Subjects: Small business; Citizenship; Negative Gearing; Opinion Polls; Infrastructure Investment; Shipping; Aviation; The Killing season.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Anthony Albanese is our main guest and he’s here now. Appreciate your time. Thank you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE AND TRANSPORT: Good to be with you.
VAN ONSELEN: Before we get to some of the portfolio issues, you are a former Leader of the House. You know a stunt when you see one. Was it a stunt during the week when your side of politics decided to bring on the vote around the small business changes that the government wants?
ALBANESE: Well, you’ve got to look at what the context was, Peter. The government seems to have a position that they don’t want the Opposition to agree with them and on the small business changes, we’ve made it very clear that we supported them and why wouldn’t we? Some of those changes are precisely what we had in place in terms of the write‑offs and the government had abolished that in its first Budget and in its mini statement when it came to office. So it was simply a return to the instant asset write‑off changes that we had put in place. So of course we were supportive of them. The government insisted that we weren’t. So we called their bluff and, of course, they voted against their own position.
VAN ONSELEN: But it was stunts all round. I mean, we can agree on that, can’t we? They were pulling a stunt by claiming repeatedly in the days and weeks before that that Labor wasn’t on board with this and that it was frustrating the Labor Party, but equally to call on the vote it might have been a good stunt, but it was a stunt nonetheless.
ALBANESE: Well, I thought it was a very effective way of making our position clear and the government was caught out and voted against its own position. A smart government that was a bit nimble would have, of course, voted for it. The changes would have gone through and we could have moved on to other issues.
VAN ONSELEN: But Labor wouldn’t have done that. I mean, if they’re ‑ quite a different view on this issue, of course, but if they decided to vote with the Labor Party on the carbon tax or whatever else it might have been in the previous Parliament, your side of politics would have wanted your members of Parliament to have their say about where they see this going through the debate before the ultimate vote. It would have been the same reaction surely.
ALBANESE: Well, what you shouldn’t do is what they did. They, the day before, had the Small Business Minister saying, “This needs to be done as a matter of urgency.” We provided them with an opportunity to do just that. I guess it’s a case of careful of getting what you wish for. We gave them what they wished for and they said, “No.”
ANNABEL HEPWORTH: In terms of Bill Shorten’s policy and the Budget reply speech, one of the things he promised is that if Labor were in office they would deliver a 5 per cent tax cut to small business. How do you think that would be funded? It’s been described, I think, by Mathias Cormann, as magic pudding economics. You are obviously supportive of small business. You know, you’ve gotten with the government’s program on this, but how would you fund that?
ALBANESE: Well, what we certainly said was that we would look at doing that over time and, of course, one of the things about a small business tax cut and the instant asset write‑off is a view that by doing that you stimulate the economy, you increase the size of the economy and therefore you improve the revenue intake to government. So we put that out there as our ambition that we would like to see a smaller rate of taxation for small business and currently exists even after the change that will go through and that’s a reasonable thing to do. One of the things that you can do as an opposition in a Budget Reply is put forward ideas and in Bill Shorten’s Budget Reply he had not just that, but, of course, the changes in terms of science, technology, engineering and maths for students as a way of signalling a priority for us in terms of education and, of course, changes to strengthen Infrastructure Australia as well.
HEPWORTH: But just on this issue of tax, wasn’t it the case that Labor, well, promised corporate tax cuts when it was in office and it welshed on that, they never happened?
ALBANESE: No, actually, one of the things that happened was that the now government opposed some of the reductions in tax that we tried to get through when we were in government.
HEPWORTH: But it was also the case you promised a headline corporate tax cut and then in one of your Budgets you squibbed on that.
ALBANESE: Well, in terms of our proposed changes to small business we attempted to do some measures when we were in government. They were opposed by the then Opposition. They, of course, opposed everything when they were in government. We, of course, would like to see smaller taxation. Everyone likes to see that, and, indeed, it’s interesting that the current tax intake as a percentage of the economy is higher than at any time when Labor was in government.
