SUBJECTS: John Setka; ICAC; Indonesia; foreign affairs; small business tax; Scott Morrison; G7 Summit.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good afternoon. Thanks for joining me here at Henson Park in Marrickville, in my electorate. I returned this morning after a very successful visit to Indonesia, as my first overseas visit as Leader of the Labor Party. I want to thank the Indonesian Government, particularly the Foreign Minister for her hospitality towards myself and Senator Penny Wong, our Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, during that visit. And also thank the wonderful officials that we had from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, our Ambassador who hosted a very successful roundtable dialogue yesterday at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta.
I do want to make some comments today about the decision of the Victorian Supreme Court regarding John Setka’s legal action to try to stop his expulsion from the Australian Labor Party. I want to make just a few simple points. Mr Setka has indicated that he may well appeal that decision, but he doesn’t have automatic leave or right to appeal. He would have to get leave to appeal such a decision. It’s a pretty simple principle that says that a political party has a right to determine who its members are. And that is a right that I, as the Leader of the Labor Party, want to take to the ALP National Executive, in seeking Mr Setka’s removal as a member of the Australian Labor Party. I do so not because of any tactics, not because of any strategy that has been suggested – in terms of some of the political commentators that have made points about this in articles over the last couple of months. I do it not because it’s easy; I do it because it’s the right thing to do on behalf of the Australian Labor Party. The Australian Labor Party takes issues of domestic violence seriously. The fact is, that Mr Setka’s actions over a long period of time, across a range of issues, have brought the Labor Party into disrepute. The latest of those was Saturday’s revelations about some of the submissions that were made – and not by anyone other than the person who made the allegations about domestic violence – who we now know of course was Mr Setka’s wife, Emma Walters. Those very serious allegations that were made, that were revealed in The Australian on Saturday, I think just reinforced the further damage that’s done by any association between Mr Setka and the Australian Labor Party. So this is about whether the Labor Party is being brought into disrepute. The answer to that is yes, it clearly is. It’s also about values. The values that the Australian Labor Party has. The Australian Labor Party values women’s participation in all facets of life, but most importantly we recognise that domestic violence is an issue in which excuses simply need to stop. We need to send messages that they are unacceptable, that there are consequences and that society will say no to domestic violence. I’ll continue to pursue Mr Setka’s expulsion from the Labor Party. I note that he continues to remain suspended from the Labor Party as a member. That action was taken upon my request by the National Executive meeting some two months ago now. And I’ll make the point also, that if it is the case that the members of Mr Setka’s union’s funds are being used to fund these challenges, that in my view is an inappropriate use of union member’s money. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Will you make that expulsion request through the Victorian branch to avoid any confusion?
ALBANESE: No. The National Executive – the court decision today makes it very clear – the National Executive should follow procedures in accordance with the branch of which Mr Setka is a member. But what we did also, we offered – Mr Setka asked for a 10 day delay in the court proceedings. And during that 10 day process, Mr Setka asked for it, he got it, he would have had the opportunity to present his case to the National Executive, which he is perfectly entitled to do. But it is quite extraordinary, I just find it extraordinary that there’d be anyone in the Labor Party who thinks it’s appropriate that John Setka remain a member. That it’s okay to condone this behaviour, which is what we would be doing. Bear in mind Mr Setka has been convicted on two very serious offences. One of course of being in breach of a domestic violence order that was made, and secondly the very serious harassment that has been documented in ways that I think I find shocking and I think most Australians would find shocking.
JOURNALIST: Do you think you should have waited until he was found guilty on those offences before moving on him?
JOURNALIST: Why is that?
ALBANESE: Because I acted appropriately as soon as I could. Mr Setka has brought the Labor Party into disrepute over a long period of time. When I became Leader it was one of the first things that I did. I make no apologies for it. It’s not about tactics, not about strategy, it’s about doing the right thing. I fully expected there to be push-back. There was, there will continue to be, I’m sure. That’s up to people to make their own judgments. I want to be judged on my actions, and I think Mr Setka should be judged on his.
JOURNALIST: Do you have the full support of the National Executive?
ALBANESE: I have the full support of the Labor Party. The fact is, that in terms of these processes, people have looked for tactics as you’re doing now. This isn’t about tactics, it’s not about strategy, it’s not about who said what to whom, it’s about Mr Setka. His actions, are they acceptable, are they in line with the values of the Labor Party? I say they are not. And that is my view. People can form their own views and they’ll do so. I think overwhelmingly the Australian public will form its own views and indeed the leadership of the trade union movement through Sally McManus and the statements that have been made, have made it clear as well that in their view, and I think they’re right, Mr. Setka is bringing into disrepute the trade union movement and he’s damaging his own union. Now I make it very clear, again, that I am a strong supporter of the role of trade unions in a civil society. I also make the point that in the construction industry, that’s a tough industry. Occupational health and safety can be a major issue where people do die on site. Every industrial accident is one too many. We need unions on site and to be able to participate and represent working people, including in the construction industry. And those workers shouldn’t be impacted by Mr Setka’s actions. I believe that Mr Setka is undermining the standing of the union movement and I believe that Mr Setka, while his membership of the ALP remained, was simply untenable.
JOURNALIST: On another matter, revelations (inaudible) coming out of ICAC over NSW Labor boss, Kaila Murnain. Do you still have confidence in her?
