PETER VAN ONSELEN: We have just been speaking to the interim Labor leader, Chris Bowen. We had hoped to also speak to Bill Shorten, we put a request in; he will hopefully come on in the next couple of weeks before the leadership is decided.
But we are joined now by the frontrunner, the favourite I’m told by most commentators, Anthony Albanese. Welcome to the program.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you, Peter.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Can I ask you a question off the back of a comment that Bill Shorten made, I think on Friday, he said that this won’t just be a showdown based on personalities; it will include policy differences as well. What do you think are going to be the key policy differences between yourself and Bill Shorten over who should lead Labor?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it will be about different visions for the way that the Labor Party will move forward. It’s about who is the best person to take us through what will be a challenging time. We have suffered a defeat, we had our primary vote which was much lower than what we need if we are going to win, but we are competitive.
So I will be campaigning on three attributes, I told the caucus colleagues, one that I have a vision for the future, that we need to have four themes essentially around which we structure our position in Opposition. One of continuing to prioritise jobs and economic growth but one which embraces new ideas: how do we adapt to new innovative industries; how do we deal with the challenge of what’s going on in China and in our region; how do we use platforms such as the National Broadband Network and smart infrastructure to expand new jobs.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: But Bill Shorten would agree with all of that, surely?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Sure, but it’s a matter of different emphasis. My first point is that, my second point is one of opportunity, education and training; making sure that we have the skills for the jobs of the future. The third is sustainability. I have a very strong position on climate change and the need for a sustainable Australia that includes issues such as public transport investment. I think that is a big distinction between us and the incoming Abbott Government. We can’t deal with urban congestion without that. And the fourth is a fair go. I support marriage equality, I support removing discrimination wherever it is found.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: But getting down to brass tacks, I mean on most of those issues you and Bill Shorten wouldn’t be that far apart. Isn’t the biggest reason why you’re more suitable for this position now than Bill Shorten is because he’s damaged goods? The role that he played in both installing Kevin Rudd in the first place – sorry, removing Kevin Rudd in the first place and then installing him in the second place he has a damaged brand in the current climate?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: What is clear when it comes to myself and Bill, what unites us is far more in common than differences. And in terms of – so that’s true, but we will have different emphasis, we have – I particularly have stressed my interest in nation–building infrastructure being something that I have focused on in my time.
But I’ve had broad policy development as well and I think I have an ability unite the party, I have, I think, pretty broad support across the party from the business community, from a range of people that I have dealt with. I have a record as well. I have 17 years up to now in the Parliament. There is an old 20–year rule in terms of people who get to be Prime Minister by and large have complied with that rule. I have six years as a minister across a range of portfolios, vast experience as a shadow minister. Importantly 10 years in being either the Leader of the House or Manager of Opposition Business.
I know what it’s like to be in Opposition, I know how you get to Government. I was the Manager of Opposition Business, chair of our tactics committee leading up to the 2007 election, so I think that experience as well as the breadth of the portfolios that I have held in government and in Opposition…
PETER VAN ONSELEN: So Bill Shorten is not ready, you are?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, I think if Bill is chosen I think he will be a very good leader. But I made an assessment…
PAUL KELLY: But he is inexperienced compared to you, that’s your basic point obviously?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I made an assessment that I was the best person at this time under these circumstances to lead the Labor Party. I’m not someone, Paul – as you know there is not a journalist in the country who can say that I have ever said to them I want to be leader of the Labor Party. I’m someone whose circumstances have put in a position whereby approaches were made either from people in the caucus or just people in the community saying ‘If you lose the election you should put your hand up’. I thought about it very deeply because it’s an onerous challenge and an onerous responsibility.
But it’s also a great honour. I have always been a team player and I have always seen – in the past I’ve seen that the best role I could play for the team – the one job I did aspire to was leader of the House of Representatives. I’ve done that, I’ve done that through a minority Parliament, the most difficult Parliament that Australia has had, and I got 586 pieces of legislation through.
PAUL KELLY: We know. OK. This is an entirely new event, what’s going to happen over the course of the next several weeks. So would you agree to debate with Bill Shorten, seeing it’s a contest, seeing as you are both going to be campaigning, what about the idea of a debate between the two of you putting forward your own ideas in this debating context?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We certainly will be having debates, Paul. There is a meeting…
PAUL KELLY: How and when?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: There is a meeting tomorrow to finalise those issues. It needs to be sorted through whether that will be just for ALP members or whether there will be some public element to that, that will be sorted out. The national executive is meeting tomorrow.
