Subjects: Labor Party reform; Prime Minister Kevin Rudd; Julia Gillard; Bob Hawke; Federal election
JOHN LAWS: Anthony Albanese, good morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you John.
JOHN LAWS: Good to be with you, and thank you very much for giving us some of your time.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: A pleasure.
JOHN LAWS: Well you’re a brand new Deputy Prime Minister. We don’t often get a brand new Deputy Prime Minister on the program.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Indeed, it’s a great honour. It’s certainly not one that I saw coming years ago, but it’s a great prospect.
And I must say that the enthusiasm from my local community has been really touching as well. I think they see it, quite rightly, as an honour for them.
JOHN LAWS: Yeah well it is. It must make you proud, and good on you. We can only hope that you do a very, very good job.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks John, it’s been a very busy first 12 days I must say. I started yesterday morning before six, and finished up dong Q and A that goes until after half-past ten. So it was a very long day yesterday.
But it is a great opportunity to make a real difference to the nation.
JOHN LAWS: Well I imagine that you are refreshed and spritely nonetheless at the moment, and very ready to answer questions.
The first question I’d like to ask you is what is wrong with Kevin Rudd?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Nothing at all is wrong with Kevin Rudd, that’s why he has been returned to the leadership, in a significant move, I think.
Very few people get to lead their party twice. Of course John Howard did it, Kim Beazley did it, but without winning an election unfortunately because I think Kim Beazley would have made a great Prime Minister.
JOHN LAWS: I agree with that.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: And I think Kevin Rudd, second time round – you do learn things inevitably as you go through life – and there’s no doubt that Kevin Rudd I think is an even more formidable figure than he was when he took Labor into office in 2007.
JOHN LAWS: People to whom I speak suggest to me that he is disliked by his own.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well no, the Caucus voted for him to return to the leadership, which is a big deal, a big call.
Today there’s a really good article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Daniel Street, who you might recall was a Channel Nine news reporter who worked with Kevin as Foreign Affairs Minister, and it speaks about Kevin’s relationship with people, some of the things that he does without any fuss, particularly in the area of homelessness, and caring and relating to the First Australians.
Indeed Kevin today is back in the Northern Territory at Yirrkala, tomorrow he’ll be at that because it’s the 50th anniversary of the bark petition from the Northern Territory, which of course was such an important step in recognition of the First Australians as citizens, and that was part of the step through.
Kevin – he’s been a friend of mine for a long time. I think he is a thoroughly decent, compassionate human being. He’s someone who is passionate about Australia, and when you see him on the world stage as well as I have at the G20 meeting in London, the respect he has is extraordinary.
JOHN LAWS: He equips himself very well, there’s no argument there. But could this be seen as a bit of a revenge attack against people like Bill Shorten who knifed him back in 2010?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, look I think this really is an important reform in and of itself. I’ve been arguing for some time that the party needs to modernise, and people these days want to actually participate.
They just don’t want to stuff things in letterboxes, or hand out how-to-votes on polling day. They want a real democratic say.
And we can see that throughout society, particularly with young people; they want that interaction and engagement that new technology, in part, has facilitated and demanded.
So this move to giving the party membership a direct say does of course dilute the power of factional leaders, and does ensure that the Prime Minister that you vote for is the Prime Minister that you get.
But I think that’s what Australians want as well. They want to know that if they vote for Kevin Rudd to remain Prime Minister whenever the election is called, then they will have Kevin Rudd as their Prime Minister for the full term of the next 44th Parliament.
JOHN LAWS: Okay, so does this mean that the so-called faceless men – I have no idea why they’re called the faceless men – does this mean they will no longer be able to fire a Prime Minister during their term in office?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yes absolutely, in practice it does. And I think that’s a good thing.
JOHN LAWS: Why hasn’t it been changed before?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it’s giving up power. It’s taking power away from some people, and people resist change; people in power usually like to try to keep it.
