Subjects; Citizenship, Barnaby Joyce, New England by-election; road funding, NBN.
KELLY FULLER: The citizenship saga continues to dominate all politics. We are hearing this morning the Federal Government has secured the support of the Greens to unilaterally send Labor MPs to the High Court over the citizenship issue. What impact could that have?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well it’s a very dangerous precedent for a Government to seek to use a majority vote to alter the make-up of the House of Representatives. But we are very confident of our position. The circumstances are that the seven people who were referred to the High Court – who the High Court determined the eligibility for to sit in either the House of Representatives or the Senate – of those people only one even suggested that they had made any effort to renunciate their citizenship of another country and that was the One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts who sent an email to a non-existent address, received no confirmation and was gone for all money and that was perhaps the most obvious of the cases put forward. In the Labor members’ cases every single one of them made the effort to renunciate any other citizenship that they had as part of our processes. We ensure that that occurs. So the High Court, if it were to determine that they weren’t eligible, what they would be saying is that another country could have the ability to go slow on the renunciation of a citizenship and therefore have an impact on the Australian Parliament. We are very confident that that won’t be the case and that is the big distinction between the position Labor is in and the position that the other political parties are in who have made no effort at all to deal with this issue.
FULLER: Barnaby Joyce says it is unfair that he lost his job while others who are also likely dual citizens are still in Parliament. Is it hypocrisy for Labor to be refusing to refer members that have questions?
ALBANESE: Well Barnaby Joyce did nothing about his citizenship.
FULLER: He didn’t know about though it he says. He maintains that he didn’t. How can you do something when you don’t know?
ALBANESE: Well he was certainly aware of the background of his parents and under those circumstances they are the questions that Labor asks of people prior to them nominating for preselection. That is part of our processes. So whilst I might have some sympathy for Barnaby Joyce personally, it is a failure of the National Party here to deal with these issues and Labor has said very clearly that we want every single member of the House of Representatives and the Senate to table all of their documentation including what efforts that they have made prior to December 1 and then it can be dealt with in the Parliament as a normal matter the following week. That’s what we have called for – proper transparency. Malcolm Turnbull is saying that people should put forward their information after Parliament rises on the 7th of December. That is all about him avoiding transparency. And then if there are issues arising from that tabling, Parliament will have to be recalled at great cost to the taxpayer. Let’s get on with dealing with these issues.
FULLER: You said you had sympathy for Barnaby Joyce. Do you agree with his call for there to be a sort of an omnibus of referendums including a change to this section of the Constitution?
ALBANESE: That has been in the Labor Party’s policy platform for some period of time. I doubt, however, frankly, that the Australian public would vote for a change. That is my view. Constitutional change is very difficult to achieve. What we need to do is to get through this issue and to get through it as soon as possible because the Australian people clearly are sick of this dominating the issues. The Government had stopped governing beforehand; now they have completely stopped.
FULLER: Anthony Albanese is with us on ABC New England-North West – of course he is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. He is on his way to the New England as we talk politics. The by-election of course rattles on and is attracting a lot of attention. There’s a record 17 candidates for the New England by-election. How would you describe that field and the number of candidates that don’t even live in the seat?
ALBANESE: It’s a big field but there are two serious candidates – Barnaby Joyce and David Ewings, the Labor candidate. We believe David is a very serious candidate. When he ran in 2016 he said he was in it for the long haul.
FULLER: Barnaby Joyce has said that with a field that size he doesn’t think anyone will get remotely close to 50 per cent of the primary vote. There’s a lot of people coming into the region who don’t have much connection with it at all just to play games with the by-election process. Do you think that is appropriate?
ALBANESE: No I don’t think people should be nominating just out of playing a political game. I think there are serious candidates and they are obviously Barnaby Joyce and David Ewings and people should give consideration to whether they would want this Government to continue on, the rolling calamity that it is and they have an opportunity to do something about that.
FULLER: What chance do you think David Ewings actually has? There’s a sense in the seat that Barnaby Joyce can’t lose.
ALBANESE: Well look, the truth is that our vote was in single figures the last time around but David Ewings is in it for the long haul. He is committed to the area. He is a local. He is a local who has worked in the local community. He is committed to the New England region. He and his fiancee live in Scone and they are committed to making a difference and I think this is an opportunity to send a message to the Government. Barnaby Joyce has taken his seat for granted. I found it astonishing that projects like Bolivia Hill, that was funded in 2012, the planning work for that project, was put in the Budget, fully federally funded $80 million, in the 2013 Budget and nothing happened on it in 2014, 2015 or 2016. Nothing happened on it until we got to 2017 and Barnaby Joyce was facing a by-election and then tenders were called. And a similar story with the Scone Bypass and a similar story with the Tenterfield Heavy Vehicle Bypass. If you want a real wake-up call to the Government and a message that New England can’t be taken for granted, then there is an opportunity to do that by voting for David Ewings in the by-election.
FULLER: Is it just a vote though in Opposition? I mean, what’s the Labor Party’s vision for the area? We haven’t heard much in terms of concepts or plans or ideas except criticism and I guess telling us that Barnaby Joyce has taken the electorate for granted. What’s the Labor Party got on the agenda for the region if they were to win?
ALBANESE: Well our vision is for proper road funding for a start in my area – making sure that the funding for projects like the Heavy Vehicle Safety Program, the Black Spots program, that Bolivia Hill and these projects do actually happen where the money is in the Budget. Our vision is for a National Broadband Network that actually works; that consists of fibre, not a three-tiered system …
FULLER: Do you get to keep throwing criticism without actually putting any plan on the table?
ALBANESE: Well I just did in terms of proper road funding for projects, for the Heavy Vehicle Safety Program …
FULLER: That’s pretty broad though.
ALBANESE: Well The National Broadband Network is pretty specific. Our vision is for a first-rate system, a system that does it once, does it right and does it with fibre. That is our vision for the National Broadband Network. Our vision is for proper health services. Our vision is that schools will get funding according to need, not the cuts that the Government has in its school funding program. Our vision is to stop the attacks on Medicare and to make sure that bulk billing is available and to make sure that the health care needs of the people in New England are assisted and we have a proud record there. The work at the Tamworth Hospital was extraordinary while we were in Government.
FULLER: Anthony Albanese there on his way to the New England as the by-election campaigning continues.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.