Subjects: By-elections, infrastructure, Melbourne Airport rail line, immigration, tax, Pauline Hanson, polls.
NEIL MITCHELL: It’s not like the Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg to resort to such rhetoric but on the Today program the other day on Channel 9 he said that Bill Shorten was like a wounded gazelle and Anthony Albanese was the lion hiding in the long grass. Anthony Albanese, the lion, good morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: G’day. I’m hardly hiding. Here I am!
MITCHELL: But you’re hiding from Bill. You’re going to jump on him and eat him, is that right?
ALBANESE: Not at all. I’d be there with you in the studio if it wasn’t for that fog that you just reported on.
MITCHELL: That got you stranded in Sydney, did it?
ALBANESE: It did for a long time. Yes, they put us on the plane and then made us sit there for a long time, but these things happen.
MITCHELL: Tell me, these by-elections coming up, Super Saturday. What would be a good result for you?
ALBANESE: A good result would be for us to win.
MITCHELL: What would be a bad result?
ALBANESE: Well, to not win, funnily enough.
MITCHELL: Not win how many? I mean, if you drop one, is that bad?
ALBANESE: Well, to win all of them. The truth is that as we know, an opposition has not lost a seat to a Government since 1911 so by-elections have traditionally favored the opposition. We have in these seats outstanding candidates. I think it says something about the Coalition that they are not running in Perth or Fremantle. I find that quite extraordinary that they are not prepared to defend their own record in Government in a state in which they historically as well as in recent times have been very strong. So we go into these by-elections with candidates who were new when they were elected in 2016, with the exception of our candidate in Perth. They’re people who have already, I think, developed outstanding records in standing up for their respective electorates. They’ll be campaigning very strongly and I look forward to campaigning alongside them and alongside Bill Shorten and the rest of the Labor team.
MITCHELL: So what’s the message if you lose one? How bad is it?
ALBANESE: We don’t intend to lose one. We intend to campaign…
MITCHELL: Of course not, but you know the speculation. This is the test, I think Bill Shorten himself said, it was a test for leadership or a test of the teams. Everybody says it’s a test for Malcolm Turnbull if this goes wrong and it’s a test for Bill Shorten if it goes wrong. You agree with that?
ALBANESE: I’m absolutely determined that we win these seats.
MITCHELL: Yeah, but is it a test of the leadership?
ALBANESE: It’s a test for the entire team – for all of us who are part of the Labor team, and a test for the Coalition team, indeed just after they’ve handed down their Budget. I think it is an opportunity for Australians to talk about what their priorities are. The good thing about this is that it’s a bit of a trial run for a full election because it’s across four states. It is quite remarkable to have by-elections all at once, on one day, and it’s a chance for us to talk about our priorities of lifting living standards, of improving education, health and infrastructure.
MITCHELL: So if it goes bad are you ready to pounce?
ALBANESE: I’m just doing the job that I’ve been given and I intend to be, as part of the team, as I always am, out there campaigning.
MITCHELL: Julia Gillard once said to me when she was Deputy PM, she said ‘I’m more likely to play full forward for Footscray than I am to challenge Kevin Rudd.’ We know what happened. Have you got a similar analogy?
ALBANESE: I have been, I think on my record, someone who’s been loyal to the cause of Labor my whole political life, not just in the 22 years since I’ve been in Parliament. I regard speculation about leadership as being unproductive. I’ve never engaged in it. What I do is do the job that I’ve been given and do it to the best of my capacity as the Member for Grayndler in what’s a tough seat to hold onto, but also with the vast responsibilities that I’ve been given.
MITCHELL: I asked Scott Morrison, there is something of a disagreement so it’s only fair I ask you. It would seem that both the Government’s outlook and your outlook as presented in the Budget Reply speech is predicated on continuing immigration at about the same level as it is now. Is that true?
ALBANESE: Well in terms of the Budget figures, we of course work out our Budget Reply based upon the figures that the Government has presented and they indicate there’s been a slight reduction in the level of immigration but going forward. I sat in the Budget lock up with the rest of the economic team and helped to, I guess, foreshadow where we go over the next couple of days before Bill’s reply on Thursday night. We take the figures as they’re there.
MITCHELL: So does that mean you are locked in to the similar immigration rate that we now have?
ALBANESE: Well, of course no one’s locked in forever and what we’re…
MITCHELL: Should it be reviewed? I mean, that’s the point.
ALBANESE: It’s looked at all the time. That’s the truth, and the Government does that all the time as well. We should always, I think, be prepared to examine what the right policies are. One of the things that I’m concerned about is urban congestion. I don’t think the Government has done enough and so if you have an increase in population you really need to be investing real dollars in infrastructure to make a difference, particularly when it comes to public transport projects. I also think that you need to do much more in terms of decentralisation. There is enormous pressure on Melbourne and Sydney. That’s one of the reasons why I support a High Speed Rail line between Melbourne and Sydney as the first stage.
MITCHELL: And this is one of the reasons people are talking about a reassessment of immigration, because of the infrastructure not catching up with it.
ALBANESE: That’s exactly right.
MITCHELL: So do we get a reassessment or not?
