SUBJECTS: Adani, AFP raids, South-East Queensland, State of Origin, NRL
CHRIS SMITH, HOST: He’s officially the Opposition Leader. No longer just a frontbencher for the Opposition, he’s the boss now. How does it feel, Albo?
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, one of the things that I say is that I’m the Labor Leader not the Opposition Leader. Opposition implies, the excerpt that you displayed, that I’ll just say no to everything, and that’s not my view. Opposition should hold the Government to account. But we should also be positive. And that’s why I’m saying that I’m the Labor Leader. We have an important job to do to hold the Government to account, but also to be constructive. Where the Government has a good idea, we’ll back it in, and we’ll develop an alternative program to take to the electorate in 2022.
SMITH: A bit of positivity, I like to hear it. Now can I ask you about something which is occurring as we speak? AFP raids on the ABC offices, the newsroom in Ultimo. We’ve had the home of a News Corp journalist raided yesterday morning about a separate investigation. I spoke with Chris Uhlmann a little earlier today and we were discussing the fact that it takes so long after these stories were published or went to air, for the AFP to try and find additional evidence. Not to say that we’d welcome what they’re doing, but just to say hang on a second – why do you leave it two years until you try and sneak out some of the evidence after they’ve received a referral in 2017? This must concern you.
ALBANESE: Well, there’s got to be an explanation for why, just after an election, we have multiple raids on the media without appropriate explanation from Government Ministers, or appropriate explanations, frankly, from the AFP.
SMITH: But these aren’t Government raids though, they’ve got nothing to do with Government.
ALBANESE: Well, it’s interesting that it’s just after the election, Chris. And the fact is that the Government does need to say whether it knew this was going to occur or not, and whether these raids were delayed, because it defies logic that you wait two years before you raided offices or asked for an explanation. Look, we’re a democratic country. Democratic countries rely upon freedom of the press. In Annika Smethurst’s case, I know Annika well. I spoke to her this morning. She had seven police arrive at her home, go through every room in her house, for seven and a half hours. Quite frankly that is over the top and there’s got to be an explanation for why that occurred, and how any authority believes that such heavy handedness is appropriate. Annika Smethurst is a professional journalist who does her job. She wrote the story that is certainly of interest to Australians about documentation over whether people’s privacy could be could be looked into in terms of phone calls, and information gathered between individuals without their knowledge, on not the recommendation of a judge or an authority, but simply on the basis of approval by Ministers in the Government. And that’s why this is a relevant issue for the Government to come up with explanations on.
SMITH: On another issue – you’ve gone on a fact finding mission to Queensland. You said you were going up there to listen; you’d taken the team to Queensland this week as well. Is the message loud and clear now that Queenslanders do want the Adani coal mine up and running, they do want the jobs? And do you accept that?
ALBANESE: Well, there are a range of messages for the election campaign. One is that Queenslanders, like everyone else, want jobs, and it’s going through the environmental approvals process. The other thing is, that Queenslanders aren’t any different from any anyone else in terms of wanting respect for who they are, for the work that they do. Whether people live in Brisbane where I am now, or Mackay where I was just a couple of hours ago, they want a better life for themselves and their families. They want the natural environment looked after as well, but they want first and foremost their living standards to be kept. And I’m pleased today that the Head of the Mining Union, Tony Maher, has written to the company involved with the Carmichael mine to ask about permanent employment numbers, and what they would be if it gets approval, and then if the project goes ahead.
SMITH: So you still not saying you should build Adani, you’re still backing off that?
ALBANESE: Well, these environmental approvals have to happen, and under the law, Chris, under the law, the EPBC Act, those decisions have to be made based upon the science and free from political interference.
SMITH: Okay, so if that’s ticked off on in the next five days, would you then say, “I support the building of Adani.”?
ALBANESE: Of course. It has to be, projects have to be approved under environmental approvals, and then it is up. This isn’t a government mine. This is a private sector project and it’s up to the private sector for them to look at the finances and the economics of the project, and then determine whether they will invest in it. That is a decision for the company.
SMITH: A lot of people including myself have made the argument that you lost seats in Queensland primarily because you wouldn’t stand behind Adani, and on Q&A on Monday night on the ABC, I noticed that Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Resources, your fellow Labor mate Joel Fitzgibbon from the Hunter Valley, made this admission on Q&A.
JOEL FITZGIBBON: The mistake we made, deliberately or otherwise, was to talk about one side of the equation and we avoided talking about the other. My example is Adani. You know, Bill constantly said Adani has got to stand on its own two feet financially without taxpayer subsidy, Adani has to meet the most stringent environmental standards. But I kept saying we’re leaving out the third leg of that conversation,and that is, if we can pass both of those first two tests then we welcome the investment and the jobs, and we weren’t prepared to say that. And people will come to their own conclusions Tony, about why we weren’t prepared to say that. Well, my conclusion sadly, is that we were concerned about votes in other seats, progressive votes in seats closer to the capital cities, and that was an unequivocal mistake.