PAUL KELLY: What would you prefer? Would you prefer the debate just for Labor members, surely you can’t do that, or would you prefer it to be in public?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m pretty relaxed, Paul. One of the things that I have proposed, for example, there is an issue of how this issue is funded in terms of the party. One of the things that there’s discussion of is whether we have a forum in which members of the business community come along to a lunch or what have you, with an interview, perhaps you could host it, Paul, of…
PAUL KELLY: Only too happy to.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Interviewing the two candidates and opening it up so that we get – this is an opportunity for Labor to show that we are inclusive, that we are open, that we are not frightened of debating ideas. If this is done right this can give us enormous momentum at the beginning of what is going to be a difficult period. It did that for Ed Milliband in…
PAUL KELLY: I take that on board; there are all sorts of advantages in this. What about the risks and what about in particular the risk that has been raised – just say you win the contest, the risk is that you have only got minority of support inside the parliamentary party. How much of a problem might that be for you as leader?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, I think people will make their own speculative decisions about what might or might not happen. We will wait and see, Paul. The great thing about a ballot of 40,000 people is that no–one knows. That’s the great thing. You can’t have three or four people in a room or in a restaurant deciding the future of the Labor Party. I think that’s a good thing. I think that brings with it enormous legitimacy and I don’t think there is anyone who would argue that either Bill or I don’t have very broad support within the caucus. Caucus, I thought, was pretty constructive the other day as well.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: In fairness you’re not answering the question on that though, because you have to game this out. It’s a fair question: what happens if the leader, whoever it is, wins the majority of support from the members but not the caucus? Because optically that’s a problem, isn’t it? Leading a party where the results are put out in public – and we all know that a majority of the new leaders’ parliamentary colleagues didn’t want them, they wanted the other guy.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, it’s not a matter of not wanting them. This is a difficult choice. Most of the colleagues that I have spoken to have essentially said there are – and what I believe – there is two good candidates, it’s a difficult choice, they are going to make that choice and have a vote as are the 40,000 members of the party. I mean, Ed Milliband went through this process. It went for four months in the UK and he came through the process as the successful candidate. He’s now in a position whereby in some polls he’s looking ahead of both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats combined.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Can I play devil’s advocate to that though?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: He’s in a position to win the next election.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Ed Milliband was taking on his brother. Now his brother actually won more support in the caucus than Ed Milliband did. There’s been stability since, I would argue, not because of the system but because his brother decided not to undermine his own brother. Are you so sure that Bill Shorten would take the same view towards you if you won?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I absolutely take Bill at his word. Both of us have – both of us are friends, both of us have a very positive relationship. The fact that we are talking the process through in a constructive way and it’s a consensus process is, I think, a very good sign of what would happen afterwards.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: I want to ask you about the process. Now you’re a supporter of this new system, we had Chris Bowen on before and so is he, he wrote about it in his book. Are you as interested in imbedding this process as you are in becoming Labor leader? Because it strikes me that you’re a long term leader of the factional left, this system empowers the left because the party membership have always as their President chosen someone of the left rather than the right. It would strike me as natural that someone as loyal as yourself to the parliamentary left, not just to the Labor Party, would want to imbed a system like this for the benefit of your ideological ilk within the party.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s not right, Peter. I gave up being a factional activist a long time ago and indeed I was going through my documents the other day and found my letterhead as a convener of campaign for Labor democracy. In 1986 I was arguing the case for direct election of leader and direct votes in terms of delegates to party conferences. This isn’t something that’s come from a couple of weeks or a couple of years, this is a couple of decades that I have campaigned for this sort of reform. And in terms of the outcomes the truth is that the two people who have won the ballots in terms of rank and file ballots were John Faulkner and Carmen Lawrence. They were extremely strong candidates. There is no particular bias in terms…
PETER VAN ONSELEN: But of the left, both of them were of the left.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: And they were the best candidates. They happened to be the best candidates. It wasn’t because they were of the left, they were very strong candidates compared with the candidates who were put up against them. This time around there are a number of – the left isn’t a majority of the machine in terms of the party organisation tends to be dominated not by the left, so there were a number of advantages that I certainly don’t have. But I’m not going into this process as a left candidate, I’m going into this process as a member of the party and I don’t care about what faction people are, I certainly have broad support. Whoever the leader is should never go to a faction meeting.
PAUL KELLY: I would like to ask you about Kevin Rudd. What’s your view about Kevin Rudd’s future in the parliamentary party, and in particular is there any role for him on the front bench?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, he’s indicated that he doesn’t want a role on the front bench. He, I think, has an honoured role as a former leader. We should respect all of our former leaders. Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard both led good governments; they both have a legacy that needs to be defended. They can both be very proud, I think, of their achievements in Government.
