Subjects: Malcolm Turnbull; bipartisanship; Trade Union Royal Commission; Coalition reannouncement of Labor infrastructure package; need for real action on climate change; Labor Party
FRAN KELLY: Anthony Albanese is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Tourism who once famously boasted of how much he likes fighting Tories, “that’s what I do”, he said. Anthony Albanese, welcome to breakfast.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
KELLY: Malcom Turnbull seems determined to reset the political tone in the country. Is that what voters are crying out for, an end to the toxic, bipartisan way politics has been played since the hung parliament?
ALBANESE: They certainly are and I think there’s been a huge sigh of relief with the exit of Tony Abbott from the nation’s leadership and that’s what we’re seeing played out here. Since the day that Tony Abbott took over the leadership of the Liberal Party in 2009 on the basis of opposing what had been bipartisan support for an emissions trading scheme to take action on climate change, we saw a very toxic form of politics.
Firstly, Tony Abbott being a very effective opposition leader, just saying no to everything. I said he turned the Coalition into the Noalition. His failure as Prime Minister was that he didn’t transition from that into the nation’s leadership.
He kept acting like an opposition leader – aggressively opposing everything that the Labor Party stood for, holding inquiries and Royal Commissions into former governments, unlike any other government.
I think that the nation reacted accordingly and Malcolm Turnbull has picked up that mood and I think that is why he is playing this out.
KELLY: So he says he won’t hesitate to chuck out policies that aren’t working and make compromises to get them through the Senate, he won’t be afraid of the opposition saying it’s a back down or a backflip, because quote “an agile government is one that is prepared to abandon policies that won’t work and we have to stop describing everything, or using scare campaigns as a response to every change”. Will you play ball or will you cry backflip and cave in every time a policy is dumped?
ALBANESE: He’s got to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. The last major announcement from the Labor Party was in my area of infrastructure and Bill Shorten announced a ten billion infrastructure investment financing initiative, a series of loans, or grants, or seed funding. In his speech Bill Shorten stated that we shouldn’t just hand out grants – there was an opportunity to use the Commonwealth’s funding to leverage private sector investment. That was immediately opposed by the Coalition – by Warren Truss as the Minister.
They said it wouldn’t work and then I noticed on the weekend that Malcolm Turnbull had obviously read Bill Shorten’s speech because he came out in his interviews with his vision for the nation which was essentially exactly the same policy of using the Commonwealth’s balance sheet to mitigate risk, of being prepared to look at new borrowing for public transport and other nation building projects.
KELLY: So you welcome that approach?
ALBANESE: Of course I welcome it. But the point is that when Bill Shorten announced exactly the same thing two weeks earlier, the Coalition were out there lining up to say that they opposed that policy.
So there’s a role for the government as well as the opposition in responding to policy initiatives. And it does require Malcolm Turnbull, who is in a position as the Prime Minister to show leadership on these issues.
I was disappointed, frankly, on the response to Bill Shorten’s Brisbane speech on infrastructure, because infrastructure is an area where you do need bipartisanship, where most projects that are certainly significant projects will last longer than one term of government and chances are will last longer than the period in which the particular party that holds government when it is announced will hold office.
KELLY: Doesn’t the same go for all policy, and here we have Malcolm Turnbull on the weekend urging Bill Shorten to come and talk to him about reintroducing the ABCC. He said he’s very happy to talk to him about passing laws to curb corruption in the building industry.
ALBANESE: Get real. That’s just a wedge in terms of the union movement. When we’ll take Malcolm Turnbull more seriously, and what he should do, because he does believe in action on climate change, he is serious about that issue and he should be prepared to sit down with the Labor Party and talk about real action on climate change. Not the sort of action that Eric Abetz and the sceptics approve of, but doing something real in the interests of the ultimate intergenerational issue.
KELLY: But I’m not talking about climate change, I’m talking union corruption.
ALBANESE: Of course you are. Because that’s what the Coalition want to talk about.
KELLY: Yeah, but let’s look at this. The CFMEU on the weekend –
ALBANESE: I’m sorry, Fran. If you think that the CFMEU are more important than climate change –
KELLY: No I don’t, but I’m saying they’re two different issues.
ALBANESE: No. What we’re talking about here, if we are at all serious about long term working in a bipartisan way, then that has to be at the top of the agenda.
Other issues have worked quite well. To give Tony Abbott credit, he certainly tried to work with the Opposition on reconciliation and advancing the recognition of the First Australians. There are a range of issues that we should be prepared to talk across the board about.
KELLY: Including union governance?
ALBANESE: There are very strong union governance measures in place now.
KELLY: So no change there, no change from Labor?
ALBANESE: What about corporate governance? That’s the point. If you’re serious at all about a mature approach to politics then you have to do something other than be part of a government, which Malcolm Turnbull has been a member of, which has had Royal Commissions and inquiries into two former Labor Prime Ministers in Julia Gillard, over something that happened well before she was in politics, into Kevin Rudd and into Bill Shorten as Labor leader.
That’s the track record that we’ve seen, and if we’re going to use examples of the way to lift politics above the mud then let’s talk about the big issues that are facing Australia and our future; skills and education development, where we go in the Asian Century, the action that’s needed on climate change and all of those issues.
KELLY: Anthony Albanese, can I just ask you briefly and finally; the latest IPSOS poll puts Bill Shorten 46 points behind Malcolm Turnbull as preferred Prime Minister. You contested the Labor leadership after the last election and won the popular vote. Could you ever see yourself being a better match for Malcolm Turnbull?
ALBANESE: We made our decision. We went through that process. We had a democratic process. I accepted the result. The quote that you used earlier about fighting Tories was in a context.
Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd and their supporters were causing a great deal of stress inside the Labor Party, and what I said was that my priority wasn’t fighting internal issues, it was actually arguing the case to get Labor into government.
The way to get Labor into government is by showing the united form that we have and working together as a team. I’m a part of Bill Shorten’s team and I’d much rather be a minister in a Shorten Labor Government than the Leader of the Opposition.
KELLY: Anthony Albanese, thanks for joining us.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you, Fran.