Subject: 2015 Ben Chifley Memorial Light on the Hill Address; role of media and technology in politics; state of modern politics in Australia; need for community engagement in politics; Albo Corn Ale; South Sydney Rabbitohs
KIA HANDLEY: Good morning Anthony Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: G’day. Good to be with you.
HANDLEY: Now there’s a fair bit of history with this annual speech, have you been brushing up on your Ben Chifley knowledge before coming to Bathurst?
ALBANESE: I certainly have. I’ve reread the magnificent oration that was of course given after he was the Prime Minister, but it’s an extraordinary contribution because I think it speaks to not just what Labor’s values are, but what Australian values are.
That sense of egalitarianism and that sense of having a sense of purpose greater than just advancing oneself as an individual, that sense of community. You certainly feel it in our regional cities like Bathurst.
HADLEY: In his speech in 1949 Ben Chifley said “We have a great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand. If it were not for that, the Labour movement would not be worth fighting for.”
If it were not for that, the Labor movement would not be worth fighting for.” What do you think this means in the modern Labor Party today?
ALBANESE: It means that sense of selflessness, that sense of responsibility that comes with having a regard for our fellow men and women. I think in that tradition, the decision of the Government, which is certainly a bipartisan one, of accepting 12,000 additional refugees from Syria is consistent with that. Consistent with that sense of having a helping hand, and that’s part of the Australian tradition.
HADLEY: How much do you think Australian politics has changed since the time of Ben Chifley?
ALBANESE: It’s certainly changed. I think the media cycle now means that things happen a lot more quickly and this week is evidence of that. I flew across to Perth this week and Tony Abbott was the Prime Minister when I left Sydney and when I landed Malcolm Turnbull had been elected Prime Minister. So I think the pace of change, like the pace of society, reflects that.
The extraordinary ability to communicate directly means, even in the time since I’ve been a Member of Parliament, which in March will be 20 years, now through social media, through emails, there’s much more immediacy in politics than there used to be. There are positives with that, but there are also negatives.
I think the danger is that we can become too concerned with the short term and the media cycle and the benefit, and something I’ve enjoyed about putting together the speech for Saturday night is taking a step back and thinking about how we both create and anticipate the future, how we have that longer term vision that I think people are crying out for, but is often easy to be distracted by the immediate needs of the next hour rather than the next decade.
HADLEY: Do you ever wish for a simpler time?
ALBANESE: I sure do. There’s no doubt. I remember being a Minister and looking forward to being on an international flight because phones wouldn’t work. There’s something quite good about that.
HADLEY: You can’t get away with that any more on international flights.
ALBANESE: No. The good thing about the old Parliament House I worked in was that the offices were smaller, but you got to communicate to people including as a very young guy working for Tom Uren. I worked for him in the Old Parliament House.
You got to have a beer next to Ministers in the Government. It was much more collegiate. I think it’s much faster and busier now. There are positives in that though. We can’t turn back the clock and we need to embrace new technology but we need to make sure that we control it rather than the other way round.
HADLEY: Eighteen minutes past nine on ABC Central West and Western Plains morning show. My guest this morning, Anthony Albanese, is this year’s Light on the Hill guest speaker. This week we’ve seen the country get its fifth Prime Minister in nearly as many years. Regardless of the party, what do you think this says about the state of modern politics in Australia?
ALBANESE: Well, I don’t think it’s a positive, without reflecting on any individual. I think the pace of change and that turbulence doesn’t reflect well on the body politic. I have a view about the style of Tony Abbott, which was very negative when he was in Opposition.
He was an effective Opposition Leader but the danger in his effectiveness, in terms of that short term media cycle of the three word slogans being repeated over and over is that the Government, when it came to office didn’t have a plan to govern and didn’t have a sense of purpose.
I think that’s one of the downsides in that relentless focus on the short term, that in the end was his undoing as the Prime Minister. Now, I hope that Malcolm Turnbull takes the opportunity that the Prime Ministership of the nation brings, to actually lift up political discourse to a higher level. I certain hope that that’s the case, and I think all of us have a responsibility to do that.
HADLEY: Some online sites were referring to spills as now being one of Australia’s favourite sports; do you think the leadership spills are here to stay in Australian politics?
ALBANESE: I hope that that isn’t the case. I think you need some stability in politics. Democratic processes mean that people aren’t there forever and all of us have a spill, if you like, as local members when we have to go before our local electorates and argue the case for why we’re deserving of re-election.