VAN ONSELEN: See, one of the things, though, one of the virtues, I suppose, of the government’s 1.5 per cent cut for small businesses in terms of the company tax rate is that it’s a narrow enough difference that they can hopefully, at some time when the economy is a bit stronger in the future, remove the two‑tiered system and therefore the complexity. If you go down the path of a 5 per cent cut for small businesses, even if it is achievable and can be funded, you are imbedding that complexity, aren’t you, between small business and the rest of the corporate world?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s an argument, but the argument is also that small business don’t have the same access to reduce their taxation payments as large businesses do and one of the measures that we’ve put in place as well, of course, or would like to, is changes to multi-national taxation. We’ve put forward changes between that and superannuation that would make a difference of $20 billion to the government’s position ‑ fiscal position – over a period of 10 years. So we think it’s looking at the tax system as a whole, but at the same time we’re making very clear that we see the stimulus for small businesses being a priority.
HEPWORTH: In terms of this issue of profit shifting, and that’s been, you know, a big issue politically, one of the warnings that a lot of people issue, business and others, is this government, and Australia as a nation, should not act unilaterally. There is an OECD and a G20 push on base erosion and profit shifting. How does Labor differentiate itself in a policy sense from this government as a nation if there is peril in being seen to act outside of a global program.
ALBANESE: Well, of course, we should play a leadership role as well in terms of globally and we support those measures, but it also is the case that there is some work that we can do as a nation. We have a national responsibility to protect our national tax take because ‑ not because it’s the end in itself, but because of what we do with it in terms of providing education, health, social services funding, building infrastructure. So it is important that we don’t simply dismiss and use as an excuse the fact that there is global action in that area. Global action tends to be pretty slow. This has been talked about for a long time and if, in the meantime, we can take some action, I think that’s a good thing.
VAN ONSELEN: We’ve got a lot I want to get through before we get to the Infrastructure Prime Minister debate. One of these issues is the citizenship discussion. Now, this obviously has been dominating the Parliament from the stand point of the government. They have asked a lot of Dorothy Dixers in this space. Other than the small business discussion, it really is something that they are trying to focus in on. During the week we saw that the Labor Party have said that they’ve got in-principle support for the revoking of citizenship for dual nationals, but obviously you want to see the legislation. Now, you’re one of the most senior, if not the most senior member of the Left within the Labor Party. You must have some civil liberties concerns surely about any plan to strip dual nationals of their citizenship.
ALBANESE: Well, of course, we must always be vigilant about what the detail of these changes are. They shouldn’t be done lightly which is why it’s extraordinary that these changes were proposed without even a cabinet submission. It’s important that there be integrity in the process. What’s clear is that last week cabinet ministers revolted, pretty publically as it turns out, against a process whereby they walked into a cabinet meeting, got ambushed, Malcolm Turnbull described the process as a shambles of the cabinet where you had a serious proposition without any proper scrutiny of it.
VAN ONSELEN: But doesn’t that make it even more extraordinary then that Labor have already, before seeing the legislation, offered in-principle support? That sounds like a political reaction rather than necessarily a policy one, a concern that if there is a difference between the Opposition and the government on national security, it’s going to politically hurt the Labor Party.
ALBANESE: Well, what’s the principle here, Peter? The principle is what is our response to terrorism? Is there a real threat? Yes, there is. Do we support action to alleviate that threat and to protect our national interests and our citizenry? Yes, we do. Do people who are dual citizens, who are fighting for Daesh or ISIS internationally or potentially engaging in terrorist actions here, therefore relinquish their commitment that they’ve made to Australia? So this is a fundamental issue.
Of course, people who go and fight against Australia in a war and who are dual citizens have had their citizenship revoked previously. That’s something that’s been on the statute books since the 1940s. So it is the same principle essentially here and that’s what Labor said. You know, you have this ridiculous position, I think, whereby it’s almost as if some members of the government try to say, “We’re more loyal to Australia than others.” Now, I don’t think that Bill Shorten or Tony Abbott, either of them, are more loyal to Australia than the other. I don’t think any member of Parliament, even political parties that I disagree with on some of these issues, have been pretty hard line about opposing any action, The Greens political party. I don’t say they do that because they’re not loyal to Australia, that’s a pretty immature debate, and we should be able to have a mature debate. That’s what happened effectively in the cabinet where the Prime Minister was rolled. You now have extraordinary circumstances whereby the Prime Minister is saying to his backbenchers: “Please roll my Cabinet on my behalf with this letter that was given”.
