May 19, 2019

Transcript of Media Conference – Unity Hall Hotel, Balmain – Sunday, 19 May 2019

Subjects: Federal election, Leadership of the Australian Labor Party.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thank you for joining me at the Unity Hall, here in Balmain, in my electorate: the birthplace of the NSW Labor Party way back in 1891. I want to begin by congratulating Prime Minister Scott Morrison on his election in his own right as the Prime Minister of Australia. I’ve had my differences, and will continue to have my differences with prime ministers on the other side of politics. But I respect the office of Prime Minister, and I acknowledge how hard he and Jenny and his daughters campaigned right around the country. And I think it is a great thing that here in this nation, we can elect governments in a peaceful and democratic fashion.

I also want to take the opportunity, as I did personally with a discussion with Bill Shorten earlier this morning, to acknowledge the fact that he has fought a tough campaign. He has led our great party for six years. He has been an inclusive leader, and he is someone who has campaigned on a policy agenda in the interests of working people, and he is someone who has my respect, and has indicated, of course, that he’ll continue to serve the Parliament as the – as a Member of Parliament. And today, he’s also announced that he will ask for the National Executive to expedite the election of the Leader of the Australian Labor Party.

Can I say that we need to respect the decision which people made yesterday in, I think, a clear fashion? This is, indeed, a devastating result for the Australian Labor Party. I particularly want to say: my heart goes out to all those many tens of thousands of true believers who campaigned strongly over many months, who staffed the polling booths, who worked so hard for the election of a Labor Government. I’m sorry that we collectively didn’t get the job done. But I want to take the opportunity, as well, to thank the voters of Grayndler for giving me the great honour of continuing to serve the inner west of Sydney in the national Parliament.

It is the case that we are going to have to examine the outcome of this election at both as a Caucus and as a National Executive. And what we will have to do in that examination is to work out exactly how things could have been improved, and why we fell short in forming Government. But what matters more to me is the future – the future of our party, and making sure that we face up to the big challenges that we face as a nation. The fact is that we have a re-elected Government. But it is one that will continue to be divided. It hasn’t put forward a positive agenda for this term. And therefore, it’s difficult to see how it will govern in the national interest. This election result means the instability and inaction will continue.

Regardless of how people voted yesterday, the country knows that we do face huge challenges. The global economy continues to falter, causing more risk for Australian industry and jobs. Our regions and our outer suburbs are falling behind our inner suburbs, when it comes to wealth, when it comes to jobs, and when it comes to services. Underemployment means that many Australians aren’t getting the take home pay that they need to meet the basic essentials for their families. Our low wage economy, where wages aren’t keeping up with inflation, means that that is entrenching generational disadvantage. And everyone, including the Government, knows in their heart of hearts, that the tax system isn’t delivering what we need for the country. We need a government with an agenda to build the nation, and secure us against these challenges with an education system at schools that prepare us for global competition, including in the early years. We need to create high-skilled jobs in new industries, as our economy continues to transition. We need to build the national infrastructure that deals with these big issues. Most of all though, what we need to do, is have a government that deals with the big challenges by bringing people together. We need unions and businesses, people who live in our cities, our outer suburbs, or in our regions, to come together and recognise that what unites us as a nation is far greater than what divides us.

We need to articulate how Labor’s vision will drive jobs, economic growth and prosperity, how the drivers of that growth are investment in infrastructure, but also investment in people, from early childhood education, through to schools, through to TAFE, and through universities. We need to compete in this region: the fastest growing region of the world in human history, on the basis of how smart we are, rather than on the basis of trying to compete by driving down wages and conditions and creating increased job insecurity. How we plan to create opportunity, not just entrench privilege. We need to examine our policies, but not our values. Because Labor’s values are eternal – the values of fairness are at our core. We need, however, to make sure that we articulate not just how we share wealth but how we create wealth.

I am today announcing that I will be a candidate for Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. It’s not something that comes to me naturally. It’s not something, growing up very close to here in public housing in Camperdown, that you aspire to. It is, however, something that I believe I have a responsibility to put myself forward, because I believe I’m the best person to lead Labor back into Government. We’ve lost three elections in a row. That has an impact on those Australians who rely upon us to improve their education, to look after their healthcare, to build public transport infrastructure, to look after their interests. And I believe, therefore, that I’ve got a responsibility to put myself forward.

