INSIDERS – ABC TV
SUNDAY, 10 NOVEMBER 2019
SUBJECTS: Bushfires; Labor campaign review; Election strategy; Government’s attack on unions.
FRAN KELLY, PRESENTER: Anthony Albanese, welcome to Insiders.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LABOR LEADER: Good morning Fran.
KELLY: Pretty dire predictions there from the Commissioner and we have the worst of the fire season still to come.
ALBANESE: Well, I spoke to the Prime Minister yesterday and it’s expected that Tuesday could be a catastrophe, not just in New South Wales and Queensland, but also in Western Australia. These are really extraordinary circumstances, particularly at this time of the year, at the beginning of the season or before the normal bushfire season. And to have fatalities, to have so many people missing, my heart goes out to them.
KELLY: The Prime Minister’s headed up to the Mid North Coast part of the fire region today. Do you have plans to visit the areas?
ALBANESE: Well, I offered yesterday when I rang the Prime Minister to go with him. At that stage, he wasn’t intending to go up there. I’ll go up there, certainly, if it is appropriate. One of the things that we should ensure, though, is that politicians don’t get in the way of the work that has to be done. But if appropriate, and certainly, I’ve had briefings and we’ll continue to have briefings.
KELLY: Everything about these fires, as the Commissioner said there, is worse, because of the prolonged dry, the rising temperatures, the same things contributing to the shocking drought. In his long-awaited drought report, Major General Stephen Day said more severe drought conditions are likely in the future due to climate change. Is this the new normal? Prolonged droughts and more extreme bushfires? Do we need to prepare differently, somehow?
ALBANESE: At this point, of course, our focus has to be on the immediate and making sure that one; that we protect lives. Second; also that we try to do what we can to protect properties. I have a relative who, she thinks, that her home has been lost in these fires. So that’s the immediate concern that we have. But certainly, there is a need once we get through this period to really have a look at what the science is telling us and what the experts are telling us, which is that we have had a very prolonged drought that’s been more intense than previous droughts. And this bushfire season. This is a very bad omen at this time of the year that we’re having these devastating fires.
KELLY: Our thoughts are with them, too. Let’s go to the Labor review now of your election loss. It was a pretty scathing assessment, I think you’d agree. How can the alternative party of Government go into an election campaign without a formal strategy?
ALBANESE: Well, I guess, that is the reason why we had the review. Warts and all, it’s out there. No-one had to do an FOI to receive the report. We decided to let the sunlight in, to have with Jay Weatherill and Craig Emerson – two elder statespeople of the party – to really examine what we did wrong, how we lost. Given the chaos on the other side of politics, this is an election that we should have won.
KELLY: Maybe not if you didn’t have an election strategy. You were on the front bench. Did you realise that there was no strategy?
ALBANESE: Well certainly, I wasn’t aware that there wasn’t a campaign committee, but I wasn’t a member of the leadership group that was making those decisions. So quite clearly, the reason for the review isn’t just to look back as a bit of self-reflection, it’s to make sure that we get it right next time and that’s why the recommendations were adopted unanimously by the National Executive on Thursday. This is the first of four stages. The review now is done. The next stage will be vision statements, setting out our values, our principles that we’ll take forward, and then platform in the lead-up to the ALP national conference in December next year in Canberra. And policy will be rolled out over the term, but in the context of the recommendations, one of the recommendations is – we were too cluttered. We had too many policies and therefore, people weren’t aware of all of the policies that we had.
KELLY: One of the findings, too, was that people weren’t listening to the feedback coming on the ground. The review talks of the dismissal of warnings to head office about the campaign direction – candidates, door knockers, shadow ministers raising concerns, but not being taken seriously. Did you raise concerns? Were you one of them?
ALBANESE: I raised concerns, I certainly….
KELLY: What about?
ALBANESE: In the last week, for example, I went to Corangamite and I went across to Perth, to Swan, where Hannah Beazley was the candidate, because I was concerned that we weren’t doing as well as the published polls were showing. I went to Longman through times through the election campaign. You could tell on the ground, when you listened to what people were saying, they were raising concerns. And when you look at our tracking polling, and this I wasn’t aware of, the tracking polling showed that on seven occasions, we were going backwards, and on 11, I think it was, we weren’t getting a swing big enough to win. So on a majority of the tracking polling where you go into marginal seats and look at whether you’re actually going to win or not, a majority of them were telling us that we weren’t going to win.
