Subjects: Tony Abbott, infrastructure, Batman by-election, Greens Political Party, Adani, coal, asylum seekers, Barnaby Joyce, Nick Xenophon.
RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Anthony Albanese joins me in the studio. He is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development. Good afternoon.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: G’day Raf. Good to be with you.
EPSTEIN: Can we start with someone you now well – Tony Abbott? He’s making a speech in Sydney tonight so we will start national then go local. He wants to halve Australia’s immigration. So people know, it is roughly 190,000. Last year it was 183,000. He wants to halve that. This is what Tony Abbott said on Sydney radio.
TONY ABBOTT: Every five years we are adding via immigration alone a city the size of Adelaide to our population. Now this is a very, very high rate of immigration and it is absolutely unprecedented.
EPSTEIN: Is it a good idea Anthony Albanese?
ALBANESE: Well, Tony Abbott has seen weakness in Malcolm Turnbull in failing to deal with Barnaby Joyce and the fiasco of having a Deputy Prime Minister who can’t deputise for the Prime Minister which is, the hint is there in the title, and he has just decided to ramp up again the destabilisation campaign. Let’s be clear. The migration levels that Tony Abbott just said were unprecedented are ones that were set by him. He was the Prime Minister who increased migration.
EPSTEIN: Inconsistencies aside, actually there’s already a text: “I as a Left-leaning Batman voter I would love to see migration reduced back to 70,000 per annum to reduce environmental pressure, urban sprawl.’’ It is a popular idea in some sections.
ALBANESE: Sure, and what Tony Abbott said, went on to say, with breathtaking hypocrisy it must be said, is to speak about urban congestion and those issues which is no doubt a big issue here in Melbourne as it is in the other major capitals around Australia and he actually had the hide to talk about public transport. This is the bloke who cut the funding for the Melbourne Metro, cut the funding from every public transport project that wasn’t under construction anywhere in Australia. And then wrote of course in his book Battlelines, said that, to quote him, or almost quote him, I won’t say it is word for word but pretty close: In the car a man is king. There is no need for anything bigger than a motor car to get people around.
EPSTEIN: Just before I get on to Batman, the Australian Conservatives are actually going to run a candidate in the seat of Batman, Kevin Bailey, who declined our invitation to be with us today. But halving the immigration intake is Australian Conservatives’ policy, now led by Cory Bernardi. Are you surprised about that? Or would you expect that from Tony Abbott?
ALBANESE: I expect ongoing destabilisation from Tony Abbott and if he can get a headline, no matter how inconsistent it is with the views that he has put in the past, then he will be out there doing it.
EPSTEIN: Who do you think is going to win Batman?
ALBANESE: Well I certainly hope that Ged Kearney wins. It is a seat that Labor has held. I think that she has a great contribution to make to the Labor caucus.
EPSTEIN: She would have to reverse the trend wouldn’t she? Labor’s vote has dropped, dropped, dropped.
ALBANESE: It has. Look, it’s a tough battle. There’s no doubt about that and the trend has been toward the Greens Political Party over election after election. We are seeing an electorate a bit like mine in Sydney that is changing. It is gentrifying and newer residents are coming in. It’s a matter, though of, I guess, getting the message out there which is the message I use in Grayndler and I was doing today with Ged when we were talking with people in Northcote, that Ged Kearney will actually be a voice in hopefully the party of government that we seek to form after the next election – a Labor Government.
All the Greens Party can do is to wait for a decision to be made and then protest or endorse it. But they are not actually decision makers. Ged Kearney will be a major contributor if we can get her in the Caucus.
EPSTEIN: A couple of the issues that I think have Bill Shorten at least metaphorically straddling a barbed wire fence – he is in marginal Queensland at the moment, the Opposition Leader. He is under pressure from the environmentalists within Labor to block the Adani mine. He is under pressure from the CFMEU to not block the mine. Is Labor going to be formally go: You know what, no? Or is the position going to be, as the union wants it to be, it’s just another mine?
ALBANESE: Well of course the project has been through its environmental approvals both federal and state. And Labor has been consistent about saying there are problems with this project and the problems are that it can’t get financing. The economics of it simply don’t stack up.
