May 27, 2019

Transcript of Press Conference – Sydney – Monday, 27 May 2019

SUBJECTS: Labor Party Leadership; Caucus; Morrison Government; tax cuts; gender balance; NDIS.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I want to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which this media conference takes place and pay my respect to their elders past, present and emerging and I particularly want to acknowledge that this is the 52nd anniversary of the historic 1967 referendum.

I’m honoured and very proud to be elected the 21st leader of the Australian Labor Party. I understand the responsibility that I have been given – a responsibility not just to the party and its supporters, but to our nation. I have been elected to lead but I pledge to always remember that we are also here to serve, to serve all Australians.

I have always seen Labor as more than a party. We are a movement for a better Australia. I want to see a larger, more inclusive party. And the first thing I want to say to all those millions of Australians who were disappointed with our performance and outcome on Saturday night – join up. Get involved. Make us stronger for the next challenge.

I want to reach out also to those who didn’t support Labor last Saturday. Whether they’re working people, whether they’re small and family businesses, whether they’re young or old, regardless of where they live. One in four Australians I note didn’t vote for either of the potential governments on Saturday; either the Coalition or Labor. Those 25 per cent of people are people who in my view, both of and I said this consistently, both of, the potential government parties in this nation need to acknowledge that there’s a weakness in the system when the level of the vote is that high. I want to reiterate my congratulations to Scott Morrison on his election as prime minister. I say to him that I will hold his Government to account, strongly, forcefully. I am a values politician. But I also say this to Scott Morrison – I’m not Tony Abbott. People want solutions, not arguments. They have conflict fatigue. Some reforms require bipartisan support.

Our nation is diminished by not recognising first Australians in our Constitution and while Indigenous Australians are the most disadvantaged in our nation, Labor stands ready to cooperate on how we advance the agenda of the Uluru statement.

I said before that I was a values politician. I am a progressive. I believe that government has a role in ensuring that change is in the interest of the majority of Australians. I’m an economist by training. At university, I studied the full spectrum of economic thought. As I’ve always believed that you had to understand and respect different perspectives, that’s why even in government I was one of the few people who talked to people who I had fundamental disagreements with in the media. I have always believed in engaging and learning each and every day.

I believe in a strong economy. I support job creation as the core value that governments have to achieve. Our 27 years of uninterrupted economic growth began with Labor reforms and I had a very good discussion with Paul Keating yesterday. We avoided recession in 2009, under Labor. It didn’t happen by accident. It happened because the people in that government, including Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan, made the right decisions. When it comes to debt to GDP, the fact is that the Coalition has given us the four worst years on record. We face circumstances whereby economic growth, wages, and living standards are all under pressure. The international economy is very fragile.

The economy must work for people, not the other way around. I view unions and business as having common interests. The key to growing the economy is investing in infrastructure and investing in people through education and skills. We have enormous opportunities. We’re located in the part of the world that is seeing the fastest economic growth, not just in recent times; in human history. In the Indo-Pacific-Asia region. That presents an opportunity for us. I believe in practical outcomes. If you look at what I have actually done in government and what I argued in opposition: the creation of Infrastructure Australia; the aviation reforms that took aviation in this country from a position where it was very vulnerable, into a position of strength; the National Broadband Network; local government infrastructure; building community-based infrastructure, based upon local priorities right throughout the nation; urban policy and engagement in our cities; regional economic development, including my ongoing and what will be continuous advocacy for High Speed Rail down the east coast of this country.

On my watch, there was more investment in public transport in six years than occurred in the previous 107 years between federation and the election of the Rudd government. But as Billy Bragg said, not everything that counts can be counted. We shouldn’t judge the economy separate from the people it’s meant to serve. I believe in an inclusive society, one that looks after the most vulnerable, we must promote opportunity regardless of where people live, their gender, their ethnic background, their age, that faith, or who they love.