PAUL KELLY: But as a leader would you invest Rudd with any particular role or status?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m not getting ahead of myself, Paul. We are in a process. What I would say…
PAUL KELLY: Let me rephrase the question, forget about whether or not you are leader…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: You might get the same answer, Paul.
PAUL KELLY: What’s your view about whether or not there should be some sort of role or status for Kevin Rudd?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: All former leaders should be honoured by our party, whether it be Kevin, or Julia, or Simon Crean, the same way that Bob Hawke and Paul Keating are. I think it’s very important that we move past some of the rancour and that we have an opportunity now to really refrain the debate within the Labor Party around policy, around ideas. Not personalities and not around conflict between individuals.
PAUL KELLY: What about the idea being put forward by Craig Emerson. Emerson argued just a few days ago that while ever Kevin Rudd is in the caucus there is going to be chronic instability. Do you agree with that or not?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, I don’t.
PAUL KELLY: But what’s the record tell us?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: What has occurred in the past in terms of is that – you know, there was conflict between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. That’s a matter of the past. What we need to do is move beyond that, Paul, and not go into all of that. I mean I’m a progressive. I’m about looking forward, looking forward, learning from the past but looking forward. That’s what we all need to do.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Can I ask you, going back to this issue of policy differences potentially between you and Bill Shorten, you spoke about things that were more – that you had more in common than as differences. If there was one key difference in the approach that you see yourself taking to the Labor leadership if successful versus your opponent, Bill Shorten, what would it be?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think it’s a matter of approach rather than one key sort of style difference. I think in terms of approach my attitude towards nation–building infrastructure – and I notice it’s quite interesting that yesterday Joe Hockey was out there talking about economic stimulus and investment in infrastructure after being so critical of our economic stimulus which kept people in jobs, which did invest in things like bringing forward the funding for the Hume Highway meant it’s now being duplicated on our watch. We heard about budget emergency, now they are back into that. I think that there is a great deal of scope for us to intervene in those areas.
I think in terms of social policy I would have very much an emphasis on equality and removal of discrimination; I think I’ve got a record in that as well. I think in terms of Bill and we shouldn’t pretend that there is a vast chasm between us ideologically. The old divisions in terms of the right and the left are long past. I’m a strong supporter of market–based forces. I’m also a strong supporter of inclusiveness. So if you want to see what leadership would be from myself just have a look at my record. Things like the creation of Infrastructure Australia, a body that has empowered private sector representatives along with the Government to make recommendations that have chosen in this case 15 projects. All of them undertaken and funded by the Government. Or the ministerial councils that I chaired, I think I’m the only minister that did this – I might be wrong – but I included groups like the Australian Logistics Council as well as the unions. I included them so they had a seat around the table. That would be part of my approach.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Something else that I want to ask you about in a moment is your approach to carbon pricing if you were successful as leader. But before that what about the approach to the team you have around you. Because leadership is not just about one person it is about the team that you build. Would you like to see, despite the new caucus rules that the caucus picks its own front bench, would you like to at least see a handful of captain’s picks so that you get key people onto the front bench that perhaps may not be as easily picked by your colleagues?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, I think those things need to be talked through with the caucus and it needs to be done in a mature way. For example for someone who is outside of a faction that should not mean they are excluded from consideration. And I think that’s really important that we get good geographic spread, that we get proper gender representation, that we get the best team possible. Now that in recent times has been done by just the leader picking the team, bearing those measures in mind.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Is that your preference, the leader picks the team?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, I think the caucus has a responsibility to pick the team and they can do it in an appropriate way. I think there is a danger in it that you don’t get the right geographical spread or you don’t get the get the right overall outcome because you don’t have that overview.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Because my understanding is that…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: But I’m sure that we can work that through.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Because my understanding is that internally you have expressed or you did express concerns about the return to the caucus system. Is that right?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yes, I don’t think we always had our best team from ‘96 when the factions were chosen – were choosing all of the front bench. I think I’m of the view – and I have had this view for quite some time – that the power of the factions needs to be diminished and the power needs to be given back to the grassroots. We can’t continue to ignore the fact that we are an ageing party, that we are a party that has declined in terms of our membership, and that reflects all sorts of organisations. It’s not just political parties, the local bowling clubs that don’t reform, that are just doing the things the way that they did are collapsing. The ones that are surviving are ones that adapt to new technology, new times, embrace openness and embrace new ideas. We need to do the same thing.
