Issues: Peter Slipper; Renewable Energy Target and Electricity Prices; Opposition Research; Warren Truss; Labor Party; Infrastructure Working Group
COMPERE: This week the Government has tried, quite successfully early on in particular, to get the debate back to the economy, but now at the end of the week it’s back in the mire of the political debate centred around the Peter Slipper affair.
So to talk about these issues and more I’m joined today by the infrastructure minister and the Leader of the House for the Government, therefore the man who has most to do with the Speaker Peter Slipper, that’s Infrastructure Minister, Anthony Albanese. Thanks for joining me, Anthony.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning, Chris.
COMPERE: Now the Peter Slipper affair; it seems very clear from what happened in the Federal Court yesterday and what happened outside the court that the Government is now arguing very much on the side of Peter Slipper, that he’s the victim of some sort of political conspiracy.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well it’s interesting that yesterday’s court hearing occurred on the 40th anniversary of the first appearance in the Washington Post of the Watergate affair. I think when people look back at this it will make the issues around Ute–gate look pretty mild.
What we know from the court hearing yesterday is that there was contact between Mr Ashby and Mr Lewis, and indeed senior members of the LNP including the person who wants Peter Slipper’s seat, Mal Brough. Those people have been subpoenaed to appear before the court in July. It’s pretty extraordinary that these claims were made.
If you go back just a little bit, the first I heard about them was when they appeared in the paper on that Saturday (21 April 2012). But you had the court documents filed at four o’clock on a Friday afternoon and you had extensive coverage in the Daily Telegraph the next day – the first five pages I think from memory. You had a Tony Abbott press release out at 9.15 am. You had two Coalition members lined up for the Sunday morning programs. Then Abbott went on the 7.30 Report, and throughout it all they were saying they had no “specific knowledge” of these claims.
Well the evidence is now before the court. It will come out over a period of time and people will be able to see exactly who knew what and when.
COMPERE: Obviously a journalist, the journalist Steve Lewis, knew this was happening. That’s how he got the exclusive. There’s nothing wrong with that; that’s what journalists do on the face of it. We’ll see exactly what comes out in court. But what you’re saying here is actually quite dangerous in my view, in that you’re saying forget about the alleged victim’s rights here. You as a government are going out publicly and saying it’s some sort of conspiracy. You’ve just mentioned Watergate for crying out loud.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Indeed. What we have here is circumstances that need to be explained. Everyone has rights.
What occurred was that Peter Slipper, who was overseas at the time, had allegations splashed across the front pages of newspapers throughout the country making very serious allegations against him. Some of those allegations didn’t even make it to the court claim that was put in by Mr Ashby. They made it to the media, and were therefore the subject of speculation, but when it came to presenting any facts they weren’t there.
We know that at the time there was a whole range of people, including Mr Brough, who denied having any knowledge of this as “nonsense”. We know that people including Mr Pyne have had to change their stories a number of times about what they knew.
Sexual harassment is indeed very serious. It shouldn’t be a political plaything and we shouldn’t engage in the politics of personal destruction in order to advance a particular side of politics.
COMPERE: When throughout the last few months we’ve had the controversy over Craig Thomson, there’s been a lot of argument from yourself and others on the Labor side that it should be left to the courts; it’s not a political game. Yet with this issue, it’s before the courts, we had the nation’s first law officer, the attorney–general outside court yesterday providing commentary.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Doing nothing more and nothing less than putting the Commonwealth’s position, and the Commonwealth has put various positions before the court including that it’s an abuse of process. Someone had to say what the Commonwealth’s position was and the Commonwealth’s position in this court case is that it has been an abuse of process and that it’s also vexatious and therefore should be dismissed.
COMPERE: Now just finally on this issue, Peter Slipper is out of the Speaker’s chair, hasn’t been in parliament for a long while. There are constitutional requirements. He has to turn up at some stage or there’ll be a by–election. What is the timing on that and how are you going to handle that? When can we see him turn up in the Parliament again to make sure he doesn’t have to face a by–election?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Of course Peter Slipper’s still the Speaker and he’s entitled to walk into the Parliament whenever he chooses.