VAN ONSELEN: He’s certainly getting their support. He’s got an overwhelming majority it seems like on the backbench. You mentioned ‑ well, we’ve talked about the fact the Labor Party are giving in-principle support but wants to see the legislation. For you –
ALBANESE: A not unreasonable position, Peter.
VAN ONSELEN: Well, what are the elements that you will be looking for that might cause you some concern, if any, within the legislation?
ALBANESE: Well, I want to see it and I’m not going to go into hypotheticals for legislation that hasn’t been seen yet, a process that as far as I know still hasn’t had a cabinet document.
VAN ONSELEN: But one thing we do know though, because I interviewed Peter Dutton about this during the week as well as last week, I believe, he has confirmed that minors will be caught in the net of having their dual citizen ‑ of having their citizenship stripped if they have dual nationality. I mean, does that concern you at all?
ALBANESE: Well, I will wait and see the legislation, but I do think that Peter Dutton needs to grow up a bit, frankly. He’s in a serious position. He needs to stop looking for disagreement and actually bring the nation with him. It’s part of my concern about how this debate is happening is that the government seems to be looking for an area of disagreement with Labor. When it comes to national security …
VAN ONSELEN: But shouldn’t they find one on the minors issue?
ALBANESE: Well, when it comes to national security, what should occur is proper briefings of the Opposition about issues, including prior to legislation coming into the Parliament, and an attempt to get as much support for a common position as possible. That’s in our national interest. The threat is real and opposition to the threat is obviously across the Parliament, so we need to work as far as possible in a common way, but that doesn’t abrogate our responsibility to say, “We’ll examine the detail of legislation and we’ll examine it as well to see if there aren’t any unintended consequences.”
VAN ONSELEN: But in broad terms, Mr Albanese ‑ in broad terms you can offer review on the whole minors discussion. The minister has said that he would have discretion in that respect and he would exercise it judiciously, but that’s an issue in itself perhaps is what role the minister has versus the judiciary, but certainly as far as minors go, I mean, do you have any concerns in that space?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s one of the elements. What I will do is examine the legislation as we will do, as a political party, as a Shadow Cabinet, and then come to a position. But we’re not going to respond to every thought bubble raised by Peter Dutton. We want to see the legislation. Now, this went to cabinet. As we know, we’ve all read the full details of the cabinet weeks ago. Why hasn’t the legislation been presented to Parliament? That’s what I find extraordinary.
HEPWORTH: Are there any points, any sticking points, any key measures, that you would baulk at that at this point you’re drawing a line in the sand?
ALBANESE: Well, I’m not going to respond to hypotheticals, Annabel, and you wouldn’t expect me to. You can’t ‑ that’s not good policy. Good policy is to be on the basis of facts rather than theoreticals or hypotheticals and we will respond in an appropriate way, in one that recognises the threat is real, recognises we do need to respond to it, but recognises as well that you don’t protect freedom by giving it away. So it’s important that you do examine those issues and also that you don’t have unintended consequences as can occur sometimes in legislation. So we need to examine it, but why is it that the legislation still hasn’t been presented? I find that remarkable.
HEPWORTH: Has Labor done any of its own work on what it would propose?
ALBANESE: Well, we don’t have, with due respect, in terms of access that you do as a member of the National Security Committee. I have been a member of that committee, obviously. I’ve been a member of the Cabinet and I do find it remarkable that you would have something like this about citizenship presented as an underline item with no ‑ nothing in writing, with no coordinated comments from the different departments and with no opportunity for proper scrutiny.
VAN ONSELEN: Annabel Hepworth and I are speaking to Labor’s Anthony Albanese. Now, The Greens have put out a policy. They’ve even costed it through the Parliamentary Budget Office. It’s negative gearing, scrapping negative gearing. They say that they would grandfather it, as I understand it, which means that it won’t affect anyone that currently owns properties they negative gear, but it would save the Budget billions of dollars going forward because no‑one would be able to do it hence forthwith. What’s your view on this? Labor have talked about wanting to look at the issue of negative gearing.
