SUBJECT: Garma Festival; Voice to Parliament; nuclear power in Australia; US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo; Crown Casino; National Integrity Commission; Robodebt.
ANNABEL CRABB, HOST: Well, joining me now from East Arnhem Land, possibly the most stunning backdrop we’ve ever had for an interview on this program, is Labor leader Anthony Albanese. Welcome to Insiders.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thank you. It is, indeed, very spectacular here, and of course, this is the site where the Bark Petitions of 1963 really began the modern Land Rights Movement. So, it’s a very historic venue close to where the Garma Festival is taking place.
CRABB: We’re in the middle of a new and historic round of negotiations, and you’ve told the Garma Festival that enshrining a Voice to Parliament in the Constitution is the very first step. But the Prime Minister has identified that very same step as one he won’t take. So, isn’t this round of negotiations on constitutional reform every bit as doomed as its predecessors?
ALBANESE: Well, I’m hopeful that the Prime Minister will actually listen to what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are saying. Listen to what former High Court justices, French and Gleeson are saying. Listen to what the Business Council of Australia and a whole lot of the business community who have been here at this event are saying. The ACTU. We need to advance Aboriginal reconciliation. Until we have that, we won’t truly be a whole nation. This is about us moving forward, and a Voice to Parliament doesn’t create a third chamber as Barnaby Joyce has acknowledged. It simply would be mentioned in the Constitution so that there’s security. But of course, it would be legislated by the Parliament with the nature of it. And we know that the Constitution was meant to be an enduring document, but not unchanging. This is a vital change which would grow the whole country.
CRABB: Do you reckon that if we had a constitutional referendum that said; look, we’re just going to mention the Voice to Parliament and then leave it up to the Parliament themselves to decide what structure that would take, do you think that would fly as a constitutional question? Nobody was buying that when we took exactly the same approach to the Republic referendum 20 years ago.
ALBANESE: Well, the Uluru Statement from the Heart calls for that. Of course, you wouldn’t put down all of the structures around the Voice in the Constitution. The Constitution is a relatively short document. The High Court itself is mentioned in the Constitution, and the detail of it is legislated. So, we need to have a debate about what the nature of that voice is. But let’s be clear about what First Nations people are asking for. Their ask is modest. It is simply that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be consulted on matters that affect them. I think common-sense tells you that is perfectly consistent with the Australian concept of the fair go. It would enable us to be united. And I suspect it would be exactly as it was prior to Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generation. Controversial in the lead-up, but once it happens, people would wonder what the fuss was about, because it wouldn’t change, essentially, our parliamentary processes. It would simply mean that First Nations people who have been here for 65,000 years, where we’re all very privileged to live in a country inhabited by the oldest continuous civilisation on the planet. We should be respectful of that. That’s a great thing for us, as a nation. And I really believe that this is unfinished business. We can’t move on to other constitutional questions until we deal with this unfinished business.
CRABB: Can you see any circumstance in which you would be prepared, Labor would be prepared, to support an approach in which the Voice to Parliament was not included in the Constitution?
ALBANESE: What we won’t do is support any approach that is not supported by First Nations people themselves. That would be a pointless exercise, to try and once again impose a solution that wasn’t the product of consultation. And of course, the Uluru Statement from the Heart was a subject in itself, the product of intensive consultation with First Nations people around the country who came together and came up with a consensus document. It’s a beautiful document. It’s a strong document. It’s concise and clear. It’s modest in its ask, and I think it is incredibly generous. And that’s why we should, when that hand of friendship is out, ask those who have come since the First Fleet, or are descendants of people who have come, or even the newest arrivals. When that hand of friendship is outstretched, the Prime Minister and myself should join together and shake that hand and move our nation forward. We’ll be all the stronger for it.
CRABB: Moving on, it’s emerged that the Energy Minister Angus Taylor has commissioned Parliament’s Environment and Energy Committee to examine the options for nuclear power in Australia. Do you agree that it’s worth at least exploring the options?
ALBANESE: Of course, it’s been examined many times before. What we know is that it’s expensive. It’s up to three times more expensive than wind or solar when it’s connected up with batteries, or hydro, or other systems. We know as well that the long lead-in teams mean that the construction is actually very emissions intensive, that process. We know that it’s a great use of water, which is why it has to be located around the coast or next to rivers. And we know, of course, from incidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima, that it’s very dangerous. What the Government has to come up with is; exactly where is it considering putting nuclear power plants around our coastlines or next to the rivers? This is Angus Taylor’s 15th energy policy, or the Coalition Government. They ditch Energy Ministers from time to time. But the lack of policy remains the same. This is a Government now in its third term that does not have an energy policy and now they’re off on this frolic, giving a parliamentary committee the scope to run around the country and consider matters that have been considered by the experts before and rejected because Australia has here. We see the sun and it’s a bit of a windy day here as well. We have natural resources which are free, which are available, that we need to harness as part of a clean energy future.
CRABB: Just on nuclear related issues, do you still think that Australia should sign the UN Treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons? That’s a stance that you prosecuted through the Labor conference last year?
ALBANESE: I’m a big supporter of nuclear disarmament. It is something that I’ve supported my entire political life. Of course, we had considerations built into that resolution, which I supported. We want to be a part of bringing the world with us. The fact is that over a period of time, issues like land mines and chemical weapons and other weapons have been outlawed. But nuclear weapons, the most catastrophic and damaging that can exist, still remain. Nuclear proliferation is an issue, and in terms of those issues, we need to work them through as part of the international community, and that’s what Labor’s resolution called for.
CRABB: You’ve got a pretty good opportunity to do that this afternoon when you meet with the visiting US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. Will you raise that with him? And also, the US’s decision in the last day or two to abandon its missile agreement with Russia?
