SUBJECTS: Investing in infrastructure to boost the economy, Tax Cuts, Alek Sigley, Press Freedom, Industrial Relations, Electoral Allowance, Privatisation of essential assets, Deeming rates,
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well thank you for joining me. This is of course the site of the Linfield Road overpass that runs between the electorates of Dickso, held of course by Peter Dutton and Petrie, held by Luke Howarth. Last December. Scott Morrison as the Prime Minister came and committed $100 million to the upgrade here. I of course had come earlier on in the year and committed to the very same project because we know that this is a real choke point for commuters in the northern suburbs of Brisbane. What the government didn’t say at that time though was that it was due to commence in 2026/2027 and we only found that out through the Senate Estimates process. I asked the Prime Minister about this in Parliament last week because when he made the announcement, when Peter Dutton campaigned on the project, they certainly didn’t say, ‘vote for us and some time in the second half of the next decade something might actually happen.’ They committed to this project happening. And this is just one of the many projects including other projects on the Bruce Highway, the Cooroy to Cowra Section D, the Mackay Ring Road Stage Two, the Townsville Ring Road Stage Five- which can be brought forward and should be brought forward. The Reserve Bank Governor said last week that with the interest rate being low lowered to just one per cent they can’t do any more. It needs the government to step up and that’s why they need to bring forward infrastructure investment right now so that the economy benefits from that investment.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: On the Fin splash this morning, Bob Kelty has advocated a cut of the top tax rate. Do you agree with him that the top tax rate should be cut?
ALBANESE: Well my priority has been to get the Stage One tax cut through. That occurred. That’s the only tax cut that will occur during this term of government.
JOURNALIST: But just on his point, do you agree with him that it would be the right thing to do, or should be considered?
ALBANESE: Well ultimately I’ll respond to people as- and policies that are actually on the table- and what is on the table is the Stage One tax cuts. They will occur. That’s a good thing. We welcome that. We said that that was a priority and indeed the priority should be also for the government to give consideration to the bring forward of Stage two of the tax cuts that are due to take place in 2022. What that would do is give a tax cut to everyone earning above $90,000, once it reached $120,000 a tax cut will be $1,350. That would be the priority that the government should give consideration to.
JOURNALIST: What about the financial economic policies Labor took to the election, negative gearing and franking credits before, are they still Labor policy?
ALBANESE: No. I’ve said very clearly that Labor will look at all of our policies. We will make announcements down the track about those policies. We support a progressive tax system. We also support a system whereby we’re able to properly fund schools and hospitals and infrastructure such as this project that I’m talking about here today.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) …should the government be doing more to help (inaudible)
ALBANESE: The Australian Government, do, I think a good job through our officials, including of course the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Quite often these things are best done discreetly rather than loudly. And I join with the Australian Government, these issues aren’t partisan and certainly last week for example on the issue of the student detained in North Korea, the government and I had discussions. We didn’t talk about those discussions loudly before the release of the student and that achieved a good outcome. So it’s about outcomes and we will work constructively with the government on these issues.
ALBANESE: Look we’re always concerned about issues regarding Australians overseas. But these things are best dealt with in a bipartisan way. The Australian Government does, regardless of who is in what position at any particular time, the Australian Government does look after Australians when they have issues overseas. And I have every confidence that the government is doing its bit through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who are particularly professional at dealing with these issues.
JOURNALIST: How comfortable are you with the AFP demanding flight information for a journalist who were raided by police?
ALBANESE: Well I really think that that the Attorney-General Mr Porter needs to explain the gap that’s there between what he says is happening and what is actually happening. He says that journalists aren’t the target of these investigations but the fact that there was a demand by the AFP for records of flights from a journalist from Qantas shows that that’s not the case. And the government, and in particular Mr Porter, needs to explain exactly what the circumstances are here. We are concerned about freedom of the press. We again take the opportunity to put on the record our concerns which are there. We expressed our concerns about the raids on the ABC and on Annika Smethurst’s home. And we’re concerned about whistleblowing as well as journalists being targeted in a way that’s not appropriate and the government needs to explain what the circumstances of these AFP demands were.
JOURNALIST: The business lobby, AI group and people like that are calling for industrial relations reform, changes to the anti-dismissal laws, the definition of casual work – do you think there’s room for industrial relations reform, or is there a risk that workers entitlements will be further eroded?
ALBANESE: Look, this is a government that is obsessed with further undermining workers entitlements. That’s its agenda. They don’t like trade unions, they don’t like organized labour. Now we’ve just spoken about freedom of the press. Another essential freedom in a democracy is freedom of labour to organize. And the fact is that that is an essential component. It’s one that Labor supports it’s one the government doesn’t seem to understand in terms of our democracy. They seem prepared to either sit back and watch freedom of the press be undermined but they’re actively undermining the freedom of organized labour and that’s an important principle in a democracy. And we will view any proposals from the government from the prism that we start being quite sceptical given what we’ve seen with the raids on the AWU office and the role of government, Cabinet Ministers and their offices in that. Given that there’s a big gap as well. What economists are saying is missing in our industrial relations system at the moment is wage increases. That’s what they’re saying, is that that is really holding back our national economy, that wage stagnation which is there, is placing pressure on individual families to pay for the essentials of life, put food on the table of their families, pay their bills. But it’s also having a macroeconomic effect on our national economy and that should be the government’s focus. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: Just one more question, sorry. Do you think states should be incentivised by the Commonwealth to privatise assets and put the proceeds towards infrastructure?
ALBANESE: Well here in Queensland of course the issue of privatization of essential assets has been rejected. And now both political parties say that they’re opposed to privatisation of essential assets. If the government is going to go down the privatization road, they need to say what assets they want to sell. Is it water assets, energy, public transport, hospitals, schools? What is it that they want to sell off and that they want to encourage state governments to sell off?
JOURNALIST: In your view, did Joe Hockey’s asset recycling initiative work?
ALBANESE: Well it was never actually fully passed by the Parliament.
JOURNALIST: And just one more. Do you understand the concerns of Queenslanders who pushed back on asset sales by both the Labor and Liberal Government?
ALBANESE: I absolutely understand the concern of Queenslanders because what we know is that privatisation in many circumstances has just led to an increase in prices. And we know that in energies case that has been the case in many examples. And we know that with the assets that have been privatised, for example, my local bus service has been privatised and the quality of the service has gone down since that privatisation went ahead.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that politicians should be forced to return electorate allowances if it’s unspent?
ALBANESE: Well the fact is that the electorate allowance and other matters are set by the Remuneration Tribunal. I think it’s entirely appropriate that politicians don’t get a say on those issues.
JOURNALIST: And what do you think the deeming rates should be? And should it be determined by an independent body?
ALBANESE: We’re not the government. The government needs to address the gap that’s there between the deeming rate and actual interest rates. That was underlined by the decrease in interest rates to just one per cent cash rate. One third of where they were during the global financial crisis just last week.
Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.