Subjects: NSW election, Mark Latham, minor parties, Michael Daley, Medicare.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Welcome to the program.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks for having me on Patricia.
KARVELAS: At the weekend we saw State Labor fail to gain any ground against the Liberal Party especially in Sydney. Were you surprised by the results?
ALBANESE: Well it was a result that was disappointing for New South Wales Labor. There’s no point gilding the lily there, but Gladys Berejiklian I think has shown herself to be a formidable political figure and it was a tough campaign. New South Wales Labor of course had a relatively new Leader in Michael Daley. They put forward I think an effective program making the point about schools and hospitals being the priority for expenditure, but clearly they had some issues in the last week of the campaign that distracted from the message that New South Wales Labor was attempting to put forward to the electorate.
KARVELAS: New South Wales Senator Arthur Sinodinos says he thinks seats like Lindsay, where Emma Husar was forced out, and Gilmore, where Warren Mundine is running, are now competitive. What do you make of that?
ALBANESE: Well it is pretty extraordinary that you have a Liberal Party Senator in Arthur Sinodinos saying that they are competitive in Gilmore. That is a held seat. It is a seat they have held for a very long period of time. They have had successive members. Indeed, there’s only been one Labor Member for Gilmore ever and that was very short term in Peter Knott. So it shows how dire the situation is if anything, the fact that they are putting that forward and I know In Gilmore we have a circumstance whereby the Government has imported a candidate in Warren Mundine who has no connections with the local area.
KARVELAS: Labor’s former Federal Leader Mark Latham is getting a second act as a One Nation New South Wales Leader. He is obviously in the upper house now. He has been elected. How should the Government handle his vote in the upper house?
ALBANESE: I think they should ignore him as much as possible. Mark Latham is someone who seeks attention. This is someone who ran for the prime ministership of the nation as the leader one of the two major political forces and is now reduced to being a backbench upper house member in a State Parliament for a fringe political party led by Pauline Hanson who he once expressed contempt for. Mark Latham, we will wait and see how long that relationship with Pauline Hanson lasts. Mark Latham has a history of course of not being able to sustain political relations and I think that you know in terms of the upper house and the running of the Parliament, I don’t see that he will be playing a major role.
KARVELAS: Should New South Wales State Labor rule out ever working with him?
ALBANESE: Well I don’t think that there will be a constructive relationship with anyone. That’s the history of Mark Latham and I think that will play out and Mark Latham will make, from time to time, outrageous statements in order to get publicity. I don’t intend to add to that during this interview.
KARVELAS: And how should the media deal with Mark Latham? There has been a big debate after Christchurch about how the media deals with some of these more extreme politicians. What’s your view?
ALBANESE: He is one of how ever many people there are in upper house these days. I think it is something like 42. I might be wrong on that. They should treat him the way they would treat the other members of the upper house who have no positions in the Parliament and aren’t on the frontbench of either major political party. There is no reason at all why he should have been given the prominence frankly on Channel Seven in particular that he and Pauline Hanson have been given in recent times.
KARVELAS: Both major parties saw a drop in their primary vote. It has been a trend in the last few Federal elections as well. What does that say about you and the underlying strength of the Labor vote?
ALBANESE: Well we need to acknowledge that that has happened to both major political parties. I have been talking about this for some time Patricia. We need to address it. We need to restore faith in the major political parties who can actually form government and get things done. Decisions are made around cabinet tables and people who seek election who then get to wait for a decision to be made and then decide whether to protest against it or not aren’t the people who actually get to change fundamentally our society and the major parties I think both have been given another wake-up call about that. We need to do better. We need to engage with people. We need to talk about the issues that they are concerned about. We need to make sure that we don’t over-promise and I think that if you look at a government such as Daniel Andrews, who I was with yesterday with Bill Shorten, what we saw there was a major political party whose vote went up significantly across the state of Victoria because he had done exactly what he promised to do and had a vision for the next term. So I think there are models that show that you can bring people back to the major political parties with the right leadership.