ALBANESE: It’s not a matter of me having confidence in any individual in the Labor Party. These processes are taking place; they should be allowed to take place. They are important. These are serious allegations. I’m not going to give a running commentary on them while people are literally giving evidence at the time, that would be inappropriate. As people would be aware I just flew into Australia this morning. It wasn’t an issue between the dialogue between Australia and Indonesia yesterday. So, I can’t comment on all of the detail. I’ll simply say this: that electoral laws should all be complied with by anyone in the political process, simple as that. We support a National Integrity Commission because we think that also the National Integrity Commission could play the sort of role that we’re seeing played out where there are any allegations made, they should be tested. And we’ve called upon and indeed moved a resolution in the Parliament on the last sitting day that was held, to call upon the Government to bring forward the legislation on the National Integrity Commission. It was announced last year. There is no reason why that legislation could not be introduced to the Parliament as a matter of urgency.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned about reports that the NSW Labor Secretary knew about the (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: Well, I haven’t seen the reports. I have just flown into the country. I haven’t seen all the reports. I have made my comment. I’m not going to comment on specific things while someone is giving evidence and that would be entirely inappropriate and would be political interference in a legal process. Which would be in itself an issue that should be an issue of integrity. So, I intend to be behaving with integrity. I’ve said the principle is very clear which is that all electoral commission laws should be applied, whether they be state or federal, and the investigations are ongoing. I await what comes out of it.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Government can do more to make sure small businesses are paying their fair share of tax?
ALBANESE: This is a Government that is just asleep at the wheel on a whole range of issues. I’m a supporter of small business. But if there is non-compliance with taxation law, what that means is that in order to make up the shortfall, other people are paying more than their fair share of tax. And so that also means that there is less money for schools and less money for hospitals. It’s important that tax laws be complied with and the Government seems to be very complacent about anything to do with economic policy. I note that you’ve got Scott Morrison talking about international trade and the threat to our economy, that the uncertainty of the dispute between the United States and China is heavy and we can see the impact that it is having on the share market and other parts of the economy. But this is a Government that’s presiding over weak consumer demand. Interest rates at just 1 per cent, housing affordability being in dire straits, an increasing number of people who are under mortgage stress, the rate of economic growth being reduced, the forecast from two and three-quarters to two and-a-half per cent by the Reserve Bank Governor, and wage stagnation. All of the economic indicators under this Government are, at the moment, very negative indeed.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese when you were in Jakarta, what impression did you get from Indonesian authorities on the way that the current Government is managing that bilateral relationship? And secondly, obviously while you were in Jakarta Scott Morrison’s in France, what have you made of his efforts at the G7?
ALBANESE: I haven’t followed because they don’t broadcast the G7 live on a plane and so I haven’t followed all of the details with regard to Mr Morrison’s visit to the G7. I say that it is a good thing that he was there. It’s a good thing that Australia is represented in international forums. But Mr Morrison’s problem is what is going on at home, here. Mr Morrison’s problem is that he has a Treasurer and he himself thinks everything is just fine. They have no policy to deal with wages. They have no policy to lift growth. They have no policy to lift skills. They are not dealing with the challenges that the national economy is facing at the moment. The Reserve Bank Governor has said that monetary policy can’t do all the heavy lifting and the Government is very complacent. When we asked about living standards and if people were better off than they were in 2013 after the HILDA report was released, we got a response which was essentially: ‘she’ll be right mate, everything’s okay’. Well, it’s not okay. And this is on the Government’s watch. They are now in their third term, on their third Prime Minister. This is six years into a Government. What is the Government’s plan for the economy? You can’t run an economy by just bagging the Labor Party and that’s a problem for the Government. I wonder how people, when they go to international forums, cope with any question. If they respond the same way they do in the Parliament, then any question to the Prime Minister or the Treasurer will get a response talking about the Labor party and what Labor’s doing. They need to get on top of the challenges that Australia is confronting.
JOURNALIST: And the relationship with Indonesia?
ALBANESE: Look, the relationship with Indonesia is a constructive one. It’s one that we need to ensure is bipartisan. It is no accident; it is a very conscious decision to visit Indonesia as my first overseas visit. On Friday I’ll be travelling with the Prime Minister to the commemoration of 20 years of Timor Leste in Dili for those commemorations on Friday and Saturday. Certainly, in terms of the welcome that I received, Australia of course has a proud history with relation to Indonesia. And indeed it was Ben Chifley who was asked essentially to be the advocate. The three eminent persons in Indonesia, the independence forces in Indonesia, chose Australia and chose Ben Chifley to be the advocate. So we have a proud history there and we want engagement in the region. And one of the things that we need to do, and I spoke about this in Perth as well, there is a lot of focus on China, we need to focus on Indonesia and India as well, who will both be top five economies in the world located as they are there in our region.
ALBANESE: I haven’t had the opportunity to convene with the National Executive Committee. We will deal with those issues. People will examine the full judgement, that obviously is a lengthy judgement. My understanding is, I’ve been briefed, obviously, on the judgement and we will meet at an appropriate time. We have a meeting scheduled. Whether we have a special meeting or not, frankly, will be a decision for the organisational wing of the Party.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that one of its members employed John Setka (inaudible) …
ALBANESE: That’s a matter for him.
JOURNALIST: And will you wait for a High Court decision before removing him from the Party?
ALBANESE: There is no High Court decision.
JOURNALIST: If it goes there?
ALBANESE: Well it hasn’t gone there and there’s no automatic right to appeal. Thanks very much.