SUBJECTS: ALP Leadership Contest; Election aftermath.
NEIL MITCHELL: Anthony Albanese has been one of the few Labor leaders to appear regularly on this program over the past few years. He is now running for the Leadership of the Labor Party, given that Bill Shorten is stepping down. Confirmed a few moments ago that Chris Bowen, from the Right of the Party, the Shadow Treasurer will also run for the Leadership, so you’ve got at least two people contesting it. Tanya Plibersek from the Left pulled out yesterday. Chris Bowen, I don’t know the numbers, but I would have thought the man who was essentially responsible for the franking credits policy and for saying: ‘if you don’t like it, vote against it’, would be struggling a little with the popular vote. But that might be wrong. On the line is one of the contenders. Anthony Albanese, good morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning Neil. Good to be on your program again.
MITCHELL: Well, thank you for your time. Why are you better than Chris Bowen?
ALBANESE: Look, I’m not running to compare myself to any other potential candidates or real candidates. I’m running on my merits. I’m offering myself for the Leadership because I think I’m the best candidate to bring us back into government. I’m not running against Chris Bowen or anyone else. I’m running against Scott Morrison.
I want to be the person who leads Labor back into government. That’s a difficult challenge. We’ve only done it three times since the Second World War and there are of course, Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd. And I think for those people who took it for granted we were going to win on Saturday, they underestimated the challenge that’s there.
MITCHELL: You’re an old Leftie. That’s the image. Are you sure you won’t frighten the horses as leader? I mean everybody tells us the party should move to the centre, with you wouldn’t it move to the left?
ALBANESE: I think, Neil, those sort of labels are pretty irrelevant. What you see is what you get with me. I regard myself as old Labor – someone grounded in very strong values that I was raised with by my mum. I believe in the values of hard work and promoting employment and jobs as a primary task of government. That the economic strength needs to be at the core of our narrative and also that Labor unashamedly does stand for looking after people who are vulnerable, does stand for opening up opportunity. The story of my life is one of making the most of the opportunity that is here in this great country of Australia. I also do believe in action on climate change, but that’s got to be one that I guess puts the narrative that jobs are what can be created with the new economy, with climate change, with the shift to clean energy that will be required over a period of time.
MITCHELL: Do you believe that the top end of town, as it’s been called, gets a soft deal; gets too good a deal in this country?
ALBANESE: I think certainly that there are some companies and some individuals that don’t pay their fair share of tax and that there those measures, if you want to pay for public education, public health and public infrastructure, then you need to make sure that all of the burden, when it comes to revenue, doesn’t fall on ordinary PAYE tax payers.
MITCHELL: But is it out of whack at the moment, is it out of whack, do you think? Is, is too much being paid by the bottom and not enough by the top?
ALBANESE: I think in some cases it is. I think that what we have across a range of areas is companies that are able to offshore some of their profits and therefore not pay …
MITCHELL: Yeah, but what about individuals? I mean …
ALBANESE: Tax here in Australia, well, certainly in terms of, if you look at the way that individuals are able to organise their income, one of the changes that we have, for example, that we were proposing, was having a limit on the amount in which people could deduct from their tax payments they’ve made to accountants, in order to deduct their tax. Now quite clearly, when you have people being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases to organise arrangements in order to minimise tax, then that is a problem. I think that what we need is a fair tax system, whereby people pay their fair share. We obviously need to look at the specifics of what we put forward and in my view in terms of our policy approach, we need to start off with an acknowledgement that the people don’t get it wrong. The people always need to be respected and the people told us that the program we put forward to the electorate on Saturday wasn’t one that they deemed worthy of support. There’s no good after the final siren’s gone worrying about a decision of the umpire, or about what happened. You’ve got to acknowledge that we need to do better. And some of that, I think, is about the policy process, some of it is about the campaign and we’ll go through that with caucus members with, with the organisational wing as well.
MITCHELL: Well is the franking credit policy under you, is that finished, is that gone?
