SUBJECTS: Listening Tour; Tax cuts; AFP raids; John Setka; China and US alliances; press freedom.
ANNE ALY, MEMBER FOR COWAN: Well good afternoon everybody and welcome here to The Pantry right here in the heart of Cowan, in Wangara. And I’m just – it’s just such a privilege to be here at The Pantry here with Kevin and Dan who started The Pantry. The Pantry is completely run by volunteers and relies solely on donations but offers such a vital service to people here in the northern suburbs. Last month alone they helped out 6,000 people in Cowan. And these are people who through no fault of their own have fallen on hard times. They’ve lost their jobs, they’ve had their penalty rates cut, they can’t find secure long term employment, they’re suffering mortgage stress. People who aspire to being able to put food on the table and a roof over their children’s heads. These are hardworking Australians and I want to give a message to those Australians out there who are doing it tough at the moment. I’ve been where you are and I want to say to you there is no shame in asking for help. And it’s places like this, places like The Pantry that offer this vital service that make people feel comfortable when they have to ask for help, give them the dignity that they deserve when they have to ask for help. But you know with 6,000 people helped last month it’s very clear that the economy here in Australia is not working for everybody. There are people out there who are struggling and we are very very privileged to have services like the pantry available to people in the northern suburbs. I’m also privileged to be here today to welcome Anthony Albanese the Leader of the Opposition to Cowan. Of course it’s not Anthony’s first time, fifth time in WA this year and I’m sure there are many, many more to come. But having Anthony here in Cowan and particularly here at The Pantry really does just reinforce just how much Labor and the Labor Party is concerned about and cares about those who are doing it tough in our society and we will continue to do that. But right now I want to hand over to Anthony Albanese to say a few words.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much Anne. And it is good to be back here in Cowan for my first visit to Anne’s electorate as the Labor Leader. And it’s great to be here at The Pantry with Kevin and all of the fantastic volunteers who are here, and Pastor Dan who is here as well from the Reality Church here in Wangara.
The fact is that this reminds us of two things; one is it reminds us that there are many Australians who are really doing it tough. They need assistance, who need an economy that works for them rather than the other way around, who are falling behind. And we have increasing levels of homelessness in this country. We need to as part of the listening tour that I’m conducting not just talk to businesses as I did this morning with Fortescue and after this I have a meeting with Wesfarmers. We need to also talk to people who are on the frontline of service delivery and talk to people who are doing it tough which is why I am here this afternoon in Cowan with Anne at this amazing service.
On the real plus side it’s also a reminder about the sort of country that we are. A country where people volunteer, a country where people understand that they have responsibility to help their neighbours, to help their community to really pitch in to provide that assistance. And here in Perth’s northern suburbs we see that occurring on a day to day basis. At this service, 5724 people during May, 5,700, making an enormous difference to their whole lives. If you haven’t got a decent meal at mealtime then you’re not going to be concerned about issues like finding a job, how you pay you your rent, how you deal with other day to day lives. And many families of course are also struggling. And for the kids who get assistance from a service like this I pay tribute to all the people Kevin and others who’ve been providing their service now for five years and continue to do so on a day to day basis. You’re an inspiration to Australians, the people who volunteer in civil organisations like this. Governments need to play a role, but the truth is society is more than just government and business. Society is also about organisations like this church run not-for-profit service that’s making a difference to people’s lives each and every day and I pay tribute to them.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese if people are doing it so tough, why won’t you support the Government’s tax plan fully with a commitment to perhaps repeal stage three if you’re elected?
ALBANESE: Well, I do find it rather a strange question to say, “why don’t you support something now so you can repeal it later on?” The fact is that the tax cuts that come into effect on July 1 – were supposed to – that Scott Morrison promised – he’s walked away from. He knew that he couldn’t deliver on that because the writs aren’t returned until June 28. But I’ll make this suggestion to Prime Minister Morrison. He can pass those tax cuts in the first week back very quickly that come into effect on July 1. The people who need this service aren’t worried about what happens in 2024-25. I’ll give you the big tip; what they’re worried about is the same as what indeed the Reserve Bank was worried about last week. It’s a fact that our people are doing it tough. We have an economy that’s flat-lining in terms of growth. We have real wages not keeping up with inflation. We have increased insecurity at work. We have penalty rates that are being cut on July 1. We have increased levels of mortgage stress. They’re the issues that are a real concern right now. Not what occurs not after the election we just had, but the election after next in 2024-25 and I’m not surprised that Pauline Hanson today has also expressed her concern about those issues being off on the never never. We have great economic uncertainty right now. The economic outlook has changed and the Government’s rhetoric between when the May 18 election was held and right now, one month later. So to talk about six years’ time is a triumph of hope over economic reality to suggest that people know what the economy will look like at that point in time.
