ANTHONY ALBANESE: Can I thank Joan and the other life members here very much, and those who have signed the support letter for my candidacy for the Labor Party leadership.
It is very humbling to be in the position whereby you have people who have made a contribution to the Labor Party and to the labour movement – not for a day, not for a week or a month or a year, or even a decade, but for decades – to be putting themselves in a position of publicly supporting my candidacy.
I had to think very carefully before I put myself forward. I’m not someone who went into Parliament to become the Labor Leader. I went into Parliament to be part of the Labor team.
I now believe that I am in a position to be the best candidate to offer vision, unity and strength that we need to take us forward, to take on Tony Abbott, and to return to Government at the very next election.
I think that politics is going to enter an exciting phase. What would normally happen just three weeks after an election defeat would be the Labor Party would be commiserating with ourselves on the loss. We wouldn’t be talking about the future agenda of Labor.
What has happened with this democratic process is that the Labor Party is now more energetic, more united, stronger going forward than anyone could possibly have envisaged before this process began.
Forty-four thousand ALP members are getting a vote. They are getting a vote in the privacy of their homes, it’s up to them to determine whether they declare who they are voting for or not.
So they are making their own decisions, they are putting that forward, they are engaged.
I’ll speak to more 150 people tonight here in Hobart. Last night I spoke to more than 150 in Wollongong, and in the past couple of weeks I have spoken to over 3,000 ALP members who have attended forums that have been put on to promote my candidacy and for me to advocate for support for the Labor leadership. That is quite extraordinary.
What also is happening is that along with the life members being excited about the first time being given a say in this, there are new people joining. Thousands of them; not hundreds, but thousands. More than 2,000 new members have joined the Australian Labor Party as a result of Labor saying to them ‘we respect you, we want your opinion, we want you to have a real say in the future direction of the Labor Party – not just to stuff letterboxes or hand out how to votes on polling day, as important as that role is’.
So this is an exciting time for Labor. I support further democratisation. We need to give the membership a direct say in who delegates are to ALP national conference for example. We need to take this renewal forward in a positive way.
I’m someone who first advocated direct election in a position before the ALP centenary conference in 1991. This has been very much a long term commitment that I have had to Labor Party reform, and if I’m the leader I’ll certainly be pursuing it vigorously because I’ve seen firsthand the new energy that is there in the Labor Party.
I must say in terms of policy vision, I would say one thing; there’s a lot of talk from time to time about polls and whether people should take notice of them. My vision is a Labor Party that doesn’t respond to polls, and is one that shapes them. It’s one that gets out there and argues our case and shapes public opinion. Not one that is passive and just responds to polls, and therefore finds ourselves in a position of continually trying to play catch up politics.
I want a Labor Opposition that argues in favour of Labor’s positive legacy – on the Murray Darling Basin, on taking action on climate change, on the Better Schools plan, on Disability Care Australia, on our economic performance that has left the Australian economy in such a strong state. On all of those issues I will defend our legacy.
But I also want a Labor Opposition that develops the new big ideas. What is the next National Broadband Network?
We need to be arguing our case on those. Here in Tasmania as well we are already seeing with the Coalition Government 85,000 homes potentially missing out on the National Broadband Network.
Prior to the election you had Tasmanian senators all saying ‘oh don’t worry, we’ll continue the full roll out of the NBN’. I stood here in this very spot prior to the election and warned of the consequences of the election of the Coalition. And what we are seeing is Malcolm Turnbull walking away from those commitments.
What we’re seeing also is projects such as the Midland Highway and other infrastructure projects – the rail revitalisation plan – being threatened. What we’re seeing is the support for the Tasmanian freight plan being undermined as well, and hence exporters are missing out due to a failure of the incoming government to commit to that. All they are committing to is a Productivity Commission review. Well there have already been a couple; we know they are against it, so we know what that means as well.
So this is a very serious position. What I want is to be in a position as Labor Leader to be a strong advocate, to unite our Party, and to be able to move forward on those issues here in Tasmania, but right around the country.
QUESTION: Do you think that you will win?
ALBANESE: Well that’s a matter for the membership. The great thing about giving 44,000 people a vote in the privacy of their homes is that no one knows. No one knows.
People will vote and that will be an exercise in democracy in a major political party like we have never seen before. So it’s a very positive exercise in terms of the membership.
I’m heading out and talking to as many people as I can. I’ve been very humbled by the support that I have received up to this point; the people who have turned up to forums, the people who have indicated their support.
None better than the support I am getting today from these fantastic life members. My mum was a life member of the Labor Party and she was a rank and file member. She never held a single position in her life – wasn’t even vice president, didn’t go as a delegate to anywhere – she just went along, handed out how to votes, participated in her local community.
