Mar 6, 2011

Transcript of interview on Meet the Press with Paul Bongiorno, Jennifer Hewett & Simon Benson

Subject: The Gillard Labor Government’s plan to price carbon; gay marriage; Abbott’s abuse of Question Time; The Greens

PAUL BONGIORNO: And welcome back to the program, Anthony Albanese. Good morning, Minister.


PAUL BONGIORNO: We certainly have seen very heated scenes in the Federal Parliament. Tony Abbott calls the carbon tax an ‘L.I.E’ tax. It is hard to get away from the fact that the Prime Minister has broken a promise.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Not at all. What we have here is a government that has been committed to bring a price on carbon for a very long time. We campaigned for it in 2007 and in 2010 we said we would put a price on carbon. Just like with the CPRS, which had a fixed price for 12 months, there’ll be a fixed price which the Prime Minister has acknowledged, hasn’t wanted to get into word games, is like a tax and we’re out there campaigning on that.

PAUL BONGIORNO: But why did she rule out a carbon tax under her government? Why didn’t she stick to the word ‘price’, instead of carbon tax?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: It is important here to also recognise that Tony Abbott also has a form of carbon tax. His so-called ‘direct action plan’, a $30 billion plan that has a $20 million black hole in it, effectively comes directly from the taxpayers. That’s where the money will come from.

PAUL BONGIORNO: I guess the difference here is, he has not promised not to have a carbon price or a carbon – and he’s steered away from a carbon tax as a promise.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’re having an emissions trading scheme but we’re having a transition period of a fixed price. We think that pricing carbon is critical. What we are engaged in at the moment is a debate as to why it is necessary to take action on climate change. We know that Tony Abbott says that ‘climate change is crap’. We know that he is simply not up to the challenges of the new century. And we know that Tony Abbott is determined to run a negative campaign on absolutely everything, both in policy and in the way that he acts.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, the big charge is that Prime Minister Gillard lied to the Australian people.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s nonsense. Prime Minister Gillard said that we needed to take action on climate change. She said that climate change was caused by human activity and is anthropogenic. She said that there was a need to put a price on carbon. That is what we are doing.

PAUL BONGIORNO: The timing of the announcement, if we can believe reports during the week, a Liberal research in NSW has shown that the carbon tax is a big negative for Labor and will cost Labor votes. Why did you do it?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We did it because we want to bring the Australian people with us. It was important to get out there. We have a committee. The Opposition chose not participate in that committee. We have announced the direction of where we’re going. The detail will be announced as we go through and certainly it was important, I think, to be clear that we need a price on carbon. The best way to send a signal to the market is having a price on carbon.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Did you do it to send a message to Green voters and seats like Marrickville, where the Deputy Premier, Carmel Tebbutt, your partner is, to send a message to them that Labor is serious about issues that they care about?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No. We did it because we’re serious about tackling climate change. That’s why we did it. Climate change is a huge threat to our way of life.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Will the State election in New South Wales…?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: This is not driven by politics, Paul. This is driven by what is the right thing to do. We know that taking action on climate change is necessary. We know that it requires a transformation to a carbon constrained economy and we know that we have got to put a price on carbon in order to drive that change through the economy.

PAUL BONGIORNO: We can’t get away from the fact that there is an election in New South Wales. The Liberals, this week, has effectively turned the state election into some sort of referendum on the issue.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it is up to Barry O’Farrell to determine what he runs on but maybe he should run on State issues if he has anything to say about the future of New South Wales.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Just going to the scenes in parliament, doesn’t the government have to wear some of the blame for the unedifying spectacle in the parliament? Here was the Prime Minister on Thursday.

JULIA GILLARD (THURSDAY): They are confident people who are rejecting your race-baiting.

