Subjects: Christopher Pyne, Marriage Equality, Gawler Line, Federal investment in SA infrastructure
TONY PILKINGTON: Anthony Albanese joins us now. Anthony, good morning, nice to meet you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning Pilko.
PILKINGTON: How did you…I’ll put your microphone on, that is going to make it easier.
ALBANESE: That would help.
PILKINGTON: Why aren’t you called Tony?
ALBANESE: When I was a young lad I can vividly recall any time someone called me Tony my mother would say, if I had wanted him to be called Tony I would have called him Tony; it’s Anthony.
PILKINGTON: And it has stuck ever since?
ALBANESE: That’s it.
PILKINGTON: I mean you have been called lots of names…
ALBANESE: I get called lots of names, some of them that you can’t say on air. But none of them Tony, no one calls me Tony.
PILKINGTON: Really? Okay.
PILKINGTON: Alright Tony. You were raised by a single mum. Tell me about those early days? That must have been tough. An only child, or were there more kids in the family?
ALBANESE: No, there was just me and mum. She travelled overseas, met my father, had a relationship with him, came back and had me. I thought that my father had died until I was old enough, I guess, in her mind for her to tell me the truth, which was that I had been born out of wedlock.
PILKINGTON: In those days, not wishing to be rude, but I am at times. That would have been considered really a bit of a stigma, as illegitimate…
ALBANESE: Absolutely, which is why she adopted the name of my father and said that he had died. So I grew up thinking that my father had died before I was born. I was due to, as was the fashion at that time, I was due to be adopted out. So the story was going to be a sort of neat story; her husband had died and out of shock she had lost the baby, she then comes home and life continues. But she was handed me by the nuns at the hospital, at St Margaret’s there in Darlinghurst in Sydney, and she didn’t give me up.
PILLKINGTON: Was she under pressure from her family to say, look this child is illegitimate, you’re a single mum, it is going to be a lot easier if you adopt him out?
ALBANESE: There is no doubt that is why the story was put around and I guess why she adopted my father’s name and why I grew up thinking that he was dead.
PILKINGTON: How old were you when mum levels with you and tells you the truth?
ALBANESE: I was about 14 or 15.
PILKINGTON: Were you traumatised, shocked by that? Did you have any inkling at all that this might not be the real story?
ALBANESE: It’s funny, when I look back now of course, the fact that there were no photos of him, ever, I never saw a photo of him…
PILKINGTON: It was never talked about?
ALBANESE: He was not talked about. You don’t know what you’re missing if it’s never been there. I just grew up with mum, she was a great mother; she gave me all the love that I needed. She was quite sick too, she had rheumatoid arthritis, she was crippled-up quite badly.
When I was very little she used to look after me during the day and then clean offices at night, in order to get an income. She had a tough life. But then she couldn’t work. She died in 2002, she was only 65, and when people say what did she die from, I say she was just really spent.
PILKINGTON: Just hard work.
ALBANESE: Very unhealthy, tough life.
PILKINGTON: Did you ever meet your dad?
ALBANESE: I did, I met him for the first time in 2009.
PILKINGTON: Really? By that stage you were how old?
ALBANESE: By that stage I was 46.
PILKINGTON: Was he pleased to meet you?
ALBANESE: He was. It was quite amazing. When my mum told me I was a pretty headstrong tough little teenager, who had grown up under tough circumstances, I said, oh well I don’t want to search for him he…
PILKIINGTON: He didn’t bother to look for me.
ALBANESE: He didn’t worry about me, so life moved on. But as you get older, you want to know what your origins are. People too, when I went into politics of course, with a name like Albanese, a very Italian name, people say, where is your father from? And you can’t really say I don’t know. I thought he was from Naples, which is where the ship came from that he worked on. But in the end I had a search for him and found him in 2009. I got to meet not just him, but I got to meet my half-brother and a half-sister. My father passed away in 2014, but I still have contact with the family. I have made a few visits over there.
The turning point was one day I was with my son at my mum’s grave. My son was born in 2000, and we were there and he said to me, he would have been about four or five, and he said to me, where is your dad? And it sort of struck me, he has got my surname. I had a bit of a responsibility for him, as well, about his origins. So from that point on I became more determined to find my father, and he was very generous, there was nothing negative, we welcomed each other in the spirit that we had found each other.
PILKINGTON: That’s a great story Anthony.
