SUBJECTS: Multiculturalism; the future of the Labor Party; first home buyers scheme; Labor’s record on changing the country for the better; drought.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks for joining me at the Italian Festa here in Leichhardt in my electorate. It’s a great celebration of multiculturalism on a beautiful Sydney day. This Festa has been going now for almost 20 years. And what it does is celebrate, the contribution particularly of the Italian community so many of whom came and made the Inner West their home; when they came here to Australia over more than a hundred years of migration. It’s also an opportunity to raise funds for COASIT who support Italo-Australians, from birth right through to age care, through their Italian bilingual school, through their services that they provide for the community. So it’s a great day, a great celebration and I’m always pleased to be able to participate in it. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: You’ve heard this contribution from Nick Dyrenfurth, who was a national policy director (inaudible) for the Party (inaudible). He says there should be a working class quota of 20 per cent of people in Parliament. The feeling I guess is there’s too many of the chattering classes in the Labor Party in Parliament. What’s your reaction to that?
ALBANESE: The Labor Party has processes to select candidates and our processes are diverse. We have – pretty close to 50 per cent now female representation. We have Indigenous representation through Linda Burney, Patrick Dodson and Malarndirri McCarthy. We have people of various ethnicities; we have people of different class backgrounds. One of the things about working class people and aspiration is that – I grew up not far from here, son of a single mum, first person to finish school in my family. Not quite sure what class that makes me, but certainly I felt pretty working class growing up to say the least.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Albanese, you support the Government’s first homebuyer’s scheme?
ALBANESE: We voted for the scheme but we also voted for a twelve month review of the scheme because we haven’t seen the detail. We still don’t know which lenders will be involved. We don’t know what the interest rates will be, and this is the scheme that’s supposed to begin in two months. The Government really needs to get on top of the detail so that people can benefit from it and so that everyone can be clear about how the scheme will operate in a transparent way. If that doesn’t happen, there’ll be issues down the tracks so, I’d say to the Government: release all of the detail of this scheme so that we can maximise the benefit of it.
JOURNALIST: It’ll help 10,000 first homebuyers. Is that ambitious enough do you think?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s one of the reasons for the review. It’s pretty hard to put a figure either greater or less than that, when we don’t know what the interest rate will be. We don’t know which lenders will be involved, and this is a scheme that is supposed to begin in just two months’ time. We want to see all of the detail but most importantly, I think those – people out there who’ve had a look at this scheme are entitled to know that detail to see whether they’ll participate in it or not.
JOURNALIST: We’ll wait for the plane, but are you concerned that it will push prices up?
ALBANESE: We will wait and see in terms of the twelve month review. At this stage, it’s not clear how the scheme will operate in terms of its detail, so it’s difficult therefore to make prescriptions in advance. I hope it’s successful. I hope it’s successful. I want to see more people have the opportunity of home ownership. That’s one of the things that Australians aspire to; we use to speak about the great Australian dream. That dream has become more and more difficult for people, in an area like this that is certainly nowhere near as affordable as it used to be. The truth is that people are really struggling to get into home ownership.
JOURNALIST: Do you acknowledge that Labor’s got a bit of a problem in the fact that it’s looking like a party for progressives, it’s looking like a party for the Inner City, at times, on certain issues, and it’s not connecting in the outer suburbs I guess; you know?
ALBANESE: The Labor Party is a broad based party made up of members, made up of direct union representation, something that some media organisations are critical of from time to time. The fact is, that we are a broad based party; I want to see more people of whatever backgrounds join the Labor Party. But the Labor Party is a party of change. We have been a progressive party; we were under John Curtin and Ben Chifley when we created the post-war reconstruction. We were, when we created the pension, when we created workers compensations. We were under Gough Whitlam when we recognised China and we promoted the arts and we abolished university fees and we did so much. We were under Bob Hawke and Paul Keating when we transformed the economy and laid the foundations for 28 years of consecutive economic growth. When we saved the Franklin in Kakadu. The Labor Party is a party that doesn’t just occupy space. We’re a party that seeks Government in order to change the country for the better and the party that I lead will seek Government at the next election to change the country for the better. In stark contrast to the Government, that’s just been on a victory lap since May, that doesn’t have a plan to deal with wages, that doesn’t have a plan to deal with the challenges that Australia is facing.
