Subjects: Open skies aviation policy, shipping, marriage equality, Royal Commission, World Cup, FIFA scandal
JONES: I’m joined by Anthony Albanese who is the former Deputy Prime Minister and Infrastructure Minister but now he is the Shadow Transport Minister. These are the sorts of issues that don’t get the kind of coverage that they ought to. There is what I believe a ridiculous proposal being contemplated by Andrew Robb and indeed I understand Joe Hockey is in on this – all these sort of economic rationalists gone mad – about the fact that it’s called an Open Skies policy. Don’t worry about the jargon, but basically this they say will initially apply to areas north of the Tropic of Capricorn so we are talking about ports initially in North Queensland – Darwin, Cairns, Townsville and so on. When an international carrier would come in, say, bringing a whole stack of tourists – it might be Singapore Airlines bringing a whole stack of tourists to Townsville – and it dumps 180 passengers in Townsville and the proposal is, well then it can pick up 180 Australian passengers in Townsville. Now the cost of that transport has already been met by the international passenger so Singapore Airlines will say come on we’ll take you to wherever – Alice Springs, Darwin – for $30. Now if that were to persist, goodbye Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar, Tiger – all of those outfits in northern Australia and it is the thin edge of the wedge because eventually they would say why not take them to Melbourne? Why not take them to Adelaide? Now the proposition is this: do you imagine America would allow Qantas to take 250 Australian passengers to Los Angeles – they are going to Hollywood, so they are not going to New York. They drop the 250 passengers in LA and then Qantas says right, we’ve got 250 empty seats here. We will ferry the Americans to New York for $50. I mean, it’s a ludicrous position. Anthony Albanese has been in and out of this issue on many occasions. Anthony Albanese, good evening and thank-you for your time.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you Alan.
JONES: What do you make of this?
ALBANESE: Well, this is a bizarre proposition. This is unilateral economic disarmament. No industrialised country on the planet allows foreign carriers to do its domestic work. The idea that Qantas would be allowed to fly from London to Berlin or from Los Angeles to San Francisco is quite frankly absurd. Every nation in the world recognises that aviation and shipping as the two international transport modes are so important that there is some protection around the national carriers. And the way that international aviation works is there’s bi-lateral agreements so that between Australia and Singapore, Australia and the United states – whatever country – on that basis it’s reciprocal. So we say to Singapore, you are allowed to fly here but therefore Qantas and Virgin Australia and Jet Star are allowed to fly to Singapore. What we are talking about here is not even a suggestion by Andrew Robb that it would be reciprocal, that we would get anything out of this deal, but we just say come on down, take Australian jobs, take Australian routes in terms of away from the Virgins and the Qantas and Tiger and airlines importantly like Air North – these small airlines …
ALBANESE … that operate in northern Australia would be simply shoved aside while we had essentially dumping. It’s a form of, as you say, the foreign airlines would have already made its profit on the international route. They would be able to undercut the Australian carrier. But guess what? Once the Australian carrier disappeared we’d find prices increasing and no Australian presence on those routes.
JONES: That’s the key point that’s going forward. So OK, in they come and it makes Qantas and Virgin and Jet Star and Air North and those outfits so unviable flying into just say Townville or Mackay, that they vacate because Singapore Airlines are actually transporting and moving people around. Singapore Airlines then cherry pick and they say: OK, well hang on, we’ve been here six months and we can’t make a quid here. We’re out of here. So the people of Mackay and Townsville and whatever don’t have a carrier at all.
ALBANESE: Of course. And we’re not just talking about the major destinations such as Darwin and Cairns. We are talking about airlines that provide services to places like Cloncurry, Nhulunbuy, Port Headland, Kununurra – some of the routes in the north that they don’t make a lot of money out of but because they operate around Australia or across the north then there is a form of cross subsidisation and they are able to sustain flying into all of those destinations. Australia is very well served. We have the most open domestic aviation system in the world. An airline like Rex, that flies in regional Australia, is owned and operated and run from Singapore. As a former transport minister, if I wanted to talk to the head of Rex I had to go to Singapore. That’s fine. But they operated within Australia. Now other countries don’t allow that but it’s another step altogether to just say a free-for-all, let alone, you are talking about wage differentials. Australians are paid …
JONES: Yes. Yes. Hang on before you come to wages and safety because there is no wage if there is no job. What is this going to do to Australian jobs?
