Subjects: Citizenship; Game of Thrones.
DAVID SPEERS: Anthony Albanese is with me now. Thanks very much for your time.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s good to be with you.
SPEERS: You did say on 5AA that Penny Wong’s chief of staff actually discussed specifically Barnaby Joyce when he spoke to his mate in New Zealand, the New Zealand Labor MP. Did he?
ALBANESE: Well that was wrong. I wasn’t a party to that conversation. It was in the context of a discussion this morning on 5AA – a regular spot that I have with Christopher Pyne – and I said something that wasn’t correct. I have corrected the record as you know, straight away after that. Apparently it wasn’t discussed specifically. It was a general discussion.
SPEERS: They did discuss, as you say, the general matter around citizenship.
ALBANESE: Well they are mates.
SPEERS: And presumably said it would be good to ask a question in the Parliament?
ALBANESE: No, apparently that was not discussed at all.
SPEERS: Just discussed the citizenship matter generally?
ALBANESE: Yes, as you would, like probably heaps of people in the pubs, at P&Cs and at the sidelines of footy games on the weekend will be discussing these sorts of issues.
SPEERS: Was it inappropriate?
ALBANESE: Well it wasn’t relevant. That’s the point David. The fact is that …
SPEERS: Maybe or maybe not.
ALBANESE: No, the New Zealand Internal Affairs Minister, who is the minster responsible here in the conservative Government,, has said that it was inquiries from Fairfax, that Fairfax made, that caused the New Zealand Government to make inquiries and then to make statements.
SPEERS: But the New Zealand Foreign Minister has said something different. The New Zealand Foreign Minister has said: I think you will find his question (the Labor MP’s question) – that prompted the need for the New Zealand High Commission in Australia to approach Barnaby Joyce to tell him about his situation.
ALBANESE: Well as you know David, Barnaby Joyce actually answered questions about these issues and answered them in a way that we now know isn’t true. He said that he checked. He told journalists, his office told journalists …
SPEERS: And that is a fair point. That’s a fair point. But getting back to Labor’s role, I mean you know the Government may have gone over the top in saying treason and treachery and so on, but was it inappropriate for a conversation with an MP, a member of the New Zealand Parliament?
ALBANESE: Well the big issue, was it inappropriate? Cory Bernardi, I saw on Sky News earlier today speak about members of the Government contacting members of the British Government to say that he shouldn’t be allowed to have meetings and have discussions with Conservative Party people prior to his visit to Britain. We have Malcolm Turnbull has, in Spycatcher, outlined in great detail him providing questions in the Parliament for Neil Kinnock. There are a whole range of issues.
SPEERS: It is OK?
ALBANESE: Well the issue here, it’s just not the issue. The issue here is Barnaby Joyce’s eligibility to be Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and then the other issue is Julie Bishop, as Foreign Minister, behaving in such a chaotic way, questioning whether she could work with an incoming New Zealand Labor Government if it is elected in one month’s time, drawing into question whether she could have co-operative relationship with our closest near neighbours there in New Zealand, is quite bizarre. The way that the Government has handled this whole issue David, this is the first time I have ever seen a Government lose Question Time prior to the first question when the Prime Minster came in to the Parliament and gave a response to Yarra Council in Melbourne about the Australia Day issue, a quite extraordinary statement, to take up Question Time.
SPEERS: You don’t think the PM should speak up for Australia Day?
ALBANESE: That wasn’t what it was about.
SPEERS: What was it about?
ALBANESE: It was just about distracting and taking up some time of Question Time. The fact is there’s no-one in the Parliament from the Labor Party or the Liberal Party or the National Party advocating changing the date of Australia Day and if we are going …
SPEERS: The Greens are and councils.
ALBANESE: Well if we are going to respond to, you know, what every sort of Tom, Dick and Harry says in some council in the national Parliament then I would find that quite extraordinary.
SPEERS: Getting back to the question of New Zealand, obviously Labor in New Zealand have said this was wrong, they shouldn’t have done it. Penny Wong has even said it was inappropriate. Do you agree?
ALBANESE: Well I agree with Penny Wong’s statements on these issues, absolutely.
SPEERS: So there shouldn’t be this sort of conversation with the Kiwis about an internal matter?
ALBANESE: Yes. But it’s not a big deal. It’s a distraction. It’s an attempt by the Government to distract from the real issues and to say look over here.