JOHN LAWS: Yes, but nonetheless this is something you’ve decided to do now. One is not being unreasonable to ask the question why now when it could have been done a long, long time ago.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well it could of, but this is a trend that is world-wide. We see for example in the United Kingdom the British Labour Party and the Conservatives-
JOHN LAWS: Yes but Anthony with respect, we’re not in the United Kingdom or the United States. We’re in good old Aussie.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We are, but Australia will have to change with the times as well. People throughout the western world are demanding more and more direct say.
Whether it be through primary votes of election of candidates, or whether it be through opening up the leadership determination to much broader participation.
It’s happening in France, it’s happening in Italy. I was in Italy during the last election campaign, I was in Bari and there was a huge rally, and I thought it was a rally for the particular centre-left party. But it wasn’t, it was a rally for a candidate in the centre-left pre-selection [inaudible].
So you have that participation and engagement, and I think that’s a very good thing.
JOHN LAWS: So do I.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Young people too are – the old Labor Party structures when I first joined the party I was still at school and you went along to a hall in Camperdown on a Wednesday night, the second Wednesday I think it was of every month, and you listened to reports and you went away and someone typed up the minutes.
The world now, in terms of information and access is much more immediate. People – particularly young people – aren’t attracted to that model. They want to participate.
And I think this has the opportunity to really re-energise the party, and regardless of the outcome of who a leader is or even the outcome of an election I think this is a very good move. It is bold, it is important reform. But I think it will really re-energise the party.
I’m advised by the people in the national ALP office that there have been more members sign up to the Labor Party since five o’clock yesterday than had signed up in months prior because people are excited about actually getting a say.
JOHN LAWS: The polls at the moment, if you take notice of the polls, and I presume you do, do you?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Inevitably, I think any politician who says they don’t look at polls is not telling the truth.
I think it’s important not to be carried away one way or the other by them. But of course politicians look at the polls.
JOHN LAWS: Okay, well at the moment the polls indicate that Labor and the Coalition are tracking at 50:50, that’s the latest Newspoll. That rather begs the question: why did you stick with Julia Gillard so long?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well it was a very difficult decision for people. I’m a great admirer of Julia Gillard; I think she did an extraordinary job in what has been a difficult parliament in terms of a minority situation.
As Leader of the House I worked very closely with Julia on important reforms. On the Better Schools program, on national disability care, on the other reforms the Government has pursued over this term.
So it’s a big call to change leader.
JOHN LAWS: Was she fairly treated?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think in terms of the media, and in general, I think Julia was subjected to attacks which were not fair.
I think Julia gave an extraordinary concession speech on the evening with great grace, and there she said that the fact that she was the first woman Prime Minister doesn’t explain everything about her prime ministership, but it also doesn’t explain nothing about it. And I think that’s right.
The sort of banners and statements that we saw about Julia were, I think, beyond the pale many of them.
But I think history will treat Julia Gillard as Australia’s first woman Prime Minister, and with great respect. Not because she’s a woman but because of all of her achievements as Prime Minister.
JOHN LAWS: Okay. We asked a question on our Facebook page, and we got hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of responses. And the question was: Kevin Rudd, yes or no?
That’s all, just Kevin Rudd, yes or no. At the moment, 80 per cent of the listeners are saying no. Are you sure he’s as popular as your party believes he is?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well I think he is very popular in terms of in the community. I think he can relate to people-
JOHN LAWS: My listeners are in the community.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I understand that, but maybe not everyone is on Facebook. Maybe I think people might be more motivated, there could be some explanations about that.
But you’ve seen what the polls are showing, in terms of preferred Prime Minister, Kevin has a substantial lead over Tony Abbott, and that lead has been extended in the last week.
I’ve been with Kevin Rudd in my electorate, and I’ve got to say that the response to him is quite extraordinary. The only politician I’ve seen generate a similar response is Bob Hawke at his prime.
I was at the footy with Bob and Kevin on Saturday night, and Bob’s still got it of course.
JOHN LAWS: You bet!
