Subjects: WA tourism, retirement age, dividend imputation, renewable energy, Peter Dutton, Rabbitohs.
OLIVER PETERSON: Why is Anthony Albanese in Perth? Let’s find out. Anthony Albanese, good afternoon.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be here once again, back in Perth.
ALBANESE: Eighth visit this year.
PETERSON: Eighth visit this year and you’re talking tourism today. So how would a Shorten Government boost the numbers of visitors to WA?
ALBANESE: Well the first thing that we need to do is to partner with the WA Government and with the airport. They’ve got a plan about getting increased international visitors and flights here. We should look at in the medium-term making sure that there are direct flights to India, to Japan as well as China, Singapore – the flights that are there at the moment. We of course have the direct flight to London from Qantas and we have access to Europe through not just that flight but through the Middle Eastern carriers. We have, I think, a great product here in Australia, but Western Australia has some particular advantages. The time zone is the same as Singapore and much of Asia, it’s a lot shorter in terms of travel times. So I think there’s a real opportunity for growth in international tourism but domestic tourism is important as well – that we grow the product, that people who come to the West enjoy it. The natural environment here is so extraordinary and diverse, whether it’s Margaret River, Broome, Ningaloo, all of this product, and a great global city here in Perth at its centre.
PETERSON: Okay, so that will be front of the agenda there of the Labor government, should you form the Labor government and I know I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself. But let’s talk about today’s issues as well, because the Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants the pension to stick to 67. Is Labor going to make the same commitment?
ALBANESE: Well it’s our policy. We didn’t support it being increased. What’s extraordinary here is that the Libs have gone out there and tried to increase it to 70. We said we would oppose it in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. A lot of the crossbenchers have done that too and the Government after campaigning since Tony Abbott’s 2014 Budget – this was a part of their mean-spirited measures in 2014, that they’ve all backed in since – it’s good that they’ve walked away from it today, accepting reality. But I think it’s another example of Labor leading from Opposition on policy.
PETERSON: All right. Do you think the Government can afford this though? Because they’re also still talking about personal income tax cuts, so where does all the money come from?
ALBANESE: Well that’s one of the problems with this Government is that they’ve of course blown – the debt has doubled on their watch at a time when we’ve had relatively good economic circumstances both domestically and globally importantly. We’ve had commodity prices increasing, so increased revenue to the Government, and they haven’t taken advantage of it. But I think for those people who are listening who are blue-collar workers, who are manual workers, the idea that they can just continue to work forever – it might be okay for someone like myself, a politician – mind you I don’t intend being a politician when I’m 70 – to continue to work. But I think it was always just not fair dinkum to try to force people into working until they dropped.
PETERSON: Okay, if Labor wins the next election though, we’ve still got to talk about the franking credits and the dividend imputation policy because although self-funded retirees are going to be caught up in this – you’ve quarantined pensioners for the moment. So it’s a tough policy you have to sell with older Australians because ultimately if you are a self-funded retiree you’re going to be penalised.
ALBANESE: It is a tough policy, we acknowledge that. We acknowledge though that difficult decisions have to be made. And when dividend imputation was introduced by Paul Keating as the Treasurer, it was never ever intended that people who weren’t paying tax could actually get a payment from the Government – could actually therefore reduce, if you like, government revenue through that payment and it’s become increasingly unsustainable. It’s about $5 billion this year but that will grow to some $8 billion, which is why we simply can’t afford it. We realise that it’s a difficult policy and yes, some people will be and are opposed to the policy, but governments have to put forward a path back to surplus. That’s what we’re prepared to do and I think we deserve, even if people disagree with the policy, I think that we deserve some credit for being prepared to take difficult decisions in Opposition.
PETERSON: But are you giving people enough notice here who may be wavering and they can go and see their accountant now, because we have been trying to encourage Australians to fund their own retirement. Will they turn around now, Anthony Albanese, and say: ‘If I get back under that threshold, I’ll take the pension, I might be able to put some of that money into my house and all of a sudden the Government’s still having to fork out to pay John Citizen his pension.
ALBANESE: Well we are giving them a lot of notice, this was a change that was introduced by the Howard Government in the dividend imputation system. It was introduced at a time whereby the Howard Government thought the rivers of gold, a lot of them coming in literally from Western Australia through the resources boom, that you could just make these decisions …
PETERSON: There’d be no consequences.
ALBANESE: … and it would all be okay. And the truth is the nation has to determine priorities. We’re determined to fund education, we’re determined to fund our public hospitals, we’re determined to fund infrastructure. You can’t do all of those things if you don’t have the money to pay for it.
PETERSON: Okay, the narrative the Government is running at the moment is all of a sudden good news on the aged pension if you like, good news on your personal income, and Labor’s running a campaign or a policy here that says, if you’re a self-funded retiree we’re going to be taking money off you. You can understand, it’s going to be an interesting policy battle you’ve got on your hands with the Government.
ALBANESE: Well we’re prepared to engage in that policy debate. But I think people when they have a look at what the Coalition have been prepared to do – this is a Coalition that have abandoned policies but they still believe in them. They still believe in increasing the age pension age in which it can be got. They still believe in taking away the energy supplement from pensioners – another change that they tried to get through, they’ve accepted they can’t get it through so they’ve backflipped on it. They still support reducing company tax for the big banks and for the other major multinational corporations. Again a policy that Australia simply can’t afford. So we’re quite prepared to be involved in the policy debate. Labor will have a responsible economic policy, but one that’s also about delivering for people, delivering on living standards, delivering on better education for people’s kids and grandkids, delivering on healthcare with Medicare as the centrepiece of our health system.
PETERSON: All right, .talking of energy, are you committed to the Paris Agreement on climate change and reducing emissions?
