Subject/s: Karen Middleton’s book – Albanese: Telling it Straight, Australians detained in Malaysia, Melbourne Metro, M80 project
NEIL MITCHELL (HOST): Anthony Albanese is in the studio with me. He’s been a Labor MP for 20 years, of course various portfolios over the years, but he’s released a book. You have probably heard the essence of the story about how at age 46 he met his father for the first time having thought that in fact his father was dead. Brought up by his mum, a single mum, it’s confronting, it’s emotional, it’s intriguing, Anthony Albanese good morning.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you Neil.
MITCHELL: You over this yet?
ALBANESE: I think it has probably been a therapeutic exercise talking about it. One of the reasons why I wanted it to be told in a book form, a long form, rather than just as a sort of anecdote, was I wanted it all out there and Karen Middleton…
ALBANESE: Because I think in terms of my background, you get asked all the time ‘Where’s your father from?’ People wonder why I can’t speak Italian fluently, I can only do a ‘poco’. The identity of where you come is part of knowing who you are, and for the same reason why I wanted to in later life find my father. I also wanted the story to be told; it’s helped a whole range of people. The number of people who have contacted me to say, ‘thank you for telling the story, this is my story.’ It’s certainly not unique. Families are complex things.
MITCHELL: Well how old were you? When did you find out that your father wasn’t dead? How old were you?
ALBANESE: When I was about 14 mum sat me down and told me the real story. She had gone overseas, she’d met my father, had a relationship, fallen pregnant to him, told him and he had told her that he was betrothed to a woman from the town in southern Italy in Puglia where he was from. So she came home as a young Catholic woman about to give birth in 1963. A story was put around that preserved, if you like, the respectability of the family, which was that he had died.
And what was supposed to happen was that I was to be adopted out. So the story would have been he died, and she lost the baby in childbirth as a result of the shock, so a convenient story. Just like at that time a lot of young Catholic girls went off to the country for six months holiday and came back.
MITCHELL: Why weren’t you adopted out?
ALBANESE: The nun at the hospital in Sydney where I was born I think recognised something in my mother – recognised that she was reluctant and brought me into her. At the time, as we saw during the Gillard Government, we had a whole debate about these issues.
MITCHELL: The relinquishing mothers.
ALBANESE: You know the mothers weren’t able to even see their child before they were given up. So once my mum had me, she wasn’t going to give me up. Hence, she raised me by herself and I thought that was the story. You don’t know what’s missing if you never had it.
It wasn’t like we discussed in any detail about my father. I knew there was a car accident, that was what I was told. But when she thought I was old enough to deal with the reality of what had happened she sat down and told me. At the time I was a pretty head strong young fellow, funnily enough, and I basically had an attitude ‘oh well he didn’t obviously care too much about me so I don’t need to know about him.’
MITCHELL: So it wasn’t confronting for you? Or disturbing?
ALBANESE: Look it was. I think also she needed to hear that she was all I needed and that’s what I told her.
MITCHELL: You were very close to your mum weren’t you?
ALBANESE: I was. I think two person families are different because all we had was each other and I didn’t have any other siblings. We were it. So I told her what she needed to hear, but it was also what I thought at the time. But as you get older I guess and being in politics, my electorate has in it Leichhardt and Haberfield in Sydney, a bit like Carlton, the old Italian area here in Melbourne. People would ask me questions.
Then mum died in 2002 and my son had come along in 2000. We were at the cemetery one day visiting my mum’s grave and he said to me ‘where is your dad’? It struck me that I really had a responsibility to him as well. He carried the name, my mum had just taken my father’s name and hence I got more serious about a search. It took a number of years and as the book shows there was a lot of luck involved in actually finding him.
MITCHELL: But in 2009 you met him. By then you were aged 46, any resentment?
ALBANESE: Not at all, and that was what was remarkable, his acceptance.
MITCHELL: And yours?
ALBANESE: And mine, I think life’s too short. By then I think too, you mature as you get older and you look forward. I was just very pleased to, there was a bit of an intermediary and at the discussion the night before I said I didn’t want anything not here to claim the inheritance or anything else as the first born. I just think he is my father and I want to meet him. And I was sitting in a room not much bigger than the studio we are in now and in he walked with two people I didn’t know existed; my brother and my sister. He just walked in, opened his arms to embrace me and it was quite an extraordinary moment in my life.
MITCHELL: I can imagine it was, you shed a tear of course?
