Subjects: Albanese: Telling it Straight; Chaos in Parliament; Political donations reform
BEN DAVIS: My next guest’s relationship with his Dad is more complicated than most. For the first 14 years of his life Anthony Albanese thought his father was dead. Decades later, after learning the truth about himself and becoming a Dad, he began the search to track down his own Dad. It’s all part of the new book Albanese: Telling it Straight. The former Deputy PM and the current Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport joins me in the studio. Albo, good afternoon.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
DAVIS: Plenty to talk about. Do you need an appendix or a new chapter for the book to be tacked on of what happened last Thursday in Parliament, because that would make interesting reading.
ALBANESE: It was a good example of how well we did, I think, in retrospect at keeping control of the Parliament from a minority government position for three years. We were in control for every minute. The other side couldn’t keep control for three days.
DAVIS: It was calculated, wasn’t it?
ALBANESE: Well it was no secret here. It was coming back from the Senate, which had passed a resolution calling for a banking Royal Commission and we aimed to deal with the Senate resolution.
DAVIS: You had spotters at an airport. I mean, it was an ambush. It was a well laid trap and look, I’ve got to give credit to you …
ALBANESE: Well, it wasn’t a surprise that Parliament was sitting and it was no surprise that we were trying to do our best.
DAVIS: Will it happen again?
ALBANESE: I think unless the Government sort of gets its act together and starts to have a sense of purpose, then I should imagine it will happen again.
DAVIS: Right, there you go. They’re on notice. They’re on warning. It could happen again. But let’s talk about the book. We’ve got plenty to talk about as well but let’s talk about the book and your Dad. As a kid growing up what did you think happened to your Dad?
ALBANESE: Well, I thought he was dead. I thought he had died in a car accident just before I was born. That was what I was told and what everyone in my neighbourhood in inner Sydney, in Camperdown, was told. I just took it as a fact. He wasn’t around; there were no photos of him. I was raised by just my mother. Originally we lived with my grandparents and then they died and then there was just me and mum.
DAVIS: How did the truth come out?
ALBANESE: Well she told me, sat me down when she thought I was old enough one night and told me the story. The context was that it was as hard for a young Catholic woman to have a child out of wedlock in 1963. She had travelled overseas, she met my father, had a relationship, fell pregnant to him and when she told him he told her that he was betrothed to someone from the town that he was from in Southern Italy in Puglia.
So she came home, adopted his name, wore a wedding ring and an engagement ring to, I guess try and avoid the shame that there was then for a young woman having a child out of wedlock. Enormous pressure to put on someone at that time. Of course, at that time, what used to happen is that a lot of girls would go away to the country and come back miraculously, eight months later or six months later, and have the child adopted out and I was supposed to be adopted out.
But my mother, the nun at the hospital where I was born recognised, I guess, that my Mum was not someone who would want to give up her child brought me into her and that was it.
DAVIS: A brave decision at the time, a brave decision to tell you as a 14 year old.
ALBANESE: Oh it was. It was really a traumatic experience for her to come honest about that, about what the circumstances were. And at the time I told her that I didn’t think any less of her. Indeed I thought more of her because she had been so brave and courageous. And she asked if I wanted to search for my father and at the time, of course, I was a pretty you know strong 14-year-old boy and I said: “Well no, I don’t need that, you are all I need,’’ which is what she needed to hear I think at that time as well.
DAVIS: What changed?
ALBANESE: I think as you get older you have that sense of identity. You want to know where you come from. And then my Mum died so the reason for keeping up with the story, if you like, was gone. It wasn’t something that would therefore make her uncomfortable if it came out and if I found him. She died in 2002 but I had a son with my wife Carmel, we had Nathan was born in 2000 and I think when you have your own child yourself as a father, it changes the way that you think about life, frankly, as you experienced yesterday with Father’s Day.
There was a particular time I was at the cemetery visiting my Mum’s grave with my little boy before he started school. He would have been four or five and he said: Where is your Dad, Daddy? It’s not really acceptable to say, “I don’t know’’. So I felt like I had a responsibility to him, as well as to myself, to find my father if I could.
