Subject: Leadership of the Australian Labor Party.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good afternoon. Welcome back to Henson Park, the home of the mighty Newtown Jets. This afternoon I want to acknowledge that today Chris Bowen rang me and informed me that he would not pursue his candidacy for leadership of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. Chris Bowen is a very good friend of mine. We are mates. We talk about our kids. We talk about our dogs. We talked about our common vision for the future of this country and in a Labor Party, if I am privileged enough to be elected leader, Chris Bowen will have a critical role in that party. He is a strong voice, an advocate for Western Sydney.
I note also that Joel Fitzgibbon the last remaining Labor member of the Class of ‘96 has announced that he will not contest the leadership of the Labor Party. And I am humbled by the fact that he has announced his support for my candidacy, in particular, because he believes that I’m the best person to understand the key issues relating to regional Australia and jobs and my affinity with people including of course in his Hunter community.
The fact is that this doesn’t mean that these issues have all been resolved. Nominations have not been opened yet for the leadership. And it is up to the other members to consider whether they put themselves forward, as is their right. Any candidate can nominate as long as they receive the required number of signatures nominating them from caucus members. Chris Bowen suggested a process whereby we could have a listening tour. I’ve already said on Saturday night that we needed to go out and discuss with the members and also with people who aren’t members of the Labor Party and didn’t support us on Saturday, in the regions, in the suburbs and in our cities, what we can do to better listen to their concerns and better respond to their concerns so that we have a better night on election night in 2022.
Can I say that I’ve been ringing around caucus members and I also have had discussions with party members. I am very honoured by the amount of support that I’ve received. I believe that a majority of the caucus have already committed to support my leadership if it goes forward in a contested position. I also of course have been through an experience in the past in 2013 where I put myself forward before the rank and file members of the Australian Labor Party and received majority support, so I am confident but not complacent about being able to succeed if another candidate comes forward. If they do, as is their right, we will have a respectful debate, as I would have with Chris Bowen. When nominations are opened and closed, we will find out within the next week of exactly what the circumstances are.
Quite clearly, Labor members are still grieving frankly from Saturday’s result. It was very traumatic for the members of the party who worked so hard and had an expectation that we would get a much-improved outcome. What we need to do, as I’ve said before, is not pretend that the outcome was any different than it was. One in three Australians voted for us. We need to ensure that at the next election we receive far more substantial support because I believe very firmly that this country needs a Labor Government and needs a Labor Government that is committed not to economic growth for its own sake, but to growth in order to expand jobs and expand opportunity for workers and their families and their communities that they belong to around the country.
We also need a Government that is committed to fairness in terms of social policy; a Government that is committed to properly funding public education, to properly funding public health, to properly funding public infrastructure which has been my concentration in recent times. And what’s more, we need a Government that’s committed to real action on climate change, that understands that sustainable outcomes need to go through every one of our activities whether as a Government or as the private sector. I want to work with trade unions and with the business community as I have my whole life. not just in terms of political rhetoric but in terms of the structures that I’ve put in place, including the creation of Infrastructure Australia.
I want to work with communities as I have as Minister for Regional Development and Minister for Local Government. I changed the relationship between those local communities and the national Government while I was Local Government Minister and received I must say substantial support from people who are not Labor’s natural allies. I want to bring that approach of inclusiveness into the leadership of the Labor Party. And if I’m successful, I’ll do just that as well as hold the Morrison Government to account because the Morrison Government had a plan to get re-elected, they did not have a plan for Australia.
REPORTER: Do you support the Adani project and how are you going to tackle it?
ALBANESE: I’m not about to announce policy on the run. The other thing before we get into any detailed questions of policy; one of the things that I will do, if I have the great honour of leading the Australian Labor Party, is I’ll be a bit a different style. One of the things I won’t do is walk along to press conferences and make policy announcements without consultation, on the run. I won’t be obsessed by the 24-hour media cycle. We will have considered responses. We’ll have respect for caucus processes. I’m not the leader of the Labor Party at the moment. Frankly I’m some bloke who’s been elected as the Member for Grayndler, who is a candidate. Well I haven’t even nominated for leader of the Labor Party, so I’ll respond, you can be disappointed, I’ll respond in terms of specific policy issues in the fullness of time.
REPORTER: With all due respect, don’t you think that rank and file members have a right to know if they’re get to be voting for you, what your opposition is?
ALBANESE: If you can show me a party card I’ll have a chat with you afterwards. I’ll be talking directly to party members about my views about a whole range of issues. What I’ll do is give considered responses. I obviously am not up on all of the news that has happened today. I have my focus on other things.