KELLY: So you were nervous during it. Did you tell them for instance- maybe we should stop using language like the “big end of town”?
ALBANESE: Well if you go back and look at speeches I gave well before the election campaign, including the Whitlam Oration in June of last year, I was indicating, very clearly, my concern with some of the language. I think that Labor has to be an inclusive party. We have to represent working Australians, but we also have to acknowledge that it is business that employs those working Australians as well. And we need to be inclusive, rather than divisive, in our language.
KELLY: The review found that Bill Shorten’s unpopularity was one of three key reasons that Labor lost the election, which is pretty damning for him. Did Caucus make a mistake not switching leaders earlier?
ALBANESE: No. Look Caucus made that decision and we were united and that was one of our strengths that for six years, people worked as a cohesive unit.
KELLY: Do you wish now you changed leaders?
ALBANESE: You can’t change history, and I think that we put the rules in place as well to make sure that people didn’t have to worry about internals. We learnt the lessons of the Rudd and Gillard years. Bill Shorten had six years as leader with a unified party, all working to elect a Shorten Labor government. And Bill worked very hard during that period. No-one could have worked harder.
KELLY: Do you need to un-learn the lessons now given this finding though? Do you expect as the leader of the Labor Party to be judged through that prism of popularity and if you don’t lift your standings in the polls, do you expect your colleagues to say – ‘nah’?
ALBANESE: Well, I will lead Labor to the next election, I have outlined a clear strategy, four stages. But also, the clear principles that we will take forward. Principles, of course, jobs, and I’ve already outlined through my first vision statement; Jobs and the Future of Work. I want an economy that works for people, not the other way around. The principles of social justice and fairness. The principle of infrastructure and nation building. Boosting productivity. Climate change – recognising that it’s an opportunity, not just a threat. And of course, national security through foreign affairs and international policy that represents Australia’s national interests.
KELLY: OK, but to be successful, and this is clear again from the review, but clear anyway, the report says that Labor needs to do a better job at knitting together the constituencies of working class people and inner-city progressives. This chasm just seems to be getting bigger. Your primary vote really tanked. How do you intend to do that? That’s your challenge, really first and foremost.
ALBANESE: Well I do it every three years in Grayndler, Fran. I represent an electorate that’s very diverse. 40% of people speak a language other than English at home. It has many working Australians in its constituency – blue collar Australians, but it also has the professional classes as well in different pockets of the electorate. It’s a changing electorate. And I also, throughout the country, I go around and push for Labor’s agenda around the country.
KELLY: Yes, but it hasn’t worked, so what’s your strategy to make it work?
ALBANESE: I don’t buy this false division. I think that Australians do have common interests. Australians have common interests about security at work. And one of the things that I am pushing is that that we need to shape change. The current Government – Scott Morrison is pretending that change just won’t happen. ‘Vote for me and nothing will happen’. But people are insecure about what jobs their people will have. But people are also insecure about the impact of climate change – farmers and regional communities. We’re seeing more and more concern about that. So I think that by putting forward the five principles that I’ve outlined, the themes that we’ll go through, through the vision statements, by having a clear platform and policy agenda, which isn’t cluttered at the next election, we can bring together the forces that will see Labor as, what I believe we should be, the natural party of Government for this country.
KELLY: Do you think that the country, though, is heading the other way? I note the speech that the Prime Minister gave the other day accusing progressives, as he dubbed them, of holding a dogma that pits cities against regional Australia, a group that can’t resist sneering at job creating and wealth creating industries. Some of those people he would be talking about would make up Labor’s progressive base. Do you think these Labor supporters are sneering at people? Do you have a problem with their tone?
ALBANESE: I certainly don’t have a problem with Labor people’s tone, and I don’t buy the Prime Minister’s attempt to divide the nation. I believe very strongly that we’re a country that believes in fairness, that has that at its heart. And one of the things that we’ll see, and we’re seeing in the tragedy that’s occurring with the bushfires, there’s Australians helping each other out. So, one of the principles that I’ve put forward is aspiration. We need to ensure that we’re the party of wealth creation – not just concerned about distribution. And when we look at aspiration, I believe the difference between me and the Prime Minister is that he sees aspiration as just about individualism. I see it that people aspire for better things for their family, for their neighbours, for their community and for their nation.
KELLY: Let’s look at coal though as a good example of this challenge really, this chasm for Labor. Why would coalmining communities, who did desert you at the last election, trust to you prioritise their jobs and their interests, when Labor is also the party of the climate activists who are calling for an end to coal?