TONY ABBOTT (THURSDAY): It was a low and contemptible charge, that of race-baiting, and she must withdraw it.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Did Julia Gillard get down to the gutter with the Liberals?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Tony Abbott has made a conscious decision to send out his troops, whether it’s about trying to take advantage of the grief on the day that asylum seekers were burying their parents or their children, tried to take advantage of that in Scott Morrison’s comments. Then we had Cory Bernardi out there blaming or, if you like, condemning an entire religion, an attack on a group of people. Then we had during the week, of course, an orchestrated attack by Sophie Mirabella, Eric Abetz and others using almost exactly the same language, likening the Prime Minister and other ministers to Colonel Gaddafi. What we have here is an Opposition that are out of control. Certainly, while we have been about building the nation, working on issues such as the rebuilding of Queensland through the flood levy and our economic changes…

PAUL BONGIORNO: But using the term “race-baiting”. Should a Prime Minister leave that sort of counter punching, if you like, to someone else and stayed dignified?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: This is a Prime Minister who leads from the front. I think she does it extremely well. She’s a great parliamentary performer. What we’ve seen from the Opposition this week is that every day this week and then last Thursday, so five days in a row they’ve given up on Question Time, given up on holding the government to account, they move a suspension of standing orders at about 2:45pm, so that they get on the television. That is prior to Playschool at 3:05pm. This is the only Opposition in living memory that has failed the test of even trying to hold the government to account, that’s the first job of an Opposition, the second is to put up an alternative and they’re certainly not doing that either.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Time for a break. When we return with the panel, has the government paid too high a price to get its flood levy through? It’s rare you get a choreographed speech in the parliament. While South Australian Liberal Senator Mary Jo Fisher wasn’t exactly poetry in motion, she was entertaining.

MARY JO FISHER, SA LIBERAL SENATOR (WEDNESDAY): You do the hokey pokey and oh, you turn right around. The increased prices at the bowser bring your knees in tight. The increased prices at the bowser, you put your hands on your hips and you bring your knees in tight. It is the pelvic thrust. It is the pelvic thrust. It has to be parliamentary. Let’s do the time warp.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You’re on Meet The Press with Leader of the House, Anthony Albanese. And welcome to the panel, Jennifer Hewett, ‘The Australian’ and Simon Benson, the ‘Daily Telegraph’. Good morning Jennifer and Simon. Julia Gillard has cleared the last hurdle to have the flood levy become a reality. She’s won the support of Independent Senator Nick Xenophon by agreeing to force state and local governments to insure against natural disasters. The Queensland Government has its own arrangements and says it’s a kick in the teeth.

PAUL LUCAS, ACTING QUEENSLAND PREMIER (THURSDAY): What do you say to ratepayers in towns like Gympie or Dalby or Emerald that flood all the time? But under this proposal, they’re going to have to have insurance and it will send them broke. It achieves nothing other than putting money into the pockets of international insurance conglomerates. They don’t offer insurance for free.

JENNIFER HEWETT, THE AUSTRALIAN: It is a hardly a ringing endorsement, is it, Minister? But he’s right. Insurance is not offered for free and many of the councils, for example, will not be able to afford it. How do you get around that?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We have got a responsibility as the Commonwealth Government to ensure that taxpayer funds are spent wisely and we take every precaution that we can. The Commonwealth of course kicks in 75% under the natural disaster recovery arrangements. Therefore, it is appropriate that we have a look at this issue.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Well, if it is appropriate for the State Government, why is it not appropriate for the Commonwealth Government? They don’t do insurance themselves.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Commonwealth looked at this under the former government and found that the current arrangements were appropriate. That was a review by the Howard Government and we agree with that assessment because of the low cost of financing that for the Commonwealth and the fact that at the end of the day, we have to pick up 75% of the bill.

PAUL BONGIORNO: So, are you likely to insure, or not?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, we’re likely to stay consistent with that review that was held just towards the end of the Howard Government period.

PAUL BONGIORNO: There are reports of a right-wing mutiny in the Labor Caucus over the influence of the Greens on the government. Tony Abbott warmed to the theme.

TONY ABBOTT (THURSDAY): Whether it’s climate change or gay marriage, the Greens are in charge and Bob Brown is the real Prime Minister of this country.