REPORTER: Can you tell us of any discussions you’ve had with Jim Chalmers and whether or not he would be acceptable to you as a deputy?
ALBANESE: I’ve made it very clear to anyone I’ve spoken to, and I don’t talk about conversations I’ve had with individuals, but I’ve made it very clear that I am standing as a candidate for leadership of the Labor Party. I am doing so without doing any arrangements. There’ll be no deals, there’ll be nothing from me. Anyone can run. I did that last time, by the way, in 2013, and perhaps because of that, I suffered.
But it’s the right thing to do, and I must say that’s exactly the same spirit that Chris Bowen brought to his candidacy, when he said he wasn’t seeking to lock in factions, or to do arrangements. I think that’s the way this ballot should operate, and should be respected. So, if anyone wants to nominate, they’re entitled to do so. I have said that I intend to nominate, and I’ve spoken to people about those issues.
REPORTER: Do you expect you’ll have an opponent?
ALBANESE: Look, we’ll wait and see. I think it’s too early to tell. You know, there’s obviously been canvassing for at least a couple of people already. Well, a few, actually, and they’re entitled to do so. They’re entitled to see what their base of support is, in the Caucus.
Of course the party membership, you know, need to be treated with respect as well. The truth is that most party members don’t align to any particular group in the party. They join the Labor Party because they want a better country. They join because of their concern with issues; because they know that it’s only the Labor Party that stands up for the interests of working people, it’s only the Labor Party that can actually deliver on environmental outcomes, it’s only the Labor Party that have ever done the big reforms, whether it be the largest pension increase in Australia’s history last time when we were in government; whether it’s the apology to the Stolen Generations; whether it’s the 20% by 2020 Renewable Energy Target; when it’s the big infrastructure projects that have created jobs right around Australia that I’ve been engaged in. They’re the people. That’s why they joined the Labor Party and they will make up their own decisions and overwhelmingly, it literally is something they fill out in the privacy of their own kitchen and lounge rooms and one of the things, if there is a ballot, is obviously they’ll give consideration. I start from the point that I have travelled around this vast nation for more than two decades, talking to people about their concerns. I’ve engaged with party members. I don’t think there’s anyone in Australia in the Labor Party who’s launched more campaigns at State and Federal level over the last decade than myself. What that means is that their starting point with my candidacy is they know who I am. They know what they’ll get. What you see is what you get and I intend to put that forward, if there is a contested election.
My understanding is the national executive is meeting, perhaps tonight, and that they will call nominations. They will close after a period of time, I think in a week. I’m not sure when nominations open even. I’ve stayed distant from that process. Whatever it is that’s decided I will participate, and I will put myself forward. I hope to be successful. If I’m not successful I’ll accept that too. I’ll go on contributing as a member of Labor. That’s what I’ve done for most of my life and it’s what I will continue to do, to do my best in whatever capacity I’m able to do so.
REPORTER: Is it problematic for the Labor Party if there is no contest at all?
ALBANESE: I beg your pardon, sorry?
REPORTER: Is it not problematic at all for the Party if there is no contest at all?
ALBANESE: Well, there is, effectively. This is a democratic process. No one can argue; all of you are here reasonably late after the usual time on a Wednesday afternoon. You can’t say there’s not been a process here. There is being a democratic process. People are talking to people and sounding out their level of support, and people are having a debate. People are informing the public that that’s going on, which is appropriate. What’s not appropriate is for all of that debate to be held, held in public obviously, but a lot of it will be, and last time round, it was as well.
REPORTER: Just quickly, do you agree with Labor …
ALBANESE: Before you even say what I’ll support. I’ve already indicated that I’m not going to go into … I’m not in a position to do that.
REPORTER: Do you personally support …
ALBANESE: I’m not in a position to do that.
REPORTER: Just quickly, on a separate matter. Do you agree with the comments that Chris Bowen made that Labor essentially offends people of faith? Where do you stand on that?
ALBANESE: Well, I don’t think he said that. I actually heard his interview and what Christopher Bowen said is that we needed to respect people of faith and I agree with him on that. One of the things that I did, for example – go back and have a look at my history; on the issue of marriage equality, there is no one in the Parliament who has supported marriage equality more strongly than me. But at the same time I always supported a conscience vote in the Labor Party, because I didn’t want someone to be in a position of feeling as though they were made to choose between their faith and their loyalty to the Labor Party. And that’s been a consistent view that I’ve held across a range of issues. It’s not one that’s held by many people who are very close to me. But it’s one I’ve held. That’s what I’ve said consistently and that is as a direct result of my understanding that people’s faith needs to be respected. Thanks very much.