ISSUES: Labor leadership
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thank you for joining us. I intend to make a statement. I will then take a limited number of questions and to save media outlets some phone calls over coming days, these will be my only public comments before the ballot on Monday.
I love the Labor Party.
I was raised by a single mum and I was told that you always had to stand up for what you believed in, regardless of the odds.
I hope that when I leave politics people will regard me as a straightforward politician who said what he thought, who acted in the interest of the Labor Party. Not because that was an end in itself, but because it is only the Australian Labor Party that can advance the long-term national interests of this country.
Mum raised me with three great faiths: the Catholic Church, the South Sydney football club and Labor. She said to be true to all three. Well, with regard to the Catholic Church, I believe that the social justice values that I was raised with, I have kept. With regard to South Sydney, in spite of 41 years of constant disappointment, I have remained faithful. I have also remained faithful to the Labor Party. I have devoted my life to advancing the cause of Labor.
I have despaired in recent days as I have watched Labor’s legacy in government be devalued. We have been a good government since 2007.
Under Kevin Rudd, we had the apology. We brought the troops home from Iraq. We ratified the Kyoto Protocol. We advanced the National Broadband Network.
In my portfolio, we established Infrastructure Australia, we doubled the roads budget. We increased the rail budget by more than 10 times. We committed more to urban public transport than all governments combined since federation.
We have been a good government since 2007. Under Prime Minister Rudd we advanced a great deal. Most importantly, we got through the Global Financial Crisis better than any economy anywhere in the world. We should be proud of our record and not undermine it.
Under Prime Minister Gillard, she has led a government that has achieved outstanding things, particularly under the circumstances of minority government. Two hundred and sixty-nine pieces of legislation. Finally we have a price on carbon; we have structural separation of Telstra; the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and just in the last fortnight, reform of private health insurance. Making sure that my private health insurance isn’t subsidised by working people in my electorate. And, of course, the ABCC legislation to get rid of that unfairness in the workplace.
I believe we’ve been a good government since 2007 and it’s incumbent upon members of the Caucus to advance that – each and every one of us.
Over recent days I’ve had a difficult decision to make. I’ve consulted friends, colleagues, branch members. Members of the community have come up to me, have written to me, have rung me.
Yesterday in my electorate office I rang a number of constituents who’d emailed me cold – people who had given particularly thoughtful contributions – just to have a chat about their thoughts on these issues because at the end of the day while it’s a decision for the Caucus, it’s also a decision for the nation.
Last night upon talking to family, I came to a decision. I rang the Prime Minister this morning and had a lengthy conversation with her. I informed the Prime Minister that I would be voting for Kevin Rudd in Monday’s ballot.
I went through the reasons why and, given my position as Leader of the House, I also offered my resignation to her. As Leader of the House, in particular, I think it’s a different circumstance to which other ministers find themselves in. We had a good constructive discussion. She thanked me for the way that I had conducted myself and expressed confidence that I should remain as Leader of the House due to the loyalty that I had shown, the tenacity that I had shown in that position and said that I would continue to be able to have her confidence – her full confidence – if she was successful in Monday’s ballot.
In recent times, I’ve argued against the predicament that the party now finds itself in. I’ve argued against the spill. I’ve argued against those people who argued we should ‘bring it on’, as it were called, whether they be forces inside or outside the Labor Caucus. I also argued against a challenge against the Prime Minister and indicated that I would not support any challenge against the Prime Minister, should someone seek to bring it on. I believe that the last few days have done damage to our party – there’s no doubt about that.
I have argued against this sort of action before, on the night of 23 June 2010. I believe the Government’s difficulties can be traced to that night. Labor is the party of fairness. It was not fair. It was wrong. We cannot have a situation whereby a first-term elected Prime Minister is deposed, without warning, under the circumstances in which it was done, and I think that anyone who analyses those circumstances objectively would agree with that regardless of the personalities involved.
We’ve only had three leaders lead us from opposition into government since the Second World War: Kevin Rudd, Bob Hawke and Gough Whitlam. Each of those three gentlemen deserved our respect. That’s important. Each of those three gentlemen were formidable campaigners indeed. It is tough. It is tough to take Labor from opposition to government. Kevin Rudd showed in 2007 that he could do that.
