SUBJECTS: Listening tour; John Setka; Paladin; Tax cuts.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I want to bring in my first guest today. It’s the Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese who joins us from the Top Ed. Welcome.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: G’day, Patricia. It is a very beautiful day here in Darwin.
KARVELAS: John Setka is threatening to freeze donations to the Labor Party if you go ahead with plans to expel him. Are you worried about losing that money?
ALBANESE: No, I’m worried about just doing the right thing, Patricia, simple as that. The decision, which individual unions make, is one for them, whether they want to support Labor being in government or not. My decision on Mr Setka is based upon his long history of bringing the Labor Party into disrepute. He is a Victorian Branch Secretary of course. I doubt whether, Patricia, you can name the New South Wales Branch Secretary or the WA Branch Secretary or the South Australian Branch Secretary. And I think there is probably a reason for that. Any time that Mr Setka has got publicity, it has not been such that it has brought credit on either the trade union movement or on him as a member of the Australian Labor Party.
KARVELAS: Okay, so he is threatening a legal challenge as well. What is your response to that? Have you sought legal advice on this situation?
ALBANESE: We always operate on the basis of advice, we had advice before I gave my press conference on last week, last Tuesday. So the fact is that the precedent is there, the Labor Party rules are very clear and political parties have a right to determine who is a member of them or not. And it is not unusual for people to be excluded from political parties and that happens at the state branch level and certainly it has happened at the national level many, many times before, it is very clear that political parties do have a right to determine their own membership, common sense tells you that, Patricia.
KARVELAS: So if the CFMMEU, the Victorian branch, pulls money, I think it is about $1 million they have spent on both the state and federal Labor parties, and there are other unions that may follow. That puts you in a difficult situation. That is not something to be scoffed at. That is pretty significant, isn’t it?
ALBANESE: Patricia, I am just conducting myself based upon my responsibility to lead the Labor Party. I will make decisions based upon their merits, not based upon any consideration of those matters. Those matters are up to them. Trade unions have supported Labor historically for reasons which include that Labor Governments tend to advantage working-class people. It’s the Coalition that has that legislation like WorkChoices, and it has legislation that it has brought in again foreshadowing right now legislation, which would be another attack on the right of unions to exist. The Coalition is engaged in anti-union rhetoric. I am pro-union, but I am also pro making sure that union officials bring credit to the trade union movement. And Sally McManus’s actions on behalf of the ACTU and the actions of a range of senior federal unions in recent days shows that’s the case, and we have still got to go through of course Mr Setka’s court case in which he has already indicated he would plead guilty to at least one of the quite serious charges that have been brought. And once that occurs, of course, that will occur prior to the ALP National executive meeting on July the 5th.
KARVELAS: On that issue, when you first declared this, you mentioned that this was based on comments made on Rosie Batty, the anti-violence, anti-domestic violence campaign. Why didn’t you call John Setka to get his side of the story?
ALBANESE: I don’t have John Setka’s number, Patricia.
KARVELAS: I am sure you could get it. I’ve got it, I could send it to you.
ALBANESE: I have no relationship with John Setka. I spoke to other people in the union who were there who I do have a relationship with. The fact is that he has an opportunity to present his version of what happened, and let’s have a look at what he says, Patricia. He says that he mentioned Rosie Batty, he says it was in the context of his court case, and he outlined, he mentions Rosie Batty and the Royal Commission on domestic violence that has occurred in Victoria. And it was in the context of his plea before the courts on issues relating to harassment of a woman in which one of the serious charges he has said that he intends to plead guilty on. So it is hard to suggest that he mentioned Rosie Batty in any other context. He says he was misinterpreted. The first person who came out and said on his behalf was Christy Kane from the WA MUA who said he didn’t mention Rosie Batty at all. He obviously wasn’t paying attention because that is not what Mr Setka says. But it wasn’t just about this, Patricia, and I made that very clear. I made comments about Mr Setka at the previous day, the previous day before that and the day before that. And that indicates the problem that’s here, which is that the trade union movement can’t get clean air. I wasn’t able to get clean air talking about the issues that I am concerned about. The issue of job creation, the issue of making sure that members of unions and those who aren’t get a better living standard in this country. And the fact that this pattern of behaviour, which has been there for a very long period of time, and I have made comments about Mr Setka previously, and indeed, he has objected to those comments being made.
KARVELAS: Sally McManus told me last week that even if John Setka is innocent, he should step down. Do you agree?
ALBANESE: Sally McManus can speak for herself. I am speaking for myself.
KARVELAS: But do you agree?
