SUBJECTS: Newspoll; Cabinet reshuffle; Setting of the election date; Midland Highway; Steve Bracks
KIERAN GILBERT: And joining me on the program this morning, the Leader of the House, Anthony Albanese, at the start of this parliamentary year, Mr Albanese, thanks for your time.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: G’day Kieran, good to be with you.
KIERAN GILBERT: The Newspoll, the concerning figure in this has got to be the fact that the preferred Prime Minister rating – Julia Gillard’s had the lead there for at least six months, and quite a comfortable lead, it’s narrowed to just two points, that’s got to be a bit of a worry doesn’t it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, the preferred Prime Minister, the current Prime Minister is still ahead. And so that’s a positive, but we now know that the election is on 14 September. So there’s no need to have such a mad frenzy of analysis every week or two weeks. What we’ll be doing is getting on with the business of government. On the weekend I was doing that, tomorrow I’ll be doing it again when we turn the first sod to start construction on the Majura Parkway, the biggest ever road project here in the ACT.
KIERAN GILBERT: But traditionally, once the election dates are announced, the polls tend to close a bit don’t they? Once the reality of the election looming…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: There is a considerable period of time between now and the election day. People know when it is, it will be impossible for the Opposition to hide behind the sort of ridiculous positions that they’ve had. Tony Abbott, in my area of infrastructure for example, he repeated a commitment on the Midland Highway, he actually got the name of the highway wrong in Tasmania, and said $400 million will do a $3 billion project.
It’s that sort of nonsense that will be exposed over a period of time. That’s an advantage of setting the date early, as you will get that scrutiny on the Opposition. Up to now, you’ve just had slogans from the Opposition, no real depth of policy. Tony Abbott is a policy lightweight. I’m confident that that will be demonstrated over the coming months.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, well – the problem in terms of this is timing as well of the resignations of the ministers. Of course people leave politics, they leave all sorts of jobs for different reasons, personal reasons, and a number of the Coalition are leaving as well. So that in itself is not the issue, but the issue is the Prime Minister announces the election day and wants to show that she’s in control and give certainty, and then two days later announces the new-look team. Doesn’t it just seem to be about-face?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well actually Kieran, as you might know if you’ve gone through who’s leaving, there’s more of the Coalition leaving than there are from the Government benches.
KIERAN GILBERT: Why not do your team and then say, okay this is the team I’m going to take, it just seemed a bit sloppy doesn’t it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: What you have is an announcement a couple of days before we were to return to parliament because, whilst the front bench is entitled to be appointed by the Prime Minister, of course the Senate Leader’s position must be filled by the caucus. Therefore it’s appropriate that an announcement be made a couple of days in advance, giving any potential candidates time to put themselves forward to their colleagues.
KIERAN GILBERT: Only a couple of days, and that’s the point isn’t it, because a couple of reports in the Fairfax press today suggests that the timing of that was to avoid a protracted battle over the Senate Leadership, which might become a proxy to the simmering leadership issue.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, well we’ll have the caucus determine those positions today, that’s appropriate. I’m sure it’ll be an orderly process. I haven’t seen any outbreak of infighting over the Senate Leadership positions. Maybe I’ve missed something, maybe you know something, Kieran, that I don’t?
KIERAN GILBERT: Well the – Laura Tingle and Phil Coorey in the Financial Review, suggesting in their report today that Julia Gillard was still concerned about a possible resurgent Kevin Rudd late last year, that she didn’t want this issue of the Senate Leadership up then because it could become a proxy for leadership tensions. Is the Prime Minister still that worried about Mr Rudd?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think it makes perfect sense, the timing which the Prime Minister’s announced. Nicola Roxon and Chris Evans have continued to do their job. Nicola Roxon at the end of last year, of course, the Royal Commission into abuse.
KIERAN GILBERT: [Interrupts] So that issue of the the leadership tensions, it wasn’t on the Prime Minister’s radar, was it part of the thinking?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Certainly not that I’m aware of. They’ve continued to do their jobs, we have very capable people moving in. I mean Mark Dreyfus is perhaps the most well qualified Attorney-General, on day one, that Australia has ever had. Mike Kelly, in Defence Materiel, another new minister, eminently well qualified.
KIERAN GILBERT: But is the Prime Minister still worried about the presence of Kevin Rudd, that – he had pictures with his granddaughter at the weekend, and so on, he continues to be out there in the press. Is she worried about his ongoing looming presence?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Kevin Rudd is continuing to do his job as the Member for Griffith. Kevin Rudd is an asset to the Australian Labor Party. We need to engage Kevin Rudd and use him wherever possible. He’s a very popular figure, there’s no doubt about that.
KIERAN GILBERT: Alright, and finally, Steve Bracks also a popular figure. There’s talk that he might be a possible star candidate for the seat being vacated by Nicola Roxon. Would you think that that would be a good idea?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well there’s talk, but none from him. So why don’t we just wait and see what he has to say. There’s lots of speculation, I like Steve Bracks, I think he’s a great bloke and he’s been a great contributor to the party, but let’s wait and see for himself rather than this speculation. I’m sure it will be up to the pre-selectors in the electorate of Gellibrand and I’m not one of them.
KIERAN GILBERT: Mr Albanese, thanks for your time to start the parliamentary year, it’s going to be a big year ahead.