SUBJECTS: Leadership of the Australian Labor Party; 2019 Election result in Queensland; Queensland infrastructure; Adani; industrial relations; water buybacks; small business; Indigenous voice to Parliament.
SUSAN LAMB: Thanks everybody. Well, it has been an absolute honour and privilege to serve as the Member for Longman for the past three years. This is my home. I’ve raised my family, I’ve lived and worked in the area for over 30 years. And while I’m incredibly disappointed in the outcome last week, I’m actually quite devastated for what it means for our community. You know, schools without millions of dollars’ worth of extra funding, healthcare services on Bribie Island that will no longer be provided through an Urgent Care Clinic. You know, childcare, cheaper childcare for people, $1.5 billion for the Bruce Highway, dental for pensioners; I’m devastated that those won’t be delivered now for people in my community. So, while I accept the outcome on the weekend, and I wish Terry Young the very best and congratulate him on his election, what we will do now is make sure that we rebuild, we review and we reflect. And I can’t think of a greater person to lead us in that rebuild, in that reflection, than Anthony Albanese. And I’m really glad to have Anthony here with me in Longman today.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks very much. Well thanks, Susan. I want to begin by paying tribute to the work that Susan Lamb has done as the Member for Longman. She of course has been through three hard elections in under three years. And so it’s reasonable that Susan take a bit of time, in terms of personal time, to regroup. But on behalf of the Australian Labor Party I thank Susan and all of our candidates in the Federal Election. And I say: I’m sorry. On behalf of the Leadership of the Labor Party that we let you down by not getting the outcome that we wanted in this election. We received the votes of one in every three Australians. But we received one in four votes here in Queensland. That simply isn’t good enough, because we need Labor Governments. As Susan said, we had a range of commitments, to schools, to hospitals, to infrastructure, here in Queensland. And specifically here in the electorate of Longman.
But of course here today, where we’re holding this media conference at the Caboolture Town Square. This is an example whereby the infrastructure investment, $3 million, the last time I was the Infrastructure Minister and Regional Development and Local Government Minister, to fix up this town square, to improve the safety, to build the children’s playground, to make a difference to the quality of life here in this great town. The truth is, that right throughout Queensland I can go and point to practical differences that I’ve made when I was the minister during the Rudd and Gillard Governments.
That puts me I think in a good position with regard to talking with Queenslanders and, importantly, listening to Queenslanders. I’ve said before in the last few days that we have two ears and one mouth, so we should spend twice as much time listening as we do talking. We’ve just had a very good meeting with the Mayor of Moreton Bay Council. And I’ll continue – we’ve had some other discussions with other people around the Hub here in Caboolture. We’ll have further discussions this afternoon. And later I’ll be joined as well as by Susan, with Corinne Mulholland, our unsuccessful candidate for Petrie and Ali France our unsuccessful candidate for Dickson.
We need to acknowledge, firstly, that we lost the election. We need to talk to people who have worked hard for us for the cause of Labor. But we also need to talk to people who wanted to vote Labor but who chose not to. Particularly those who were thinking very closely of doing it and all the opinion polls showed that people were thinking of voting Labor. But of course we know that in the end we simply didn’t get enough support. So I’m here, It’s no accident I’m here in Queensland as my first stop. I was here many, many times I’ve been to this electorate and right throughout Queensland. I’ve been to electorates whether it’s Maranoa or Kennedy, whether it be the seats in South East Queensland and importantly the seats right down the coast; be it Leichhardt, Herbert, Flynn, Capricornia, Hinkler. All of these seats have infrastructure where we’ve made a difference, particularly the upgrades in the Bruce Highway where under the Howard Government – $1.3 billion of investment over 12 years. While I was the Minister, $6.7 billion in half that time. That’s the difference that we made.