ALBANESE: No, I am speaking for myself, Patricia,
KARVELAS: But do you agree with that sentiment?
ALBANESE: Well no, I am speaking for myself, Patricia. And what I am saying very clearly, and other people in the labour movement are saying, and you know full well and people watching this show, if they think to themselves, is John Setka advancing the cause of the union movement, his ongoing presence? Or is it a negative? Is it being used by people who want to attack the trade union movement and its very existence such as people in the current Coalition Government, people like Michaelia Cash, who of course her office’s infamous involvement in the raids on the AWU and other anti-union activity that has gone on? Are they gaining from Mr Setka’s ongoing presence in the union movement? As I said to you, Patricia, you have had time to think about it now, can you name any of the other state secretaries of the CFMEU construction branch around the country? I would be amazed if you could.
KARVELAS: All right, I am not going to go around naming other CFMEU secretaries. I think it is a waste of time but I get your point.
ALBANESE: Because you can’t. That is not a criticism of you.
KARVELAS: No I understand your point.
ALBANESE: The point here is that every time Mr Setka gets a run on page one of the newspaper, it hasn’t been for ‘trade union wins wage increase for deserving workers’. It has been a negative, and it is consistently the case. And you just can’t go around behaving in a way of engaging in abuse, consistently.
KARVELAS: Okay so what is your message to the other blue-collar unions that I know are concerned, the ETU is one of them. What is your message to them? Because they think that you are going in boots and all, attacking blue-collar unions.
ALBANESE: Well they don’t really think that, Patricia. You might have spoken to …
KARVELAS: That’s what they’re saying.
ALBANESE: I am sorry, Patricia, but I was with a range of people over recent days, including people associated with that union and others. I have been holding forums, I had one last night in Darwin with over 100 people. I was with over 300 people in Adelaide on Saturday. I have been going around the country – you know how many people came up to me and said, you are doing the wrong thing by John Setka? Zero. Not one. Not one person, including the members of – there were people in CFMEU t-shirts who were there last night at the event at the Darwin Motorboat Club where anyone in the community could come along and have a chat and have that engagement. That is not what people are concerned about. People are concerned about the real issues confronting the country; the need for a strong economy; the need for job creation. And Darwin here is suffering from the fact that the Government hasn’t taken up options like building the ship lift here in Darwin that would create jobs, including jobs in the construction sector, bringing forward some of the road infrastructure projects that we announced during the campaign. The Reserve Bank is saying we need to stimulate the economy, the Government is sitting on its hands at this point. That is what people are concerned about. They are not particularly concerned in terms of top order, this is something that is an issue in terms of the media, but I am a strong supporter of trade unions, I am a strong supporter of the rights of working people to organise. And I have been consistent about that.
KARVELAS: You are on this listening tour. Now, you have been on it a couple of weeks. You must have drawn some conclusions by now. What is the big take-out message from voters?
ALBANESE: Well, there’s not of course a homogeneous message. There are many different messages. I have spoken to people who voted for us and some who didn’t. So, the message varies I think from the business community, quite clearly, there was a problem with the relationship that we had. I spoke to people yesterday from the Master Builders and from other organisations. They certainly were not hostile to Labor and indeed they welcomed the new investment that we had committed to that now won’t be going ahead, but they were concerned that that relationship meant that we were, seen to be pitting Australian against other Australians, and the issue of aspirational voters. There are many people who earn reasonable outcomes who thought that we weren’t appealing to them, and in terms of issues like franking credits. Of course I spoke to another person in Adelaide who was concerned about that, on Saturday. But they of course didn’t have any shares and wouldn’t have been impacted by any changes at all, but they were concerned because they got the message that it was going to impact on them. Quite clearly, we need to communicate our messages more succinctly and more clearly and I believe that Labor Governments do represent the interests of the majority of Australians. We need to do better at that. We did that here in Darwin, we won both of the seats in the Northern Territory, so there are some lessons to be learned here about the good work that we did in the lead up to the election on May 18.
KARVELAS: And you’ve asked the Government to provide a breakdown of the cost of each stage of its tax cuts. Are you prepared to negotiate to pass the entire package?
ALBANESE: Well, we want to base our decisions on the facts, Patricia. That is why we have asked for the facts. At the moment they have yet to provide a breakdown of what the impact would be year on year, and what the impact on particular income groups would be as well. The other issues are one of what happens, what is the impact on expenditure – if you cut revenue, you have less money to invest in education and health and infrastructure. What is the impact there of these proposed changes? Has the Government considered that at all?
