SUBJECTS: Shadow Ministry; Medevac Bill.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION ELECT: Good morning. This will be the first of a number of media opportunities today so I will keep it short. Recently, Don Farrell, the Deputy Senate Leader came to my office and we had a discussion. He indicated to me that he was prepared, even though he had substantial support of Caucus colleagues, he was prepared to step aside as Labor’s Deputy Leader in the Senate on the basis that he understood that I had made it clear that my view was there needed to be gender balance in Labor’s leadership team. Don Farrell is well-liked by his colleagues. He is respected by me and by all of our team. That respect goes up even more today. And I thank Don Farrell for putting aside his own personal interests for the interests of our great party, as he has always done. He will remain a valued member of my Shadow Cabinet and he will have a senior role and I will rely very much on Don Farrell’s advice on a day-to-day basis, because I think he is someone who is very much in touch with average Australians and, in particular, plays an important role as a senator from South Australia. And he will be an important part of the Senate Leadership Team, but, in particular, he will be close to me. I want to work with Don and I thank him for the decision that he has made today. What that means is that the Caucus when it meets will be in a position to ensure that we have two men and two women in leadership positions. I think that is important as we go forward.
Can I also thank Ed Husic. Ed Husic is one of my best mates in this place. He has taken a decision voluntarily without anyone talking to him. He had a look at what was going on and made a decision to step back in the short-term from the shadow ministry. He will play an important role to play in any party that I’m the leader of and, if I am successful in government, I will want Ed Husic at the most senior levels of our party. Ed is a great advocate for Western Sydney. He’s a great advocate, in particular, about new ideas and one of the things that he has said is that he wants to get out there and explore the full gamut of policy. So when he comes back onto the front bench, which I have no doubt he will, he will be stronger for it, he will be more effective and I thank him for his ongoing contribution to the Labor cause.
I want to also pay tribute to Andrew Leigh, who has served as a Shadow Minister for the last two terms. Andrew, I have known since he was at school since I doorknocked him as a candidate in young Labor way back in the 1980s when he was a member of Bradfield Berowra Young Labor Association. So he’s a good friend. He is going to continue to have an important role to play and I have indicated and asked him to serve as the Deputy Chair of the Economics Committee. That is a critical role in this Parliament. That is the body that grills the Reserve Bank Governor. That is the body that oversees, on behalf of the Parliament, economic policy. I continue to say to him, as to all of my Caucus colleagues, that my door will be open.
We will have a meeting in a short period of time at 12 o’clock. I am very confident about the team that we will put together at 12 o’clock. That it will be, not just competitive, but far superior to those opposite, given in particular the drain on talent that has occurred with the Coalition. I mean, you’ve had people like Julie Bishop, Christopher Pyne, let alone Malcolm Turnbull, leave the Coalition party room in recent times due to their own internal wars that have gone on again on, on an ongoing basis, frankly, since they were elected in 2013. And then, for reasons beyond my comprehension, the Prime Minister has seen fit to also see Arthur Sinodinos, who, in my view, is one of the most talented people in this place, in this building, I wish Arthur well, but it is a big call to say that you don’t need him by your side and if it was me, you certainly wouldn’t have had that occur. And also, Mitch Fifield has been, I think, he is a decent person. I also wish him well, but he’s also a lack of talent. When you have got to resort to putting Stuart Robert in the Cabinet then you are in real trouble.
JOURNALIST: Mr Anthony Albanese, Don Farrell doesn’t lose many factional arm wrestles so that’s an interesting example of your ability to assert yourself to get what you want but if Ed Husic is such a talent and he is someone you will have on your frontbench in government, why don’t you assert your authority now and insist that he is on your frontbench in opposition or is that a battle that you can win?
ALBANESE: Let me say this, Don Farrell, made the decision himself. I make that point. I make the point also that Ed Husic made the decision himself without …
JOURNALIST: After your direction, you made it clear you had an outcome you wanted to see …
ALBANESE: Mark is first. We are going to do orderly press conferences when I am giving press conferences and everyone will get a fair crack. Ed Husic made the decision himself. He’s been a Shadow Minister. I merely indicate that what happens over a period of time, and you all know this, you are all professionals, is that changes occur from time to time. I think that will occur during this term. I merely indicate that if I was standing in a different courtyard appointing a different team, then Ed Husic, the difference between being a shadow minister and not being – I served in this place for two terms before I got to be a Shadow Minister. I am now the Leader of the Labor Party. No need to get too upset about everyone being in specific spots because the entire Caucus plays a role, and those people who were around when I wasn’t a Shadow Minister, might go back and have a look at the impact that I had. Moving private member’s bills, making a difference in this Parliament, contributing in the Caucus and I think laying the ground work for where I am today. David?
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, does the system you have at the moment for appointing the front bench, is the best system or would you rather go back to the rules Kevin Rudd had giving the Leader greater authority? Can you say the best talent in Labor is going to be on your frontbench?
ALBANESE: Look, the Caucus makes these decisions and the Caucus is supreme, and I am the Leader of the Labor Party, but it is not a one-person show. And that’s the system that we have and it is one that I respect…
JOURNALIST: Is it the best system?
