SUBJECTS: John Setka’s resignation from the Australian Labor party; trade unions affiliated with the Labor Party; free trade agreements; the need for a national drought strategy; opinion polls.
LEIGH SALES, HOST: Well, Anthony Albanese joins me now from Canberra. Is the Setka issue actually over, given that he plans to keep running the Victorian and Tasmanian branch of the CFMEU?
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, it certainly is over, Leigh, in terms of his participation in the Labor Party. I make clear my view that John Setka’s values were not the same as the values held by Australian Labor. Australian Labor respects women. Australian Labor wants an industrial relations system that is orderly and treats people with respect. And John Setka has not only brought the Labor Party into disrepute, but in terms of the union movement, I think that the union movement needs to find strong advocates and I think this is a good outcome for Labor. It’s one that I asked for as one of my first actions as Leader, and today it was achieved.
SALES: You talk about Labor values, Mr Setka, as you point out, has a personally poor record when it comes to abiding by the law, but it is not just him, so does the construction union itself. There have been many court judgements where judges have spoken of the union’s notorious and repeated flouting of the law. Why do you want to cut Mr Setka loose, but not the union itself, given its record of illegality?
ALBANESE: Leigh, if you took the construction union out of the sector, what you would have is far greater accidents on sites. You’d have real issues with occupational health and safety, but also with wages and conditions, with underpayment, with exploitation. The trade union movement plays a vital role in our democracy and in civil society.
SALES: I’m not suggesting they don’t, I’m just saying the construction union has a long track record of breaking the law.
ALBANESE: And overwhelmingly, construction workers and organisers go to work to make a difference to their co-workers each and every day, and I am very familiar with many people in that union. They’re people that I respect. Where bad behaviour occurs, it should be called out. I’ve done that. I’ve acted.
SALES: Mr Setka was highly critical of you, personally, in his statement today. He pointed, for example, to Labor’s support of free trade deals with Indonesia, Hong Kong and Peru. The ACTU itself actually has also said it is opposed to those deals because it thinks they benefit multinational companies and not Australian workers. Doesn’t that back Mr Setka’s point that Labor, under your leadership; is not doing all it could for workers?
ALBANESE: Not at all. We’re delivering for workers, Leigh. And as a direct result of the agreement with Indonesia there will be hundreds of extra jobs at Port Kembla in the steelworks. As a direct result of those agreements there will be many Australian jobs created, delivering, as Indonesia rises to the fourth largest economy in the world. It’s already one of the largest democracies in the world. It has growth rates that are quite extraordinary. They present opportunities in agriculture, in manufacturing, in service delivery. They’re going to move a new capital, Leigh, from Jakarta by 2022. What that means is opportunities for Australian companies and workers in infrastructure, in engineering, architects, service delivery, legal services, all as well as the products that will go into that present an enormous opportunity for Australia. And a very simple figure; what the Indonesian Agreement does is allow for 2% of Indonesian exports into Australia, additional, to be tariff-free, but 25% of Australian goods and services into Indonesia to be tariff-free, and we made sure in the negotiations with the Government, we have made assurances that there will be labour market testing, that there will be no privatisation as a result in terms of services. We sought ten different changes from the Government and got all of them through.
SALES: Can I ask just one quick question on Mr Setka, with him staying on in a leadership position; will the Labor Party keep taking money from that branch of the union?
ALBANESE: Well, the CFMEU is affiliated to the Labor Party. And the CFMEU represents construction workers, people in mining, people in energy.
LEIGH: So, that is a yes I take it?
ALBANESE: We want to represent working people, Leigh. We don’t shy away from the connections that we have with the trade union movement.
SALES: So it is a pretty straight question. Will you keep taking their money with him as leader?
ALBANESE: Well, they’re affiliated to the Labor Party, Leigh, and the Labor Party exists, part of our organisational structure is the affiliation of the unions. I support unions having input into the Labor Party because what that does is make sure that we can keep in touch with what’s happening in workplaces.
SALES: The PM has rejected Labor’s suggestion for a bipartisan cabinet about the drought. Is there anything else that you think could be done immediately?
ALBANESE: Well, Leigh, what we need is a national drought strategy. We don’t have that. It’s fine to have one-off measures, and we’ve supported measures that have been put forward to provide assistance to farmers. But, for example, today we asked about what assistance is being provided to workers, not farmers, but people who work on farms, and people who depend upon the agricultural sector, who might live either on the farms or might live in towns in our rural communities. Now, the Government obfuscated about that. What’s more, even the National Party members have put out their own drought strategy because they’re frustrated. So, it is not surprising that the Government has rejected the idea of a bipartisan approach to drought strategy. They can’t even get a bipartisan approach between the Liberal Party and the National Party.
SALES: Every politician pays attention to opinion polls. Every politician publicly says that they don’t pay attention to opinion polls. How much attention are you paying to them now that you are leader?
ALBANESE: I look at opinion polls, as all politicians do. But my focus is on the next election in 2022. We’ve received, if you look at the opinion polls, if you believe them, a swing to Labor since the election. But we all know that opinion polls can’t be granted as gospel, because we know that even the exit poll got it wrong at the May election.
SALES: Indeed. Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for your time tonight.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much.