Life members should be honoured in the Labor Party. I’m certainly honoured by the support I am getting today.
QUESTION: Tanya Plibersek has said that she is willing to stand as Bill Shorten’s deputy. What does that mean for you in terms of votes, and does it mean you are (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: That’s actually not what she said, so you might want to –
QUESTION: Have you had a chat with her though?
ALBANESE: You read the article, it was in your paper I think. So you can quote her accurately and then I’ll comment on it.
What we’re doing is having a ballot for the leadership of the Australian Labor Party. The matter of the deputy leadership – I’m the current Deputy Leader of the Labor Party. I’m the Deputy Leader of the Party. That position will be determined by the caucus. It isn’t the subject of this process.
QUESTION: But will it cost you votes?
ALBANESE: Will what cost me votes?
QUESTION: The fact that the left can vote for Bill and still have a very prominent –
ALBANESE: Well I think people in the Labor Party are sophisticated enough to see through political strategies. I think they are very sophisticated about that.
They understand that – and I say this as the Deputy Leader – as important as that job is, the job that is much more important than the Deputy Leader is who the Leader of the Labor Party is.
And in terms of that process I am putting myself forward. It’s up to whoever wants to put themselves forward as Deputy Leader to do so. I’m the current Deputy Leader, but if anyone wants to put themselves forward, they are certainly entitled to do so.
Tanya Plibersek is someone who is a quality person, she is a friend of mine and she is supporting my candidacy for the leadership of the Labor Party and she has made that position very clear.
It’s also my view that Bill Shorten is a very good candidate for the Leader of the Labor Party. As much as it is frustrating for some people in the media that there is not an arm wrestle going on, what we are seeing here is the Labor Party at our best.
One of the lessons that hopefully everyone has learnt from recent years is that the public as well as the membership are tired of conflict between personalities within the Labor Party.
What you can have is a democratic process between two candidates – myself and Bill – undertaken with respect and the outcome respected.
I think Bill would make a very good Leader of the Labor Party. If he is successful I will be loyal to him.
QUESTION: Are you promising anything different for Tasmania than Bill Shorten, and will you commit to a Tasmanian in Cabinet if elected?
ALBANESE: I absolutely will commit to a Tasmanian in the Shadow Cabinet. We lost the election.
Can I say this, when I became Deputy Prime Minister there was a Tasmanian put in the Cabinet. She is here today, Julie Collins, and she is an outstanding representative of Tasmania and got there on merit. Not because she is Tasmanian, not because she is a woman – they’re bonuses – she got there on merit.
And I couldn’t envisage any Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet that I led that wouldn’t have Julie Collins in a prominent position, as well as consideration of other very good Tasmanian representatives of whom there are very many, not just Julie.
QUESTION: Is the process really that refreshing when you have got the left bombarding their friends telling them to vote for you and the right doing the same for Bill Shorten? It’s all pretty predictable, isn’t it?
ALBANESE: Well you might think that that’s the case. You weren’t at the barbecue held at Jack Camp’s house on Tuesday night – Jack Camp, a former president of the Queensland branch of the Labor Party, one of the leading lights of the old guard.
Arch Bevis launched my campaign in Queensland. People like Craig Emerson – last time I looked not a member of the left, out there campaigning very hard for my candidacy.
And at the rank and file level I assure you there are people from across the spectrum who are just making up their own mind about these issues.
I’ve been in the Labor Party a long time. I came as a youth delegate, I was the Young Labor delegate to the 1986 national conference here in this great city of Hobart. I’ve been a delegate to every single ALP national conference since, and as I’ve spoken to people around the country, the fact that there are so many people who I’ve met who I’ve campaigned with, who I have worked with as Local Government Minister or I’ve worked with in Opposition as Shadow Environment Minister, or Shadow Aged Care, or Shadow Housing Minister or Indigenous Affairs, or arts; across the spectrum I’ve met many people in the Labor Party. I’ve attended over a long period of time various state and territory ALP conferences and there is a whole range of people who are supporting my candidacy in this ballot.
I was in Wollongong last night, the Australian Workers’ union Port Kembla branch are very strongly supporting my candidacy for the Labor leadership.
So in terms of putting people into a box, we’re not seeing that.
I think it is really important that people are able to vote however they see it. I certainly haven’t asked anyone to be bound in terms of any caucus processes or anything else in Canberra, or in the rank and file ballot.
I’m putting myself forward, not as a factional candidate; I’m putting myself forward as a candidate for the Australian Labor Party. That’s the way I have conducted myself I must say in the caucus over a considerable period of time.
You can’t be Leader of the House in a minority parliament particularly if you are looking after just your friends. What you have to do is look after everyone in the Labor Party, everyone on the cross benches, and some on the other side as well. And I did that pretty successfully during the last parliament.