ALBANESE: It was an amazing thing that I found him in this little village, a little town in Puglia which is on the Southern Coast, where the heel bit is in Italy, Barletta. It was fantastic meeting. He walked into the room and we embraced.
PILKINGTON: Were there tears?
ALBANESE: There were a lot of tears, a long discussion and in walked behind him two other people, my half-brother and half-sister. Apart from my son, the three closest blood relatives I had in the world were in that room, and I was meeting them for the first time.
It was pretty remarkable and I went back, that was in December 2009, in Easter 2010 I went with my son and we had Easter there. Then the following year I went back with my wife and son again, and then again just before 2014, he died in January 2014. It was clear that he was not long for this world, and I went to say goodbye to him essentially, in December 2013.
PILKINGTON: We’re talking to Anthony Albanese, we’re supposed to be talking politics, this is a bloody sight more interesting, I have got to tell you. Would you like a special coffee? You’re supposed to say yes.
ALBANESE: Yes. Si.
PILKINGTON: Okay, we’re back in a tick. At 9:22AM, our guest for this half hour or so is Anthony Albanese here in Adelaide. Anthony, just getting off the family issues for a moment or so, married with a 16 year-old son.
How do you get along with Chris Pyne? Do you fake it or do you genuinely like each other?
ALBANESE: No, we get on okay.
PILKINGTON: Well that makes two people; his wife is keen on him. Go on.
ALBANESE: His kids like him. Probably.
PILKINGTON: So you can sit down, in say the Qantas Lounge or wherever, and actually enjoy his company? He is a good operator.
ALBANESE: Well we can sit down in each other’s offices and have a glass of red. It’s funny you know, one of the things that people say, sometimes I will get stopped on the street and I have said this to him, I’m sure he probably gets the same. They will say, that Christopher Pyne, I hear you on the radio, you know 5AA every week, do you really get on? And I say, yes he’s alright.
PILKINGTON: That’s as far as you can go? Oh he’s alright?
ALBANESE: No, look we have different beliefs, but he is good company. He has a joy of life. Look I’ve got to say he has had a hard couple of weeks, to say the least.
PILKINGTON: You’re loving every minute of it aren’t you?
ALBANESE: You know I’d rather it be him than me, that’s the truth. But he has come through it; a lot of people would be destroyed by something like that…
PILKINGTON: He has got a hide like a rhinoceros.
ALBANESE: He battles on.
PILKINGTON: He thrives on it.
ALBANESE: He battles on, and I’ve got to say during all of that week, the fact that he fronted up for the 5AA interview, he fronted up to…
PILKINGTON: He didn’t say much though.
ALBANESE: He didn’t say much. The Today Show, he fronted up. We’re on there on Friday mornings and to his credit he didn’t hide. He went out there and faced the music. He knows that what he did was a bit silly, but he thought he was talking in a closed…
PILKINGTON: You have got to be careful these days as a pollie. You appear somewhere and you know that somebody is going to record it.
ALBANESE: That’s right and that is a reality of modern life. I have got to say that the intrusion into everything being public, there being no private sphere, is I think unfortunate. I didn’t think it was a good thing that Malcolm Turnbull’s speech to the Press Gallery Ball got recorded and broadcast.
PILKINGTON: But times have changed Anthony. You know these days nothing can be off the record.
ALBANESE: That’s true, but what it will do is change that event forever. Because the sort of speech that you give, with insider jokes essentially, will be different if you think that people in the broader public are listening to it. And Malcolm Turnbull’s speech that night was a very good speech, he did very well, but it was aimed at a particular audience, and I just think it is a pity that you can’t have that sort of discussion, that there is no private sphere. Just like, I’m sure that there are things that are said outside the studio here, before people go on air, or after they are on air.
PILKINGTON: Yes that’s true.
ALBANESE: That probably should stay private.
PILKINGTON: Now, my producer, Lee Forest, has listened [inaudible] she is supposed to be talking to Mr Albanese about the issue of the trains and all the rest of it.
ALBANESE: The trains and roads.
PILKINGTON: The trains and roads. Entirely off of the point, I want to chuck one in, same sex marriage, where do you stand on that?
ALBANESE: I support it.
PILKINGTON: Support it?
ALBANESE: Yes, and I think when it’s done people will wonder what the fuss was about.
PILKINGTON: Anthony I reckon you are right. And this bit about a plebiscite, that is a load of, that is load of, yes.
ALBANESE: You almost got there.