Some of those projects are still proceeding, but they were begun under us. The important projects around Townsville, around Mackay, around Gladstone and right, indeed, down the coast. Including the Cooroy to Curra Upgrade, north of here around Gympie, which was described by the person who was the Transport Minister and local member for Wide Bay as the worst road in Australia. Well it took a Labor Government to fix it. I intend to talk with Queenslanders and to engage with Queenslanders over the coming three years. And today is just the start of that process.
JOURNALIST: Can you give a definitive position on the Adani coal mine? We’ve heard six weeks of what has been described as a wishy-washy position from Labor?
ALBANESE: The fact is, that this is not a government project. It’s a private sector project. And what happens with private sector projects is they receive environmental approvals. The Adani project has received the approvals of the Federal Government through the EPBC Act, not once, but twice. And it’s important as well that, legislation says very clearly, that decisions must be made on the basis of the science, the recommendations. Looking at CSIRO for example, looking at the impact on water. So that’s the process at the Federal level. The State Government is looking at its approvals process and then it’s a matter for the company to decide whether, once it’s approved, in terms of the economics going forward, and if they do that, that’s a decision for the company. This is not a government project. And that is very important, as well.
But I’ll say this about the project and I’ll say this about Queenslanders: one of the things that Queenslanders don’t like, is the sort of thing that happened at Clermont. Where you had people from down south coming down and telling Queenslanders what was good for them, and lecturing them and shouting at them. They don’t want that. What Queenslanders want is what other people around Australia want. They want jobs, they want security for their family; they want all of that. And my experience in engaging with people here in Queensland, it goes back to sitting down going to the Hughenden pub with Bob Katter, engaging with people here during the election at Narangba, engaging with people around – talking with them about what their needs are. I’ll continue to do that. My understanding is the Queensland Government have set a timeline in terms of the proposals, and we’ll await that. In terms of the Federal Government decision making processes, they’ve concluded. They’re over.
JOURNALIST: But further from that, it is going to be if approved one of Australia’s if not, at full capacity, Australia’s largest coal mine. Surely that is something that you have a position on as the Leader of the Labor Party?
ALBANESE: What the EPBC Act says, by the way, is that decisions must be made upon science not upon politics, and people know that. And when you look at the sort of decisions that have been made, there’s a bit of conversation this week about coal. This is what Scott Morrison said on 13 August 2018: “But let’s not think there’s cheap new coal, there’s not. New cheap coal is a bit of a myth.” That’s what he had to say, they’re the Government. They need to be held to account. And one of the things that I’ve said very clearly is that we will hasten slowly. With regard to policy decisions, we will work cooperatively, I’ll consult with caucus. The new Shadow Ministry of course is to be elected on Thursday. Can I say this as well – we won’t be announcing portfolios on Thursday, we’ll be leaving that over coming days, because once again this is not a sprint. There is not an election in July. There is not an election this year. There is an election due in 2022. And so the decisions that Labor advocates at that election are a long way away. I’ve said very clearly, also, that all policies when you lose an election, the policies lapse. That’s what happens. So we will be defining our proposals on our timeline, based upon our values put forward very clearly.
JOURNALIST: Do you understand …
ALBANESE: Hang on. You’ve had a couple of goes.
JOURNALIST: Do you plan to have any, given the poor showing in Queensland, do you plan to have any Queenslanders in significant Cabinet positions?
ALBANESE: I plan to have Queenslanders in significant roles. You’ll have to wait for that process again. We’re not going to pre-empt the caucus processes. Caucus elects the frontbench. I’ll obviously make my views known and I have, and I’ll continue to do that with caucus colleagues, but I’ll do it respectfully as well in terms of the processes. I mean one of the things about politics I think that is frustrating for people who are observers of politics, rather than participants is that the cycle means that people are pushed to just say things at any particular moment, on the spur, on the basis of the need to fill the void, fill the vacuum. Well the truth is we suffered a significant defeat on May 18. It is time for us to regroup. We’re a long way away from forming the next – from competing in the next election it’s 2022. And, frankly, we’ll take our time, hasten slowly, not be obsessed by the 24-hour media cycle.