ALBANESE: …caucus overwhelmingly. Well, you could – we have an academic analysis about it…
JOURNALIST: What’s your analysis?
ALBANESE: Well, I’ve had different positions over different times because I think there is pluses and minuses. Quite clearly, one of the concerns that was there, and when we had the Leader selecting all of the caucus – all of the frontbench, a view that was put very strongly within the caucus was that the caucus needed to have sovereignty and what that did was stop some of the gap that was there in relationships between the leadership of the party and the caucus of the party. I think our system is pretty good. Is it perfect? No system is perfect. I don’t argue that that is the case. But, I do argue that on the big calls, on the big calls that really matter, that really matter, which is the leadership group in the Labor Party, I have made it clear what my position is, the caucus has respected that and we have achieved, I think, a very good outcome. And I thank them for it.
The thing about the Labor Party is that, yes, individuals have ambition, but they also have, every single caucus member, has in mind the overall benefit of the team. We have so much talent. And therefore, everyone can’t always achieve the position to which they think they are worthy of. I am not saying they are not. I wish we could have a front bench that was much, much bigger, but one of the things that I have also done – and bear this in mine – is that I have been disciplined. One of the things I’ve said very early on is I would not have more Shadow Cabinet Ministers than they had in the Cabinet. I wouldn’t have more Shadow Assistant Ministers. I wouldn’t do what occurred, frankly, something that I don’t think was the right thing to do. At one stage we had many more people on our frontbench than they had on theirs. Now, I could have done that and that gives everyone a prize. I haven’t done that. I did no deals to achieve the leadership of the Labor Party. I have made my views very clear. I will continue to do that and colleagues have been very respectful.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, on what other sort of issues do you plan to make further captain as calls or captain picks like this?
ALBANESE: I don’t regard this as a captain’s call at all. What I regard this is, making clear my views of what is required in order for us to move forward. And, I have done this respectfully. No-one has been told what to do. I have made it clear what my position is. People have been very respectful and people have made personal sacrifices for themselves in the interests of the Labor Party and I thank them for it.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese are you anticipating having policy discussions during caucus today? And would one of those be Labor’s position on the Medivac legislation?
ALBANESE: Sorry? That was passed, last year.
JOURNALIST: Sure, but the Government wants to repeal it and close down Christmas Island.
ALBANESE: We will wait and see. This government…
JOURNALIST: So no policy discussions today?
JOURNALIST: Will you talk about it the legislation today?
ALBANESE: Well there is no legislation before the caucus. Look, we are going to – I make this point – I have said it before – we are going to hasten slowly. We don’t have Parliament sitting. We don’t have any legislation. I will take my time to consult with colleagues, as I have this week, about what portfolio allocations will occur. You can all speculate based upon nothing because there have been no decisions made about portfolio allocations up to this point.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, we’ve seen a boat of asylum seekers arrived, do you think the Medivac legislation has provided an incentive for people to come to Australia by boat?
JOURNALIST: Is Mr Husic, you talk about wanting to get him back into the Ministry, your frontbench, as soon as possible. Is he on a promise he will get the first vacancy?
ALBANESE: No, no he isn’t. No he isn’t and he hasn’t asked for anything. He hasn’t asked me anything – be very clear about what happened yesterday, was that Ed Husic made a statement, I think he did it on Facebook, saying that he would step back. That is when I found out.
JOURNALIST: You say that you have got more talent on your front bench than the government’s, there’s is largely…
ALBANESE: What do you reckon?
JOURNALIST: There’s is largely unchanged in the key portfolios and you can hardly say you have got fresh blood in yours. So what makes you think…
ALBANESE: You haven’t seen it yet.
JOURNALIST: We know roughly…
ALBANESE: Well you haven’t seen it yet.
JOURNALIST: We know roughly who is in and who is out.
ALBANESE: Wait til you see it. Well, you think you know. You think you know. You haven’t seen it yet. Wait until 12:00. The Caucus will meet and then there will be another press conference. Guess what? There will be an opportunity.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) Party of reconciliation if Patrick Dodson won’t get a place on your frontbench?
ALBANESE: Patrick Dodson, my understanding is did not put himself forward as a candidate for the frontbench.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese if the Medivac Bill didn’t contribute to the first boat arrival in five years, what did? Why did it show up suddenly?
ALBANESE: Well, let me make a couple of points and I’ll conclude with this. There have been 10 boats come, as I read it, from Sri Lanka on this Government’s watch – 10 – not one. There was an event in Easter, 250 people died in a terrorist attack. I don’t know, I haven’t had the opportunity of a security briefing on this. I am actually standing here, as not yet the Leader of the Labor Party. I have a phone call in, by the way, to Scott Morrison’s office this morning. I think it is the respectful thing to do for me to have a discussion with the Prime Minister this afternoon. I have taken that initiative. That is the way that I’ll – I’ll have disagreements with Scott Morrison. I’ll have big ones. But I respect the office of Prime Minister. That is the respectful thing to do and that is why I did it. Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.