BARRIE CASSIDY, PRESENTER: the Labor leadership battle is a two way affair: Bill Shorten versus Anthony Albanese.
We’re joined this morning from Sydney by the latter.
Anthony Albanese, good morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LABOR MP: Good morning Barrie.
BARRIE CASSIDY: When did you first harbour the ambition to lead the Labor Party?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, very recently Barrie. The truth is that I have always seen myself as a team player who could make a contribution. I did want to be the leader of the House of Representatives, but until very recently I didn’t harbour ambitions to be leader.
Towards the end of the campaign, people started approaching me. I dismissed those approaches because I wanted to concentrate each and every day on maximising the Labor vote on September 7. So after September 7, I gave it some thought. I had to be very clear that it was something that I wanted to do. I had to be clear in my own mind also that I believed it was in the best interests of the Labor Party for me to put myself forward for the leadership.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Why is it, do you think, that you never really thought about it as a serious prospect?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Oh look, I’ve just seen myself as a team player. I know it is often said, Barrie, no-one goes into Parliament who doesn’t want to be the leader. That’s not my experience. My experience is that most people go in wanting to be a local member first and they might want to make a contribution as a minister at some time.
That certainly is where I was at for a long time. I think, as neither you or any of your journalistic colleagues can ever say I have said to you or to them “I think I might be leader one day”. I think I’ve played a role in terms of providing that support, using my skills in the Parliament as leader of the house and manager of opposition business. But also I wanted to be the infrastructure minister and be about nation building. I have been able to achieve that.
I think the circumstances of the party now are that I believe I’m the best person to take Labor forward and take Tony Abbott on at the next election.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Was it in any way driven by the fact that you knew Bill Shorten would run, and given you have new rules operating, you owed it to the rank and file to at least give them a contest to get involved in?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No. I had to make sure that I actually wanted to do the job and that I was, in my view, the best person to do the job. I also was encouraged to stand by people within the Labor Party across the political spectrum, from outside the Labor Party, from people in the business community rang me up and encouraged me to put myself forward.
So under those circumstances, I think it is a good thing that the democratic process is taking place.
I was there in ‘96 when we lost and what normally happens when governments lose is they go into a corner for a while and have a bit of self-reflection, and go through a difficult time. What’s happening now, it is two weeks since the election, we’re talking about Labor’s future, not just to ourselves as a Caucus but to thousands of Labor Party members. And, indeed, also out there in the community, I think there is an engagement in this process. That’s a good thing.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Labor members are probably more interested in policy than personalities too. Do you accept that the analysis seems to be there is no real policy differences between you and Bill Shorten?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, Bill and I share very similar values. And that mightn’t be convenient for the media, but so be it; we’re not going to create false distinctions.
I do think we need to talk about policy development, and there will be debates this week; there will be three at least in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth over the coming eight days. And, out of that, I’m sure there’ll be some differences of emphasis arise.
I certainly think that we need to defend the legacy where we got it right. And we got the big calls right over the Rudd and Gillard governments. Programs like the National Broadband Network, action on climate change, the Better Schools plan, DisabilityCare. We need to defend that.
We also need to acknowledge, I think, where we got it wrong. And areas like, I think, the sole parent payments is an area where we made a mistake. We essentially meant that some of the most vulnerable people ended up with less income. But perhaps just as importantly to them, to those that I have spoken to, there was a lack of respect, I think, for the role that they play as single parents, and a great deal of disappointment.
Labor must always be the party of the disadvantaged. We must be very clear about our values and what we stand for as a framework. And then, on top of that, you can get into the specific policy development.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Who drove the policy to take away the benefits to sole parents?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, I think we have to take collective responsibility Barrie. I was a member of the government and I don’t seek to blame any individual.
I think it’s really important that the Labor Party stop finger pointing. The reference beforehand that you’ve just had in your discussion about polling I really think isn’t helpful. I was a party official some time ago; there was never any leaking of internal polling. It simply has to stop.