EPSTEIN: But that’s nothing to do with potential Federal Government policy. So if you were in power, because there has clearly been a discussion in Shadow Cabinet to do something more to block the mine. Is Labor going to do anything else to block the mine?
ALBANESE: The environmental approvals were done by the Coalition Government. They’ve been through the EPBC Act not once, but twice actually because they started again based upon what the impact would be on the Great Barrier Reef. And again it got approval and of course those decisions have been challenged in the courts and the courts haven’t blocked that project.
EPSTEIN: But that’s commentary. That is not a policy position.
ALBANESE: Well the policy position is we support the environmental laws which are there being undertaken with rigour. Where the Commonwealth could play a role is in should there be any public subsidy for this project to make it viable and indeed …
EPSTEIN: Labor has already said you won’t publicly subsidise it. That’s pretty clear.
ALBANESE: But that’s the key point.
EPSTEIN: Can I put to you what the CFMEU’s Tony Maher said: If you block Adani, what do you do with the next coal mine and the next one and the one after that? So is there going to be any extra legislative step from Labor if you were to win the election to block the Adani project?
ALBANESE: Well I think what Tony is pointing towards is that when you have a policy framework it is never a great policy framework to just look at projects in isolation. That is why we wanted a price on carbon. We would have one if the Greens had voted for it.
EPSTEIN: Do we need more coal mines? Do we need to develop the Galilee Basin?
ALBANESE: Well the fact is that, as Mark Butler outlined last night, there is no market for it. There’s no market for thermal coal. What we are seeing globally is a shift to renewables. What we are seeing in India is a government that says that they will rule out importing coal in the next few years. That’s the policy of the Government.
EPSTEIN: Can I get a statement from you though? Do you think we need more, do we need to new coal mines in this country or not?
ALBANESE: Well in terms of thermal coal, I mean that is not a matter for me. That is a matter for the market. What it’s a role for Government to do is to set a framework for that market and that framework should give support to the future and the future is renewables. The future is not …
EPSTEIN: So no, you don’t want more coal mines?
ALBANESE: I don’t want to see new coal-fired power stations in this country because it doesn’t work.
EPSTEIN: Not stations. Mines. Do you want coal mines?
ALBANESE: There’s not a market for it. Well, the fact is that that is not up to government to determine on a case-by-case basis. What it’s up to government to do is to set the policy framework through the environmental legislation that we have. That is how you get good outcomes. That is how you get investor certainty. That is how you benefit both the economy and the environment – getting the right settings in place so that we drive that change to a clean energy future.
EPSTEIN: Anthony Albanese is Shadow Infrastructure Minister. I will get to your texts as well. I will read this one actually: “I am a latte-swilling inner-city living recycling leftie and even I think the current level of immigration isn’t sustainable. I also think Tony Abbott is a boorish fool. We should be able to have a mature debate about immigration and sustainability.” That’s from Brian in South Melbourne. We are going to hear another view on the migration debate. I think Anthony Albanese has said all he wants to say about immigration. Can I ask you about asylum seekers though?
EPSTEIN: There was a tweet that came out from the Clifton Hill Labor branch. You might have seen this. Bill Shorten promises Nauru and Manus Island detention centres will be closed under a Labor Government. Is that going to happen?
ALBANESE: Well in terms of our policy on asylum seekers, we have a policy of having regional processing. What we want is for people to not get on boats and if people aren’t getting on boats then you don’t need offshore processing. If you have a regional system by giving support to the UNHCR, then you can have people processed in Jakarta, in Malaysia, in Africa, in Pakistan, in Iraq, in places where they are seeking to come.
EPSTEIN: Forgive me. That’s policy explanation, that’s not an answer to the question.
ALBANESE: Well life isn’t always simple with glib answers. What we need to do is to set up a framework so that Australia fulfils our international obligations so that we stop people smugglers. I am all in favour of that and I don’t want to see anything …
EPSTEIN: Bill Shorten appears to have pretty clearly told people in the Clifton Hill Labor branch that Manus and Nauru would close.
ALBANESE: Well, I don’t know. I wasn’t at the Clifton Hill Labor Party branch meeting it must be said.