ALBANESE: Yes, Peter, but that’s just one element, the tax side. You’ve also got to very much look at the supply side and you would have to look at whether any changes would have an impact in terms of supply, in terms of investment in housing. When it’s been looked at in the past, that’s been the concern, that it would have a negative. You also need to look at ‑ I mean, it would be good if the Greens political party in my area just once voted for increased density in housing because that’s part of the solution as well, including affordable housing components as part of that I think is part of the solution.
VAN ONSELEN: But if those sort of things were added into the mix and perhaps not as blunt an instrument as just abolishing negative gearing, but perhaps limiting negative gearing, I think I’ve heard some Labor people talk more about that, if these sort of moving parts were in the mix, are you open minded to changes in that space?
ALBANESE: Look, I think certainly we wouldn’t be about any retrospectivity in that area. That would be an issue that I think would be bad policy because people have made investments and many of them aren’t ‑ The Greens, from the statements that I saw this morning, would think that all these people are big investors. A lot of the investment in housing, of course, is mums and dads and they’ve invested in an investment property as part of their retirement and certainly so. It’s not just about the big end of town making investments, but I think housing affordability is a challenge. We asked about it in Parliament this week. I was very disappointed that Tony Abbott responded about the price of his own home as if that was the issue and, of course, rising home prices can be good for people who own their own homes, but I think Australians are better than that. What they’re worried about is whether their kids or their grandkids can afford a home. At the moment, with the direction that Sydney house prices are going, but other areas as well, I don’t want to see an Australia where the only way that a young person can get into home ownership is if they inherit a home. That would be very bad for social policy and for class divisions in Australian society.
VAN ONSELEN: Now, I know that Annabel is going to want to get on to infrastructure questions in a moment in some detail. Just before that, I’ve got to ask you about the polls. We had a Newspoll come out this week and for the first time in over 12 months on their net satisfaction ratings Bill Shorten has fallen behind Tony Abbot. That’s no mean feat because his net satisfaction rating isn’t exactly stellar and, of course, Bill Shorten has fallen further behind on the preferred PM rating down to 37 per cent; only 37 per cent of voters having him as the preferred Prime Minister. I think Tony Abbott is at 41. This is something that Labor has to be careful about, doesn’t it? You know, you have done very well for a first time, helped along by some broken promises by the government, but a deeply unpopular Opposition Leader is a significant barrier to a quick return to government.
ALBANESE: Well, Peter if the election had been held yesterday, Bill Shorten would be the Prime Minister.
VAN ONSELEN: But if the election had been called yesterday with a four-week campaign, he’d be starting closer to the mark than Mark Latham started against John Howard and, of course, John Howard overtook Mark Latham and expanded his lead in the ’04 election as you well know.
ALBANESE: But we would be starting ahead and the fact is that the Budget narrative is so different this year from the government than it was last year – in part because Bill Shorten was very effective at highlighting the unfairness of last year’s Budget. We have seen a retreat on some measures such as on the pension changes that they proposed, but Australians will know that they go straight back to them at the first opportunity and the cuts that are in the Budget over education and health, for example, those $80 billion, are still built into the Budget. So we will be certainly campaigning on those issues because we think at the heart of the fundamental difference in between the government and the opposition is the question of fairness. That’s still a fundamental difference. We will be campaigning on that and pointing out the changes.
VAN ONSELEN: OK. I have to jump in though. You must never have thought in February with how low the net satisfaction rating of Tony Abbott got to that we would be sitting here just months later and your leader, Bill Shorten, is actually less popular than Tony Abbott.
ALBANESE: Well, I think ‑ I don’t think that is right and Bill Shorten has been very effective at holding the government to account.
HEPWORTH: Just moving on to infrastructure which Bill Shorten chose as one of the key themes to address in his Budget Reply Speech, one of the promises that Labor made in this area has been that if it were in power it would again overhaul Infrastructure Australia and it would move to an RBA style board model where there would be bipartisan agreement on who would be a director of the board. Is this an admission that the way you set up Infrastructure Australia in the first place was the wrong model?
