SUBJECTS: Listening Tour; John Setka; AFP raids; National security policy; Voters in WA.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Okay good morning. Thank you for joining me here in Perth. I’ve been conducting a three day listening tour here in Perth. It’s been a very productive visit and I thank all those West Australians who’ve engaged with me, whether it be on the train, on the Mandurah line on Sunday, where unsuspecting commuters suddenly had the Leader of the Labor Party chatting with them about their experience with the election and how we could do better. Or whether it be at White Lakes Brewing, a small business. Whether it be larger businesses that engaged, including FMG and Westfarmers. Whether it be those talkback callers on 6PR or ABC Perth this morning, who rang in to put their views about the election campaign, about what we did that was good, what we need to do that’s better at the next election. Or whether it be people like the Premier, Mark McGowan, who I spent time with last night about the needs of WA. Can I say this? There is no-one more passionate about job creation here in WA than your Premier, Mark McGowan.
Can I thank also the Labor Party colleagues – my team here in WA – including frontbench and backbench members, who’ve engaged and welcomed me here in WA. The people at the pantry, a Christian charity not-for-profit organisation, providing food hampers in Anne Aly’s electorate of Cowan. Or the 400 people who turned up to Clancy’s Fish Pub in Freo to engage with me and Richard Marles, the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party. It’s been a productive visit. I’ll be back in a few weeks and I’ll continue to engage, not just here in Perth, but throughout Western Australia over the next three years to ensure that we’re in a position to be elected into government in 2022.
Can I make some comments about John Setka? This morning, I have written to the Secretary of the Labor Party, Noah Carroll, advising him that at the next meeting of the National Executive, I will move for John Setka’s expulsion from the Australian Labor Party. John Setka does not belong in our party because of the views that he holds. In particular, I spoke to Rosie Batty yesterday about her concern with the views that he expressed. As she indicated, she’s disappointed that this was a distraction from the honour that she received yesterday. Rosie Batty is a great campaigner against family violence and the idea that she should be denigrated by someone like John Setka is completely unacceptable to me as Leader of the Australian Labor Party and I don’t want him in our party. It’s that simple. I have also asked the National Executive Committee to suspend his membership from the Labor Party from today – it stops. John Setka has, on a range of occasions, made comments that I have said at the time are completely unacceptable. Just a couple of years ago, of course, he made comments regarding the children of people who work for the ABCC. Those comments were unacceptable. I called them out at the time. I have consistently called out bad behaviour, whether it be from trade unionists or employers. My concern here is that John Setka undermines the credibility of the trade union movement through the position that he holds and the public views that he’s expressed.
I want to make it clear that this decision to move his expulsion does not relate to any matter that is currently before the courts, in which, for some, through his lawyers, has expressed his view that he intends to plead guilty to those charges. So I don’t want to interfere with anything that is before the courts. But I will intervene to ensure that someone who has views particularly with regard to family violence and the role of women in society that is so outside the parameters of the mainstream views, not just of the Australian Labor Party, but the mainstream views in this country, I don’t want him in the same party that I lead. It’s that simple. I’ve taken this decisive action. I expect that at the next meeting of the National Executive – we have to go through those processes because he’s entitled to be able to put forward his views. It has taken some time to check that we have the appropriate mechanisms in place to ensure that this action by myself can withstand any challenge, but I’m very confident that I will receive the unanimous support of the ALP National Executive for the stance that I take today. I’m happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Isn’t there a broader problem with the CFMEU? I mean this is a rogue organisation with a long criminal history, why don’t you just separate yourself completely from the CFMEU?
ALBANESE: Let’s be very clear. Your average CFMEU member is someone who is working on a construction site. They’re concerned about occupational health and safety. They’re concerned about getting home at night safely to their families. The role of the trade union movement in the CFMEU, of course, is construction, forestry, maritime – it is a large organisation. Trade unions play an important role in our society. My concern here is that John Setka is someone who is, in my view, unacceptable to stay as a member of the Australian Labor Party. That’s what I have control over and I’m exercising that control here today. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: On the ABC, I know you’ve been asked a lot questions in the last few days in regards to the PM’s meeting with the head of the ABC today and the rallies as well (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: Sorry, what was the second part?
JOURNALIST: The rallies in support of the ABC. Will you be pushing to meet with the ABC in regards to what’s happened here?
ALBANESE: I support freedom of the press. If you go back and have a look at an interview I did on Sky News in 2014 that was covered in the Guardian extensively, my remarks in recent weeks have been perfectly consistent with the views that I put at that time. I think freedom of the press is an essential component of our democracy. I think it’s good that Ita Buttrose, as the Chairperson of the ABC, has spoken out so strongly and I think it’s good that Prime Minister Scott Morrison is meeting with Ita Buttrose. It stands in contrast to his dismissal of nothing to see here when these issues were first raised with him. It’s good that he now acknowledges that there is an issue.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) has Labor tolerated his actions for too long?
ALBANESE: Have a look at my comments the last time. They were on the front page of The Australian at the time condemning his comments. I’ve done that consistently. I’m now the Leader of the Australian Labor Party. I’m in a position to do something about it and I’m doing it today.
JOURNALIST: Do you still want strong ties with the CFMMEU?
ALBANESE: The fact is that people who work in the construction industry, it’s a very dangerous industry. I want to make sure that all employees are appropriately represented on issues like occupational health and safety. It’s critical. I want to make sure as well that employers behave well. There’s a common interest I’ve said consistently between unions and business. They have a common purpose. It’s about creating jobs. It’s about creating economic activity. It’s about making sure that people receive appropriate wages and conditions in the workplace. It’s about making sure that occupational health and safety in particular, in what is a very dangerous industry – if you took all unions out of the construction industry, I believe that would be a very dangerous a thing to do and it is not something I advocate. We need to be sensible and have common sense about this. Where someone behaves badly, whether they’re an employee, a trade union official or an employer, then action should be taken. I’m taking action today.