BARRIE CASSIDY: On the differences between the two of you. You’re from the Left and that’s not traditionally – New South Wales Left – where prime ministers come from. Bill Shorten is known to build contacts with both unions and business. Does that give him an edge?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, I think, Barrie, I’ve got very good contacts with the business community. If you look at the role that I played, the establishment of Infrastructure Australia, where you have direct private sector representatives, a board chaired by Sir Rod Eddington with private sector reps there.
If you look at the work that I did as a minister involving business groups like the Logistics Council, like the Australian Trucking Association, in the framework, they actually got to come to ministerial council meetings and participate. Whether it be the establishment of the National Urban Policy Forum, with groups like the Property Council of Australia, I have very good links across the business sector. I was encouraged by a number of people in the business community to put myself forward.
And, indeed, I think many of those old labels really are outdated. I’m not putting myself forward as a candidate for a particular group of people in the Labor Party. I want to represent all of the Labor Party. And I want to take up the challenge of rebuilding Labor after what was a very significant loss two weeks ago.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Now you’ve said you have been loyal to both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, but when it came to the crunch, you have only ever voted for Kevin Rudd?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I actually voted for Kim Beazley when Kevin Rudd first stood.
BARRIE CASSIDY: In the Rudd-Gillard competition, you’ve only ever voted for Kevin Rudd?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s correct Barrie. And I have been up-front about my view of the events of June 2010. Each and every day in the Parliament and I think anyone I however, each and every day, Barrie, in the Parliament, and I think anyone who watched the Parliament, saw that I defended the government, whether it be under Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard, each and every day to the best of my ability. And I was never shy about doing that. Each and every day … and it was a tough Parliament, the last Parliament, and Julia Gillard did a remarkable job.
I think history will treat both the Gillard and Rudd governments very well indeed in terms of the achievements that we did; mainly going through the global financial crisis on our first term. And, under Julia Gillard, remarkable reforms particularly in the context of a minority Parliament. We got through almost 600 pieces of legislation. We didn’t suffer a single defeat.
And I think Tony Windsor’s comments were pretty strong this week. Unusual for Tony Windsor to come out supporting a particular candidate, but he did, and he emphasised the work I did in the Parliament, loyally, to the Labor Party.
BARRIE CASSIDY: You talk about the achievements and you go through Julia Gillard’s achievements, the NDIS was at the top of the list I guess, but the Murray-Darling Basin reform, education reform. What were Kevin Rudd’s significant policy achievements?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well the big one, of course, was the economic stimulus plan.
BARRIE CASSIDY: That’s not so much a policy initiative; that was a response to a crisis.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That was a big policy initiative, Barrie, because what that did was result in the bringing forward of projects like the full duplication of the Hume Highway, like major infrastructure projects right around the country. And that resulted in… if you don’t get the economics right, if you don’t keep people in employment, if you don’t keep family with breadwinners, then everything else falls away. And that was critical.
Joseph Stiglitz has viewed it as the best designed stimulus package anywhere in the world. I think that was a major achievement. As well, if you compare when we came to office in 2007, Barrie, the first thing was ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
What’s their achievements in the first week: Sacking senior public servants; moving from stopping the boats to hiding the boats; appointing one woman out of 19 in the cabinet, but perhaps more drastically only one woman out of 12 parliamentary secretaries, thereby locking that lack of representation in for the future.
I think it has been a very poor start from the Abbott Government. No vision, no big policy initiatives. And it stands in stark contrast to our actions when we came into government.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Further on the question of loyalty, can you say hand on heart you knew nothing of the destabilisation and the undermining that was going on against Julia Gillard?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Of course not. Everyone knew about it Barrie, it was in the paper.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Yes but you knew beyond what was written in the paper and you knew who was doing the undermining?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Everyone knew what was going on, Barrie, everyone knew it. The question is do you involve yourself in it? And certainly I didn’t. I was of the view, I was of the view very strongly, that we should concentrate on taking up the challenge to the opposition.