COMPERE: So it is just a technicality? He can wander in – this is a non–issue?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely.
COMPERE: All right I want to get back onto the economy. There’s a big focus from the Government this week through the Economic Forum to get onto the economy. You were talking about infrastructure. We’ve also had dramatic power price increases announced in NSW and the Government’s saying that only – well less than half of that, up to a half of that is attributable to the carbon tax.
Also today we’ve seen in the media the revelations of the impact of renewable energy targets and these solar bonuses and the like showing that they actually, as well as the carbon tax, add hundreds of dollars to people’s electricity bills. Is there a case not for winding back these schemes, now that we’ve got the carbon tax coming into place?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well of course the renewable energy target was introduced by the former government and retained.
COMPERE: Absolutely, that’s the problem. The Greens support it, the Liberals support it, Labor supports it but…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Tri–partisan support.
The big problem with electricity prices of course has been a failure to invest in infrastructure. That is overwhelmingly where the high cost increases have come from. And I note also, the issue around the increases that have occurred right around the states dependent upon the extent to which there was a failure to invest in the past.
COMPERE: It’s going to be a very difficult political problem for you though, isn’t it? Every time people get a power bill and they notice the increase, you’re having to get out there and say, well, the increase is entirely attributable to the carbon tax; there are other factors at play, and by the way we’ve given you this compensation – remember you got that a few months ago. That’s going to take care of it.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, the fact is people aren’t silly. They know that electricity prices were increasing substantially right around the country well before there was any price on carbon. We also know increasing the amount of renewables in terms of the make–up of our energy production will over a period of time decrease their costs. The old supply demand will kick in. We need to get more of our energy from renewables. That’s an issue of national sovereignty as well as sustainability, ensuring that we can be self–sufficient.
So there’s a range of reasons why increasing the share of renewables is good policy, and that’s why I think it has pretty broad support.
COMPERE: Another controversy that erupted during the week was dirt files being run out of the Prime Minister’s Office. Her chief of strategy now left the office – has now gone. You know, the Prime Minister’s Office can’t afford to have any more of these scandals, can it? We saw it involved in the Australia Day protests earlier in the year.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look I think that was a bit of a beat–up, frankly. Certainly in my office, one of the things we do is keep a tab on all the promises that are made by Opposition members. They go round the country promising roads and rail lines, et cetera. We know they start with a $70 billion black hole. We’ll have a tabulation of each of those promises. That’s just the normal work that we do.
COMPERE: I agree with you that these things are sub – are over–emphasised in many ways. Both sides of politics do get involved in it, but it is a bit silly to have it run out of the Prime Minister’s Office and put in writing and when the Opposition had a similar controversy raised a few years ago, you actually came out and said – you attacked it and said, when you don’t have any policies, this is what you’re left with – is fear and smear.
So this is the problem, isn’t it, that Labor’s been caught out being hypocritical.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I can speak for what I and my office do. We keep a tabulation of all their policies. I frankly wouldn’t care less about Warren Truss’ personal life or anything else. I think that should be off limits. That’s always been my position. It still is.
COMPERE: Well, Warren Truss…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Not that I’m suggesting there might be something vaguely interesting about Warren Truss’ personal life.
COMPERE: Very clear. Warren Truss can rest easy.
I just want to go back to earlier in the year now, a couple of things I wanted to raise out of a very dramatic interview with you in February this year.
We’ll go to this first grab now.
[Excerpt of interview]
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I like fighting Tories; that’s what I do. That’s what I do.
COMPERE: Now that was a very emotional Anthony Albanese earlier in the year when the leadership spill was on but the point I wanted to make about that is this idea of fighting Tories.
