Subjects: Queensland Budget; Cross River Rail; Bruce Highway; Bruce Highway; electoral reform; No Confidence motion; Tony Abbott’s character
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m sure I’ll get some questions about some other things, but I did want to talk about the issues relating to Cross River Rail in Brisbane, and the Queensland Budget next week.
The Queensland Budget is an opportunity for the Queensland Government to fulfil the commitments that they gave in writing in a letter to me asking for support for the Cross River Rail project.
It’s time that the Queensland Government also stump up some real money for the Bruce Highway. We have $4.1 billion over ten years. The Queensland Government, the last time they had a budget, the first Newman Government budget, put very little additional dollars into the Bruce Highway. Indeed only an additional $10 million.
So next week’s an opportunity for them to actually get around to fulfilling what they said, what they asked for in writing, with regard to the Cross River Rail. If this opportunity is lost, we know that the Leader of the Coalition has indicated that under a Coalition government they’d walk away from any funding whatsoever for public transport. This is an Opposition Leader who has a problem with anything with the word ‘public’ in it: public transport, public education, public health. When he sees the word ‘public’, he just thinks cuts, cuts and cuts.
So next week is a real opportunity to fix that. We’ve got it in writing, and it’s about time that the conservatives actually put into practice what they’re prepared to put into writing.
QUESTION: Minister did you fail to gauge public anger when it comes to these electoral reforms?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I watched the Leader of the Opposition’s performance outside here just a little while ago. The letter from the Leader of the Opposition on 24 May, after the Budget by the way, clearly indicated in writing his support for the reforms, the support from his Shadow Minister, the support from the Liberal Party National Director, Brian Loughnane, for these reforms. He clearly indicated that he’d had the “near final draft” of the Bill in his correspondence to the Government.
With regard to the final changes that were made to the legislation, they were made at the request of the Coalition, some minor amendments to the drafting of the Bill. And we sought, not surprisingly, to get this in writing from the Leader of the Opposition because he’s indicated publicly, of course, you can’t believe anything he says unless you get it in writing. What this shows is that when you get it in writing, you can’t believe it either.
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
ANTHONY ALBANESE: In terms of this issue, I stated clearly yesterday that it was my view, it remains my view, that when it comes to considerations of electoral legislation such as this, if you can get agreement between the Government and the alternative government, that’s a preferred method of moving forward. If that’s not possible, then the Government will certainly consider its option, including the legislation that has been before the Senate. We tried to get legislation to reduce disclosure, in terms of donations, on three separate occasions, and haven’t been successful in doing so.
Now it’s important, I think, that there be transparency in the political process. A long time ago there was no public disclosure at all. It’s now $12,100. The Labor Party’s position has been that it should be $1,000. That’s been our position, but we were prepared to negotiate in good faith an outcome that would lead to a compromised position of $5,000.
Now the Coalition, despite the fact that Tony Abbott in writing – I mean, this goes to his character. It is very hard to have discussions with someone who, even when it’s in writing, just simply walks away for the agreement. Importantly, over recent days we resisted going out there and saying we’ve actually got this agreement in writing from the Leader of the Opposition. He was out there briefing the good folk of the TV networks that they hadn’t seen anything, that they knew nothing about this, when very clearly, as he indicated just before, there have been months of discussions.
There have been discussions, I might say I haven’t been a part of as the Infrastructure Minister, but his senior people and the appropriate people on both sides have, whether it be the organisational people or the appropriate ministers and shadow ministers.
QUESTION: When the Government received the letter, was it still your understanding that it needed to go through shadow cabinet and the joint party room before you had final sign off on it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The letter’s pretty clear and you can read it as well as I can. It says, “I am satisfied with the agreement reached and indicate the Coalition’s intention to support the legislation and to deal with it as requested before the end of the sittings.”
QUESTION: That’s black and white to you?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s black and white. There’s not even a colour letterhead, but this is a photocopy. It might be that there was bit of green on there from the letterhead, but it is very clear, it’s black and white, it’s explicit, it’s clear. It names all the people involved. It speaks specifically about the legislation. It’s a response to a letter of the 16 May. He copies in his Manager of Opposition Business, Christopher Pyne, as well as Senator Mitch Fifield. This is a very clear letter.
QUESTION: [Indistinct] You haven’t addressed that issue at all, the level of public anger about this.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: This is about increasing transparency in terms of the process, and we have had, in terms of…
QUESTION: So you’ve ignored your electorate…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, if you’d like to listen. You get to ask a question and then I get to answer. Now your question is about public funding and whether there should be any public funding of political parties. I think there should be public funding of political parties. That is the system that I will defend. I think there’s a real case for lowering the amount of expenditure that occurs on elections, you remove the ability of people or companies to donate to political parties. You know, that’s the starting point.
There’s an issue here which is how do you do that? Public funding has been in for some time. I think public funding is needed, transparency is needed. We need to remove the ability that occurs in places like the United States. If you look at their system where you have large amounts of money, where you need to be either a millionaire or backed by them to run for a serious political position in the United States. Here in Australia that isn’t the case. That’s a good thing. That’s why governments of both political persuasions have supported public funding.
QUESTION: Have you received any backlash from your own constituents, though?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No.
