ALAN JONES: Anthony Albanese, the former Deputy Prime Minister. Some say a potential Labor Party Leader. The Member for what I would call, for those of you listening around Australia, the Sydney Airport seat, because that’s where he is out there in Grayndler. He’s right beside me in the studio. Good morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Great to be here, Alan.
JONES: Have you got a battle on your hands out there?
ALBANESE: I have, Alan. I’ve got a battle from the Greens Political Party rather than the Liberal Party. If the Liberal Party gives the Greens Party preferences, then it will be extremely tight. You’ve got –
JONES: Two state seats. Greens seats, haven’t you?
ALBANESE: That’s right. Balmain and Newtown. On the state figures, more people voted Greens than voted Labor, number one, just last March. So it’s a real battle, but I’ve represented the seat for 20 years. I’m campaigning hard. I think many people who don’t normally agree with the Labor Party from either the Liberal Party or the Greens this time around, are coming up to me and saying, “we are voting for you in the House of Representatives, because we support the work that you do’’.
JONES: What do you think that the grassroots of the Liberal Party, not that it’s your concern, I might say, if the Liberal Party started preferencing the Greens?
ALBANESE: I know what they’re saying. They’re coming up to me. I’m speaking to the Balmain Chamber of Commerce, for example, next week and they’re very concerned that that will occur, given that the Greens Party tend to oppose everything that happens in the electorate.
Some of the sporting organisations where the Greens Party have opposed, for example, upgrades of Mackey Park in Marrickville, or upgrades at Callan Park, the sort of work that the Council has wanted to do there to get more sporting fields where kids can get out there and play football and play netball, play active sport, which is good for the health of the community, and just about all of those have been opposed by the Greens party. So I think many people who are grassroots members of the Liberal Party, I don’t think will hand out a how-to-vote that seeks to elect a Green as their local member.
JONES: Some would say that that though, the threat of the Greens, has forced you further to the left to almost embrace some of these Greens policies. Now, at the National Conference of the ALP, you were opposed to the boat policy, the turning back of the boats and now you’re in a little bit of strife arguing over the WestConnex. How valid is that criticism? I mean, where do you stand on turning back the boats?
To your credit, you stood at the National Conference and you were very visible. Some people left the room and didn’t vote. You did, you voted, you argued against it. Where do you stand now? Are you firmly behind Bill Shorten? Because there are about twenty candidates, Bill Shorten can’t go to an electorate round the country without people opposing what he’s saying about asylum seekers.
ALBANESE: I am, Alan. One of the things that I’ve always been prepared to do – I’ve never hidden, and I’ve put up my hand for my views within the Labor Party. I did that at the National Conference. But one of the great things that I’ve also always supported, as you would recognise, is that our policy is determined at the ALP National Conference. We have our debates, we have them out in public, it’s broadcast live, and then we unite behind that policy and argue for it, and that is the policy we will implement.
JONES: But you’ve preselected people who aren’t uniting behind the policy.
ALBANESE: The Labor Party from time to time, like the Liberal Party will have candidates out there who express personal views. But the Labor Party’s view is very clear.
JONES: Will you hold the line if Bill Shorten were to win?
JONES: Tanya Plibersek on WestConnex. You said a week ago you would stop any further funding for the WestConnex motorway if your party was elected. Your leader rang you yesterday, did he? Did he give you a clip over the ear?
ALBANESE: No, not at all.
JONES: Did he ring you?
ALBANESE: I rang him, actually, to brief him on what was in the papers. We are of exactly the same view. What’s extraordinary is that the Daily Telegraph reported that a week ago. A week ago they rang up and they reported that I said ‘the Federal Government has already paid $1.2 billion of its promised $1.5 billion and the paperwork for a further $2 billion loan is already signed off. Mr Albanese conceded yesterday that WestConnex would proceed. Labor cannot halt the project even if it wins on July 2’. That’s what I said at a public meeting of 600 people.
JONES: You’ve said, ‘If I’m the Transport Minister there will not be one dollar from the Federal Labor Government for this WestConnex project’.
ALBANESE: That’s correct. And Bill Shorten has said the same. And when we go out there in terms of …
JONES: ‘There will not be one dollar from the Federal Labor Government for this WestConnex project.’ That’s correct?