ALBANESE: I think certainly that will be one of the things that we’d have to look at. The problem that we have …
MITCHELL: Because you didn’t like it, did you? I mean, you had to stand by it, as a member of the Shadow Cabinet, but you didn’t like it.
ALBANESE: The problem that we had there was that people were communicating to me, saying: ‘I have made my arrangements on the basis of what was the law’. People didn’t do anything wrong. I think there was an impression that we were saying that they had done something wrong. And of course they hadn’t. And in many cases people who were getting a relatively small amount. Two, three thousand dollars, but it was that two or three thousand dollars that they were using to pay their rates, to pay their car rego, for a holiday at the end of the year. And they relied upon it and we were changing the rules on them. We were doing it with an understandable motivation. The truth is that the cost to the Budget means that the Government in my view will have to have a look at these arrangements, because it is pretty unsustainable that we’re paying more dollars out in dividends, refunds, but refunds for taxes that haven’t been paid, than we pay for public schools.
MITCHELL: Did you argue against it in Shadow Cabinet?
ALBANESE: I don’t talk about Shadow Cabinet. I didn’t before, and I won’t now.
MITCHELL: No, fair enough. Isn’t the simple answer, I just thought I’d have a try, isn’t the simple answer to cap it? I mean you can’t claim more than X amount in franking credits, you can’t claim more than a certain number of places to negatively gear. I mean what’s your attitude on negative gearing?
ALBANESE: I think in terms of the franking credits, I mean they’re two separate issues. The franking credits, one of the options that could have been considered is putting a cap on it, and that would have ensured that the people who were not getting huge amounts of money …
MITCHELL: You’d stop hurting that, well you’d stop the collateral damage for average people surely? That was the whole argument.
ALBANESE: You could have done that and you could have done a combination of that and grandfathering as well.
ALBANESE: So there are a range of things that could have been considered. All of those, you know, obviously need to be assessed. One of the things that I’m concerned about though is that we start from Saturday at 6:00pm talking about the future. We acknowledge that we lost. No point gilding the lily. I see some commentary on social media suggesting somehow that we didn’t really lose. The truth is …
MITCHELL: Well, some of your own people have said it’s Rupert Murdoch’s fault, it’s Clive Palmer’s fault and the Australian people are stupid. I mean, that’s really pretty much what was coming out of Penny Wong, Tanya Plibersek and a few others on election night. Kim Carr, in the studio here.
ALBANESE: We got one in three Australians to vote for us. That’s the truth, Neil, and that is not good enough because, I tell you what, more than double that of people, in my view, people who need and rely upon a Labor Government. I believe that Labor at our best represents an overwhelming majority of Australian people, in the interests of an overwhelming majority of Australian people. We need to translate that into votes in the ballot box, restore trust, ensure that we don’t let people down again. But the starting point is to acknowledge, and I’m not blaming anyone else here, Neil, either. I think we have a collective responsibility to acknowledge that.
MITCHELL: Have you talked to Bill Shorten since the election?
ALBANESE: Yeah I spoke to him on Sunday morning.
MITCHELL: So there’s reports that he’s going to try and frustrate your attempt to become Leader. Is that likely?
ALBANESE: He can speak for himself.
MITCHELL: I wish he would.
ALBANESE: My phone call to him was to just see that he was okay. It was very much a personal call. You know it’s pretty tough. He was expecting to be the Prime Minister at this point in time. He’s not. And it was just a human interaction.
MITCHELL: Well, do you want him to stay around in Parliament?
ALBANESE: Look all of that’s a matter for him. It’s not a matter for me.
MITCHELL: Yeah, but if you’re Leader, he’d get your view I’m sure.
ALBANESE: It’s all a matter for him and his family to determine what he wants to do in the future. He has nothing but my best wishes for whatever decisions that he makes.
MITCHELL: Do you agree that this was almost like a sense of class war and generational warfare that Labor went into?
