Jan 28, 2016

Transcript of media conference – Unity Hall, Balmain

Subjects:  Grayndler electorate; federal redistribution; Malcolm Turnbull; Joel Fitzgibbon; GST; Jay Weatherill; Greens political party; Julie Bishop comments on Israel trips; Israeli-Palestinian conflict; AMA hospital report

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Welcome to the Workers Bar at the Unity Hall here in Balmain. This is the very venue where the first ever branch meeting of the Australian Labor Party took place some 125 years ago. We’re a party with a proud history, and I’m proud to have represented Grayndler in the Australian Parliament for the last 20 years come the second of March. I’m here today to announce that I will be renominating as the Labor Candidate for the electorate of Grayndler at the upcoming federal election. I do so as a proud inner west resident.

The recent redistribution has cut off an area of Marrickville, Dulwich Hill, Hurlstone Park, Newtown and Camperdown that I have formally represented. It is disappointing to lose areas that you’ve represented and that you know well. But I’ve picked up areas, including the Balmain peninsula, that I know well and that I’ll be very proud to be a candidate for. I’ve lived in this community my whole life. I bring a passion and a commitment to be a local representative as well as someone who makes a contribution in the national political debate.

I’m in the Australian Labor Party because it is one of the two options of forming government. It is the party that produces progressive advances for Australia’s future. Whether it be in education, whether it be in health, whether it be in making sure that we have an economy that’s not just about growth, but about inclusive growth. An economy that’s about jobs and opportunity for all Australians so that when we look at an area like the inner west, many people come from relatively humble backgrounds are able to enter university, are able to make a contribution and to maximise their potential in life.

It’s the Australian Labor Party that’s made that possible, whether it be Gough Whitlam’s great advances on tertiary education, whether it be the contribution of the Rudd and Gillard Governments in on education with the Gonski reforms about creating opportunity, the healthcare reforms supporting public healthcare, or whether it be in the area of social policy. What we’ve seen is a great deal of disappointment with the incoming government.

Tony Abbott of course was someone who not only was stuck in the past, he wanted the rest of Australia to go back there and keep him company. And that was the problem. Someone who was an effective Leader of the Opposition, who never moved beyond saying no. So he was rejected by his own party earlier in his term than any previous elected Prime Minister in Australia’s history.

But what we’re seeing from Malcolm Turnbull is that he now leads a party that is divided within itself. It’s at war with itself over a range of issues between the conservatives and the moderates within the Liberal Party. That’s not the problem, however. The problem is that Malcolm Turnbull is at war with himself. Malcolm Turnbull is at war with the position that he has held over a political lifetime – on the republic, on marriage equality, on taking serious action to avoid dangerous climate change.

When he lost the leadership of the Liberal Party he said he would not be prepared to lead a party that wasn’t prepared to take climate change action seriously. And yet today we have the exact opposite of a conviction politician. Someone who’s traded all of his principles for the keys to The Lodge. And that will be the battle at the election this year. A battle between Labor, committed towards advancing Australia’s future – on education, on health, on a fibre to the premises NBN, on marriage equality, on all of these issues and Malcolm Turnbull and a divided Liberal Party.

Of course, in this area as well, we’ll have a third force. But the Greens political party candidate who’s been chosen in this electorate has spent more time in the International Socialist organisation than he has in the Greens political party, and if he was fair dinkum, he’d run as an International Socialist and see how many votes he got there. It’s unfortunate that the Greens have been captured in this area and in New South Wales by people who have a history in Socialist Party of Australia or the International Socialists or the Socialist Workers Party and want to use the Greens banner to advance an agenda that’s about anything but the environment.

It will be interesting to see. Two tests for the Greens candidate in this seat; one is to actually mention the Liberals, because normally they don’t. The second of course, is to actually mention the environment. The last two election campaigns I’ve had as the candidate for Grayndler, the Greens candidate hasn’t got anywhere near environmental issues.

So I stand on my record as a local representative, but also my record in the national parliament representing the views that are strongly held by this community and I’m confident I’ll be returned as the Member for Grayndler, but most importantly, I want to be returned as a member of a Labor Government, because it is only in government that you can make a real difference in changing the nation.

REPORTER: You’ve just said you’re confident, but how confident are you, because you’ve just made some fairly strong criticisms of the Greens candidate. Have you got a big fight on your hands against them?

ALBANESE: I have never taken this electorate for granted. But if you look at the pendulum, I think you’ll find it’s really easy to find Grayndler. At the last election the Greens political party ran their state president, Hall Greenland in this seat. He at least had a record of involvement in issues like Callan Park. The current candidate has no local involvement, no local record, nothing to point to whereby they’ve engaged in the local community.

I’ve been around a long time, lived in this community my whole life. I’ve never seen him at any event or anything else, but then again I haven’t been to International Socialist demonstrations against global capitalism in the last few years so maybe that’s why I’ve missed him.

REPORTER: Nevertheless, will it be harder than ever to win this seat?