COMPERE: Very good for you in the branches, very good for someone who’s a member of the Labor Party, but the public – the Gillard Government’s trying to win over the mainstream vote. The mainstream voters – they don’t care, they don’t even know what a Tory is probably, they don’t really care. Don’t you need to focus on fighting for mainstream voters rather than playing politics?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look absolutely. But what you didn’t include there Chris was that was not part of a prepared speech. That was in response to a question, and the question was: has this been difficult re the internal division. I was simply making the point, one I stand by absolutely, that my priority – and I said this also in the context of that contribution – is fighting for the Labor Party against our political opponents, not because that’s the end in itself. The end to me isn’t Labor governments because that’s a good thing and I get to be a minister. It’s because of what we can do, and I think this is a government that can stand on our record. What we’ve done on the economy – those figures this week, I think, are something to be very proud of, and do stand in stark contrast to our political opponents and what they stand for.
So that was the point I was making. I don’t make it personal. As you would be aware, Chris, I have a number of friends on the other side of politics and I don’t take it personally. But I do believe that Labor must argue outwards, not inwards, and what we saw during those few days was very damaging to our brand.
COMPERE: Yeah, no, yeah – I take your point and that’s exactly what I wanted to get to though because I think that’s exactly one of the issues with the Government at the moment as people see it too often talking about politics and that was just a grab that had always stuck in my memory. So you agree that what the Government needs to talk about is less about party politics and more about what it’s doing.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely, and that’s one of the things I try to do each and every day as a minister.
Yesterday I was chairing the Infrastructure Working Group of COAG. It’s not sexy, but all about making the costs of procurement and infrastructure development cheaper by getting that harmonisation around the country. Yesterday we had a really good, constructive meeting. Again not a sort of page one tabloid story but really important, and it’s that job of government that’s led us to be the envy of the world in terms of our economic performance.
COMPERE: All right just want to go back to this press conference once again because I think you were in a very difficult position there. I think a lot of people admire what you’ve done because you’ve been very loyal to Kevin Rudd voting for him in the leadership crisis, yet you’re the man who rides shotgun for Julia Gillard in Parliament.
Here’s again Anthony Albanese backing Kevin Rudd back in the leadership spill.
[Excerpt of interview]
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I have devoted my life to advancing the cause of Labor. I have despaired in recent days as I have watched Labor’s legacy in government be devalued.
[End excerpt of interview]
COMPERE: That was a very, very emotional press conference as you saw there, but I think you know the critical point here is how you were talking about Labor tearing itself apart over leadership issues. As I say, you’ve been an absolute loyal foot soldier to Julia Gillard.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yep.
COMPERE: At the same time you’ve maintained your personal loyalty to Kevin Rudd. Where are you going to line up next time it comes up?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s been settled, Chris. Good try but it was settled. I made it clear in that contribution that I saw Monday as being the end of it. I made it clear that what occurred in June 2010, in my view, was wrong.
COMPERE: We keep hearing that it’s not settled though. We keep hearing that Kevin Rudd could come back again. He’s certainly out there on twitter telling people he’s out there catching up with some of his mates. He was at the footy during the week with one of his supporters, Ed Husick…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I took my son.
COMPERE: Does the loyalty that you showed to Kevin Rudd in that leadership spill, has that now been exhausted? Was that the last time you owed him that loyalty? Or if it comes to a head again, are you lining up on the Kevin Rudd side?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No look, I made my position clear, which was that there wasn’t an opportunity to cast a vote in June 2010. As you’d be aware Chris, I was fully aware that I was not backing the winning candidate when I did that press conference. I think you’ve just got to be upfront and fair dinkum, and I was fair dinkum.
It was a tough thing to do. I’ve been a friend of Julia’s for a long, long time, for 30 years almost, and I think I’ve shown exactly how loyal I’ve been to her, not just before that ballot but since.
I think there were a couple of people who said at the time, ‘oh, how can you continue to be Leader of the House?’, and indeed I offered my resignation. She said, ‘no, no, I know you, I trust you, you’ll be loyal and you’ll do your best’, and I think I have been.
COMPERE: Well you’ll be busy from Monday as parliament gets back for the last two weeks…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Last two weeks.
COMPERE: Last two weeks before a winter recess. Thanks for joining us here today Anthony Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks Chris. Good to be with you.