ALBANESE: Look, I think in terms of some of our rhetorical positions. You might recall, Neil, I’ve given a few speeches about this over the years. I think that Labor needs to position ourselves as the Party that brings Australia together, that acknowledges that we are, we have a deep connection with the trade union movement and the trade union movement continues to play an important role in this country. But you can’t have trade union members without having employers, and unions and employers have common interests. They have an interest in the success and profitability of businesses so that they can invest and create more jobs so that there are then more people working and therefore more potential union members. The idea of a direct conflict on an ongoing basis is one that that I don’t support. And I have a good relationship with business and one of the things that I’ve done, not just in terms of what I’ve said, but what I’ve done. If you look at reforms like the creation of Infrastructure Australia, that was done on my watch, that the current government has kept. That’s about having proper analysis, getting people in from the private sector, getting that expertise to recommend the right projects to government for funding. And that’s the sort of approach that I’ve taken to politics right throughout any portfolio I’ve had and one that I would continue to have if I was Leader. I’d continue to engage very closely with unions but also with business.
MITCHELL: Couple of local issues I wouldn’t mind just quickly, if you don’t mind. The big local issue here is East West Link. Federal Government offering $4 billion to be build the East West Link. Now as Shadow Minister, you’ve been right across a lot of these areas. Do you think, and Daniel Andrews saying: ‘nah stick it’. Do you think it should be built or not?
ALBANESE: Well, they’re not really offering it.
MITCHELL: Well, $4 billion plus $2.8 from the private sector.
ALBANESE: No, but it’s not real Neil. It’s in something called the contingency reserve.
MITCHELL: But should it be built or not it?
ALBANESE: It hasn’t hit the bottom line. No …
MITCHELL: It shouldn’t be built?
ALBANESE: The voters of Victoria. What’s important isn’t what my view is. What’s important is two things. One, that the BCR, the cost benefit analysis showed that it was 45 cents benefit for every dollar of investment. Now I’ll put this to you, Neil. If you give me next time we catch up, you give me $100, the time after I’ll give you $45 back and we’ll call that a good deal.
MITCHELL: The other, sorry.
ALBANESE: That’s the East West Link and secondly it’s been rejected. It’s been an issue in Victoria in the Victorian state election not once but twice. And this is just ridiculous. If the Federal Government really have $4 billion, what they should do is put it into projects that are actually happening. Give it to the Melbourne Metro, because they’ve ripped $3 billion of real money that was allocated against real use in the Budget to the Melbourne Metro. That will enable that project to be speeded up and that’s why during the election campaign we put $2 billion for Melbourne Metro on the table.
MITCHELL: Another issue that I struggled to get an answer from anybody during the campaign, and that’s China. We’ve got massive breaches of human rights. They’re spying on our Parliament. They’re interfering in the Australian political system. They’ve arguably got up to two million people in what amount to concentration camps. Can we stand up to China properly?
ALBANESE: Of course we can.
MITCHELL: Well, do you agree that there is a massive breach of human rights in that country.
ALBANESE: Of course there are human rights issues in China and I well recall Kevin Rudd as the Prime Minister going to China and in Mandarin speaking at university there, including about human rights. We need to support human rights wherever there are breaches. We need also though to do that as a friend rather than as an enemy. We need to acknowledge that the three pillars of our foreign policy, our alliance with the United States, engagement in our region and engagement in multi-lateralism. That the second, multilateral forums, including the United Nations, that the second of those engagement in our region, is important and we need to not lecture people. But we need to point out where there are breaches and I’m sure that other countries might point out some of the breaches that have occurred here in Australia.
MITCHELL: We haven’t got two million people in concentration, I mean we ostracise South Africa for a lot less. What’s wrong, why are we so gentle with China, is it the trade?
ALBANESE: No. Look, I think that the issue of China and our relationship with it is one whereby you can have a relationship with China and with friends without being, as friends, without being in a circumstance whereby you damage the relationship. It is important for us, they’re an important trading nation, there’s no way around that. And they are going to be in coming decades the world’s largest economy. I think that in the relationships that I’ve had as a Minister, I’ve travelled to China, I found that frank discussions were appropriate. Sometimes diplomacy needs to happen quietly rather than loudly and sometimes you do get better outcomes by having private discussions than shouting through the media.
