SUBJECTS: Federal Election; Listening tour; WA infrastructure; Shadow Ministry; tax cuts; road safety; TAFE; NDIS; New Zealand troop withdrawal from Iraq; John Setka, Barnaby Joyce; AFP raids; Annika Smethurst.
OLIVER PETERSON: The new Labor leader Anthony Albanese has embarked on a listening tour of the country in the wake of the election defeat. But you can talk to him right now. Give him your feedback because he’s here in Perth, he’s here at 6PR, he’s joining you and me live right now in the Perth Live studios. Anthony Albanese, good afternoon.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good afternoon, Ollie.
PETERSON: Welcome back to Western Australia, for the first visit as the Opposition, as the Leader of the Labour Party.
ALBANESE: It is, but as we were just talking it’s my fourth visit here since the beginning of March.
PETERSON: It is indeed, you’re the member of Western Australia almost. Forget Western Sydney, it’s the member for WA.
ALBANESE: I do love WA. And it’s always good to come in here and have a chance to talk directly to your listeners.
PETERSON: Indeed, and if you want to talk to Anthony Albanese – what feedback have West Australians provided you while you’ve been here in Perth?
ALBANESE: Look it’s been terrific, Ollie, I’ve got to say. We had a major event last night at Clancy’s down there at Fremantle. It was packed, people couldn’t get in. Madeleine King was outside the room and couldn’t get in. But I began with a press conference at the Perth City Link project, a really exciting initiative of the former Labor Government when I was the Infrastructure Minister and I’m very proud of the work that was done there sinking the railway line, really uniting the CBD with Northbridge. It has made a huge difference to this great global city.
PETERSON: Is that part of your strategy, the moment you say: ‘uniting the city, uniting Perth’, you’re trying to present a united front of WA Labor?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. And yesterday we did the press conference with the entire team. We’ve now got Madeleine King in the Shadow Cabinet, we’ve got Matt Keogh in the Shadow Ministry and we’ve got fantastic Assistant Ministers in Glenn Sterle and Louise Pratt, Josh Wilson, Pat Dodson – a fantastic team. Today I was with Anne Aly up in her electorate of Cowan at the Pantry, a Christian charity, not for profit, that provides food – some 5000 people benefited just last month from that. I’ve met with businesses here from Fortescue to Wesfarmers. We caught the train with Madeleine and Josh yesterday afternoon, down on the Mandurah line, and just walked along just talking to punters sitting there on the train – unsuspecting commuters …
PETERSON: And what are they saying to you? What were they worried about as to why Labor didn’t perform so well at the federal election?
ALBANESE: There’s a big mix, it’s not homogenous. We need to remember that Labor got almost half the votes of Australians, including here in the west. So those people who supported Labor are disappointed, but they’re determined to do better next time. But there are many people raising issues of concern. The issue of franking credits has been an issue that’s been raised. Some of the concern about the way that Labor positioned ourselves rhetorically, in terms of relationship with the business community, there were obviously some tensions there. The fact of a whole range of issues, be it the housing affordability question, a range of – I had an interesting discussion with someone on the train who said that their theory, was that even though they weren’t happy with the Government, because of all the changes that had happened with three Prime Ministers, they’d voted for Scott Morrison to be re-elected as Prime Minister, because they just didn’t want another change.
PETERSON: They didn’t want Bill Shorten.
ALBANESE: They just didn’t want another change. I think there is conflict fatigue out there. And one of the things I’ve said is that where the Government has a good idea we’ll back it in.
PETERSON: So will you back in the tax policy, the income tax policy that’s before the Parliament, or will be?
ALBANESE: We’ve certainly said that we will back in the first tranche. And indeed we’re critical of the Government for not bringing in the legislation prior to July 1, so it could take effect from then. That’s what the Government said it would do during the election campaign and we learnt only afterwards that the return of the writs to the Governor-General will only occur on June 28. So that makes that impossible.
PETERSON: What if the Prime Minister says all-or-nothing for the three phases?
ALBANESE: That would be putting politics before outcomes. What we want is outcomes, outcomes rather than arguments. I think both sides of politics need to get that message. One in four Australians didn’t vote for either of us, voted for One Nation or Clive Palmer or the Greens, or someone else – a minor party. So they didn’t vote for a party of government. So the Government shouldn’t be complacent about the position it’s in. I’ve argued for some time that I believe in voting for a party of government. That’s why I’m in the Labor Party. I want to make decisions, not wait for them to be made and then protest them. And so the Government really needs to be sensible about this. We can get through the first tranche very quickly, through the Parliament, with Labor and Coalition support. That is the tax cuts that are relevant for this term of government. We will give consideration to the second and third stages, the third one is way off in the never never, 2024-25. And one of the things that I’ve said is that it is a really brave call for anyone to say they know what the economy will look like in 2024-25. We’ve had interest rate cuts last week because of the slowing in the economy, we’ve got low consumer demand, we’ve got real wages not keeping up with inflation, we’ve got increased job insecurity at work due to casualisation and we’ve got record mortgage stress. And we’ve got the issue of US and China – potential conflict over trade issues, that will have an impact on our economy particularly here in the west.