SMITH: Albo, he’s right isn’t he? Labor was scared of turning off inner city voters by making anything positive about coal.
ALBANESE: Well, I think there was a range of issues.
SMITH: Was that right though?
ALBANESE: Hang on, I’ll give you my view. Firstly about coal – one of the things is, if you get sick today Chris, and you have to have an operation, you go into an operating theatre whereby everything from the scalpel down to the x-ray machine, is dependent upon metallurgical coal. Now, 70 per cent of Queensland’s coal is metallurgical. It plays an absolutely critical role in every facet of our lives, as well as in the national economy, as well as providing jobs. You would think of some of the debate that that wasn’t a fact – it is. We need to talk about that.
The other thing that Joel has spoken about is the 50 per cent renewable energy target that we had. What we didn’t talk about was the other side of the equation, because we, unlike the Greens political party, who as you know Chris, I take on very much in my electorate. But we understand that yes, we need to move to a clean energy economy, yes, renewables will be increasingly important, but it won’t happen overnight. We currently have, for example, LNG exports from Queensland, and double the size of all coal exports from Queensland.
These are the facts that just aren’t spoken, about what is happening in our national economy and it’s very easy therefore in part because of – quite frankly, disrespectful demonstration of people from outside the community who went into Clermont in Central Queensland to yell at people. People who were just workers and families sitting about their day-to-day activities, earning a way to put food on the table of their families.
And I see one of the things that I’ve seen here in Queensland, is that in my office in Marrickville, continually at one stage once a week, there were occupations at that office by people where the only achievement that was attained was stopping vulnerable people from getting advice about Centrelink, about Medicare. And I said to these people, what is the point of stopping people? One – at getting that assistance, two – yelling at staff and anyone else who was in there. The people who go to a local member’s office are people, by and large in my electorate, many of them are from a non-English speaking background. Because of government cutbacks in Centrelink, they can’t get assistance, they get told go and put your complaint online. Many of these people can’t, they just don’t have the capacity to do that, and they require the support of their local MPs offices. Why people thought that was a good idea is beyond me, and why people thought it was a great idea to go into a local community to yell at people is beyond me. The optics of that were quite frankly diabolical and simply helped the LNP in the electoral campaign here in Queensland.
SMITH: I think that’s a fair call but back to my question – so no more being scared of turning off inner city voters by making any positive mention of coal?
ALBANESE: Well, what we need to do this is to stop this nonsense that somehow there’s a divide between the city and regions, and that somehow we have to pit Australians against Australians. You know that that is not my style Chris, as you would know. That is why I am pursuing, as I did as a backbencher, as a frontbencher, as a Minister in Government, talking to people across the media, being prepared to engage in a respectful way. We don’t always agree on your program but are respectful to each other and importantly, your listeners then get access to what my views really are as opposed to what some might say they really are.
SMITH: Talking about disrespect, did you get any feedback when you were in South-East Queensland after the Courier Mail published a story featuring some of the constituents in your seat of Grayndler, and some general responses included were, well, Queenslanders are racist, bogan and redneck?
ALBANESE: Well, I mean, I don’t see what the point of that article was besides trying to stir up some anti-New South Wales sentiment before State of Origin. Editors make their own decisions about why they would do that. You can find five people in Brisbane at the moment pretty easily, to bag people who live in Sydney, or anywhere else for that matter.
SMITH: Okay, well that dovetails into the biggest story of the day which is Origin. New South Wales by how much?
ALBANESE: By two. It will be close.
SMITH: By two?!
ALBANESE: It will be close.
SMITH: You are not confident.
ALBANESE: The cauldron – a huge advantage, I think it is worth ten points minimum. As I as I sit here in Brisbane, every second person has maroon on. They are very passionate about their Origin and I just hope it is a great game. I get very depressed if Souths lose on a Friday night, it ruins my whole weekend.
SMITH: Hear, hear.
ALBANESE: Origin is about the best playing the best, and I just hope that it is a quality footy game. I hope New South Wales win.
SMITH: Are you going?
ALBANESE: I am going.
SMITH: I dare you to drop into The Caxton for a beer with your blue scarf on.
ALBANESE: I am not that brave. I know you like me, who is going to come on your program if I am not around anymore?
SMITH: I have been into The Caxton with a blue jersey on. They are fairly friendly. It is not as intimidating as you might think, not after one or two beers anyways. Maybe a little bit later they might get stuck into you.
ALBANESE: Well, let’s just hope that Cookie and the two boys having their debut – Cam Murray, local Souths junior, and of course Cody Walker – I hope they have a good game. And I hope Dane Gagai, I hope all of them escape uninjured, because it is a pretty short turnaround, we have Souths to play on Friday night, I have got to say.
SMITH: You’re not wrong. We are disadvantaged yet again, two weeks in a row anyway. That’s a story for another time. Thank you so much for your time this afternoon. We’ll catch up in a couple of weeks.
ALBANESE: Thanks mate, always good to talk with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.