Subjects: Population growth, infrastructure, NBN, Budget, election.
FAINE: Good morning to you.
ALBANESE: Good morning. Thanks for having me on the program.
FAINE: Does the Labor Party believe in reducing migration to Australia?
ALBANESE: No we don’t. We understand that migration is an essential part of who we are. We are a migrant country. With the exception of course of First Nations people we are all either migrants ourselves or sons or daughters of migrants. What we do believe in is making sure that infrastructure keeps up with the growth which is there and the Victorian Government have essentially been going it alone because of a failure of the Feds to kick in Victoria’s share of the Federal infrastructure budget over recent years.
FAINE: There is a fair view though of public sentiment that we should perhaps either have a pause or a slight reduction or in some way this continued growth, growth, growth it is unsustainable.
ALBANESE: What is required is a sensible migration policy. It shouldn’t be a free-for-all. There is rough consensus at the national level that the figures have been right.
FAINE: Which figure? The figure that is the target or the figure that is the actual, because there has been about …?
ALBANESE: There has been a reduction in recent times in terms of actual migration to Australia and of course …
FAINE: So which figure does the Labor Party subscribe to? The 160,000 a year target or the 120,000, that is the actual number of people who make it here?
ALBANESE: Well in terms of the numbers we support the existing target which is there but also one of the things …..
FAINE: So you would increase migration because at the moment that target is not being achieved?
ALBANESE: No, we wouldn’t. We think the numbers have been just about right and what we don’t want to get into in spite of attempts by some is a debate which is counterproductive. We will work …
FAINE: Well I don’t want to be belligerent about this but which figure are you saying that … ?
ALBANESE: We think it is about right right now. The numbers of people coming in are about right right now.
FAINE: Well that is the 120,000, Mr Albanese?
ALBANESE: Yes it’s about right right now.
FAINE: Ok then in that case …
ALBANESE: I’m not going to get into a partisan debate about numbers and population.
FAINE: I’m not trying to get you into one. I am trying to be factually accurate.
ALBANESE: And I have said the answer, which is ….
FAINE: You are backing away from the 160,000 target too.
ALBANESE: I am saying the numbers have been about right, right now
FAINE: At 120,000 people a year.
ALBANESE: One of the things that we need to do is to make sure for example that one of the issues is people coming in in terms of labour market. We think there needs to be proper labour market testing. And when it comes to ….
FAINE: What does proper mean?
ALBANESE: Well it means making sure that there is actually some vigilance over whether Australians are available for jobs that are needed and at the moment that hasn’t occurred. There’s lots of examples whereby jobs have been taken by people coming in on overseas visas.
FAINE: You don’t base policies on anecdotes surely?
ALBANESE: Well it’s not a matter of anecdotes. It is a matter of looking at what is actually happening on the ground and then responding to it and making sure that labour market testing occurs so that where Australians are available to do work they get the opportunity to do it. You also …
FAINE: So the Labor Party, along with the Coalition, you both agree on reducing the targeted migration take of 160 to the actual 120?
ALBANESE: I am not the migration spokesperson, Jon. Let’s be very clear about that.
FAINE: I think the last five times we have asked Mr Neumann to come on air he has declined. So you are as close are we can get.
ALBANESE: Well that is a matter for him. I am not the migration spokesperson. I am not about to announce our migration policy on your program this morning. Nor am I about to announce other people’s portfolio responsibilities either.
FAINE: All right, well on your portfolio area, does the Labor Party believe in trying to incentivise or force people to go into the bush?
ALBANESE: Well the problem there is it’s a good idea if you are matching up a demand for people, which there is in a whole range of communities, by ensuring that they are able to go there. But it is a matter of keeping them there as well and what you need to do if we are going to have that growth in those regional communities is make sure that there are jobs and it is sustainable for people to move there.
FAINE: And how do you do that?
ALBANESE: Well it’s a challenge. You need to …
FAINE: That’s not giving us much of a clue saying it is a challenge.
ALBANESE: Well there aren’t simple answers for this, Jon. If there were simple answers it would have been done.
FAINE: Well that’s why you get the big bucks, Mr Albanese, so you come up with the answers.
ALBANESE: Well what we don’t come up with is platitudes and statements that can’t be resolved.
FAINE: So trying to manage people; Mr Tudge has at least put some policies on the table. Is Labor going to come up with some ideas? Are you going to come up with some initiatives or just statements of intent?
ALBANESE: No, well one of the things that we have done for example, the National Broadband Network was one essential, practical way to overcome the tyranny of distance. What that was about was making sure that if you are in town like Shepparton or anywhere else in regional communities, you get the same access to markets that you would if you were in the CBD of Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane and unfortunately a lot of that has been undermined. That was about a practical plan to make sure businesses were encouraged, because of the lower overhead costs of establishing businesses in regional areas as opposed to in CBDs, that there would be a real economic incentive to be based there.
FAINE: Is the Government going to provide subsidies if you are indeed elected and you form the government?
ALBANESE: Well we don’t have plans for that at this stage.