And I think now what we need to do is actually look to the future. We need to draw a line in the sand under this and we need to unite and move forward with whoever is the leader Barrie.
BARRIE CASSIDY: OK, but you say you knew it was going on. You heard talk of the cardinals, the group that called themselves the cardinals, Kim Carr, Joel Fitzgibbon and Richard Marles, that was Rudd’s core group of supporters. Why didn’t you go to them at some point and say “This has to stop”?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, Barrie, the fact is, going over history, everyone knew this was going on. What my job was, each and every day, Barrie, I was leader of the house, minister for infrastructure and transport, minister for regional Australia and local government. I frankly, Barrie, had enough on my plate arguing against our political opponents. That was what I concentrated on each and every day.
What we need to do is to make sure that every member of the caucus moving forward does just that, Barrie.
BARRIE CASSIDY: You could have done more surely. And the suspicion is you didn’t want to because, as Pam Williams wrote in the Financial Review, that you were a secret cardinal. What do you say to that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, Barrie, that’s just not the case. Pam Williams didn’t bother to speak to me about any of those articles.
There’s been some things published since the changeover that simply don’t bear resemblance to reality. I mean it was written on the front page of The Aus just a week ago that I was a Kevin Rudd supporter against Kim Beazley in 2005. I mean, anyone who was around then, including Kim Beazley, knows that is just not the case.
I was always up-front about my position, Barrie. I held a press conference that was fairly widely publicised, you might remember, about my position, publicly about the circumstances of what occurred in 2010. I don’t think that there’s anything productive to be done with going over all the entrails. I think what we need to do: put a line under the sand and move forward as a united team. We need to learn the lessons. And I think circumstances such as today’s leaked polling aren’t helpful at all.
BARRIE CASSIDY: That does appear as if there are elements within the Labor Party, and you presume they are the former Rudd supporters, who are just hell bent on trashing Julia Gillard’s reputation to justify the return to Kevin Rudd.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: And it’s not helpful because what I’ve done, both publicly and privately, Barrie, is defend the legacy of both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. I did it whilst they were in the leadership positions. I intend to continue to do it regardless of the outcome. Because that’s what Labor supporters expect.
One of the big issues we had during the election campaign was the lack of unity. And to give Tony Abbott credit, the truth is that he was very disciplined and his team were disciplined, and they reaped the benefits of it. The Labor Party needs to make sure that we are also a disciplined team; that we don’t go into trying to score what are at the end of the day petty political points.
Julia Gillard was an outstanding prime minister under difficult circumstances. And Kevin Rudd I think retires from leadership ambitions with having had an outstanding record as the prime minister. That’s not to say that there weren’t mistakes made by the Labor government, we need to acknowledge that, but we got the big calls right. And we are in a position to be successful at the next election. We’ve got 55 seats and that makes us very competitive indeed.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Just finally, if you beat Bill Shorten of course, can you go on and beat Tony Abbott, given that a first time opposition leader’s, I don’t think in almost 100 years, haven’t gone on and won in the first chop.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well it’s a tough challenge, Barrie, but it is one I’m up to. No-one has given me leg up in life. What you see is what you get. And I will be doing what I do in terms of the policy positions that I hold: holding the Government to account, defending our legacy where we have a good record in recent times, but also using the period of Opposition to develop what is the next National Broadband Network, what’s the next Better Schools plan?
It’s only Labor that has ever done the big ideas. We have an opportunity to develop that in Opposition in a constructive way, and I look forward to the challenge if I am selected. If not, I will be part of Bill Shorten’s team going forward to the next election.
We owe it to our supporters and we owe it to the nation to always be thinking about not ourselves but what are the interests of those families talking about around the kitchen table. How does my kid get a better education? How do I get proper health care? Is my job secure with decent working conditions? That’s what we have to focus on in the next three years.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Thanks for your time this morning, appreciate it.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks Barrie.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.