JOURNALIST: Is it appropriate for the Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs to contact a senator personally about their public comments?
ALBANESE: Well, I’m not sure what their relationship is, can I say that. And I made comments on this earlier today. I know Mike Pezzullo well. It wouldn’t worry me if he rang me, for example, or any departmental secretary who wanted to express a view to me. I don’t know what the relationship is between Mike Pezzullo and Senator Patrick. Senators have a particular role, of course, because they get to question senior bureaucrats in Senate Estimates Committee. So Senator Patrick has expressed concern about the contact. It’s reasonable for him to express his view on it. But as for the next step forward, I think the critical issue here, when we take a step back, what is the fundamental issue? The issue here is that there were articles published by Annika Smethurst about the discussion that was taking place between departmental heads to increase spying powers on Australian citizens without their knowledge. Is that in the public interest, that the public know that that discussion is taking place? I believe it is.
JOURNALIST: Do you see how that could be seen as a form of intimidation?
ALBANESE: Well, I wasn’t a party to the conversation so I’m not going to comment on discussions to which I wasn’t a party. Senator Patrick’s done that. Mike Pezzullo can put his position. I do say that senior bureaucrats need to be cautious about the contact they have and it needs to be appropriate. I wasn’t a party to the conversation so I’m not going to comment on the specifics of the conversation. Mike Pezzullo, from my experience, is a professional public servant, but I don’t know about the nature of the discussion. Senator Patrick has expressed his concern, that’s legitimate for him to do so.
JOURNALIST: Ed Husic has criticised Labor for continuously striving for bipartisanship on national security and he argues that it’s leading to rushing legislation …
ALBANESE: I think you’re verballing Ed Husic. Go back and have a look at what I said in 2014 and you’ll see some comments that are consistent with what I said in the last fortnight.
JOURNALIST: Is it leading to rushed legislation though?
ALBANESE: Have a look at what I’ve said in 2014. Do a bit of research. It’s all there online you can Google it and you’ll see what I’ve said. I believe national security is absolutely essential and there are some things that security agencies do that clearly need to remain confidential. But we also need to ensure there’s proper scrutiny of Government actions. My concern has been a critique of the Government, of the Government in the way that they’ve handled this issue. It’s good Scott Morrison is meeting – I haven’t seen Peter Dutton in recent days since my debate with him on the Today show last Friday morning, he seems to have all of a sudden become very quiet – and I am concerned that government decisions need to be transparent. In a democracy, the media have an important role to play but the Government also needs to acknowledge that the public do have a right to know what’s being considered in their name.
JOURNALIST: Will Labor support a parliamentary inquire into media freedom… (inaudible).
ALBANESE: Look, I’ll refer to Senator Wong’s comments on AM this morning. What we need to do – we’ll consider any proposals which are there. We need to make sure, though, that the Government can’t use an inquiry as an excuse to essentially not give information about the issues going forward in terms of that relationship between media freedom and national security. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: Sorry, just having been here for three days. What is it that people are telling you that you need to do so they will vote for you here in WA to win more seats?
ALBANESE: The first is engagement. And this is a good first step. There’s been a range of issues raised. Obviously we need to put this in context. We did receive almost half of the votes at the Federal Election so it’s not as if there’s 100 per cent to zero. So we got many things right. And many people supported us, including here in WA, and they’re disappointed with the outcome. Clearly we need to engage with business better and that’s been a repeated statement. And specific policies, like the franking dividends policy, caused issues with people. In addition to that, of course, there were a range of issues raised that Labor had no intention of going anywhere near and people have expressed concern about that. We need to, though, examine everything that we do in the lead-up to 2022. I’ve said before; we need to hasten slowly. We need to, as well, push back from time to time against you very good people from the fourth estate. We’re not the Government. And a lot of the time, one of the things that has happened – including since I’ve taken over the leadership of the Labor Party, because the government’s gone missing, doesn’t have an agenda for the third term, in terms of policies going forward – I think that we need to continue to hold the government to account and not pretend that we’re in a position to form government next week or next month, because we’re not. The truth is also the Government has some real challenges ahead that it needs to deal with. We have an economy that’s slowing. We have wages that aren’t keeping up with inflation. We have increased casualisation in the workplace. We have increased mortgage stress. We have the Reserve Bank; when it lowered interest rates, expressing no confidence, essentially, in the Government’s capacity to manage the economy. And they have said explicitly that they can’t just rely upon monetary policy. One of the things that I’ve said here, while I’ve been in WA, is that the Government needs to bring forward its infrastructure investment. We committed $460 million over the forward estimates, or over four years, in terms of our infrastructure investment here in WA. The Government gives big numbers on infrastructure, but they’re all out in the never-never. The Government here has relied upon projects that were begun under Labor, be it the Gateway WA project, be it the Swan Valley Bypass, which it renamed Northlink, giving it a new name doesn’t make it a new project. They’ve been prepared to go round and open projects that were begun with funding from the Federal Labor Government. What they need to do is to start some projects, many of which were bipartisan projects in Stirling, Welshpool Road, and many other roads and of course the METRONET projects. Bring forward the investment; bring forward the job-creation. That would be good for WA and they need to do it, frankly, across the country because it’s no good saying they have an infrastructure and investment pipeline if it’s off in the never-never.
Thanks very much.