ALBANESE: This seat is a seat which cannot be taken for granted. This is a demanding seat. That is as it should be. It’s a politicised seat. People are active in their local community. That’s a great thing. That’s one of the things that inspires me to keep going. I’m very proud of the history of this area. The history in terms of the Labor movement that began in this very hall and continues today. I’ll be very pleased to continue that tradition if the people of Grayndler have their confidence in me as they have in the past. But I’ve never taken it for granted. I’ve always treated this seat as a marginal seat even though if you look at the pendulum, it is not.

When I first ran in 1996, Malcolm Mackerras wrote in the Herald that the seat was over. I wasn’t going to win, the No Aircraft Noise Party were going to win. I think people are looking for authenticity in politics. People might disagree with me, but what you see is what you get. I stand up for my beliefs. I put my hand up when it counts. People know what they’re getting. People should have a close look at what the alternatives are in this electorate, what their real views are. Just Google the candidates. It’s amazing what pops up.

They’ll see the views, for example on the environment. I’m very proud that as Labor’s environment spokesperson, I was the person who wrote the policy for the renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020. I wrote the policy to ratify Kyoto and introduced Private Members Bills. I wrote the policy for the Green car plan. I wrote the policy for an emissions trading scheme. I wrote the comprehensive plan to deal with climate change that ended up being implemented once we were in government.

Of course, the difficulty that we had was that the Greens and the Liberals combined in 2009 to stop there being a price on carbon. Remember that. The CPRS, putting a price on carbon and an emissions trading scheme would have been, in my view, today still policy. The debate would have been over had just two Greens senators stood up and walked across the floor. Two Liberals did cross the floor.

If the Greens had have voted for it, in the Senate in 2009, it would have been policy. There would have been a price on carbon – and it was an economy-wide price – that would have applied, and of course that would have put us in a stronger position because we know that the earlier the action the cheaper the cost.

REPORTER: What will happen to your colleague Joel Fitzgibbon given his seat is being taken away?

ALBANESE: Well, I’m sure that Joel will be a candidate at the election. He’s a valued candidate. He’s one of my best mates in the Parliament as a fellow class of ’96 member. There aren’t that many of us. There’s Joel and myself and Jenny Macklin, we’re all elected in 1996. Joel, I’m sure will make a great contribution to the next Labor Government.

REPORTER: [inaudible] move to Barton, did you consider that?

ALBANESE: What I had to do depended on the boundaries. They shifted substantially. In the draft boundaries they put my home, my office and the place where they make Albo Ale – very importantly – all into Barton. So I didn’t move. The electoral commission moved the boundaries around me. I always said I would wait for the final boundaries.

A range of journalistic colleagues have said over the period that they never change them from the draft. Guess what? I’ve been around a while, and I know sometimes you just have to wait for the final decision. It was always my preference to remain as the candidate for Grayndler. The decision though, was which new area I would seek to represent. The original draft of course, was to put the Drummoyne peninsula into Grayndler so it was a very different seat.

As it is, Grayndler still has been carved up into a range of other seats, some has gone into Barton, Sydney, Watson and Reid. So it is a very radical change in the electorate. I believe though it is closer to the area that I have represented over that period of time and I think people look for some consistency in terms of their representation. I know it’s become fashionable, a bit in the national parliament in Canberra for changes to happen at regular intervals. I think though, people want consistency in terms of their local representation.

The overwhelming majority of my old seat is now in the new Grayndler – including my electorate office which I’ve chosen to run here. Frankly, I’m very much looking forward to campaigning in the new areas of Balmain and Rozelle. I know this area very, very well. I used to visit here up until the 26th of January last year when my dear friend and mentor Tom Uren passed away, I would visit him, down in Gilchrist Place once a fortnight when I could, but at least once a month.

I’m very familiar with this area. I’m familiar with the community based organisations. Annandale, I’ve represented in the past for most of that 20 years and I look forward to once again visiting Annandale Public School and Annandale North Public School and engaging with that community, which is of course around the corner from where I grew up in Pyrmont Bridge Road, Camperdown.

REPORTER: Do you think Joel Fitzgibbon will want to move to Pat Conroy’s seat?

ALBANESE: With due respect, I’m here at Unity Hall to talk about Grayndler and to speak for myself. Joel Fitzgibbon, I’m sure will be a candidate for the next election. I’ve been concentrating on where the boundaries and the maps are in this area and that of course is the appropriate focus that I’ve had.

REPORTER: Would Barton have been an easier proposition for you? Have you been asked to stay here by the party because they think you’re the only person who can fend off the Greens?

ALBANESE: I don’t think that the Greens political party are taking this seat seriously with their choice of candidate, frankly. I think they do this area a great disservice. There are a whole range of activists in this area. Environmental activists who are involved in the conservation movement and none of them have been selected.

Every time, the Greens political party have gone for an apparatchik from within the Greens party. The Greens have factions, there’s a big one here in New South Wales, and it’s opposed to the national leadership of the Greens. Hall Greenland, my last opponent described the Canberra leadership of The Greens as “Liberals on bicycles”. That’s their view.

