Subjects: Asylum seekers; Federal election; Climate change policy; Automotive industry; Urban road and rail funding
TONY JONES: Anthony Albanese thanks for joining us.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you Tony.
TONY JONES: Do you know how many asylum seekers have died at sea trying to get to Australia since Labor came to power?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: What we know is that every death is one too many.
As we speak there is an incident this evening about 100 kilometres north of Christmas Island. The latest advice that I have at the time of this interview was that there was an Orion aircraft monitoring the situation and naval ships were on their way to the vessel, which was upright.
TONY JONES: Well do you know how many deaths there have been since Labor came to power, because you would think that would be a number imprinted on the minds of every policy maker?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Every single one is one too many Tony.
TONY JONES: Shall I tell you how many? The expert panel – your own expert panel – detailed at least 612 drownings from 2009 to 2012.
Add to that, according to good estimates, another 500 or more people who have died at sea. That’s more than 1,100 deaths.
Are these deaths now building an ethical case for drastic and radical action to stop the boats?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Certainly when we received the advice of the expert panel that’s why the Government determined to adopt its recommendations in full.
Now we were inhibited in doing that by the parliament, and the failure of the Coalition and the Greens’ political party to support those recommendations.
The Government is now working through these policy issues. We certainly believe that it is the case that as the people smugglers’ model changes, so must policy change.
So there’s no point in time in which you can say all the work is done, and what you need to do is constantly modify your policy to meet the changed response that comes to those policy issues.
TONY JONES: I guess the question was, are the deaths, and the growing number of them, are they actually creating an impetus for urgent change?
Because as we speak you’ve said another boat is reportedly in trouble at sea, an asylum boat capsized yesterday, four bodies were recovered, more people are believed to have drowned, then a baby boy drowned at the weekend in similar circumstances. Tony Abbott says this a national emergency, is he right?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: These are terrible circumstances and that’s why we’ve been prepared to countenance responses, which frankly if you had of put to me the Malaysia agreement for example ten years ago, I would have told you that I would never have supported that.
The fact is that this has required a change in response. We had an expert panel, including the esteemed refugee advocate Paris Aristotle, chaired by Angus Houston. I take those recommendations very seriously indeed.
And indeed every one of these tragedies, we’ve got to remember that whilst the people smugglers are engaged in a trade that is beyond comprehension – trading in human misery – these people are human beings, every one of them is one too many, their families would be grieving for them, and it does require us doing everything we can to stop people getting on boats.
TONY JONES: Is it time to stop being diplomatic with Indonesia and demand that they do more to stop these boats leaving their ports often, as we know, with the support of corrupt police and officials?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’ve been to Jakarta four times and what I do know is that foghorn diplomacy doesn’t work.
What is required is for us to work in a cooperative way with Indonesia and to work in a way that respects the fact that they are an important and friendly nation to our north of some quarter of a billion people.
That they have a range of pressures that are on them as well in terms of their own circumstances, and I think that we’ve seen the Opposition’s simple three word slogans rejected quite rightly by Indonesia.
It requires a much more sophisticated response than that, and that is how the Government is working.
TONY JONES: Your Government has actually taken Japan to an international court to stop them killing whales.
Is it time to take Indonesia to some sort of international forum to stop the deaths of these people who are leaving their shores in Indonesian boats, crewed by Indonesians?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Let’s be very clear we have, in terms of the agreement that was reached just over a week ago with the Prime Minister and President Yudhoyono during those bilateral talks, agreed that a regional discussion would be convened. That will be convened in coming weeks.
It’s important that these measures be done in a cooperative way. That is how the Government is working. That is the appropriate way to operate in these circumstances to achieve an outcome.
The outcome here isn’t trying to get a domestic political message out there. The outcome is how do we stop people getting on boats and risking their lives? That is the Government’s objective, not any simplistic three word slogans.