Social justice must be a practical objective, not just a slogan. We can begin by committing as a nation to dealing with the scourge of domestic violence against women. So it’s not in my view economic or social policy – it’s both, hand in hand. And that’s where aspiration comes in. I get aspiration. My life had turned out much better than anyone who looks at its humble beginnings could have possibly predicted. That’s in part thanks to Labor reforms and policies. People do aspire for a better life, but in the land of the fair go they aspire to more than things than themselves. They aspire to a better life for their family, for their friends, for their local community and for their nation. There is indeed such a thing as society. And we all depend on it. They also aspire for their kids, to enjoy a better natural environment than the one that we enjoy today.

Let me say this unequivocally – the science is in, climate change is real, we must act. Not just as a nation, but as a global community. Action will create jobs. It will benefit our economy and it will benefit our environment. The business communities say that. They are crying out for certainty and it is time that the government worked with the opposition to deliver that certainty going into the future. So, I am neither a climate sceptic, nor am I a market sceptic, when it comes to action on climate change, because I have listened to business and sat down with them. But the time for the ongoing conflict over these issues surely is over.

Can I make some personal comments? No-one gets to this position by themselves. On Saturday, I visited my mum’s grave at Rookwood Catholic Cemetery to commemorate the 17th anniversary of her passing. She lived for all of her 65 years in the same council house in Camperdown where she was born. She had a tough life. She made a brave decision in 1963 to keep a child and care for me as a single mother. I owe her everything.

To my partner of 30 years, Carmel Tebbutt, I thank you for your love, your support and your advice over all of those years. Our relationship has changed, but I have nothing but best wishes for her future. We have raised a wonderful young son in Nathan. He is now studying business at university. We couldn’t be more proud.

I am sorry that my father figure in my life, Tom Uren, is not here today. I reckon he’d be pretty proud. To those who have mentored me over the years, people like Ann Symonds, Bruce Childs, Janet McHugh, John Faulkner and many others, some surprising people who taught me about the value of moving on from past conflicts. Leo Macleay is a mate of mine. I wouldn’t have expected that given our early interaction. The truth is that many people in the party across the spectrum – not just the party; the Caucus, party members and unions have been so supportive of me personally over such a long period of time. I thank you sincerely for your support, your advice, your faith and I will continue to rely upon you into the future.

I understand that it is a big mountain that we have to climb. There are only three Labor leaders who have led Labor into government from opposition since the World War II. They are, of course, Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd. To the great Gough, I pay tribute to you. To Bob Hawke – he gave me the great honour of being the guest speaker at the 20th anniversary of my election to Parliament. He also gave me the tremendous honour of launching Karen Middleton’s biography of me in 2016. I’ll miss Bob – great company and tremendous advice and I think he is a model for what is best about Labor in government. One of the things that I have said about our experience of the Rudd and Gillard governments, Julia and Kevin remain very close friends of mine and I have spoken to them in recent days. I think both of those governments will be recorded well by history, but because we weren’t long-term governments, then some of the reforms that we have put in place weren’t entrenched, unlike the reforms of the Hawke and Keating governments, such as Medicare and superannuation and so many of those dramatic changes which were made.

I intend to put Labor in a position where I think we should be. I do believe Labor should be the natural party of government in this country. We stand for the vast majority of interests in this country.

I want to pay tribute to Bill Shorten. No-one could have worked harder to put Labor back into government than Bill Shorten. As a former Labor Leader, he will remain in an honoured position in our party and I have been pleased to have conversations with him over recent days as well. To his deputy, Tanya Plibersek, a remarkable politician and a friend of mine for a very long period of time, to Tanya, whoever is elected Deputy Leader of the Labor Party on Thursday at the Caucus meeting, I can only hope that they are as hard working, as diligent and loyal to me and to the whole show as you have been and you have my respect.

In my political activity up to this point, I have concentrated in recent times over the last decade on infrastructure – building railways, roads, bridges, airports. Now, as Leader of the Labor Party, I want to build something else. I want to build relationships between the Labor Party and those people who voted for us, but also those people who wanted to vote for us, who were open to voting for us, but who felt like they couldn’t. I want to build bridges with people in regions and the suburbs. I was to build relationships with people across the spectrum. I do say to those people up front in the media, who will be clamouring for instant “what’s the program in March 2022,” which is when I expect the election to be at the latest, I intend to hasten slowly.

