Feb 28, 2016

Transcript of television interview – ABC Insiders

Subjects: Senate reform; Gary Gray; polls; Malcolm Turnbull; polls; tax reform; negative gearing; Defence spending; education funding

BARRIE CASSIDY, PRESENTER: The Coalition wasn’t the only party in a muddle this week. Labor frontbencher Gary Gray took the unusual step of criticising his own party’s position on Senate voting reform.

GARY GRAY, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RESOURCES: There have been many pieces of misinformation spread about the bill that’s currently being debated. … I’m astonished that the kind of dumb view, that if you vote for someone who loses, that your vote’s wasted, has taken some hold during this discussion. I lost the argument in my party room on Senate reform, so Labor will oppose the substantive reforms that are enshrined in this bill. I think that’s sad, but it is that reality. And my party has moved that it will be opposing this bill and therefore I oppose this bill.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Anthony Albanese, welcome.


BARRIE CASSIDY: So sad, says Gary Gray that you and your colleagues have embraced a dumb view.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well I have a fundamental view that this is bad legislation. This is legislation which seeks to solve a problem. The problem is Australians are not voting for major parties in the Senate. You don’t solve a political problem with a manipulation and a fix between the Coalition and the Greens political party and that is precisely what this is.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Isn’t it though better for people to mark six boxes above the line rather than one? Wouldn’t that better demonstrate their true feelings?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well we’ll wait and see what happens in terms of the informal vote as one of the issues that we’re concerned about. They could have looked at a whole range of issues like thresholds to make sure that people couldn’t be elected on a very small number of votes.

But the truth is this legislation is motivated by the Coalition being unable to get its 2014 Budget through the Parliament, unable to get through other draconian legislation such as that which would have seen all Australian shipping leave our coast and that’s a good thing. The senators have played the role that the Senate was elected to do.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But I come back to the point though if it’s a better reflection of the voters’ intention than the existing system, then why wouldn’t you take this as better than nothing?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well Barrie, more than 20 per cent of people, whether we like it or not, don’t vote for one of the major parties. They deserve to be reflected. It’s called democracy. And the Government have been – have failed to get their legislation through. And when I was Leader of the House in a parliament that 70 votes out of 150 on the Labor side, we got 595 pieces of legislation through, we treated people like adults, we treated people in a mature, respectful way, we got our legislation through.

The Government has failed because I think it went into government and then did the opposite with its 2014 Budget. Hasn’t treated senators with respect. The number of times I’ve spoken to Senate crossbenchers when I’ve been the first person to inform them about Government legislation is quite extraordinary.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Why is Gary Gray still on the frontbench?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well he’s entitled to his views. And what we’ve seen …

BARRIE CASSIDY: But he’s a shadow minister, he goes into the Parliament – he’s responsible for this legislation and he goes into the Parliament and criticises it. Since when has that been acceptable behaviour?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well it certainly is not something that I would have done. But, I’ll tell you what …

BARRIE CASSIDY: Would you have tolerated it? As leader, would you have tolerated it?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I tell you what, it’s a lot better than someone saying one thing inside the Parliament and ringing your mobile and telling you something different, which is the way that a lot of politics works, as you know.

BARRIE CASSIDY: So, that sort of thing will be tolerated into the future?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well Gary of course is leaving the Parliament. He’s got very strong views on this and of course his views were on record as a member of the joint committee. So it’s not like he could pretend that his views had changed. He put on the record very clearly his views. I don’t have a problem with that in this circumstance.

BARRIE CASSIDY: He also says of course that you can’t win the next election. Do you accept that you’re still a long shot?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, not at all. I think we’re very competitive. Every single election is winnable and this one certainly is. I mean, people expected when Malcolm Turnbull took over from Tony Abbott something different. What they’ve got is Tony Abbott in a top hat. What they’ve got is Malcolm Turnbull at war with Tony Abbott, but that’s not the big problem.

The big problem is Malcolm Turnbull at war with himself – on climate change, on marriage equality, on actually funding public transport, on the republic even. And I think that people want conviction politicians. They want people to be able to stand up for what they believe in. Malcolm Turnbull is not the Malcolm Turnbull people thought they were getting.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Yeah, well then how do you explain in preferred prime minister he’s miles ahead of Bill Shorten and how big a handicap is that for Labor?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well people were very relieved at the change from Tony Abbott.

BARRIE CASSIDY: They still are, according to the polls on preferred prime minister?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: But the direction is headed downwards. And the direction is headed downwards just as Labor’s vote is going up. Labor has a range of policies out there on – not just on negative gearing and capital gains tax and a taxation policy which is pretty fundamental, but on education, implementing the policy that we had in government but promoting a path towards better funding for schools. We have health policies, infrastructure policy, cities policy – all of it out there, all of it fully costed. And the Government has failed to transition from opposition to government. Tony Abbott had a plan to get into government, but he didn’t have a plan to govern and Malcolm Turnbull had a plan to get rid of Tony Abbott, but he also doesn’t have a plan to govern.

