Jul 22, 2013

Transcript of interview with Michael Rowland – ABC News Breakfast

Subjects: Labor Party reform; Federal election; Asylum seeker policy

MICHAEL ROWLAND:  Anthony Albanese is the Deputy Prime Minister. He joins us now from Sydney, Mr Albanese, good morning to you.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning Michael.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:Firstly, take us through the process. What do we expect to see unfold at this Labor Party Caucus meeting today?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  The Caucus meeting will have a couple of issues on the agenda. One is the important notice that the Prime Minister has given to democratise the Labor Party rules when it comes to electing our leader.

The Prime Minister will move the motion; I will second the motion as the Deputy Leader. There will then be a debate. There are essentially two changes. One is that the Caucus will get back the right to select the ministry or the shadow ministry as the case will be.

The second and I think the far more significant change is that it will be, one, far more difficult to change the leader. So people will know that the Prime Minister they vote for is the Prime Minister that they’ll get. There will be a threshold of Caucus members required to call a ballot for the leadership of 75 per cent when in Government.

But importantly as well, it will be a 50-50 proposition. Half the votes from the Caucus weighted with every ALP member being given a say in who the Labor Leader is.

Already we have seen that attract over a thousand people to join the Australian Labor Party because they will have their say in what is the most important decision in terms of organisationally who will lead their party.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Speaking of that threshold, as you know there has been some Caucus discontent about that 75 per cent threshold being too high.

Would there be consideration by the Prime Minister to perhaps lowering that, if not in Government, but certainly in Opposition?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: There will be a debate about that. Some people have argued it should be lower when in Opposition. There will be a debate.

I think really there is a critical point, which is that people in the community are reacting against, quite rightly, a change in terms of what occurred in 2010. That people didn’t quite get the fact the Westminster system means that can happen in a parliamentary democracy under that system.

People really expect quite a high threshold when in Government. In Opposition, historically leaders have changed more often, but even then I think leadership changes should not be done lightly.

When it does occur, the fact the party membership will have a vote means you won’t have an instantaneous change. There will by definition need to be a process which would take days, if not weeks, certainly at least a week, for that involvement of the party membership to be able to vote.

So there is already built in there a mechanism which would make people really think through very closely – whatever the threshold is – the issue of changing leader. What that will do is bring stability.

Certainly the day to day speculation since I have been in parliament about leadership issues has meant that can be a real distraction from what Labor wants to talk about; the issues of the day.

These reforms solve that issue, whilst also being the most significant empowerment of members of any Australian political party in our history.

So it is an historic day. Back to Balmain near the Unity Hall where there will be a function today.

There is of course a bit of a debate about Balmain versus Barcaldine and where the party was formed. But there is a real argument that the first meeting of a branch was held at Unity Hall, and it’s a very significant day I think for the democratisation of the party.

It is something that I have been talking about for a long time. I was on the organisational review committee chaired by Bob Hogg that reported to our centenary conference way back in 1991.

I am really looking forward to the Caucus. I am sure it will be a constructive day. And there is a lot of excitement there amongst party members.

I held a function of my membership in Grayndler last week where hundreds of people turned up and engaged at the Cyprus Club at Stanmore, and a real sense of excitement that they were going to be given this right.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:  Speaking of that excitement, do you as Deputy Prime Minister would you prefer the Prime Minister to pull the trigger on the election sometime this week to go in late August?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, I’m relaxed about timing. That’s a matter for the Prime Minister. There is ongoing speculation.

I note that when Prime Minister Gillard announced the date for 14 September there wasn’t a journalist I didn’t interview with who wasn’t critical of giving that notice.

Now that the Prime Minister has said that it won’t necessarily be on 14 September I can’t do an interview without being asked when the election will be.

I think people should just chill out. It will happen on a Saturday at some time in the future. As I have said, I hope it will be before or after Souths win their 21st premiership.

I can assure you that the Prime Minister is not planning to visit Yarralumla today unlike some of the intro that was speculated.

The most significant event tonight will be that Souths will beat St George.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Right, I know you are struggling to contain your enthusiasm about that.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I can’t go unfortunately. I haven’t been to a game for two months, it’s a tragedy.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Yes, Anthony Albanese, the demands of high office. They must be very weighty.

Let’s go to some of the policies the Prime Minister will be updating Caucus members on. Key amongst them of course is the asylum seeker deal struck with Papua New Guinea.

PNG is now saying it won’t resettle asylum seekers not deemed not to be genuine refugees. What therefore will happen to those people?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No kidding. Asylum seekers who aren’t refugees don’t get settled as asylum seekers, whether in Australia or in PNG.

So exactly the same thing that will happen to them as happens to them here in Australia, which is we seek repatriation either back to their country of origin or to a third country.

No difference between what occurs in Australia and what happens in PNG.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:  But how do you repatriate them to a third country? Is that Australia’s responsibility or is that PNG’s responsibility?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Michael, guess what happens here in Australia? People who have come from Sri Lanka, for example, who have not been deemed to be genuine refugees have been sent back. That is what occurs.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:  So the PNG Government will send those people back?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  The same system that operates around the world, Michael. PNG is a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees. Australia has an arrangement now with PNG whereby people who come to or seek to come to Australia by boat without a visa will be sent to PNG for processing, as has occurred in the past.

The difference is if they are deemed to be genuine refugees, then they will be settled in PNG as citizens as provided for under the convention.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: We had another boat arriving over the weekend with 81 asylum seekers on board. As part of this deal Manus Island is being upgraded to deal with the flow of asylum seekers.

Are you worried though that the processing centre on Manus Island could be swamped in the short-term while this policy is carried out?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Let’s be clear about what the objective here is. As PNG Prime Minister O’Neill said on Friday at the press conference, he doesn’t want people going to Manus Island.

I don’t want people getting on boats. I want an orderly processing system whereby the UN, through the UNHCR process, processes asylum seeker claims and then Australia continues to be a generous nation.

We have increased the quota up to 20,000 and we foreshadowed that if this is successful, we’d be prepared to look at what is in the Houston review panel recommendations of 27,000. That’s up from 13,750 I think was the previous figure.

So being generous towards asylum seekers. There has been no engagement in the sort of vilification that we have seen from the Opposition from this Government. You will never hear that from me. You will hear people treated with respect.

Part of treating people with respect is stopping people drowning at sea. We have had two incidents in the past week, it’s continued to occur, and what we want to see is a system whereby we can continue to be generous, people can be settled based upon being genuine asylum seekers.

That people who are in a camp in Africa or in another place in our region have as much chance of getting settled in Australia as someone who books, essentially, a boat journey from a third country, flies through the Middle East, through Jakarta, and then gets on a boat that afternoon, has someone in Australia ring the relevant authorities and alert them to the fact there is a boat on the seas often that is in danger.

The danger that that represents to the asylum seekers, the danger that that represents to our naval personnel and other people involved in these rescues at sea; we need to do something.

We need to do something that stops that process and what this is aimed at is doing just that.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay, we have run out of time sadly Anthony Albanese. Good luck with the Caucus meeting today and I suppose more importantly good luck with the Rabbitohs tonight.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks very much Michael, great to chat to you.