SUNDAY, 15 SEPTEMBER 2019
SUBJECTS: Dulwich Hill Festival; Government’s lack of economic policy; drought strategy; the Government’s climate change policies; Gladys Liu; John Setka; Australia’s relationship with Fiji; Australians detained overseas.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thank you all for joining me. Today I have been at the Dulwich Hill Festival which has been a fantastic celebration of our multicultural community. It is a celebration that supports local schools. The display above us was done by the Dulwich Hill Visual Arts School that is just across the road from here. It is a time where the community can come together to celebrate the diversity that makes this community great. I do want to make some comments today about a couple of issues. One, I want to say that the Government needs to, next week and in the weeks of Parliament that follow this year, actually come up with a plan for the economy. They need to come up with a plan to deal with drought. We have a circumstance whereby Dubbo is due to run out of water in November. And other towns in regional New South Wales and in Queensland are really struggling with the impact of the drought. So, the Government needs to come up with a drought strategy. We asked about that in Parliament this week and we’ll continue to ask in the Parliament about the need for the Government to actually have an economic strategy rather than just short term political tactics. It’s about time that they introduced legislation to deal with the challenges that Australia faces instead of just ‘wedgislation’ aimed at just playing politics.
JOURNALIST: What is your plan? Have you got any plans?
ALBANESE: Well what we’re doing, of course, is stepping out a process of preparing for 2022. The first stage has been putting structures in place. We have the Emerson and Weatherill review that will report on why it was that we weren’t as successful in the election as we wanted to be. We’ll also have a series of vision statements between now and the next six months about Labor’s plan. The first of which will be about jobs and the future work. The second of which will be on the economy. And we’ll be rolling those out particularly towards now and the resumption of Parliament in 2020. We’ll be bringing forward our ALP National Conference to the end of 2020. We will be in a position to put forward a strong progressive agenda at the next election.
JOURNALIST: Is Labor still committed to cutting emissions by 45% by 2030?
ALBANESE: Well of course that was a commitment that was given in 2015. So that was a commitment about 15 years’ time. So, we’ll examine our short, medium and long-term commitments in terms of where we go on climate change, but we won’t be re-examining our principles. We need strong action on climate change. We want to work towards zero emissions by the middle of this century. We of course will examine the short and medium-term targets between 2022 when the election is on and we’ll be announcing those. But by definition, when you aren’t successful after the 2015 targets, the 15-year target ahead, by definition that changes. But our resolve on climate change is very clear, just like our resolve on supporting renewable energy, clean energy. And the real problem is that the Government doesn’t have an energy policy. The Government that’s there right now. And what we want to see is the Government adopt a policy at some stage. They have had 15 different tentative toes in the water and each time they withdraw from it.
JOURNALIST: You say you are going to re-examine things, but Joel Fitzgibbon said that Labor should meet its international obligations concerning emissions without damaging the economy. Do you agree with him?
ALBANESE: Well, obviously we should meet our international obligations and obviously we want a strong economy. The difference between Labor and the Government is that there is no debate within the Labor Party about whether climate change is real, about the science. And there’s no debate over whether we need strong action. We support the science. The science tells us that we need to act.
JOURNALIST: The Government is reintroducing its ‘Big Stick’ bill this week. Labor previously opposed it. What is your position now?
ALBANESE: Well, we will have that discussion when we see the legislation. What we won’t to do is make predictions based upon what the Government says it may or may not do. And we have our processes. But quite frankly, this is a gesture that again is a gesture rather than an actual policy. What we need is not gestures. We need a plan to drive down our emissions because the fact is that our emissions are rising. Things are headed in the wrong direction when it comes to climate change under this Government. And we know that the science tells us that we need action to ensure that we avoid dangerous climate change. I’ve been a campaigner on these issues since well before. I was the Environment and Climate Change spokesperson more than a decade ago. At that time, we adopted a renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020. What you do is you put forward plans that you think are realistic, plans that make a difference, plans that boost the economy. I believe action on climate change will boost jobs and will boost the economy.
JOURNALIST: Stuart Robert says Gladys Liu is double-checking her declarations on donations and past links to organisations. What is the least that Labor expects from her this week?
ALBANESE: What we expect of the Member for Chisholm is a statement to the Parliament about the contradictions in the statements that she has made. The fact is that the issues regarding the Member for Chisholm are issues that have been raised by the media. They were raised first with a comprehensive report by the ABC AM program. They’ve been followed up by both News Limited and Nine-Fairfax publications. And the fact is that if you look at the interview that Gladys Liu did with Andrew Bolt, she gave three different answers during the same question. It’s quite extraordinary. And the fact is also that we want this week for two people to be accountable. The Member for Chisholm should give a statement to the Parliament. Secondly, the Prime Minister needs to stop the sort of behaviour whereby he says black is white. It was quite outrageous last week that he said this issue was about race. The only person who has said that this is about race is the Prime Minister. Australia has national security issues. The fact is these have to be debated soberly. They need to be debated in a way that is mature. And what we see from the Prime Minister is trying to hide scrutiny from the same bloke who referred to ‘Shanghai Sam’ on no less than 17 different occasions. There’s one point whereby he said that term four times in one sentence. So that’s what you get from this Government. You get research and politics and you get it brought forward in terms of an excuse to try and avoid proper scrutiny in the Parliament. And Scott Morrison in saying that he had never said that, he quite clearly heard the question, he quite clearly responded specifically to the question. And the fact is he didn’t tell the truth.
