Subject: Abby Sutherland; Labor leadership; polls; The Greens; CPRS and climate change; cabinet processes; RSPT and infrastructure
PAUL BONGIORNO: And welcome back to the program Anthony Albanese. Good morning, Minister.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: G’day, Paul.
PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, as Transport Minister you’re in charge, of course of the Maritime Safety Authority. Do we know where Abby Sunderland is heading yet?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Not as yet. What we do know is that we can be very proud of the efforts of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. They have pulled off a remarkable rescue. Just four hours after Australia was put in charge of the rescue, they located her and they’ve been I think exemplary in the way that they have handled this. They have worked around the clock and all Australians can be proud of their work.
PAUL BONGIORNO: There is a report this morning that the charter of the Qantas jet cost us $10,000 an hour. Who pays for that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Australian taxpayer of course, at the end of the day, makes a contribution but we have to put this in some context, Paul. If there was an Australian lost at sea, we would want the international laws on maritime to kick in and for every effort to be made to save that person. We can be very proud of this effort and indeed, I received a phone call yesterday afternoon from the US Ambassador thanking Australia for our efforts.
PAUL BONGIORNO: So we cannot send the bill to Abby Sunderland and her backers?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That is not the way that the law works. Of course there are insurance issues, but I think at this stage of the event, I think the focus that the Australian government has had and the Maritime Safety Authority have had, is saving this young woman from the sea. We have done that successfully and I think we can be very proud of our efforts.
PAUL BONGIORNO: Doesn’t this whole event, however, show how dangerous it is for teenagers, for 16 year olds to try and sail around the world. Would you discourage them from doing it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It is certainly a reminder, but the focus at this stage I’ve had and AMSA has had is making sure that Australia, once again, has shown that we are leaders in the world in the area of search and rescue. That is a good thing. It brings great credit to Australia and I know that AMSA have received many, many emails and information from the United States expressing the gratitude of the US.
PAUL BONGIORNO: Going to that report in this morning’s papers that the leadership of the Government, of the Labor Party, is Julia Gillard’s for the taking? Is that your understanding?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, those reports of course have nobody next to them. The one name that I have seen yesterday was Keith De Lacy on the front page of The Australian, who it’s alleged was treasurer of Queensland some time last century. I mean, for goodness sake, people need to get serious. The fact is that our Prime Minister is the one leader of the advanced world who negotiated successfully through the global financial crisis.
PAUL BONGIORNO: There would have to be some nervous Nellies, if I can put it that way, in the Caucus, given how badly the polls are going for the Government at the moment.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, we think we have got the fundamentals right. We got through the global financial crisis better than any economy in the world. Just this week, we had unemployment figures come in at 5.2 per cent. Were it not for the Government’s actions, there’s no doubt that would not have been the case. We have successfully negotiated national health reform. We are negotiating through the various measures in the building of the education revolution. We have the largest infrastructure rollout in Australia’s history. We think we have got the fundamentals right. We are very proud of our record. We intend to campaign on our record and on what we will do in a second term.
PAUL BONGIORNO: In the Nielsen Poll, the Greens scored a record 15 per cent, but at the last election, they achieved close to 19 per cent of the primary vote in your electorate. Of course, all of this encourages Bob Brown. Here’s what he said.
SENATOR BOB BROWN: We intend to work hard right the way through to the election to give people a good alternative when so many Australians are frustrated and not liking what they see in either of the big parties.
PAUL BONGIORNO: Minister, in the current climate, wouldn’t you and other inner city Labor MPs, especially in Sydney and Melbourne, be at some risk from the Greens?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, we’re happy to campaign, whether it is to the right of us against Tony Abbott, or to the left of us in terms of Bob Brown. I will certainly be pointing out that with the carbon pollution reduction scheme the actions of the Greens highlighted their weakness. That is, if they had voted for a price on carbon, we’d have one today.
And it is a bit reminiscent of those people who campaigned against the Republic referendum all those years ago. We are still celebrating the Queen’s birthday this weekend with the Queen of England as our Head of State.
Purity in politics sometimes leads to very bad outcomes and the CPRS, and the Greens’ actions in combination with Tony Abbott’s Liberals, is an example of that.
