Issues: Expert panel, Coalition arrogance, Greens policy, Gonski, NDIS, Parliament, polls
KIERAN GILBERT: The Prime Minister is this morning being briefed on the Houston Report on asylum-seekers. The former chief of the defence force will publicly release his findings later in the day.
The Opposition, for its part though, is showing no sign of compromise.
SCOTT MORRISON: What we’re prepared to do is see policies put back in place that stop these boats. That’s the outcome people want.
Labor has compromised our borders for the last four years. The result has been death, cost and tragedy. We want to see that stop (replay of earlier interview).
KIERAN GILBERT: And joining me on the program to start this parliamentary session is the Leader of the House, Anthony Albanese. Mr Albanese, thanks for your time.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
KIERAN GILBERT: Parliament back tomorrow after the winter break. The asylum report to be released today. The Government’s aim obviously is to try and have this legislated ASAP.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely. We think that the time for playing political games has long passed and it’s time for the Parliament to act, to put aside partisanship and to receive this report and to take seriously the recommendations that will be in it.
KIERAN GILBERT: The Government has got to find a way through it though, doesn’t it? Because Scott Morrison hasn’t changed his message. The Opposition isn’t budging. It’s got to be the Government that’s got to bend.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: This is arrogance from Mr Morrison. This isn’t a committee of, you know, Marrickville Central ALP branch here. This is Mr Houston and a panel of very serious gentlemen. The Opposition’s response to the report even before it has been tabled is incredible.
I don’t know what’s in the report – I haven’t seen it – but I certainly do think that we have an obligation as parliamentarians to listen to what these people are saying.
Mr L’Estrange is someone who was appointed to very high offices in the public service by the former government. Mr Aristotle is an expert in terms of refugee policy and he’s someone who’s also received favour in terms of appointments from the former government.
So it’s not like we’ve been partisan in terms of the committee’s appointment. We’ve tried to work a way through.
KIERAN GILBERT: You know the Coalition sees what it did worked. It’s a fairly strong basis upon which to make an argument, isn’t it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, the experts, the same people who gave advice on that policy are saying that there are problems with that policy now. For example, with the tow-back policy, the Defence Force is saying it is dangerous. They’re saying it’s not just dangerous to asylum-seekers but dangerous to our military personnel.
The idea that they would put our military personnel in danger, contrary to their very public and consistent advice, is just extraordinary.
KIERAN GILBERT: It’s just not – it’s not just the Coalition here that is refusing to budge. The Greens, who the Government has partnered on a lot of legislation, is being just as intransigent. Why don’t you pull the Greens into line and get them across it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m just as critical of them. It is time for them to put aside their ideological blinkers. I mean, we’ve all had to compromise in the face of what is occurring.
KIERAN GILBERT: Does this extend to the left of the Labor Party as well? Because the left of the Labor Party have been very critical of Nauru, temporary protection visas.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely and I have certainly compromised on positions that I’ve historically held in the face of ‘what do you do to stop people losing their lives?’ You’ve got a responsibility to deal with the world as it is rather than as you would like it to be. That’s something that I’ve done. It’s been a difficult issue.
I come very much from a humanitarian position, a position that’s very sympathetic to the plight of asylum-seekers, but it’s very clear that we do need a policy that works. It’s clear that we need to listen to the experts. Of course, the experts in the Department have made suggestions to myself and to other members of the Cabinet but now what we have is this expert panel.
Let’s see what they come up with and let’s look at it without blinkers on rather than just dismissing it.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, well, in that context, looking at it without blinkers on, is this – is it possible that the Government will say okay, let’s do Nauru, temporary protection visas and we’ll see if it works, if it doesn’t work, well the heat will be on the Coalition to then back Malaysia?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m not going to pre-empt the report. What I will say is that I, as a Government Minister, will take the report seriously. I will give it proper, due consideration.
KIERAN GILBERT: What’s the mood like though in the left of the Labor Party? Because I know you’ve shifted but others are still very concerned about Nauru, about TPVs.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Of course they are and I’m concerned about a whole range of these issues as well but let’s see the report, let’s consider it on its merits. I don’t want to pre-empt it because I don’t know what’s in it. The Prime Minister was just being briefed on the report this morning. The Opposition will be briefed and briefings will made available to Members of Parliament. Let’s give it proper and due consideration rather than have this arrogant approach of we know what’s best, we’re just going to continue to play politics with these issues.
KIERAN GILBERT: There’s suggestions today – Laura Tingle reports in the Financial Review that the Government’s looking for savings across the board to implement, among other things, the Gonski review into education, $3 billion a year in funding apparently for education; how important is it that the Government be able to move on from this issue onto some other matters?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Government has moved on and is continuing to implement government policy across a range of areas. During the past weeks we’ve had debate advanced on a range of issues. We’re having ongoing discussions about the Gonski report. We’ve advanced the National Disability Insurance Scheme and we’ve had other policy agendas out there as well.
Last week I had Mark Butler, the Mental Health Minister, in my electorate talking about mental health and youth issues.
KIERAN GILBERT: It’s about getting the focus on these issues, isn’t it, beyond this partisan battle that you’ve got at the moment? Is the asylum-seeker issue proving more damaging to the Government than the carbon tax is at… is right now, politically?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think this is a government that has been getting on with doing big things from day one. We’ve passed 374 pieces of legislation – a big agenda. On 1 July, a range of reforms began; not just a pricing on carbon, but changes in terms of health policy.
This week, in my own area, I’ve got national shipping reforms. I’ve got legislation before the Parliament to advance the national transport regulators that will deliver $30 billion benefit to the national economy over 20 years. We’re continuing to do the big things.
KIERAN GILBERT: What’s the big part of the agenda over the next session though? Is it – will you look to education? Is that the focus?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, there’s no doubt that any Labor government deals with education because it’s at our core of our beliefs. It’s about opportunity. We’ve already doubled the education budget. We’ve rolled out the largest capital works program for schools in Australia’s history.
KIERAN GILBERT: So Gonski will be the big focus this session?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It will certainly be a big focus, there’s no doubt about that. What Gonski does is move beyond the debate that hasn’t always been productive about private versus public. It sets school funding on a long-term basis and that’s why it’s been well received by state governments.
It’s unfortunate that the Opposition appear to be going back to their traditional, No, No, No, policy on everything, but we’ll wait and see.
Gonski demands a constructive response and the Government’s working those issues through.
KIERAN GILBERT: What’s – has the Prime Minister got a bit more breathing space now, politically, given the little up-tick in the polls recently?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We dealt with those issues in February and since then we’ve been getting on with doing the job.
KIERAN GILBERT: And is the Prime Minister feeling a bit more comfortable now that there has been a little bit of an up-tick and that – she might feel that there’s a little bit of blue sky?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Prime Minister continues to be focussed providing leadership in the Government – she’s doing it constructively. This is a government that’s getting things done.
KIERAN GILBERT: Mr Albanese, thanks for your time.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to talk to you again.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.