It runs counter to the views of people who might be thinking, will they vote Green or will they vote Labor at the election. I think those people, as they have in the past in Grayndler by a considerable majority, will ask who has a serious record in taking action on climate change, on environmental issues? Who can be most effective as their representative in the Federal Parliament as a voice on environmental issues? If you’re serious about environmental issues, then I’m your candidate at the election.

REPORTER: Do you believe that Jay Weatherill has the right to keep voicing his support in principle for Labor to keep looking at the GST increase option or should he be hushed up, as some people in the party seem to be wanting?

ALBANESE: Jay Weatherill is a friend of mine and I think he’s a great Premier of South Australia. Jay Weatherill is voicing the concerns that any Labor Premier would have about the need to fund education and health. That’s the views that he’s put. He said he wants to look at options of how you do that. Now, Labor’s view is very clear. One of those options is not increasing the GST. The sort of options that we’ve put forward are progressive options such as on superannuation, closing those loopholes, and on multinational tax avoidance.

I think that Australians are very concerned every time they read an article such as that about Apple yesterday. Every time they read an article that says there are these big corporates that they know are making a lot of money and they’re paying a lot more tax than they are, even though as a percentage of their income, even though they’re only average weekly earners, in some cases below average weekly earners.

REPORTER: But should Jay Weatherill be gagged or bound?

ALBANESE: Jay Weatherill is a Premier. We’re not a Stalinist party. Jay Weatherill is entitled as the Premier to put his views on behalf of the South Australian Labor Government. He’s entitled to do that. In spite of the commentary that’s out there; I’ve actually seen the interviews as opposed to the reporting of those comments.

What Jay Weatherill has said is he just wants options about the funding of education and health and that’s in response to the cuts that are there from the Turnbull and Abbott Governments where we’ve changed the spokesperson but we haven’t changed any of the policies.

What policy has changed since Malcolm Turnbull took over the leadership of the Liberal Party? I frankly was flabbergasted by Malcolm Turnbull’s position on the republic this week. I mean, if there was any semblance of integrity left in Malcolm Turnbull, how he could come out with that position is a complete repudiation of a lifetime of political engagement.

REPORTER: Mr Albanese, Julie Bishop said on Sky News this morning that any ban for Labor MPs going on Israel trips would be prejudiced.

ALBANESE: Who’s talking about it? I mean seriously.

REPORTER: Labor’s Friends of Palestine are talking about putting that forward at the next conference.

ALBANESE: We’ll see. Or is it again reporting of things third hand? I mean, Julie Bishop is more worried about getting photos in various magazines than in actually being a serious foreign policy spokesperson. Labor has a very clear position on the Middle East. Our position is a balanced position. It’s one I share.

I support a Palestinian state, side by side with an Israeli state. People working together. These places are the difference between Balmain and Marrickville. You’re talking about very small distances, whereby it’s simply not possible for any solution other than people to live side by side with mutual respect, with security, with support for a peaceful resolution in the Middle East.

If not, Palestinians continue to suffer in those refugee camps, as they have for far too long. But Israeli citizens suffer as well, because of the insecurity.

REPORTER: So should Labor MPs be banned from having sponsored travel to Israel to express that they disagree with Israel’s continuous expansion of its settlements?

ALBANESE: I’m opposed to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. I support UN resolutions and international conventions on those issues. I think anyone who visits the Middle East should have discussions with both the Israeli side and the Palestinian side. There’s a need for balance here and there’s a need to make sure that we don’t reinforce a division that is not in the interests of either Israelis or Palestinians. So the attempt to play student politics with this on either side is something that our serious national representatives should not do.

REPORTER: So the motion won’t get up, you’re saying?

ALBANESE: I don’t know that there is a motion, frankly. I don’t know that people are not just jumping at nothing. That is usually the case with the Liberal Party. The idea that the Australian Labor Party can ban people from going to countries is frankly absurd. Last time I looked, you didn’t get a visa through the ALP national office to travel overseas.

REPORTER: Sponsored travel, though, we’re talking about.

ALBANESE: That’s up to people, what they do, in terms of sponsored travel. But I think that people should be balanced. I can’t put it any other way than that. It’s not complex. I’m not trying to wedge anyone. I’m not trying to play politics. Julie Bishop should do the same. Julie Bishop has a responsibility as the Foreign Minister to do the same.

The Australian Government, as we did while we were in government, should ensure that it has a balanced position at the United Nations. Not be a cheer squad for one side or the other, because frankly that just reinforces the hawks on one side or the other. What Australia needs to do is to be on the side of the doves, both Palestinian and Israeli, not the hawks, because that does not serve the interests of either Israel or Palestine.

REPORTER: Mr Albanese, the AMA has said this morning that public hospitals will be the biggest financial challenge for governments, both state and federal in 12 months. What’s your take on that report? How should it address the shortfalls?

ALBANESE: It’s a huge challenge because the Commonwealth government is slashing funding for health and education. Yes, it is a huge challenge. I’ll tell you what; first step, elect a Labor Government.