SIMON BENSON, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH: Minister, I wanted to ask you about your Government’s relationship with the Greens. In light of the last couple of weeks, do you now accept that it was a disastrous political and tactical mistake to sign a formal pact with the Greens last year to form government when a more informal agreement would have had the same structural effect?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Not at all. If you look at what was part of the formal pact, as you call it, either with the Greens or the Independents, that essentially went to guaranteeing supply and confidence in the government. What that has done is give the Government certainty to go forward, certainty to put together our program, whether it be action on climate change or the National Broadband Network or building the education revolution or national health reform. What we have seen is an enormous program rolled out by the government at the same time as the Opposition has been reduced essentially to background noise.

SIMON BENSON: It has also given rise to a very strong perception that the Greens are running the show. So whether you accept that that is a reality or not, how do you deal with that perception, because that, for you, is a significant political problem I would’ve thought?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Of course that is the case in Australia that governments tend to not have the majority in both houses. The Howard Government had it for one term, and what we got was Workchoices and a disaster. I think there are many former members of the Howard Government I speak to regret having the numbers in both houses. It is normal way of events here that we have negotiations taking place in order to get government legislation through the Senate. The difference is now that some of that negotiation takes place earlier in the House of Representatives. We’ve been extremely successful. 72 pieces of legislation put up by the Government, 72 pieces of legislation carried without a single amendment not supported by the government.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Minister, negotiations with the Greens are one thing, negotiations within the government can also be very sensitive. We had Mardi Gras here in Sydney last night. There was a lot of support there for institute of gay marriage but that’s also a very, very sensitive subject within Labor itself. What are your views on this?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’ll be putting my views consistent with the views I’ve held since my first speech about the rights of people who happen to be gay or lesbian. I will be putting that view strongly within the party. We’ve got a conference coming up in December. These things get played out. That is appropriate. That’s the way that we determine our party platform.

JENNIFER HEWETT: Are you saying you will be putting in your views consistently with what you already had. Are you saying that means you support gay marriage?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, well, I put my views at the last conference when I moved the current platform that is there but history moves on. I went to the Mardi Gras last night. In 1978, people were arrested…

JENNIFER HEWETT: Did you wear a costume?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No. People were arrested in 1978 for marching. Homosexuality was still illegal. History moves on and guess what, the sky doesn’t fall. During the last period of government, we introduced 84 pieces of legislation to remove discrimination. I’m very proud of our record with regard to reform in this area, it’s an important area for human rights, but we will have the debate come December.

JENNIFER HEWETT: But are you saying that now enough has been done?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No. I’m saying we’ll have a debate. There is a legitimate debate to be had and that will be held at the conference in December.

PAUL BONGIORNO: But Minister, do you believe in ‘marriage equality’, as they call it?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I will be putting my position within the party. I support the party processes and the…

PAUL BONGIORNO: It seems like you are dancing around it.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No. I think my position is pretty clear which is that the party platform, it is important that it be debated within the party rather than on Meet The Press.

SIMON BENSON: But it’s your faction the Left that is pushing this through the Caucus.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think there is a very broad range of people. Last time I looked, Mark Arbib wasn’t a member of the NSW left.

JENNIFER HEWETT: I think there is also, in terms of the general issue with the Greens, as Simon was saying, there is a real problem with perception here and it’s not just in the perception of the community. Obviously a lot of your own government members are fairly unhappy about what they see as the influence of the Greens on the governments both in the agenda and the look of the government. Do you think the government needs to alter that in some way, or do more to alter that perception?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think we need to continue to pursue our agenda. We’ve got a strong agenda and it is a Labor agenda to take action on climate change. I was speaking about these issues well before they became Page 1 stories in the mainstream media with regard to climate change, with regard to human rights agenda and that is part of a Labor agenda. We need to own that agenda. I think that the government is doing that. We have a bigger agenda of our own but it does the economic transformation required climate change, the National Broadband Network, national health and hospital reform, education and in my area of infrastructure and transport, we’re busy with reform that is necessary.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Thank you very much for being with us, Anthony Albanese.