BARRIE CASSIDY: I go back to the question though: how much of a handicap is it to have a leader who trails – who trails the Prime Minister by that amount?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well it’s not the first time that a government leader has been ahead of an opposition leader. When you’re the opposition leader you inevitably lose a bit of paint as you argue the case strongly. And Bill Shorten has argued the case strongly against fundamentally the 2014 Budget, and since then, we’re putting alternative policies out. We have a very strong team across the board and our team is certainly far superior to those on the opposite side, even though their team seems to change every week.

BARRIE CASSIDY: If you run a very competitive race but lose, of course the leadership is then thrown open according to the old rules and would you be interested?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I intend to win.

BARRIE CASSIDY: If you were to lose?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I intend to win.

BARRIE CASSIDY: You won’t answer a hypothetical?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I intend to win. I intend to be a minister in a Labor government, which is far better than being Leader of the Opposition.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Are you operating on the basis of a double dissolution election?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think we’ve got to prepare for that, but it’s pretty clear that the Government is all over the shop. They are – incoherent is the politest term you could use. They don’t have an agenda, they don’t have a narrative, they don’t have any sense of purpose at all. So it wouldn’t surprise me if the day after the Budget they went to a double dissolution election. I think that is what the Senate reforms are aimed at. But then there’ll be a very long election campaign, and given that they don’t have an agenda, I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually needed a little bit more time to discover some policies and to discover that they actually are the Government and start acting like it.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But of course now before the – they’ll now get two goes at it because they’re fast-tracking their taxation arrangements …

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well they’ve been in government for two and a half years, Barrie.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Malcolm Turnbull hasn’t been.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think to call it a fast track is, well –

BARRIE CASSIDY: Malcolm Turnbull hasn’t been Prime Minister that long.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Malcolm Turnbull of course floated there was going to be a white paper, then there was going to be a process and a mature debate about the GST. It’s been all over the shop.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Still, he will be at some point now announcing tax cuts while you’re taxing smokers even more and you’re taking away concessions on capital gains and superannuation.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well we’ve put out there coherent policies, Barrie. And one of the things that we’ve made sure is that before we’ve committed to any spending, we’ve told Australians where the revenue is coming from for that. Now that is very unusual for an opposition at this stage in the cycle, but it’s treating the Australian population like adults. You might be familiar with that term. Malcolm Turnbull said that he would do that as part of his excuse for knocking off Tony Abbott. What we’ve seen is the opposite. And we’re quite proud of the fact that we have a policy out there on housing affordability. I think so many Australians say to me that they’re worried about how their kids or their grandkids will ever get into owning their own home.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Yeah, but nevertheless, are you comfortable with a policy that actually advocates the value of the family home should diminish?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well that’s not what it does, of course. What it does though is stop the advantage that’s currently there. For the young couple to go along to an auction in my electorate and they’re competing with four or five people, not who want to live in that home, but who want to invest in that home, now that is ensuring that there’s that disadvantage. So just as some investors – of course not all investors in housing negatively gear, but some investors might choose to go towards new property that’ll boost the construction market, new purchasers will come in as people who want to be first home buyers come back into the market.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But in the end though if you’re driving investors away, then aren’t you by definition making houses cheaper and how do you sell that to existing home owners?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well what you’re doing is making sure that first home buyers who are currently out of the market – I mean, they’ve stopped even looking – will enter the market and not be competing in an unfair way. And that’s the problem with the existing process in places – all of our capital cities, but here in Sydney it’s something I’m very conscious of. This is a coherent policy that will drive what negative gearing was aimed to do when it was introduced was about boosting new construction. This will do that. By doing that, you increase supply. If you increase supply, you put downward pressure on houses, and in terms of our policy, it’s been well thought through, it’s fully costed, it’s out there.

BARRIE CASSIDY: It’s a rather complex argument though, whereas Malcolm Turnbull will say, “Labor will make you poorer.” He’s already saying it.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, how pathetic it is. It’s more than a three-word slogan, but just as pathetic as what he criticised quite rightly when he knocked over Tony Abbott.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Just finally on defence spending, why is it that there’s barely a ripple of concern when defence spending is increased? It’s not quarantined from the cuts like others; in fact, as I say, there is increase around it. Why do you think defence is always the exception?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Because I think defence should be above partisan politics. It’s very critical, Barrie, that some areas be quarantined from the argy-bargy of daily political debate. Defence is one of them. So we’ve supported the thrust of the white paper, which is consistent of course with the white papers that were produced, two of them, when we were in office.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And the two per cent increase – the two per cent according to GDP increase by 2020, Labor’s comfortable with that? You will match it?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well that of course was the same target that we established when we were in office.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And you’re comfortable with that while education – investment and education is not as important as the defence budget?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, that’s not the case at all.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Well it is because you’re not matching …

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We have a policy to increase education spending, $4.5 billion in year five and six of the reforms, something that the Government said it would do in terms of education and funding our schools properly so that no student gets left behind.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Thanks for your time this morning. Appreciate it.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you.