PAUL KELLY: If we just move on to climate change, you are obviously of the view that Labor has got to defend its carbon pricing position. What are the political risks in doing that? Obviously if Tony Abbott repeals carbon pricing then this is a political risk for Labor maintaining this position which Abbott will depict as support for a carbon tax. Are you prepared to fight this battle and do you think Labor can win this battle?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: You know what the biggest risk is to Labor in Opposition, Paul? Is that we have tactics that speak about the 24 hour cycle, or the one week cycle, or even the one term electoral cycle and ignore principle, vision, and what we need – what we stand for as a party. We need to be prepared to stand up and argue our case. If you believe that climate change is real – and I do – and I do because the scientists tell us – you have got a responsibility. You have got a responsibility to act. The best way of acting, in my view, is using market–based mechanisms through an emissions trading scheme. I helped write the policy when I was climate change environment spokesperson a long time ago.
PAUL KELLY: There is no retreat on this?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Paul, this isn’t just a matter of tactics. I think that the population will respond to political leadership that is prepared to stand up for its values and its principles. Now the risk is sitting on the porch in retirement, having a beer and thinking ‘Gee, I wish we hadn’t rolled over and pretended that climate change wasn’t happening’. You know. And the other risk is, here is the risk for Tony Abbott, Paul. If Tony Abbott goes to a G20 meeting or a UN framework convention on climate change, or any of the world’s forums and sits around with David Cameron, Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and says “I think climate change is crap” we will be a laughing stock as a nation.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: But there is a difference between you standing by your principles on carbon pricing versus blocking an attempt to remove the carbon tax as it currently stands. I asked this same question of Chris Bowen, Tony Abbott will be introducing the repealing of the carbon tax separate to his direct action plan and you yourselves in Government were planning to repeal the carbon tax and replace it with an ETS.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Replace it with. We were essentially bringing forward the ETS. It was always envisaged that there was a fixed price period and then it would evolve into an ETS. What we did when Kevin Rudd took over the leadership was just bring that period forward.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: OK, one final question before we let you go. Yourself versus Bill Shorten, if you find yourself in a position where you don’t win that contest, and I know you’re playing to win, but if you don’t will you be going on in politics serving on the front bench with Bill Shorten? Perhaps even taking up a deputy leadership position. Is your political career vested in winning this ballot or are you going on either way?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, I’m a team player. The fact I have put myself forward for this position at this time does not change that. I would serve as a front bencher if I was selected by the caucus under the new process and I would contribute in the best way possible. That’s what I’ve always done. I’ve never woken up in the morning and said over the time I’ve been in Parliament “How do I get to be leader”. What I’ve done is woken up and said “How can I serve the Labor team today in a way that” – not because that’s an end in itself, because I truly believe passionately that it is only Labor that does the big ideas. That gets the big vision like the National Broadband Network, like action on climate change. That’s what I want to continue to do.
PAUL KELLY: I’ve got to put this question to you though. You say all the time you’re a team player. What do you say to your critics? You say you are always in the Rudd camp, you were always with Rudd right from the start before he even became prime minister and as a result of that you did a lot of damage to the government?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, ask Julia Gillard what she thinks about whether I was loyal to her. And, you know, I was loyal each and every day. See if you can find a journo, any of them, they are free to go out there and say that I undermined either Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard with backgrounding or anything else. I was absolutely committed…
PAUL KELLY: So your conscience is clear?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely. I acted in a way which, you know, I think was pretty clear. I noticed a sort of rather bizarre front page splash in your paper yesterday Paul, that suggested that I was in the Rudd camp in 2005. Well actually if you read the story – not the first time a headline has been different from the story – but Kevin Rudd did sound out whether I would be interested in deputy leader in 2005, that’s true. What is also true is that I supported Kim Beazley and indeed did his numbers for him in that ballot against Kevin Rudd. That’s not to say I wasn’t a friend of Kevin’s, I have been since 2005. I remain a friend of Kevin Rudd, I remain a friend of Julia Gillard. And one final thing, I must note that the story about the PM’s bed sit there, Julia Gillard when she was Prime Minister stayed in exactly the same AFP quarters that I’m sure Tony Abbott will be staying in, so there is nothing that new about that. And I think it’s a pity the article didn’t pick that up.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Reference there to the front page of the ‘Sunday Telegraph’ for the sake of our viewers. Mr Albanese, we are out of time. We appreciate you joining us. Good luck in your ballot against Bill Shorten. I hope for your sake that you do a better job with the numbers than you did for Kim Beazley back in 2006.
Thanks very much for joining us on Australian Agenda.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thank you.