May 28, 2012

Transcript of Interview with Michael Rowland, ABC Breakfast

Issues: Hastie Group; Enterprise Migration Agreements; Gina Rinehart; Joel Fitzgibbon; Australian Labor Party

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Minister, good morning.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning, Michael.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: If I could just draw you first to the developing story we’re covering this morning, and that is the collapse of the Hasty Engineering Group, a very big engineering services company, as you probably know. What action would the Government take to help the 2,000 workers who are at serious threat of losing their jobs?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, the Government has in place a range of measures when something like this happens, and certainly Bill Shorten and Greg Combet no doubt as the Employment Minister and the Industry Minister will respond once the full details are known.

 We think the loss of any job is significant, let alone the loss of numbers of jobs, and certainly we will be examining and providing what assistance we can to the workforce there.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay, then, let’s move on to that rather contentious decision to allow those 1,700 foreign workers into work on Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill project. Firstly, Mr Albanese, do you agree that it’s good public policy?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: What I agree is that we need to provide a workforce for the mineral resources boom that’s going on. We know that we have something like half a trillion dollars of investment in the pipeline, and we know that there are workforce shortages. So what we should do, and what we are doing, as a first priority, is training Australians for those jobs. We know that the economy is going through a restructuring, we have a high Australian dollar, we do have pressure particularly on manufacturing, and if we can get some of the people who’ve been displaced from one sector into the resources sector then that’s a great thing.

 So that’s the first priority. But it is the case that 457 visas have been necessary for some projects in order to give them the investment certainty to go ahead. Bearing in mind that the Roy Hill project is at an early stage, it’s at the investment commitment stage, and that is why this decision has been made. But it is being made on the basis that Australians will have the first opportunity to fill those places.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: What do you think of the decision to allow these workers into a project run by a woman the Government has been at war with for so long, is it, in the words of your factional colleague, Doug Cameron, bad politics?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, the personalities don’t particularly interest me. All we’re saying about Gina Rinehart is that she should pay her fair share of tax like other Australians do. That’s all we’re saying about the mining industry. Gina Rinehart has seen her wealth more than triple whilst we’ve been in Government.

 We’re big supporters of mining. We know that the growth of the mining sector is good for the Australian economy. We make no apologies for that. We simply make the point that a great deal of wealth shouldn’t one, mean you don’t have to pay tax, and two, that you can abuse your power to try to influence, in an unbalanced way, the political system.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: How serious is Caucus discontent on this issue, do you believe?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think that Caucus, when they have a look at all the details, will settle down on this issue. This is something which has been in the pipeline for some time. Of course this was part of a budget announcement back in 2011, a package to ensure that projects go ahead, to ensure there’s training for Australians, and to make sure that the Australian economy overall can benefit from projects such as this.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: When do you believe the Prime Minister was told of this decision?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Oh look, I’m not going to get into who told what to whom when.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: It’s hasn’t been a good look though minister, has it, the events of the last few days?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well the budget decision was made back in 2011.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: So would the Prime Minister therefore have been told as late as Wednesday last week about this decision to send workers to a project run by a woman who has been one of the Government’s chief political targets?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m not going to get into the detail because obviously I wasn’t someone who was involved intimately in the process.

 What we do know is that this isn’t about any individual. The Government doesn’t have a dislike for Gina Rinehart, or any other individual. What the Government has is a view that she should pay a fair share of tax, and that she shouldn’t be able to use her wealth to exert undue influence.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay, just before we go, what’s Joel Fitzgibbon up to?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Joel Fitzgibbon’s doing his job as the chief Government Whip. I deal with him a lot every day as Leader of the House and certainly one of things that we haven’t been discussing is internals. We’ve been discussing the running of the Parliament and that has been the focus that I’ve seen from Joel Fitzgibbon each and every day.

 Last week was a tough week in Parliament. I don’t think he had the time to be running around worrying about any internal nonsense.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Yeah, we’re showing the tweet that he put out over the weekend, Anthony Albanese, in response to those reports that indeed he was marshalling numbers for Kevin Rudd. Reading that tweet, there at the bottom of the screen, it’s hardly a denial by Joel Fitzgibbon.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I don’t know because I can’t see the tweet with due respect, Michael.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: “I thank my colleagues for the publicity, but no-one does more to support the Prime Minster and the Government than me”. Not a denial, but he’s marshalling numbers for Kevin Rudd.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s a pretty clear denial and that’s exactly what he has been doing as the Chief Government Whip, working to support the Government. I expect he’ll continue to do so.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: And finally, do you believe the Prime Minister will lead Labor to the next election, whenever it is?


MICHAEL ROWLAND: So there’s no worries about leadership tensions, the Prime Minister’s position is perfectly safe?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely. It was settled earlier this year. The Caucus had an opportunity to vote, and they did so.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for your time this morning.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks, Michael.