ALBANESE: We certainly are, as does the Government say that it is as well. We think that you can have of course a reduction in energy prices as well as dealing with emissions. And indeed there’s a link between the two things.
PETERSON: All right, is the 50 per cent target still on Labor’s radar?
ALBANESE: Yes it is absolutely.
PETERSON: So, today The Australian newspaper report there, pours cold water on your plans and bills – they say, could skyrocket by 84 per cent. So who’s going to want that?
ALBANESE: Well no one and that’s why it’s not going to happen under Labor. This is a pathetic report frankly put on the front page of The Australian …
PETERSON: So we can still have …
ALBANESE: They may as well have got it out of a Wheaties packet this morning.
PETERSON: Right, so we can still have a renewable energy policy and a 50 per cent renewable energy target and reduce electricity prices?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. And have a look at – don’t look at what The Australian and various sort of outlets with an agenda to run say – have a look at what Kerry Schott and the Energy Security Board, that was established by the Turnbull Government to advise the Government on a way forward, say. And what they said is that of the $550 decrease that they say would happen when they were still promoting the NEG as the centrepiece of their energy policy, $400 was due to the renewable energy target that was put in place by Labor. The fact is that demand and supply works, that’s one of the fundamentals of economics. If you increase supply by having more renewables in the system, you decrease the price. And one of the things that’s occurred of course is that Australians, many of your listeners I’m sure, have voted literally with their own roofs by putting solar panels on the top of them.
PETERSON: Lots of solar panels here in WA – heaps.
ALBANESE: And how crazy is it that here in Australia we have our worst winter is better than Germany’s summer and yet we have been lagging behind before Labor put in place that renewable energy target. When we announced the policy I was the environment spokesperson and the target was two per cent and we said: ‘We’ll get to 20 per cent by 2020’. And we were told at the time ‘Oh no that’ll lead to disaster!’ Of course, what we know is that it’ll end up being about 24 per cent by 2020. We’ll reach that target easily because renewables throughout the world are becoming cheaper as there’s more volume and as they become more efficient as well with battery storage. We know now that renewables can provide that secure power as well.
PETERSON: All right what did you make of the Prime Minister’s character reference of your leader Bill Shorten as union-bred, union-fed and union-led.
ALBANESE: Just another line from a focus group. I don’t know why the Government hasn’t realised that their personal attacks on Bill Shorten haven’t worked very well. So we’ve now had – we’re now on to the third Prime Minister over these two terms. The third Prime Minister since 2015 and yet they’ve all been characterised with a debate essentially of yelling and abuse and insults. What Australians want are policies. They want a Government with a clear direction. What they’ve got at the moment is an absolute rabble.
PETERSON: So all you need to do really is turn up to the next election and the keys to the Lodge fall into the hands of Bill Shorten.
ALBANESE: No we’re not taking it for granted. We’re out there campaigning, we’re out there talking to people, we’re out there putting forward coherent policies. At the tourism conference today, the WA Tourism conference – I sometimes feel a bit lonely as the Shadow Minister because Tourism Ministers are nowhere to be seen over the years by this Government. Once again here I was, a major conference here in Perth, some 450 people from the tourism sector throughout regional WA, no one from the Government even bothered to show up.
PETERSON: Let me ask, Parliament resumes next week, by next Friday will Peter Dutton still be the Home Affairs Minister?
ALBANESE: Well he mightn’t be in Parliament because there is a real cloud over Peter Dutton’s eligibility to sit in the Parliament. Their legal advice …
PETERSON: So you’re going to go hard on that?
ALBANESE: We’ll be raising it appropriately because what the legal advice said was that only the High Court can determine definitively whether Peter Dutton is entitled to sit in the Parliament. Other people have gone through the High Court processes, Peter Dutton should as well. Because the problem with a Cabinet Minister having that cloud over their eligibility is that the decisions which they make can be drawn into question as well. And when you’ve got someone in charge of national security it’s important that it be beyond any doubt that they have a capacity to make decisions.
PETERSON: Have you got the numbers, with the crossbenchers and Andrew Wilkie, to move a no-confidence motion?
ALBANESE: Well we’ll wait and see but Peter Dutton should be referred to the High Court and that should be what removes him as a Minister. Wait and see if it’s determined or not. Mind you there might be – forget about the crossbenchers, there’s a few people I don’t know if you’ve noticed Ollie, a few people, including some here in WA who are pretty angry with Peter Dutton themselves and I think they’d be quite glad to see the back of Peter Dutton.
PETERSON: All right, well watch this space. Most important question I ask you for the afternoon, who wins the 2018 NRL Premiership?
ALBANESE: Well quite clearly it’s – that is far more certain than any election. I’m very confident that South Sydney will secure their 22nd Premiership. Mind you I have been confident every year since I was born that South Sydney would win the Premiership. So we’ll wait and see.
PETERSON: Well and for those who can’t see this afternoon, you’re wearing the South Sydney scarf, so good luck to the Rabbitohs. I hope that the Dragons can somehow beat the Broncos this weekend and we meet you somewhere in the finals.
ALBANESE: And Ollie what they can’t see now, but they will be able to see online is that you’re wearing a South Sydney footy jumper bought for you by your dad.
PETERSON: Yeah back in the 80’s, absolutely it’s got Peterson 1 the back, the Smith’s Crisps logo, the NSW Rugby League logo. And there you go, I am wearing it for one day only, Albo.
ALBANESE: For one day. Proudly wearing the cardinal and myrtle.
PETERSON: Anthony Albanese, great to see you in the Perth Live studio. Thank you.
ALBANESE: Good to be here. Thanks for having me on Ollie.
WEDNESDAY, 5 SEPTEMBER, 2018
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.