DAVIS: Opposition powerbroker Anthony Albanese my guest this afternoon. We are talking about his book Albanese: Telling it Straight. We won’t give too much away because we want people to have a read, but it’s an extraordinary story of how his father was tracked down, how you found him. But you did meet him, didn’t you? What was that meeting like?
ALBANESE: It was extraordinary, I was sitting in an office in a little town called Barletta which is along the coast of Puglia around about where the heel is, in Italy there. I made it clear that I didn’t want anything from him. I just wanted to meet him. It was a delicate situation. He had married the woman that he was betrothed to all those years ago.
I was 46 years old and in he walked. The door opened and he walked in with what I didn’t know existed up until that point, my brother and my sister. And he just opened his arms. It was an incredibly welcoming and an extraordinary moment.
There were a range of responses that could have happened of course, given the circumstances, given the passage of time. I couldn’t have hoped for a more embracing of the circumstances and it was really quite positive. He passed away in January, 2014, but I am still in contact with the family and we had those few years to get to know each other a little bit.
I visited with my family and it could have been very possible that I found out where he was now, after he was gone. So I feel very fortunate that there was a conclusion to my life story up to this point in terms of my origins.
DAVIS: Well that story has been encapsulated in print now by Karen Middleton, Albanese: Telling it Straight. It’s a story of how a kid from a council home in Sydney, single parent, grew up to be the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, at one stage.
ALBANESE: It’s a great country that that can happen in. I think it does say a lot about Australia as a land of opportunity. And, one of the reasons why I wanted to tell the story and to get it out there is to give, I guess, a positive message to sole parents, but also importantly to the kids of sole parents, that families made up of all sorts. And I’ve had such an extraordinary response since I started talking about it, just in the last couple of weeks. It’s very clear that it’s hit a chord with a lot of people.
DAVIS: Anthony, as a Labor powerbroker, someone who wields a fair bit of clout in this country, explain to me why Sam Dastyari should keep his job?
ALBANESE: Well he committed a major error of judgement, there’s no doubt about that. It was a big stuff up. It happened of course before he had his job…
DAVIS: Christopher Pyne said there was stuff up last week too…
ALBANESE: Christopher Pyne is keeping his job.
DAVIS: Stuart Robert didn’t, Mal Brough didn’t.
ALBANESE: Stuart Robert was a Minister in the Crown who visited China and didn’t declare it. Information got clawed out of there, like hidden behind a cupboard. The difference is, Sam Dastyari, the reason why we know about this is he declared it. He declared it in accordance with the rules, no rules have been broken.
DAVIS: That’s a technicality though, isn’t it? No rules have been broken but it doesn’t pass anyone’s test.
ALBANESE: Absolutely, there’s no excuse for it and he hasn’t given any excuse and he’s paid a price for it. I mean, Sam Dastyari doesn’t have a ministerial salary; he doesn’t have any great high office. This happened when he was a backbencher, or before he was a Shadow Minister. It happened well before the election and I think he certainly has learned a lesson.
The fact that many people will have heard of Sam Dastyari for the first time over this incident will mean that they’ll pass a judgement on him. I think that’s unfortunate, I think he has made an error. Fortunately, he ‘fessed up, didn’t try to hide it, apologised for it, paid the money back.
DAVIS: I had a call while we were speaking from Graham at Redcliffe and he said: ‘Re Dastyari, isn’t accepting money from a foreign entity treason?’ It’s not, but that’s the perception now that Sam and also the Labor Party have to deal with.
ALBANESE: Well it’s not. Of course the particular company involved, be clear, it’s not a foreign entity, it’s an Australian based education company, who happened…
DAVIS: With links to the Chinese Government…
ALBANESE: That’s right that has contributed – there was $1500 for Sam Dastyari, but tens of thousands of dollars of donations to the Liberal Party. So let’s put a bit of context here, and that’s the reality. I had never heard of the company, frankly, before last week.
