Subjects; Cabinet Reshuffle, George Brandis appointment, national security
SAM MAIDEN: So Labor’s Anthony Albanese joins us from Sydney. What’s your reaction to this decision to put Darren Chester out of Cabinet, for what would seem no crime whatsoever? It’s tough out there in politics these days.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That was a Prime Minister not in charge of his own show. Asked why someone was dumped, not just from the Cabinet, not just from the junior ministry; but I understand that the Government offered him a parliamentary secretary and he responded appropriately to that, by rejecting it. Darren Chester I had some policy issues with, but he’s someone who is a man of integrity; he’s someone who has respect across the Parliament, and he’s someone who will be sitting up the back.
There are people – frankly I wouldn’t know John McVeigh if he walked into this studio now. I’ve never met the bloke. He’s going to be in the Cabinet. Can the Prime Minister and Barnaby Joyce honestly say, that they have the best team available to take Australia forward? Infrastructure is a really serious job.
I am concerned that Barnaby Joyce, has in the past expressed contempt, for any spending on public transport, any engagement in our cities, urban congestion. There’s a whole range of things that are infrastructure, it’s not of course just transport. It’s communications, it’s water, it’s energy, and Barnaby Joyce is going to have to change his attitude if he is going to be the national Infrastructure Minister that Australia needs.
MAIDEN: Okay, what do you make of the fact that they are ending the year with fewer women in Cabinet than they started? Does anyone care? We’re told that people should be put in there based on merit, but it wouldn’t have seemed to have been the case in relation to some of these Nationals and some of these blokes that you reckon that you wouldn’t know if they bumped into you in the studio right now. Apparently it’s to do with geography?
ALBANESE: Can I ask you a question Sam? Have you ever interviewed John McVeigh?
MAIDEN: No, I can’t say I’ve had the pleasure.
ALBANESE: It’s quite extraordinary that this Government has a quota for Queensland blokes from the regions, but no care or responsibility with regard to 50 per cent of the population.
I find their sense of priorities all wrong, and that’s because it’s all driven by their internal politics. The reason why the Government can’t function is because it’s focused internally rather than focused on the needs of the Australian people and, you know, it’s a real problem for Malcolm Turnbull but also Barnaby Joyce.
It appears that the sort of division and arguments that we’ve seen within the Liberal Party, are about to begin within the National Party as a result of – what’s quite a vindictive reshuffle really. I think that there will be an impact and ongoing instability going into 2018, as a result of this reshuffle.
MAIDEN: What do you think of George Brandis being shuffled off to the United Kingdom? Now all governments of all persuasions make these sort of appointments, but do you think that one is fair enough?
ALBANESE: I’m not someone who has every argued that people, when they leave politics, are not entitled to be considered on merit for positions, whether they be in the public sector or the private sector. George Brandis has made a contribution to public life. The challenge of the High Commissioner to the UK is a considerable one, given Brexit and the internal issues that are occurring within the British Parliament, the relations that Australia has with Europe and the UK are of course very important. So it’s not a holiday, being UK High Commissioner. It is a lot of work and George Brandis, if he is appointed, I assume that will be rubber stamped by the Governor-General in January. I wish him well.
I do think that if you look at this Government’s appointments and compare it with what we did when we were in office, then this Government does appoint its own exclusively and I think that there’s a real case, for example I think that Gary Johns appointment last week is extraordinary. But they do have to stop, in general, the ideological appointments at every opportunity and I say that without any reflection on George. He is a person of substance, a former Attorney-General now, and I don’t complain about his individual appointment, indeed I wish him well in his new position.
MAIDEN: OK, Kevin Rudd obviously tried that bi-partisan approach in relation to appointments, it sometimes wasn’t popular with Labor, but obviously the Liberals aren’t prepared to return the favour.
ALBANESE: The point is that the adults in the room had a position that people like Brendan Nelson was a very good performer as our Ambassador in Brussels. Tim Fischer as our Ambassador to the Vatican. We had a range of appointments that were considered on merit. I think Malcolm Turnbull really diminished himself and showed himself to be a small person when he refused to back Kevin Rudd’s candidacy for the United Nations.
I said then, and I maintain my position, that if an Aussie is in the race and they’re qualified, you back the Aussie. What occurred then was that of course we were told that it was going to be an Eastern European woman. Of course what happened was the appointment of a former Socialist International party aligned with Labor from Portugal, who had a very similar CV to Kevin Rudd, as Secretary-General of the UN, and I do think the Government made a mistake there.
MAIDEN: OK, can I just ask you one final question? Now that the dust has settled from the Bennelong by-election, do you think that the campaign made a mistake in going so hard after the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, suggesting as Kristina Keneally did that what he was doing was akin to racism, suggesting that he was engaged in China-phobia. She suggested that he was implying that people should be suspicious of Chinese people. Now he never actually said anything like that. Do you think the Labor Party needs to be a lot more careful with playing the race card, as it were, in the Bennelong by-election?
ALBANESE: I’ll tell you who needs to be careful. The Government needs to be careful about misusing national security advice. That’s who needs to be careful here. And it needs to be very careful about the person who, today, is now in charge of the national security agencies, calling a Senator a double agent. That was clearly over-reach; it was absurd and it was inappropriate. Peter Dutton, I hope, behaves with more maturity in the future because he has a very serious responsibility to the nation and it wasn’t Labor who raised the stakes when it came to the lead up to the Bennelong by-election in terms of rhetoric. It was the Government that were prepared to go hell for leather and say anything in order to try and score a political point.
We need to manage our international relations carefully. What we’ve seen, whether on this occasion or whether it be Julie Bishop’s intemperate remarks towards the now Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, is a Government that is always playing politics. How about they just govern the nation? If they govern the nation with respect and with integrity then the politics will look after itself.
MAIDEN: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for your time today we appreciate it.
ALBANESE: Thanks Sam.