SUBJECTS: Reserve Bank’s decision not to cut interest rates; ICAC inquiry into NSW Labor; Biloela family.
LEIGH SALES: The Reserve Bank today decided not to cut interest rates, even though it is concerned about the health of the Australian economy. With interest rates so low already, there is not much more the bank can do to cushion the economy from shocks and the last thing the Morrison Government wants is a recession. For his take on that and other stories of the day, I was joined a short time ago in Sydney by the Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese. Thank you for coming in.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good to be with you.
SALES: Let’s start with the economy. The Reserve Bank this afternoon has left interest rates on hold. A lot of indicators overseas and here in Australia show that there is a risk of recession in the not too distant future. The strategy of the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, seems to be a return to surplus, no matter what. Does Labor think Australia would be better to go into deficit to stimulus for the economy?
ALBANESE: They should listen to the Reserve Bank. What the Reserve Bank is saying is they can’t do all the heavy lifting and monetary policy means interest rates are one third of what they were during the emergency levels of the Global Financial Crisis. We have got consumer demand that is very flat. We’ve got economic growth downcast from two and three quarters to two and a half per cent. We’ve got wage stagnation that’s having an impact on the economy. All of the economic indicators are negative for this Government and Josh Frydenberg’s strategy is, “She’ll be right, mate”.
SALES: You point out the Reserve Bank wants to shift from monetary policy to fiscal policy, increasing the economy. That would mean potentially going into deficit?
ALBANESE: We support the budget staying in surplus but we believe there are a range of measures the Government could do. It is no good announcing infrastructure investment, like Linkfield Road announced in the election campaign, construction begins in 2026. That’s farcical. It needs to stimulate the economy and stimulate demand. At the moment, the Government is complacent. They have got a political strategy but don’t have an economic policy and it’s showing up in all of the key economic indicators.
SALES: On another matter, the corruption hearings into the donations to NSW Labor are continuing. The federal response is shock and disbelief as if the Party’s headquarters and the state Labor MPs are church and state. That is hard for the average voter to believe that Labor MPs have no idea of the culture of your Party headquarters and the way it gets money?
ALBANESE: Quite frankly, people didn’t know about it. If you knew about it you would be reporting on it.
SALES: But I’m not a key elected official in the Labor Party.
ALBANESE: I never met the particular official and didn’t know he existed, who was involved in this, and of course, Kaila Murnain has paid a price and been suspended from her position. What we need to do is make sure that the ICAC can undertake its work. There’s clearly a need for structural reform in the NSW branch to make sure this can never happen again.
SALES: Shouldn’t there be an audit, not just of the NSW branch, but of all branches, because if it’s going on here, how do we know it’s not going on else?
ALBANESE: The Federal Labor Party, unlike the Government, declare all donations above $1,000, we think that is what the threshold should be. In NSW, no less than 10 Liberal Party MPs either had to resign from Parliament or go to the crossbench because they were caught up in that.
SALES: Why not be transparent and have an audit?
ALBANESE: We have an audit process.
SALES: It clearly hasn’t worked.
ALBANESE: We have an audit process of our federal funding as a national Party. What we need to do is that in NSW there clearly needs to be a proper examination of how it occurred and a restructuring.
SALES: Why just NSW though?
ALBANESE: It is in NSW that this has occurred.
SALES: How do you know?
ALBANESE: Because federally we have a strong audit process and there is no suggestion that federally there are any of these issues in the national office.
SALES: Is the Party culture to do whatever it takes to get as much money as possible through the doors?
ALBANESE: Well, look, it’s up to the NSW branch officials to comment and they have been doing that before the ICAC. And that will continue to take place over the coming weeks. We need to not pre-empt that. It is one important; one of the issues is interference in proper processes. There is a process, the ICAC, and we shouldn’t interfere with that while that process is ongoing.
SALES: If we can turn to the Biloela based Tamil family facing deportation, Australia is a democracy under the rule of law. This family has failed at ever hurdle to prove its refugee status. If you believe in the rule of law, isn’t it rightful they be deported?
ALBANESE: What is right is that we look at the national interest. Under the law, the Minister has discretion when there are circumstances, such as Peter Dutton himself quoted when he allowed au pairs into the country after representations were made to him, he spoke about the Australian interest and used the term compassion. That is what the ministerial discretion is for, for cases like this, whereby we have two Australians, in terms of the kids, aged four and two, who were born here, but we also have Nades, who worked at the local meat works in Biloela, we have Priya who volunteered at St Vincent de Paul. The family were integrated in the community of Biloela and they have strongly advocated for them to stay here and they have invited me up there tomorrow, I will be travelling to meet with community leaders in Biloela about the case to discuss with them first hand their experience and why they want this family to be allowed to stay.
SALES: Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison have talked about making an exception and the difficulties with making an exception. Wouldn’t it send a message to say, asylum seekers who come here illegally by plane, if you come to the country and have a child you’ll be able to get around the rules?
ALBANESE: Not at all. Peter Dutton makes decisions based upon his ministerial discretion all the time. He did it when people who have his phone number were able to pick up and make representations. Here we have an Australian family in Biloela, regional Queensland, Scott Morrison says if you have a go you’ll get a go. This family are having a go here, they’re making a contribution, the community want them to stay. It would not undermine our borders whatsoever for the minister to intervene because of the particular circumstances which are there. You can have strong borders without losing your humanity and that’s what this is about.
SALES: Anthony Albanese, thank you.