I’ve already had some discussions with Caucus members. I’ll continue to discuss it with Caucus members, but also, rank and file members of the Labor Party. I’m proud that, together with Kevin Rudd, I initiated reforms that did two things: one, they gave the rank and file membership of our party a say in the leadership, and therefore the direction of the party. But secondly also, that provided stability. I’ve been loyal to the leaders that I’ve served, including Bill Shorten, who’s had loyalty from the Caucus, I think unprecedented, over the last six years. The reforms that we put in place were a part of ensuring that that occurred.

If it’s a contested ballot, and I would welcome people’s right to put themselves forward, I’m sure that it will be conducted in a fair, inclusive, and democratic fashion. And I certainly think that the last time it occurred between myself and Bill, it actually put us in a strong position to hit the ground running as a first term Opposition. I will be asking the members of the Caucus and the party for their support. I think Australians know me. I’ve been around in politics now for two decades. I’ve explained my life story, which I found quite difficult, through working with Karen Middleton’s biography that she released in 2016. I sometimes get things wrong. If I do that, I’ll say that that’s the case. I’m someone who can take on the other side of politics in a vigorous fashion. And people who saw my record as Leader of the House of Representatives, and as Manager of Opposition Business, will know that that’s the case. But they will also know that I’m prepared to reach out across the aisle. And if an idea is good, and it needs bipartisan support, such as the building of an airport, and support for Western Sydney jobs and the aerotropolis there, then I’ll do that too.

What you see is what you get with me. For better or worse. I’m a bit rough at the edges, but I think that Australians don’t want someone who just utters talking points. So, from time to time, I will not be as articulate as someone who is simply reading from a script. But I offer myself forward. I do it in a way which I wasn’t expecting, frankly. The truth is that I along with – along with others, was expecting a different result last night. I’m disappointed by the result that we got. But it’s now time – stand up, dust ourselves off, and get on with the business of making Labor an Opposition that holds the Government to account, but also a political party that offers a different agenda to the Government: a fairer agenda, a more inclusive agenda, an agenda that brings the nation together on economic, social, and environmental policy, so that we can meet the challenges of the future. Thanks.

REPORTER: Mr Albanese, will you fix Labor’s negative gearing and franking credits policies if you are elected Leader?

ALBANESE: Well, the first thing I’ll do is respect the Caucus. And we will have Caucus processes with regard to policies. What you won’t have is the sort of policy on the run that you’ve just asked me to make. So – so what we will do – what we’ll do is examine calmly, methodically, the policies that we have. But they will be – well what we won’t examine – under me, if I do have the great honour of leading the Labour Party, and I have been Deputy Prime Minister, I’ve been Deputy Leader, and I’ve been Acting Leader of this party, and Acting Prime Minister of Australia before, is you won’t get any change in my values, because you all know what they are. I think I’ve applied them consistently. From time to time, some of my comments have been taken as being something new, when they’re things that I’ve said for 20 years, such as the importance of working together, to unite rather than to divide.

REPORTER: Was Bill Shorten a factor in Labor’s loss? And could you have won yesterday if you were Leader?

ALBANESE: Look, what I’m concerned about is the future. People will examine the reasons for the loss. Can I say this about Bill Shorten? No one could have worked harder for the cause of Labor, and for the election of a Labor Government than Bill Shorten. We respect our former leaders, and I have the utmost respect for Bill Shorten, and you’ll see no criticism of him from me.

REPORTER: Mr Albanese, there’s been some concern within the Caucus that, maybe, you fought this election too far to the left. Under your leadership, can you see a move back to the centre, maybe away from obsession around environmentalism and climate change?

ALBANESE: What you’ll see from me is my values that have been put in place over a long period of time. They include strong values on the economy, and the importance of growth and investment in infrastructure. People know that that’s the case. You can go anywhere in Australia and see something that I supported, advocated for, secured funding through government processes for, and are now open. Whether that’s riding on a railway line at Redcliffe; whether that be the upgrade to the Pacific Highway; whether that be Gateway WA in Western Australia; the new Noarlunga to Seaford railway line in South Australia; whether it be Regional Rail Link in Victoria; whether it be the Bruce Highway upgrades, you can see what my view is about how you build the nation in practice, and that’s been put into practice.