ALBANESE: Look, I’ll leave those private discussions with Mr. Pompeo to private discussions. That’s the nature and entirely appropriate that happen. But in terms of the US decision, the fact is that Russia has violated some of those agreements, and that’s disappointing. But I think it’s regrettable that any bilateral or multilateral agreement, which is about disarmament, are withdrawn from, is very disappointing. What we need is a world which is less dangerous and increasingly there are concerns in various spots around the world about a rise in conflict. We need to ensure that wherever absolutely possible, we avoid military conflict.
CRABB: Mr. Albanese, there were some pretty shocking allegations vented this week about the cosy relationship between politicians and public servants and the Crown Casino group. Why did you team up with the Government to vote down a parliamentary inquiry into these matters?
ALBANESE: What we did was support what the Government announced, which was a serious inquiry by a body that can actually have investigative powers. The body looking into law enforcement and integrity issues has the power of search warrants. It has the power of coercive powers to exercise. It can seize documents. It has that power as well or seize other information that’s electronic. A parliamentary committee sitting in Parliament House, moved as it was, whereby the Independents and Crossbenchers with a handful of people in the Parliament, would get almost the same representation as Labor or the Government, wasn’t a serious option. And that’s why the Crossbenchers who moved it didn’t bother to even ring us beforehand to inform us that they were moving that resolution on the floor.
CRABB: What’s the name of the body, and can you recall any cases that it’s unearthed of corruption in the last ten years?
ALBANESE: The name of the body is the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. It’s a body that looks after these issues, that does have coercive powers. We supported the Government’s action on that. At the same time, on Thursday, we moved in the Parliament for the Government to establish its National Integrity Commission, and we’ve expressed concern about the revelations which are there. That you don’t conduct serious investigations with a parliamentary committee. What you need is a body that has the same powers of a Royal Commission, which this body has.
CRABB: But I mean, this body can’t investigate the conduct of Federal MPs, and surely, one of the most serious areas of concern here is; what are the MPs doing? Who have been mentioned? This body can’t investigate them, or any public servant who’s not a law enforcement public servant.
ALBANESE: I don’t know what MPs have been mentioned because I haven’t heard any in the national Parliament.
CRABB: Roman Quaedvlieg told the program, he said that he’d been lobbied by two ministers and another MP to intervene on behalf of Crown. Who investigates those allegations?
ALBANESE: But he hasn’t mentioned who they are. The body will have the power to do that. And if further investigations are required…
CRABB: This body can’t investigate MPs. It’s outside the remit of it. For law enforcement officials.
ALBANESE: Well, by investigating the department and who made lobbying exercises to the bureaucracy, then certainly, by definition, the MPs would be drawn into that if any MPs are involved.
CRABB: Andrew Wilkie said this week that he’s convinced that there are corrupt MPs in Federal Parliament. Do you share his fears?
ALBANESE: I have not seen any evidence of direct corruption that I’ve seen, that has been proven in my time when I’ve been in Parliament. That’s my view. But one of the reasons why we need a National Integrity Commission is to ensure that the public can have confidence in that. I say to Mr. Wilkie, if he’s serious about moving a resolution in the Parliament, I talk to him all the time, I have a good relationship with him. He should consult, if that’s what he wants to get support for resolutions. But the committee that he moved would have had virtually the same number of crossbenchers on it as members of the Opposition. There are six crossbenchers in the Parliament. There’s 6 members of the Opposition. There’s more than 70 from the Government. If he was at all serious, then he would have proposed a serious committee, rather than something that was designed to be completely unsupportable, which is what the resolution was moved by Mr., Wilkie was.
CRABB: You moved on Thursday to expedite a Commonwealth Integrity Commission. Looking at the events of the week, and you’ve been pursuing Angus Taylor, would a Commonwealth Integrity Commission be able to initiate its own inquiry into, for instance, Mr. Taylor, in circumstances where the Parliament’s trying to oppose it?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. What you need is a Commonwealth Integrity Commission that has powers to look at whatever it sees fit to consider. So, I should imagine that at the moment, certainly they’ll be looking at Angus Taylor’s issues with regard to properties that he owns and whether he’s given appropriate declarations, and whether, indeed, there were inappropriate meetings organised by the department that he administers which related to land that he has an interest in. It would look at issues like the water. Issues relating to what’s happening in the Murray-Darling Basin. It would look at the route changes which have occurred on Inland Rail. There are a range of issues that need looking at, and that’s why we need a National Integrity Commission to look at those issues, and it should have the power to examine any matter that it sees fit.
CRABB: This week, Bill Shorten called to abolish Robodebt. Was that a Labor Party policy passed through Shadow Cabinet?
ALBANESE: We’ve expressed concern about the Robodebt issue over a long period of time. Linda Burney, and indeed, myself, as a local MP. Every single constituent of mine who came into the Marrickville office or contacted us with a concern about the debt notices that they’d received, either had their debt reduced to zero or reduced substantially. There wasn’t one occasion in which Centrelink had got it right. This is a process that should be abolished. That’s one that’s supported by the Labor Party. And we raise that issue.
CRABB: Even though you introduced it?
ALBANESE: No, we introduced a very different scheme. What we introduced was matching. But people were involved. So, the problem here is that the Coalition Government have gotten rid of people. They’ve gotten rid of all of the humans from Human Services which is why they had to change the name. And the fact is, that you need that oversight. You don’t have that. You’re having the letters just going out, which make quite disturbing mistakes, which are having catastrophic consequences for some very vulnerable people.
CRABB: Well, we don’t like to get rid of people either, but we’re so out of time, I’m afraid, Anthony Albanese. Really appreciate you coming to join us this morning.
ALBANESE: Thank you for having us on.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.