo started you’ve really got to say that you’re getting two books in this.

It’s a fascinating mixture of the two stories. One of course, and I’ll go finally to talk more about the actual achievements of Albo before he got in to parliament but this remarkable story, it’s sort of like a romantic novelette woven in to the main story and that is the story of the Albanese family.

This remarkable woman, his mum, and the missing father, finally discovered. In terms of the question asked about how it all began, it began with this remarkable woman who had this child in 1963 and I won’t go through the story of the absent father because it’s already been told on television and for those of you who haven’t seen that, I won’t spoil it for you.

But he grew up without a father, just his mum. Mum adored him, committed herself absolutely to ensuring she did everything to make his future a happy and a productive one. Three faiths; Catholic church, South Sydney, and the Australian Labor Party. Not in terms of the order of importance Albo would put them in.

But he saw and witnessed, and his mother experienced, the awfulness of inequality of opportunity and the difficulties of living from week to week and wondering where the money was coming from. And in this situation she instilled into this young boy, this Australian lad, faith in the Australian Labor Party as the only political instrument which was capable of creating a more equitable and a more peaceful society.

This is something he got from his mother in the earliest days and has never left him. It explains why he was always ready to express gratitude he owed to his mother. Albo, I can understand it because I know how important parents are in shaping your attitudes, your convictions, and creating the environment for you to give you the greatest incentive to make the best of what you’ve got.
I think it’s marvellous the way in which you’ve consistently paid tribute to that remarkable woman.

As I say, I won’t go into the story about the way in which you thought you had to find your father if you could and the story – the marvellous collected serendipitous circumstances which then led to the discovery. It’s a marvellous story and as I say, another reason to want to read the book.

Now, just to wind up on the side of the political achievements, before I do that, I want to mention again, as Karen does, the tremendous contribution to the development of this man of Tom Uren. Those around Anthony know [inaudible] thought that he needed a father figure and Tom Uren was allocated that job.

He worked in his office. I think again, correct me of course, [inaudible] the great man.  We had our arguments, as I think many people did, but no one was ever doubt his integrity and commitment to the fundamental principles laid down by Tom’s advice.

Now, very quickly I would just like to mention the achievements of this remarkable young man, as he was when he went in, in the Parliament. He went in as I said in 1996, and we were in Opposition then and [inaudible] government in 2007. Kevin and then that awfully difficult period after 2010 in that minority government. I just go to a couple of statistics which will give you some idea of the enormous contribution he made in the period of Julia’s leadership.

I think this is something that is not sufficiently understood and recognised, but history will be kind to Julia Gillard and a very large amount of that is due to the tenacity and the commitment and the hard work of Albo in working in an extraordinarily difficult Parliament situation.

But the fact is that due to that leadership that he gave to the House, in that period of the Gillard Government, 595 pieces of legislation went through the House. A remarkable achievement and a very large agenda, many of them in important areas of education and the like. Albo has much to be congratulated for that achievement.

Let me just before I conclude refer you to the achievements of his own ministry particularly in infrastructure and I’ll turn to page 418 of the book and they are really quite remarkable statistics of which Anthony you should be extremely proud. At page 418 in the book Karen writes Albo saying ‘we invested’ – and this is a remarkable figure – ‘we invested more in urban public transport between 2007 and 2013 than all previous governments combined from federation to 2007. Not a bad achievement.

He also refers to the streamlining of transport regulators and reducing the number of regulators from 23 to 3. This is very interesting. He was the only transport minister invited to attend roundtable talks in Singapore on the future of global aviation in 2012.

His aviation White Paper earned him the title of Aviation Minister of the Year in 2010 from the peak global industry group and two years later he received the equivalent international award in infrastructure. Truly remarkable achievements.

Then you also proudly – listen to this fact. It says ‘it’s a point of pride for Anthony that when he became minister Australia was ranked 20th in the industrialised world for infrastructure investment but when he left office it was first.’

Now, you consider those statistics. Truly remarkable.

… doing a job competently, he was taking Australia into positions of world leadership in these important areas.

So I hope, my friends, without having gone through too much of the book, I’ve given you a taste of it, a taste of this remarkable man. I’m inordinately proud of my political party, the Australian Labor Party. It has endured now from the end of the 19th century as the only continuous party through the whole of that period.

We’ve had our bad periods, where we haven’t been at our best, but we have never lost our commitment to basic Labor principles. Amongst these is fundamentally the concept of equality of opportunity. The abolition of discrimination based on religion, colour, race, creed or gender.