MITCHELL: Look, I thank you very much for speaking to us. One of my criticisms of Bill Shorten is that it was fake Bill. Do you think we ever saw the real Bill?
ALBANESE: I think Bill performed strongly. He campaigned strongly. No one could criticise his work ethic.
MITCHELL: But it wasn’t the real Bill, was it?
ALBANESE: There will be no criticism of Bill Shorten from me. And I think that he’s entitled to respect as a former Labor Leader just as I have the utmost respect for Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd and of course we lost the person who, in my view, was our greatest Labor leader, Bob Hawke, just a week ago.
MITCHELL: Final question. What drives you, what do you stand for? What really drives you? When you get up in the morning and feed the dog and do the rest. What gets you going?
ALBANESE: What drives me is the people who I grew up with, and making life better for them, and the fact that not all of them are around unfortunately due to no fault of their own, due to the accidents of history, and that people’s lives are often determined by the accident of their birth.
MITCHELL: What do you mean ‘accident’, What do you mean by that?
ALBANESE: Rather than their capacity, whether they’re born into wealth, where they’re told that …
MITCHELL: But you mean they’re not around, you mean they’ve died because of that.
ALBANESE: Absolutely. I shared a backyard where I grew up, it was a bit like an old English estate with the little sort of townhouses that you see. And you know the two blokes who I grew up with in the back both died. One of them in their 30s, one of them, well, I think, probably both of them at that time. You know, they served time.
MITCHELL: Served time, they went to jail?
ALBANESE: They went to jail.
MITCHELL: What did they die from?
MITCHELL: I see.
ALBANESE: You know, overdosed both of them, one of them in jail.
MITCHELL: Why didn’t you go that way? Why didn’t you get, or did you, did you play with drugs?
ALBANESE: No. I think, my mother I credit me with. You know she had it tough, but I had an incredible love from my mother and she was determined that I would have opportunity in life. She encouraged me to go to, to finish school for a start. And not everyone where I grew up finished school, let alone went to university. She encouraged that, she encouraged me to read. She’d left school like very, very young. She didn’t get any qualifications because she was always quite sick, my poor old mum. She had scarlet fever as a kid and spent a long time in hospital and just didn’t get through any qualifications. And she just wanted a better life for me and I think that unconditional love that a parent can have for a child can make an incredible difference. And I’m driven by, you know, love for this country, making it as good as it can be. I’m a very passionate Australian and I like people, I like engagement with people. One of the things that I’m putting myself forward on that basis is my relationship with people.
MITCHELL: Thank you so much for your time. Next time you come in, we’ll have a fight, I think. And I know you’ve been very good coming in through the past year or so, I thank you for that. But we need to fight. And just one last thing for the record, how do we pronounce your surname.
ALBANESE: The correct way of course is Albanese. But you know Albanese is as pretty close to it, but the Anglicisation of it of course is Albanese. So when I was growing up because I didn’t grow up with the presence of my father, I was Albanese as I …
MITCHELL: Well, pick one. What do we go with, or is it just Albo?
ALBANESE: Albanese, but everyone just calls me Albo anyway so that’s easier.
MITCHELL: Thank you very much for your time. Anthony Albanese the contender for the Labor Leadership. And I’m serious he has said to me many times: ‘You don’t win a fight by not turning up. I’ll turn up whenever I’m in Melbourne and whenever I can’. I think it was perhaps telling that kept his head down a bit during the election campaign, given his clear attitudes on things like franking credits. What do you reckon? The selling point of Anthony Albanese will be: ‘I’m real, this is what I am, I am what I give you, I’m rough around the edges’. Yes, he leads to the Left very much, will that frighten the horses? Well you heard the line he is walking there, we’ll see. And mind you he hasn’t got the Leadership yet, but I think given Chris Bowen was the man who engineered the policy which probably helped to destroy them and also advised: ‘Well if you don’t like it don’t vote for us’. I’d be surprised if the Labor, remember there is a vote of both the Labor membership and the Caucus, I’d be very surprised if the Labor membership would go for Chris Bowen. They went for Anthony Albanese last time as I recall.
TUESDAY, 21 MAY 2019