Jan 6, 2014

Transcript of interview with ABC News 24

Subjects: Cory Bernardi, Tony Abbott’s lack of an agenda, Australia Post, electricity prices, Australian Labor Party, regional infrastructure, Australia’s ashes victory

INTERVIEWER: Our top story – Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi has defended his controversial comments on abortion. In his new book accuses some women of using abortion as an abhorrent form of birth control.

He also labels those who support abortion as pro-death.

Senator Bernardi is calling for a reduction in the number of abortions performed in Australia. He says it’s important politicians speak out on controversial issues.

BERNARDI: I’m a faithful son of the Liberal Party. I will continue to do that. But as a backbencher, I’m free to engage in a battle of ideas free of the doctrines of Cabinet responsibility. So I will continue to do it, just like, just like, every other backbencher is free to do it.

INTERVIEWER:  Joining us now is opposition frontbencher Anthony Albanese. Lovely of you to join us. Happy New Year to you.

ALBANESE: And to you.

INTERVIEWER: Let’s start with Cory Bernardi. Is it fair and reasonable when you are in government to come out with strong views like this?

ALBANESE: There’s nothing fair and nothing reasonable about these extremist comments from Cory Bernardi.

He says that he’s pro-freedom but he’s against women’s right to control their own bodies.

He says he’s pro-religion but he’s against any religion that isn’t the same as his.

He says he’s pro individual rights, but, in his advocacy of WorkChoices, he would take us back to the Howard era that saw division in the workplace and saw workers discriminated against and rights being taken away.

He says he’s pro-family, but he’s against any family that doesn’t resemble his depiction of what a family is.

This is an offensive contribution to the policy debate.

He’s a confidante of Tony Abbott and it’s up to senior government members from Tony Abbott down to dissociate themselves if in fact they disagree with Cory Bernardi’s agenda.

INTERVIEWER: Now you’re not surprised by any of these views?

ALBANESE: No, they’re consistent with some of the views that Cory Bernardi has put from time to time.

What this book has done, though, is put them all in one place, and it’s very clear that this is a coherent, if reactionary, agenda, from a government that really doesn’t have an agenda for governing.

They had an agenda to get into government, but since Tony Abbott became Prime Minister we haven’t seen what their vision is being outlined.

INTERVIEWER: I’m just interested in what you think a book like this could serve. Cory Bernardi defends his right as a backbencher, as he says without the responsibility of being on the frontbench, to write a book like this which he called not a political book. I’m interested in what (purpose) you think it could serve?

ALBANESE: The role that this will serve of course is to divide our community.

Here in Australia in 2013, we’re a diverse community.

We’re made up of different families (that) look different around Australia. People have different religions, have different races, they have different ways of life and we celebrate our diversity in a multicultural community such as Australia.

What this book does is really narrow down that definition, seek to divide and seek to point the finger and say that some families aren’t as good as others, some religions aren’t as good as others, some lifestyles aren’t as good as others and in terms of its attitude towards women, 50% of society essentially discriminated against if the policies that were put forward in Cory Bernardi’s book were actually put into place.

INTERVIEWER: Anthony Albanese, he doesn’t see them as reactionary. He sees them as well supported. You have been around the trappings of Canberra, Parliament House for many, many years. Are they well supported, these views?

ALBANESE: Some of these views are more and more commonplace in the modern Liberal Party. That’s the problem. There aren’t too many Liberals, small l Liberals, left in the Liberal Party. More and more they are either conservatives or reactionaries like Cory Bernardi.

The fact that he was a Parliamentary Secretary to the now Prime Minister and a close confidante of the Prime Minister and only got into trouble last year when he raised comments likening homosexuality to bestiality mean that really it’s now up to Tony Abbott to completely dissociate himself from Mr Bernardi.

Mr Bernardi was the lead, number one candidate on the Senate ticket for the Liberal Party in South Australia. These comments I think can only do one thing, which is to divide the community.

INTERVIEWER: He sees this as an endorsement of his policies because, as he said to me earlier, he was re-elected.

ALBANESE: Well, he certainly was re-elected. He was re-elected because the Liberal Party and Tony Abbott backed him in to be number one on the ticket in South Australia.

I think it is now up to Mr Abbott and other senior members to disassociate themselves from these comments.

Mr Bernardi was pretty quick to come out of the box condemning Malcolm Turnbull just in recent weeks for stating his views regarding marriage equality in Australia.

What we need is more tolerance in Australian political discourse, not the sort of divisive reactionary comments that we see from Mr Bernardi.

INTERVIEWER: He was sent to back bench of the then – in opposition. When you say confidante of Mr Abbott, you still think he has the Prime Minister’s ear?

ALBANESE: Well, Mr Abbott has to come out and make clear what his response is to this extraordinary reactionary agenda from a senior member of his party, the number one candidate on the South Australian Senate ticket, someone who’s produced this book and who has been, in spite of the fact he has a record of years of these sort of comments, now putting them in one place, really coming out early the new year, trying to make more division in Australian society.

It’s not the way to go and it’s not the role that Australian parliamentarians should be playing.

INTERVIEWER: Just finally before we move on to another matter, will you read the book?

ALBANESE: I’ve already had a look at the comments that have been made. ABC24 have broken the comments and the excerpts that are there are extraordinary.

INTERVIEWER: Let us move on to a story today in the Financial Review – the ACCC calling for a big asset sell-off – really urging the Abbott Government to get rid Medibank Private and Australia Post.

It is interesting to see how again we see Cory Bernardi and now we have another big influential group trying to influence government policy.

