Mar 20, 2018

Transcript of radio interview – Drive program, ABC Radio National

Subjects; Di Natale bushfire comments; Greens Political Party; Batman; Ged Kearney; Pauline Hanson; company tax; trade unions; Simon Birmingham; Catholic schools funding; Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia. 

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. Welcome to the program.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you Patricia.
KARVELAS: When is the right time to talk about climate change and natural disasters? Have the Greens overreached? Have they been inappropriate?

ALBANESE: They have overreached; they have been inappropriate and they’ve been counterproductive. I think sometimes the Greens’ self-righteousness does damage to the causes which they seek to advocate. There’s no doubt that climate change is real. There’s no doubt that there’s an increase in the number of extreme weather events. That doesn’t mean that every time there’s a bushfire or a cyclone or an extreme weather event it is because of climate change. These things have been around for some time and our focus should be on the people who’ve been left homeless by the destruction of these homes at Tathra. Senator Di Natale today accused the Government of basically sounding like the National Rifle Association in the US, not wanting to talk about gun control. That’s a pretty offensive analogy particularly given that in this country, fortunately, we have a bipartisan position in support of decent guns policy. That’s supported across the Parliament. I just think that Senator Di Natale was perhaps looking for a distraction from Saturday’s result in Batman but it’s unfortunate that he will have put many people off an appropriate and sober consideration of the impact of climate change.

KARVELAS: You mentioned Batman and of course you have one of the seats that the Greens target, as they do Tanya Plibersek’s seat as well, I was about to say as they do the seat of Melbourne, but they did and they won there so that seems to be dealt with for them. There has been a case for a long time that this is inevitably a case of demographic change; that in your electorate, when you go, the seat will go as well. Do you think this result has changed that narrative?

ALBANESE: I’ve never had that view. I think the idea that because people in an electorate more likely through gentrification to be tertiary educated than they once were is a recipe for Labor giving up on people who’ve been the beneficiaries of Labor Governments. Labor Governments have taken action to ensure that there is opportunity for people to be the first in their families to become lawyers, to become doctors, to get professional qualifications. That’s led to a changing composition of the Australian community and workforce in general. But what we shouldn’t do is give up on those people. Those people are part of the Labor base. Anyone who’s concerned about social justice, who’s concerned about better education and health care not just for themselves but for others in the community, who are concerned for the generations to come;  who are concerned about the environment. That’s part of a Labor agenda. What Batman shows is that if we have the right candidate, which we did in Ged Kearney, if you have the right campaign which we did, led by Paul Erickson, then you get a very good outcome and indeed you can have swings in areas like Northcote.

KARVELAS: Is it then also a lesson to the Labor Right to have stopped candidates, left wing progressive candidates from being preselected in the past?

ALBANESE: Certainly what you need is the right candidates for particular seats and there’s no doubt that Ged Kearney was an outstanding candidate. I visited the seat on a number of occasions with Ged. She related to the community there. She has an outstanding record in her working life as a nurse and then as a trade unionist leading to her position as President of the ACTU in advocating for the needs of people. She understands the need to engage in political debate. One of the things about my electorate is that; yes it is true that more people now need to be convinced than perhaps 30 or 40 years ago to vote Labor. They don’t vote that way automatically. But there’s nothing wrong with the discipline of having to convince people of the need, your worthiness to receive their vote. Ged Kearney did that. In the last federal election I received swings in places like Balmain and Rozelle and Haberfield which have changed substantially over recent decades. I think they want someone who will stand up for them, who will stand up for their interests. People like Tanya Plibersek have done that in the electorate of Sydney as well.
KARVELAS: Let’s just get to a pretty interesting story this afternoon. Pauline Hanson has told Sky News this afternoon that she has an open mind to the Government’s company tax cut plan. She says she’s not over the line but she’s clearly increasingly in talks with the Government about this and she’s keeping an open mind. We know the Government is lobbying the crossbench very hard on this. If the package is passed will you have to revisit your position on it?

ALBANESE: The first thing to say is that battlers out there who Pauline Hanson purports to represent will be scratching their head. Pauline Hanson is someone who has been prepared to give away penalty rights for underprivileged workers who rely upon them to put food on the table and pay their bills. At the same time she is prepared to consider a $65 billion tax break, much of which will go overseas to offshore owners of those companies and much of which will also rely upon some form of the trickle-down effect that we know isn’t working. That’s why real wages aren’t increasing in this country under this Government. So I think they will be very confused at the difference between Pauline Hanson’s rhetoric and her actions and those of her fellow senators if she indeed passes the Government’s company tax cuts.