You won’t see for example, I won’t do, I say really up front, it seems like a long time ago since the declaration of the ballot, but it was yesterday. You won’t see me doing doorstops every day. I’ll give you the big tip. Because one of the things that I will do, whoever fills the positions – and certainly Queensland will be well represented – what we will do is use our team. Because I tell you what, one of the things I’m certain about what will occur after Thursday, is I’d rather have my team than Scott Morrison and his team who he had to hide during the election campaign, who now, due to his arrogance and hubris, has appointed both Arthur Sinodinos and Mitch Fifield to overseas posts. He didn’t go to an election saying: ‘Vote for us and we’ll give two of our senior people overseas postings at my first press conference’.
And I say this to the media as well. One of the things that defined the last campaign, and we will look and examine, we will have a review, but it’s my view – I’ll tell you this, in terms of without looking at the signs, that during this campaign we looked like a government in waiting. They looked like an Opposition. It is time that the Fourth Estate held the Government to account. They’ve just been elected. Our policies, frankly, are academic at this point in time. Their policies actually matter – they’re the Government. They don’t have an energy policy. Ask them what their policy is. What’s their policy on new coal fired power stations? Some of them say that’s what they want here in Queensland. Why aren’t they being held to account? Because, not just Scott Morrison – this is what Peter Dutton had to say on 14 March 2018: “We’ve got taxpayers’ money to spend. The question is whether the Federal Government should be building a coal fired power station. I don’t agree with that. I don’t think we should be.” Now I got asked about that on radio this morning, on the Alan Jones program. The Government needs to be held to account. They don’t have an agenda for their third term. They can’t go through this term like they did the last one where their only agenda was fighting each other. The Nationals fighting each other, the Liberals fighting each other. And the LNP in Queensland not quite being sure who they are fighting, but certainly being in the blue. What they weren’t doing is governing properly and we intend to hold them to account.
JOURNALIST: The PM said …
ALBANESE: Hang on, one tick. Hang on, no, you don’t get all the questions. You’ll have one each and then you’ll get a go.
JOURNALIST: Adani is a really important issue particularly for Central Queensland.
ALBANESE: Ok. You’ll get a go. You’ll get a go.
JOURNALIST: The PM said he wants to toughen the law enforcement aspect of Industrial Relations. Christian Porter has been appointed to both Attorney-General and Industrial Relations Minister, what do you think this is saying about the Government’s approach to workplace issues?
ALBANESE: We’ll wait and see. But Christian Porter, it is very unusual. Let me say this, for someone to be appointed Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations. But I reckon that what might have happened, is that you shouldn’t read too much into it. Because if I was Scott Morrison sitting down with the talent pool that he had, it’s not surprising that he had to double up and triple up on jobs, because what do you do with some of these people? What do you do with people who had to be hidden during the election campaign? What do you do with people who have clouds over them over a range of issues, including water buybacks, are still there – for Angus Taylor and Barnaby Joyce. There’s a range of issues that still need to be dealt with, and we will be holding the Government to account. But we’ll wait and see. We think that the industrial relations system should be characterised by fairness and balance between employers and employees. I’ve said, consistently, that business and unions have common interests. Let’s make sure that the legislative system around that recognises that, rather than be conflict based, which so much of the Government’s position has been, in terms of attacking the rights of working people.
JOURNALIST: Of the people you’ve met so far here today, what have people told you is the reason why you failed to win a seat (inaudible)?.
ALBANESE: There’s a range of reasons that have been given. There’s no doubt that from the feedback and the discussions we’ve had that dividend imputation was an issue. There’s no question about that. There’s no doubt at all that for many people, who would not have been impacted at all, they thought that there was a new tax being placed upon them. And people have seen the misleading ads which are there. So in terms of the impact, that is one of the issues that has been raised. We don’t want to pre-empt this process but we’ll continue to talk with people about that. I’ve said very clearly that I think Labor got some of our positioning wrong. I’m not saying that after the event, by the way. Go back and have a look at my Whitlam Oration or my John Button Lecture or other major speeches that I gave in 2018, where I raised those issues. One of the things that I continued to do as Shadow Minister was work very closely with the business community, because I think that was a very important issue.
