Subjects; UN resolution on Palestine, Budget, by-elections
BARRIE CASSIDY: Anthony Albanese, welcome. Good morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you, Barrie.
CASSIDY: We will come back to the Budget. I want to start with the vote in the UN with only Australia and the United States opposing the inquiry into the killings. How do you feel about that?
ALBANESE: Well, the Government needs to explain why it was isolated as one of only two nations to vote against an independent inquiry. I would have thought, given the circumstances whereby, we’ve had at least 58 Palestinians killed, over 100 Palestinians killed since March 30th, that an independent investigation, is in the interests of all and no doubt, as with everything in the Middle East, it would find, if it were an appropriate investigation, that all the fault wasn’t on one side.
No doubt there has been provocation in Gaza, but international law requires a proportionate response and those people who have guns on one side and on the other side has rocks, the people with guns have a responsibility to act in a way that is proportionate and people have seen this acted out on their television screens in the past week and certainly I think that the Government needs to explain why it has opposed this independent investigation.
CASSIDY: So you are prepared to say the response wasn’t proportionate in this case?
ALBANESE: Well, I’m prepared to say what anyone who looks at this objectively would say, which is that when you have all of the fatalities on one side of a dispute then there needs to be an explanation as to how those circumstances have been done. Now, there is no doubt that the primary concern, of course, is always to any fatalities in conflict and those who are injured and their families, but also, this is doing damage to Israel’s reputation. I’m a strong supporter of Israel’s right to exist within secure borders, but I recognise also the need for a two state solution and that requires a Palestinian state.
CASSIDY: But the NSW ALP have a motion, a successful motion at their last conference, to unilaterally recognise the state of Palestine. Will that motion go to the national conference and if it does, will you support it?
ALBANESE: That motion will go to the national conference I would expect, but we have a NSW state conference at the end of June and I should imagine that resolution will be updated. I’ll wait and see what the debate is at the national conference and determine my position based upon my long-standing view that you need a two state solution in the Middle East with a state of Palestine, with a state of Israel, both of them having secure borders and making sure that that is in the interests of Palestinians and Israelis. For people who travel to that part of the world, when you recognise that Jerusalem and Bethlehem is like saying you can have security in my suburb of Marrickville from where I’m sitting here in Ultimo, they’re right next to each other. We can’t continue to have an ongoing, up to seven decades of conflict, there is a need for a resolution and quite clearly the international community must play a role in that.
CASSIDY: Do you though, support unilaterally the recognition of Palestine?
ALBANESE: Well, I support recognising a Palestinian state, but with Israel continuing to have a right to exist within secure borders. And my concern is that the possibilities of a two state solution are being undermined by the ongoing expansion of settlements on the West Bank and in Gaza and there is a need for the international community to recognise that this circumstance, whereby people in Gaza now, we have three generation of refugees living there in circumstances without any economic capacity to have a decent standard of living, is causing enormous frustration and there is a need also to recognise, that it is understandable that Israel feels under siege given where it is in the world and given some of the Islamic fundamentalism that exists in many of the nations on its borders. But fundamentalism of any sort, be it Judaism, Islam or Christianity is bad. What we need is a solution there because it is providing fuel for instability across the entire region.
CASSIDY: Alright, we’ll go to the Budget now and infrastructure in your portfolio area to begin with. The Government has a good story to tell, hasn’t it, $75 billion over ten years, $25 billion of that new projects?
ALBANESE: Well, this is, of course, all spin and no substance. The fact is if you look at this year’s Budget, compared with last year, there is a $2 billion cut across the forward estimates. Infrastructure investment is due to be $8 billion in the current financial year. That drops to $4.5 billion across the forward estimates, across four years. And we have seen as well the Government not even deliver what it said it would each year; some $4.7 billion of under spends in their first budget. Infrastructure investment, according to the Parliamentary Budget Office is in fact due to half over the next decade from 0.4 to 0.2 of GDP and now we have in this Budget, an increased propensity to have off-budget allocations. In this case, now for public transport projects like the Melbourne Airport rail link that simply means that it is a fantasy. They’re suggesting you can have public transport projects for free, which means that it won’t happen.
CASSIDY: But what they are doing is finding new ways to finance infrastructure projects?