SPEERS: So the real issue is the citizenship?
ALBANESE: And it needs to be dealt with and Barnaby Joyce should do what Matt Canavan has done …
ALBANESE: Absolutely and step aside whilst this is occurring. If it is the case that the High Court rules that there’s no issues of course he could return. But why is it that there’s a different standard for Matt Canavan than there is for Barnaby Joyce and the real concern here is, is it at all tenable for Barnaby Joyce to be Acting Prime Minister when Malcolm Turnbull travels overseas? I mean the Government has to deal with this and instead of dealing with it there’s been all this look over here, look over there and some bizarre performances in Question Time.
SPEERS: The Government is still considering, as I understand it, whether to refer a bunch of Labor MPS to the High Court as well. Do you think that would be a good idea to provide some certainty?
ALBANESE: Absolutely not. The idea that people will be referred by motions in the House of Reps or the Senate against their wishes is quite extraordinary. You think about the precedent there. The problem there is David that if you have a precedent whereby a Government tries to use its majority then any majority Government can refer anybody who is not part of that majority to a court or question their legitimacy. That’s not the way that it works.
SPEERS: So if the Government does this Labor will have a long memory?
ALBANESE: That’s not the way that it works and I don’t think the Government will go there.
SPEERS: What about the idea the Greens and others have said about an audit of all MPs? Not the High Court dealing with it but someone auditing.
ALBANESE: We have one David. It’s called the nomination process. We go through in a great deal of detail all of the eligibility requirements for our MPs before they nominate.
SPEERS: Clearly not every party has been doing this.
ALBANESE: Well that’s their problem, frankly. The rules are clear. It can be quite difficult. We do it every time as well.
SPEERS: But do you think the Australian people would like to see it cleared up once and for all with an audit?
ALBANESE: There’s no doubt that if you were writing the Australian Constitution you would do it in a different way, in my view. And indeed the Labor Party platform calls for reform of some of these issues.
SPEERS: Would you get rid of the way Section 44 applies?
ALBANESE: Well you’d have a debate about what the reform should be and I’m not about to try and rewrite the Constitution on your show.
SPEERS: What do you think personally? Should dual citizens be allowed to sit in Parliament?
ALBANESE: I think there’s a question mark over it. I think that on the one hand, you know, you want people to have absolute allegiance to Australia. I don’t think that is too much to ask that you have allegiance to Australia and only Australia.
SPEERS: But you do that with your oath or affirmation when you take your seat?
ALBANESE: I think there are, where the grey area has come in from my perspective, more relevant, is someone who is a teacher or someone who works at a university. Those sorts of issues of whether they get suspended or whether they have to – those issues are difficult, but they are there. We know what the rules are. We all have to apply to them.
SPEERS: When it comes to dual citizens though, you’ve faced many, many questions yourself about your own citizenship status?
ALBANESE: And I’ve answered them all.
SPEERS: I was going to invite you to remind us once again that you are absolutely certain that there’s no possibility of dual citizenship.
ALBANESE: Absolutely and you indeed have seen my documentation David.
SPEERS: Your documentation where it says father basically has a blank space?
ALBANESE: That’s right.
SPEERS: Without reliving your personal life story here, in some ways you’re kind of like the Jon Snow of Parliament for Game of Thrones fans.
ALBANESE: Well that’s an interesting Game of Thrones analogy there. Perhaps politics in this place is a bit like Game of Thrones at the moment. But look, one of the reasons why I made the difficult decision, it must be said, to cooperate with Karen Middleton doing a biography is that I didn’t want it just sort of slipped out in terms of my origins which were basically that my mother had me by herself.
She met someone and became pregnant. She came back to Australia and had me. I was due to be adopted out and she made the difficult and courageous decision for a young Catholic woman in 1963 to keep me. And under those circumstances though, in terms of my legal status, yes there’s a blank. There is no legal status of a …
SPEERS: Of a father?
ALBANESE: Yes, of anyone other than my mother who subsequently adopted the name.
SPEERS: And you’re not the only Australian in that situation, but it is pretty rare.
ALBANESE: So my position is clearer than most. And I didn’t know the details of my father. I was told that he was dead, which was something that was about, I guess, providing the issue of legitimacy to my origins.
SPEERS: Anthony Albanese, appreciate your time this afternoon and sharing that back story as well for us once more.