ALBANESE: Not at all, Annabel. This is an admission that the work of good policy is never done and that you always need to make improvements and remember, Annabel, that when we established Infrastructure Australia it was opposed by the then Opposition. They actually voted against the legislation. They didn’t support it. They then ‑ it has been so effective, that they had to commit at the last election to maintain it and, indeed, they promised to re‑appoint Sir Rod Eddington as the chair. They promised that they would examine all projects of above $100 million funding would receive a proper cost benefit analysis and they would publish that. They’ve breached all of those commitments.
We want to make sure that in terms of infrastructure investment that it’s guided by the boost to productivity, not by politics, and that was the whole model of Infrastructure Australia and unfortunately under this government it’s fallen down.
HEPWORTH: Isn’t there an issue of certainty here though? At the moment you’ve got a situation where Labor is promising yet another change to Infrastructure Australia after the Coalition already changed it. You’ve got a situation where in Victoria the government’s torn up the East West Link contract. In Queensland, investors thought they were going to get an asset privatisation, but they haven’t. Aren’t you worried about these concerns? And we’re hearing them from a few quarters now about sovereign risk for infrastructure investors and that stops them wanting to tip money into things here.
ALBANESE: Well, the objective of our changes is to produce certainty. It’s so that when a project is recommended by Infrastructure Australia for funding, investors and the community can be certain it will receive funding before someone comes along and says, “No, I’ve got this marginal seat and we need this project funded as a priority rather than something that will produce a greater return.” Now, let’s look at Victoria. The East West Link we know now has a benefit cost ratio of 0.45. What that means is that for every dollar that’s invested, there will be a 45 cent return to the government. Now, that’s pretty silly, to the national economy. That’s a pretty bad investment and where did that money come from the Commonwealth? It came from taking money away from the Melbourne Metro, away from the Western Ring Road or M80 and away from the Managed Motorways Project.
So they put $3 billion, but they took well over $3.5 billion out and Managed Motorways, for one example, had a cost benefit analysis of 5.2 or $5.20 return for every dollar. Now, we need to make sure that that doesn’t happen in the future, that the priority projects get funding and that’s what our reform to Infrastructure Australia is aimed at doing.
HEPWORTH: Again, it begs the question why you didn’t do this in the first instance. You had six years in power to do this.
ALBANESE: Well, we actually did, Annabel as you would well recall, because you pay attention to this, a lot of journos don’t in terms of infrastructure. There were 15 projects recommended by Infrastructure Australia for funding as priority projects. We funded every single one of them. Projects like the Majura Parkway that’s just about ready to open in Canberra, projects like the Regional Rail Link in Victoria that will open in a couple of weeks’ time where we put the largest ever investment in public transport funding.
VAN ONSELEN: Why does government need to have these independent bodies? It does seem to be creeping more and more into our democratic polity, however, at the end of the day it is yourself and your colleagues who are elected by the people. Why abrogate your responsibility on making calls about where the money goes to independent bodies which frankly are unelected?
ALBANESE: Because you need to break the nexus that’s there between the political cycle which is short‑term, three or four years, and the infrastructure investment cycle which by definition is much longer. So at the moment you have, of course, the government with its Magical Infrastructure Re-announcement tour around the country pretending projects that were funded by the former government are theirs. That’s an example whereby the minister who gets to announce a project very rarely gets to cut the ribbon and open the project.
VAN ONSELEN: But it sounds like we could get rid of politicians all together, we just have these various independent bodies that make decisions.
ALBANESE: Of course, in the end the government needs to be the body that makes the decision and is accountable for it, but by having that independent body Infrastructure Australia making those recommendations, then you’ll get much better outcomes for the national economy and ones that will invest in public transport and not just roads. We had a report from Infrastructure Australia just two weeks ago that found that by 2031 the costs of urban congestion to the national economy will be $53 billion. Now, to deal with that, we need to invest in public transport as well as roads. We have a Prime Minister who says that we don’t need any investment in public transport because there aren’t enough people who want to go from a particular destination to another one at a particular time to justify that.
