Subjects: Budget; energy, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, marriage equality.
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Thanks so much for your company.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: G’day Peter.
VAN ONSELEN: Now I understand, we might just show the image of it, that you tweeted a picture of yourself in a rainbow flag t-shirt holding a poodle. Is that yours?
ALBANESE: That is mine. Her name is Toto, so she likes rainbows, as in – fans out there of Wizard of Oz will recognise where her name derives from.
VAN ONSELEN: Even though you’re an inner city MP, Mr Albanese, I never saw you as a poodle owner.
ALBANESE: Well she’s a cavoodle and she is a lovely dog. And I think when you live in a heavily urbanised community you should get an appropriate dog that doesn’t require a huge amount of open space.
VAN ONSELEN: Fair enough. All right let’s get into some of the issues of the day.
ALBANESE: She’s a valued member of our family.
VAN ONSELEN: I don’t doubt it. I don’t doubt it. And good for people who are allergic to dogs too, if it’s a cavoodle. But look, we move on, we move on. So the big issues of the day; obviously these Budget results, Anthony Albanese. The Government’s got a right to crow about this don’t they? I mean at the end of the day they said the Budget would be one thing and it’s come in with the actuals $4.4 billion better.
ALBANESE: Well this of course has come in at three times the figure that Joe Hockey predicted in the first Coalition Budget in 2014. We’ve also seen the debt increase by some $147 billion on this Government’s watch. And in my area of infrastructure it’s a disaster. You’ve had, over the Government’s first three years, $3.9 billion of underspend on what it itself said it would commit to over the following 12 months.
So areas like the Black Spots Program; they said there would be $220 million, the actual spend is $105 million. The Heavy Vehicles Safety Program; $171 million in the Budget, but only $51 million spent. And the most remarkable program of all I think is the program for Improving Cattle Supply Chains, where you have National Party Ministers who bung on about the importance of the cattle industry; well they had $35 million allocated over the first three Budgets for this program. In May at the time of the Budget they said they would spend $1.2 million of that – that’s now disappeared completely. Not a dollar out the door. So they’ve actually got a program, which for three years, they haven’t spent a dollar on. That of course means that there has been less expenditure. And the problem with less expenditure on infrastructure is that it means less growth and less revenue coming into Government in the future. It’s bad economic policy to cut infrastructure investment and that’s exactly what this Government has done.
VAN ONSELEN: Can I move onto another issue, Mr Albanese, and get your response to what looks like a little bit of ambiguity for Labor about its Renewable Energy Target of around 45 or 50 per cent. Is that a firm target you plan to hit? Or is that an aspirational target that you may or may not get to?
ALBANESE: Look I reckon what will happen, Peter, is what’s happened even with the Renewable Energy Target that we had of 20 per cent by 2020, which will be exceeded in spite of the best efforts of the Coalition Government to destroy the renewable energy industry.
I mean, you have this debate – are renewables good or bad? Well renewables are happening. I went with Bob Katter up to Hughenden and Kidston in North West Queensland. The Kidston Stage 1; 537,000 solar panels, connected up with storage through using the old gold mines to essentially create both a hydro system to back that up to make sure it can then go into the grid and supply energy in a reliable way. Those two projects between them will power a million homes. We’re seeing massive investment and all that we need is some certainty. I don’t for the life of me understand why this Government can’t get on with the business of adopting the Finkel plan. They themselves created the Finkel Review and now they’re mucking around over whether they will implement it or not.
VAN ONSELEN: OK, but Labor has a 50 per cent renewable energy target and a 45 per cent emissions reduction target. Now there is enough question marks about the first of these two targets. The second one, Bill Shorten – he sounds like he doesn’t believe that is going to be achievable.
ALBANESE: Well the fact is that what we’ve got, if we have a whole-of-government approach, if we give support to the transition that is happening in the economy, if we work on energy efficiency; one of the things that defines I think my contribution to politics is I try to be positive and I think that human ingenuity and use of new technology is showing that things can be delivered. The fact is now renewables are the cheapest form of new energy that is being developed out there. Now 15 years ago, that wasn’t the case. More and more what we see is that new products on the market, including the use of battery storage and hydro to make sure that you have that reliability into the system …
VAN ONSELEN: I appreciate all that and obviously the use of renewables is vital to the driving down of emissions and therefore you are hitting your emission reduction target of 45 per cent. But do you really think you are going to hit it or are you guys going to have to let that go?
ALBANESE: No, we have these plans and we want to get into government so we can set about doing it. But the fact is even this Government has managed to hit the Kyoto targets which, remember under John Howard, who refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol for all those years – I had private Members Bills in the Parliament saying we should get on with the business of joining the world in ratifying Kyoto – and we have done it in spite of the fact that it took a Labor Government to be elected in 2007 and we’ll be commemorating ten years since that event pretty soon. The first act of the Labor Government was to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and that is what set Australia on the road to being a part of the global community when it came to acting on climate change. This Government has sort of got a foot in and a foot out. You know, Tony Abbott talks about renewables, but it is actually his renewable energy target. They talk about the danger of the Paris Accord now, some of Tony Abbott’s friends on the backbench and in industry, but the Government signed up to it.
VAN ONSELEN: But in fairness to Tony Abbott, he inherited a higher renewable energy target than what he ultimately then supported …
ALBANESE: And now he doesn’t support the one that he did support. And now he doesn’t support the one that is his target.
VAN ONSELEN: That is true.
ALBANESE: He is a very confused man.
VAN ONSELEN: But his issue is the Senate, right? Like he would like it to have been brought down more. They had to be realistic about what they could get through the Senate. It was Labor that put the renewable energy target in place. He then brought it down. They would liked to go further, but the reality of the Senate is that it is what it is.
ALBANESE: Tony Abbott now is just playing politics. No matter what Malcolm Turnbull says, you can guarantee that Tony Abbott is against it. There is no doubt that Tony Abbott is a very effective opposition politician, whether it be opposition to the former Labor Government, whether it be opposition to Malcolm Turnbull. But that doesn’t get anything done. That doesn’t serve the nation. The problem isn’t that Tony Abbott is stuck in the past, it’s that he wants the whole of Australia, led by Malcolm Turnbull, to go back there to keep him company. And Malcolm Turnbull seems in capable of saying no, I am not going to return to the past; I am going to embrace the future. And that is why we have so many policies of Malcolm Turnbull, including his reluctance to really get out there and support what is the Government’s own strategy of a voluntary postal survey on marriage equality. Even though Malcolm certainly supports marriage equality, he isn’t going too hard campaigning in favour of it and why on renewable energy and climate change you have some quite bizarre propositions at the moment – that the Government will have publicly funded and subsidised new coal-fired plants that might get going sometime in the decade after next. I mean it is quite extraordinary when we have practical measures that can be taken consistent with the Finkel Report.
VAN ONSELEN: Anthony Albanese I know you are busy down in Canberra for the day. Thanks very much for joining us, finding the time for us here on Newsday. Cheers.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you Peter.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.