SUBJECTS: Rugby League; South Sydney Rabbitohs.
HOST: Yes it is Finals Footy on Fox. Welcome to League Life. Lara Pitt, Jess Yates, Hannah Hollis and our very special guest, Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese. Thank you so much for joining us.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good to be here.
HOST: Politician, rugby league aficionado and a pretty rusted on Bunnies buff as well. You must be pretty excited?
ALBANESE: Pretty much, red and green.
HOST: And I love your outfit. You’ve already got Dally M votes for the jersey.
ALBANESE: It’s a bit used, a bit worn.
HOST: We love it. Now, South Sydney they are 80 minutes away from the 2019 Grand Final. Imagine you’re riding them every single step towards – through September and towards a decider. So where does a Bunnies’ Premiership rate in the list of your priorities.
ALBANESE: It’s pretty high. I got asked once what was better: winning the Federal Government in 2007 or the Bunnies’ win in 2014 and I chose diplomatically to not answer. Given that we need the votes of non-South Sydney supporters as well, so …
HOST: And there were three things you were instilled with from as a young boy; three pivotal, well, pillars that you must abide by.
ALBANESE: Three great faiths raised by a single mum, as I was. The Catholic Church; South Sydney Rugby League Football Club; and the Australian Labour Party.
HOST: Unbelievable. And Souths are absolutely flying at the moment. You were at ANZ to watch what was a very complex but entertaining semi-final against Manly?
ALBANESE: It was a cracker of a game.
HOST: How were the nerves, frayed after that?
ALBANESE: They were very frayed. It was a bit like the South/Saints game last year with the three Adam Reynolds field goals – in normal time. But it was – I thought we were we were in trouble for a while there, but I’m one of those optimists you know even when we were hopeless I thought we were going to win.
HOST: They are rare in rugby league, an optimist that’s for sure.
ALBANESE: You’ve got to be an optimist. We went a long time without playing in finals at all. So from 1989 winning the minor premiership it was a very dark period.
HOST: We can see, Anthony, that your long love affair with the Rabbitohs started for you as a kid. I mean you grew up as you say in Camperdown your mum, a single mum, took you down to Redfern Oval to watch the Rabbitohs play. Talk to us about some of your most vivid memories from that time and what was it as a young kid that really resonated with you about the Rabbitohs culture?
ALBANESE: Well I think it was a big deal; and I pay tribute to my mum who, growing up without a father around, it was a big effort for her to go on to Redfern Ovals Hill every home game. It wasn’t always a sort of polite place to be. But we used to catch the hospital bus, as it was, from Camperdown outside the kids hospital where I grew up; up to Newtown and then get the train, and then walk up. And it was just a part of who you were as a kid. And I played for St Joseph’s Camperdown which was my local school where I went. Had a black jumper with a white ‘V’ and a little red bunny on it. And every year one of the greats would come to the presentation at the school. You know, John Sattler; or Ron Coote; or Paul Sait; and I’d get all their autographs and it was just a part of who you were. In that area you supported Souths or Balmain or Newtown they were the three clubs. And it was pretty evenly divided. My family were Souths people so I was a Souths person.
HOST: Rugby league is a mechanism for families and passing that religion on has been incredible.
ALBANESE: Absolutely. Rugby League is about identity; it’s about who you are; it’s about your community; it’s about belonging. That sense of something bigger than ourselves, I think there’s something really special about team sports and to be able to take my son Nathan was just fantastic. And to win there was that sense of momentum, of course, in 2014. Even when it was six all, I think, at half time then Souths came home. The final Greg Inglis try, the sort of icing on the cake and the crying on the field; just said something about what it was. And I went with a whole bunch of people who I fought to get – I was on the Souths board when we got kicked out of the comp and fought to get back. And I went with Andrew Denton and Ray Martin and our families all went together. And that sense of, you know, it was all worth it. That struggle was a real culmination and it was a great very long evening at Souths Juniors afterwards.
HOST: Anthony, you mentioned the dark times and the fact that you were integral, when the team was kicked out, in getting them reinstated. Can you take us back to that time when the club and the history of the club was just basically cast to one side and kicked out of the competition? What impact did that have on you and your family, but also on the community?
ALBANESE: Look, the community were devastated. And we felt an obligation for those people who, I mean I’ve got other interests in life, for so many people, what really hit home was that was all that they had. And they would say that. It was like their lives had been taken away from them. And so, to fight as we did and get back in the end, in a consensus way, we sort of won the court case but we didn’t actually get reinstated by the court case. People realised that an error was made. We came back and we were all the stronger for it. On the day of the court case sitting in court, it was one of those decisions that was a bit difficult to be clear whether we’d won or not. And just to look at Nick Pappas and the legal team and to realise that we were there. My mum died in 2002 but she heard me singing on 2GB singing, ‘glory, glory to South Sydney’ after the result. And there were all these people from interstate as well. Friends, parliamentarians and people ringing me who thought it was a good campaign but thought it was pretty nuts thinking that we’d actually get back, ringing me just saying, ‘you were right, this is a great thing’.