KARVELAS: But if it does pass, it changes the framework for Labor. You would have to reconsider whether you would keep the corporate tax cuts, wouldn’t you?

ALBANESE: I’m not working on hypotheticals. What we’re determined to do is to defeat this legislation.

KARVELAS: How are you going to do that, because we know that the Government has hired former head of mining lobby group the Minerals Council of Australia to lobby the crossbench. How are you going to counter that?

ALBANESE: We’ll counter that through the argument and through the arguments of not just us, but working people who’ll be contacting their senators. When I walk around, and I’m at an event in my electorate tonight, I don’t think many people will be coming out saying ‘gee, you need to pass those corporate tax cuts.’ Indeed, that is yet to happen to me anywhere in my electorate.

KARVELAS: It might have something to do with where you mix. On another topic, the Government’s Ensuring Integrity Bill will soon come before the Senate. This aims to introduce a public interest test around the merger of unions, particularly when it comes to unions’ compliance with industrial law. Now, if a union has broken the law, why should it be allowed to merge with another union?

ALBANESE: These are issues that are determined by union members. If unions break a particular law, then they’re of course accountable for that. The idea that the Government should decide which union workers can join or not is a massive infringement on the civil liberties and all the freedoms of workers to organise. We know that this Government would prefer that no one was in a union; that no one had any industrial rights. But the fact is that all those things that workers enjoy including workers compensation, occupational health and safety, annual leave, superannuation, all of these things have been fought for by working people through their trade union.

KARVELAS: We’re not talking about the right of unions to exist. We’re talking about criminality here. The Government also wants people who have been convicted of serious criminal offences to be prevented from being union officials. What’s wrong with that?

ALBANESE: The Government is obsessed by attacking unions. That’s the fact of the matter.

KARVELAS: But on that issue, people have been convicted of serious criminal offences. Should they be running unions?

ALBANESE: Criminal law should be dealt with under under the appropriate Crimes Act. What this Government seeks to do is to argue that somehow every – I’ve never heard them praise a senior trade union official in Australia. That’s most unfortunate, because people going to those jobs overwhelmingly –  yes, like in any other profession including public broadcasting you will have a bad egg and that should be dealt with. But overwhelmingly, people going to the trade union movement because they want to improve the working lives of their fellow workers.

KARVELAS: Just on another issue, Bill Shorten pledged to give the Catholic school sector an extra $250 million in the first two years of a Labor Government, and this was in the final weeks of the Batman campaign. That pledge has led to a pretty big fight between the Government and the Opposition. The Education Minister Simon Birmingham suggested yesterday that the Catholic sector support was bought. Was it?

ALBANESE: That’s an absurd proposition by Simon Birmingham and he mustn’t have been paying attention.

KARVELAS: But it’s not a needs-based funding model if you’re bankrolling a sector, is it? I mean, that’s not needs-based funding.

ALBANESE: We have made it very clear that Labor would restore the funding that was agreed to in the original Gonski model and overwhelmingly something in the order of a nine in every ten dollars of that will go to public schools on the basis of need. We have said we would restore that funding; there’s nothing new about that. The fact is that Malcolm Turnbull’s cuts to public schools make up 86 percent of those cuts. So the 86 percent we’ve said we’ll put back into public schools and we’ve said we’ll put back the 12 percent of the cuts that come from Catholic schools and the 2 percent that come from independent schools. I would have thought it would be extraordinary proposition for the Education Minister to argue that this was somehow a new policy. He musn’t have been paying any attention to the significant campaign that Labor’s been running over these issues.

KARVELAS: Just finally I know you are speaking at a domestic violence service in your electorate tonight. What are your concerns about the support that they’re getting?

ALBANESE: I’m speaking at the Annual General Meeting of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia. They’re based in my electorate. The fact is that on average at least one woman a week is still killed by a partner or former partner. One in four Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. These figures are quite shocking. They remain. I think the Government botched the handling of the 1800RESPECT number that this service used to receive funding to provide, and that’s most unfortunate. They were prepared to stand up. They’re an openly feminist service that provide that support to women at that great time of need. They do a fantastic job and I think the Government should do everything we can across the spectrum to deal with this scourge which is a real blight on our society.

KARVELAS: Anthony Albanese, thanks for your time tonight.

ALBANESE: Thanks for having me.