Feb 7, 2011

Transcript of Interview with Fran Kelly, Radio National

Subject: Newspoll; Abbotts refusal to apologise for email soliciting political donations; flood levy; Oppositions failure to detail their Budget cuts; climate change science


FRAN KELLY: This week the Federal Government will introduce the legislation needed to roll out the National Broadband Network, and then bring in a bill for the flood repair levy.

Anthony Albanese is the Leader of the House, and he’s also in our Parliament House studio. Minister, good morning.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning, Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, you’re in power, but Labor support continues to wain, primary votes fell two points over summer to just 32 per cent, why?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, we’re of course two-and-a-half years from the next poll that counts, which is the next election, so I think it’s a bit rich getting too excited one way or the other about…

FRAN KELLY: You must be pretty worried about it, I mean…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: …these monthly polls.

FRAN KELLY: You must be pretty worried about it, it’s not often the monthly poll shows Labor support, or Government support at 32 per cent?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: But it is often the case that a monthly poll or Newspoll will go up two or down two. To get over-excited about it is I think a wrong response. What we’ve got to do is get on with the job of governing. Get on with the job of rebuilding Queensland. Get on with the job of helping to fix the other communities that have been affected by floods, and of course today, we have another disaster unfolding in Western Australia. Get on with the job of rolling out the National Broadband Network, of making sure that we have a return to surplus in 2012/13. Get on with the job of building the nation’s infrastructure.

FRAN KELLY: Why is government proving so difficult for Labor though, why is it so difficult for you to convince the voters that you are in charge, and that they made the right choice at the last election?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s pretty clear Fran that the polls have been essentially 50/50 in the lead-up to the last election on August 21, and since, all of the polls have essentially been within the margin for error. It’s pretty clear that the community are having a look at what’s going on. But as I said, it is two-and-a-half years until the next poll that counts.

FRAN KELLY: Alright, but less than one year in, and the Prime Minister’s dissatisfaction rating has almost caught up to her approval rating, is Julia Gillard a big part of the problem here for Labor? She’s going backwards, in terms of popularity.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well actually if you look at the poll, it shows that once again she’s considerably ahead of Tony Abbott as preferred Prime Minister.

FRAN KELLY: But that gap is narrowing.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: But she’s considerably ahead. Tony Abbott’s coming off a very low base, and it’ll be interesting to see how over a period of time Tony Abbott’s constant opposition, opposition and then more opposition goes. I just heard Michelle [Grattan] talk about the potential that Tony Abbott had to nuance on the flood levy. Tony Abbott’s problem is he doesn’t nuance on anything, he just opposes.

I think his failure yesterday to answer the simple question: was it more important to donate to the floods, or was it more important to donate to the Liberal Party, as his email had suggested. He was asked three times on Insiders, I think most Australians know the answer to that question, but he couldn’t answer it. Today we saw one of the alternative leaders of the Liberal Party, Joe Hockey, on the AM program say very clearly it was wrong, he was sorry that it happened, he regretted the email occurring. Why can’t Tony Abbott do that, admit that a mistake was made, apologise, and move on?

FRAN KELLY: I’ll come to the flood levy in a moment, and the Coalition’s plans for how to pay for these floods, but just before we finish with the polls, let me ask you just a simple question, is Julia Gillard safe in the Labor leadership with this kind of role?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely, absolutely.

FRAN KELLY: No concern about her demeanour during the floods?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: None whatsoever. Julie Gillard has shown leadership and governed through a very difficult period. Normally of course at this time of the year, I am always a bit amused, as you would be Fran as a close observer, when people say to you when Parliament gets up for the year: oh, you’re on holidays. Let me tell you, there aren’t too many ministers in the Government who’ve had much of a break. But of course that pales in comparison with what many Australians have been through, which is an awful period and my heart goes out to them.

FRAN KELLY: Yeah, it’s never truer than this last summer, that’s for sure. Newspoll does show that voters in the majority support the proposed flood levy, given that’s the case, do you think the Government should reconsider its pledge not to extend the levy to pay for damage caused by Cyclone Yasi?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, we’ve made our position very clear, which is that it is a levy which we gave full consideration to. We wanted to make sure that its impact was minimised. That’s why, if you earn $50,000 or less, you pay nothing at all. You can earn up to $100,000 and you’ll still be paying less than $1 a day for a one year period.

I think it’s a matter of getting the balance right. I think that most Australians, as the poll shows and what I see in my own local community – I haven’t had anyone come up to me and say that they object to the levy.

FRAN KELLY: Well, the Prime Minister’s warning us that there will be more budget cuts to come, because of the costs associated with Cyclone Yasi, where will the cuts come from?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, that’ll be a matter for the process of Government of course…

FRAN KELLY: You must be planning it now, already the Coalition’s preparing to release its notion of where we could cut the budget to pay for this?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’ll wait and see. Let’s hope they do better than the last time they produced a record of where the cuts would be – there was an $11 billion black hole in their costings. What we’ve seen from Tony Abbott who 11 days ago said that the announcement was imminent of where these cuts would be – 11 days later he still hasn’t got much of a clue, and Joe Hockey on AM this morning was sort of indicating it’d be later in the week. But we’ll wait and see what they come up with, and we’ll wait and see whether it adds up because up to now, they have shown no ability to make these sums add up.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, it’s been a summer of extreme weather events, obviously fires, floods, heat waves, and now bush fires, a category five cyclone, do you put this down to an extreme La Nina driven by climate change?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, what I don’t think you can do with climate change is say there was this event, therefore climate change is responsible for it. But what you can say is that our climate is changing, and I think you can say that the overwhelming evidence from the scientists is that it is human-induced. Commonsense tells you that if you are essentially increasing the gases in the atmosphere that keep heat in then you’ll have a greenhouse effect.

So over a period of time, the sciences have told us we can expect more extreme weather events, just as we can expect rising sea levels, just as we can expect changes in climate.

FRAN KELLY: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.