SUBJECTS: Prime Minister making things up; Climate change; Prime Minister not giving a straight answer to a simple question; Big Stick; Drought; Government misleading on dam funding; Trade Agreements; China; Emission targets; Labor policy process; Australians in Syria.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning. Yesterday in Parliament we raised a number of questions towards the Prime Minister. Seeking simple answers to what were very straightforward questions. What we see is increasingly a pattern whereby the Prime Minister is loose with the truth. Scott Morrison tells half the story not the whole story. We’ve seen again an example of that with regard to dams, whereby after getting the big front page splash on the weekend, what we find out indeed, is that half of that money is loans. And in one case, it is actually funding that was given three years ago but nothing has happened in that three years.
It’s a bit like the figures that are used on infrastructure, are big figures, but when you look at the details some of the projects don’t begin until 2026-27.
When people in electorates got direct mail letters during the campaign, saying they were going to fix Linkfield road in the northern suburbs of Brisbane; they probably didn’t think that they were talking about four terms after the commitment was made, and in that case it was 2018.
When it comes to drought the Government still doesn’t have a drought strategy. This is a Government that sets up reviews and then doesn’t respond to the reviews before it sets up another one. Whether it’s drought; whether it’s on the economy; whether it be of course on the Banking Royal Commission; whereby we’ve had another inquiry announced by the ACCC. But they haven’t yet legislated for the recommendations of the Banking Royal Commission. Whether it be the establishment of a National Integrity Commission, something that they’ve said they would do, but where’s the legislation? They’re too interested in simply playing day-to-day 24-hour politics.
We have a Prime Minister who goes to the United Nations and says that our emissions are going down, when we know they’re going up. When we know that the projections from the Government are that they will go up every year until 2030. We have a Prime Minister who says that there is ‘negative globalism’ coming from institutions, and yet all of these institutions are ones that Australia has voluntarily signed up for. There’s been bipartisan commitments – as a middle ranking power Australia has to participate in multilateral institutions – yesterday he couldn’t really name which institutions it is that are impinging on our national sovereignty.
It’s all rhetoric, when it comes to substance he gets found out that he is, indeed, loose with the truth. Whether it be about drought; whether it be about the economy; whereby the debt of course has doubled on this Government’s watch. Household debt is the highest it’s ever been. When it comes to productivity; it’s gone backwards four quarters in a row; when it comes to growth the OECD has said, has downgraded Australia’s growth projections by more than it’s downgraded the UK which is going through Brexit. When it comes to interest rates we are at 0.75 per cent, when they were at 3 per cent the Coalition was saying that was “emergency levels.” That’s a sign of no confidence in this Government’s capacity to stimulate the economy.
We will continue to hold the Government to account in Question Time. It’s important that the Prime Minister can’t just walk away from questions. We asked a simple question that’s about his evasion, nothing else. About his evasion of whether he sought to have Brian Houston invited to the White House. How is it that the Prime Minister thinks he can get away with saying: ‘oh that’s just a report in the newspaper’. The question is: is it true or not? The question is: why is this Prime Minister, when he’s asked questions, responding with: ‘oh that’s just in the bubble’, or other prevarications which are all designed to avoid scrutiny. Our job as the Opposition is to hold the Government to account and we’ll continue to do just that.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, the IMF has said that the Government cannot keep its emissions reductions targets. Why would you not follow what Joel Fitzgibbon has recommended, accept the 28 per cent target and make it all about the fact they’re not reducing emissions?
ALBANESE: We will decide our targets, and our policy and we’ll do it in accordance with the science.
JOURNALIST: But isn’t the most important thing that emissions are actually coming down? You guys went to the election with a 45 per cent target and it’s achieving nothing.
ALBANESE: Well, we’re not the Government. Newsflash, we’re not the Government, they are.
JOURNALIST: You’ve still got to have policies to get into Government.
ALBANESE: We will have our policies and they’ll be based upon the science.
JOURNALIST: Before the election, the ‘Big Stick’ laws, Labor said they were a bad law that would hamper investment in the energy sector what’s changed between before the election and now?
ALBANESE: The legislation.
JOURNALIST: What are the concessions that most sort of appease you?
