Subjects; 10 Year Anniversary of the Apology to the Stolen Generations; Barnaby Joyce
KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me live now in the studio is Anthony Albanese, a senior Labor frontbencher. You’ve just left the breakfast marking 10 years since the Apology to the Stolen Generations. I guess a very emotional morning there in the Great Hall of Parliament House.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Certainly has been this morning, getting an opportunity to speak firsthand to some of the Stolen Generations about how they were feeling about that momentous day in our nation. It was one where we really lifted up, I think. It was seen by some that it would somehow be divisive and would change the nation. Well, it changed the nation for the better. It was an incredible moment, certainly the most significant moment since I’ve been in Parliament over the last two decades. This morning we’re not just commemorating it, but also reminding ourselves of what we have a responsibility as parliamentarians to do, which is to listen to the First Australians, to continue to take action. It’s a shocking figure indeed that today there are some 17,500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children living out of home, away from home. The figure 10 years ago was about half that. So, clearly we need to address that and we need to recommit ourselves.
GILBERT: Why is the symbolism important, though? Because when we talk about Closing the Gap, you know these are practical things that need to be done in school attendance, in literacy, and numeracy. But why is the symbolism important?
ALBANESE: Because it was an important step of acknowledgement. Acknowledgement of our greatest national failure – our failure to bring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with us on our national journey. The fact that we didn’t even recognise them as citizens until 1967, the fact that children were taken away from their parents in our lifetime. This isn’t ancient history. As Paul Keating said in his powerful Redfern speech, ‘We have to ask ourselves what would we do if what was done to us? If we were taken away from our parents, if our children were taken away? As parents, as sons and daughters, we have to think about that and commit ourselves to the responsibility we have’. We have a great privilege in this country to live amongst the oldest continuous civilisation on the planet. We need to respect that. We’re all enriched by it. We need to give back.
GILBERT: Okay, now from one of the great moments in the Parliament to a very ugly and difficult moment right now, particularly for the Deputy Prime Minister. Do you believe he is still a suitable person to be holding that position?
ALBANESE: That’s certainly a judgement that he’s going to have to make, and his Party are going to have to make. Yesterday in the Parliament I asked questions about my concerns, which are the failure of the Government on infrastructure. He’s got a big job of being responsible for nation building. Investment in infrastructure is critical to future jobs and to future growth. What we saw from someone who’s in charge of infrastructure when asked, for example, a question about the failure of the Government to initiate a single new major infrastructure project in Tasmania since 2013, he responded by talking about the Inland Rail. Well, I’ve got news for the Infrastructure Minister. Inland Rail doesn’t cross the Bass Strait. It doesn’t impact on Tasmania.
GILBERT: Do you believe then, given you’ve made this case before, that his flaws as a Minister and now the claims around staffing arrangements and so on, is he fit to be Deputy PM – and Acting Prime Minister next week?
ALBANESE: I certainly want to focus on his policy failings. I think he was a failure as Agriculture Minister; if you look at what’s happening in the Murray-Darling Basin; if you look back at his lack of judgement over attending an event, accepting a cheque from Gina Rinehart and saying that he would work out what to spend it on, on his farm just showed an incredible lack of judgement; and quite frankly he clearly is nowhere near on top of his brief.
GILBERT: But Labor is continuing to target him, Mark Dreyfus asking various questions in relation to staffing. Is it right for the Opposition to be doing that or should you be focusing just simply on portfolio matters?
ALBANESE: What is relevant is the use of taxpayers funds, and that is why we have been been very cautious to stick to that rather than make judgements about people’s relationships. Frankly, that’s a matter for the individuals concerned and those impacted by it. I don’t want to see Australian politics go down the road whereby we’re sitting in judgement of others’ personal behaviour, because I think that’s a dangerous thing to do.
GILBERT: Well it is, because to be frank and to report this morning I’ve had already senior government people sending me messages in relation to questions about Labor people about similar liaisons and staffing arrangements. Obviously I wouldn’t mention names, but this risks erupting as a whole thing.
ALBANESE: The problem here with all of these issues, and one of the reasons why you wouldn’t want to go down that road is because people don’t know what the facts of personal relationships are. I don’t know what the circumstances of Barnaby and his wife’s relationship has been, and frankly that’s a matter for them. What I do know is that family breakups are very difficult, not just for the people involved, the husband and wife but for Barnaby’s four daughters. Discussion of that detail and pretending that you know the facts simply aren’t, in my view, the role of people in the public sphere. But what is relevant is some of the matters that are public issues. The use of taxpayers funds and whether all of that was done above board.
GILBERT: Can you be sure your colleagues won’t get caught up in similar sorts of things?
ALBANESE: I don’t want to go down the road of mixing up the private and the public. We have stuck, and should at all times, stick to the public issues. The public issues here are the issue of transparency, the use of public funds, but they are also his capacity to do the job. The debacle over the moving of the public agency to Armidale was farcical; the Murray Darling Basin plan; the fact that he keeps talking about only one infrastructure project which is Inland Rail, and it doesn’t go to the Port of Brisbane or the Port of Melbourne. The fact that South Australia will receive 2 per cent of the federal infrastructure budget in four years’ time, something he seems oblivious about. The fact that Victorians represent one in four of our national population and our fastest growing state, but are receiving under 10 per cent of the national infrastructure budget. He’s failed as a Minister, both in agriculture and in infrastructure and I don’t think he’s up to the job.
GILBERT: Mr Albanese, thanks for your time. Appreciate it.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.