But you’ll also see my policies, in terms of social inclusiveness. I am someone who, in my first speech, spoke about the need to remove discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion or sexuality. That is one of the things I think that drives this country. We are a fair country. We’re a multicultural nation, and you’ll see my respect for that come through, in terms of social policy. You’ll also see my concern, which is through my lived experience – I grew up in a house with a single mum on an invalid pension, public housing down there in Camperdown. I know what it’s like to do it tough, and I think that governments have a role and should be judged by how they look after the most vulnerable, not by how they look after the most wealthy. So that will drive my values.

REPORTER: So are you saying you’ve got enough mongrel in you to make a good leader?

ALBANESE: Well, people will make their own judgements about me. What you will see though,– on economic, on social, on environmental records, if you want to look at the support that I had – Private Member’s Bills to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, now recognised as just sensible policy. When I was Environmental spokesperson, I drove the policy of 20 per cent Renewable Energy Target by 2020. At the time the target was two (per cent). When we came to office there were 8000 homes in Australia that had solar panels on their roofs. Today, there’s two million. That’s a direct result of that policy.

REPORTER: So, do you think you could have won yesterday’s election for Labor?

ALBANESE: I think that the time for looking backwards is not what Australians are interested in now. The fact is …

REPORTER: But if then you’re putting yourself forward as the Leader that’s going to (inaudible), could you have won yesterday?

ALBANESE: I am putting myself forward, and I’m concerned about the future. There’ll be a time internally, both in terms of the Caucus and the National Executive always sets up a process after an election, whereby we examine the outcomes of elections and look at how things could be improved.

REPORTER: Did the retiree tax campaign cost you the election? The retiree tax campaign?

ALBANESE: Well look, I refer to my previous answer, which is that what I’m concerned about today is how we move forward. That’s my priority.

REPORTER: But then why don’t you want to answer any of the difficult questions, and assess why, where things went wrong?

ALBANESE: Because what you want is glib answers, and what you’ll get from me, if I’m elected Leader, is considered responses – considered responses after consultation with my Caucus colleagues. I don’t intend, if I have the honour of leading the Labor Party, to go to press conferences and make decisions on the basis of a question, with respect, from a very good journalist who I have respect for. That is not what I will do. What I will do is talk to Caucus colleagues and to be Leader, but amongst equals in terms of the Caucus, and to respect those processes. And Australians today, we’ve elected, the Morrison Government has been re-elected. They deserve congratulations for that. In terms of Labor’s side, we obviously are in a position whereby many, many Labor faithful are grieving the result today. What they want though to know, is that we’re going to move forward with a positive agenda that will hold the Government to account, and we’ll develop an agenda and campaign all the way up to the next election to make sure that what happened last night is not repeated.

REPORTER: Looking to the future then, Mr Albanese, and leaving the Caucus aside for one second, but your blue collar workers and your over 65s that didn’t vote Labor, but have voted Labor in the past, what are you going to offer them that will ensure that they do vote Labor in 2022?

ALBANESE: Look, I have an affinity with working people. I think, if you look at the base that I have in this electorate. It’s up to others to judge, but we were successful in campaigning to get the votes of blue collar workers in this electorate, as well as people from the professional classes. If you look at what I do when I’ve gone around the country – you know, when we were talking about jobs, during the last year, one of the things I did was go up to western Queensland with Bob Katter and a Lateline crew. And we went and we had a look at what was going on at Kidston and Big Kennedy and Little Kennedy renewable energy projects. I went into the Hughenden pub with Bob Katter, and talked to people about what their needs are. I think that we need to be great listeners, not just great talkers. And one of the things that I will do is be inclusive, is listen to people, of whatever background. One of the things that characterises my involvement in politics, is that I have as much respect for the blue collar worker or the homeless person as the very successful business person. And I think I’m able to engage across the spectrum, whether it’s in the boardroom or the workroom. And I really will be, if I’m successful as the Leader – I think I have a long record of campaigning and engaging with people right across the country. I’ve held a range of portfolios in economic, social and environmental policies for a long period of time. I think that experience does count, because people who actually know you can trust you. And I hope to build on that trust if I’m successful.

