Subjects: ALP National Conference; Refugee Policy; Energy Policy; Marriage Equality; Buffett Rule amendment.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Anthony Albanese, welcome.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you, Barry.
CASSIDY: What part of that argument could you not accept? The argument being that if you let one or two boats through the traffic would start again and people would drown.
ALBANESE: I certainly understand that this is a complex issue, and yesterday we saw a respectful debate where there was a policy going forward that we can all agree with, with the exception of one area, in which different people took different positions and that was the issue of turn backs. For me, that was something that I couldn’t support. In the context of the policy, I said earlier in the week that you could be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity. We have a policy that is very strong on humanity.
CASSIDY: But what part of that argument though, over the people drowning don’t you accept? That if you were to just allow the traffic to flow, people will drown.
ALBANESE: I don’t support the traffic flowing. I want to see the traffic stop. I don’t want people to risk their lives. I believe that what our policy will do, what we’ve adopted, particularly the regional solution through funding for the UNHCR along with the range of other measures that are there will ensure indeed that boats don’t have to be turned around because I don’t believe the boats will come. And when we talk about boats of course, we’re talking about people on boats. I couldn’t ask someone else to do something that I couldn’t see myself doing. And if people were in a boat, including families and children, I myself couldn’t turn that boat around. I would want to make sure that they were safe and secure. That was the position that I came to. I respect people on the other side of the debate who came to a different position.
CASSIDY: So how hard would it be for you in government then, when the turn backs start?
ALBANESE: I don’t believe they will start. That’s the point, Barry. Everyone in Labor wants to make sure that there aren’t turn backs because there aren’t boats. We want to make sure that there is a proper solution and we are the only political party that have now a comprehensive solution – one that will take our regional responsibilities seriously through the UNHCR. By doubling the intake, we reduce the incentive for people to get on boats because there will be more opportunity for people to go through proper processes without risking their lives. That’s what we want to do. And by making sure that in the offshore detention centres there is proper independent scrutiny and transparency of what is being done in our name, we will ensure, when you look at the whole package, that is something I can support. It was a good draft Platform, it’s been made better as a result of the amendments that were carried yesterday.
CASSIDY: But you did vote against the principle of turning back the boats. And you would have done that in the knowledge that if Bill Shorten was to lose on that issue, then his leadership and authority would have been badly damaged.
ALBANESE: We have a real conference where there are debates of different views, both out in the open but also behind some closed doors over the weekend. Three days looking at a comprehensive range of policies. One of the things that we do is we debate them out in the open. We have come to a conclusion. We’re friends at the beginning of the conference, we have a debate and discussion, we walk away as friends. We walk away with a platform that has the endorsement of the entire Australian Labor Party and one that we move forward all supporting.
CASSIDY: But do you walk away as friends in the situation where Bill Shorten uses the authority of his leadership to impose upon the party a position that you feel very strongly about? It’s almost a conscience issue. Surely when you go through that process there are going to be some long-term resentments.
ALBANESE: No, that’s not right, Barry. I’ve been a delegate to every ALP National Conference since 1986. I’ve been part of a whole range of debates. Sometimes I’ve been with the majority, sometimes with the minority. I’ve moved on, as does the Party. See, when you’re prepared to actually have a debate about ideas, and bring it to a conclusion, what you end up with is better outcomes than if a couple of people sit around in a room and make decisions on behalf of the whole movement. That’s what we saw yesterday. We saw a whole range of amendments across the platform, across two days. We’ve had discussion, debate and I believe we’re in a very strong position now to move forward with a plan for the Shorten Labor Government after the next election.
CASSIDY: Do you think your position has been enhanced in terms of winning the next election, as a result of this decision on turn backs?
ALBANESE: I think our position has been enhanced in terms of winning the election as a result of this conference.
CASSIDY: The turn back policy, is that part of that?