VAN ONSELSEN: He wrote that in Battlelines, didn’t he?
ALBANESE: He wrote that in Battlelines – an ideological position that says – All we need in Australia is the private motor vehicle and they need roads, not public transport. It is an absurd position.
HEPWORTH: But how would Labor fund all of this public transport infrastructure? I mean, it strikes me either you tear up roadway contracts that the Coalition entered into and you spook investors all over again or you have to do things that Labor finds incredibly difficult, like privatisation or tolling. What would you do? You have to grow the pie, don’t you? The funding pie has to be bigger if we are to have roads and public transport or are you going to pull back on roads.
ALBANESE: Well, we’ve, of course, in government doubled the roads Budget, but at the same time we increased the funding for rail in terms of freight rail by more than 10 times and we invested more in public transport than all previous governments combined from Federation right through to 2007. Now, why did we do that? We did that because investment in infrastructure is just that. It’s an investment. It’s not just a cost to government. It produces a return.
VAN ONSELEN: Do you think people see it that way enough? Do you think it is seen that way enough? It’s a really interesting one because both sides of politics want to argue that spending on infrastructure is important. We see the reference to the so‑called infrastructure Prime Minister. You refer to the amount of money Labor tipped in during its six years in power, yet at the same time as this need to invest in infrastructure for productivity gains and all the rest of it, we have this debate about debt where governments are constantly telling us that we need to get debt under control. Does infrastructure need to be carved out of that debate? Is debt a good thing, let me ask, in the context of good quality infrastructure?
ALBANESE: Well, all debt isn’t the same and debt for infrastructure is different from debt for just recurrent spending and that’s the context here. When the Howard Government was in office, it had more than $350 billion of windfall gain in terms of revenue. $320 billion of that went on tax cuts and handouts essentially. It didn’t invest in infrastructure. What we’re seeing at the moment, if you look at the national economy as a whole, we’re seeing mining and the resource sector move to the production phase away from the investment phase. So we’ve seen a big drop‑off. A 17.3 per cent decline in public sector investment and infrastructure in the December quarter, 2014, compared with the previous year, and a more than 12 per cent decline in private sector investment. Now, what that means is that we need for government to step up into that space to keep construction activity going, to keep the economy going, and what we’re seeing is the opposite. This year and next, if you compare the previous government’s papers, Budget papers from 2014, what we have is a $2 billion cut in infrastructure and investment, compared with what they themselves said they would do.
HEPWORTH: Can I just move this on to another key area of infrastructure debate at the moment and that’s the issue of coastal shipping and the extent to which we should allow foreign flagged vessels to work the coastal route from Australian port to Australian port? The Coalition, a key plank of its policy is to unwind your policies. They want to scrap what some people view as quite protectionist measures on coastal shipping. How are you approaching this strategically at the moment? Are you going to meet with crossbenchers? Are you going to agitate to try and have this blocked?
ALBANESE: Well, I sat down with Warren Truss just this week as the minister and I offered if there are some changes that are needed, that are constructive, that are in the national interest, I’m always prepared to discuss policy as we have on a range of issues, including on Qantas and on the Infrastructure Australia changes.
VAN ONSELEN: What was his reaction?
ALBANESE: Well, there wasn’t that much. Sometimes from Warren you’ve got to prod a bit to get a response, but the offer is there. But what we’re not prepared to do is to give up the national interest. Now, if I want to take goods from Sydney to Melbourne down the Hume Highway, I can’t import a Filipino truck with Filipino safety standards, employ a Filipino at Filipino wages and conditions and take those goods from Sydney to Melbourne down the Hume Highway. Why can’t I do that? Because the Australian company, Toll or Linfox or their owner‑driver, can’t compete possibly with Filipino wages and conditions and standards and also it’s not in the national interest to have a truck with those sort of safety standards on the roads. Now, there should be no difference between the Hume Highway and the Blue Highway, but what the government is proposing is that on the Blue Highway, on the sea, Australian sea, you could have a foreign flagged vessel paying foreign wages with foreign standards in terms of safety and conditions, national security issues, going from Sydney to Melbourne and that’s OK. Now, that, to me, will lead to, very clearly ‑ and the Australian shipping industry is saying that will lead, to the disappearance of the Australian flag. Now, nation states, particularly in an island continent like Australia, has an economic interest, an environmental interest and a national security interest in maintaining the Australian flag presence around our coast.