ALBANESE: This is an offshoring of Australian jobs. They have a similar plan when it comes to shipping that would see the Australian flag disappear off the back of ships that operate around our coasts without any regard to the security, environmental or economic consequences. This is just ideology before common sense. It came out of the Harper Review.
ALBANESE: That recommended – the technical term is cabotage – that cabotage just disappear from aviation and shipping. But this is a fantasy. This is a fantasy world where this free market operates. But of course that isn’t the case and particularly when it comes to aviation. We have in Australia the best record of any country in the world when it comes to safety. Now that increases costs and let me tell you Alan, that I reckon your listeners tonight and during the mornings would be very happy to pay an extra few dollars …
ALBANESE: … to know that our aviation system is safer than many of the aviation systems in our region that are black-banned from flying into Europe or other parts of the world.
JONES: Yes. Those are all coming together aren’t they. You mention wages, you mention jobs. You mention safety. We’ve got no control over that level of safety. And to come back to the first point, it’s fantasy land, isn’t it, to imagine that Qantas could land in Los Angeles, dump off our 250 Australian passengers who are going to Hollywood and then pick up 250 American passengers at $50 each to go to New York. That’s fantasy land. That’s what this plan is about.
ALABNESE Well, that’s why I call it unilateral economic disarmament. It’s saying to overseas carriers, come on down, take our jobs. Qantas and Virgin Australia have been through a difficult period. The aviation industry is a difficult one throughout the world.
JONES: Yes the margins are very narrow aren‘t they?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. In a good year 50 or 60 airlines go belly up. Qantas and Virgin both have budget carriers in terms of Jet Star and Tiger. They’re both very well-run airlines. They’ve come to good agreements with their workforce. They are moving forward. They are investing and when you invest in aviation, it’s not for a year or two years – it’s for a decade or more – and Qantas I know is considering its next lot of investment in terms of the Dream Liner aircraft. They need certainty going forward,. not a positon which will mean that there’s a free-for-all, and we know that once these routes are opened up you can imagine it. We’re flying, we’re a foreign airline, we are flying between Darwin and Townsville or Darwin and Cairns where the only airlines doing it because the Australian airlines have been withdrawn, but we will withdraw too unless you allow us to fly to Adelaide or Sydney
JONES: That’s it.
ALBANESE: You’ve got to go through the hub.
JONES: Thin edge of the wedge.
ALBANESE: That’s why this is being resisted so strongly and frankly if you proposed this at an international aviation conference from people who are engaged in the sector, they would think it was a joke, they would not believe that any government could seriously be so prepared to give away it’s national interests; that they were prepared to even consider this. But my understanding is it’s very much still a live proposition. There is some opposition to it within the government and you know, it needs to be put, not just in the short-term, it needs to be said this will not happen so that the ….
ALBANESE: So that the airlines have the certainty to invest in Australian jobs.
JONES: Absolutely. One hundred percent correct. I know it sounds exaggerated to say this, but this is war on the Australian aviation industry, is it not?
ALBANESE: Well, absolutely and in terms of what the motivation is, it’s a bit beyond me. I’ve said that the shipping plan is Work Choices on Water and this is sort of Work Choices in the Sky. I don’t know whether it is about saying that any price is a good price, but the cost is enormous. It may well be that you can get a cheaper price for a foreign airlines paying people peanuts, not having the same safety standards as we have in Australia. But I tell you what, the cost to the national interest would be enormous and it should be rejected. It should be rejected by the Prime Minister through a public statement.