ANTHONY ALBANESE: He’s a great character.
JOHN LAWS: He is, he’s wonderful, and when you say he’s got it, he sure has. And the mob love him.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Oh they do, absolutely, and on Saturday night there were still people wanting to get their photo with him, they want to chat with him, and he has that natural rapport with people. And Kevin Rudd’s got that as well.
JOHN LAWS: Well, if that’s the case why do so many of his own colleagues appear and even confess to hate him?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well I don’t think that is right. Inevitably in politics you create some strong friendships and you create some relationships that certainly can’t be described as friendly. That in part is the nature of politics unfortunately.
I go through life and try to keep my friends at a maximum and my enemies at a minimum. I remain close friends with Julia and Wayne, for example, and I remained friends with Kevin after he lost the leadership. And I think I’m someone who can engage right across the party.
Kevin no doubt, you can’t have the events of 2010 and then of a couple of weeks ago without ruffling some feathers. And there’s no doubt that has occurred.
There’s no point gilding the lily and saying everyone in the Caucus is a fan of Kevin. That obviously has not been the case over a period of time.
But the Caucus, post the decision, I think the unification that has occurred is quite remarkable. You have the party absolutely determined – each and every member – to ensure that Kevin Rudd is elected as Prime Minister for a third term of the Labor Government in a couple of months’ time.
JOHN LAWS: Has he changed?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, you can’t go through an event like June 2010 without it having an impact.
He’s had time to serve as Foreign Minister, and then time as a backbencher to reflect on where he wants to take the nation, to reflect on mistakes that might have been made, to reflect on the structures that are in place.
What you’ve seen is a very inclusive way of operating. Yesterday, before we made the announcement about party reform, there was a full meeting of ministers and parliamentary secretaries where people could put their views in private, around the room, where it should be done and be respected; their views. And that occurred.
You’ve seen I think a very inclusive process in terms of the policy announcements that have been made. That’s why we haven’t rushed to make significant changes on the run, none of that has occurred. We have proper costings occur, proper consideration of policy.
JOHN LAWS: Is that why you’ve moved to 14 October for the election?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well you might know something I don’t John!
JOHN LAWS: Listen Anthony, I was just trying to catch you! When’s it going to be?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well we genuinely haven’t made a determination yet John. That’s one of the things-
JOHN LAWS: Oh come on. Come on Anthony, you’ve been talking about it, you must have.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Of course we’ve been talking about it, but we haven’t made a determination. We want to make sure that changes are in place.
And we know – I can give you this tip John – it will be on a Saturday, and it will be sometime between August and October.
There’s not that much variation. It’s obviously not going to be on Grand Final day, and there are various other dates that are knocked out.
The truth is there are only two or three options, of which 14 September is obviously one of them.
JOHN LAWS: October?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well there’s two or three options.
JOHN LAWS: Yeah, 14 October is a Monday anyway, it can’t be 14 October.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: There you go I’ll rule that one out. It will be either before or after South Sydney – my beloved South Sydney – win their 21st premiership.
JOHN LAWS: Listen, I’ll tell you what, I hope that Kevin Rudd realises what a staunch and loyal supporter he has in you, you’re very good to him.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well I’m a good friend of his, and I think he’s an extraordinary person and the nation I think benefits from having someone such as him who is able to engage, not just in domestic politics, but we live in global world, global economy, we need to engage with our region.
Kevin Rudd’s knowledge is extraordinary. He’s always, usually – there’s probably some exceptions – the smartest person in the room. His intelligence and his knowledge is quite extraordinary. It makes such a difference I think in playing a role in the G20 and those global forums.
JOHN LAWS: He doesn’t need any PR people, all he needs is you! Why don’t you give him a rap?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think he deserves it.
JOHN LAWS: Well that’s good. If you’re straight forward about it I don’t see anything wrong with that. And if you defend him as a friend I certainly see absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for your time. As usual, good to talk to you, I hope we talk again soon.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Pleasure to talk to you John.