HEPWORTH: (Inaudible) no business user wants your example Filipino truck drivers driving their goods from point to point, but they actually are saying they do want foreign vessels shipping from coast to coast.
ALBANESE: For the same reasons that if you had a visibility of what goes on on these ships, and we saw an interesting program on Four Corners last week, you would have exactly the same reaction. Now, it is, to me, absurd to argue that people engaged in domestic work here in Australia, which is what a voyage between Sydney to Melbourne is, should be allowed to have completely foreign standards, including foreign wages paid. No difference between an Australian construction company trying to compete against a foreign construction company paying those foreign wage levels and with the same occupational health and safety standards.
HEPWORTH: We’ve seen this debate play out in the aviation sphere as well. There are some … who would like to see foreign flagged aeroplanes be able to take passengers from northern Australia, which is obviously not the case currently. Is there a legitimate debate again to be had? Isn’t it the case that a lot of travellers would prefer to have this available to them?
ALBANESE: Well, what they mightn’t prefer, Annabel, is over a period of time the undermining of Australian safety standards. We have the safest aviation system in the world. We have very much an open market. So if you want to meet the CEO of Rex, for example, you have to fly to Singapore because they’re Singapore-based. So there’s no limit on foreign ownership of Australian aviation, but Australian aviation is subject to Australian safety standards, to paying Australian wages and conditions. We have a very successful domestic aviation market. What’s the problem we’re trying to solve here? Travel for Australians is five times more affordable than it was 20 years ago.
HEPWORTH: That’s been a bruising war between carriers that have paid for doing that.
ALBANESE: Absolutely because we have a competitive market. But what the proponents of this change, Andrew Robb and others in the cabinet, Mathias Cormann, want is essentially unilateral economic disarmament. It’s the same argument that is being proposed on shipping, one whereby no country in the world allows foreign carriers ‑ no industrialised country allows foreign carriers to fly its domestic routes for very good reasons, and what they’re proposing here is that we just give up access, get nothing in return. Very similar on shipping. No country in the world has an open a system as us and if you read the pages of some of our newspapers, you would think somehow that we had a protectionist model. We do not. In the United States, if you want to take goods from Los Angeles to San Francisco in the land of the free market, not only does the ship and all of its crew have to be US‑based, it has to actually be built in the United States as well. That’s the market we’re dealing with and Australia’s national economic interest is not served by unilateral economic disarmament.
VAN ONSELEN: We’re going to be talking economics shortly with Saul Eslake, but before I let you go, it would be remiss of me not to ask you about The Killing Season which is starting up, I think, this coming week on ABC. You gave interviews for that.
ALBANESE: I did.
VAN ONSELSEN: Bill Shorten chose not to. I suppose if you had been involved in the removal of two Prime Ministers, perhaps you wouldn’t have given interviews either.
ALBANESE: Look, people will make their own decisions. I took a view that I would rather have my view put forward in first person than the background and things that go on to journalists. It is, of course, a bit of history. We’ve certainly learnt from that history as a political party and certainly we’re more united now than in my entire time, it must be said, since I’ve been in government with the ‑ in Parliament with the possible exception of the original period where Kim Beazley took over the leadership after the 1996 loss, but I’m sure it will make interesting historical viewing.
VAN ONSELEN: Do you think it might threaten that unity over the next three weeks with some of what various people that were at war, but as you say, are now united as they start to sort of trawl through the entrails of what happened?
ALBANESE: Not at all. I think what will happen is that the members of the Abbott cabinet will have a look at it and go, “Ah, that’s what’s happening now to us.”
VAN ONSELEN: So it might make them more united.
ALBANESE: Well, who knows? We will see what their response is, but at the moment, it is chaotic and dysfunctional and it’s happened very, very quickly and we had, of course, 39 people voted for an empty chair against Tony Abbott earlier this year. As difficult as it got from us, we never got to that point.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.