JOURNALIST: Do you see in any way that the tax cuts might bring some heat into the economy?
ALBANESE: Well certainly, look the tax cuts on that was supposed to come into effect on July 1 because they’re aimed at low and middle income earners. People will spend them, they won’t be putting it away for a rainy day. They’ll be spending it. And that will create economic activity. The Reserve Bank have said that monetary policy can’t do all the heavy lifting. And that’s why we’re disappointed that the Government has broken its commitment that they would come into effect on July 1. The Government needs to ensure – stop playing politics – needs to ensure that it can come into effect as soon as possible.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) surprised that Senator Hanson’s has made those comments today about the tax cut package, she’s indicated she’d like to see a coal-fired power station and other things instead of the cuts and has said she would want to negotiate with the Government, do you think those demands are reasonable?
ALBANESE: Well I think that the idea that the Government should build a coal-fired power station has already been ruled out by the Government and certainly the markets would indicate that that isn’t going to happen. But Pauline Hanson has said with regard to the tax cuts, she’s pointed towards the fact that they are off a long way away in 2024-25. What I think the Government should do is not just do the July 1 tax cuts that were due to come in but they should also look at bringing forward some of their infrastructure investment that’s off on the never never. Here in Western Australia, we promised $460 million more investment for infrastructure over the next four years than the Government had on the table. Now some of those projects were the same, offered by both sides of politics, like projects in Stirling, projects in terms of grade separations for roads, some of the Metronet packages, expanding the rail network here in the West, they should be brought forward because what we should see is an increase in infrastructure investment not just putting it off into the future.
JOURNALIST: Does that mean that Labor won’t support stages two or three?
ALBANESE: No, that means that – if I get this question every day you’ll get the same answer every day, which is we will give consideration to it when our processes are in place when we see the legislation. We haven’t seen it yet. The Government’s rhetoric frankly on the economy is all over the shop. They’ve changed their rhetoric between May and what it is now. We’ll have a look at their legislation we’ll come to a considered position then we’ll make an announcement. But we’ve said very clearly, because we supported stage one during the election campaign and when the Budget was announced we of course will support that. With regard to stages two and three will as I’ve said before on other issues, hasten slowly, have proper deliberation and proper processes of decision making.
JOURNALIST: What kind of feedback did you get back from Fortescue today? You were meeting with Fortescue, what kind of issues did they want to bring up?
ALBANESE: Oh look, they wanted to talk about the state of the economy, in particular the relationship with China is very important for Fortescue and I’d had those discussions in the past with with Andrew Forrest and other business people here in the West. It was also an opportunity – there’s over a thousand people, about 1,200 working at the moment in the head office of FMG there in Perth – and it was a real opportunity for myself, the Deputy Leader Richard Marles, and Matt Keogh who has been given particular responsibility for WA Resources, to have a constructive engagement with them. I look forward to continuing to do that in the future.
JOURNALIST: Rosie Batty says that union leader John Setka’s leadership role needs to be challenged in the wake of his comments. Do you agree?
ALBANESE: Oh look I agree that I’m on Rosie Batty’s side. Certainly not John Setka’s in terms of any dispute which is there, and his comments were reprehensible. As I’ve put on the record in the past, his comments have been inappropriate. It’s not the first time that Mr Setka has made inappropriate comments, but when it comes to violence against women there is no place for anything other than our entire community, let alone anyone who’s in an elected position – in this case in the union movement – to do anything other than condemn it without qualification. The union movement has a proud record indeed of campaigning to ensure that the violence against women that occurs and is all too prevalent in our society is opposed and tackled, education campaigns and indeed the CFMMEU have had a proud record of campaigning on those issues and it’s a pity that Mr Setka’s statements had been made.
JOURNALIST: Do you feel he should step down then?
ALBANESE: Well that’s a matter for both the union and for him to consider his position. I’m not a member of of that organisation. And I’ve said before that I don’t have a relationship with Mr Setka.
JOURNALIST: Are you familiar enough with the activities of Mr Setka and perhaps also his top officials to know is there a cultural problem in that branch at the top?
ALBANESE: Look no I’m not, to be frank. I’m not familiar with the ongoing activities of the Victorian branch of the construction division of the CFMEU. It’s not it’s not my base as far as I know, I certainly have never had a conversation with Mr Setka. I have met other people in the CFMEU. And can I say the National Secretary for example of the construction division, Dave Noonan, is I believe a man of integrity and there are many people in that organisation who’ve put a whole lot of effort into ensuring that issues like violence against women are opposed and opposed strongly. I know Rita Mallia well, she’s the President of the New South Wales Branch of the CFMEU and I know many people should not be denigrated because of the comments of one person.
