Subjects: Royal Commission into the disability sector; energy; Election 2019; Global Financial Crisis; Infrastructure Australia.
ROSS GREENWOOD: The Member for Grayndler, the Shadow Transport and Infrastructure Minister, the former Deputy Prime Minister of this country is Anthony Albanese, who is online. Many thanks for your time, as always, Anthony.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good evening Ross, always good to talk to you.
GREENWOOD: Is it a government hanging on by its fingernails?
ALBANESE: Well it’s not a government because they’ve stopped governing. What we saw this week was a government party lose the first vote since the 1920s on the eve of the Great Depression where, you’re quite right, they then went immediately to an election. And today we saw the extraordinary circumstances whereby they filibustered and kept Question Time going, because they were concerned that there was going to be a message from the Senate which had carried a resolution calling for a Royal Commission into the disability sector. Now the fact that they kept Question Time going for so long just in order to delay, effectively, what was always going to happen – you can’t delay it forever – until Monday when the House of Representatives will get to determine this, says a lot about the Government. It said a lot about its judgement. It won’t change the outcome on Monday. I don’t know what that outcome will be, but I suspect that a majority of members will say: ‘Yes that’s a good thing, because we’ve heard from our constituents’. So we’ve had a government that has extended Question Time so that they don’t have to make a decision. After last year, of course, they cancelled Question Time and cancelled the Parliament because they were busy knocking off Malcolm Turnbull as the Prime Minister.
GREENWOOD: It’s important here because, you know, the votes of some of those who have departed the Liberal Party now become absolutely key in this and one of the points is trying to muster the forces, not only in the Senate. The Senate seems to be driving the legislation towards the House of Representatives, which is not the normal way that business is done in Parliament House. But this is also coming to the point where the Government seems to be trying to hang on to get to a Budget because they recognise if they can announce that the Budget will be back in surplus over a sustainable number of years, that it might improve their economic credibility. But of course, this is really all about the posturing going into the next election from both political sides I would have thought.
ALBANESE: Well the problem is that they have stopped governing. Today we saw removed from the Notice Paper its energy policy. The version – I think it’s 13 or 14 they were up to without having actually adopted any of them – the so-called big-stick approach. It’s very clear that they’re split massively over whether there should be subsidies for new coal-fired power stations. It’s clear that they didn’t know where they were on a Royal Commission into the treatment of people with disabilities. It’s clear that earlier this week they were shocked, I’m not quite sure why; they had all summer to think about what would happen over the issue of the medical evacuation of refugees. It’s a rabble, it’s not a government. And I think the longer it goes the worse the Government looks.
GREENWOOD: I mean you’ve been in government before and the Government was split, that you were a part of, and it caused genuine problems not only for the Labor Party at the time, but also you’d have to admit for the community. Is the Labor Party right now ready to govern in your opinion?
ALBANESE: Look we’re a united team. We have a clear vision for the country. We’re talking about the needs of the country, not trying to paper over the divisions internally as the Liberal and National parties are. And I think, quite frankly, we learned some lessons from the mistakes that we made in government. As you know, Ross, I was an opponent of the idea of knocking off an elected sitting Prime Minister in their first term in 2010. The Government has done it with three Prime Ministers now. But across the board, I see it in my portfolio, they have just stopped functioning as a government. And today was rather bizarre. They’ve been up in the Press Gallery saying they thought there was some other legislation coming over from the Senate and that was why they were filibustering. They are not even communicating to each other between the Senate and the House of Representatives within the Government Parties. This isn’t a government anymore. This is, in their own words, of the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, a Muppet Show. But unfortunately the joke is on the people of Australia.
GREENWOOD: Okay. I wanted to go to one other thing because if there was a criticism of the Rudd Government when it came to power, it was possibly ill prepared, I believe at least any way, for a sudden economic downturn. Now there are certainly forecasts and I know Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, the other day warned again about the prospects of a global shock. And that she believes that the risks of such a thing are increasing. Given the fact you did create Infrastructure Australia, it’s put out its latest priority list. Do you believe this time that infrastructure and building infrastructure on this project list is a better way to go than trying to create an immediate stimulation in the way of $900 handouts or pink bat schemes or school hall schemes, which really didn’t necessarily advance the cause of Australia longer term?
ALBANESE: Well I point out, Ross, that there will be students who have had library lessons today, who’ve had school assemblies today, in halls that were funded as a result of the economic stimulus plan. There will be people driving on the Pacific Highway. There’ll be people who’ve ridden on the Regional Rail Link in Victoria, or on a range of other projects – driven up the Hunter Expressway – that were all funded as part of the economic stimulus plan that kept Australia out of recession. It was Labor that created Infrastructure Australia. It’s an important organisation. It’s important that the proper planning work be done for infrastructure. I was somewhat disappointed that the Melbourne Metro and Cross River Rail projects still are not included on their immediate priority list. But the creation of a body that recommends infrastructure priorities to government and to the private sector is a very good initiative indeed and one I’m very proud of having created as the second piece of legislation introduced by the Rudd Government after our election.
GREENWOOD: I was going to ask you that very question. Is there anything on this list that you think could be prioritized even more greatly? And indeed, let’s say for example, we did have storm clouds arrive from international economies and there was a shock, would the way to go in the future be to try and roll these out even more aggressively into the future and that way create the employment but create something that is lasting for the nation as well?
ALBANESE: Well I think the key, Ross, is to make sure that we get the planning mechanisms right. One of the things about the Global Financial Crisis was we funded 14 major projects, in terms of road projects and 17 major rail freight projects. We rebuilt one third of the interstate rail freight network, which was very important. But we could have done more, if there were more projects that were ready to go. And the truth is that it’s up to state governments to control the planning in conjunction with local government and the private sector. The Federal Government can provide funds, but we don’t have planning powers. What we can’t do, though, is to encourage best practice so that – for example when the GFC happened – if all of the Pacific Highway had been planned, had been through environmental approvals for the full duplication, we could have pressed the button on that and really got that going much faster than we did. As it was we accelerated it to the extent that was possible. But the truth is a whole range of the planning wasn’t up to scratch. Now that’s not a criticism of either side of politics, it applies across the board. And state and territory governments will be rewarded if they have that planning in place.
GREENWOOD: I’ll tell you what, always good having you on the program and always great to talk infrastructure as well. The Member for Grayndler, the Shadow Transport and Infrastructure Minister and of course a key player inside the Labor Party, Anthony Albanese, we appreciate your time.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Ross.