ALBANESE: That’s correct. But what we don’t do is rip up contracts or break agreements that are done. It’s too late to do that. The $2 billion loan was finalised last year. I stood up at that public meeting and said that, and of the $1.5 billion in grant money, it’s already gone out the door, $1.2 billion. There’s $300 million remaining. That will be paid in 2016. But my criticism has been that they have got the planning of this project wrong. What you’ve had is the funding go out and then the planning underway. Yesterday, the Herald reported again that they don’t know where this road is coming up – in Rozelle, in Broadway, it’s extraordinary that a project where you don’t know where the route is yet has yet to be finalised is under construction.
JONES: But do you accept the principle of the project as Michelle Rowland, the Greenway MP and Ed Husic the Chifley MP as saying something’s got to be done to alleviate the traffic congestion. That is the principle of the project, isn’t it?
ALBANESE: Of course something has to be done. I support good infrastructure projects, but what I support is getting the planning done right through Infrastructure Australia, having the business case, consulting with the community. The arrogance of the Baird Government is exemplified by this project. A project that originally was supposed to deal with freight to the port and it doesn’t go to the port. It doesn’t achieve that objective that was identified by Nick Greiner as the chair of Infrastructure NSW as the number one priority.
JONES: What did you mean though at the Balmain Town Hall on May 19 when you said ‘If I am the Transport Minister there will not be one dollar from the Federal Labor Government for this project.’ What did you mean by that?
ALBANESE: Just that. Federal Labor, we’re putting out our commitments for infrastructure during this campaign. We are not committing to any further funding for the WestConnex project. We’ve got our priorities. Our priorities included the $175 million that we announced for Port Botany Rail Freight.
JONES: Can this project be completed without Federal Government money?
ALBANESE: It can indeed, and Duncan Gay in the article in the Sydney Morning Herald indicated that that was the case the morning after the meeting. The Federal Liberal Party at this point in time have also not committed during this campaign to any further funding. I’ll wait and see whether they do or not.
JONES: OK, can I just come back to that border protection thing? An Iranian asylum seeker who’s been stranded in Indonesia since a failed boat journey in 2013 said a few days ago that the Australian election was a major talking point amongst his network. He said all of them are watching. They remember who was PM and which one was good for them. They believe if Labor wins they can go by boat again. What do you say to that bloke?
ALBANESE: What I say, and I’ve said this publicly before and I’ll say it again. Some of us, myself included, underestimated completely the fact that there were pull factors as well as push factors when it comes to asylum seekers. So we thought, in terms of a compassionate policy, that that policy didn’t make a difference as to whether people were attracted to getting on boats. Quite clearly, it did. We made mistakes. I’ve said that and I was part of a government that did that. When you get things wrong you’ve got to ‘fess up.
JONES: Yes, to be fair, on the 23rd of May Anthony Albanese said on the ABC and I quote, ‘I got it wrong. We had a position that was simply unsustainable and we could not sustain the fact that more than a thousand people who were coming were risking their lives by boat to try to get to Australia towards the end of our term in office’.
ALBANESE: I was the Deputy Prime Minister, of course, Alan, when we changed that policy dramatically because we did need to do something about those circumstances. What we need to do is, we want to give people hope. I believe that you need to do something about the people who are in indefinite detention. They can’t be left there forever. So you can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity.
JONES: What is this attack on business? It’s now become a focus whether it’s meant to be such, it has now been elevated. Bill Shorten, anti-business. Keith DeLacy said anti-business. In that so-called debate the other night, I don’t know if it was a debate, seven questions, as I said yesterday, I’d rather hear from the public than hear from journalists, but I just took some figures out last night. The argument was that we’re ripping $50 billion, or the Government’s ripping $50 billion out of the pockets of battlers, to give a company tax cut to big business.
Now, I took some figures out last night. Every time the company tax rate has been reduced, the company tax revenue has increased. So when the company tax rate was 49 per cent, 49 cents in the dollar, company tax receipts in real terms were 2.5 per cent of GDP. Go fast forward to reducing the company tax to 30 per cent, the receipts 4.6 per cent of GDP. Now, Chris Bowen made that point in his book, didn’t he? The need to have a company tax cut. Why is your Party positioning itself as being anti-business?
