SUBJECTS: Cabinet reshuffle; Setting of the election date; Robert McClellend; Morris Iemma; Tony Abbott running from Parliament; NSW Labor
BARRIE CASSIDY: Anthony Albanese welcome.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you Barrie.
BARRIE CASSIDY: It’s a fair call isn’t it, time to steady the ship and provide some stability?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Let’s get real Barrie. We’ve had a couple of people step down for family reasons, there is no suggestion that there is any reason other than personal ones and understandable ones. We do have changes in politics. We are dealing with human beings.
There have been nine, no less than nine, Coalition members announce that they won’t be standing at the next election, including Joanna Gash, who in Gilmore has already got a new job as Mayor of Shoalhaven. And there’s a question there over the issue of offers of profit from the Crown regarding her doing two jobs.
BARRIE CASSIDY: So what is it then, about this Government then that invites those sort of headlines? Two ministers leave voluntarily and that is the sort of headline we get; what is it? Why do you attract that sort of attention?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s not for me to explain the media, that’s a job for the couch.
But what we know is this has been an incredibly stable Government. We saw more changes to ministries from week to week in the initial period of the Howard government than we’ve seen from the current Government. It is an orderly process whereby we have had, I think, very good replacements found for people who have been very good ministers.
BARRIE CASSIDY: But you ring a Labor MP at random, and you don’t have to ring around very long to get them to start criticising some of the processes of this week, especially the timing of this announcement
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well the timing of the announcement, of course, is logical because the decision regarding who the Senate leader will be for the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party is the decision for Caucus. Now under those circumstances, you either announce it pretty close to when the Caucus is meeting or you have a special Caucus meeting with people flying in. And then you would have had the criticism re the cost of doing such a process.
BARRIE CASSIDY: But you’ve read some of the quotes in the paper and they don’t make them up. Is there a need for more discipline within your ranks?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think at the beginning of the year, there’s … it’s an election year. I certainly can’t explain what everyone has to say. They say, speak for themselves.
But what it is the case of is that this is an orderly process. What’s been happening Barrie, since August 2010, people have said that this election this Government wouldn’t last. The fact is we have lasted. We’ve been stable, more than 430 pieces of legislation through the House of Representatives, with not a single defeat, and now we have an election date.
I mean in the lead up to the Prime Minister’s speech, we had journalists you couldn’t talk to a journalist without them asking you ‘when’s the election going to be?’ When we told them, they’ve said: ‘why did you tell us?’
BARRIE CASSIDY: It’s a bit unorthodox though isn’t it? Were you drawn into that process?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I was. I was consulted last week by the Prime Minister. I of course, set the Parliamentary timetable, so it was no surprise to me. When we set the timetable that there were two potential dates in September. We couldn’t have gone in Grand Final week, and once it went into October and the NRL Grand Final of course is at the beginning there, what there would have been was a clamour come July and the lead up to August of when the election is going to be. It would have been relentless.
What we’ve done is provide certainty there. I think everyone who’s had a look at it…
BARRIE CASSIDY: Certainly for Tony Abbott and the people who put his campaign together as well.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: He would have worked out the date. They’re not that silly. In spite of their rhetoric and in spite of the fact that they’ve been out there saying call an election, call an election, that’s just about political rhetoric.
Tony Abbott hasn’t actually even tried to hold the Government to account in Question Time. He’s just tried to wreck the Parliament, tried to argue that an election should be called. He’s failed. The Government has been stable. The Government has been getting on with the business of governing since August 2010 while we have had this wrecking exercise by Tony Abbott.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Do you think Robert McClelland will be the next to provide the crisis headline? Is there a chance that he will leave Parliament before the election?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look I think that’s very unlikely. There’s speculation about this, again it goes to the ongoing speculation that the media seem to want to be obsessed about. As soon as you get some stability they say: ‘well what if?’
BARRIE CASSIDY: In this case, though, isn’t it the case that he might be given a judicial appointment by the O’Farrell government. Do you wonder about the politics behind that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well this is hypothetical on hypothetical Barrie. The fact is that Robert McClelland is continuing to serve as the Member for Barton. There will be a preselection for his replacement, and that will take place over the coming month.
BARRIE CASSIDY: And if though he was to leave in the next month or two, that would be too far out, wouldn’t it, from September, you would have to have a by-election?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: There is no indication that he is going.
BARRIE CASSIDY: So you don’t – you haven’t got any inside knowledge as to whether he is thinking it through?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No.
BARRIE CASSIDY: The possible, when you talk about preselection is that Morris Iemma could be the candidate. Would that be a good idea?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well that’s a matter for the ALP rank and file in Barton, and they will make their decision depending upon who puts themselves forward.
BARRIE CASSIDY: But a friend of Eddie Obeids?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well Morris Iemma, I think, if you look at the recent history in the party, I think it’s pretty clear that Morris Iemma and Eddie Obeid weren’t good friends when Eddie Obeid supported him being replaced as Premier.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Maybe at that point. But he said at the hearing there was a time when he visited Eddie Obeid’s house two or three times a week. He was once a friend?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Once a friend but clearly a major falling out. Morris Iemma I think will make his own decisions of whether he puts himself forward and then the rank and file in Barton will make a decision based upon that.