JOURNALIST: Anthony Albanese, late last year, well middle of last year, you spoke about your blueprint for government, unions and also the business sector and the civil society, you needed to do more engagement. Can I ask you what about the small businesses? Is there anything in the blueprint for you to start bringing forth some new policies in to help the small business community of Australia?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. One of the things, and I spoke about this in my speech yesterday, about the small business community, are so important. Small and family businesses are the driving force behind our economy, so much of what happens. Mum and Dads, families going out there, investing, taking risks in order to create employment and create economic activities. What’s more as well is entrepreneurial activity is so important. We live in the fastest growing region of the world. And one of the things that you see in places like Singapore, where I visited, there’s a Singapore hub for start-ups where there is a whole Australian section working now. I visited there just two years ago. It’s a pity that they have to go to Singapore to feel like they have that opportunity of engaging in start-ups. There are new companies, as the economy changes there’s new opportunities and I think that Australia is falling behind in some of those opportunities.
So for example one of the things with regard to jobs here in Queensland that we committed to during the election campaign, and something that I discussed not just with the Labor Party but was supported by Bob Katter, for example, was the upgrade of the railway between Mt Isa and Townsville. Now when you look at that, what you look at is that resources sector, with minerals like Lithium, that will be so important – a necessary component of battery storage. And there is a real opportunity for us to grow manufacturing jobs in North Queensland, Far North Queensland and Central Queensland because everything that goes into those products is there.
When you speak to people in Townsville about what is going on at the port, they’ll tell you that the biggest import coming in at the moment is solar panels. Going to places like the Kidston Solar Hub that I visited during that time. Now shouldn’t we be, given they are our resources going into produce these products, manufacturing it here so that we benefit from the job creation, here? These are the sort of things that I want to talk with Queenslanders about. I don’t start from a zero point, I start from someone who has engaged, who has gone throughout this State and talked with people about these issues.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the people in Central Queensland would like for the Labor Party to take a definitive stance on Adani?
ALBANESE: I think what the people of Central Queensland want, and is reasonable, is certainty. That’s what they want. They want to know: ‘Is this project going ahead’? They want the environmental decisions to be gone through with rigour. And that is perfectly reasonable for them to want that. And I want that, too. We need to make sure that we get certainty in terms of the outcomes. I’m all for environmental rigour. We need to do that. We need to make sure that when we approve any project what we’re not doing is approving a project in one place to create jobs, but losing more jobs somewhere else, which is what happens, for example, if you cause damage to the Great Artesian Basin, it will have an impact.
So, we need to make sure that those approvals, based upon science, not based upon politics, based upon science, and I’ve been consistent about this, I’ve been consistent about this the whole way through. I’ve been consistent about this for the people who have occupied my office on a regular basis, stopping people from getting support that they need from Centrelink, or migration advice. Why that was productive is beyond me. That’s a decision for people, and people have got a right to protest. But they’ve also got an obligation to show respect for people.
I have respect for the people of Central Queensland. I’ve gone to Central Queensland and engaged, I was in Rockhampton a number of times during the campaign. I’ve been to Gladstone many times. When I’ve been there it’s been about promoting Government projects like Calliope Crossroads, like the Gladstone Port Access Road, like the Rockhampton Ring Road, like the Yeppoon projects, like Yeppen flood plain, the new bridge there. All of that I have been, either committed to and been a part of funding and creating those jobs; the Mackay Ring Road; or committing to them in the case of the Rockhampton Ring Road, that we did before the Government, and then the Government followed. There’s a range of areas in which we led during our time in Opposition under Bill Shorten. I want us to lead on some issues as well. But the time for leading isn’t before the Caucus has even met.
