SUBJECTS: John Setka; Sally McManus; Federal Election; listening tour; franking credits; tax cuts; education; healthcare; aspiration.
LEIGH SALES: Union heavyweight John Setka
has been one of the most controversial figures in the labour movement for decades, but he remains a powerful force.
JOHN SETKA: We’ll go to their local footy club, we’ll go to their local shopping centre, they will not be able to show their faces anywhere, their kids will be ashamed …
SALES: The Victorian Secretary of the CFMEU is currently on leave from the union while he faces harassment charges. The final straw for the Labor Party appears to be comments he has made reportedly taking aim at the anti domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty, saying her activism has reduced men’s rights. John Setka says his remarks were taken out of context. Labor’s new Leader, Anthony Albanese, is calling for Mr Setka’s expulsion from the Party. He joined me in Sydney a short time ago: Anthony Albanese, thanks for coming in.
ANTHONY ALBANESE , LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks for having me on the program, Leigh.
SALES: The list of questionable activity by John Setka is a mile long, including the current criminal charges he is facing on harassing a woman. Shouldn’t the Labor Party have taken action a long time before now?
ALBANESE: I’ve been the Leader of the Labor Party for less than two weeks, Leigh. I don’t think anyone can say that I haven’t been decisive on this issue. Of course my actions don’t relate to anything that’s before the courts. What they relate to, is the views that Mr Setka has put forward on a range of issues that are, frankly, out of line. Not just with the Labor Party, but out of line with mainstream Australian views.
SALES: If John Setka is expelled from the Labor Party he could still carry on as Victorian Secretary of the CFMEU, am I right?
ALBANESE: That’s right. I mean he’s elected as the Secretary of the Union and that’s a matter for the union.
SALES: So how would Labor then deal with the Victorian branch of the CFMEU if he is there?
ALBANESE: If he is not a Member of the Labor Party he can’t participate in any Labor Party forums, it’s that clear.
SALES: But you have a relationship with the CFMEU, you take money from them and so forth?
ALBANESE: What I have control over is the Labor Party. I’m not the leader of the CFMEU, I’m the Leader of the Labor Party, and I’ve exercised my authority in partnership – after consultation with colleagues – we’ve made sure we’ve got it right. Today, Mr Setka’s membership has been suspended by the National Executive Committee, and I will take a motion of expulsion to the next meeting of the National Executive, which will be the first Friday in July.
SALES: The CFMEU more broadly has a history of law breaking. The Federal Court has slammed its record as disgraceful and woeful; it’s been fined millions of dollars over the years. As Labor Leader will you be happy to work with and to take money from an organisation with that track record?
ALBANESE: The fact is, there are also employers in the construction industry that have had real issues. This is a dangerous industry. If you don’t have unions in the construction sector what you’ll have is an increase beyond the already very high numbers of people who are victims, literally, in terms of fatalities, but also injuries on work sites. Unions play an important role in that, but unions need to stick to the law as do employers.
SALES: The ACTU Secretary, Sally McManus, said on this program back when she got the job, that when laws are unjust she doesn’t see a problem with breaking them. Do you endorse that attitude?
ALBANESE: I support people complying with the law whether they’re unions or businesses. And one of the things that I’ve tried to say, Leigh, since I became Leader of the Party; is that unions and business have common interests. When I’ve met with people during the listening tour I’m conducting around the nation, they recognise that. Both businesses and union leaders and dare I say it as well, individual smaller employers, but also individual workers recognise that as well. What we need is less division in our society and more concentration on what unites us as a country.
SALES: On your listening tour what have you learned so far that you didn’t know?
ALBANESE: One of the things I’ve learned: one, is that obviously people are very disappointed in the result on May 18, but they’re determined. We had 400 people turn up to a pub in Fremantle on Sunday afternoon just to engage in the debate about Labor’s future, and about how we get a better outcome next time. But we’ve also had, from a number of businesses who I’ve met with, concern about the relationship with the Labor Party and a view that somehow we were concentrating, perhaps, on what divides us as a nation rather than what unites us. Certainly the issue of franking credits was an issue during the election campaign. But I think more broadly there was an image issue of how we positioned ourselves going into that election.
SALES: Your Shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, today has written an article saying that Labor needs to reclaim its place as the party of aspiration. Wouldn’t it help aspiration to back the Coalition in lowering personal income tax rates for people?
ALBANESE: It certainly would on the first tranche of the Coalition’s proposal, which is aimed at low and middle-income earners, and we support that, Leigh. We’ve said that very clearly. We’re disappointed that Prime Minister Morrison has already broken a commitment, because that was due to come in on July 1. As for the second and third tranches of that proposal, they’re off beyond the election to come in 2022. And in the third tranche’s case, that is in 2025. It is very clearly, in my view, a triumph of hope over economic reality for anyone to be able to say they know what the economy will look like in 2025. There’s already great turbulence and uncertainty both in the global economy, but also in the domestic economy.
SALES: But wouldn’t setting a long-term policy like that help with certainty? Business for example is always saying: ‘Oh, we’re lacking certainty’. Setting a policy that far out would give some certainty, wouldn’t it?
ALBANESE: The Government isn’t providing certainty in terms of the analysis which has been put forward. They are yet to even give us a figure of what the impact is from income ranges of the proposals that they’re putting forward. They’re yet to say what cuts might need to be made. If you are making these major changes in 2024/25, then you need to say what the impact will be. Not just on the revenue side, but on the expenditure side as well, what cuts will be necessary. We want to examine all of this in detail. We’ll do it in a considered way and then we’ll come to a position.
SALES: Why do you say that it would help aspiration when a cut is at the lower end, but not at the middle end? Plenty of people earn money, particularly if they’re being aspirational and advancing their business, they would be earning money in that sort of middle bracket.
ALBANESE: Leigh, I think the difference between Labor’s approach to aspiration and the Coalition’s is simply this: I’m an embodiment of aspiration. I grew up, single parent in a council house not far from here. I’m now Leader of the Labor Party and I’ve done very well in life. People aspire to a better life for themselves and their family. My mum did that for me and I do that for my son, and we all do it for our kids. But we do things other than just for direct individuals and families. We aspire to a better neighbourhood, community and indeed nation. To do that, we need to look at things like education and investment. We need to make sure that the health system works for everyone, not just those who can afford to pay for healthcare. We need to make sure that housing affordability is addressed. That’s the aspiration that I think Australians really have. It’s not about individualism. It is about family, community and indeed national aspiration as well.
SALES: Anthony Albanese, thanks for joining us.
ALBANESE: Thanks, Leigh.