Subjects: By-elections, transcripts, Luke Foley.
HOST: Welcome to Breakfast.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning from Devonport. I am standing on the banks of the Mersey with Justine Keay and a whole lot of her supporters here who are pretty annoyed at the disenfranchisement of the voters not just of here, but right around the country. We are talking about half a million people who won’t have a representative for 79 days.
HOST: When you say they are angry, are they angry at the date of the by-election, or are they angry at you and your party for dragging this whole citizenship saga longer?
ALBANESE: They are angry at the date. The fact is that Justine and the other people who resigned from the Parliament resigned on the day that the High Court handed down its decision that had implications for them.
HOST: But to be fair Anthony Albanese, that whole process could have been dealt with much, much sooner had your party not dragged it out in the way that it did.
ALBANESE: Let’s be clear Hamish. Let’s not rewrite history. We moved in the Parliament last year to refer any member of which there was any doubt whatsoever – Labor and Liberal – to the High Court for determination. The Government blocked that move. The crossbenchers voted for it. We voted for it. The fact is that in North Sydney the writs were issued in three days, in Bennelong two days. In New England, when the High Court handed down its decision, the writs were issued for Barnaby Joyce’s by-election on the very day. So I don’t see any reason why this has been delayed. The so-called regulations changes with the form – I mean, I’ve seen more difficult forms to get a library card than to fill that out and anyone who doesn’t know that there is an issue with Section 44 really hasn’t been paying attention.
HOST: All right, the ALP President, Mark Butler, has issued a press release overnight describing interference by Turnbull with the independent Electoral Commission. It also refers to the “fact’’ the Liberal Party has deliberately sought to disrupt our democratic process. Is there any evidence of either of those things?
ALBANESE: Well this is a government that plays politics with everything. During the week we were talking about when the dates of the by-elections should be and someone joked that maybe they will put it on the Saturday of the ALP national conference and people sort of had a bit of a chuckle at that, about how over-the-top that would be and dismissed it as absurd. The date that they happen to have picked is the one date in three years when Labor has a democratic process. We’ve had elections of delegates right around the country. We gather, it’s shown live – it’s broadcast on ABC.
HOST: Sure, we all know what that is. But is there any evidence of interference or of deliberately seeking to disrupt our democratic process, because it is a significant allegation and it involves the statutory body, the Australian Electoral Commission, which provided the advice that that was the optimal date. Is Is there any evidence that there was interference?
ALBANESE: At the Senate Estimates yesterday the Electoral Commissioner gave I think quite confused evidence about what was in the original advice to the Speaker about dates, about what subsequently was changed in that written advice. It is the Electoral Commissioner saying that you couldn’t have it on school holidays. Well the fact is that the Saturday before would have been the last day of school holidays – it depends how you count it I guess, as the Friday or the Saturday – wouldn’t have provided much disruption. The Electoral Commissioner doesn’t seem to have taken into any account the fact that these days about one in four voters pre-poll. People are very used to pre-polling and pre-polling would have been open prior to the school holidays. That wouldn’t have been difficult to do. So it is incomprehensible to me why it is that this one day of the term is the day in which five by-elections have been called deliberately. If you could have seen the faces of those opposite who thought they were just so smart. Well they are too smart by half.
HOST: So how has the Electoral Commissioner been influenced to do that then? You referred to him here. How has he been swayed in his determination to recommend that date as the optimal one?
ALBANESE: Well, the fact is that this date is determined by the Speaker upon advice of, consultation normally, with the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Electoral Commission. The Electoral Commission gave a range of advice. We ended up with a date that is incomprehensible to me.
HOST: But it is the date that was recommended as the optimal date by the Electoral Commissioner. So has he compromised or not?
ALBANESE: On what basis?
HOST: Was he compromised or not?
ALBANESE: Well on what basis was that date chosen as the optimal date? That is what we want to know because the circumstances here are red hot frankly.
HOST: As I ask you the key question here, you are moving away from it and that is the important detail – you are so willing to sort of make these …
ALBANESE: No, it’s not the important detail Hamish, with respect. The important detail is the fact that the one date that was chosen of all the dates that could have been chosen, before, after, it is beyond belief that someone at some stage didn’t say to the Electoral Commissioner before that letter was written that there was something happening on that date. One would have thought that the Electoral Commissioner would have taken into account events that were happening on that date. That is a normal process. And for a political by-election across five seats he surely would have taken into account the circumstances of what political events were happening on that day.
HOST: So he has been compromised?
ALBANESE: We think this is red hot and there are questions to be answered. We’ll get on with the fact of campaigning in these by-elections and Justine Keay has a large number or people out very early on quite a brisk morning here in Devonport. She will be campaigning, as will other Labor candidates, I might say, in all five seats across the country because, unlike Malcolm Turnbull and his team, we’ve got candidates in all the seats. They are not even bothering to run in Perth or Fremantle.
HOST: All right, there have been some questions about an altered transcript of an interview with Linda Burney – your colleague. She was interviewed by David Speers on Sky. The crucial part of that transcript referred to her saying there should not be indefinite detention referring to refugees in offshore detention. What is your position on that? Should there be indefinite detention or should there be a limit?
ALBANESE: I don’t think anyone says Hamish that there should be indefinite detention and that people should be locked away for ever. What my position is is that the people on Manus and Nauru need to be resettled in third countries. We have offers on the table, including from New Zealand, and the Government needs to resolve these issues. People have been there for too long. You can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity and these issues do need to be solved and it is up to the Government of the day to explain why it is that is has taken so long to resolve these issues. Even the US settlement arrangements are taking a very long time indeed.
HOST: If there shouldn’t be indefinite detention what is the maximum amount of time that it is reasonable to keep these people there?
ALBANESE: Well that is not up to me to say Hamish. It is up to the Government to resettle these people in third countries in accordance with what they said they would do and for them to implement that policy of achieving that outcome. That is what they said they would do. There is an enormous cost to the Australian taxpayer of keeping these centres open with all the people who have been found to be refugees looking for third countries of resettlement. But importantly as well there has also been a human cost and we have seen just this week another tragedy and the Government needs to resolve these issues and resolve them as a matter of urgency.
HOST: You will be familiar with the comments of the New South Wales Opposition Leader, Luke Foley, in the past 24 hours talking about so-called white flight, decribing an exodus of Anglo Saxons from certain suburbs of Sydney. They are suburbs that you know petty well I would have thought. Were you shocked to see leader of the Labor Party in an Australian state using that term white flight and do you understand why it was so offensive to so many people?
ALBANESE: I am often not shocked by front pages of The Daily Telegraph.
HOST: Well come on, he said it.
ALBANESE: Well I am often not shocked. He has apologised for it. It’s an inappropriate term and he says that he regrets using it and he has apologised and that is appropriate. But what is important is that he has drawn attention to the fact that one of the reasons why we live in a successful multicultural Australia, including in electorates like mine in the Inner West of Sydney, is that we have appropriate resettlement services, that we provide those services to people so that they can fully participate in the community, so they can have access to education and English language skills, so they can have access to assistance into employment, so they can get access to health care. That is what we need to do and Luke Foley is quite right to point towards the need for providing services for people, particularly when you have large numbers of new migrants settling in those communities.
HOST: We will leave there. Anthony Albanese, enjoy what it sounds like should be a beautiful day in Tassie.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.