Subjects: Home insulation scheme; NBN roll-out; Labor Party reform; election date
DAVID SPEERS: Anthony Albanese is Acting Prime Minister as of this afternoon with Kevin Rudd on his way to Indonesia. He is in his electorate in Marrickville in fact, and Anthony Albanese joins us from there live.
Acting PM, welcome to the program. Thanks for your time. Can we begin on this coroner’s report?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: G’day David.
DAVID SPEERS: Do you, as Acting Prime Minister, make any apology for the way this program was handled by the Rudd Government?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look absolutely. Any tragedy is one too many. People should be able to go to work and come home safely. That’s why the Government supported the Queensland Coroner in undertaking this inquiry. We in fact provided legal assistance to families who requested it.
I note that the three businesses that were involved in these fatalities have all been prosecuted by the relevant Queensland authority and, of course, the Government set up a number of inquiries, including one under Dr Alan Hawkin; also the Australian National Audit Office. And the Government has adopted all of the recommendations from those inquiries.
DAVID SPEERS: And do you then accept the findings of this Coroner’s report that those dangers should have been foreseen and mitigated?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look of course you have to accept the findings of this report, as we’ve accepted the findings of other reports. We’ve had a number of inquiries into it. It is good that the businesses that were responsible for these tragedies have been prosecuted and have had penalties imposed on them.
Look my absolute sympathy goes out to the…
DAVID SPEERS: What about the Government, yes those businesses – but it’s a government programme that was rushed. What are the consequences of you accepting that finding?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’ve said very clearly that the Government of course accepts the findings. The Government has also made it clear through other inquiries by adopting their recommendations.
Look any tragedy at work is one too many.
DAVID SPEERS: But, Acting PM, no heads rolled over this. Again, what is the consequence of you accepting these findings?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well the consequences were that the businesses that were involved were prosecuted, were found to be negligent in terms of their responsibilities…
DAVID SPEERS: But I’m talking about the Government here. There’s Government culpability here too?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m explaining to you David. What would you like to happen, David?
DAVID SPEERS: Well I’m just saying, you’ve accepted responsibility and accepted the findings, but nothing happens?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well David what do you suggest? What we’ve done is put in place, by having inquiries and by adopting the recommendations, systems in accordance with the recommendations that have been made. And today’s recommendations by the Queensland Coroner we absolutely accept. If there are any further actions that the Queensland Coroner suggests, the Government will implement those as well.
DAVID SPEERS: Alright, let’s move to your new portfolio – or added portfolio of communications. You now have responsibility for the NBN, and you’ve been in Coffs Harbour today overseeing the roll-out there. The end of June target for rolling our fibre to more than 200,000 homes has been met, but around a third of those premises can’t actually get the service because they still have to wait for more equipment. Is that a bit dodgy to say the target’s been met if a third can’t actually get the service?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Not at all David. This is absolutely the industry standard that’s applied. It’s applied by Telstra and Optus and all the telecommunications companies and industry bodies. So people were fully aware of what those parameters were.
The targets have been met. This is good news. Today I was in Coffs Harbour. We switched on more than 14,000 homes on the Coffs Coast. I also had a look at an important e-health example.
The beauty of the NBN isn’t about downloads, it’s about uploads. And what this did, through an aged care provider, will enable real-time data to be uploaded to a single nurse, in this case she was on the Gold Coast, for 150 separate patients every day – getting data about blood sugar levels, blood pressure and all those vital signs.
Now what that means is that people will be able to stay in their home longer; means that real care can be offered and where there’s an issue we don’t have to wait for an acute incident to occur where an ambulance is called and someone has to go off to hospital. It means fewer visits to the GP. It frees up our health system.
This is the sort of life-changing technology that the NBN represents. Those opposite keep trying to talk it down. This is, in terms of fibre, technology that will service us now and into the future, moving beyond the old, copper economy.
DAVID SPEERS: Can I ask you, as a member of the NSW Labor Party, about the action the Prime Minister has announced today to have the national executive of the Labor Party essentially write up some new reforms and rules for NSW Labor to tackle corruption there. What practical difference will these changes make?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: These will make a huge difference. I was an official of the NSW Branch quite a few years ago. I remember a meeting of the Party’s credentials committee where two identical circumstances were given. But someone was given a vote, because they were from the majority group, and someone was knocked out of having a vote because they were from a minority group.
And I remember the chair of the credentials committee justifying it, saying well sometimes when you’re at the beach a wave comes and sometimes it knocks you over and sometimes it doesn’t.
I mean, you had premeditated decisions being made – outcomes which you knew in advance of these procedures. All of that gone David, and a process to ensure that we’ll have proper procedures in place, that respects Party members, an absolutely hard line on any involvement with corruption whatsoever; an outlawing of developers being able to stand for local, State or Federal pre-selection. So a huge difference in NSW.
This is the most significant intervention into the NSW ALP in more than 40 years, and what it’s about is stopping any abuse of power – handing back the Branch to the membership and ensuring that we have democratic procedures in place.
DAVID SPEERS: When you talk about handing … membership, can I ask about the possibility of further reform – what you would support. Would you like to see union influence reduced from the current 50 per cent representation at conference?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I certainly would like to see a further reform, and I’m going to be participating in that debate after we get through the Federal Election campaign.
I’m on the record as saying that we need to empower Party members. In terms of union representation, I’m a supporter of a connection with the unions. The problem with the Labor Party structures is that it gives advantage and overwhelming voices to too few in terms of union secretaries representing large numbers of votes, or factional leaders representing large numbers of votes.
The way you change that is by giving the membership a direct say, and certainly I’m on the record for a long period of time as saying that we need to move more and more to direct democracy. We need to have transparent processes in place to ensure that our members are truly valued. They’re the ones who go out and hand out for us, talk in their local pubs and clubs and PNCs and sporting organisations, and advocate the cause of Labor.
It’s important we respect them, and that we value their contributions.
DAVID SPEERS: You said this would be pursued after the election. Can I finish then with trying to tease that out a little bit in terms of the timing? Specifically, you did say, on the last day of Parliament last week, although it does feel like a lot longer ago than that, that Parliament was finished, that it was done. Just to be clear on this, will Parliament return?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: David I’m not about to give you the exclusive here on any election date.
DAVID SPEERS: But on Parliament, will Parliament meet?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, the Parliamentary schedule’s there for all to see. What I can say to you is that the election will be on a Saturday and it’ll be in accordance with the Constitution.
DAVID SPEERS: You did say though that Parliament was done – the 43rd Parliament?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Since then there’s been a few events you might have noticed. What we have is a position whereby we’ll have a discussion at the Cabinet level and also, obviously, with the Prime Minister.
I think that the new Rudd Government has begun very well. We’ve begun well because we’ve been considered about the way we’ve gone about decision making and we’re not going to be rushed into making any declarations, including when the election date might or might not be.
There aren’t that many options in terms of an election date.
DAVID SPEERS: Proof that you’re in Marrickville we can hear an airplane overhead right now. Acting Prime Minister Anthony Albanese live from your electorate. Thank you for joining us this afternoon.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you David.