QUESTION: You are very passionate about the NBN. Do you have any thoughts on the board that Malcolm Turnbull has put in?
ALBANESE: Well Malcolm Turnbull has walked away from commitments that he said. Before the election a day didn’t go past where he didn’t say ‘what we need is someone who knows about construction’. Well he has got rid of a board and a number of the board members have made comments about why would you put yourself forward if you were someone like Brad Orgill, a significant person with private sector experience to partake a government board without even meeting that board as day one he just got rid of them.
There is only one new appointment to this three person board, and that’s Ziggy Switkowski. Ziggy does not have construction experience with Telstra or with Optus, so Mr Turnbull has failed his own test.
The problem for Mr Turnbull is that he has gone on about the cost of the NBN. The cost to government of our NBN plan is $30.5 billion. The cost of his is $29.6 billion to government. It might have been $29.5. There is a three per cent differential in government equity.
The problem is, what is already clear is that the fibre to the fridge option, which is what he wants to do – fibre to this big box at the end of streets and then the old copper wire coming out. The problem is, the cost of that will be even more because of the cost of maintenance, the cost of how you deal with purchasing and deal with the copper.
The issue of handing back essentially the monopoly back to a privately owned company in Telstra, because Telstra own the copper that is there, the cost of the proposal will end up being more than doing it properly; doing it once, doing it right and doing it with fibre.
So I think this is a big issue for Mr Turnbull. It would be nice if he could have gone a week sticking to the rhetoric that he has prior to the election.
QUESTION: Given what you have said about factions today, are you saying that it is possible that Tanya Plibersek could be deputy under you?
ALBANESE: I’m saying that’s a matter for the caucus. And one of the things that I haven’t done in this process – I announced I was running for the leadership to the caucus. I treated the caucus with respect. I intend to continue to treat the caucus with respect, rather than come up with names in order to try and secure a political advantage.
QUESTION: So you are saying that Bill Shorten is not treating caucus with respect?
ALBANESE: I’m saying that I intend, this is a decision for the caucus, it is not a matter of a leader appointing a deputy.
What I did when I stood as deputy leader in a ballot against Simon Crean, was put myself forward. I was not part of a ticket.
I received in that ballot the support of Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Julie Collins, Stephen Conroy, Penny Wong, Craig Emerson, Greg Combet, Tanya Plibersek, Jenny Macklin; all of those people supported me.
Now you might have noticed that at that time not everyone in that group was all on the same page over a range of issues. I think the fact that I was able to bring that support to the position indicates I think my ability and capacity to work with people in a straightforward way over a long period of time.
It’s a matter for the caucus, not a matter for me to say ‘yes I want a woman’ or ‘yes I want this person or that person’. It will be up to the caucus to determine and that is the appropriate way that the caucus has determined will operate.
QUESTION: You said you’re expecting 150 people at your address this afternoon, what are the Tasmanian specific issues that you will be talking about?
ALBANESE: I’ll be talking about the needs of Tasmania; firstly in terms of our record. Our record and the need to defend it against the attacks that will come; the attacks that will come against infrastructure spending, the attacks that will come on the issue of exports and freight that has been such a big issue here in Tasmania.
On the National Broadband Network, on support for the full role out of the Better Schools plan.
We did a lot of work – take the freight plan – that was worked out with the council, worked out with industry, worked out over a considerable period of time after full and proper consultation. That should not be subject to political whims.
The funding for that was not – politics wasn’t involved. It was about what was best for Tasmania.
There are a few new members now of the parliament in Tasmania. They are going to have to determine whether they will represent the interests of Tasmania, or whether they will represent the interests of people in Sydney and Melbourne who dominate the Liberal Party.
We have a proud record here in Tasmania.
We will also be talking about democracy in the Labor Party, how we extend it, how we engage the membership. How we use this momentum, which we have built in jst three weeks, to take us forward for the next three years.
QUESTION: On the issue of the NBN, how would you say the Coalition has betrayed Tasmania since the comments that were made in the lead up to the election?
ALBANESE: They said very clearly, the Coalition said that the roll out to homes, businesses, schools and hospitals would continue. It has now been stopped.
They are now saying that only where construction has commenced will the roll out continue. And that means 85,000 homes missing out.
Now they were promised prior to the election, and you have very clear statements from Tasmanian senators. I put out just about a release a day about these issues during the federal election campaign.
Mr Turnbull led people to believe that the NBN was safe here in Tasmania. Just like they said in WA – I’ll be interested to see what happens with this GST review – they said one thing in WA, a different thing here in Tasmania.
Well now that they are the Government, that’s a lot more complex than coming up with three word slogans. They have actually got to be held to account, and we should hold them to account.
QUESTION: The ICT lobby says it is a bit rich of you to criticise Malcolm Turnbull when the roll out itself nearly ground to a halt under your watch.