There are many lessons we need to learn from Saturday as outcome. One of them is that the election is not determined six months beforehand, even three months beforehand, perhaps even some might say, a month beforehand. It is elected by putting together a program to take us into government and I intend to be a consultative leader. I intend to hasten slowly when it comes to policy development and you will have to be patient because, as we have all seen, there is a lot of concentration in recent times about what the next fortnight’s poll is. Perhaps there will be a bit less now and I would recommend that very much to both people who are activists in politics, and those who are observers of politics.

I agree with Prime Minister Morrison that this is, indeed, a great country. The difference that we have is I think it can be much, much better and I believe that a Labor government can make it better. When people look at my engagement, I think one of the things that I hope they continue to say about me, and the challenge for me, because it is easy to take a lot of advice from others and I will do that, but I also intend to live by the dictum which I have said a number of times – what you see is what you get. I do have strong values. I do have strong ideas. That doesn’t mean they are not open to change because the truth is when facts change, you should change and you should always be open to engagement. I am open to engagement.

There has been some commentary recently that somehow the idea that I would reach out to business, as well as the union movement, somehow is a change. If that is the case, you haven’t been paying attention. Have a look at the Infrastructure Australia model. Have a look at what I did in government. Have a look at speeches I have given since we have been in Opposition, including the Chifley Lecture, the Button Oration, the Whitlam Oration. I have been pretty consistent in my views over my time in politics.

This is an incredible honour. It is not one that I anticipated. I only thought of running for the leadership of the Labor Party in 2013. Growing up where I did, my mum used to say to me, in terms of aspiration:  “Get a good job’’ and I started work in the Commonwealth Bank the Monday after I finished my last HSC exam. She said “Make sure you own your own house’’. I think that is one of the things that I believe the country needs to address – the issue of housing affordability. So I will work very hard. For those who have said this is a daunting task, I say this: At the end of our period in government I was Deputy Prime Minister. I was Leader of the Government in the House of Representatives. I was Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. I was Minister for Communications and the Digital Economy. I am up for a hard job. I am up for hard work. I am heartened and empowered by the support I have received from Caucus colleagues, from party members, from union affiliates and from people who have contacted me, saying that they didn’t vote Labor last Saturday, but they are open to voting Labor next time round. I intend to ensure that they do and I intend to do my best to work with the Australian people to ensure that we elect a Labor government next time. Thanks very much.

JOURNALIST: Can you guarantee 50-50 representation in Labor’s leadership roles?

ALBANESE: Look, the issue of representation of course is up to the Caucus, but I will make my views very strongly known to the Caucus and we are working through those issues. I am a strong supporter of women’s representation and I believe that in Penny Wong we have an outstanding person as leader of the Labor Party in the Senate and those issues will be worked through.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

ALBANESE: Those issues will be worked through. The Caucus is meeting on Thursday. One of the things that I will do is respect the Caucus. I will say this about the role that I have played since last Saturday night. I come to this position having done no deals, no arrangements. I have put myself forward on my merits and I have received the support, not just of the party, but of the Caucus as well; a clear majority of the caucus and support from the party. Of course, that was never tested. But anyone who thinks this has been uncontested hasn’t been paying any attention at all.

So I will continue to work respectfully through the processes of the Caucus. I intend to give every respect to the Caucus because, let me say this, if you look at our side of politics and compare it with those who will sit on the Government benches, whoever serves on our frontbench, I will take that team every day, compared with those opposite. The truth is that the Government has lost an enormous amount of talent in Julie Bishop, in Christopher Pyne and now, might I say, Mitch Fifield and Arthur Sinodinos.  I think it does augur very badly for the Government because I think that for Prime Minister Morrison to give two jobs for the boys out at his first press conference announcing the ministry is hubris and is arrogant and I think it will be seen as such. I also think it is a great mistake to lose talent, particularly Arthur Sinodinos, who is a friend of mine. One of the things about me is I have a range of friends on the other side of politics and, due to the fact of representing, an area including Marrickville, which is seen as the Greek heartland of Sydney, we have attended many events together. I wish Arthur well. This is not a reflection on him, nor a reflection on Mitch Fifield, but I think when people elected the Government on Saturday, they didn’t give them a blank cheque and they didn’t say: “On top of all of the jobs that were handed out in the lead up to the election where you had a record number of appointments to boards, to every politician who had served or ever spoken to someone in the Government seemingly got an appointment in the lead up to the election”, I thought that was unwise and I think this show of arrogance is unwise as well.

JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese you said that you want to build relationships with people who didn’t vote Labor and that you support job creation. Do you support the Adani coal mine?

ALBANESE: We will go through, in terms of our processes, all of those issues. But the truth is that the Adani coal mine has been approved at the federal level by the EPBC Act. It’s been approved not just once, it’s been approved twice. It is going through Queensland Government approvals and then there is the other issue with regard to Adani, and indeed to the whole issue of the Galilee Coal Basin, the issue of the economics of it, the basic cost-benefit ratios. One of the things for example that was put forward, was that it should receive a subsidised railway line. No, I didn’t support subsidising a railway line for a private sector operation. So the environmental approvals under the EPBC Act, we need to listen to the science, not make political decisions. And that’s something that the environment movement fought for very strongly. And indeed when in the past there has been political intervention into issues that were the subject of the approval of the EPBC Act, such as wind farms in Victoria, and the issue of the parrot, the fact that there was political intervention meant that that decision was overturned legally. So my view is to respect the processes and I intend to do just that.

JOURNALIST: And if the process …

ALBANESE: Hang on, you got a turn. Now you get a turn.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) aside you do have an immediate decision to make about whether to support the Government’s income tax cut package?

ALBANESE: Is Parliament sitting later this afternoon, Michael?

JOURNALIST: Well it is more immediate than other decisions. You talk about the need for bipartisanship on other issues with the Government. Will you reciprocate by passing the Government’s income tax cut package that, arguably, people voted for last Saturday?

ALBANESE: Michael, on all of these issues I intend to, I’ve been elected Leader of the Labor Party today. At the moment we don’t have a Shadow Cabinet and processes. I intend to, and I don’t make any apologies for it, I intend to consult. You can ask me a range of specific policy questions. You won’t get answers because I don’t intend to be a leader who makes decisions on the run at press conferences. I intend to consult in a considered way. Can I say this, with regard to the tax changes, it is reasonable that the tax changes, which were envisaged to come into play on July 1, be given support. Whether the Government can suggest that they know what the state of the economy will be in seven years, is, I think, a triumph of hope over experience. And so we will examine the detail of any legislation that comes forward. But I say this to the Government: if it wants to do things quickly and to get what it said it would do, which is to get the tax cuts that come in on July 1, in place, it can bring Parliament back. It can bring it back, very quickly with the old Senate, before July 1. So that takes away the issue of counting or what have you, in terms of the Senate processes, that obviously take longer usually than the House of Representatives and we will pass the tax cuts to come into place on July 1. That’s what Scott Morrison promised the Australian people and we will deliver on that. As for the other measures they are up for discussion and debate. I will do that.

JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, will Bill Shorten be on your frontbench and have you spoken to him about what his role will be?

ALBANESE: I have spoken to Bill. All the matters with regard to, refer to previous comments, the matters with regard to the election of the frontbench is a matter for the Caucus. I intend to respect caucus processes. The issue of the Leader of the Labor Party was a matter for Caucus and the entire Party membership, and I think that it’s emerged this week that I have the support of both the Caucus and of the Party membership to fulfil this role.

JOURNALIST: I appreciate you don’t want to go into the decision making about certain policy issues. I won’t ask you about that.

ALBANESE: Good.

JOURNALIST: But I just wanted to get your overall view, given Saturday’s result and what you’ve said about trying to move forward. You’re obviously from the Left. Do you think that as a leader from the Left you can unite the Party to move towards the centre on political issues? Is that where you’ve lost the votes, is that where the Party needs to go, towards the centre?