JOURNALIST: How are you going to balance the concerns of voters in electorates like yours where, like it or not, Adani has become a symbol of the battle for action on climate change. With the demands for certainty that you talked about in Central Queensland?
ALBANESE: Well the first thing you do is by being consistent. And I’ve been consistent about my views. Which is that you should listen to the science. I’ve been consistent about understanding the way the EPBC Act works, as well, which is that it actually ensures that there should not be political interference, that there should be decisions made by the Environment Minister based upon scientific advice from the CSIRO and other bodies.
So, being consistent, getting the outcomes right is the key. Let me say on climate change, which is the big issue, climate change is real, I think the science is in. What it doesn’t mean, is that you adopt the position of the Abbott Government, is the position of trying to pick winners and make decisions, and they end up not doing it. You end up doing nothing, that’s what’s happened. So you have a whole debate over whether there should be government subsidy of a new coal-fired power station. The truth is, that no one in the private sector is coming forward saying – putting their hand up saying: ‘I want to build a new coal-fired power station’.
There’s nothing to stop anyone putting forward an application to do that now. We actually live in a market economy. We don’t live in a state-controlled economy, and that’s important. That’s important, because not only am I not a climate sceptic, I’m not a market sceptic. So what you do is you set up the mechanisms, across the board, and you abide by them. You go through it, you ensure that as change goes through the economy, and change does happen in the economy over a period of time; that it’s made in the interests of working people. And action on climate change is not only consistent with job creation. It is an important driver of job creation. And that’s one of the things that the people in the Hughenden pub told me. That’s one of the things that all of the mayors and the communities around this great State have told me.
I’ve been consistent, I’ll continue to do so, I’ll continue to argue that what we need from the Government – and I note today that Scott Morrison has said, that he’s interested in some bipartisanship. I think that’s a good thing if that is the case that he has. But you need to have a policy. And they came up with a policy, it was called the NEG, it was supported by Scott Morrison – he’s the Leader of the Liberal Party. It was supported by Josh Frydenberg, he’s the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party. Well that, perhaps, could be a starting point for a discussion. I’ve said consistently that people have conflict fatigue. They want agreement, where agreement can be reached.
JOURNALIST: Christian Porter says the idea of an Indigenous voice to Parliament is too vague. What’s your approach going to be?
ALBANESE: Our approach will be constructive. But that’s better than saying it’s a Third Chamber of Parliament. So perhaps I’ll recognise some progress where there is some, and give some credit there. I hope that the Government is constructive about this. We are diminished as a nation when we don’t recognise the fact that we have the oldest continuous civilization on the planet right here in Australia. It enriches all of us. But we’re also all diminished by the fact that they are the most disadvantaged group in our nation. And part of that is recognition in the Constitution. Part of that as well, of course, is practical steps. How do we Close the Gap, on education, on health, on infant mortality, on drug addiction, on incarceration? How do we deal with all of these issues? Quite frankly, no government has done enough so that we can say: ‘Yes you’ve got all that done’. The truth is it requires all governments to act. And it requires the whole community as one to act. And I want to work with the Government to bring this debate forward. And on that note, I thank you very much.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask Susan Lamb some questions? Less than a year ago your constituents re-elected you at a by-election. They turned against you on Saturday, why do you think that was?
LAMB: Look, we’ve got a lot a lot to learn. We have to do a lot of analysis. We need to ask a lot of questions. It’s clear that some of the policies weren’t favourable. I hear, I understand that. Now is the time, though, for us to rebuild. Now is the time for us to reassess, to listen to people about what they were. But I have to also add, too, it’s not helpful when people were confronted at polling booths with falsehoods – a car tax, a housing tax. People were confronted with these falsehoods. So that wasn’t helpful at all. But I appreciate and I understand and I accept the decision that people have made. And I look forward to rebuilding and moving on.
ALBANESE: Thank you.