But certainly the pace of the change is, I think, regrettable. I’m very much on the record, including of course on the ABC’s show that it put on, that I think was a very good documentary earlier this year, that I believe we made a mistake in June 2010 in changing the decision that the Australian people had made in electing Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister. I think that did damage to both Kevin and to Julia Gillard. I said on that night we had damaged two Labor Prime Ministers.
I think the Liberal Party is going through considerable turmoil now as well. You can’t make a decision like they have done without there being winners and losers. Without there being people speculating about who said what to whom and all of those issues.
At the end of the day, under the Westminster system it can happen, but I certainly do not believe that is ideal. Ideally, people who are elected by the Australian people as Prime Minister, I think deserve to serve out their first term at least. It’s been cut down very short. Tony Abbott didn’t get to serve two years.
HADLEY: Throughout events like this, some of the criticism we see of politicians on all sides from the electorate is sometimes it doesn’t seem like the focus is on the regular folk. Is the Australian public still at the centre of politicians’ minds?
ALBANESE: One of the themes I’m going to have at the speech on Saturday night at the Light on the Hill Address is putting people back into the equation. I think we need to always remember what the purpose is and when we have a debate for example, about economic growth, it’s as if the figures of the national economic accounts are absent from what they actually mean to people.
We need to always remember that economic growth is very important for jobs and for prosperity, but it’s not the end in itself, it’s so that we can lift living standards, and so that people can have a better quality of life. I think one of the things that Chifley spoke to was the pretty simple principle that most Australians have, I think, which is that we all want for our kids to have more opportunity than we had. That means opportunity in education or training. It means ensuring that there’s appropriate health care on the basis of need and that no one misses out because of income.
Ensuring, in a country like ours that doesn’t have the same class based system as some other societies that’s entrenched, that you can’t automatically determine where people will end up in life by the postcode in which they were born.
I think those sort of opportunities are important and of course we must always ensure that there’s harmony with our natural and built environment as well through building in sustainability to all that we do, not as an afterthought, but something that’s a core function, not just of government, but of course of society as a whole.
I don’t believe that government can solve all the problems, but what government can do is facilitate outcomes that are delivered out there in the community.
HADLEY: We will have a federal election in the next 12 months or so. How important is it for you to keep your electorate and the Australian public engaged in this conversation surrounding politics in Australia?
ALBANESE: It’s very important, and we do have that opportunity through conversations like we’re having now, through making sure that politicians visit our cities and our regions around the country, and by making sure we have that personal one on one engagement.
I still don’t think anything beats face to face engagement, but at the same time, through Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and all those measures that are available to modern politicians to engage with people, I think that does provide increased opportunities that weren’t there in the past.
HANDLEY: Is part of your personal strategy having a bit of fun?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. I think you can’t talk about leading a fulfilling life unless you try to do that yourself and certainly one of the benefits of Opposition, and there aren’t many, is that you do have a bit more time to spend with family, compared with being a Minister.
Last week we received a new family member, we’ve got a new puppy in my household, and that’s brought a great deal of joy I must say. One of the great things about having a family I enjoy, and it’s in my diary not as an afterthought but as something that I try to get to every week, is my son’s sport of various kinds that he plays.
I think that unless you’re engaged in some normal activity, not just talking to other politicians and not just talking politics then it is pretty easy to get out of touch.
HANDLEY: We’ve also seen you recently DJ at a fundraising event and a Sydney micro-brewery has just launched the Albo Corn Ale Beer – have you tried the beer?
ALBANESE: I have indeed; it’s a pretty good drop. It’s from Willie the Boatman in St Peters. They didn’t consult with me before they named the beer so thank goodness it’s a good drop. But they name different – there’s a Foo Brew that’s named after the local plumber.
There’s a beer named after a local teacher and they named the beer after me. It’s a good drop, it comes in long neck bottles so it’s a bit old school, and I’m a bit old school as well and it’s available on tap in a whole lot of pubs in my electorate and bars.
But it’s also now available in Canberra. We had the launch here last week and because it’s a craft brew, though they’re good at brewing perhaps not as good at business because they –
HANDLEY: They sold out pretty quickly.
ALBANESE: They sold out, they were gone. We had the launch but no one could get it for another week until another batch was made. The good thing is it’s led to a couple of additional jobs being created in my electorate so that’s a pretty good thing.
HANDLEY: For you Anthony Albanese, why do you think it’s important to show your personality in politics, and to have a bit of fun alongside the serious issues that you talk about as well?
ALBANESE: I just think it’s a way of engaging with people. I hosted Rage during the last election campaign when I was the Deputy Prime Minister and people enjoyed my music selection, which is very much the selection that you would expect someone of my vintage in inner Sydney.
