SUBJECTS: Australia’s relationship with China; China as a developing economy; UN Climate Summit; Prime Minister’s visit to the US; Labor’s federal election review; aspiration.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: I think it doesn’t advance Australia’s national interest for the Prime Minister to have given such an unequivocal statement that China should be considered to be a developed country – that is a major change in its status – from the United States. With a loud hailer; just after he’d appeared in what effectively became, rather than the opening of a factory, a campaign rally for Donald Trump’s re-election.
HOST: Sure, but stripped of context to the substance of what he said. Do you agree that China right now are categorised correctly at the World Trade Organisation as a developing country?
ALBANESE: What I agree with is that it is an emerging country. And that these issues are best dealt with in diplomacy without a loud hailer.
HOST: What you can do at the WTO, though, is challenge these categorisations – that’s perfectly legitimate. So we can legitimately say as a country: ‘no, you are are now not developing, you are developed’, what’s wrong with that?
ALBANESE: Nothing is wrong with that. We can have those discussions. But the truth is that in terms of China, one of the concerns that China has is that a view that somehow it is the same as developed countries such as Australia and the United States. The fact is, if you look at per capita income it certainly isn’t. China Over recent decades has had a legitimate path to bring people out of poverty in its nation as all countries wish to do. And I think that that has got to be acknowledged and in the Prime minister’s statements there was no nuance there. There was no acknowledgement of that there. And that’s one of the things if you’re going to bring people with you on the path of change it’s best to, particularly in international affairs, use diplomatic language. Context is important and nuance is important as well. And that comes on top of a visit where the other criticism that I’ve made is of the Prime Minister being in the United States at a time when the UN Climate Summit was taking place. And unlike other world leaders, including the United States who attended. Unlike Boris Johnson from the UK and Macron from France and Merkel from Germany and indeed Ardern from just next door in New Zealand. I think it sends a bad message about Australia’s priorities and how important we think that climate change is.
HOST: So you would have prioritised the UN over the state visit, if Donald Trump had extended you the same invite?
ALBANESE: It’s not a matter of prioritising. Donald Trump was there. He made it to the UN Climate Summit. I think he was at the UN state visit that he hosted.
HOST: Sure. Albo, we spoke to Phil Coorey who was travelling with Scott Morrison on the state visit. Phil said that when that sort of impromptu rally began for Donald Trump; Scott Morrison was all – rather Scott Morrison’s people – were a little bit awkward about the manner in which it unfolded. Probably because they thought that it would potentially look like our Prime Minister was getting involved in a party political event. Do you think that Scott Morrison made a mistake by doing that?
ALBANESE: Well, it looked like it didn’t it?
HOST: Did a bit I suppose, yeah. Looked like it was a mistake.
ALBANESE: Looked like – the hints were the flags and the chants – sort of gave it away a little bit, I think.
HOST: But equally, though, couldn’t someone make the same criticism of you? I mean I saw you photographed with Jeremy Corbyn. He’s only, in the past 48 hours, announced that he wants to dismantle the entire British private school system and redistribute all their assets to the poor.
ALBANESE: Well, I’ve also met with Boris Johnson. I’ve met with a range of world leaders.
HOST: So, of the two of them who do you agree with more at the moment?
ALBANESE: None of them were at campaign rallies during an election campaign.
HOST: In our mail, Albo, is that within a few days Labor’s review is going to come out.
ALBANESE: By the way I have met Macron and Merkel, and I met with Jacinda Ardern and had breakfast with her last week as well. Just to put it in context.
HOST: We know you talk to anyone mate because we know that you always talk to us.
ALBANESE: I talk to you guys!
HOST: How do you defend that to other people?
ALBANESE: It’s raised regularly.
HOST: Within a few days, potentially, the Labor review that’s being spearheaded by Jay Weatherill also with input from Craig Emerson is going to come out.
ALBANESE: I don’t think it’s within days. I think at least you’ve got some advance mail that I haven’t got.
HOST: Apparently it’s on the horizon. The speech that Mark Butler gave the other day at that book launch where he said: ‘all bets should be off’, with the policies that Labor took to the last election. Is that your view, too? Because we know that you’re close to Mark and it looks like at the moment there’s a bit of – there’s a few people who are no longer in the Federal Parliament who are out there finessing their own legacy. Wayne Swan is one who stands out in my reading of it. Do you think that Labor should go clean slate, fresh start and bugger whatever people’s sensitivities are affected by it?
ALBANESE: I include my own policies that I developed and put forward in this. We should re-examine everything. That doesn’t mean that everything will change. For example, in my area, I remain committed to High Speed Rail. I remain committed to urban public transport. But what it does mean is that the context for a new election three years on, by definition things will change. When I sit down and get off Catherine King who is now Infrastructure Shadow Minister her proposals for investment in South Australia; it will be off a different base. Because hopefully this Federal Government would have gotten around to doing a bit more on the North South Road for example, and hopefully there’ll be, as you know I’m a supporter of the extension of Light Rail in Adelaide as well. But we’ll wait and see what the context is; what the fiscal envelope is – expenditures and revenues – what the budget looks like. By definition what you need to do is to re-examine all of your policies. That doesn’t mean that you start at zero, because your values are constant and Labor’s values are eternal. So we, for example, on climate change we’ll take a strong position on climate change. But by definition the specifics in 2022 of going forward are different from what it was in 2015; which is when our policy was announced. And I think one of the weaknesses that we had at the recent election was from 2013 to 2019. It was like we skipped over the 2016 election and just kept going. That’s a good example is on our targets that we established in 2015 weren’t, which were 15 year targets, became 12 year targets. That is actually a change in policy. If you keep the 2030 target there, then that will be an eight year policy rather than a 15 year policy; that’s a very different thing.
HOST: In a broader sense, though, do you think that Labor needs to sort of change the perception that it’s anti-aspiration? And the thing that was underscored so much through things like franking credits and the negative gearing policy?
ALBANESE: I’m a strong supporter of aspiration. I see my life as being the embodiment of that – in a son of a single mum – got to be Deputy Prime Minister. And now I’m the alternative Leader of the country and the Leader of the Opposition. What Labor’s about; and that’s true through education and through opportunity. My mum wanted me to have a better life than she had, and I want better for my son. Not just aspiration about his income, but his quality of life including the environment that he inherits. So I think that is something that has always been a definition of Labor. And I do think we put ourselves in a position whereby we lost some of that debate is some of the feedback that I’ve got back. The small business person who says to me: ‘I think you were saying that that I was rich’. Which is what has been said to me as part of the listening tour, including there in Adelaide. Labor has to represent people who are trade unionists, people who aren’t trade unionists, contractors, small business operators. I think that we do represent the party of aspiration, that’s the party of Whitlam; of Hawke; of Rudd and of Gillard. And I think one of the Hawke Government’s greatest legacies for example, is that when we began in 1983 when Bob was elected Prime Minister; three out of 10 Australians completed high school. In 1996 when we lost office that figure was 8 out of 10. I mean, that is a revolution. And so many of – both myself and my colleagues – were the first people in our family to go to university and that’s a good thing.
HOST: Anthony Albanese, appreciate your time this morning.
ALBANESE: Great to talk with you, guys.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.