PETERSON: This is your opportunity. Talkback democracy with the Leader of the Australian Labor Party, Anthony Albanese. So if you’ve got a question for him we want to provide some direct feedback, he is all ears. Give him a call right now. Apart from shuffling personnel, and you mentioned here in the west as well: Matt Keogh as well as Madeleine King have been elevated particularly into Ministerial, sorry I should say Shadow Ministerial roles. And they are of defence and trade. Does that start to elevate, particularly from a West Australian point of view, not only Madeleine King and Matt Keogh, but also the importance of those two portfolios to the west?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. And that’s why very consciously we’ve allocated portfolios including trade, WA resources importantly – that Matt Keogh has been given responsibility for. Defence support, because of, of course, Henderson and the defence industry is so important here for the west as well – small business. But in the assistant ministerial responsibility roles, areas including: manufacturing, the environment, reconciliation and road safety; all important portfolios for the west in particular due to the nature of the economy here, the size of the state. There’s no one who knows more about trucking issues in the national Parliament than Glenn Sterle, for example.
PETERSON: Talking of road safety for a moment, The Road Safety Commission here in WA put out a proposal on the weekend to lower speed limits by 10 kilometres per hour. Premier today has knocked it back. Would you be entertaining those sorts of ideas from a national level, do we need to slow down roads?
ALBANESE: They are a matter for the state and what it needs is the right speeds for the roads. That’s the key. Common sense tells you that the better the roads, the faster you can go on them. People should stick to speed limits whatever they are. And we do need to improve infrastructure, that’s one of the ways in which we can boost road safety. But also through new technology and the third is pretty simple: driver behaviour. People have to take responsibility for their own actions.
PETERSON: Peter, we’ll get to you next. But if you’ve got a question for Anthony Albanese, he’s on his listening tour of the country and he’s happy to hear your feedback directly right now on Perth Live – we’ll take your calls next at 4:18pm.
Talkback democracy with Anthony Albanese. If you would like to talk to – Albo if you just want to put the headphones on because Peter would like to say G’day. Good afternoon, Peter.
CALLER: G’day guys, how are you?
ALBANESE: G’day, Peter.
CALLER: Yeah Albo, mate, I could go on and on about why you lost the last election. But I’m afraid to say mate, you’ve got to look ahead to the next one now. And I reckon you’ll lose the next one too, if you don’t get rid of these bloody GetUp mobs and all these fake Newspolls and all that, and look at policies people want. And I’ve just got one off the truck that I’ll throw at you. But a question to you is: with trades and services and the old school apprenticeship trades, like we’ve got the butchers, bakers and so on. What stage of modern day society do we say we’ll recognise we may have some new trades that fit into the apprenticeship scale? I work in swimming pool servicing and when we get an apprenticeship in that – I know I’ve spoken to lawn mowing guys, gardening guys, tree logging guys, mobile phone technicians, we should just have a separate trade for them. We’ve got all these new services that we have given out for 20 years ago. At what stage can we wake up and say well maybe we should add some new trades, put them on an apprenticeship wage to get started?
ALBANESE: Well thanks Peter. Certainly we do need to look at the skills area and we need to look at the way that the economy is changing and what the jobs of the future will be. Make sure that we train Australians to do those jobs. Too often what we’ve done is do the shortcut, import labour for jobs when there are young Australians who would take up the opportunity of an apprenticeship, be they in a traditional trade of which there are shortages in places like plumbing and electricians or be they in the new economy. The ones you talk about with new products which are there or white-collar jobs as well. One of the biggest training exercises that will be required over coming years is for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We want people who have the skills to be able to deliver the NDIS properly in the interests of themselves and having a good job, but also importantly in the interests of those people who are participants in the NDIS. So, there’s a whole range of issues there that you raised, but I think you’re right. The skills agenda is absolutely critical for the future.
PETERSON: In the election campaign do you think jobs were missing from the Labor narrative?
ALBANESE: I think it certainly wasn’t missing. If you look at the infrastructure agenda that we had for example, we had $460 million of additional investment on top of what the Government had here in WA over the forward estimates. Now what that’s about is jobs and one of my concerns with the slowing economy is we need to make sure that we don’t just rely upon monetary policy with interest rate reductions. We need that July 1 tax cut to happen as soon as possible, but we also need to bring forward some of that infrastructure investment.
PETERSON: Simon asks: ‘why are you not committed to supporting the mandate the Liberals were given for their tax cuts? The talk from Labor was the mandate for climate change that they would be given, and the Liberals would have no right to stand in the way of that mandate. Why now is the shoe on the other foot and you are standing in the way with the entirety of the tax cut policy’?