ALBANESE: The idea that this is just about immigration is not right, in my view, because migration does bring up positives in terms of economic development, but also the negatives – if infrastructure doesn’t keep up in terms of urban congestion – need to be dealt with. They can’t just be wished away. And that’s why I was here on Friday in Melbourne speaking at the Australian Smart Communities Conference talking about the importance of the National Broadband Network, talking about the importance of High Speed Rail for the decentralisation agenda, to take pressure off those cities particularly Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane.
MITCHELL: We need to take a break. I will come back and have a chat to you on the other side of the break. We will only keep you a few minutes. Anthony Albanese, the Shadow Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Cities. Former Deputy Prime Minister of course, under Kevin Rudd.
MITCHELL: Mr. Albanese, is $95,000 a year rich?
ALBANESE: No, it’s not. $95,000 a year, depending upon your circumstances – how many kids you’ve got, whether you’ve got one or two people working, you can be under real pressure.
MITCHELL: But this is Chris Bowen’s plan, over $95,450 you’re worse off after 2022.
ALBANESE: No. Certainly, what the Government has…
MITCHELL: Isn’t that right?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s a simplification of it. The fact is that the Government…
MITCHELL: You’re better off?
ALBANESE: The Government has a plan…
MITCHELL: What about your plan?
ALBANESE: If you vote for Malcolm Turnbull this time, and a time again, and a time again, you might get some relief. The idea of saying that in 2024 you’re going to make these changes is a triumph of hope over experience.
MITCHELL: It is better than your plan for the $95,000 income.
ALBANESE: What Labor has put forward is a realistic plan right now which prioritises people on low and middle incomes and of course those changes also flow through to those people who are earning $95,000 dollars. They will be better off than they are at the moment. So we’ve prioritised a real plan. We’ve also prioritised investing in education and health and infrastructure, and we’ve prioritised not giving the big tax cuts to big companies.
MITCHELL: Do you think there’s a problem with Bill Shorten’s credibility, through? People seem not to believe him.
ALBANESE: I don’t think that’s right.
ALBANESE: We are going to be advocating our plan in the lead up to both these by-elections, and the general election. I do think that people are cynical in general about what will happen for any government or opposition, for that matter, making promises about what will happen in 2024.
MITCHELL: Yeah, but what about the rolled gold guarantee that all you Members of Parliament are legitimate? That looks good now, doesn’t it?
ALBANESE: What about the guarantee that the Coalition made that they would have a budget surplus…
MITCHELL: Well, a pox on both your houses.
ALBANESE: …in their first year and every year after?
MITCHELL: All right, so they haven’t got much credibility either. But where’s yours? Where’s Bill Shorten’s?
ALBANESE: When it comes to the issue of people having to resign, Labor got that wrong. That’s the truth.
MITCHELL: Bill got it wrong.
ALBANESE: The High Court made a determination which meant that we have to have these by-elections, just as Malcolm Turnbull got it wrong when he said ‘the High Court shall hold’ as the Deputy Prime Minister continued to sit in the Parliament – as the Deputy Prime Minister – without being referred to the Court. He didn’t step aside from his ministerial position and continued to make decisions in the Cabinet. I think that’s far more serious than a backbencher waiting for the decision of a court.
MITCHELL: Will One Nation stay at the bottom of your list of preferences?
ALBANESE: Yes, they will.
ALBANESE: Because we think that they are a party that seeks to divide the country. We believe that Pauline Hanson’s political career has been characterised by seeking to cause division in the community. What we need from political leaders and real leadership is statements that unite the country. Now, Pauline is someone who I have a pretty reasonable relationship with on a personal level but I think that her views led to both John Howard and Labor putting her last the last time she was in office. That is one of the factors that led to her exclusion from the Parliament for a very long time and that was a principled position which John Howard took. We’ve maintained our principles. It’s a pity that Malcolm Turnbull hasn’t.
MITCHELL: The airport rail link for Melbourne. Will it happen?
ALBANESE: It won’t happen under this mob. The fact is that there’s not a dollar for construction in the Budget. What they’ve said is that it will be an equity injection and what that means is that it’s off-Budget. It doesn’t have an impact on the Budget bottom line and the only way that you can have an equity investment rather than a grant, which actually impacts the bottom line, is if a project produces more revenue, more income than outgoings, for maintenance and operations – which no public transport projects in Australia currently does. You’ll also have to have a return on upfront capital investment, which is at least $10 billion. So this is nonsense. This was a pretense of an announcement.
MITCHELL: So what’s your plan?
ALBANESE: We will make real investments into it. We will sit down with Victoria. We support the project. Victoria is working through the options at the moment for where it goes through, and we think that it looks as though, Sunshine seems to me to be the best option but let’s wait and see what the full costings and plans are in the business case. But we will commit real dollars to projects because that’s the only way they get built.
MITCHELL: Do you think Malcolm, look at the Newspoll, Malcolm Turnbull is on the up? He’s come back.
ALBANESE: Well, you look at two polls today and they seemed to tell different stories. In one, Labor is ahead 54-46 and in the other Labor is ahead as well, 51-49.
MITCHELL: Bill Shorten is certainly behind as better PM, isn’t he?
ALBANESE: We don’t have a presidential race. What we have is a race between the political parties in the Westminster system, seat by seat. And what both polls show today is that if the election was held on Saturday, Labor would be in Government and you’d be talking to me without that very niggly little word, ‘Shadow’ in front of my title.
MITCHELL: Thanks very much for your time.
ALBANESE: Great to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.