JOURNALIST: John Setka’s latest rant appears to have paved the way for the Government’s legislation to pass the Senate. Is it time to cut the CFMEU loose and to stop accepting donations from this union?
ALBANESE: It’s time for John Setka to realise that he is doing damage to the movement. And if he has any loyalty to the movement, he will act appropriately.
JOURNALIST: The Fijian PM is catching up with the Prime Minister in Canberra tonight. Do you think Australia’s relationship with Fiji is back on track?
ALBANESE: Well, I’ll be meeting with the Fijian Prime Minister tomorrow as well. I’m sure, I would be surprised, if in those meetings he didn’t raise his concern about Australia’s position on climate change. And the fact of the Deputy Prime Minister’s comments that offended our Pacific neighbours by saying, ‘they’ll be right, they can come and pick fruit’ for countries of which some of whom their very existence of Tuvalu and Kiribati is under threat from climate change. That’s the fact. And we need to be sensitive to the need to deal with our Pacific neighbours in a way that gives them respect and acknowledges that climate change is the number one issue which they want engagement and leadership from Australia on.
JOURNALIST: Just back on Setka. What are you going to do about?
ALBANESE: I’m going to be expel him. I’ve already suspended him from the Party. That’s what I have power to do and that is what I’ve done as one of my first acts as Leader.
JOURNALIST: So how do you get him expelled?
ALBANESE: Well, he’s been suspended. He’s not a member of the Labor Party right now. Now he’s choosing to, whether members’ money is being used or not I’m not clear, but he’s chosen to take legal action. He of course lost that legal action and now is proposing to take it even further. The fact is, a political party has a right to determine who its members are. We’ve done that. His values don’t represent the values of Australian Labor and his actions particularly with regard to women are certainly not consistent with our values. I said very clearly that he wouldn’t continue to belong to the Party. He was suspended immediately. That suspension remains in place and he won’t be returning.
JOURNALIST: What’s your response to his comments about Jacqui Lambie and those other crossbenchers?
ALBANESE: This is yet another occasion in which John Setka has used language and behaviour that is unacceptable for anyone participating in civil society. The trade union movement is a movement made up of working men and women who work to improve the living standards of their members. They also work towards a better society. John Setka’s actions undermine the hard work that shop stewards, union delegates, organisers and union officials who work very hard, most of them as volunteers each and every day, to advance the interests of the trade union movement as an important component of a democratic society. John Setka brings no credit to himself or to the movement.
JOURNALIST: You’ve mentioned those towns that could be running out of water very soon. What could be done now (inaudible).
ALBANESE: Well, one of the things that we need is to actually have a drought strategy. The truth is that in terms of the drought, there was a private sector media organisation that organised a drought summit. Quite frankly in my view, that’s something the Government should have been doing. And then we had legislation before the Parliament to create a drought fund where they took $3.9 billion now from the Building Australia Fund and they’ll give out nothing this year, they’ll give out $100 million only in one year’s time and $100 million a year after that. We need to act. And they’ve had a Drought Envoy, they’ve had a range of positions. We asked last week the very reasonable question, asked by Joel Fitzgibbon, can we table those reports? Why do they have all these positions just so that people can run around the country and have meetings? What is the strategy for the Government? And that has to be the Government because we can’t afford to wait till 2022 because these towns are running out of water right now.
JOURNALIST: The latest concern is that we are seeing what appears to be an increasing number of Aussies being detained in overseas countries including Iran.
ALBANESE: Look, this is of real concern. The academic who has been detained is a real issue for Australia, on top of the two travel bloggers who were undertaking action consistent with what they’ve done in using a drone to film parts of the world that they’ve travelled in, in order to promote those parts of the world, in order to boost the economy of those parts of the world where they’ve travel. So, I stand prepared to back the Government in doing whatever they can. There’s no doubt that some of these issues are of course best dealt with quietly. And I have every faith in the Department of Foreign Affairs officials to do a fantastic job for Australia. The fact is that we, unlike a lot of countries, have a presence in Iran at the diplomatic level. I would have thought that, and I do hope, I saw this morning someone referred to Julie Bishop and the potential role that she could play as someone who visited Iran in recent times as Foreign Minister, and I’m sure that Julie Bishop would be prepared to play a constructive role if the Foreign Affairs officials believed that was possible. But we should do all we can to assist these Australian citizens, particularly in Iran but also the Australian citizen that’s been detained in China. All of these issues are of real concern and I stand ready to work with the Government in resolving these issues. Thanks very much.