ALBANESE: The Government certainly has a mandate for its July 1 tax cuts this term. They’ve been elected for three years. They haven’t been elected in perpetuity and the tax cuts that come in, in 2024-25. It’s hard to argue that you can get a mandate, not for the next term but for the term after. So we’ll consider it on its merits. But I think the questions of mandates aren’t there off into the never-never. And my concern is one of economic responsibility. We don’t know what the economy will look like in 2024-25. It’s a long way away. There’s great economic uncertainty and turbulence out there. And my concern is simply that it is a triumph of hope over economic reality to argue that you know what the economy will look like at that point in time.
PETERSON: The New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced today that Kiwi troops will withdraw from Iraq within the year. Is that something Australia should also do?
ALBANESE: I think that considerations such as defence and national security shouldn’t be subject to partisan politics. I don’t intend to engage there. That’s a decision for New Zealand. But the Australian troops are playing a really important role in peacekeeping, in helping to rebuild Iraq and countries in the Middle East that require rebuilding. So that we don’t see again the rise, as we’ve seen, of the Islamic State and of terrorist organisations that eventually provide a threat to Australians. Because Australians travel, we saw with the Bali terrorist incident years ago that Australians can be directly impacted. And so I’m comfortable with engaging with the Government to ensure there continues to be bipartisan support for our engagement.
CALLER: Question for Tony Albanese. Tony you just can’t bring yourself around to say Bill Shorten lost the election for you. Why can’t you just admit it and move forward?
ALBANESE: I don’t believe that it’s appropriate to blame any individual. I’m part of the Labor team. I’m the new Leader of the Labor Party and I as the new Leader haven’t squibbed it. I haven’t pretended that we won. We lost the election. I’ve accepted responsibility. When you are part of a team, you accept responsibility.
PETERSON: Have you asked John Setka to resign as the secretary of the CFMEU in Victoria?
ALBANESE: No, because I have nothing to do with whoever is the secretary of the CFMEU in Victoria.
PETERSON: But would you encourage him to step down?
ALBANESE: Well I’m not a fan of Mr Setka. My engagement with him has been pretty minimal and has consisted of him making some strong comments about me and me making some strong comments about him in the past.
PETERSON: Obviously there’s something before the courts at the moment in regard to some text messages towards a particular woman. That doesn’t seem to be acceptable for somebody in his position to be sending that, does it?
ALBANESE: Of course it’s not. But it’s also – the case is before the courts – so you need to be very careful about engaging in political commentary which could be seen to be trying to influence the court outcome. Can I say this, though, about Mr Setka: he has made a range of comments including about the kids of the people who work at the ABCC in the past. When he said that, I condemned those comments. And if the reports are right of the comments he made about Rosie Batty then that deserves condemnation as well, and I’ve done that.
PETERSON: Barnaby Joyce reckons MPs shouldn’t be exempt from AFP investigations into national security leaks. Would you agree with that?
ALBANESE: Certainly no one is above the law. That’s a statement of common sense. My concern about what’s happened in the past week is that you’ve seen raids on the ABC, potentially on 2GB – Ben Fordham, one of your colleagues – and of course on Annika Smethurst. Which go to a concern about the freedom of the press. Take Annika Smethurst’s example, what she reported on was the fact that government departments were discussing expanding powers of surveillance towards private citizens without their knowledge. I think that is in the public interest that there be a debate about those issues.
PETERSON: But have Parliamentarians contributed to this? I think over 70 laws have now changed or been introduced since September 11, on both sides, both Labor and Liberal. Have you made journalists jobs harder?
ALBANESE: The raids of course on Annika Smethurst were conducted under laws that were passed in 1913 during World War One. So these are very old laws that have been used. At the time in 2014, if you go back and look up an article in The Guardian and an interview I did on Sky News, I expressed concern at the time that we needed to ensure that with any laws that were carried, that we didn’t undermine media freedom which is an essential component of our democracy. It is the media’s job to hold the Government and the Opposition, all of us, to account. And to be prepared to do that. That can be done in a way that’s consistent with ensuring our national security, that obviously is absolutely critical, there are issues that need to be kept secret. But the Government discussing wide ranging powers of surveillance on private citizens is something that does need to be discussed because the society has a right to express a view on it.
PETERSON: So will you be pushing for a review?
ALBANESE: Look what I’ll be doing is examining any proposals that come forward. We aren’t the Government. The other thing that I’m not going to do is pretend that we’re the Government over the next three years. Our job is to hold the Government to account and to develop policies to take to the election in 2022. But can I say this, that the Government due to Labor’s position, has shifted somewhat. Prime Minister Morrison, when first asked about this, essentially had an attitude of: ‘nothing to see here I have no problem at all with any of this’, to now talking about a review. Common sense should prevail here. These issues should not become the subject of partisan politics wherever possible. But Labor will stand up for freedom of the press and we make no apologies for that.
PETERSON: Anthony Albanese, thank you for dropping by 6PR.
ALBANESE: Thanks for having us on the program yet again.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.