PAUL BONGIORNO: Coming up, when the panel joins us, just how dysfunctional is the way Kevin Rudd runs his cabinet? The special pleading of the week goes to the Mayor of Canning City in the marginal seat of Swan. The popular local leader was miffed when he missed out on a federal grant for a major pet project.
MAYOR OF CANNING CITY: It would have created 100 – no listen – 100 full-time employees. In the city of Swan…
KEVIN RUDD: I think I’ve got the thrust.
MAYOR OF CANNING CITY: One hundred votes, that’s all that’s in there, 100 votes to swing the seat. That’s what I want to pass on to you. Thank you. I hope that I’m going to get an answer next week. I’ll come and visit you next week.
KEVIN RUDD: I think I got it.
PAUL BONGIORNO: You’re on Meet the Press with Senior Minister, Anthony Albanese. And welcome to the panel, Mark Kenny, from the Adelaide Advertiser and Eleanor Hall from ABC Radio’s The World Today. Good morning Mark and Eleanor. ‘
The Financial Review reported during the week that the Prime Minister has received advice to improve the way he runs his cabinet process. It came after Peter Garrett confirmed last weekend that he found out about the shelving of the Emissions Trading Scheme by reading it in the paper.
TONY ABBOTT: It shows the chaotic failure of due process inside this government. It shows that decisions are taken by a gang of four without any real consultation with anyone.
ELEANOR HALL: Minister, Peter Garrett says he didn’t find out about the ETS decision until he read it in the papers. When did you find out?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I don’t talk about Cabinet processes of course, Eleanor, as you would expect, but what I know is that the Cabinet is functioning extremely well. This is a Cabinet that saw Australia through the global financial crisis.
ELEANOR HALL: When you talk Cabinet though, are you talking the small, four-member Cabinet or the full Cabinet?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No. I’m talking about the Cabinet and the Cabinet processes, with its full Cabinet and Cabinet sub-committees I think works extremely well. I chair one of those committees. We deal with issues on a day-to-day basis. And I think overall, we have functioned extremely well. It is a united Cabinet, unlike Tony Abbott’s opposition. We’re determined to see Australia through what’s been an extremely difficult economic time.
ELEANOR HALL: That decision on the ETS was taken by the Gang of Four, as it is called. Would it have been different had the full Cabinet been involved?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I don’t talk about Cabinet processes in terms of the details, as you’d expect. What I know is that that the decision on the CPRS, as you know Eleanor, was actually made by the Senate. It was knocked back twice, the full legislation. We did everything possible to get a CPRS introduced into this country and the reason why we don’t have a price on carbon is because the Liberals had a coup and replaced Malcolm Turnbull with the most extreme right-wing leader they have ever had in Tony Abbott and because Bob Brown and the Greens chose purity and chose to side with Tony Abbott in opposing a price and carbon.
ELEANOR HALL: After that, there was that decision by the smaller four-member Cabinet, there is now a suggestion that these sorts of decisions are going to be taken by the full Cabinet. Is that an admission that some of those decisions by the smaller group were a mistake?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No. The Cabinet determines what our processes are for ourselves and the Cabinet meets extremely regularly, not just in Canberra but of course right around the country. We had a meeting on Wednesday in Perth, prior to the community Cabinet. I find the Cabinet deliberations extremely constructive. If you look at the Cabinet, I think the real issue of the Cabinet processes, come the next election, is, who do you want as Health Minister? Nicola Roxon or Peter Dutton? Who do you want as Education Minister? Julia Gillard or Christopher Pyne? Who you want as Treasurer? Wayne Swan or Joe Hockey?
ELEANOR HALL: Well, the voters are telling you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The rest of them, you cannot even name. When the Shadow Minister stands up to ask a question in Question Time, quite often it is difficult to know who the question is going to because they change so often. I have had four infrastructure shadow ministers in just two years.
ELEANOR HALL: At the moment the polls are saying, the people are telling the pollsters that they want the opposition.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We have been through a difficult time but we are very confident that we will be able to discuss the issues that count, which is seeing Australia through the global financial crisis, and who has a vision for the future of Australia.