FAINE: Then how do you make it happen?
ALBANESE: Well we don’t have plans for that at this stage. What we will do is to come up with regional economic development plans to make sure – including having proper industry policies and Kim Carr is doing work on that – to make sure that we encourage businesses to locate in those communities.
FAINE: How do you encourage businesses to locate in those communities? Saying it is one thing, making it happen is another.
ALBANESE: I’ve just raised one issue in terms of making sure that those businesses have access to markets through the National Broadband Network, by fixing that up. Another plan that we have …
FAINE: That’s going to happen overnight.
ALBANESE: No, but you can’t fix these things overnight, Jon. And anyone who comes on your program and tells you that you can fix the issues of population distribution overnight is lying.
FAINE: In the Budget one of the comparative advantages that’s certainly been your main campaign point in the Clayton’s campaign we’ve had until next week, when it probably gets underway for real has been the so-called living wage policy that Mr Shorten has made his own, which is where he says that he’ll deal with stagnating wage growth by providing for a living wage. The Liberal Party are slowly leaking out that Josh Frydenberg’s Budget on Tuesday is going to lift wages as well as deliver tax cuts. There goes your comparative advantage, does it not?
ALBANESE: We’ll see what their actual plan is. All we’ve seen from the Liberal Party up to now is support for cutting penalty rates and undermining of wages and conditions, an ongoing attack on people’s right to belong to trade unions and therefore to be able to bargain collectively and a strategy of damping down wages.
FAINE: So if indeed you’re going to increase minimum wages the Small Business Council and the big business organisations are all in furious agreement that that will cost jobs …
ALBANESE: They’re not actually. What was interesting about this week is that the Business Council of Australia came out in support of the plan of a living wage.
FAINE: Depending on where it’s set and how big the increases are going to be. Innes Willox is on the record as saying ….
ALBANESE: Our plan for having the Fair Work Commission work these issues through for not an instant increase, but working it through in the context of making sure that the economy as a whole benefits because what every economist is saying, from the Reserve Bank Governor down, is that one of the problems in this country is the fact that wages aren’t keeping up with inflation.
FAINE: Sure, but if you push wage growth too far then you’re going to have job losses. So is the solution that the Government is going to end up being the major employer? We go back to the days of big government, lots of government spending on infrastructure and other projects as we’ve seen the State Government do here, soaking up those who lose jobs in the private sector.
ALBANESE: No, the solution is in part that is in terms of – I support what the Victorian Government have done on infrastructure and we will certainly do more on infrastructure as well. But the solution is what we’ve put forward, which is to instruct the Fair Work Commission to do an assessment based upon the concept of living wage rather than minimum wage. Surely it’s not too much to ask in a country like ours, as wealthy as we are, that people are allowed to live on the wage in which they’re given.
FAINE: Next week Parliament resumes and on Tuesday evening Josh Frydenberg, the Treasurer of Scott Morrison’s Government, delivers a Budget. The Prime Minister could then reap all the publicity that comes from the Budget all day Wednesday and then Wednesday afternoon is there the chance that Scott Morrison could go see the Governor-General in the afternoon or evening of Wednesday and deprive Bill Shorten of his Budget Reply speech?
ALBANESE: For an arrogant government that would be the ultimate act of undermining our democracy. And I can’t see that anyone in the Coalition would support that happening. Unless it was a crazy discussion at 3am in the morning and when they woke up they’d realised that was a very, very bad idea.
FAINE: Dissolve the House on Wednesday night and avoid, not just Bill Shorten’s speech in reply, but probably Senate Estimates can’t sit thereafter either. It avoids several days of bad headlines for the Coalition.
ALBANESE: Senate Estimates won’t be able to sit if they call it on the weekend. So in terms of the denial of the Leader of the Opposition the opportunity to give a Budget Reply, I can’t see that any government that did that wouldn’t bear the consequences of that, which would be to be marked down.
FAINE: Only by the political class. Those of us, people like you and me and many of the people listening. But by and large the bulk of disengaged Australians wouldn’t even know what we were talking about, would they?
ALBANESE: I think this is a theory that will not come into practice.
FAINE: I won’t have a wager with you, I know you’re fond of a punt, I’m not. We’ll see what happens.
ALBANESE: I’m not either actually, Jon.
FAINE: Aren’t you, I thought you were?
ALBANESE: No, I’m not a gambler.
FAINE: Well, that changes …
ALBANESE: I’m a sports nut, but I’m not a gambler.
FAINE: I think Estimates is sitting Thursday and Friday next week, so if the House dissolves on Wednesday evening, then Estimates on Thursday or Friday?
ALBANESE: And that was an agreement between Mathias Cormann and Penny Wong. There has to be some honour in this game. And I doubt very much that there would be such a breach. I think that for a government going into an election that would put it very much on the defensive and on the back foot. And I am of course a former Leader of the House of Representatives and if someone came to me with such a proposition I would dismiss out of hand and I would have thought that anyone of integrity would do that.
FAINE: Well, let’s wait and see what happens next week. Thank you for your time.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.