I argued that night to Kevin Rudd that he shouldn’t contest the ballot because it was in the interests of the party that we get a clean change, given that the circumstances were that he would not have been successful had he contested, and given the proximity to a federal election. That was a difficult thing to do.
Monday’s ballot is the only opportunity I have, therefore, in a ballot to express my dissent from the actions of that night. And I intend to do so.
I do so with a heavy heart. In politics, as in life, you cannot just consider the past; you have to also look to the future and I also believe that our future prospects would be stronger with Kevin Rudd as leader.
We need to win in 2013 to entrench our reforms. We’ve had, under both Prime Ministers Gillard and Rudd, a big agenda. But in order to entrench the reforms that are there, the equity changes that we’re making in education, in health, in my area of infrastructure, you need a long period of time in order to achieve change. All of that, all of that is at risk. All of that is at risk if Tony Abbott becomes Prime Minister.
Can I conclude with this: that I have made my decision and it has not been an easy decision. I respect those who disagree with me. It is a judgement call. Both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard are formidable politicians and good human beings with good hearts and smart heads. They are formidable people, both of them, and both of them have my utmost respect.
Can I say this also: that no one has fought the Government’s critics harder than myself. Day in, day out, in the Parliament, on the floor of the House of Representatives, in Question Time, in suspension motions, outside of Question Time in the public. When a convoy of very hostile people came to have a demo outside my office, I fronted up. Months ago I said we had to front up to our critics and take them on.
I’ve seen a lot of passion over the last few days from members of the Australian Labor Party. What I want after Monday morning is for that passion to be channelled, regardless of the outcome, into defeating Tony Abbott at the next election. Unless we do that and move forward, we will deliver a Government to someone who – I disagree here with Kevin Rudd, who said he was the most conservative leader that the Liberal Party have had. He’s not a conservative. He is a reactionary. He is a reactionary who has modelled himself on the far right of US politics, and we’re seeing some of that played out at the moment.
I won’t make any further comment after this. So now is your chance if journalists have any questions.
QUESTION: Why have you gone against of the majority of the ministry to support a leader who is so unpopular internally?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’ll wait and see the outcome of the ballot on Monday. I don’t pre-empt what Caucus members do. But let me say this: I have not taken this decision in any opportunistic fashion. I think that most people who have observed what’s going on in recent days would have to acknowledge that this is a tough call for me to make. This is not the easy option. This is certainly not in my personal political interest. I am doing it because it’s right.
QUESTION: If Kevin Rudd loses the ballot, what ramifications do you expect there to be for you in the new Cabinet?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: None at all. I have had a good discussion with the Prime Minister this morning. I rang her first. We have obviously spoken at other times in recent days but I rang her to inform her of my decision. I then rang Wayne Swan and told him and had a discussion with him.
Then I told Kevin Rudd. I’m old fashioned. I tell people who I’m not voting for them first. I think that what happens in a process like this – and this is a very important process in terms of restoring Caucus processes –people should go along, they should vote whatever way they themselves think and people should then respect the decision.
The problem with what occurred in June 2010 was that no one had the time to consider the circumstances, to make a reasoned decision. No one, not just inside the caucus but outside the Caucus as well, which is why there was such a reaction to it. My view, and I’ve spoken to Kevin Rudd. He has indicated that if he is not successful, he will not challenge again. He will go the back bench. Julia Gillard has said the same thing.
QUESTION: Do you think your decision could influence other ministers to change their vote for Kevin Rudd?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m not lobbying for anyone. Indeed to be frank my preferred position, and we should have a discussion about this in the fullness of time, is that we’ve got to get real about the amount of TV and internal discussions which take place during one of these processes.
It is my preferred position to go into the Caucus and cast a secret vote in a secret ballot. However, given that every single minister has done stand-up TV interviews, I was of the view – and it was suggested to me that I didn’t have to do this press conference, not by the Prime Minister, she respected my views – but some of my closest friends suggested that. I was of the view, given that every single person was out there stating their position, that for me and the sort of politician I am, to not go public with my position now that I have determined what it would be, is not what my electorate would want and not what my branch members would want.
I fully understand that there are those who will disagree with my position, particularly some people in the electorate. I say this to them: this is not the easy option. All the indications are that Julia Gillard will be successful in Monday’s ballot. The easy thing to do, and what often happens in these ballots is that people like to go with the big group, not the small group and maybe just because I’m from the New South Wales Left – by definition, that is something that doesn’t worry me at all.