REPORTER: Can we just ask about the polling? Did Labor Party internal polling point at all to last night’s result? And how did the internal and external polling get it so wrong?

ALBANESE: Well, I didn’t have access to any of the polling during the election campaign, so I was taking it off the published polls, including the exit poll that was conducted last night, which is why I think people were surprised by the result. The truth is clearly there is a major gap between what the polling was showing and what the outcome was. That’s a matter for the polling companies to examine. But to give you the big tip, by and large, a lot of the same companies that do the public polling also do the private polling. So I think, in terms of the outcomes, that’s something that no doubt will be examined over coming days and weeks.

REPORTER: Why do you think voters hesitated to change the Government?

ALBANESE: Well, that’s something that we’re going to have to look at, but we’re going to have to look at honestly. And we’re going to have to look at the range of issues that were raised. One of the things that we’ve done in the past is to go back in a scientific way, and talk to people about why – people who change their mind at the last minute, or who weren’t sure what they were going to do, obviously fell the other way – why that’s the case. We need to talk to people about why that’s the case. But we need to acknowledge that we collectively did not do well enough. That’s the basis of it. You know, Canberra didn’t defend well enough last night, which is why Souths beat them. You can talk about a referee’s decision, you can complain about the process. What you’ve got to do is respect the outcome, go back, examine it, talk to people, and we have to do better. Because our people need us to be in Government. I think Australia needs a Labor Government.

REPORTER: How much did Chris Bowen’s comments about cane toads and telling voters to vote for – to vote for, you know, [inaudible] How much does that help?

ALBANESE: I’ll stop you there. I have no idea what his or anyone else’s comments were about cane toads. I wasn’t aware that cane toads had entered this election.

REPORTER: He said the (inaudible).

ALBANESE: Normally the only time that cane toads enter my lexicon is at State of Origin time, and that’s not being held yet. That’s in a few weeks’ time.

REPORTER: Do you believe you will be the Left’s candidate for the leadership?

ALBANESE: Well, this isn’t a factional position. It’s not a matter of the Left’s candidate. I’m putting myself forward as as an individual. I’m not making arrangements with anyone. I’m putting myself forward. I did that last time. There’ll be no offers made. I’m putting myself forward on my merits. People will make a judgement, and I’ll accept that judgement, as I did last time.

REPORTER: But you got the popular vote. You didn’t get the Caucus vote.

ALBANESE: Well, I remember what happened last time, funnily enough.

REPORTER: Yes, why then – why was that? What can you – how can you stop that?

ALBANESE: I’ll give you the breaking news. I was there.

REPORTER: How can you stop that happening again?

ALBANESE: So I’ll be talking to colleagues, and I’ll be putting myself forward on merit. I would hope, frankly, that what doesn’t happen is that we try to have caucus lock-ins. I don’t want that to happen. This isn’t a factional position. I’m not running for the leader of the Left, or the leader of the Right, or the leader of the Centre. I’m running for Leader of the Labor Party – Leader of the Labor Party. And what needs to happen is that every Labor Party Caucus member needs to determine what they think is the best opportunity, so that in three years’ time, they’re sitting on the other side of the Parliament, rather than where they are now. And every party member also needs to judge what they think is the best way that they can have a much better night in 2022 than they had last night. Last one.

REPORTER: Did Scott Morrison out-campaign you? Could you have gone harder in the last week?

ALBANESE: Scott Morrison ran a very good campaign and a disciplined campaign. Bill Shorten – no one could have worked harder than Bill Shorten. He campaigned strongly. He went across the country. And I also want to pay tribute to Chloe and to the kids, who campaigned very strongly as well. I was in Melbourne, what seems like a long time ago now, but I think it was last Sunday from memory, in Bill’s electorate in Moonee Ponds. I think Bill gave an outstanding speech. I was talking with Chloe and his family beforehand. I want to pay tribute as well to Ryan Liddell and Bill’s staff, his team. They have worked incredibly hard. I’ve been in Government and I’ve been in Opposition. Let me tell you: Opposition Leader is the hardest job in politics. There is no question that that’s the case. Bill Shorten has done it with distinction over the last six years and he has my respect for the job that he has done on behalf of our party. Thanks very much.