ALBANESE: One of the things that I put forward very strongly in jobs and the future of work, and it’s no accident that that was the first position that I did put forward, was that climate change is an opportunity to create literally hundreds of thousands of jobs, if we get it right. It’s not a matter of the environment versus jobs. It’s a matter of ensuring… so for example, I used metallurgical coal, which is what a majority of Queensland’s exports are in terms of coal, is a necessary component of most things that are in this studio now, but also of course, of wind turbines and other things that are necessary…..
KELLY: That’s an industry policy you’re talking about there, but for the coal communities that voted against you last time, to believe that they need to trust you – that’s what was the problem last election – they didn’t trust what you were saying?
ALBANESE: That’s why we need to be consistent and we need to make clear that there are opportunities with industries like hydrogen, with industries like lithium. If you go to Ross Garnaut’s book published just this week, ‘Superpower’, it speaks about the opportunity that is there. We need to be the party of optimism and the party of the future. I’ll leave it to Scott Morrison and the Liberal Party to engage in what is just negative politics. I mean, they’re acting continuously like an Opposition in exile on the Government benches. They don’t have an energy policy. They don’t have a plan for the economy. They don’t have a plan for equity. You have aged-care in crisis, and at the end of this term they will have been in office for three terms, with three Prime Ministers, three Deputies, three Treasurers, and people will ask – what was the point of this Government?
KELLY: You don’t have any policies at the moment and you don’t plan to announce any for a couple more years.
ALBANESE: That’s not right Fran, that’s not right Fran.
KELLY: Wasn’t 2021 the year of the policies?
ALBANESE: No. No. The statement was very clear…
KELLY: Review, vision, platform, polices.
ALBANESE: Yep and policies will be rolled out throughout the term but not all of them will be at the beginning. Many will be at the end because of we need to know what the economic and political context is.
KELLY: Will you start today on this program saying that franking credits are gone?
ALBANESE: No, we’ll make our announcement under our terms with proper processes as well. Clearly, franking credits was an issue during the election campaign, and it’s one which blindsided some people, and I’ve said that in the speech. And clearly, that feedback came through during the election. I had one woman say to me she was concerned about her pension. I said, “Well, pensioners won’t be affected.” And I asked her if she had any shares, and she said, “No, I don’t have any shares.” People were misled as well.
KELLY: Why not just put… If they’re the people you’re trying to get back on side, why don’t you say – don’t worry, that’s gone, that’s off the table?
ALBANESE: Because the election is in 2022 Fran, and what we will do is outline in an orderly and strategic way, our policies, both what we will do and what we won’t do, in plenty of time for the next election. And one of the things that we should have learnt from the last term was that elections aren’t decided two years out. We were ahead in every Newspoll, in every published poll in the two years leading up to the election, except for when it counted, on the Saturday in the polling booth. My task isn’t to be ahead now, it’s to be ahead when people go to the polling booths in 2022, or the end of 2021. I have a clear strategy to do that. My team is on board for that. We’ve told people what it is, and we’ve told people as well that we will adopt all of the recommendations in the report. And that was one of them.
KELLY: You talked in your speech the other day about wanting to repair the moral fabric of the Labor Party. You gave the example of bad behaviour of some union officials. Next week, the Government is going to introduce its Ensuring Integrity Bill which it says is aimed at that. You for instance haven’t been able to force John Setka out of the union movement, maybe this law would do it, would that be a good start?
ALBANESE: This legislation is just about attacking unions. And that’s what they do, this is the party of WorkChoices. This legislation can’t be fixed. This is an attack on the organisations that go into workplaces that deal with issues like wage theft, that ensure that there’s proper occupational health and safety and that people can go home after they work during the day. They ensure that you don’t have worker exploitation, including foreign workers on work sites. Unions play a critical role in civil society.
KELLY: You, yourself, talked about some of the bad behaviour of the unionists?
ALBANESE: Absolutely, and individuals…individuals…
KELLY: And this is aimed at penalising individuals, isn’t it?
ALBANESE: No, it’s not. This is an attack on the fundamental right of people to belong to unions. That’s what it’s about. This Government hasn’t changed its spots from WorkChoices. They essentially don’t believe in unions’ rights to exist, and that’s what the legislation is about. It’s bad legislation. It is unsupportable in my view and we won’t be voting for it.
KELLY: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for joining us on Insiders.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much Fran.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.