SUBJECTS: ATCO facility in Jandakot WA; renewable energy industries; future of work; bushfires; importance of WA specific ALP policies; WA infrastructure; Timothy Weeks; Pauline Hanson as Deputy Chair for the Family Law Inquiry; Labor’s commitment to education.
JOSH WILSON, MEMBER FOR FREMANTLE: Hi, I’m Josh Wilson, the Member for Fremantle and Labor’s Shadow Assistant Minister for the Environment. It’s great to have Labor’s Leader Anthony Albanese here in the northeast corner of my electorate at ATCO. This is a fantastic facility. It really is a sort of a glimpse at the future because you have here a solar array, battery technology and green hydrogen that is powering this whole facility. It’s also powering this demonstration house. It’s a sign of what we can achieve if we achieve our destiny, which is to be a renewable superpower, renewable energy superpower. I’ll hand over to Anthony.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much Josh, and thanks for our hosts for welcoming us here today on what is my tenth visit to Western Australia this year in 2019. When I’ve been reading about ATCO Gas and what they’re doing here at the Clean Energy Hub, what they’re doing is innovation and research that is perfectly in line with the speech that I gave in Perth just two weeks ago in my first vision statement, Jobs and the Future of Work. What I outlined there was the opportunity that is there from the transition to a clean energy economy. And here we see the future is here now. What we see here is more than a thousand solar panels. We see the energy being stored through lithium batteries. Of course, lithium was one of the major minerals that I spoke about at that speech in Kings Park two weeks ago. What we see also is the use of hydrogen. And here what they’re doing is providing research in real time with real results and real outcomes about what the future looks like. The house behind us here is what the future looks like.
And we know that the future is coming sooner than we think. We know that Australia has enormous potential due to our great assets that this country has. One of those is our natural resources. The second is the resources of our people. The capacity that we have for science and innovation; to create jobs of the future. And I want to congratulate the guys here and thank them for the tour today, because this is really exciting. This has applications for industry, it has applications for household use. What we’re talking about here is energy production that would reduce power prices at the same time as it is massively reducing our emissions. And here in the west, I think there is enormous potential for it to be a real driver of the revolution that is occurring as we speak. So, it’s very exciting. I look forward to continuing to come to the west and indeed other parts of Australia as well. Looking at the practical implication of what it looks like, dealing with climate change by reducing emissions, but at the same time creating jobs and reducing power prices. That’s the trifecta; job creation, power prices being reduced for households and for business and at the same time reducing our emissions. We can do all three together. And the proof is right here before us here in Jandakot. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Do you agree with the PM that the slanging match between politicians needs to stop now until at least the bushfire crisis is over?
ALBANESE: Well, I agree with myself.
With respect, when I’ve said exactly that, and I’ve refused to engage in the political slanging match. I think that the comments of the Greens Party Senator from WA are most unfortunate and the comments of Barnaby Joyce are once again just reprehensible. And people really need to think before they speak on these issues. The fact is, three people have lost their lives. Yesterday I was in Lismore, Casino, Ballina and Nimbin. Yesterday I spoke to the heads of the Rural Fire Service who are running the operation on the north coast. I spoke to police and emergency officers. I spoke to firefighters, both members of the Rural Fire Service and volunteers who are putting their lives on the line to protect others’ lives and property. What we’re seeing is the best of Australia, people really helping out their mates in their communities, people pitching in. When I was at Nimbin, some brigades arrived from outside of the north coast to pitch in. We had the Country Women’s Association where I went yesterday making lunches and looking after the firefighters. It’s not too much to ask that people just hold off on political attacks against each other while this is occurring.
The fact is, climate change is real. We do need to respond to climate change. And the science tells us that bushfires will be more intense, and the bushfire season will be longer. And that’s what we’re seeing played out. But we can have those debates, if people want to debate the science, at another time. The priority at the moment, and certainly speaking to those people who are fighting fires, their priority is saving lives, not being involved in acrimonious debate.
JOURNALIST: Some residents in one of the towns you visited yesterday were angry about your presence. In hindsight, do you regret visiting at that time given you said you won’t politicise the issue?
ALBANESE: Well, they weren’t angry about that at all. I was there. What you had is traumatised people who were just angry. They were just angry. And one of the people took out that anger, particularly on the local state MP, state Opposition MP.
JOURNALIST: Was it fair for you to leave Janelle Saffin, to be the brunt of that?
ALBANESE: I did a press conference. I talked to a whole lot of people yesterday. The truth is that people are traumatised under the current circumstances. And the particular woman who I offered to speak to, she didn’t want to speak with me, her partner is still at the home where they are. And she is traumatised, and I have every sympathy for her.
JOURNALIST: Following the release of the post-election review, some of your WA MPs have said that there should be specific WA policies in light of that review. Will that be happening?
ALBANESE: There should be specific WA policies every election, just as there should be specific Queensland policies and specific Western New South Wales policies and specific Tasmanian policies. And there are. This is my tenth visit to Western Australia this year. I chose Perth to give my first vision statement. This afternoon I’ll be once again renewing my acquaintance with talkback radio on 6PR and Oliver Peterson, which I do regularly as well. From here, I’m going to visit a school in WA to talk about education and opportunity as well. And so, I don’t think anyone can say that I’m not prioritising WA. I will continue to do so. It’s been a priority of mine for a long time. And one of the things that I’ll be able to point towards is the work that we did when we created, for example, when we were in Government last time, a WA Infrastructure Fund. We funded Gateway WA, the Perth City Link, the first ever public transport investment from the Commonwealth here in WA. We did the Grain Rail Network, roads, the Great Northern Highway, North West Coastal Highway, the Swan Valley Bypass was commenced under us. We’ll continue to do that. Every time I land in Perth and I go on Gateway WA or the widened Great Eastern Highway, I’m reminded of the investment that we put in. So, when I come to WA, I don’t just talk about what I would do. I point towards what I’ve done and a record of actually investing in WA transport, whether it be public transport or whether it be roads.