The reason that we have survived and will live to come again to government in the not too distant future, the reason is that those basic principles have been unchanged and that we have continued to throw up men and women of character, integrity and commitment, who have been prepared to be pragmatic where necessary to achieve outcomes, but never to abandon basic principles.

Here, for the subject of this book, we have an outstanding example of just that.

I close by saying thank you, Albo, for being what you’ve been, and for continuing to do that. Thank you for the contribution you have made through your party, to the Parliament, to this country, to the region and the world. This country is a better place because of your activities within our party and within our governments.

And I thank you Karen for having brought together such an interesting, complex and unique story. I recommend this book highly to you and have much pleasure in launching it.

ALBANESE: I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of country and by paying my respects to their elders both past and present.

To Bob Hawke, thank you, thank you. Your extraordinarily generous comments that you’ve made here this morning are not the reason why I, and Karen when we discussed it, were pretty clear about who should launch the book. It is that you are without doubt the father of modern Labor.

You are, more than anyone else, the person who taught us that what you need is not just good governments, as all Labor Governments have been, for a period of time that make reforms.

You need governments that get elected, get re-elected, get re-elected and get re-elected to entrench those reforms as a permanent feature of the Australian landscape.

And on issues of the environment, Medicare, education and the opening up of opportunity, national economic reform, which we have seen lead to continuous economic growth as a result of the reforms of your Government, there is no doubt that you are a giant of our movement.

And you have done Karen and myself and extraordinary honour in agreeing to launch this book today and I thank you very much for it.

To Karen, the author, it’s true that she stalked me for some time to do this project, as did a couple of others. Something that Karen might not know, but that I’ll now say in front of our closest friends, was that Karen’s attendance at my mum’s funeral meant that I think she would get it, and she did.

And that comes through in the book, that this is someone who put in extraordinary hours. We didn’t always get on, it must be said. Karen kept insisting that ‘it’s not a hagiography you know’, to which I would respond, ‘why not?”.

Throughout the forty formal interviews, but hundreds of discussions over such a long period of time, longer perhaps than the publishers envisaged it must be said, for those wondering about the timing of this, we were meant to be here some time ago.

Karen wanted to get it right. She checked quotes with people, she got back to people, she went through an exhaustive process of making sure of accuracy.
I certainly did not have a right of veto and there are things in the book that would prefer weren’t there. Fortunately most of the people who wanted to bag me wanted to do it anonymously – the nature of politics.

Karen did I think a remarkable job and found out details about my family my grandparents, my great grandparents going back, that I certainly didn’t know. And indeed the issue in the book that’s got most of the focus up to this point, some of the detail there of how I found my father, some of that detail I didn’t know, I read about for the first time.

To Carmel and Nathan, this book is also about them, very much. To Carmel, my life partner for more than half of my life, and Nathan who has brought extraordinary joy to our life and has completed our family, I thank you for always, for always, being so supportive of me and our wonderful but small family.

I must say I also want to thank my parliamentary colleagues who are here. Members and senators from across the spectrum and friends who have travelled, I acknowledge Rob Henderson who has come from Wollongong and has made such a difference. I acknowledge Rob and his partner who are here.

I thought about what to say at the launch of your own biography, it is a bit strange. It is a bit like being asked to speak at your own funeral. I am saved by the fact of course that this is just volume one. And given life expectancy, I think that next 50 years can produce a few more things to do.

I must say, it was incredibly difficult. The whole experience forced me to relive a whole range of things. A very emotional experience.

I must say, as you read the book, a number of times – and people who know me well like Jenny Macklin and Penny and Mark and others won’t be surprised – by the number of times where tears are mentioned. I am a very emotional person and I felt very vulnerable and exposed by this process.

The most difficult interview I have ever done, or will ever do, was with Leigh Sales on 7.30. You saw the ten minute version. The forty minute version, I am pleased to say that I was not the person who stopped the interview because of tears, it was Leigh.

Though I knew, sometimes you need someone else to tell you something, and Mark Riley – I asked him if I could read this out – at 8:01 on that night of last week I got a text from Riles’, and he said: ‘Such a compelling, moving intensely human story Albo, so glad you finally told it, must be like a great weight lifting. Good on you.’

And it hit me at that moment that it was that. There will people who have known me for a very long time and who knew as a fact that my father was dead. That was a fact that I thought had happened and I think getting it out there in terms of my origins, in such a detailed way is like a weight lifting.

I don’t have to, it’s impossible, to tell my story in a short line. Hence I developed methods over the years – ‘where was your father from?’, ‘Oh I was raised by just mum’ – and people would sort of get the message not to ask the next question. And that I think is very difficult.

