SUBJECTS: Biloela family; child sex offender legislation; Community Pharmacy Agreement; ICAC inquiry into NSW Labor
DAVID PENBERTHY, HOST: We’re testing a number of new openings for the Leader of the Federal Labor Party, Anthony Albanese. How do you like that one, Albo?
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: That’s a good one, mate. You can’t go wrong with U2.
PENBERTHY: Do you have a favourite U2 album, Albo? I reckon you’d be a ‘War’ guy. The early stuff.
ALBANESE: I like ‘The Joshua Tree’.
PENBERTHY: The Joshua Tree, a good record. Albo, the big story this week, the Government is certainly digging in this morning saying that the case could set a precedent. But there’s been a pretty diverse outpouring of support for this Tamil family with two kids who’ve been living in regional Queensland. You’ve seen different people like Barnaby Joyce and even the conservative broadcaster Alan Jones coming out and saying, ‘let them stay’.
ALBANESE: And their local member as well who’s an LNP member, very clearly making representation because that’s what the community there want. This family are integrated into the community. Nades works at the local meatworks and his wife Priya volunteers at a local St Vincent de Paul. They’re active in their community and the community is saying that this is precisely the sort of people that we want to live in this regional town. It’s a small place, Biloela, with about 5,000 people and we say that we want to encourage new migrants to move to regional Australia and regional towns to make a contribution. And the argument about precedent, I mean let’s get real here. Peter Dutton has intervened on over 4,000 occasions using his ministerial discretion. That’s three times a day that he signed documents allowing people to stay in Australia or allowing au pairs to stay temporarily. He makes these decision all of the time.
PENBERTHY: The au pair thing is certainly something that we pointed out yesterday. Having said that, if the Government says yes to this family, because my reading of what the Government’s own legal advice is, is that they’re not refugees by any measure. Doesn’t it set a precedent that you can rock up through whatever means, become integrated into the community, prove that you’re a good bloke, have a couple of kids and then use that as an emotional rather than a legally based argument to become an Australian resident?
ALBANESE: No it doesn’t. It sets a precedent that this particular individual and this particular family with a four-year-old and two-year-old that there’s a national interest test and that precisely if you were looking for migrants to move to Australia and of course we do have migrants moved to Australia, this is precisely the sort of family making a contribution in regional Australia. We would say that it is a good thing. That is why the ministerial discretion is there. For unusual circumstances that don’t fit the existing provisions which are there. That’s why Peter Dutton intervened on over 4000 occasions up to now. And a bit of common sense will be applied here. The other thing is, one of the reasons why I think there’s a strong community response, is collecting a family and trying to separate the kids, four and two years of age from their parents who are travelling in transport. Then picked up from a Melbourne detention centre and flown to Darwin in the middle of the night and then got out early in the morning to fly to Christmas Island. At what enormous cost?
PENBERTHY: Do you agree, Albo, with the Government’s proposal for mandatory sentences for online predators? Mandatory prison sentences?
ALBANESE: We haven’t seen the legislation. We’ll have a look at it. I think that people who engage in attacks against kids are vile and deserve to have the book thrown at them. We’ll look at the circumstances and seek advice. Part of the advice of course with regard to mandatory sentencing is that sometimes what it can lead to is less convictions rather than more because judges or juries will make the view that because it’s mandatory sentencing, all of the circumstances can’t be factored in. And there’s a bit of evidence there as well. I’ll take it by. And we’ll examine the legislation. We haven’t seen it yet. It is typical of the Government saying, ‘will you support something you haven’t seen’? Well, that I won’t do. But we will examine it on its merits.
PENBERTHY: Something we have seen over the course of a number of years in Australia is the continued negotiation of the Community Pharmacy Agreement. We were speaking about it a little earlier this morning. Is it time that the Federal Government stared down the Pharmacy Guild and put together a proposal that actually serves Australians a little bit better? Chemist Warehouse have come out and said they can make prescription medicines free effectively for pensioners and people where now there’s a nominal $6.50 or $40.30 fee attached to it. They are not allowed to do that, to serve the consumer under the Consumer Pharmacy Agreement. Can they get tough? Would you get tough?
ALBANESE: I think there’s a balance to be made here. Pharmacies make an enormous contribution. I live in a very multicultural area. The local pharmacist where I go, even though it actually costs a bit more, there’s one of those businesses you just mentioned around the corner. I go to where there are people, a Greek speaker, a Vietnamese speaker, a Chinese speaker, helping out people in the community. Pharmacies are a bit more than a supermarket. They actually provide advice, they provide care and they’re an important part of a local community.
PENBERTHY: Why is every other businesses in this country subject to the market test but not pharmacies?
ALBANESE: Well I think the pharmacist, like family doctors and GP, do perform a different role from the local butcher where you decide what meat that you’re going to get or the local supermarket you go to. I do think that because pharmacists provide that primary health care, eventually a good pharmacist can stop people visiting the doctor perhaps as well and save an individual money and save the health system money as well. I do think that there is a case that pharmacists are entitled to be considered differently from just another business.
PENBERTHY: Hey Albo, just before we let you go, as you’ll be aware South Australia is the free settler state. We have no convict heritage whatsoever and it’s in that context that we’ve been marvelling from afar at the goings on within the New South Wales Labor Party over the last couple of weeks. Is it time for Federal Labor to secede from New South Wales Labor?
ALBANESE: Well there is a bit of history there with not always being in harmony with Sussex Street.
PENBERTHY: Didn’t they kick you out of the building once that you had to set up a table downstairs?
ALBANESE: They had moved my office when I worked there. I went away on leave and they they converted my office into a library without telling me so they put me in the middle of the office so you could see who came and went. These are the joys of a political life.
PENBERTHY: But in all seriousness do we need to change the laws surrounding donations? Or rather, is there just a problem that the laws are there and people aren’t obeying them?
ALBANESE: There are two issues. One is, we do need to tighten up the laws on donations. We support federally a declaration in a timely fashion of all donations above $1,000. We do that voluntarily even though the limited is $13,000. We need, I think, to consider all of the matters around disclosure and the key needs to be transparency. The second thing here is that there’s clearly a cultural problem and there’s a need to reform the structures of the New South Wales ALP to make sure that this can never happen again, to make sure that there is accountability built in to the system so that people can’t, without the knowledge of a broad group of people who can make them accountable, engage in this sort of reprehensible behaviour. Which, quite frankly, I’m shocked by, and I think certainly most people overwhelmingly are. Most people in the Labor Party are volunteers, they just put in, not just on polling day but in-between time working for the Party, working because they’re committed to their ideals like members of other political parties do. They deserve better than to have a couple of roosters behave in this fashion.
PENBERTHY: Anthony Albanese, the Leader of the Opposition, thanks for joining us.