JOURNALIST: In the six months that you’ve been Leader, you haven’t really just …
ALBANESE: Well, it’s been four and a half months.
JOURNALIST: Well, four and a half, okay. You haven’t – I know that there’s the review happening – but you’ve had an opportunity, I guess, to junk some of the really unpopular policies, totally never ever sort of thing, franking credits, negative gearing, whatever. Why have you chosen not to do that? Why have you chosen to wait?
ALBANESE: We’ll do things on our timetable, frankly. And it’s a three year cycle. And part of what the review, I’d be surprised if it doesn’t find this. And media commentators across the spectrum have said this as well, that for those people who said that a Labor Government was inevitable, a couple of weeks out from the election, or it’s six o’clock on election night, one of the lessons is: you don’t win an election in 2022 in October 2019. Our objective is a three year term; our objective is to be considered to make sure that we have the right policies and approach in place. On Tuesday, I’ll be giving my first vision statement on jobs and the future of work. I understand the Government’s planning a major announcement to try and crowd that out. That’s a good thing. If that is true, then it will have achieved something because it will have got this complacent Government to actually act on something. So, we will role that out, we’ll receive the review in coming weeks, we’ll then respond to that in an orderly way. One of the things that the media should do as well, and it’s a conscious decision that we’ve had, is part of – from speaking to the reviewers – part of what I’m sure they’ll find is that we looked a lot like a Government in waiting and the Government looked a lot like an opposition in exile on the Government benches; during the election campaign. There was no scrutiny at the Government policies. We want to make sure that there is scrutiny of the Government, and that in 2022, take for example an issue where we’ve said we want to see Newstart increased. It’s not up to us now to say what that level should be, because we want it increased sometime between now and 2022, which is what we have said. The Government needs to start acting like a Government.
JOURNALIST: Albo, just on drought, can I ask two questions?
ALBANESE: Yes, sure.
JOURNALIST: What’s should the Government’s drought plan include and secondly, what happened? What are the consequences if the Government gets this wrong?
ALBANESE: Well the Government needs to have a national drought strategy. It’s extraordinary. They’re in their seventh year and they don’t have a national drought strategy. One of their first actions of the Government, when they came into office in 2013, was to abolish the COAG committee that was working on a national drought strategy,that needs coordination to the Federal Government, state governments, local governments as well as farming or farmers and their organisations. So this Government does need, after seven years, to get a national drought strategy. They should release the drought coordinators report. They should release whatever it is that Barnaby Joyce did as the drought envoy. I put forward, constructively, the idea of a drought cabinet, which would have a Government majority on it, which would have the representatives of respected ministers and shadow ministers and local members from the most drought effected seats, to try to get a national bipartisan response. The Government rejected that and it appears that they can’t even get a bipartisan response between the Liberal Party and the National Party.
JOURNALIST: I’m expecting to see some drought relief measures come through cabinet this week, what do you want to see offered to regional and rural Australians?
ALBANESE: Well what I want to see firstly, is the drought coordinator’s report and the experts that have looked at this. This is a Government that has reviews and then doesn’t release them before it has another review; and doesn’t act. I want to see programs that make a real difference; that put resources in farmer’s pockets so that they can stay on the land, so that they can continue to make the contribution they do, not just to the themselves but to the nation. I want to see a long term strategy as well to deal with the fact that climate change is having an impact on our farming communities. Farmers tell us that, the NFF tells us that. We need an immediate response that provides that immediate relief for farmers but we also need medium and long-term strategies as well.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Albanese, we’ve had Ivan Milat die today. Do you have any comments on that?
ALBANESE: I think this was an evil man, and I don’t think many people or anyone will mourn his passing. Thank you very much.