I have thought really genuinely and seriously about this. And there are no hidden agendas. You won’t hear any criticism of Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd from me because I think they have both been outstanding Labor Prime Ministers.
QUESTION: You’ve been very emotional here today. What sort of personal toll has this taken on you?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well this is tough. I like fighting Tories. That’s what I do. That’s what I do. And I have lifelong friends who disagree with me on this. It has been very difficult. I knew that if I came to this position I had to be in the position of being comfortable with offering my resignation to the Prime Minister as the Leader of the House. That was the position I came to and it’s a big call. Those people who watch Question Time might notice that I quite like being Leader of the House and, what’s more, I think I’m good at it. I think I’m good at it and I serve the government well.
I was pleased that under the circumstances, and I made it clear to the Prime Minister, that it would be perfectly reasonable for her that, under the circumstances where I indicated I was going to make my position public, she accept that resignation. She refused to on the basis that she had absolute confidence that I would continue, were she to continue as Prime Minister to hold her confidence that I would serve her loyally, as I have. As I have each and every day.
I remind people that after the ballot, well, the non-ballot or the change of Prime Minister on that Thursday, I ran Question Time. I did it while those processes were going on, on that Thursday.
But it is difficult. The truth is it has been very traumatic. I would just simply rather have arguments with those people who I disagree with so strongly.
We have a good record. We have a good record in government. We have a good story to tell. We need to tell the story. We need to take on our conservative critics, at each and every level, inside the Parliament and outside the Parliament.
That is the basis for why this has been difficult. I’m not singling myself out. This has been difficult for everyone and most difficult for Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd and their families.
QUESTION: Have you spoken to Kevin Rudd today at all?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I have.
QUESTION: And what did you say?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I told him that I had rung the Prime Minister and that I’d be voting for him on Monday.
QUESTION: What was his response to that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: He thanked me for my support and that was it. It wasn’t a very long conversation. You tend to not need to have as long conversations with people who you are telling that you are voting for them as you do with people who you are telling that you’re not voting for them.
QUESTION: You know by going public with your decision you will influence others. How many others do you think?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: This isn’t aimed at influencing anyone. This is aimed at indicating clearly, transparently, what my position is.
QUESTION: Did you ask the Prime Minister not to stand in the ballot?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s not up to me to do that.
QUESTION: [Inaudible]…nature of the feedback from your electorate… [Inaudible]?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, some of those remain confidential obviously. In general, there was a consistency with the position that I’ve taken. I mean people can see the polls in today’s paper. There is no reason to suggest, I know there’s this great science always about internal polling. Guess what? It’s a scam made up by political apparatchiks such as me to pretend that we know more than you do. You know, read the paper. It’s there but certainly not uniform. There are some people in my electorate who will strongly disagree with my position.
QUESTION: [Inaudible]…is this the first time you’re voting against the leader…[Inaudible]?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m trying to think. I’ve been through a few, a few too many, but I don’t have a great record of backing winning candidates. So, if you go back and look at who’s been defeated, chances are I voted for them.
QUESTION: How do you respond to…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I supported Kim Beazley against Kevin Rudd for example very openly and I supported Kevin Rudd against, when Julia Gillard challenged him in 2010. My general view is that it’s incumbent to back leaders – that’s my gut instinct. But these are circumstances which are pretty unique. You essentially have two former prime ministers. Had the circumstances arisen whereby Kevin Rudd announced that he was challenging the Prime Minister, then I would not have taken the position that I have.
Kevin’s position was made pretty difficult I think. My view is that this shouldn’t have happened. My view was the Prime Minister was doing her job; the Foreign Minister was doing his job. It is other people’s interventions that caused this to be brought to a head and I don’t think it was inevitable as much as the media tried to talk it up because it gives you something to talk about for all these days. But I don’t think it was inevitable. That was my strong view and that was conveyed to anyone who would listen.
QUESTION: How do you think the numbers are going?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m not counting numbers.
QUESTION: You’re not doing anything [indistinct]?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I am not counting, I am not counting numbers. I am not doing that.
People will find out on Monday. Once again, there are various things in the papers and stuff. Can I say this about the various lists and, I’ve been on all of them in different positions. There isn’t a single journalist who I have spoken to about what way I’m voting. The person who heard that I was voting the way that I was first was the Prime Minister. That was this morning and that was appropriate.
Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.