SUBJECTS: Morrison’s announcement to cut the public service; Angus Horribilus; emissions reduction in Australia; Queensland; the Government’s lack of a plan; call for a Royal Commission into Veterans’ Suicide; Labor’s progressive agenda.
LEIGH SALES, HOST: Anthony Albanese, thanks very much for being with us.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks for having me on the program, Leigh.
SALES: The Government today has merged various departments, cutting the total number from 18 to 14. Doesn’t it make sense to try to find some economies of scale within the bureaucracy?
ALBANESE: Look, the problem here is, Leigh, five departmental secretaries have lost their jobs today at the same time that Angus Taylor is still in his. And it has been an Angus Horribilus. This is a rolling problem for the Government, for them to hold on to this minister. And secondly, regarding the bureaucratic changes, the problem here is that you will have multiple Cabinet Ministers reporting to the same department. And it really represents the centralisation of power, effectively with the Prime Minister.
SALES: The Prime Minister does say that this is about efficiency and better delivery of services and there won’t be any budgetary impacts. What’s wrong with it?
ALBANESE: Well, have a look at the centralisation that has occurred. This Prime Minister has been making cuts to the public service continually since they were elected in 2013. If you, for example, have an issue on the environment put together in the way that it is with agriculture, there is real issues behind the centralisation that has occurred as a result of these changes. Look, from time to time, there might be a case of it. But take some of the issues that have to be dealt with such as water allocation, the environment, agriculture, you have different interests. And one of the things that Government should do is to have those coordination comments when issues come before the Cabinet. What we’ve seen with this Prime Minister is a restructuring without any consultation with the departments themselves. And I find that quite remarkable that yesterday afternoon, departmental secretaries got phone calls, telling them they had lost their job and their departments has disappeared.
SALES: We’re at the end of the parliamentary year. So, let’s whip around the few of the big political issues at the moment. On emissions reduction in Australia, you’ve been saying that you don’t want to commit to a target before the next election because circumstances change and so forth. If Labor is setting its policy based on science, scientists are actually now saying that the Paris targets are going to be insufficient to keep global warming to an acceptable level. Is it possible that by the next election, your target could be more than that 45 per cent by 2030?
ALBANESE: Well, the problem is that there, Leigh, that target was set 2015. So, the problem was that half the period in which the target would operate was gone, in terms of by the time of the next election in 2022. We will look at the science. We will also look at where we are a 2022, or in the lead-up to it. We will obviously set some targets in 2021. But, we can’t do that in advanced. And we also don’t want to let the Government off the hook. We don’t want to say, ‘Don’t worry about what you do over the next couple of years because we will say what we’re doing from Opposition’. We’re not the Government. And the Government needs to act on climate change. And the truth is, that it hasn’t got an energy policy for the country. And it hasn’t put appropriate mechanisms in place.
SALES: Will you consider reinstating the Gillard-era Carbon Pricing Scheme, which did reduce emissions?
ALBANESE: No, we’ll look at mechanisms going forward.
SALES: But, that did work.
ALBANESE: We’re looking forward, not going back. During the last election campaign, we looked at the National Energy Guarantee, was essentially the basis of going forward. We thought that was a mechanism that would have worked, and we would have supported it. The Government abandoned its own policy. And we will, well before the next election, put forward a comprehensive suite of policies, but they’ll be one based upon our values. And the principle which is that strong action on climate change should create jobs, should reduce energy prices, and reduce emissions. And it is very possible to do all three.
SALES: In the Federal Election this year, research from the Grattan Institute showed that only one group moved to Labor and that was the wealthiest 20 per cent of Australians, largely comprised of people in the inner-cities. What message does that send you as Leader?
ALBANESE: That we need to do better, Leigh. We need to appeal to people in the cities but in the outer suburbs and in the regions. On Tuesday I fly off to Barcaldine. I’ll be in Emerald, Rockhampton, Gladstone, Hervey Bay, Maryborough all next week. And I’ll be talking to Queenslanders about what issues they are concerned with. I have spoken to some mayors throughout that region in order to line up meetings. We will be having public meetings. And we are going to look at businesses and industry while we’re there. We need to ensure that we’re in a strong position to win Government next time around. The truth is if you look at the pendulum, a range of seats have gone away from us. We will require, probably, in the order of a 4 per cent swing to us. What that means is that we need to be much more inclusive and appeal to people across a broad spectrum.
