Dec 2, 2011

Transcript of interview – Melbourne Talk Radio Breakfast

Subjects:   National conference, gay marriage. Elton John, Tony Abbott

STEVE PRICE: ALP federal conference starts in Sydney today. The media is concentrating on the gay marriage issue. Well, of course they will also discuss uranium sales to India and the next question of border control, but the Prime Minister’s speech at 9.30 this morning, I’m told, will focus largely on jobs and productivity. Anthony Albanese is the Transport and Infrastructure Minister and Leader of the House. He’s been good enough to join us on his way to the conference, presumably. Minister, good morning.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: G’day Steve. I’ve been here for an hour already.

STEVE PRICE: Working hard. I notice in my inbox overnight from Anthony Albanese Labor Connect, the website, dropped into my inbox a little book that you’ve put out called The Little Book of No, written by Tony Abbott.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Indeed. It’s a whole range of Tony Abbott’s no quotes. We know that he’s turned the coalition into the Noalition. But when you have a look at all the things he’s said no to over the years – all of the measures that we’ve introduced, apart from carbon and mining tax. No to the protection that we brought in for Queensland and Victoria after the floods, no in principle to a range of issues including the National Broadband Network, including the Economic Stimulus Plan, Medicare Locals. All of those issues, and we’ve put it together in one little booklet, which is a handy reference guide to remind people how negative an Opposition leader Tony Abbott is.

STEVE PRICE: Two years ago today that he first said the coalition would not pack a carbon tax. Do you believe seriously that, if elected, the coalition will unpick it?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think it’s a huge problem for them because what they’ve got to do – and they’ve said they’ll do it, is increase the income tax-free threshold from $6000 back up to $18,000, putting a million people back into the tax system –

STEVE PRICE: [Interrupts] Has that ever been done before, a tax break like that reversed?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No. And issues such as the pension increases and support for low income households that will come in on 1 July next year. All of those changes. It’s quite extraordinary, but Tony Abbott has had a strategy that somehow the Government would fall over in the next 24 hours and that he’d just say no to everything and that that would get him through. I think it’s pretty obvious to everyone including himself now. It might have even dawned that the Government will serve full term, and that to be all opposition and no leader is only doing half of his job.

STEVE PRICE: You’re furiously working the numbers there at the conference on a number of issues. I’ll get onto gay marriage in a moment. Is the media obsession with this issue outweighing its importance at this conference? Are there more important things that you’re going to talk about than gay marriage?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Oh, absolutely. The biggest issue of importance to all Australians is jobs and the economy. That will be the focus of the Prime Minister’s speech this morning. It will be the focus of all of today’s discussion I sat through a full day’s meeting yesterday and the gay marriage issue took up about 15 minutes out of the whole day. The media tend to focus on one thing because it’s easy but we’ll be debating a whole range of issues right across the range of portfolios, including my area of infrastructure and transport. There’s some important issues regarding infrastructure development, how we get funding, our roads, our rail, our ports, our communications, our water, our energy. That will be the focus of debate on Sunday, but it’s also been the focus of a lot of work in the lead-up to the conference.

STEVE PRICE: You personally have a strong view on the gay marriage issue, though, don’t you? You’ve been out recruiting Elton John, as I understand it.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: [Laughs] Well I did a function last night for World AIDS Day, which Sir Elton spoke at. He gave a cracker of a speech, actually, about the need for governments to not be complacent about this issue. It’s an issue he feels passionate about. He’s put a lot of money through the Elton John Foundation into HIV/AIDS research and support, and last night he made the comment about same-sex marriage. I suggested maybe we could proxy him on the floor. It was a bit of a joke. I noticed one of the newspapers has written it up as if it’s a serious comment, that Elton John will be turning up at the conference, but I think he –

STEVE PRICE: [Interrupts] I thought you might have had to hire a piano.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: He’ll be busy doing other things. Well he’s a great entertainer. The first record I bought with my paper run money was Honky Château, way back. Many, many years ago Steve so it was actually a great pleasure to meet him. I’s fantastic to see someone like him who’s been so successful over so many years but still concerned about the world that he lives in and passionate about making a difference. He gave up his time last night and because of that we’re now talking about HIV/AIDS and that’s a good thing to build on, Australia’s proud record. We were one of the first countries in the world to respond and to respond aggressively and because of that we saved people’s lives.

STEVE PRICE: I plucked this track out. I thought that perhaps Julia Gillard or yourself might use this as the theme song for the next election.

[Music played – I’m Still Standing by Elton John]

Perfect words for an election campaign.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: It sounds pretty good, actually. I’ll take that onboard and I’ll speak to George Wright, the campaign director.

STEVE PRICE: I can see Julia entering to make her election speech with that music in the background. You could even if – your now good friend Elton might come back and do it live for you.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, maybe he will. As you know, Steve after August last year there were some saying the Government wouldn’t last. We got 254 pieces of legislation through the Parliament undefeated and the Government is in a much stronger position. We managed to double our majority last week, we got through all of our major legislation this year, and I look forward to the next couple of years, building on that legacy. We’ll still be standing. I hope we’re still standing after the next election as well.

STEVE PRICE: Knowing, just finally, your sensitivities in the community, the timing of your pay rise could have been better.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Mate, that’s got nothing to do with me. I read today some – whether the reports that were in the media were right or not have been questioned, so I’ll wait and see what happens there.

STEVE PRICE: All right. Good luck at the conference at the weekend. Thanks a lot.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:      [Interrupts] Thanks a lot Steve, great to talk to you as always.

STEVE PRICE: Anthony Albanese, Transport and Infrastructure Minister, and we’ve discovered the theme song for Labor during the next election.

[Music played – I’m Still Standing by Elton John]