JONES: Yes. Well said. I agree with you entirely. Let‘s come to this issue of same-sex marriage which has the potential to divide the Labor Party. I don’t know whether you were party to Bill Shorten presenting this bill to the Parliament. There is going to be trouble at the ALP National Conference in July if Tanya Plibersek seeks a binding agreement. She apparently intends to move a motion to that effect, which would bind Federal MPs to approve any bill which supports same sex marriage. You made a speech last week in which you virtually said you were opposed to that, it ought to be a conscience vote. How difficult a matter is this to resolve and has Shorten been very precipitate in the move that he has made here.
ALBANESE: Well, I think there are two issues there. The first issue is was Bill Shorten correct in bringing forward a Private Members Bill? I believe he was. We’ve been 18 months into the term. We don’t want this issue dealt with during an election year. It should be dealt with this year. I believe a majority will support the Bill if there is a free vote in the Parliament and nothing was happening. Given the result in the Irish referendum, it was appropriate to give a nudge if you like to members of the Coalition who support a change to say: let’s get on with it. I think once this change happens, and it will happen, people will wonder what the fuss was about.
JONES: I know you’ve got to be loyal and there are certain things you can’t say but to just out of nowhere say that well I am going to present a bill on Monday when in fact even the critics and people who are supporting marriage equality and people of the Labor Party are saying to do it the way you have done it presents it as a partisan issue, whereas the politics need to be taken out of it and you should be firstly consulting with all parties to get everybody on side. Now the Greens have criticised this move by Bill Shorten which is rather a sort of pre-emptory move and it seemed to me to seek to anticipate what could be a problem at the ALP conference in July. I mean, is Tanya Plibersek going to go ahead with that motion and will that motion get up on the floor of the ALP conference?
ALBANESE: Well that will be a matter for Tanya and she can speak for herself. But I’ve always been of the view and I have argued, and I have put out my position very publicly to remind people of what it was, which is to support a conscience vote. I am a strong supporter of this reform marriage equality but I believe that what is important is how we get there as well. How should we get there? We should get there with a not a partisan view. We should get there with a parliamentary view. I think that will happen and there will be people in the Coalition come on board and, indeed, the minor parties as well, and that reform should go through. And today again we have seen people change their minds and come out and declare their support for marriage equality. That’s happened because there has been a respectful debate. Now I disagree clearly with those people who are opposed to marriage equality, but I respect their right to have that position and for people of faith who have an adherence to any particular organised religion that they believe means that they are unable to support it, I believe that that should be respected and the way to do that is by having a conscience vote. In the Labor Party, I’ve been a member of the national executive as you know Alan for a very long time, I have been a delegate to every ALP National Conference since 1986 and I have consistently respected when people have said my conscience means I cannot vote this way even though I accept that that is a majority view in the Labor Party. When people have said that I have respected it …and I have consistently respected when people have said ‘my conscience means I cannot vote this way even though I accept that that is a majority view in the Labor Party’. When people have said that I have respected it and we have had conscience votes on a range of issues, including on the location of Parliament House. No-fault divorce was a conscience vote in the Labor Party, issues like opening hours and trading hours of liquor laws, marijuana law reform in South Australia, there’s been a range of issues that have been subject to a conscience vote.
What I want to see happen is a mature debate in the Parliament. In my view even though I haven’t been in the majority view on an issue like voluntary euthanasia, I think that was one of the best debates that has happened in the Parliament. I am sure there would be a good debate if there’s a conscience vote from everyone in the Parliament, if there’s a position whereby you have people from across the political spectrum supporting reform; some undoubtedly will oppose reform from across the political spectrum as well. I believe that a majority of the House of Representatives and the Senate members support reform.
JONES: Yes, I think that’s the point that Tony Abbott has made, has he not, that this is an issue which must be owned by the Parliament and I think you made that point yourself.
ALBANESE: Yes, and I think Bill Shorten, if you look at his speech in introducing this Private Members Bill he said very clearly that the issue here was the outcome, not who the mover was. So there’s an indication there of being able to work broadly.