The other concern which is there, as well as distributional issues, is simply what provision the Government has made for changes in the economy. We know the election was May 18, and less than a month later, the Reserve Bank made a decision to lower interest rates to stimulate the economy through monetary policy, and they are saying that the economy is very flat, that jobs growth is low except for casual jobs. They are saying that household confidence is low, mortgage stress is at record levels. These are all issues that we need to consider, and to think that you will know exactly what the economy looks like in 2024, 2025, is in my view a triumphant of hope over economic reality. I am concerned …
KARVELAS: But are you prepared to deny voters a tax cut if the Government will not split the Bill?
ALBANESE: Patricia, the Government needs to not play politics with this. We have said we will support stage one and that we would do it immediately. We can do it in an hour. We’ll consider stages two and three based upon the facts. We do have the facts on stage one, because it was due to come in on July 1. The Government has already broken a commitment to the Australian people and they will be denying Australians a tax cut that they said would come in from July 1. So that is completely …
KARVELAS: Sure. But they took this to the electorate, the entire package. In fact, it was their key measure in the Budget, and then they sold it throughout the election campaign. So clearly you can’t say they have hidden about this one …
ALBANESE: They didn’t sell much in the election campaign Patricia …
KARVELAS: Well they talked about this, this is their main policy …
ALBANESE: … they just talked about us. Like media, the they just talked about us. If you look at what the key slogans were in the election campaign – I am not going to repeat them – they were all aimed at us and aimed at attacks on our Leader and they were very personal in the way that they targeted him. It was a negative campaign. It was not a positive campaign from the Government in favour of this or any other policies. And they certainly, I agree, that the tax cuts due to come in on July 1 should have been implemented and should occur, but you don’t get a mandate for the rest of time, Patricia. There is another election before stage two comes in and quite possibly another election after that before stage three comes in. This idea – it used to be, the media have bought some of this nonsense – they used to talk about forward estimates. Now forward estimates have somehow become 10 years.
KARVELAS: Well Labor started that too Anthony Albanese …
ALBANESE: So the Reserve Bank have had a look …
KARVELAS: You’ve had many 10 years …
ALBANESE: The Reserve Bank have had a look at the measures on infrastructure, for example. There is one of the roads between Peter Dutton’s electorate and the electorate of Petrie across the Bruce Highway, a big congestion point where when we got the details of the timeline, that construction is due to start in 2027. So I reckon that the good voters of Petrie and Dickson are going to get a shock when nothing happens in the next term unless that is brought forward. They are pushing off expenditure into the future, but these tax cuts need to be considered in the context of what will the economy look like at that time, what is the economically responsible thing to do? Now, the Government, I agree, with the Government that there is a need for stimulus right now, right now, and the stage that provides that stimulus is the first one.
KARVELAS: Just finally, and briefly if we can, the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton wants a sensible conversation around expanding the power of the Australian Signals Directorate to work domestically. Is that a conversation you will be part of? Do you think it is worth having?
ALBANESE: We are always prepared to be part of conversations, but the Home Affairs Minister doesn’t have a great record at transparency. It has got to be said. And he should deal with the many crises which are there right now. You have an issue over Manus and the Paladin issue, which has been looked at by the National Audit Office and how a company with an office in a shed in Kangaroo Island got a $420 million contract without an open tender process. You have the ongoing issue of the need to settle people who are on Manus and Nauru in third countries. The Government is now in its third term …
KARVELAS: But on this proposal …
ALBANESE: … and they can’t continue …
KARVELAS: … this proposal I asked about, do you think it is worth considering?
ALBANESE: Well Patricia, I haven’t seen any proposal from him. If Mr Dutton wants to propose a serious look at measures that are aimed at national security, we want to keep people safe, but we also are very conscious about the need for civil liberties to be protected as well, and for there not to be overreach in these laws. So we would examine them as we examine everything else that the Government puts up. But at the moment the only reason why we know any of this of course is a couple of years ago when it was considered, Annika Smethurst, raising these issues and of course we saw what the response was with the house being raided in I think in a quite outrageous circumstances a couple of weeks ago, and now it would appear after an interview on Insiders yesterday that there’s other proposals. It would be nice if Peter Dutton actually contacted the Labor Party if he wanted some level of support, some level of transparency, and was open about it. But I do think that any measures need to be properly considered, not just by the Labor Party, they need to be properly considered by the community, because the community has a right to have input to these decisions as well, and to be aware of what is being done in our name.
KARVELAS: Anthony Albanese, thank you so much for joining us from Darwin.
ALBANESE: Thank you, Patricia.