MARK KENNY: Mr Albanese, the decision to scrap the ETS, however it was taken, has clearly shaken voter confidence in the Government. It seems to be the consensus that it is the key thing, that it is the start of the erosion in your poll numbers. Will you be looking to finger the Greens for that process, for their role in scrapping the ETS?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: There is no doubt that they’ve got to be held for account and they’ve got off lightly. We know that when the final vote was taken in the Senate, two Liberals crossed the floor, had the courage of their convictions to vote for a price on carbon. Had the five Green Senators done that, we would now have a carbon pollution reduction scheme.
I ring people in the electorate who contact me about these issues and they get a surprise, one of the things that they say is, why can’t you just now get together with the Greens and introduce a price on carbon? When you say to them the Labor plus Greens is still two short of a majority, and we know that Steve Fielding is a climate change sceptic, there is no possibility of getting a price on carbon now in this parliament. That was lost last December. That, in my view, is a tragedy.
MARK KENNY: Their vote seems to have gone up if we were to believe these polls. You failed in that communication task to date. At the last election, as Paul said earlier, the Greens vote was very high in your electorate and was high in the electorate of Melbourne, Lindsay Tanner’s seat. Don’t you have a credibility problem here? Isn’t that going to make it even more difficult in the next election?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: As you know Mark, people focus most of the time, the average punters don’t have our interest in the day-to-day running of politics. When people focus on what the issues are, they will know at the next election that they have a government that is committed to taking action on climate change and a Leader of the Opposition who, in his own words, says that climate change is crap. That is what he said quite clearly. There will be a clear differentiation on the overall attitude towards climate change and on action. Remember, we ratified the Kyoto Protocol, we introduced a 20 per cent renewable energy target, we are taking action on solar energy, on wind, on geothermal energy. We have an approach that says that climate change must be addressed, the other side want to continue to put their head in the sand as sea levels rise.
ELEANOR HALL: Whoever is responsible for the ETS not getting through, it does seem to have left you hamstrung in terms of making compromises on the other big issue at the moment, the mining tax. Graham Richardson is saying you have two weeks to end this row with the mining industry. Can you do it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We are in serious, constructive negotiations with the mining industry, but they themselves have acknowledged that a move away from a production-based tax to a profit-based tax is the way forward. That was in their submission to the Henry review. That is what a number of miners have said since. Everyone acknowledges that except for Tony Abbott. The fundamentals are there in terms of that shift. Also in terms of what the money would be spent on, the increase on superannuation from 9 per cent to 12 per cent, the reduction in company tax for all Australian businesses by 2 per cent and the increased investment in infrastructure. I think we have got a good story to tell. We will continue to argue our case. We will continue to have negotiations with the mineral industry.
PAUL BONGIORNO: Part of the sell and part of the good story came out in Perth where the PM announced a $6 billion Infrastructure Fund with $4 billion earmarked for WA and Queensland.
TONY ABBOTT: Well, I think he’s desperately trying to buy votes. He knows he’s in trouble. He knows he’s disappointed a lot of people. He’s broken promises, he’s wasted money and now he’s got this great big new tax which threatens jobs.
MARK KENNY: Mr Albanese, Tony Abbott obviously says you’re trying to buy votes, yet we have also seen reaction from some mining interests in both those States, particularly in Queensland, where they say the amount of money that you put on the table, when spread over 10 years, is really a negligible amount and it is not going to amount to a whole lot of difference. What is your response to that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Tony Abbott is not only, the only person who doesn’t support a profit-based tax, he is also one of the few people who doesn’t support public investment in infrastructure. It is not surprising. Public investment in infrastructure fell by 20 per cent as a proportion of national income during the Howard government. What we know is that these communities, in spite of the enormous wealth that was generated during the mining boom, in spite of the fact that you had record revenues going in to government coffers during that period, we have a massive infrastructure deficit.
If you go to towns such as Karratha and Port Hedland and Newman and you see a lack of infrastructure. That is why we have people living in Brisbane and flying across the other side of the country to get there, because there simply isn’t the infrastructure there. What’s more, our export-based infrastructure has been held back. Australia has lost revenue due to the failure of infrastructure in roads, rail and ports. Indeed, take Newcastle for example. Some $2 billion lost in revenue to Australia in income because of a lack of rail and port facilities in the Hunter, just the five-year period from 2005 to 2010. That figure comes from the Minerals Council.
PAUL BONGIORNO: There are sure to be further debate about this before the election. Thanks very much for being with us today Anthony Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s good to be with you.