ALBANESE: Oh there were tears all around, it was…
MITCHELL: What is your emotion towards that man? I mean he is your father but he hasn’t been in your life, do you love him?
ALBANESE: No because there is no point having a fake thing here. He died in 2014 in January, which is why then I felt the story could be told without providing any hurt. Karen Middleton, the author, was aware of the story and had badgered me for years to do a biography and to tell the story. But there was a connection I went and visited him. He was dying actually during the 2013 election, and it was a factor, even in things like whether I run for the leadership at the time, because I thought at the time, wrongly as it turns out, that if he was about to die I’d want to be at the funeral. As it is in Southern Italy, I assumed, because of the heat they’d bury people very much the next day, immediately, so it would be impossible to get there.
But I went to say farewell to him in December 2013, and the last words we had was that he said he was proud of me and that he was pleased to have met me, and I was certainly very pleased to have met him.
The family were very welcoming, his wife who he married in January ’63, I was born in March ’63, found it a bit difficult of course, but was very welcoming as well. I’ve taken my son Nathan across to meet his cousins on a couple of occasions. My wife, the whole of the family has been across there, and it’s a connection that we have, and with what’s happened with various mechanisms today we can keep in touch as well, including using translations.
MITCHELL: The fact you hadn’t grown up with him, as a father, you see anything of yourself in him?
ALBANESE: I’m not sure. Certainly some people who’ve seen the photographs say they can see something. It’s interesting, my boy, Nathan, when we first went across; we met in December 2009, then we went across at Easter 2010, and he has a little cousin, a girl, who, at that time Nathan was nine, and they could have been twins. Just amazing, I have a photo, I’ve kept out the photos of the other members of the family from the book, but I have a photo of them together and genetics is a funny thing, it’s just reared itself there.
MITCHELL: The book is Albanese: Telling it Straight– Karen Middleton. I must admit I picked it up thinking they’ll be a bit of politics in there, but it’s a human story, it’s well worth reading.
Anthony Albanese, Speaking of politics, couple of quick issues if we may before you go?
MITCHELL: What would you do with the “budgie nine”?
ALBANESE: Well I just hope they come home. That’s the real issue. I think it probably falls into the category of seemed like a good idea at the time, it clearly wasn’t. I think the Foreign Minister has made appropriate comments, and I just hope they come home safely and don’t suffer unduly due to what someone clearly came up with that was a very, very bad idea.
MITCHELL: What if it was one of your staff involved? Would you be having a re-assessment of their career future?
ALBANESE: Oh look, I think that’s a matter for Christopher. I don’t know the staff member personally. I’ve always been pretty loyal to my staff, they’ve been loyal to me.
MITCHELL: Infrastructure, which is your area. Congestion levy recommended here by Infrastructure Victoria, yesterday. You sort of cross a line and out of Melbourne it’s $2, you cross into the city and it’s another $3, would that work? Do you reckon those kind of congestion levies work?
ALBANESE: Look it works in London, where I was just a week ago. The problem is you need to have effective public transport before you can do that. That’s why you need the Metro, unless you have the Melbourne Metro, then you can’t have new lines, because that needs to free up the capacity on the line.
The Commonwealth currently is giving Victorians 9% of infrastructure investment, Victoria represents 25% of the population. It’s been ripped off, projects, not just public transport, but the M80; I noticed one of the extensions, the Ring Road, on Sunday, was started. That was a project that was funded in 2013, the Abbott Government cut it by $500 million in 2014. It’s been years of delay as a result.
The Metro, we had $3 billion in the budget that they cut when they came to office, and Victorians are being punished, at the expense of, with New South Wales receiving most of the funding, and that is just not on.
MITCHELL: I noticed too that Labor’s started a review of why you lost the election. I didn’t think that Bill Shorten realised he’d lost.
ALBANESE: I hadn’t noticed that we’ve started a review.
MITCHELL: Apparently your primary vote was one of the lowest ever. What went wrong?
ALBANESE: Well that’s the normal process. The National Executive will have a look at the campaign, and what happened with the election. No doubt we need to increase our primary vote. I think there is a message out there for all the mainstream parties that when one in four Australians are voting for a minor party, then we need to do a little bit more than just dismiss it. If you look at the rise of, sort of, populist parties, whether they be on the right or the left, then we need to address those issues. Labor can’t win government without lifting our primary vote.
MITCHELL: Thank you for coming in.
ALBANESE: Great to be with you.
MITCHELL: Anthony Albanese, the Shadow Minister for Tourism etc. and the book is Albanese: Telling it Straight.