JOURNALIST: Senator Cormann today has somewhat opened the door to an inquiry on press freedom. Given the raids that have happened is that something that you would support (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: Well look, the truth is that my comments in recent days have been consistent with comments that I’ve made over a long period of time. I draw your attention to an interview that I did on the 12th of October 2014 on Sky News with David Speers at the time that this legislation was being considered. Here’s what I said, quote, “I don’t believe there has been enough scrutiny. I believe the media laws are draconian when we talk about potential penalties of five or 10 years jail for exposing what might be an error made by the security agencies. We are all concerned as Australians about the jailing of Peter Greste in Egypt. I believe we should be arguing for more scrutiny of these issues not just from Labor but from the Government as well.”
So in 2014 I was speaking about freedom of the press. I was speaking about the role of the media. I’ve been consistent about that. I’ll continue to be consistent about that. Our society relies upon a free press as a fundamental tenet of our democracy. I called it out in 2014. I will continue to engage and I’m prepared to engage with the Government about how some of the inadequacies which are there – noting by the way that as far as I know I’ve been advised, I’ve obviously been travelling on the road so I haven’t directly had the briefings that I would have if I was in Canberra – but I’ve been advised that the laws in which the raid for example on Annika Smethurst occurred, relied upon laws that go back to the first world war, not something that’s happened in recent times. So clearly we need to examine these laws to ensure that national security is upheld – that’s critical. But was it in the public interest that Australians know that government agencies were considering increasing spy powers on Australian citizens without their knowledge. Yes it was, and that’s what Annika Smethurst’s article went to.
JOURNALIST: Have you had any discussion in WA yet around emissions? I mean, today the state EPA is coming out (inaudible) process of trying to put in its own sort of carbon, I guess, targets, and that’s starting over again. The State Government’s talking about sitting in their own energy policies, did you speak much with Fortescue about it or do you need to take a look at your own energy and emissions policies considering…
ALBANESE: Well, we of course, we of course have till 2022 to finalise our policy. The Government, it would be nice if they had some. They don’t have an energy policy. They haven’t had one. And what we’ve seen is that emissions rising this year in the latest figures that came out just in the last week, that’s three years in a row of emissions rising. Emissions are rising and prices for households and businesses are rising – on this Government’s watch. So quite clearly it hasn’t delivered. What we will do is encourage the Government to come up with a policy which we can consider but we will take our own program to the election in 2022. I’ll be meeting with Premier McGowan this afternoon.
JOURNALIST: On the front page of The Australian today there’s a story about fears of a technological cold war between China and the West. I wonder if you have any thoughts on whether Australia should be giving more consideration to the consequences of going all the way with America on this?
ALBANESE: Look the US is at our most important ally, but we have three tenets of our foreign policy. One is the US alliance. The second is engagement with our region including the Indo-Pacific Asian region. And the third is support for multilateral forums including through the United Nations and other multilateral forums that exist. China is an important trading partner for Australia. The relationship with China is particularly important here in the West. And whenever I travel here in the West, that is some of the feedback that I receive, whether it’s from the WA Government where I know Premer McGowan and Ministers like Alannah MacTiernan has made multiple visits to China. That’s a good thing. They’re promoting this state, they’re promoting jobs here in the West and it’s important for our national economy as well. We don’t have to see friends as being somehow more in terms of – you can’t have a relationship with China if you have a relationship with the United States.
I believe we can have mature relationships with not just the United States but with China and other countries in our region in order to maximise the opportunities which are there. We’re here in the fastest growing region of the world in human history. That is an enormous opportunity, an enormous advantage after so long. In the last century and the one before Australia was disadvantaged by the tyranny of distance. Now we’re at the centre of growth and we need to take advantage of that, take advantage of the jobs, take advantage of the rise in living standards and potential that’s there. Not just in terms of resources, but in terms of advanced manufacturing, in terms of tourism sector, in terms of all of those opportunities that the rising middle class in average in in our region presents.
JOURNALIST: What kind of feedback did you get in Fremantle last night?
ALBANESE: It was pretty good last night, I’ve got to say. Except for those people who complained because they couldn’t get in the room because it was so crowded. And I do think it’s pretty extraordinary that three weeks after a significant defeat we had something like 400 people crowded in to Clancy’s Fish Pub in Fremantle and they all wanted to engage and have a chat. That was organised on just a few days’ notice, and what I took out of that is a great deal of heart. Not just for Josh Wilson as the Member for Fremantle but for WA Labor. The fact that people were there to have a chat with myself and Richard Marles and the other local MPs who were there, I think really does all the well. And it shows that Labor people, you know, were disappointed by the result on May 18. No question about that. Disappointed but now they’re determined, determined to make sure we win in 2022.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.