JOURNALIST: Only having one WA MP in your Shadow Cabinet, is that sending a message to voters here that you are not taking the state seriously?
ALBANESE: No. With respect, the fact is that WA had a big turnover of MPs, a big turnover, and you know that, and so do they. And I didn’t get to be on the Frontbench in my first two terms. There is no one who’s been in Parliament for as long as I sat as a non-member of the Shadow Ministry. I’m now leader of the Labor Party.
JOURNALIST: So, they should pull their heads in?
ALBANESE: No. I’m now Leader of the Labor Party. We put, I ensured that there was Labor representation in the Shadow Cabinet. Madeleine King’s playing a critical role. There’s representations in the Shadow Ministry in terms of Matt Keogh. But there’s also, I’ve got Josh and the rest of the team, Glenn and Pat Dodson and others, Louise Pratt, others as Assistant Ministers participating and making a major contribution. What we need from WA is more members of the caucus. When you have more members of the caucus, what you’ll see is that those people will rise up. But the Labor Party is the last party to have a Leader from WA, now Governor Kim Beazley. When WA members had a chance to elect a Western Australian as Leader in Julie Bishop, they rejected her, and she couldn’t even receive the votes of her fellow Western Australians. So, we won’t take lectures from the other side of politics about WA representation at senior levels.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask about Timothy Weeks, an Australian teacher who has been held for three years now by the Taliban. Have you been briefed on a potential prisoner swap deal?
ALBANESE: No, I haven’t, but I certainly hope that – I’ve been on a plane obviously across here this morning – so, it may well be that there’s been contact during that period given the article that appeared this morning. But I certainly hope that Timothy Weeks is released and that would be a good thing for him and for his family and friends. Three years is a terrible time to be held captive, but I’ll await a full briefing before I make further comment.
JOURNALIST: Are you disturbed by the fact that it has taken three years to get us to this point where potentially a deal could take place?
ALBANESE: Well, of course. We care about, and this isn’t a partisan issue, DFAT do a very good job. But what we want is for no Australian to be in circumstances that Mr Weeks has found himself.
JOURNALIST: Are you expecting to be briefed on it today?
ALBANESE: I don’t know. I’ve been on a plane and phones don’t work on a plane.
JOURNALIST: Matt Keogh last week right after the election review was released wrote that multiple Western Australians in the Shadow Cabinet will improve the WA voice and Labor leadership and also improve electability. Is that something you’re going to address before the next election?
ALBANESE: Well, look, I’m sure that most people around the country would want more representation for their state and their area at every level of the Party. I addressed that in a previous question. The fact is that Matt Keogh has been promoted very quickly, as has Madeleine King, as has Josh, promoted far quicker than I was. I’m now Leader of the Labor Party.
JOURNALIST: More than 70,000 people have signed a petition calling for Pauline Hanson’s removal from the Family Law Inquiry. Do you believe that she should remove herself as Deputy Chair?
ALBANESE: Well, I don’t think she was an appropriate appointment. And I think the way that that committee was established, with a deal essentially between the Government and Pauline Hanson, to have a Chair and a Deputy Chair excluding the Labor Party. Pauline Hanson doesn’t have any Members of the House of Representatives. And there’s a couple of Senators. The way that Parliament works, and parliamentary committees work, generally is that you have representation from the Government, have the Chair and the Opposition will have the Deputy Chair. That’s a way in which you ensure that a committee works properly and that is not seen as just a political deal. And I made comments at the time, which is why we very clearly opposed that at the time. Because we didn’t think things like family law, we shouldn’t try to play partisan politics with it. What we need to do is look at facts. If there are issues, try and come up with solutions. But these are complex issues when we deal with families and family breakups. And what we need to do is to make sure that we get common sense solutions to any issues which arise.
JOURNALIST: So, do you think that she should be removed now?
ALBANESE: Well, the Parliament elects people. So, I have made my position clear in terms of the establishment of the committee and the way that it was established.
JOURNALIST: Is enough being done for underprivileged children with you visiting a school in WA today. Can you talk us through what you think more needs to be done and your own experiences?
ALBANESE: Well, I think one of things we need to do is to target poverty in this country. There’s far too many kids growing up in poverty. And what that leads to is intergenerational poverty and intergenerational disadvantage. I see education as the key to creating opportunity. And the big difference between approaches to education, you can see it as creating opportunity, or you can see it as entrenching privilege. If you just leave it to the market, it just entrenches privilege. So, the kids who can afford the most, to go to the best schools, get the best results and therefore get the best opportunity in life. I’ll be quite excited to have a look at the college where I’m going today. There are great examples whereby the right principal, the right teachers, and the right approach can really make a difference, particularly when they work with the community. What we need to do is to identify best practice and replicate it and identify worst practice as well and eliminate it. That’s the key. And education is so important. I think it’s unfortunate that the Government didn’t match Labor’s commitment to early childhood education. I know that, for example, as well, the work that the McGowan Government has done in reducing TAFE fees for targeted areas as well as another way in which you can really make a difference in education. And that stands in stark contrast to the cuts that have occurred under the Coalition, both Federally and here in WA. Thanks very much.