ALBANESE: I don’t believe we are doing that. We’re concerned that what you have here is a government policy announced in the Budget that says it’s about small business tax cuts. But small business is redefined, firstly, from $2 million of turnover to $10 million and then redefined each and every year for the next ten years so that by 2028 small business is defined as having a turnover of $1 billion. Now, that’s all of business. And what we simply say in terms of the fiscal position that the Budget is in is that it is a matter of priorities and we can’t afford to do that.
JONES: But it’s improving the Budget bottom line. We’ve seen that. There are the figures. When the company rate was 49 cents, tax receipts were 2.5 per cent of GDP, when the rate was reduced to 36 per cent, 3.4 per cent of GDP, now at 30 per cent, 4.6 per cent. This is not going to cost you. This is growing the revenue.
ALBANESE: We certainly believe in growing the economy. We want to work with business. I was at a function last night with the business community, as you know around Sydney there’d be no one who sits down with the business community as often as I do, Alan.
JONES: The perception now is that your Party is anti-business. I mean, Chris Bowen says in his book Hearts and Minds and I quote, ‘a cut in the company tax rate would be a good thing. And it could be augmented by giving small business a slightly bigger cut.’ So he’s conceded, and yet you’ve positioned yourself to the point whereby we’re anti-tax cuts, whereas in fact the greater revenue for a government comes from reducing tax.
ALBANESE: No. We’ve said very clearly that we support the tax cut, but we support it for small business.
JONES: Let me ask you this question about Medicare, because I think people are sick and tired of Labor positioning themselves as if they’re the only people committed to Medicare. Last financial year 21 million Australians accessed over 368 million individual services on the Medicare benefits schedule. 368 million. 20 million. Now way back in 1991 the left-winger Brian Howe said there must be a co-payment. Bob Hawke said we can’t go down this track. Isn’t there a point at which there has to be a price signal to say we can’t allow this continuing escalation of cost?
ALBANESE: One of the things about the health system, though, Alan, which you understand, is that the big cost isn’t people going to their GPs. Isn’t the Medicare Benefits Schedule. The big cost is what happens if people have an acute health incident and they end up in hospital. That’s where the big dollars kick in. And my concern is that if you do what the Government has done, which is to freeze the Medicare Rebate Schedule, then you put pressure on GPs, and they’re saying this will occur, to walk away from bulk billing.
JONES: I think there’s merit in the argument, by the way. I have said that I’m not too sure what kind of health care you can get for a $36 consultation. But shouldn’t there be a price signal? I mean, John Key with no Senate in New Zealand, has put a co-payment of $15. The sky hasn’t fallen in and they can control that expenditure. Somewhere along the line there is an expenditure problem in this government. Your government, the Turnbull Government, someone’s got to do something about debt, haven’t they?
ALBANESE: They do, indeed. And the Government of course is also saying it’s not supporting a Medicare co-payment, but they have this $36 limit, there forever, and what that will do is undermine bulk-billing. What you don’t want is people not going to the doctor, saving $36 to the Government but costing it a hell of a lot more and also having a worse impact on the individual. Preventative health care and early detection is so important.
JONES: Just before we go, we always run out of time. I’m glad that you’re here, but do you think your battle in this election is as much against previous Labor governments as it is against Prime Minister Turnbull? I mean, when you look at the carbon tax, the mining tax, the promised surpluses, a border protection policy that wasn’t worthy of the name, and people say, hang on, that’s too recent for us to give them another chance.
ALBANESE: I’m proud of our record. We saved Australia from the global financial crisis. That’s the most significant thing that we did.
JONES: I knew you’d do this. It’s 7.30, before we have an argument about it.
ALBANESE: That’s a significant thing that we did. 200,000 Australians were in jobs putting food on the table for their families.
JONES: Okay. Well come back again and we’ll talk about industrial relations.
ALBANESE: I’m more than happy to come back.
JONES: Anthony Albanese. Good to talk to you, Anthony. It’s half past seven.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.