DAVIS: Foreign donations, we are one of the rare countries in the world that still allows this to happen…
ALBANESE: And we should ban them and Labor tried to ban them when we were in Government.
DAVIS: You still accept them.
ALBANESE: We tried to ban them.
DAVIS: But you could put your hand up and go, ‘well, we’re not accepting them. Or if so…’
ALBANESE: And be at an enormous disadvantage with the Coalition, that’s the truth. We declare all donations above $1000, which is what we thought the threshold should be. The Coalition has continued to oppose reform that would allow that, and also importantly, stop the splitting of entities. So you donate $9,999 to the Queensland LNP and the same to New South Wales and Victoria and National.
And of course the Free Enterprise Foundation has been a major scandal, where we’re talking about millions of dollars of donations have gone through that entity and in New South Wales, my state of course, we had a range of Ministers hit the fence during the last term as a result of the perception and the ICAC hearings relating to channelling of donations.
DAVIS: How much goodwill do you think you would get from the electorate if you put your hand up and said, ‘right-o’ and you said you’d put yourself at a disadvantage but you (inaudible) this is where we stand, we’re not taking any more foreign donations especially if you believe strongly enough in the fact that they should be banned.
ALBANESE: Sure, well what it needs…
DAVIS: You’re saying one thing but doing another.
ALBANESE: Well what it needs is to ban it. Full stop. We’ll be in that. We can do it next week. It’ll sail through the House of Reps and the Senate; it would take about an hour.
DAVIS: Ross has phoned in and asked, ‘would Sam have come clean if it wasn’t for Cory Bernadi outing him?’
ALBANESE: He declared it on the Register. Cory Bernadi didn’t out him. Sam Dastyari declared this at the time in accordance with the rules. I think it was last year from memory, but it was certainly declared straight away by him.
DAVIS: I’m almost out of time, but I do want to ask you, being the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and also being a former Infrastructure Minister when you were in power. You were here in Brisbane today, Cross River Rail. That’s the big one, we also have the M1 upgrade, trying to get funding for that, a 50-50 split there. They’re basically arguing State government and Federal government over who and how much is going to pay. Cross River Rail, how important is that and should it be funded federally? Do we have to wait for Infrastructure Australia to give it the green light?
ALBANESE: No, we don’t, because it’s already been given the green light. It was number one on the infrastructure priority list, from Infrastructure Australia, back in 2012. It was the top of the list anywhere in the country. In 2013 we put the money in the Budget, $715 million from the Commonwealth. We had an agreement with Queensland, with the Newman Government for the same amount and then the rest of it was going to be funded by the uplift value from the development around the rail line and it was cut.
And it was cut because Tony Abbott had a policy of not funding public transport. Malcolm Turnbull said he would be different. Different rhetoric but same outcome. We should just get on with it, because we know that the Merivale Bridge Crossing is the only one. It’s a constraint not just on Brisbane, but on the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast as well.
DAVIS: 2012 Business Plan has changed. It’s now no longer the same…
ALBANESE: It’s a very similar project though. It’s been tweaked, that’s true.
DAVIS: Where’s the money come from? The private investment?
ALBANESE: Private investment comes from the uplift value that will occur along the railway line. In terms of land, if owners of a property development get a benefit from the provision of public infrastructure, they should make a contribution to it.
DAVIS: All right mate, I’m just looking at the clock, we’re almost out of time. We could keep going on, there’s plenty of people wanting to have their say, but thank you for coming in and being upfront about it, there were questions there that need to be asked. But also the read too, how they tracked down your dad, I reckon is one of the highlights of the book. But it’s not the only part of it, Albanese: Telling it Straight…
ALBANESE: There’s a bit in there about Souths too, there’s some South Sydney supporters here listening I’m sure- one or two.
DAVIS: How are you going come September, Souths?
ALBANESE: I think we’re a wildcard entry into the semis given our form.
DAVIS: Good to meet you Albo. Thanks for stopping in and taking time out this afternoon.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.