SALES: On the question of your appeal to working people, in your speech in the Labor Caucus this week, you kept coming back to unions. Rather than seeing things through the prism of unionism, when most Australians aren’t members of unions, wouldn’t be more relevant to the modern Australian economy to find ways to talk to say, the bloke who’s a tradie, who’s driving for Uber on the weekend to get a bit of extra cash?
ALBANESE: It’s not either or, Leigh. And I’ve done that. I spoke about that very issue, when I was in Perth at the first vision statement on jobs in the future work. We need to appeal to people whether they are self-employed, small businesses, contractors, or whether they are in unions or not in unions, whether they work full-time or part-time. And indeed, I think there’s a huge opportunity for us as well to engage more constructively with business, because this Government doesn’t have a plan. We’re saying that we need to talk about the creation of wealth as well as its distribution. And we want to make sure that we improve the economy. But we do say not as an end in itself, but to lift up living standards. The fact is that so many people are struggling because wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living.
SALES: In that same Caucus address, you pointed to issues that have been problems this year, veteran suicide, abuse and neglect in aged care facilities, low wages. All of that stuff was happening under Labor, it would have still been happening had Labor been elected. Why treat voters like they are stupid by pretending that all of that is the Morrison Government’s fault?
ALBANESE: Well, they’ve been there for seven years, Leigh. They have been in power for seven years. Longer than Labor was in office.
SALES: All of those problems, though, were things that were occurring when Labor was in power too.
ALBANESE: Longer than when Labor has been in office since 1996, they have been in office.
SALES: My point is that voters get tired of politics being ‘business as usual’. And these are problems that are big problems that have affected governments of both stripes.
ALBANESE: The big problems that need addressing, Leigh. And what’s the Government’s solution? We’ve got an ad man without a plan. He has no economic plan for the nation. No plan to grow wages. No plan to restore growth in the economy. No plan to deal with consumer demand. He just has a plan to attack trade unions and to bring in legislation which is the same as the legislation that he introduced during the last Parliament. What we need is a plan going forward. A plan that isn’t scared of the present and dealing with those issues, like the current Government is. And we’re putting forward constructive suggestions, this week on veterans’ suicide, putting forward a proposal after consulting with veterans and their families, people who have lost loved ones, that we should have a Royal Commission into the extraordinarily high tragedy of veterans’ suicides.
SALES: Since 1945, Labor’s entered Government just three times Federally with Whitlam, Hawke and then Rudd. What do you think are the conditions that make Australia decide, ‘yes, we are prepared to now give a progressive Government a go?’
ALBANESE: You have to put the agenda for change. And you need to make sure that people know that they will get security through that change. The Conservatives offer either no change at all, or games that are being made. And the truth is that we live in a fast-changing world. People are worried about what jobs will be available for their kids in the future. People are worried about climate change and its impact on our natural environment and the increasing number, as well as intensity, of extreme weather events. We need a Government that’s prepared to acknowledge what the problems are and present positive policies for the future. I’m optimistic about Australia’s future. We will have a comprehensive suite of policies. We will engage with people and we will be inclusive. And I am confident that just six months after what was in considerable defeat, we have regrouped. We’ve had the review, that’s now in the rear-vision mirror. We’re now looking forward. On Saturday, I give my third vision statement. Ironically, given the shutting down of Parliament today, it is about democracy about media reform, constitutional change, all of those issues of how we increase genuine participation in our democracy.
SALES: As I mentioned before, Parliament is finished for the year. If this is our final interview for the year, thank you very much for being regularly available to speak to our viewers and do difficult interviews and so forth. And best wishes to you for Christmas and the New Year.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Leigh. And as Naomi Wolf would say, Merry Christmas.
SALES: Thanks, Albo.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.