JONES: I think a couple of things, though, need to be given reassurances, don’t they? While marriage equality is designed to celebrate a union and as I’ve said, love is an elusive thing. I believe where people find love for one another, that should be celebrated. It shouldn’t be something that they feel ashamed of. But nonetheless there ought to be provisions in any legislation whereby the church or a minister of the church has the right to refuse to celebrate that union in a church.
ALBANESE: Absolutely. That’s a necessary component to it. Because there is a difference between a church in a Catholic wedding, is my religious background, I’ve been to many churches and Catholic weddings – that’s a religious ceremony. And therefore I think that churches that have particular views should be able to say well, I’m unable to perform that ceremony. That to me is very much a common sense solution. We need to make sure when you have social change where some people might be threatened by the fact that this is a change to the existing system, that we make sure that people are comfortable and they’re made comfortable by this in my view. Which is that giving some people an additional right doesn’t take away existing rights of anybody? And that’s what we’re talking about here. To me the institution of marriage will be strengthened if more people have access to it. No one will miss out on anything. No one will have to change any of their behaviour. No one will have to perform a ceremony they’re uncomfortable with or indeed go to a ceremony that they’re uncomfortable with. But to me it’s very much about respect for people as individuals and a celebration of love and the very special relationship that can happen between two people. You know my much better half very well, Alan. And Carmel and I have been able to be married, to celebrate our family, why shouldn’t other people have that as well? To me, I think when this change happens and people see that it won’t actually impact on them; I believe that there will be very much broad acceptance of this change in society, because society does change.
JONES: Yes, taking the heat out of it. I mean, particularly, as I said last week, in this day and age it is often a hateful world rather than a loving world. There’s a lot of spite, there’s a lot of enmity, there’s a lot of animosity. There’s a lot of alienation and people feel part of an impersonal environment. If then love comes along for an individual, then they should feel free to celebrate that love, and know that society supports them in that celebration.
ALBANESE: That’s right and it’s very important if you look at issues of youth suicide, of discrimination and indeed what can be outright straight violence against young people who are coming to terms with their sexuality, it is sending a signal to society that they accept who people are and the relationships are complex. And I don’t believe in judging people’s relationships. I think that most Australians are very generous towards each other. And that’s why this change will happen.
JONES: You’ve done very well. There are people watching this and saying I don’t know this bloke. He sounds good he’s just a bloke from the suburbs of Sydney I have to say but I want to ask a question which has always amused me. The Labor Party said that they’ll go democratic. And the way in which we’ll elect a leader is that we’ll let all the members of the Labor Party have a say. So they did that and way back in October when all this happened. You got 30,426 votes. Bill Shorten got 18,000. He’s the leader and you’re not. Great democratic party, this.
ALBANESE: Well we had a process, Alan and the process was the membership got a vote. It counted for 50%. And Caucus members got a vote. And they counted for 50%. Now I accepted the process and the outcome. I’ve got on with my job of doing it to the best of my capacity, playing a role for my local community.
JONES: Would you like to be the Leader of the Party?
ALBANESE: Well, obviously Alan I put myself forward so the sort of question that says, obviously in doing that I thought I had something to offer. But I think what is important is that Bill Shorten win the next election. And I look forward to being a Minister in his government.
JONES: On that Anthony, Bill Shorten – Dennis Shanahan wrote at the weekend. He said there are grumblings within the organisation about his organisation, about his parliamentary tactics, some of his responses to the media, staffers telling MPs what to do in a forthright manner, gagging MPs, a lack of policy certainty, concerns he’s losing political ground. Now, he is moving into fairly difficult water is he not and yet by the Rudd changes to the leadership he is protected unless 60% of the caucus decide they want Albo.