ALBANESE: What we see is that Tony Abbott has come into government without an agenda for governing and that’s creating the space for, whether it be Cory Bernardi or other advisers, in this case the ACCC, to make this sort of commentary.

And once again, Tony Abbott needs to make clear what his position is.

If Australia Post was privatised, does anyone believe that people in regional Australia would receive the same service that they currently receive from Australia Post?

I mean, the post office in some of our smaller regional towns is a real focal point. It’s not just the place where letters are posted, it’s the bank, it’s where bills are paid, it’s where services centre in some of these local communities.

And I think that these comments are filling the vacuum because Tony Abbott isn’t putting the agenda out.

INTERVIEWER:  Could Australia Post not get sold off with some of those provisions just like the utilities were where there are provisions for regional areas, for lower income people?

ALBANESE: What we would clearly see in those circumstances is a loss of cross-subsidisation. So you sell off the profitable bits and the taxpayer, forevermore, has to subsidise the more unprofitable ventures that tend to be in those regional Australia communities.

So I think Australia Post is a very efficient organisation. It’s well run.

I know that as someone who filled the position of Communications Minister for a short period of time last year – that they’re looking at ways of expanding their operations and I think in terms of Australia Post, there is no case to privatise what is an absolutely essential asset.

INTERVIEWER: What about in terms of privatising state-owned energy companies? Rod Sims says we would’ve been paying less for electricity if they’d been in private hands?

ALBANESE: Look, there is certainly a case where you have a competitive market and in the energy sector you have a national energy market and do you have competition in place.

There is a case for releasing that capital essentially on a case-by-case basis but that’s a matter for State Governments to have a look at.

I’m not ideological in terms of I don’t think things should always be public or always be private.

But I think that you can’t be ideological the other way either and not acknowledge the fact that the public sector and public enterprises can play an absolutely critical role and I think public enterprises, whether it be Australia Post or the ABC, or SBS, play a very important role.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think he is right when he says those costs would’ve been lower?

ALBANESE: Look, I think what we’ve seen – well, I don’t think that’s the argument, actually.

INTERVEIWER: In Victoria they weren’t – they have been quite substantially lower.

ALBANESE: What we’ve seen in New South Wales is a massive over-capitalisation of the energy sector. And that’s because of IPART’s recommendations about what percentage of reliability should be there.

And you’ve had, I think, a considerable over-investment in our energy infrastructure that was unnecessary, that’s led to a considerable increase in cost being passed on.

INTERVIEWER: Medibank Private though is a bit of an anomaly in terms of the one out of the box with the rest of the funds privatised? 

ALBANESE: Sure. But there again, what you need to look when you analyse the potential privatisation is also opportunity cost.

What is the forgone revenue that currently the government receives from Medibank Private? What would the consequences of that be over a period of time?

I am not an expert in that area but you need to look at a longer-term perspective of these assets, not just what the impact is on a balance sheet over a 12-month period. And I think that once you do that , then quite often it does make sense to have what are profit-making enterprises remain in public hands so that you get that return to the taxpayer that can then be used for social purposes over a period of time.

INTERVIEWER: You mention the government’s had a lack of focus in how it’s going to approach the future. How are you feeling at start of 2014? Has the Labor Party put that mess of 2013 behind this?

ALBANESE: Look, I’m feeling pretty optimistic. I’m feeling optimistic that we have got our act together.

We went through a difficult period, there’s no doubt about that, but I think in the way that the party conducted itself in the leadership campaign of which I was a part meant that we acted in a mature way.

We had real serious policy debate out there that was about how we unite the nation, how the nation moves forward on economic policy and social policy, environmental policy.

That’s another thing of Cory Bernardi’s book as well.

He’s got a statement in there talking about how essentially a green agenda – any consideration of sustainability issues – takes away from human beings. It’s sort of human beings or the environment, as if we don’t live in a way which depends upon our natural and our built environment and as if those factors shouldn’t be taken into account.

This is really a very negative agenda.

And I think it stands in stark contrast to Labor’s agenda that’s about a strong economy, that’s about prioritising jobs, but also about fairness in the workplace, in society, plus sustainability in everything that we do.

INTERVIEWER:  Is there concern within the Labor Opposition now or Labor Party that a lot of your achievements in government are going to be dismantled into the future?

ALBANESE: Well, certainly we’re seeing that attempted. I mean  if the new characteristic has a defining characteristic, it’s that they’re against what we were for. They’re not defined by their own agenda. So they’re trying to remove everything positive that we did.

The National Broadband Network is essential infrastructure.

The changes that we made in terms of taking action on climate  change.

We do need an emissions trading scheme, is our view. You can’t just get rid of a carbon price and pretend that it will fix itself, pretend that these issues aren’t there.

The winding back of some of the fairness, the cuts that we’re seeing, whether it be to Aboriginal legal aid, whether it be to community infrastructure, no funding whatsoever for public transport.

I’ve been very disappointed at the cuts that will be made to infrastructure.

Tony Abbott says he wants the infrastructure Prime Minister.

Well you can’t be that if you’re not funding a cent for public transport, you’re cutting the National Broadband Network and you’re actually not increasing the roads budget.

INTERVIEWER: What would your headline be for the cricket team?

ALBANESE: Oh sensational! I had the privilege of going out there yesterday, wore my pink shirt, and didn’t expect it to be over on Day 3.

INTERVIEWER: Lucky you didn’t have tickets to today.

ALBANESE: It was a fantastic effort. 

INTERVIEWER:  Good on you. Thank you very much for joining us. We do appreciate your time. 

ALBANESE: Great to be with you.