PILKINGTON: I nearly got there. I sometimes forgot that I’m on the wireless.
ALBANESE: It is a complete nonsense. The truth is that we make decisions that do impact on everyone’s lives, about pensions, education, health. We don’t have plebiscites on any of them, why should we have a plebiscite? Essentially that will be seen, rightly or wrongly, as people judging other people’s relationships, and I reckon that people should be allowed to love whoever they do. That’s up to them.
PILKINGTON: Okay. Now you hear about the trains and the trams and- you can see I have researched this pretty carefully haven’t I?
ALBANESE: Well today there is a big front page story in the Advertiser, about how South Australia is getting short-changed on infrastructure investment from the Commonwealth. Today I will be with Stephen Mullighan, in a little while, commencing or recommencing the Gawler Line electrification.
That is one of the projects that was cut by the Federal Government when Tony Abbott became Prime Minister; he cut all of the rail funding that he could out of a range of projects nationally.
PILKINGTON: And Malcolm Turnbull hasn’t reversed that cut?
ALBANESE: Hasn’t reversed it, clearly it is ready to go, and South Australia is being short-changed by a few billion dollars. The funding over the next four years falls in 2020-21, it falls to $61 million from this year, or next year it is $174 million. So it is really falling off a cliff.
There are a range of projects that are ready to go here in South Australia, a range of road projects at Port Augusta and here in Adelaide. The completion of the South Road Upgrade, but importantly as well there is the AdeLINK light rail project that can be rolled out, that will make a big difference to the quality of life of people here in Adelaide.
PILKINGTON: If Labor were to win the next election, you would reverse that decision immediately?
ALBANESE: We committed at the last election to reverse the Gawler Line electrification cut, and also to fund the AdeLINK light rail project.
PILKINGTON: So that is an absolute must do? You would stick to that?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. We have committed to public transport projects like Noarlunga to Seaford, we funded that when we were in Government. We funded important road projects like the South Road Superway, the Torrens to Torrens section of South Road, the Northern Expressway. We funded important rail freight projects like Goodwood to Torrens.
What we need to do at this time when the mining boom has gone from the investment phase, where people are getting the mines ready, to the production phase. Employment has gone out, construction has gone down and at a time when governments, for goodness sake federally, can get interest rates at record lows; now is the time to be stepping up infrastructure investment because it produces a return to the taxpayer and to the community.
PILKINGTON: Anthony, before we let you go, are you nearly feeling sorry for Malcolm Turnbull? With Tony Abbott out there with a machine gun, shooting him every time, I mean Abbott has got to be the best thing you have got going for you at the moment?
ALBANESE: Well I have got to say I do almost feel sorry except for one thing. When Malcolm Turnbull took over I think there was a sigh of relief around the country. But he took over in name only; he hasn’t actually implemented what he believes in. So because of that he has left this vacuum, where Tony Abbott feels like he can snipe every day even though he has said that he wouldn’t. I think his behaviour doesn’t help the body politic in general.
PILKINGTON: What’s he like Tony Abbott?
ALBANESE: One on one he’s not a bad bloke, but I think politically he has this destructive streak. This method of operating…
PILKINGTON: He was a brilliant Opposition Leader. He somehow or other didn’t make the transition into the Lodge.
ALBANESE: Because he stayed the same. He had a plan to get into the Lodge, which was to blow everything up and then when he got there he kept blowing things up and now he is on the backbench he is still blowing things up.
ALBANESE: It’s not a way in which you can run a country, and I think Oppositions have to be responsible and have to plan for what they will do in Government because otherwise you have this happen. Malcolm Turnbull’s problem is that he had a plan to get rid of Tony Abbott, but then when he got there he didn’t have plan to govern either. So we have got a bit of a vacuum and Tony is filling it.
PILKINGTON: Anthony Albanese, we’ve never met but I have enjoyed the last half hour.
ALBANESE: Great to talk to you.
PILKINGTON: Alright, and good luck to your South Sydney team in the NRL. They got done on the weekend.
ALBANESE: We got done.
PILKINGTON: You’re pretty shitty about that aren’t you?
ALBANESE: I am mate.
PILKINGTON: The only thing worse would be to find out if Christopher Pyne barracks for the Roosters.
ALBANESE: He wouldn’t know. I think he struggles to follow AFL, that’s a good sledge. No, he’s a Crows man I know that.
PILKINGTON: Albo, nice to meet you.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you. Go the Rabbitohs.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.