LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: From today, ordinary members of the Labor Party will be able to start voting on who they want as Opposition Leader: Victorian powerbroker and former union boss Bill Shorten or Sydney MP and former Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
Ballots were mailed out yesterday and would already be sitting in the letterboxes of some party faithful.
The leaders had their first debate last night, and compared to those we’ve recently watched between Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott, it was a very civil affair with much agreement between the two candidates.
Nonetheless, they are trying to differentiate themselves in what they’re offering, and with me tonight is Anthony Albanese.
Good to see you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LABOR LEADERSHIP CANDIDATE: Good to be with you, Leigh.
LEIGH SALES: Opposition leaders who come in first after election losses usually are not the person who then goes on to lead their party to victory. They’re usually transitional leaders. Why then do you want the job at this time?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s true historically, but I believe that this is my time. I’m standing on a platform of vision, unity and strength that I can bring to the leadership of the party. I’m not someone who entered Parliament in order to be the leader. I find myself, however, in the circumstances, having been deputy Prime Minister, a senior cabinet minister, having had the experience of opposition, including being the Manager of Opposition Business during the period in which we were successful in 2007 – having that experience, I think being able to unite the party, that I think I can do. And really it’s about Labor governments aren’t the end in itself. It’s what we can do for people. And I’m not prepared to sit back and say that we won’t give it our best shot to win at the very next election, which I think’s possible. If only 30,000 people – if they’re in the right seats, of course – if only 30,000 people had voted differently, then we’d be in government today. So there’s a number of very close seats. So the next election is, I think, very winnable indeed.
LEIGH SALES: Are you one of those people who thinks that voters always get it right and so therefore you did deserve to lose the election we just had?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Voters, of course, always need to be respected. I think that’s one of the problems that Tony Abbott has, is that in 2010 he didn’t respect the outcome of the election. He spent the next three years essentially trying to be defined by what he was against.
LEIGH SALES: Come on, let’s stick to your side. That’s what we’re talking about.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Labor must always, Labor must always be positive. We must always be about the politics of conviction, not the politics of convenience. We have to put forward our agenda for the nation and not be defined by just what we are against. So what we’re for is a strong economy, jobs growth, new innovative industries, what we’re for is opportunity, whether it be from early childhood right through the education stages or small business. What we’re also about is sustainability, whether that be our natural environment or the built environment. Already we’ve seen the Major Cities Unit abolished. We have to be concerned about our cities and our regions.
LEIGH SALES: But if that’s what you’re for, people just didn’t buy that, people didn’t believe that’s what you’re for because they didn’t vote for you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well the fact is that we were too concerned about ourselves and internal politics rather than being concerned about the needs of the nation. And when political parties look at themselves rather than at the needs of the people, they’ll be punished and that’s what happened to us. We need to, every day, think about the same issues of concern that families are talking about around the table: how do their kids get a better education? How do they get access to healthcare? How do they get access to the jobs of the future with secure working conditions?
LEIGH SALES: Well on that point, on what you raise there, the former Labor Party president Warren Mundine wrote an opinion piece after the election loss and he wrote that – it was about why he’d lost faith in the Labor Party. And he wrote, “Labor doesn’t know its heartland anymore. It seems to think the defining characteristics of its traditional base are poverty and low education. Actually, the defining characteristics are hard work and aspiration. Working class people answered the call of the Labor movement. They aspired to better lives and they moved ahead. The problem is the Labor Party did not move with them.” Is that the sort of deep issue that the Labor Party needs to really have a good reflection at and ask itself: is that right? Is there truth in that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, we always have to be concerned about the aspirations of working people. That’s why we have to reach out beyond just our traditional base. We have to be concerned about the needs of small business. During the election campaign, we did that, but I don’t think we got the message across. The fact that we were prepared to increase the income – the asset writeoff to $10,000, whereas the incoming government will reduce it. We didn’t get the support of small business and self-employed at the election. We need to make sure that we reach out, that we’re continually talking about the future agenda. It is only Labor that’s ever been concerned about the big ideas and the future agenda, whether it be the National Broadband Network, sustainability by taking action on climate change, moving forward as a nation by removing discrimination against same-sex couples and other people in society. We have to always be putting ourselves in a position whereby we’re talking about people’s concerns, not just today, but the concerns that we’ll look after their kids and their grandkids as well.
LEIGH SALES: So you’re trying to sell a broad and inclusive message, but union membership in Australia is around 18 per cent, yet union involvement in the ALP is way, way more significant than that. Do you not have a problem in that the Labor Party’s values and priorities are in sync with a movement that is not representative of four out of five Australians?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, when you look at there’s a dispute at the moment in Queensland with the mining union whereby there’s an attempt essentially to have a new agreement that will reduce conditions and will result in, for that local community, people not being able to work as local community members, but to introduce the fly-in, fly-out workforce in order to reduce those conditions. They’re concerns that Australia needs to be concerned about and Labor must always be concerned about those issues of working Australians. We need to be …
LEIGH SALES: Sure, but what about that broad point that I raise that you’re so heavily aligned with the union movement and most Australians aren’t?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well of course we need to expand our base and we need to be concerned with much more than just union members. We need to be concerned with the growing – there’s 1.9 million small businesses out there. We need to be concerned about their interests. That’s why the National Broadband Network I think will be an ongoing issue. Our support for fibre-to-the-premise meant that those small businesses will be able to compete. The alternative plan of the Coalition that they’re already rolling back on their pretty weak commitments at the election is one I think that will enable us to have stark differences between now and the next election. We need to defend our legacy, but also draw out what those real distinctions are between Labor and the Coalition.
LEIGH SALES: Just briefly before you go, why in this moment are you personally the guy who should lead the Labor Party? Why are you a better candidate than Bill Shorten?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well I think I have the experience, firstly. Secondly, people know that what you see is what you get with me. I’m – I believe in the politics of conviction. I’ve had consistency of policy approach my entire political career. And I think I’m able to unite the party as well. I think the role of Leader of the House in a minority parliament was one whereby I had to get on, not just with everyone on my side, but with the crossbenches, and indeed from time to time, some Coalition members as well. I think that experience puts me in a position whereby I can take up the case to Tony Abbott each and every day from day one and I believe that the next election is very much winnable.
LEIGH SALES: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks, Leigh.
LEIGH SALES: And Mr Albanese’s opponent, Bill Shorten, will join me on the program tomorrow night and I’ll put some of those same points to him.