QUESTION: If this thing goes down, do you think there’s greater danger that moneybags are going to drive democracy in this country as a consequence of this decision?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, in terms of public disclosure of donations, I mean, there’s some pretty serious people with some serious money floating around engaged in politics these days. You might have noticed them.
Some of them are setting up political parties. I think that the principle of ‘one vote one value’, the principle of equal participation in our democracy is undermined if you can have large donations, particularly large anonymous donations. One of the things that this was aimed at was lowering the threshold. That’s something we have been committed to. At $12,100, if you donate around different divisions of political parties and go through all of that, you can donate a substantial amount of funds to a political party without it being disclosed.
QUESTION: So Labor is sticking by its…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Sure.
QUESTION: On another issue, stop work orders have been issued [indistinct]. Are you worried about that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, I haven’t been briefed on it and when it comes to issues of health and safety I think it’s appropriate to have proper briefings and speak on the facts.
QUESTION: Minister Albanese, with – surely now with the Opposition pulling out the Independents aren’t supporting you, you’re not silly enough to proceed with the bill in the Parliament on your own?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, the Bill hasn’t been introduced into the Parliament.
QUESTION: And it won’t be?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Bill was a joint bill. What the Government is considering is our options with regard to our principles about lowering the disclosure threshold and in other ways to increase accountability. We think that is best done in a bipartisan way. That’s why we had a pretty clear written agreement for.
I mean, I am not sure how an agreement in writing from Tony Abbott referring to the National Secretary of the Liberal Party, the manager of opposition business in both houses, and the Shadow Minister; I’m not quite sure how you get a more concrete agreement than that.
So therefore, given the Coalition’s position, and Tony Abbott’s – who I noticed didn’t really answer any questions as to whether he was rolled in his leadership group or what exactly has occurred here. I had a conversation last night who said that they were in a “difficult position”. That was how it was put, and you’ll note that the legislation is not listed for introduction today.
QUESTION: Was that Christopher Pyne who called you?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I am not at liberty to say. I had discussions yesterday with a number of the key people in the Coalition, as I do about managing the business in the House.
QUESTION: Is this now a discussion for the next Parliament?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No.
QUESTION: So is the 2010 legislation now going to be reactivated instead?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’ll consider our options, and we’ll have discussions with the other representatives in the Parliament about those issues. The 2010 legislation that is currently in the Senate is not in a passable form at the moment because there are dates and various things in it that mean it couldn’t be passed as it stands. But we’ll consider those options. The Senate isn’t sitting at the moment, so there’s a couple of weeks to consider that and have some discussions.
QUESTION: So something could still happen before Parliament rises at the end of next month?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yes, we’re considering options. I am of the view, and have been of the view for a long time, that transparency is very important to the political process; that these principles we’ve sought to enshrine in a bipartisan way are important. Therefore of course while the Parliament sits the Parliament is the master of its destiny, and the Parliament can consider these issues.
QUESTION: Did the Coalition set you up – set the Government up for a failure on an unpopular issue here? Do you think that was its strategy?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, if anyone has an issue, it’s Tony Abbott in terms of this letter. It can’t be clearer and what you’ve got to consider here is that Tony Abbott has said himself he can’t be believed unless it’s in writing. What we now know is that if it is in writing you don’t take that as a guarantee either.
I mean, this is a bloke who wants to be the Prime Minister of the country. You can’t believe a word he says. How do you know that? Because he tells you know that. He’s on camera saying that. Now we know that you can have it in writing and it doesn’t seem to matter much either.
QUESTION: Just on the letter, I guess [indistinct]. Don’t you think [indistinct] appropriate for politicians to change their mind when circumstances actually do change, given the level of public…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: What circumstances have changed?
QUESTION: Well, just given the level of public anger.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: What circumstances have changed?
QUESTION: [Inaudible question]
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I did notice Tony Abbott spoke as if this was a letter written prior to the Budget and tried to get his usual lines. It’s a bit like the no confidence motion. I don’t think you asked him about that. You know, that was going to happen. His point is to make a statement that gets reported. It doesn’t matter whether it stacks up in 24 hours or 48 hours. It gets reported, you’ll go away and report it. You ask me questions, saying, ‘well, how do you think the no confidence motion is going to go’ and I say to you, ‘what no confidence motion?’ And we have this dialogue. I got phone calls from journos over the week’s break, ‘how do you think it it’s going to go’. The Indies tell you that they he hasn’t even bothered to ask or lobbied them about it. You still report it.
You know, it’s quite farcical the way he operates. It is effective from time to time in terms of getting an opposition line up. It’s not really effective, though, if you’re serious about being the alternative leader of the country. And that is what we’ve seen here again today: a bloke who even when he puts it in writing walks away from it, pretends in the press conference here that this was a letter that was prior to the Budget and circumstances had changed. It hadn’t. It was after the Budget, it was after full discussions, it was very clear. It is in black and white. He’s really got to explain why he has put this in writing and then completely flipped. Was he rolled? What’s his real position with regard to this issue?
For the Government, our concerns are the principles that we hold dear, which is increasing transparency in the system, trying to ensure that any perception of the purchase of political influence is absolutely gotten rid of and minimised to the extent that that is possible. That is why we have taken the position that we have over a long period of time. We have a proud history of electoral reform. I think it’s best if that is done in a bipartisan way. If that is not possible, so be it.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.