ALBANESE: Pretty clearly, Alan, a majority of the Caucus decided they wanted Bill. I respect my colleagues. I’m not like some of the people in the Liberal Party who’ve been running around undermining Tony Abbott. 39 of them voted for an empty chair rather than him as Prime Minister. It wasn’t that long ago, Alan, and we’ve seen a lot of turmoil as you know with the Cabinet leaks that have occurred just in the last week.
JONES: Just one final thing on this issue of citizenship. At the Royal Commission last week there were allegations levelled against the AWU in Victoria that they did a deal with a cleaning company. The outfit’s called Clean Event, the employees were to be paid penalty rates. The union did a deal with Clean Event waiving the penalty rates so workers would have got $50.70 an hour got $18 an hour so a deal was done. The union members didn’t know this. In return the Clean Event employer, the allegation before the Royal Commission is, gave the AWU the names of all its employees. It paid all their dues even though they might have been paid and of course that gave the AWU, as you would know, bigger numbers, more clout, at the ALP Conference, more clout in preselection and suddenly their Secretary becomes a member of the Upper House in Victoria. And I note calls today by some that he should resign in light of what was said. Isn’t it rather treacherous stuff that the leadership of the union movement would do a deal with employers and sell out its own members?
ALBANESE: I don’t know the individual circumstances, Alan. I haven’t followed that detail but can I say this very clearly. That it is the job of trade unions and particularly those people who have the honour of being elected to representative positions in trade unions to represent their members interests, not their own. Just like being a Labor Party MP is an incredible privilege, and I take that privilege every seriously. When I was growing up Alan, being a Member of Federal Parliament let alone a frontbencher is something that I wouldn’t have been able to anticipate and people who are in those positions should fulfil their responsibilities to the members. When you’re talking about trade union members, they need their unions to represent them properly and employers it must be said, must also act according to the law and with ethics regardless of what position people are in.
JONES: Just finally, it was on your watch that – you weren’t the Prime Minister during the Rudd/Gillard watch and I’m not criticising them for this, that taxpayer’s money, $45.6 million was given to Soccer Australia, Football Federation of Australia to seek to bring the World Cup to Australia in 2018/2022. Why do you think the Parliament has never ever sought accountability for that money? $500,000 was given to Trinidad and Tobago allegedly to repair a stadium which they then found out was brand new and finished up allegedly, and this bloke warned us, pocketed half a million. Now, no one in Parliament in Canberra seems to want to ask where is this money gone, who did it go to, was everything fair and above board, and do we have any accountability for $45.6 million of taxpayers money? Shouldn’t we have?
ALBANESE: There should always be accountability for taxpayers’ money. One of the things I have observed is the whole FIFA scandal. The beautiful game is being trashed by a very ugly hierarchy. I watch Sepp Blatter triumphant in this election and I just scratched my head and when Qatar won the World Cup, you know in June, it would normally be held with temperatures of 46 degrees Celsius. You also scratch your head and say, what is going on? And in terms of what is going on with the workforce with Qatar as well, there are real issues around that level, it is a disgrace.
JONES: People are dying! Nonetheless, what is a disgrace is that the Football Federation of Australia employed two consultants and they were on a deal of about $11.5 million as advisers to the Australian Federation and they got the jobs because they were mates with Blatter. They had the inside running allegedly with Blatter. Now surely, forget about the rest of the world…
ALBANESE: …they didn’t do a very good job, did they?
JONES: No, absolutely. So forget the rest of the world. We have to surely find out where this $45.6 million of taxpayers money went.
ALBANESE: There are obviously mechanisms whereby that could occur. Including of course the Australian National Audit Office. I don’t know whether they’ve looked at this or not. It’s not in my portfolio but there are bodies which are charged with that very thing – making sure that there is a proper examination of government expenditure.
JONES: It’s good to talk to you. Thank you for your time tonight. Much appreciated. I know you would have missed Richo but we’ll do it another day. There he is, the former Deputy Prime Minister, current Shadow Minister for Transport. Very impressive I thought, didn’t you? Anthony Albanese.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.