HOST: It’s been described as an emotional time not only for fans but for everyone who loved rugby league because 80,000 people marched from Redfern to Town Hall. You were a part of that. Tell us about just being there and seeing everyone come together.
ALBANESE: Well, we’d had one demo and it had been successful. Then we had the court case and the decision and the board met and there was a chance that some were arguing ‘well that’s it’. And we basically organised the big demo with no resources at all. We had no money. It was really word of mouth and publicity. Social media wasn’t as big then as it is now. And we arrived on the day and we weren’t sure whether 5,000 would turn up or 100,000 and it was pretty close to 100,000. It was just enormous. It was such a good feeling and then marching along, going past the Woolpack Hotel and all the pubs in Redfern, and they were all coming out and just joining. It just got bigger and bigger. And there was a point there where you just thought that this is unstoppable. This is people power in its rawest sense not just talking about sport but about how important sport is to people’s lives. So, when people say politics and sport shouldn’t mix; we got kicked out because of politics and we got put in because we ran what was an effective political campaign with pressure through people power.
HOST: Politics and sport, they go together like bread and butter. South Sydney is an incredibly powerful club and as such, there are a couple of very influential figures at the top. We have the likes of Russell Crowe. He’s been in town recently really putting the screws to the team in September. And then the master coach Wayne Bennett has been his ‘Bennett best’ recently. What’s it like for you to go into the sheds and hang out with the players and then rub shoulders with figures like that?
ALBANESE: Wayne Bennett, I just love him. I’ve got this man-love thing happening. He is so understated but I’ve seen him talk a few times, off the record, and he’s a manager of people. He speaks about getting the best out of people. He doesn’t instruct them with a whole lot of information, he doesn’t yell. He gets the best out of them. And that’s an incredible skill. He has a great warmth about him and the players love him. Sam would run through a brick wall for him and the rest of them would too and that’s pretty good. You would think this year Greg Inglis, a legend of the game, retires under really difficult circumstances for him personally, you would think that would have devastate their year and here they are in September, 80 minutes away from a Grand Final and I hope 160 minutes away from a victory.
HOST: The Prime Minister Scott Morrison is also a rugby league aficionado, he thinks. He’s been hanging out in the sheds of the Cronulla Sharks. We even heard that he took Mal Meninga, the Kangaroos coach, back into the sheds and said, ‘I’m going to help you pick PM’s 13 team’. I’m not quite sure if that the rule. And we’re also told that the team have a set play named after ScoMo. So, when they hear ScoMo out on the field, they know it’s a set play. How do you feel about ScoMo hanging out with the sharks and out-rugby league you?
ALBANESE: Well, we can look back at how long we have supported our respective teams. I’ll just leave it at that. Ask him some detailed questions about the ’78 Grand Final in replay, or ’73, and see how he goes. The test for any Cronulla supporter is just to mentioned Greg Hartley’s name and if they don’t go completely crazy, then they’re not authentic.
HOST: It’s going to be such a great week. We know that there is a monumental game coming up at GIO stadium. Now how on earth are you going to be in two places at once? Because the AFL mob, they’re mobilising as well. They’ve got a big do-on in Melbourne. So, how are you going to be in two places at once?
ALBANESE: They have a big do. They have a North Melbourne breakfast that’s attended by about 1,500 people and traditionally is addressed by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. I spoke to them today. The speech is a little bit later in the morning, just a little. So, I am going to hopefully get the first plane out. The problem with Canberra is fog. But if you get the first plane it’s already on the ground so you’re not going to get stuck. I reckon I could make it back.
HOST: Hopefully you are because it’s going to be a sell-out. It’s going to be an incredible moment. And scenes like we haven’t seen for decades in Canberra.
ALBANESE: It will be huge. And I just love the Canberra supporters. I love the Viking clap. I love their passion for rugby league and that whole region. I mean it’s not just Canberra; it is sort of the Southern New South Wales team. If we don’t win, I’ll be cheering for whoever wins on Friday night. Funnily enough the Roosters aren’t at the top of my list.
HOST: It still could be a Rabbitohs-Roosters Grand Final though.
ALBANESE: Wouldn’t that be grand? Maybe they can try and pinch some players in between this week and next week in the fine Eastern Suburbs salary.
HOST: A question without notice and not to be uncouth. I have just heard a rumour. And feel free to confirm or deny. Do you have a Rabbitohs tattoo?
ALBANESE: I can’t comment on that. That’s a personal question.
HOST: Have you thought about getting a Rabbitohs tattoo?
ALBANESE: All the time. If I was brave enough.
HOST: Well, if they win the 2019 Grand Final, we will get you down there. Anthony Albanese, thank you so much. We appreciate it. And just for your sake, I hope we see the Bunnies go all the way through.
ALBANESE: Thank you. Good luck to all of the teams this weekend. It’s been a great finals series so far and a great year.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.