ALBANESE: Well, in terms of the comprehensive plan that we have for asylum seekers, of which that is a part, is obviously a step forward. What we have in terms of the specifics of it though is that nobody in the Labor Party wants to see turn backs actually be necessary. I’ve been a part of difficult decisions before, Barry. Ten years ago if I was sitting here, if you had said to me that as Deputy Prime Minister that I would support what I did support with offshore processing prior to the last election, I would have been somewhat surprised. The fact is that you respond, you look at the facts and you make decisions based upon your views and you put them forward. Then you unite as a movement to move forward. We’re in a much stronger position across the whole comprehensive plan that we have. Yesterday, we had the plan for renewable energy – 50% by 2030. We had comprehensive plans on education, on health, in my area of infrastructure. Yesterday morning we adopted a plan for nation building consistent with Labor’s tradition and history. Those plans are ones that we can take to the next election and I believe we can win.
CASSIDY: But at least you went back into the hall and you put your hand up. Tanya Plibersek and Penny Wong did not – they sent proxies. Was that the right thing to do?
ALBANESE: That’s a personal decision for them, and I certainly respect that decision. I’m not a part of the leadership group. I’ve had a history in this Party, Barry, as you well know, of raising issues and being an active participant in the Labor Party’s internal structures for a long period of time. At a previous national conference, I think it was the last one, I moved a motion against a decision provided for by Prime Minister Gillard on selling uranium to India. It’s consistent with the position I’ve had on nuclear issues my entire political life. There were no issues after that. It was done, agreed, we moved on.
CASSIDY: Because you were quoted in one of the papers this morning as saying unlike other caucus members who just sit there and do nothing.
ALBANESE: That’s just a fiction, and I told the journalist that that was just a fiction. That was not said. There were 400 people in the room. The debate that we saw yesterday on the conference floor was certainly reflected in the debate in the Left meeting where I was, as a member of the Left. It was a respectful debate and it was one that – it’s a pity that it wasn’t broadcast as well, frankly – because people can disagree on issues without being personal about it. And that’s a sign of a mature political party that is enriched by the diversity of views and is tolerant towards difference and respectful.
CASSIDY: Now, on gay marriage, it seems what the position the Left wants is a conscience vote this side of the election and a binding vote after that. Do you support that idea?
ALBANESE: I support a conscience vote on these issues. I do so as a matter of principle.
CASSIDY: But not a binding vote after the election, you’ve split with your own faction?
ALBANESE: I support a conscience vote on these issues. I am a strong supporter of marriage equality. I am the first Member of Parliament in the House of Representatives to bring a Private Member’s Bill about equal rights for same sex couples. I did that in my first term – back in the last century. I’m of the view that you can have that strong position but be respectful towards people who because of their faith have a different point of view. Part of what enriches our society is its diversity. That’s part of what equal rights for people who are same-sex couples is about. You can’t call for tolerance and respect for diversity, in my view, whilst being intolerant. I believe very strongly that it should be a conscience vote, that there should be a Private Member’s Bill put before the Parliament this year and we should debate it and then of course, we’ll move on and people will wonder what the fuss was about. People love who they love. We should respect that. It will, in my view, strengthen the institution of marriage when more people are able to participate in it.
CASSIDY: Just finally, you’ve put up what’s known as the Warren Buffett initiative, that people earning over $300,000 must pay a minimum 35 cents in the dollar income tax. Now this will be immediately characterised, I think, as the politics of envy. These people pay their taxes according to the rules as they exist.
ALBANESE: This is about fairness. These people have access to accountants and lawyers that ordinary people watching this show who are teachers, or nurses, or construction workers, don’t have. You have 75 millionaires, people who earned a total of $195 million in 2011-12, who paid a total of $82 only in tax. They spent millions of dollars on lawyers and accountants in order to minimise that tax. What the Warren Buffett rule says, essentially, is this. It came about because he realised his secretary was paying more tax than he was. The rule says that if you earn a certain amount of income then you should pay some minimum level of tax and you shouldn’t be able to reduce your tax to zero, because what that does is place the burden on ordinary PAYE taxpayers. What conference has decided is that we would give consideration to that when we’re in Government.
CASSIDY: Consideration, how strong is that?
ALBANESE: You can’t, without Treasury analysis and going through all of the detail, get to a position stronger than that. But what we have done now is begun a debate. I think this will have enormous support out there in the community. People know there’s something wrong when your average teacher is paying more than people who are earning millions of dollars each year.
CASSIDY: Ok, we’re out of time, but thanks for coming in this morning, appreciate it.
ALBANESE: Good to talk to you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.