One of my first political successes was as the Young Labor delegate to ALP National Conference making 2JJ into a national youth radio station was something that I’m very proud of having a role in.
So it’s very much independent rock sort of music, Australian and a lot of British, bit of American from the sort of 80s and 90s with a political bent to it. One of the things I say about right wing governments is that they can create some quite good left wing music.
As a response though, it’s been good fun. So I’ve done a couple of fundraisers, the last one was for a group, Reclink, who work with young people to engage them in mainstream society, who’ve been on the fringes involved in drugs or homelessness.
The attempt that Reclink makes as a charity is get them back engaged through music and sport so doing a fundraiser for them was a very good thing to do in my electorate and it was a big success, and a bit of fun.
HANDLEY: Anthony Albanese, you are coming to Bathurst for Saturday’s Light on the Hill Address. What does it mean to you to be this year’s key speaker?
ALBANESE: It’s such a tremendous honour. I’m very proud of the fact that the Australian Labor Party is, of course, Australia’s oldest political party. But indeed it is one of the world’s oldest political parties going right back to 1891. We have had some great leaders; Ben Chifley is right up there.
I’m visiting his house, the Chifley Home, in Busby Street, on Saturday before I give the address and I think that sense of history is very important for the Labor movement. You don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve come from. And as individuals that’s true, but as for organisation’s that’s true as well.
And I’ve always liked coming to Bathurst. I used to come up there as a very young lad and ride motorbikes just outside of Bathurst when the races were on up there at that time of the year. And I’m looking forward to coming on Saturday night.
I’m told the function is sold out, which is a great thing. And it’s, I think those traditions of having this lecture every year the people of the Central West, of course it’s important for them, but all of your listeners mightn’t know, but that nationally, there is a focus on this.
There’s no Labor or I don’t think political party function anywhere in Australia that has the prominence that the Light on the Hill Dinner does so for me it’ll be a great honour.
HANDLEY: And I’m sure Bathurst looks forward to hosting you, we’ve got some good weather in store which is nice after all the snowfall we’ve had this winter. I can’t let you go Anthony Albanese without asking you from one cardinal and myrtle blooded South Sydney fan to another. 2016? Will we get out 22nd premiership?
ALBANESE: I certainly hope so. I was there on Sunday.
HANDLEY: Oh dear.
ALBANESE: We suffered from injuries and suspensions getting our best team on the field. I’m still cross about the Luke Keary decision on that try.
HANDLEY: And the George Burgess thing, there’s a lot of things to be cross about at the end of a season.
ALBANESE: James Maloney can kick someone but George Burgess throws an empty plastic water bottle.
HANDLEY: But we won’t say anything for fear of getting fined by the NRL judiciary.
ALBANESE: I can go for it – I made my feelings clear to the people at the NRL. They’d expect that but we went of course, speaking of history, you know last year after 43 years I got to take my son to see Souths win a Premiership and in 1971 my mum took me to the hill at the SCG to see Souths win their 20th premiership when I was just seven years old.So that sense of history is I think a part of what being a Souths Sydney supporter is. I never thought for a while there when we got kicked out of the comp, I was on the board at that time, but the community spirit.
To go back to Chifley, something that was very across the political spectrum, I think those that make that decision on a purely commercial basis didn’t understand that Souths meant more than just another footy team and you couldn’t just change your team.
That it was about a sense of identity and belonging. And certainly there’s that spirit as I know there’s that spirit in local footy in your region of course has such a fantastic history as well.
HANDLEY: I think I cried more at the Grand Final last year than I did at my own wedding day, but look that’s footy.
ALBANESE: Absolutely, it was a very fine celebration into the early hours with the Club and that’ll keep us going for a bit. The good thing this year is that we made the semis and started off with the big win in the World Club Challenge and the Nines so there’s a little bit of disappointment, how it ended, but I look forward to watching the games that are coming up.
I think the pace of football and the quality of the game is just quite extraordinary.
HANDLEY: Will there be TVs on mute with both the AFL and NRL finals behind you as you give your address on Saturday night?
ALBANESE: Well we’ll wait and see. Had Souths won last week, it was noted, I agreed they’re very well organised the Light on the Hill organisers, the local Labor Party.
I would have been a bit distracted if Souths were playing on a screen while I was giving my address. Perhaps it would have had to have been a 9:30pm address had Souths got up last week.
HANDLEY: Anthony Albanese, best of luck with your Light on the Hill address this weekend. Enjoy your time in Bathurst and the Central West and thanks for speaking with us on ABC Central West and Western Plains this morning.
ALBANESE: It’s been great to chat to you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.