Subjects: Marriage equality; Victorian Senate vacancy; Donald Trump.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I spoke a short time ago to Labor’s Transport and Infrastructure spokesman, Anthony Albanese. Anthony Albanese, thanks for joining us.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
KARVELAS: Are you proposing that Labor no longer hold MPs to a binding vote in favour of same sex marriage?
ALBANESE: No I’m not; we’ve resolved these issues at National Conference last time. There was a resolution that everyone could live with, and go forward with, and that was adopted unanimously by the conference. So I’m certainly not proposing that that be reopened. It has been my view, on the record, for a very long period of time that these issues should be determined by a conscience vote. That was my view. That was very much a minority view of the Left, of which I am a member. But we had a resolution that all groups in the party could go forward with unanimously and that was proposed by the Leader, Bill Shorten.
KARVELAS: What did you mean then, when you suggested the Labor Conference might look at it again? Because of course it can, it does have one more chance in a year.
ALBANESE: I didn’t mean anything. It was a radio interview and I was asked a fact. Christopher Pyne was suggesting that Labor had a binding vote. It is a fact that we have a National Conference. National conferences do consider the platform, but I am certainly not proposing that that be revisited and I don’t know anyone who is. What the Labor Party is determined to do is to see marriage equality during this term. It is, I believe, completely unsustainable that we would go through the next two and a half years – or however long this Parliament goes for – without having a vote on marriage equality, of the Parliament.
KARVELAS: But it does make it difficult, doesn’t it, for you to argue against the Coalition and say that they need to have a free vote when you’re moving towards a binding vote? It does weaken your political argument.
ALBANESE: But we have a conscience vote, that’s the position of the Labor Party now. But what’s been happening over a period of time now, as you would be aware Patricia, is that one by one people who were either opposed or uncomfortable or unsure about marriage equality have been coming on board. There is no one who was a supporter of marriage equality who has changed their mind to oppose the proposition of reform. What’s happening is that the people changing their mind when they think about it over a period of time, they are becoming more comfortable with it, which reflects what is happening in the Australian population. I suspect in a few years time, when we have marriage equality, people will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about because it won’t impact anyone’s existing relationships, who currently have the right to be married. All it will do is grant that same right to another group of people and surely those people who support the institution of marriage should be pleased that more people want to participate in it.
KARVELAS: So given I know that your view is a minority in the Left – it was reported widely at the time that though you thought a conscience vote should stay, and you were ultimately not successful in winning that argument – you do have one more chance at National Conference to try and change that position and to keep a conscience vote. And as you say, a lot of the MPs on the Labor side have now changed their view. Is it worth revisiting, or is it dead?
ALBANESE: No, I was a part of the arrangements that were entered into at the National Conference. I certainly don’t propose revisiting that debate. What will happen, I think, is that reform will happen before the National Conference anyway. I am very confident that the proposition is completely unsustainable that Malcolm Turnbull, who says he supports marriage equality, will be Prime Minister for a period of four years without doing anything about it when he knows there is a majority of House of Representative Members, and Senators, who support reform. That is really untenable and that is why public opinion has shifted over recent months towards saying let’s get on with it, Parliament should do its job. That’s the Labor Party’s position, unanimously adopted in the caucus this week and I should imagine that that will be the Parliamentary position. It’s a matter of when that happens. I think that once the plebiscite is defeated then the debate will turn to: Why don’t we just get this done?’
KARVELAS: Just changing the topic, if I can. Bill Shorten’s choice to take over Stephen Conroy’s Senate seat, with Kimberley Kitching – she’s been preselected: – she was recommended for possible criminal charges over her behaviour at the Health Services Union. Is she an appropriate choice for the Australian Parliament?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s a matter for the Victorian Labor Party really to resolve. I wasn’t a participant in that ballot. Bill Shorten and others who are members of the Victorian Branch, had a view clearly, and that view seems to have been adopted. But I don’t think it’s appropriate that someone from New South Wales comment on those matters. I think that Stephen Conroy, certainly, is big shoes to fill. He is someone who is a friend of mine, remains a friend of mine, he is someone who I had occasional stoushes with …
KARVELAS: You did.
ALBANESE: But also had respect for for his contribution. Particularly, I think, his forward thinking on the National Broadband Network …
KARVELAS: But on the preselection of Kimberley Kitching, you’re all going to have to live with the results of the choice. The Prime Minister is already kicking Labor on this issue, he’s saying it’s a union stitch-up, so you’re suffering the consequences of this decision already.
ALBANESE: Well, I have only met her I think once, from memory, and she is someone who I didn’t vote for, don’t have a view of. I didn’t know all the candidates who put themselves forward. It’s really a matter for the Victorian Branch and for Bill Shorten as the Leader, who is of course a member of the Victorian Branch.
KARVELAS: Just on this ongoing issue between Brandis and Gleeson: if it was possible the relationship between the Attorney-General, George Brandis, and the Solicitor-General, Justin Gleeson, has actually got worse today. It clearly can’t continue like this. Is just calling for the Attorney-General to resign the only way that you think this can be resolved?
ALBANESE: I will make a brave prediction that George Brandis, who’s of course been floated as the next High Commissioner in London. We’ll wait and see whether that’s the way it’s resolved or not. But what’s pretty clear is that George Brandis, on a range of issues as Attorney-General a Shadow Attorney-General prior, showed himself to be pretty inadequate. He is pretty good at playing partisan political games whether that be against the Labor Party or, it would appear, against the second law officer of the land. Historically the Attorney-General has been a bit above the fray when it comes to day-to-day politics. George Brandis certainly can’t say he has done that. I can’t remember an Attorney-General who has been such a combative figure and quite clearly his views that have been put forward about consultation have been contradicted by the Solicitor-General. I am sure that the Solicitor-General, who is someone who is above politics … I can’t recall there being this kind of division any time in the past regardless of who the Attorney was.
KARVELAS: Just finally, on Donald Trump. Do you agree with Josh Frydenberg that he is a ‘dropkick’?
ALBANESE: I will allow Josh Frydenberg to use his own terms. I certainly think that all the polls indicate that the good sense of the American people is shining through and that Hillary Clinton has an increasing lead in the polls. If I were a US citizen, which I am not of course, I would be very much hoping for a Clinton victory.
KARVELAS: Would you like everyone in the Government, including the Prime Minister, to talk like Josh Frydenberg? Or do you respect the fact that the Prime Minister has to be a whole lot more diplomatic?
ALBANESE: No, I think it’s up to the Prime Minister to use whatever words he wishes to. But I do think the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, in particular, have obligations to be more careful than a Minister like Josh Frydenberg about the political intrigue that goes on in other nations.
KARVELAS: I hope you have a great weekend.
ALBANESE: So do I. I’m looking forward to and I am looking forward to Parliament next week. We will wait and see whether the Government votes against itself again.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.