ALBANESE: They are different laws. So, for example, and an important one and one we will continue to insist on; is further changes with regard to ruling out privatisation.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned the drought, how is the Prime Minister being loose with the truth with the drought?
ALBANESE: With the drought, well, let me count the ways. There’s a Drought Coordinators Report that we haven’t seen yet. We have not seen. The Minister – Mr Littleproud went on Insiders just about nine days ago and said he was waiting for the NFF to submit their policy before they could determine that they had a drought strategy. The Prime Minister stood up at press conferences and said that they were providing a $1 billion for drought funding on a 50/50 basis. Have a look at the Government ‘s talking points. The Government talking points, helpfully distributed to you fine people yesterday, said in them that it was 50/50 funding. We find out today reported very well in the Daily Telegraph, that that funding is 25 per cent and of that 25 per cent; some of it was money that was committed three years ago. Not only are they being loose with the truth to the public and to the Parliament. They’re being loose with the truth to their own backbench and frontbench in the talking points they distribute. They can’t even be fair dinkum to themselves.
JOURNALIST: In Caucus you mentioned that there were still some issues for the Party to work through, when it came to the Free Trade Agreements that you’ll be asked to consider. Can you tell us what those issues are and what concerns you have?
ALBANESE: We haven’t seen the legislation.
JOURNALIST: But you’re obviously concerned about …
ALBANESE: We haven’t seen the legislation.
JOURNALIST: I’m not asking about the legislation; the trade agreements that have been negotiated you’re obviously concerned about some issues to do with those, what are those issues?
ALBANESE: The Parliament doesn’t get to vote on the trade agreements. The way that trade agreements work, is that they’re decisions of the executive. So that vote is held in the Cabinet not in the Parliament. What then occurs, is that there’s enabling legislation. We haven’t seen that.
Hang on, one at a time, I’m giving everyone a go.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, what do you say to your MPs who say Labor cannot support the Indonesia free trade deal, because of what you introduced into your national platform last year on ISDS and other provisions that are actually contained in this enabling legislation?
ALBANESE: Have you seen the legislation?
JOURNALIST: But what do you say about concerns …
ALBANESE: If you’ve seen the legislation, I’d be happy to get a copy of it. And then we can take it through our party processes.
JOURNALIST: But to the point of the question which is the fact those ISDS clauses and market access are in the free trade agreement, so they will be negotiated, which are at odds with the national platform.
ALBANESE: Trade agreements are not voted on in the Parliament.
JOURNALIST: You’re criticising Morrison for not giving us a straight answer to a simple question, this a simple question …
ALBANESE: That’s a straight answer, that’s a simple question.
JOURNALIST: How can you support free trade agreements that are at odds with the Party’s national platform which is obviously of concern to some of your MPs?
ALBANESE: The Parliament does not get to vote on free trade agreements.
JOURNALIST: I understand that, but Parliament votes on the enabling legislation. The enabling legislation…
ALBANESE: The enabling legislation is not the agreements. When we see the enabling legislation we will be able to make the decision.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the free trade agreements are in the national interest? Are the agreements in the national interest?
ALBANESE: Look, free and fair trade is in the national interest. Labor is not in government. And therefore, the agreements went through a process which is a vote in the Cabinet. That is the processes that take place. Agreements, including trade agreements, are the province of the Executive. That is the system that we have. The only legislation that will go before the Parliament is issues like tariff changes that might be made, customs arrangements. And when we see the legislation we will be able to make a decision.
JOURNALIST: Back on the Big Stick, Mr Albanese, correct me if I’m wrong, but from memory you did not have as your sole dispute with the Government, this issue of privatisation. So could you properly explain your sudden capitulation?
ALBANESE: Well, can you explain your sudden burst of rhetoric, compared with the facts? The fact is..
ALBANESE: No, it’s not. No, it’s not. This is very different legislation.
JOURNALIST: How is it different?