ALBANESE: No, all of the experts in the sector regard this as simply a con. Now, you can’t have off-budget financing for a project unless it is going to do two things. Firstly, it has to have revenue that is greater than the ongoing maintenance and costs of running a public transport project. Now, that doesn’t happen anywhere in Australia for any of the public transport projects and secondly, you have to produce a return on the investment, on the capital costs otherwise it has to be funded with at least some level of grant funding. And that’s why this is an announcement, a big announcement of $5 billion, but it’s not real and we’ve seen that with so many of the Government’s announcements. The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, a big announcement three years ago of $5 billion, and very little has happened. A couple of small projects, basically most of the expenditure seems to be having board meetings of the NAIF board members in the southern capitals. The NAIF has become the ‘No Actual Infrastructure Fund.’
CASSIDY: Can I ask you more broadly about an issue that Phil Coorey raised in the Financial Review? That a Labor Government would be no better placed than the Tony Abbott Government and the Malcolm Turnbull Government in terms of raising the revenue that you wanted to raise. You’ve committed spending, but there is no guarantee that you will be able to raise the revenue that you pinpointed because of the Senate?
ALBANESE: Well, we’re very confident we will be able to. Of course, there have been changes to the way that the Senate is elected. Malcolm Turnbull blew that last time around with his Double-D election, he ensured an expansion of the cross benches. It will be more difficult at the next election in a half Senate election for minor parties to come through. We’re very confident, we’ve been out there, Barrie, on issues such as our housing affordability strategies, of changes to negative gearing and the treatment of capital gains. Now, not just for this election coming up, but the last election as well. So we think there is a very clear mandate for that. We think our other changes are sensible. We’ve announced them well in advance and we’re confident that we would get them through the Senate and through the House of Representatives if we are fortunate to form Government after the next election.
CASSIDY: Adam Bandt said this morning the Greens wouldn’t support your tax cuts.
ALBANESE: Well, Adam Bandt, of course, wouldn’t support, probably, tax cuts for anyone. That I think is the Greens position. But the fact is that we have a larger tax offset, that we will be arguing for, than the Government, more than $900 as opposed to a little bit over $500.
That’s our position and we’re confident that that would get through the Senate.
CASSIDY: Alright. A couple of, well, five by-elections, but two, which are very important to the Labor Party – Braddon and Longman. What would be a good result?
ALBANESE: A good result is to win, Barrie. That’s a good result. Any time there is an election held, I’ll you’ll give you the big tip here, the big scoop on Insiders – Labor frontbencher says he wants Labor to win!
CASSIDY: But if you fell in, if you just fell in in Longman for example, would that be good enough?
ALBANESE: A win is a win, Barrie. We’re in it to win in all of the by-elections in which we’re running. We’re not terribly confident in Mayo of winning, but we’re having a crack there, unlike the Liberal Party which isn’t even giving it supporters someone to vote for in Perth and Fremantle.
CASSIDY:You are running as a stalking horse for Rebekha Sharkie aren’t you?
ALBANESE: We’re running because it is the right thing to do for Labor to run candidates in these by-elections just as we ran a candidate in New England where there was no prospect of us winning that by-election, but we did the right thing because we want to take every opportunity to put our case before the Australian public. What’s extraordinary is you’ve got a Government that in Perth for example last time around, got 42% of the primary vote, which is running scared. That just says they’re not prepared to go out and back themselves. Labor is.
CASSIDY: And if you were to lose either Braddon or Longman, what kind of a shock would that be to the Labor Party?
ALBANESE: Well, we are in it to win Barrie, and we are not into contemplating anything other than victory in those by-elections. We have got outstanding candidates in Susan Lamb and Justine Keay and they will be, they are already on the ground running. It is extraordinary Barrie that the by-elections haven’t been called and I saw Christopher Pyne coming out with some excuses. The truth is that when the Prime Minister at some stage in the next year goes to Government House and says let’s call the federal election, there’s 150 seats organised in the next 24 hours. I can’t understand why these by-elections haven’t been called.
CASSIDY: What’s your theory? Why do you think he is holding it up?
ALBANESE: I think Malcolm Turnbull, just like he’s running away from the public in Perth and Fremantle, is delaying these by-elections for reasons that he needs to explain. The Speaker, of course has said that he’ll consult with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition about that timetable, but Christopher Pyne was suggesting some changes being made to candidates’ eligibility. I think the High Court has made their position very clear about candidates’ eligibility in the determinations that they’ve made.
CASSIDY:Thank you for your time this morning.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you Barrie.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.