BARRIE CASSIDY: And do you accept if he put himself forward that you would really impose the stench of this issue right in the middle of the Federal arena?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, I don’t. I think that Morris Iemma is someone who has been active in that area. His state seat was close to the Barton area.
But let’s not talk about hypotheticals upon hypothetical. The preselection hasn’t been called yet. Morris Iemma hasn’t said that he’s standing.
BARRIE CASSIDY: What went wrong in New South Wales? Why is it far and away now Labor’s worst state in terms of seats likely to be lost at the Federal election?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think clearly there were problems with the culture of the New South Wales branch. And far be it for me to … I’ve been talking about those issues for some time Barrie. And I think we have a culture where you have a dominant faction that’s able to therefore carry its way without having to argue its case, where the end outcome is known. I think that creates a problem in the Party.
The good news is that people like Tony Sheldon and Sam Dastyari are committed to reforming that culture. We need to move away from the situation whereby any faction has any control and tries to direct its members over who it elects in terms of the Parliamentary Party processes.
That doesn’t operate in Canberra. I mean in Canberra the factions don’t matter around the cabinet table, they don’t matter in terms of leadership ballots or those issues. That’s a good thing. That’s broken down the block voting mentality. And that’s been part of the problem in New South Wales. That’s why we need reform, that’s why we need to open up the processes and have more proper direct democracy from the Party members.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Yeah, because Tony Sheldon, who you mentioned, is from the New South Wales Labor right and he talked about the behaviour of property scammers and lobbyists and said it is essentially the fault of the Labor right. There shouldn’t be blame shifting, no dodging of responsibility. Now you would say ‘here here’ to that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely, that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing that someone like Tony Sheldon, a senior member of the New South Wales right, is acknowledging what the issues are. Sam Dastyari’s done it. John Robertson, as the leader of State Labor, has done that, I noticed some reforms in terms of processing and accountability that he will be pursuing in the State Parliament. That’s a good thing. Clearly, there has been a problem. We need to fix it.
BARRIE CASSIDY: And the New South Wales right just turned up too many B-grade politicians?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I think if you ever a look at the culture and the way that it has changed, I think that people like Chris Bowen, Ed Hewsik, Jason Clare, Tony Burke, the quality of the contribution of the New South Wales right, to Canberra has changed markedly. The culture has changed at the national level. Clearly that needs to happen at the State level as well.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Now a couple of issues on the Craig Thomson arrest. Julia Gillard stood by Craig Thomson all the way along. What does that say about her judgement?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well Craig Thomson, of course, hasn’t been proven guilty of anything and the legal processes need to work their way through.
Mal Brough has had a finding in a Federal Court by Justice Rares that is damning of his involvement in the Ashby affair and Tony Abbott is standing by him as an LNP (Liberal National Party) candidate. That stands in stark contrast to Craig Thomson who’s…
BARRIE CASSIDY: He is not facing 150 charges.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That stands in stark contrast to Craig Thomson who is no longer a member of the Labor Party.
BARRIE CASSIDY: What about the issue, though, as to whether you should continue to accept his vote when the Opposition will not?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: This is just silly Barrie, and you know it’s just silly. People who are elected to Parliament are entitled to represent their electorates on the floor of the Parliament.
We saw, I think, one of the silliest moments in Parliament in history last year when Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne running from the Parliament like little school boys to avoid being counted in a division. I mean we need to be a bit mature about this and acknowledge that if you’re a Member of Parliament, your vote isn’t accepted by any side or not, your vote’s counted according to where you sit.
BARRIE CASSIDY: On the calling of the election date, the Nova Peris thing, Julia Gillard’s now been criticised for not consulting enough. Now, as you well know, that was one of the charges levelled against Kevin Rudd. Is she now falling into that trap?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think history will show Barrie that no Prime Minister has ever held a full Caucus meeting and had a discussion of when they think the election date should be before they go to Yarralumla. I mean for goodness sake, this, if nothing else, one of the things that this saves is poor junior burgers from the media sitting outside Yarralumla with umbrellas up over winter every Sunday waiting to see if the prime ministerial car will come past.
This is normal process. It is the prerogative of the Prime Minister to set a date. It was obvious to anyone who actually looked at it. There were only two possible dates. The Prime Minister chose one of them and has announced it.
That is, in my view, a good thing. It confirms that the Government will serve full term. It stops the nonsense of journalists asking every single day will there be an election? It shows up Tony Abbott’s wrecking campaign for the failure that it has been, because this Parliament will serve full term. That’s a good thing.
BARRIE CASSIDY: We’re almost out of time, but who should play Anthony Albanese in the telemovie?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I am pretty happy with Anthony LaPaglia. We could be twins. It’s pretty hard to complain about that.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Based on what you have said, you’re not surprise that had Underbelly stars are named to fill all those New South Wales right figures?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We will wait and see. If this happens and if it does we’ll wait and see how accurate it is.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Thanks for your time this morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.