Issues: Election date 2013; Pacific Highway; Coalition policy costings
FRAN KELLY: As I mentioned, Cabinet Minister Anthony Albanese is a senior Government strategist and Labor’s Leader of the House, and he was one of the select few who knew Labor’s date with the people.
Minister, good morning, welcome to Breakfast.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning, Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Whose idea was it to go early with the September date?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: This was the Prime Minister’s idea. She raised it with me last Wednesday. I was in Canberra, and she asked me what I thought. I wanted a bit of time to think about it. It’s a bold move. I talked to her again last Thursday and then I talked to her on Tuesday again in Canberra.
FRAN KELLY: And what did you think?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I supported it. It’s a bold move, but the fact is we had said in writing that the election campaign would be in September or October. The footy finals mean that, in reality that’s early September or mid-October. If we had waited to mid-October, then people would’ve been clamouring once we got close to the August date of three years since the last election. It could potentially look as though the Government was trying to avoid an election. So, really, there were only, in my view, two realistic dates. So why not get it out there?
The fact is that the Opposition Leader has been getting equal time, but he’s been getting equal time without the scrutiny. He’s got vague promises out there, frankly, that don’t add up like his Pacific Highway promise. He’s been able to get away without proper scrutiny, and this will, I think, change that game.
It would also avoid annoying questions from people who I respect and like, like yourself Fran, who every time I talk to, would say, are you going to have an early election? Do you think you’d go full term? Well this Government has gone full term, we are getting on with the business of governing, and we can do that now, without every time having to make a statement. I’m going to Perth today to go about the business of government looking at the Great Eastern Highway. We’re beginning construction tomorrow on the Gateway WA project. That can be done now as a normal part of Government rather than ‘does this mean you’re calling the election?’.
FRAN KELLY: Sure. But I’m sure pesky questions from journalists was not the key motivator. You say why not? Others in your party according to anonymous comments in the media since the PM made this announcement ask why? Some are horrified that the Prime Minister would give away a tactical advantage…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: But…
FRAN KELLY: And don’t you expect…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: But there is no advantage, Fran, that’s the point. That’s the point. It was always going to be the first Saturday or the second Saturday.
FRAN KELLY: Not necessarily. You could go from August. It could go from…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, we couldn’t.
FRAN KELLY: Why not?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, we couldn’t because we had a written agreement saying we would go in September or October.
FRAN KELLY: Oh yes, written agreements though have been have worked around before.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’d already made that announcement. And in terms of when the election’s called, to avoid having to have a separate Senate election in 2014, the election had to be called after July. So, there were very few dates. If that agreement wasn’t there, yes, you could go late August, but really you’re talking about a week here or there. There’s nothing surprising about it.
FRAN KELLY: Okay. Just another process question, were you always comfortable that some outside the party, the key independents, Greens leader Christine Milne were told before Labor MPs found out?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well Fran, you know that never has a Prime Minister, who’s always had the prerogative of the date of calling an election, gone and consulted hundreds of people about election dates. Normally what happens is they go to Yarralumla and people find out when the car’s on the way to Yarralumla. That is the normal process.
What the Prime Minister has done here, though, is to just stop the speculation. There has been article after article in the paper during the end of the quiet season here and in the lead up to Parliament sitting next week, debating when the election would be and putting forward various formulas. What this enables us to do is to concentrate on the business of government.
FRAN KELLY: You’ve said already, and the Prime Minister made it clear yesterday, she wants to concentrate on the business of government, but this is also a move to make sure scrutiny heads towards the Coalition. You don’t think that there’s been enough scrutiny yet on the Coalition’s promises and how they would fund those promises.
And Joe Hockey has made it clear the bulk of Coalition policies won’t be unveiled until the pre-election economic update – PEFO – is released during the official campaign, just as Labor has done in the past. How can the Coalition draft its policies with full costings without knowing the true state of the Budget? Is that a fair point?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Of course they can, and they can even get some of the substance right. I used the example of the Pacific Highway. Tony Abbott did a little stunt driving down the Pacific Highway during the summer break, and…
FRAN KELLY: When he committed to funding an upgrade.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: But the money isn’t there. He said the money would be available immediately from the contingency reserve. It’s not, in terms of other funding that he seeks to re-profile. He said there’d be a bypass in Coffs Harbour. Two hours later, his local Member had to ring up the journalist and say, ‘no it doesn’t include the Coffs Harbour Bypass’, and that escaped proper national scrutiny.
Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are policy lazy and policy lightweights, and over a period of time that will be exposed.
FRAN KELLY: Well, you might let this attract scrutiny of their policies, but they’re also using it as a way to put, they say, scrutiny on what the Government plans to do. Joe Hockey earlier this morning said the Prime Minister yesterday foreshadowed tax increases in the May budget. Let’s have a listen.
JOE HOCKEY (EXCERPT): Six or seven paragraphs were about how Australia is not paying enough tax and this is a problem that the western world has to face. So now the Government, the Prime Minister is saying Australians aren’t paying enough tax, we’re going to have further tax increases in the May budget. Well, Fran, you tell me what they are. Because if you’re going to try and find $15 billion a year to fund the Gonski Review and the National Disability Insurance Scheme, this Government is going to end up taxing middle Australia.
FRAN KELLY: Is that what you’re going to do? Tax middle Australia?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well that’s an example, Fran, of the point that I’m making. You just spoke about the Prime Minister’s speech at the National Press Club and then played a quote of Joe Hockey with his polemic and his nonsense and his verballing. That’s the problem we have here.
In terms of equal scrutiny, so called, you have on your program, as do other commentators, equal time between the Government and the Opposition. The only place that we have not got equal time is on the programs like Lateline and 7.30 and some of the Sunday programs where the Coalition tend to avoid going…
FRAN KELLY: Okay.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: …on those shows. And that’s fair enough, I’m not critical of that.
But now there’ll be a different perspective. You won’t have that sort of – getting away with that sort of nonsense or we’ll call it out, frankly, for what it is. Have a look at what the Prime Minister said yesterday rather than what Joe Hockey said that she said.
FRAN KELLY: Anthony Albanese thank you very much for joining us.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Anthony Albanese is Transport and Infrastructure Minister, Leader of Labor in the House. He’s also Member for the seat of Grayndler in Sydney, and the latest polling has shown that there’s a lot of pressure on Labor seats in Sydney and some suggest the election will be won or lost in that state – in the state of New South Wales and the city of Sydney.