ALBANESE: I’m not the leader of any group in the Labor Party. I’m the Leader of the Labor Party and I intend to lead the Labor Party, not sections of it, not bits of it. I intend to lead the entire Labor Party and I intend to lead it in a way that is perfectly consistent with the views that I have put forward over a long period of time, and perfectly consistent with one of those views, which is that the Caucus and the whole Party membership – what I want to do is to mobilise the ideas that people have out there. I welcome them. One of the things I will be doing tomorrow, for example, is visiting Queensland, to talk to people about some of the issues that might arise there. I intend also to listen, not just talk. The old saying, and I quoted it the other day: ‘I think that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason’, is a philosophy that I intend to put in place. We should listen more than we talk and it’s up to a leader to listen to all those people around them. I don’t pretend that I have every answer to every question, because no one has that. I’m a human being with some positives and some other people I’ll let define what they think aren’t positives. But I do intend to be straight with people, to talk straight. That includes, from time to time, not giving you pre-emptive answers, by just telling you rather than pretending that there’s something going on that isn’t. I think I’ve always been pretty straight dealing with the media across the board.

Now some in the media no doubt will, and it’s already happened a little bit, although I think you’re struggling if you go to Mark Latham for comment, frankly. Some in the media will attempt to put me in a box.

People should have a look at what I’ve done. If you want to look at the relationship that I’ve had with the business community, go talk to anyone that I’ve dealt with. In the infrastructure sector, be it railways or roads, in the aviation sector, in the communications sector, right across the board. Go talk to the Business Council of Australia about the relationship that I’ve continued to have with them. I’ve had a range of portfolios over the years. I’ve had economic, social and environmental portfolios over the years: infrastructure, transport, communications, ageing and seniors, employment services and training, Indigenous affairs, the arts, family and community services, housing. The truth is that one of the things that Tom Uren used to say to me is that: ‘you have to learn something new every day and you have to get better, you have to grow as a person every day’. That’s a philosophy that I’ve tried to live by. It’s up to others to judge and the Australian people will now have the opportunity to judge how well I’ve done that in the lead up to 2022. The window, really, is December 21 to March 2022.

I’ve been in public life a long time. Go and have a look at the major speeches in particular that I’ve done where I’ve outlined my philosophy. It’s perfectly consistent with everything that I’ve said this week. Some people, when I’ve given those speeches, have put a different frame on it other than what it was, which is: ‘these are my views and they’ve been there for a long period of time’. And what’s more, it’s not just talking it’s doing. Have a look at the sort of policies and programs that I put in place – reaching out, creating structures that brought people together. Not just the creation of Infrastructure Australia, the Australian Council of Local Government that I created and brought together, I changed the relationship between local government and the national government, for the first time. I created a direct relationship there. And I brought, I’ve got to say, not everyone in the Cabinet was excited when we informed them that we would have two days of meetings with every single mayor and shire president in the country, in Canberra. But you know what? After it happened, they all said it was a fantastic idea, a good experience, it benefited them. Because you had people who were really in touch with those local communities having direct contact with the entire cabinet. And that hasn’t happened before. And of course it was undone and this Government has done nothing like it since.

JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten is well known for getting the NDIS underway. Do you see him as somebody that could take the fight to Stuart Robert? And who is the new NDIS Minister?

ALBANESE: Can I say this about taking the fight to Stuart Robert. I’ve got to say that the appointment of Stuart Robert to such a senior position shows a lack of memory. It also shows a lack of capacity on the other side. I mean, Stuart Robert has been in diabolical difficulty, as a Minister had to resign, and of course since then has had a range of other issues as well. I think the NDIS is very important. I don’t intend to pre-empt who is in the Shadow Ministry or what portfolios are created. I intend of course, now that I’ve been in this position, it isn’t yet confirmed formally by the way, until Thursday in the Caucus when the Returning Officer’s report is adopted. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to pre-empt that by holding this press conference today. But it would be unreasonable for me to pre-empt the Caucus. I intend to have constructive discussions with my caucus colleagues about the makeup of the frontbench and about the portfolio allocation. What I’m determined to do is to have the best team possible. And to ensure that we not only hold the Government to account, but we are a constructive Opposition, but also that we develop a program that ensures our success next time around. Thank you very much.

ENDS