ALBANESE: Well, if you’d listen rather than keep asking questions, you’ll get it. I’m happy to stay here. The fact is that the privatisation issue was the major issue that was a sticking point. There were others as well and they’ve been worked through. And there are other amendments that we will insist on in terms of the legislation that’s there, including there are issues like sunset clauses and other issues in the legislation. But there are very different scrutinies for example, in terms of the legislation won’t allow, whereas the previous legislation would allow, Angus Taylor to intervene as a minister and make decisions. The decision making processes in the new legislation have been changed. They’ve been changed in accordance with what Labor was saying needed to be changed and the weaknesses, that were there in the legislation. They haven’t got it right yet. And we’ll be putting forward other arguments about that and insisting that they be included, including one of the issues that remains is an issue of partial privatisation. We will be insisting that those changes be made as well.
JOURNALIST: But you’re going to roll over anyway, aren’t you?
ALBANESE: We will be insisting. Follow Parliament, see how you go. What happens is, we will be insisting on our amendments. That means something very specific in terms of the processes.
JOURNALIST: Will it reduce power prices, the Big Stick?
ALBANESE: Well, look this isn’t our legislation. It’s not up to me.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] support it?
ALBANESE: Yes, we are. Yes, we are. And one of the reasons why we’re insisting on a sunset clause is so that we can hold the government to account for what they say it will do. I note significantly that the Business Council of Australia, that were previously resisting this legislation, rolled over and said that they were happy with the legislation earlier on and they expected it to pass.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, what should Australians make of the Chinese Government’s actions and are you concerned about Australia’s trading relationship if China was to react [inaudible]?
JOURNALIST: What should Australians make of the Chinese Government’s actions and do you fear that Australia…
ALBANESE: Sorry, that’s a very broad question. Sorry, the Chinese Government’s actions.
JOURNALIST: The Chinese Government’s actions in the South China Sea, in the Pacific region, it’s influence within the Asia Pacific region. And do you fear that drought affected farmers could be worse affected if it’s China that decides to retaliate to the Australian Government?
ALBANESE: Right, look, sorry that’s a very broad question, but I’ll try to address it. Look, I have said repeatedly that it is in Australia’s national interest, for there to be less conflict between the United States and China, in terms of trade. That Australia in particular, because China is our most important trading partner, could be adversely affected by essentially, a trade conflict. And particularly what the UN Secretary General warned about recently, of the potential for breaking down into two trade blocks effectively, would have an adverse effect on Australia. That’s one of the reasons why Australia needs to be very clear about our statements. That’s why I was critical of the Prime Minister after he attended the Ohio campaign rally for the re-election of President Trump, to give his speech with a loud hailer to China, with regard to China’s status. These things are best dealt with diplomatically. At the moment I think the Government, it’s fair to say, in terms of the relationship with China, has been much better in the past. I’m not sure that it’s been worse for a long period of time.
Phil Coorey was next.
JOURNALIST: No, I didn’t have one.
ALBANESE: You were refereeing over there.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, do you agree…
ALBANESE: Hang on one tick, I did have an order and Katharine was next. I reward good order here.
JOURNALIST: I’ll be next then.
ALBANESE: You’ll be way down the list.
JOURNALIST: Joel Fitzgibbon was criticised universally in the left caucus meeting last night and the majority in his own caucus, in the right caucus, for proposing that Labor agreed with the Government’s emissions reduction target. What is your own view about that? Are you prepared yourself to criticise Joel Fitzgibbon for that argument? And also, if I may, you say Labor’s next emissions reduction target will be consistent with the science. What does that mean?
ALBANESE: I don’t attend faction meetings. So, in spite of the fact that I read on the front page of the paper the other day that I, that I do, I don’t. Once I became leader, I removed myself from all of that activity. I’ve said very clearly what my view is, in the positive, which is we should respond to the science, that we need to avoid dangerous climate change, that we need to ensure that we act. And one of the things that I want to do though, is to not let the Government off the hook and say, what Labor should do in three years time. What we can’t afford to do is to continue the drift, which is there. Emissions are going up now. Obviously, the first chance that we have to be elected to office will be after the next election, sometime between October 2021 and March 2022, is when I expect it to be. That’s the window. So at that point in time, from that base, it will be much worse if the Government doesn’t actually have an energy policy, if they continue to not have a policy on climate change. And if they continue to be loose with the truth and say that something that’s going up is actually going down, in terms of our emissions. So we will develop a comprehensive policy on climate change. I have a strong record, I’m the person who wrote the policy that delivered the renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020. At the time that was adopted, it was two. I’ve seen reports saying that the Government supported the renewable energy target. Nothing could be further from the truth. When we adopted that when…
ALBANESE: I’m putting my position. I’m putting my position, is what I do.