EPSTEIN: But is that Labor Party policy? If you shut down whatever government facilities are being funded by the Australian Government in Nauru and Manus, you can only do that if those people come to Australia. Are those people going to come to Australia?
ALBANESE: No those people are going to be settled in third countries. That is Labor’s clear position and that is why we have supported for example people being settled in New Zealand and accordance with what Prime Minister Ardern has offered, as former Nationals Prime Minister John Key offered as well. This Government has absolved itself of its responsibility. They are in their fifth year in office.
EPSTEIN: But if Bill Shorten’s promising to shut Nauru and Manus …
ALBANESE: Well you haven’t quoted Bill Shorten, you have quoted someone at Clifton Hill ALP branch.
EPSTEIN: Well I am just trying to work out what Labor’s policy would be in government.
ALBANESE: Well our platform is there for all to see. See, unlike the Greens, we determine our policy – the last one here in Melbourne – live on national TV. It goes for about three days and there we thrashed out our policy including on asylum seekers and that was a comprehensive plan of engagement with the UN, of regional settlement, of not supporting people smugglers but also treating people humanely and with some respect.
EPSTEIN: Marks’s got a question. You will need to put your headphones on. Mark, go for it. What is your query?
CALLER: I would just like to ask the Leader of the Opposition, sorry the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
EPSTEIN: He’s not the deputy either.
ALBANESE: I’m not either. I am a humble frontbencher.
CALLER: Well that’s OK. I would like to ask the humble frontbencher a pretty straight forward question. If they were elected will they close, will they block the Adani coal mine?
ALBANESE: Well the Adani coal mine has been approved. It has been approved under state and federal approvals. The question is what can Labor do? What Labor can do is what we were asked to do frankly, which is that the environmental movement that I met with over a long period of time said you have got to make sure that there is no subsidy of the rail line or other infrastructure for what is a private project.
If that doesn’t occur, and the company has said it themselves, the project will fall over and be unable to get finance. Well Labor has made sure, not just federally but in Queensland as well, that it won’t give any subsidy and guess what? The project doesn’t have finance to proceed.
EPSTEIN: Mark, is that an answer to your query?
CALLER: Looks like it going to (inaudible).
ALBANESE: Well at the moment it just doesn’t have finance. So without finance they can’t proceed with the project. Finance, they have tried to get it in Australia. They have tried to get it in China. They have tried to get it everywhere and it just hasn’t stacked up, the economics of it.
EPSTEIN: Twenty past five, I want to play you something Anthony Albanese. I know you still DJ for charity. Nick Xenophon is now in the state arena in South Australia. Have you seen his advert?
ALBANESE: Unfortunately I have.
EPSTEIN: I just want to play it. This is Nick Xenophon shopping for voters in South Australia.
ALBANESE: Thank goodness this is radio and not TV because once seen, it can’t be unseen.
Plays part of the Xenophon election advertisement.
EPSTEIN: It kind of goes downhill from there. Would you play that at a charity DJ set?
ALBANESE: I have too much respect for whoever is at a charity event.
EPSTEIN: Oh come on, you would do it to raise money for charity though, wouldn’t you?
ALBANESE: They would pay more money for you not to play it. That is what I would do and therefore the charity would benefit substantially.
EPSTEIN: Quickly if you can make a non-partisan observation, I know that is hard.
ALBANESE: That is a big call Raf. But I will try.
EPSTEIN: Is Barnaby Joyce going to remain as Nationals Leader?
EPSTEIN: How long do you think it might take?
ALBANESE: The longer it takes the more difficult it will be for his own party. I think he is being pretty selfish frankly. He is on leave. He should just leave. There is no way that his position is tenable. Malcolm Turnbull knows that he should go, his own side, the majority of them, know that he should go. The only person …
EPSTEIN: He’s got majority support. That was one thing he has said, that he’s got majority party room support.
ALBANESE: I don’t think he does and I think he will find that out. I think they have tried to give him the space to get out with a bit of dignity and I hope for his own sake frankly that that happen, he steps aside and gets his own house in order.
EPSTEIN: Thanks for coming in.
ALBANESE: Thanks Raf.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.