ALBANESE: Which ICT lobby?
QUESTION: TASICT, Dean Winter.
ALBANESE: There’s the odd person here or there who might argue this. The fact is–
QUESTION: That it ground to a halt?
ALBANESE: The fact is that we had an issue with asbestos that had to be dealt with, which will occur under the Coalition’s plan as well. Because whenever you have construction in Australia, the world’s greatest user of asbestos, those issues need to be dealt with in infrastructure development.
They were dealt with and dealt with appropriately.
So in terms of the National Broadband Network, the fact is that overwhelmingly the ICT industry supports best practice, which is fibre to the home rather than fibre to the node.
When fibre to the node has been tried, fibre to the fridge, what happens is they get half way through and go this doesn’t really work, we’ll have to come back and retrofit it. Why didn’t we do it right the first time.
That’s what the conservative government did in New Zealand. That is what the conservative Government in Australia should do sooner rather than later.
QUESTION: You were saying it shouldn’t be assumed that the deputy to you if you were to be leader would have to be from the right. Is that what you were saying?
ALBANESE: It’s a matter for the caucus. I can’t be clearer than that.
QUESTION: Sure, but –
ALBANESE: I can’t be clearer than that. You mightn’t like the answer, but that’s the answer.
ALBANESE: No it’s not, it’s a matter for the caucus. You mightn’t understand it because you’re not in the Labor Party and you’re not in the caucus. If you’re in the caucus, I have one vote, Julie Collins has one vote and so does everyone else. And it’s up to them to determine who they think is the best candidate.
I’m treating my caucus colleagues with respect. It is up to them to determine who the deputy leader is. Just like it’s up to them to determine whether they support Penny Wong as the existing Senate Leader – she will be up for re-election as well. As will Jacinta Collins.
It will be interesting to see whether those advocates of women in positions support Penny Wong and Jacinta Collins as well if they stand.
QUESTION: You are saying the deputy could draw support from across the factions?
ALBANESE: I’m saying that the deputy leader’s position is a matter for the caucus. I can say it a number of times, if you keep asking me, you will get the same answer.
It always amazes me journalists who ask the same question and expect a different answer. One of the things I’m running on this election is what you see is what you get. You don’t get different answers from me to different audiences.
That’s the answer, that’s the truth.
QUESTION: You’ve spent some time explaining that your support as deputy was drawn from a number of areas, across factions.
ALBANESE: Well that’s a fact. Glad you noticed.
QUESTION: The extension of the voting process, will that mean we will get a winner later?
QUESTION: Why not?
ALBANESE: Because you won’t. The ballot will shut on Friday at 5 o’clock. This is done independently of me. So it just means a bit of extra time for the ballot papers to come in. When they start counting is a matter for the returning office, but it was always intended that it wouldn’t be concluded until Sunday afternoon.
My understanding is, I’ve been advised that is still the case.
QUESTION: Just on the NBN, at least one member of the board has described the roll out as dysfunctional in some regards. Do you concede that it may have been better to roll it out in the cities first, rather than the regions?
ALBANESE: That’s a decision that was made, but one of the decisions that was made as well was that you would roll out in a number of different types of regions, that’s why Scottsdale was picked, and in different areas around Australia; some urban areas, some more remote areas, some smaller towns.
So it was a conscious decision based upon the long term vision of the roll out to 93 per cent of the nation that that get done. That’s a decision that was made – I wasn’t the Minister that made that decision.
There was also an agreement in terms of the algorithms of where it got rolled out, that it got rolled out particularly to regional communities, because regional communities had less access to broadband than people in the CBDs of capital cities.
So that’s the decision that was made. The important point is that everyone was going to benefit. That was the objective. And it does make some sense – I wasn’t party to those decisions – but it does make some sense in the way that it was rolled out.
What also makes sense, and the same people who would argue that I’m sure that logic would lead you to say Tasmania shouldn’t have been put first, that you should have started in Sydney and Melbourne’s CBD. I make no apologies for the fact that Tasmania – I was a part of that, we very consciously made that decision – because one of the things about the NBN was that it removes the tyranny of distance of Australians from each other, and from the world.
And Tasmania as an island state suffers some disadvantages because of that. The NBN being rolled out in Tasmania was a very good decision. It’s one that Labor prioritised, and I’m proud that Labor made that decision.
QUESTION: But should it have been rolled out in the cities first? You didn’t answer the question.
ALBANESE: I did answer the question. You might not have liked it. You might not have liked it.
QUESTION: You said it was a decision that was made.
ALBANESE: I went through what the decision was, and why it was done.
QUESTION: Was it the right decision, yes or no?
ALBANESE: I know some people from News Limited think that they control everything, but you don’t control the answers as well.