So in part this is a book about identity. It speaks to – I know the emails and response that I have had and I know Karen has had – from so many people who were raised by single parents. Poor Ann Sherry is now searching for other people who have similar circumstances. Rob Henderson will be busy for some time trying to reunite people.

It speaks to, I think, your sense of who you are is that you do have to know where you come from. I think when Carmel and I had Nathan, when you have your own child, it does change the way that you think about the world. It changes your concept of genes and genetics.

I always felt Italian, I have that la dolce vita gene, I like staying up late and I don’t like getting out of bed in the morning. I enjoy a good time. But I was raised with the values of my mum, as Bob said – Catholic, Souths, Labor. Not necessarily in that order.

Obviously I have been true to Labor and Souths, despite the temptation of having to wait 43 years between comps. And I certainly regard myself as having maintained the values of Catholicism with which I was brought up, in terms of social justice and maintaining those principles.

My mum was one of those working class people who had many sayings. One of her sayings was, ‘always remember where you come from’. That is something I’ve tried to do. That’s something I am doing at the moment when I examine a bill before this Parliament that would cut payments to some of the poorest people. You know, we need to be better than to talk about economics as though it doesn’t have an impact on people.

One of the reasons why I am faithful to Labor is that the Whitlam Government, the Hawke Government, The Keating Government, the Rudd Government and the Gillard Government all made a difference to people. And Labor must always remember our responsibility to stand up.

And if that gets an occasional flick from an economic commentator well so be it, so be it. But I will continue to argue the case there.

I don’t have many regrets about the Rudd and Gillard Governments, I do have one, the impact that we had on sole parents. A budget decision that it wasn’t possible to have an argument over and a decision that was wrong.

People have asked me why, and I’ll conclude with this, why now?

When I was told of the circumstance, when mum sat down and told me when I was 14 or 15 the story of my life was not quite accurate that was an incredibly difficult thing for her to do. But it says a lot about society, what it was like, that in 1963 it simply wasn’t acceptable for a Catholic woman to have a child out of wedlock.

So the pressure that was on someone, to go to the extent of changing her name, adopting my father’s name, wearing a wedding ring and engagement ring, telling everyone that she had come back from overseas married.

Then of course I was supposed to be adopted out because that’s what happened. It was better to have a child adopted out than to have them live as an illegitimate – I mean what a word – illegitimate, not real, not legitimate. Seriously.

Defining someone from birth is wrong. And my mum chose to defy that pressure and to keep me; a very brave decision that she made. Many other people of course were in similar circumstances and that brings me to the nature of family which is what a lot of this book is about as well.

Every time in the marriage equality debate I hear someone say you need a mother and a father and 2.2 kids, to me it doesn’t just denigrate families who happen to have two fathers or two mothers; it denigrates sole parents and it denigrates the whole complexity of relationships and families, that aren’t done in a book, they are done with real people.

And that’s why we should respect all families equally and we shouldn’t be having a vote whereby others get to judge families, whatever their makeup. And we should respect them and I’m very pleased that Karen has dedicated her book to my mum Maryanne but to all sole parents. I think that is a very good thing.

I did want it done in a book rather than something that just slips out in a footnote or an interview. I wanted the story told properly and that’s why it is in a book. I couldn’t let many people know while mother was alive out of respect to her. Very few people, my closest friends knew my circumstances, but others didn’t.

And once my father had passed away in January of 2014, I think that is was then possible to tell the story which I hope assists people including kids growing up in sole parent households who are disadvantaged, that you can be whoever you want to be.

The important thing about families is to have a parent or parents, regardless of who they are, who love their child and I had unconditional love from my mother. And that gave me the confidence to be Deputy Prime Minister of Australia.

I said, and I think the book begins, by me saying that it is indeed a great country that the son of a sole parent, who grew up in Council housing with their mum as an invalid pensioner, can be elected Deputy Prime Minister of Australia.

That’s our egalitarian spirit, the nation of the fair go. That is so important for Australia.

I hope you enjoy the book. Those who expect leaks from Cabinet or private discussions, you won’t find anything there because as much as Karen tried to talk about various things, I believe if you have a private conversation it stays that way. So there aren’t leaks of that element.

I do think in an act of brilliance – Meredith, I don’t know who made the decision to not have an index – but it means that they’ve all got to buy it and they’ve all got to read it to see where you are in the story.

I thank Karen for the writing of the book, I thank Penguin and Random House for publishing the book, I thank Bob for your very generous comments.

And I thank all my friends, my parliamentary colleagues and particularly my family, Carmel and Nathan for being here with us today. Thank you.