Subjects; Inequality, family trusts, education funding, Medicare, infrastructure, asylum seekers
TOM CONNELL: Anthony Albanese, thanks for your time. Bill Shorten giving a speech today, now he’s talking about tax subsidies, including reforms that in the past we might have dismissed as too politically difficult. Is this going to be another bold move such as negative gearing?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: What Bill Shorten will be talking about today is the fact that we need to deal with inequality. Inequality is at a 75 year high in Australia. We know that the richest two people in Australia have the same wealth as the bottom 20 per cent.
The fact is that because of issues with the tax system, PAYE earners, ordinary working people struggling to put food on the table for their families are paying more than they should.
Bill Shorten will be outlining today our plan for a fairer tax system in order to deal with the issue of inequality.
He’s shown that he’s prepared to adopt bold measures such as he already has on capital gains tax and negative gearing reform in order to deal with the issue of housing affordability.
CONNELL: What about another sacred cow, family trusts? If you look at these, they benefit those on more than half a million dollars to the tune of 51 per cent of the benefits of family trusts, it costs the budget $3.5 billion, is that something you’re willing to look at?
ALBANESE: Well, Bill will be outlining the detail today and it’s appropriate that he has that opportunity rather than me trying to preempt what is in his speech but I can say that Labor has been prepared to lead from opposition on a range of policy issues.
I mean, we have policy paralysis in this country due to the ongoing brawl between the Tony Abbott forces and Malcolm Turnbull that will be played out again at the NSW Liberal Convention this weekend. Because of that paralysis, someone has got to lead in this country and Labor is leading from opposition.
CONNELL: Alright, well fair enough. You don’t want to totally spoil his speech. What about one of the speeches you gave earlier this week.
Now, you’ve doubled down on something you’ve mentioned before, talking about the adoption by the government of Labor policy such as needs-based funding, saying it should be a source of pride for those who have been long-term advocates, and that you should move on from that.
Are you at all disappointed that the rhetoric coming out of other members of Labor is that we want to fight this still, the so-called Gonski 2.0 all the way to the next election?
ALBANESE: No. What I said in my speech, the Earle Page Lecture up at the University of New England this week is consistent with what I’ve said in politics for a very long time, which is that if you want to inspire particularly the next generation to engage in social change, you need to be positive in your outlook.
The fact is that Labor has been winning a range of arguments, whether it be historically, issues like Medicare, compulsory superannuation, these are issues that began as radical issues when they were first proposed.
They received the support of the public and they became part of the Australian ethos. Now, in recent times Labor reforms such as ensuring that needs-based education, be the principle on which education funding is based.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme, the provision of universal health care, support for public transport and engagements with our cities; these are all propositions that Labor has put forward over a long period of time.
Take in my portfolio the issue of public transport and cities.
It is a good thing, and it is a source of pride, that over a period of time there appears to be acceptance that the Commonwealth should be engaged in urban policy, cities, dealing with urban congestion that will cost the economy $53 billion by 2031 if it’s not addressed.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t then also argue that on substance and the problem with the government is it has adopted some of the rhetoric that’s consistent with Labor.
It hasn’t adopted the substance. So on the needs-based education funding, it’s adopted some of the rhetoric.
It says it supports the Gonski principles but it hasn’t put the dollars that are required in order to deliver that needs-based funding on the table.
There’s the $22 billion of cuts that was part of their package. It’s a bit less than that now but they still haven’t provided that support. When you look at the detail of Northern Territory funding for example, some of the most disadvantaged schools are going to be worse off whereas some of the wealthiest schools in Australia will be better off as a result of the government changes.
Similarly, in terms of the issue of universal health care. They’re still not increasing the Medicare rebate for a couple of years. They’re still not providing the support for public hospitals that’s required.
Just like in the area of infrastructure and public transport funding, the only new project funded with grant funding in the Budget was $13 million for an obscure road near Nowra in the marginal electorate of Gilmore and they’re undermining Infrastructure Australia by setting up a separate Infrastructure Financing Unit in the Prime Minister’s Department.
So you can have pride that you’re winning the framework and able to frame the debate whilst still challenging, as Labor will continue to do the record of this government and the program of this government that simply isn’t good enough.
CONNELL: Part of the reason they’re not spending as much on schools is Catholic school funding. What’s your view on what sort of deal the Catholic schools are getting?
ALBANESE: My view is that you need needs-based funding and that needs to be sector blind. That is, every child is worthy of support and the support that’s necessary in order to give them the opportunity to have the best chance in life that they should see as a right in a country like Australia that has the wealth that we have.
I went to my local Catholic schools. I was provided with an opportunity there but the truth is that those schools struggled with support.
Now, the inner city of Sydney’s changed a bit these days in terms of the makeup of students. It’s reflected the gentrification that’s gone on in our inner suburbs but the truth is that funding is required that supports disadvantaged people from whatever background so that kids don’t get left behind.
CONNELL: But doesn’t this end that special deal on the Catholic element in particular? Is this really that strong a campaign Labor can run?
ALBANESE: Well, Labor will be continuing to campaign on education. Education in the form of early childhood education. I spoke about in the Earle Page Lecture, we know is more and more critical.
Those early years of life and investment there can lead to much greater opportunity and the need for less investment later on if you take on early childhood education as something that is required.
Education funding in terms of school funding we’ll continue to campaign on.
We’ll continue to campaign on VET which has been a disaster by this government. TAFE needs to be put at the centre of our vocational education and training system. There’s been far too many rorts allowed in recent years that’s distorted funding.
So it’s gone away from providing proper vocational education and training and of course our universities. The idea that people will be hit with more and more debt is no doubt a disincentive from people for going to university who don’t have mum or dad to pay their fees for them.
CONNELL: Just finally, because I do know that you need to go, you were of course deputy to Kevin Rudd the second time around, would you have allowed him to resettle asylum seekers who arrive by boat in Australia a year after he said that was not going to happen again?
ALBANESE: The policy that we had is clear but I think people are missing the main point here which isn’t about Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott or Malcolm Turnbull or even Peter Dutton.
The main point here is that there have been people left on Manus and Nauru for four years because this government – for more than four years – because this government has simply failed to deal with settlement options in third countries.
That is what we proposed. It’s absolutely correct to say that it was a 12 month proposition that was put forward because it wasn’t seen as something that should be permanent.
It was something that people should then be settled in either PNG or in third countries of settlement and people have been left there for far too long.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.