KARVELAS: And on this issue in New South Wales, do you think Michael Daley should stay on as Leader? I know that they’ve delayed leadership discussions until after the Federal election, but given the issues and the things he said around race in the last week, are you surprised by those comments and do you think it means he shouldn’t stay on as Leader?
ALBANESE: Well those comments weren’t appropriate and Michael Daley has certainly acknowledged that and certainly it had a negative impact on the outcome of the election, there’s no question about that.
KARVELAS: Sure, but if a Coalition Member said them you would be thumping the desk. I don’t know if you literally would, but you know what I’m trying to say, you would be pretty outraged by them. Shouldn’t you show the same level of outrage to Michael Daley?
ALBANESE: I’ve just distanced myself from those comments. This is the first time I’ve been asked about it. As you know, Patricia, I wasn’t around in Australia last week so at the first opportunity I’ve stated my opposition to those comments.
KARVELAS: Does it mean he’s not fit for leadership though, if he can make those comments so flippantly?
ALBANESE: That’s a matter for the caucus and for the party membership. The good thing about the rules changes that were championed when Kevin Rudd and I had the leadership of the national ALP, and then have now gone through state ALP branches as well, is that it’s very empowering for the membership to get a say. I would expect that there will be a contest, but it will be after the Federal election, which is appropriate. It’s important that all ALP members in New South Wales, and indeed around the country, focus on the need to get rid of this incompetent, hopeless Government and rabble that we see at the Federal level. That will be the focus up until a May 11 or May 18 election, whichever date the Prime Minister choses. After that there will be a contest if more than one person puts their name forward. I hope they do, frankly, and that the party then gets an opportunity to have a debate moving forward. I think that the leadership ballot that we held in 2013 is one of the reasons why Labor, after our defeat, managed to very quickly, even while that leadership ballot was taking place, we moved ahead in the polls, because they could see that we were interested in the future and in a contest of ideas and that would be a constructive thing for the Labor Party to go through.
KARVELAS: Anthony Albanese, just on today’s announcement: Labor’s pledge to end the remaining freeze on the Medicare indexation rebate by July if you win government. Can we expect another Mediscare campaign by Labor and do you accept that some of the exaggerations in that Mediscare campaign went too far and do you think that you should stick to the facts rather than exaggerate the possibilities?
ALBANESE: Well what I accept, Patricia, is that it’s Labor that created Medicare, it’s Labor that believes in Medicare and it’s Labor that have that at the centre of our health policy. And I also accept that Coalition members, when given the opportunity, will undermine Medicare at every possible opportunity. What we saw was the Medicare freeze is about undermining bulk-billing, it’s about undermining the public system and we know that from John Howard down – John Howard, of course, promised to destroy Medicare and then had to back off, but then, of course, had a series of measures that undermined the system. And the reason why people are concerned about the Coalition’s attitude towards Medicare is that they know, deep down, that they don’t support it. They’re very grudging about it.
KARVELAS: Well they say they support it.
ALBANESE: Well their actions speak very differently.
KARVELAS: Well they haven’t dismantled Medicare though.
ALBANESE: Actions speak louder than words.
KARVELAS: But they haven’t dismantled Medicare, have they?
ALBANESE: They’ve frozen the Medicare rebate.
KARVELAS: That started under Julia Gillard in 2013.
ALBANESE: No, it was a very temporary measure designed very clearly in terms of just for a couple of years. This Government is the Government that are responsible for the Medicare rebate being frozen right now and at every opportunity, we know from what they say, sometimes in public, but always in private, that they really believe in services being available on the basis of a capacity to pay. That’s essentially the difference. Labor believes in health care being available on the basis of need.
KARVELAS: Anthony Albanese, I’m out of time. So you have to come back so we can talk about High Speed Rail. Thanks so much for joining us today.
ALBANESE: It’d be a pleasure.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.