TONY JONES: Did you hear John Stanhope, the Christmas Island Administrator, on the radio this morning?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No I didn’t Tony; I’ve been on a plane to Perth.
TONY JONES: No that was earlier this morning, before that. But he sounded like a man at his wit’s end. He said they’re getting 100 arrivals per day, 700 to 800 per week. He’s got a baby in his mortuary; more bodies are on the way.
Is it time to start thinking about this urgently, not in terms of having discussions somewhere down the track with Indonesia about what might happen, but actually come to some decisions?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’re not sitting back doing nothing here, Tony. But you can’t just issue a press release and the issue is solved. You can’t come up with a three word slogan and the issue is solved.
If that was the case, if it was that simple, it would have been done. It isn’t simple; these are a complex series of arrangements.
We know that in 2012 there were 23,000 people displaced every single day. That was greater than the number of people who sought asylum in Australia.
So we know that these are difficult questions globally, they’re difficult in our region, we’re working in our region to come up with ways to solve these issues. We had the expert panel. We adopted the expert panel’s recommendations in full-
TONY JONES: I’m sorry to interrupt you there, but Bob Carr your Foreign Minister says that the vast majority of these people are not displaced people at all, but people seeking economic haven not political or other haven from persecution in Australia. He’s saying they are economic migrants basically on these boats for the most part.
If you are prepared to make big policy changes in that area in particular – not just campaign promises – are you prepared to bring back parliament and legislate for those changes before the election?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Parliament has met and considered a range of issues and has been blocked in terms of the expert panel’s recommendations in the past.
TONY JONES: I’m talking about your future policy, the initiatives that you are apparently working on now that will change the equation? Will you bring them to parliament or will they just be campaign promises that you take into a campaign without any legislation?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: There’s a range of things that can be done without legislation, there are some things that need legislation. That will be a matter for the appropriate announcement by the appropriate minister.
And I’m not here on Lateline tonight frankly to announce the Government’s policy when it comes to migration. These issues are being worked through, the Government isn’t just sitting back, the Government has tried in the past to carry legislation but politics has got in the way.
What is important is that politics get out of the way, whether it be the Coalition or the Greens’ political party, and that we have a comprehensive solution to these issues.
TONY JONES: But the problem is now the election is getting in the way, and all this is happening against the backdrop of a coming election; no one knows when that is.
But the same thing applies to your promise to bring the ETS forward. Is that just a campaign promise, or are you prepared to bring back parliament and legislate for that change before the election?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m not going announce the election date tonight Tony-
TONY JONES: I’m not asking you to do that, I’m asking whether you are prepared to bring back parliament.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Yes you are Tony by asking me about whether parliament will come back. It may well come back. Parliament is scheduled to come back on a particular date. If the election hasn’t been called by then, guess what, parliament comes back.
TONY JONES: You’re a key strategist; wouldn’t it potentially be in your favour to put Tony Abbott in a position where he has to vote in both houses against a bill to end the carbon tax?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well I’ll give you the big tip Tony; I get to be a strategist because I don’t discuss our internal strategy on Lateline.
And I’ll give you another tip, it won’t be of surprise if Tony Abbott does what he does best which is say no, no, no to any plan that is put forward, even a plan that’s going to lead to increases in living standards of $380.
Tony Abbott has shown with the record number of bills that were opposed by, what I say is the ‘Noalition’ for the last three years. They’ve opposed three times more bills than have been opposed as a percentage by any previous parliament. And that’s because they’ve been prepared to say no to everything, and I suspect that Tony Abbott would say no. He has said that, why would you doubt him?
TONY JONES: To pay for this emissions trading scheme change, you’re cutting the fringe benefit tax incentive that car manufacturers say will actually hurt their sales.
Apparently the South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill agrees with that – he’s coming to Canberra to lobby against that change tomorrow. Did you do any modelling at all before you brought this change in, as to how it might affect car sales?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Of course we did modelling. Let’s be very clear about what this change is. This change is for those people who are currently claiming a 20 per cent use – sort of statutory figure – of their work vehicle for work, without providing any records.