ALBANESE: What I do…
JOURNALIST: Following what he’s saying. Do you rule out, will Labor…
ALBANESE: You should pay attention, pay attention and hear what I’m saying, because it’s pretty clear. So if people want to write whatever they write, regardless of – well, I can’t help you.
JOURNALIST: Is that a yes or a no?
ALBANESE: Some people, if you can’t understand what I’m saying then: we have very clearly a strong position on climate change. We will respond to the science on climate change.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, you’ve said there’s no hurry for Labor to put forward its policies in various areas, but do you have in your mind any sort of specific timetable, general timetable by which major policies should be released, especially the climate change policy?
ALBANESE: Yes, I do, Michelle. We will start off the process of vision statements that will outline the principles of where Labor is going on policies. We’ll begin on October 29. That will be held in Perth, that’s about jobs and the future of work. The second one will be on the economy. It will be in Brisbane. The third one will be on range of issues, including issues of concern to you: media freedom and other issues relating to democracy and constitutional change, that will be held on December 7th in Sydney. In the meantime, we will have received our review that’s being undertaken by Craig Emerson and Jay Weatherill. We will outline a range of statements between now and the budget next year, which will be held in May. The fact is, with the economic uncertainty that’s there, we’ve had three interest rate decreases since the election. The economy is really struggling. And the fact is that the Government is complacent. The Government is complacent about economic policy, they have no plan. They have no plan on energy. They have no plan on climate change. They have no plan for dealing with issues like Newstart. They have no plan for engaging with the world, other than vague statements about negative globalism. The fact is that this Government is in drift. We will outline our principles going forward. We will have the review. We will have our policies begun to be outlined. We’ve already outlined some, by the way, including the increase in Newstart and a range of other policies that we have said that we support. We will continue to do that. On climate change and on issues that require you to know what your starting point is, that’s the point. We adopted our policy in 2015, based upon the review that was done by the Climate Change Authority based upon where we were in 2015 heading forward. We need to know where we’re at. It is inconceivable to me that you fine people will allow the Government to get away with not having an energy policy and having emissions going up year by year, between now and 2022. If that’s the case, obviously, the challenge for us will be more difficult, but we’ll deal with it based upon the facts, based upon where we are at that point in time. That’s a sensible thing to do. We will also be establishing in terms of our party organisational processes, a range of processes leading to an ALP National Conference that will be held in December of next year. That will enable us to have both the parliamentary and organisational wings aligned.
JOURNALIST: Are you saying that the detail of the climate policy will be at the back end of your policy announcements?
ALBANESE: No, in terms of the principles, we will be, I’ve just outlined them, I think it’s pretty clear that you act on the science and you base it upon the economics going forward of how we secure. My view is that there’s no conflict between good policy on the environment and good policy on the economy. My view, is that acting on climate change actually creates jobs. Have a look at the jobs that are being created in the renewable energy sector and the economic stimulus that’s been created through that. That was created because of the LRET policy. One more, because she hasn’t had one yet.
JOURNALIST: What is your personal view about the Australian women that remain in [inaudible] camps in Syria. Peter Dutton said (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: Well, she hasn’t said that at all.
JOURNALIST: Can I get your personal view?
ALBANESE: Well, Kristina Keneally has not said that. Have a look at the comments which she has made in extensive media interviews, including on Insiders on Sunday. And I certainly agree with her comments, which are that there are risks with leaving these people there, there are also risks with bringing them back. One of the reasons why we have legislation, that Labor has supported, regarding issues like detention, surveillance, and those issues on people who return, which Labor has supported, is to ensure that the community can stay safe. She also went on to say, as she has said consistently, that only the Government has received those national security briefings about individuals concerned. The Government’s first job is to keep people safe, that’s my view. I’m very sympathetic with children who didn’t make the decision. Children due to the accident of their birth are in difficult circumstances, not due to any decision that they made. I’m far less sympathetic with people regardless of their gender, who made decisions themselves. Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.