So those people who are actually using it 20 per cent of the time will actually not be able to get the advantage they currently get from claiming something they are not entitled to. It’s as simple as that.
No impact whatsoever on the tradies’ ute, no impact whatsoever on anyone who uses their car for more than one kilometre in every five. And no impact for people who want to actually keep records for 12 weeks every five years, and these days there are apps; it’s very easy to keep those records.
Let’s be clear, the only thing this is impacting on is people who are claiming something they are not entitled to. And it is beyond comprehension that that would be a bad thing.
TONY JONES: What did your modelling tell you would be the impact on car sales? Because manufacturers are up in arms, Jay Weatherill is going to Canberra to lobby against this. He believes it will have an impact on car sales.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well you’d expect people who have elections on, and you’d expect from time to time when you make savings decisions people will have issues with them.
But the only impact this has is on people who are claiming something that they’re not entitled to. And it’s consistent with good policy outcomes that anyone when it comes to tax issues isn’t able to claim something that they’re not entitled to, simple as that.
TONY JONES: Do you seriously believe that the only people affected here are BMW drivers as you suggested this morning, and you’ve been accused of simply a class warfare attack for suggesting that.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I didn’t say it was only BMW drivers, I said it was just as likely because it was. This isn’t something that impacts on just Australian cars. It’s competitively neutral in terms of what sort of cars are given.
And I’ll tell you what, if you want to be fair dinkum about making a difference currently we could make, between Queensland and New South Wales for example, half the fleet at least of both those state government fleets Australian made cars.
If they want to make a difference, that’s the way to make a difference in terms of Australian car manufacturing. That would be a really sensible change to make, and it is one that I would support.
And what you wouldn’t do is do what Tony Abbott will do, which is to rip half a billion dollars out of the automotive industry in terms of industry support.
TONY JONES: Alright finally you’re in Perth to announce funding for upgrades to the city rail network. When did urban rail become a federal funding responsibility?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’ve put in more money into urban public transport since 2007 than all previous governments combined, and tomorrow we’ll be opening up the new tunnel for the Fremantle line into the Perth City Link project.
We’ve committed $236 million into what’s a $360 million project. It will be open tomorrow and we’ll be travelling on some of the first trains.
Urban congestion is a big infrastructure issue. If you want to look at productivity and benefit/cost ratios, what comes out the end consistently is that the Federal Government has to play a role in urban public transport.
We’ve done that with this investment, and we’ve also committed just here in Western Australia half a billion dollars in the last budget for either the heavy rail line, which is connected to the airport, or for the light rail project here in Western Australia.
But right around the country we are investing in urban public transport. Tony Abbott has said let’s just stick to rural and regional roads and not worry about urban and public transport.
Well if we are serious about infrastructure, regardless of the mode, whether it be roads – and I travelled here to the ABC studios along the widely expanded Great Eastern Highway that was funded by the Federal Labor Government as well, so here in Perth making a big difference to urban congestion-
TONY JONES: I don’t want to interrupt your flow, listing every single project you have to drive past or catch a train along – I don’t want to be cynical here either – but are you calculating there are votes in this in the west?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: There are votes I think in cities because people understand that urban congestion is an issue that has to be dealt with in terms of urban road funding but also urban rail funding.
And there is a role for the national government in urban planning and in dealing with urban congestion. It would cost – it was estimated a couple of years ago it would cost $20 billion to the national economy by 2020 if left unaddressed.
That’s why I’m very proud of our record in urban rail. It’s the right thing to do, it’s what people who are sitting in traffic, sitting in traffic who would like better roads or like the option of a better public transport system, know should happen.
TONY JONES: Anthony Albanese, we will have to leave you there. We thank you very much taking the time in Perth to join us on Lateline tonight.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks very much Tony.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.