Subjects: Liberal Party chaos, infrastructure, toll roads.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: G’day Anthony. How are you?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: How are you going Richo?
RICHARDSON: Well I am having a great week. What about yourself?
ALBANESE: It’s been pretty extraordinary as those ministers took the walk of shame today to express their confidence and their support in Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership. It was a pretty weak effort. It has been a shambles all week for the Government that began with the Prime Minister standing up and saying he didn’t have the numbers to get one of his signature policies through the House of Representatives. And his biggest fear wasn’t that Labor would actually oppose the NEG, it was that we might support it. So therefore he wouldn’t put it before the Parliament. Then you have had the debacle of yesterday’s leadership challenge. You have had a whole bunch of ministers essentially pretend that they were still with the Prime Minister. You’ve had the events of tonight unfolding. It’s not quite clear what the facts are. I heard Speersy before and he was very wise I think to be cautious about how many signatures are on a particular letter until it is actually seen. But this is a Government that really should, whoever is the Prime Minister, should visit the Governor General and just call an election and put them out of their misery.
RICHARDSON: Well certainly put them out of a pile of it. I think it will make them more miserable. It won’t put them out of the misery. It will put them in further. This is the problem. Malcolm Turnbull is a bloke with a pretty fair sized ego and now he has a choice – he can get slaughtered by his own party, or get slaughtered by the electorate. It’s not much of a choice is it?
ALBANESE: Malcolm’s problem has always been just dealing with politics. This is a guy who saw it as his destiny to be the Prime Minister and who just isn’t very good at politics. We saw that this week over the energy policy, well, we have seen it over the last number of years over energy policy on his watch. We’ve had the Emissions Intensity Scheme. We’ve had the Clean Energy Target. We’ve had the National Energy Guarantee in about five different forms and we have ended up with nothing. This is a bloke who, as I said in the Parliament yesterday, the tragedy is that Malcolm Turnbull does believe in action on climate change to combat it, but he has done nothing about it. He actually does understand communications policy and the need for a high-speed broadband, and yet he has trashed it and purchased some 21 million metres of copper wire which is like going and putting horse-and-buggies on your motorways. It’s just a tragedy I think that is unfolding before us. And the sad thing is that it is bad for the nation because out there people watching your program, people watching these unfolding events are marking down everyone in politics. It’s why in Monday’s poll 32 per cent – I can’t recall anything like that; you are a follower of polls Graham – but 32 per cent, almost one in three, said “I don’t want to be with the Liberal-National Party or with Labor”. They just look at what is going on, the idea that we will replace an elected Prime Minister in the term in which they have been elected for the first time four terms in a row, is just an indictment I think on the state of politics.
RICHARDSON: Well we are looking a little bit like Italy. I mean they average, since the Second World War, a government every nine months or something like that and we have had – this will be our fifth prime minister in ten years.
ALBANESE: The thing is that at least Italy has a little bit of an excuse in that under the system that they have they don’t have majority government so they have various coalitions have to be cobbled together. We have had majority governments in three of those four terms where this has occurred and you could put an argument that the Gillard Government with 595 pieces of legislation – I used to get together with Stephen Smith every morning, my Deputy Leader of the House of Representatives. We were responsible for keeping the Government in place, and we would say, ‘We’re still here’, because people were predicting that it wouldn’t last. We had 70 votes out of 150. This mob haven’t been able to run the Parliament with 76. They’ve got a majority in their own right and they still haven’t been capable of governing and Tony Abbott is – I heard your endorsement of him coming back, but the problem with Tony Abbott is that, you know, he is a wrecker. He was very good at undermining and wrecking and being destructive against the Labor Government. The problem is he did the same thing as the Prime Minister and now he’s done the same thing as a backbencher to Malcolm Turnbull. He is incapable in my view of actually putting forward a constructive vision for the country and I just don’t believe that Peter Dutton is going to be able to do it either if he is chosen tomorrow. I think there could be a way to go in this. We could see a third candidate come through. We will wait and see the next 24 hours.
RICHARDSON: Well there is talk about Scott Morrison, but I know Scott Morrison pretty well personally and when he put his arm round Malcolm Turnbull today and said he has ambitions for him I just can’t see Scott going back on that. He made it pretty hard to run against Turnbull. The only way Scott Morrison can run and, you know, retain his integrity is if Turnbull pulls out. But Turnbull is not the kind of character who will do that.
ALBANESE: I think that is absolutely right. I don’t think so. Malcolm is pretty good. You just have to ask him and he will tell you. The problem is that Malcolm’s promise hasn’t been met with the reality of Malcolm Turnbull and I think people, many people out there do quite like Malcolm. They wanted him to succeed. I think there was a sigh of relief when he took over from Tony Abbott. But what they have seen is that Malcolm Turnbull compromised all of his principles in order to get the top job and if there is one thing people are looking for in politics it’s authenticity and Malcolm Turnbull just doesn’t have it any more. And his capitulation to the climate change sceptics of the last week; we know that Josh Frydenberg has worked very hard on the National Energy Guarantee and we know that companies that were ready to invest in new infrastructure aren’t going to do it now without the certainty that they required.
RICHARDSON: Now, it’s interesting you know if you look at the criticism that has been advanced over the last few days on the NEG, it doesn’t go to Frydenberg at all. All of it has been directed to Malcolm Turnbull. Frydenberg really hasn’t suffered, I don’t think, any great blows to his reputation. People don’t blame him, they blame the Prime Minister.
ALBANESE: Well I think they blame the Prime Minister for his capitulation. But they also look at the rabble that is the Liberal Party and the fact that people were prepared to argue against their own creation. Tony Abbott was the person who signed up to the Paris Agreement. Tony Abbott was the person who said 26 to 28 per cent in terms of the reduction in emissions as Australia’s target. And you would think he wasn’t ever there – he wasn’t at Paris – he wasn’t at the G20 meetings he had nothing to do with any of the targets that were set. It’s quite absurd the way that you have people in senior positions in the Government parties are prepared to completely disassociate themselves from reality. But that is what we’ve seen in practice. Labor – I think if you look at the work that we did on energy policy we were prepared to be constructive with each of the proposals that was put forward. And we haven’t even seen the legislation – ended up not even making it to the Parliament. And that’s pretty pathetic because what the analysis showed was that the NEG was going to be responsible for, even with the target that was in there that the Government was proposing, a $550 decrease in energy bills. Four hundred dollars of that was due to the renewable energy target, which will be met and indeed exceeded. It will be at 24 per cent by 2020. So you only need another couple to get to the 26 over the next decade. But $150 was basically due to, according to the Energy Security Board chaired by Kerry Schott, was due to the reduction in the risk premium as a result of there being a certainty for any policy. It’s almost as if what industry had been crying out for is any certainty at all. What you’ve had though, since the election of Tony Abbott in 2013 and continued under Malcolm Turnbull, is no policy. And it’s what you’ve still got tonight.
RICHARDSON: And you also have to believe that a government can deliver on a promise in eight years’ time which I don’t think anyone believes.
What about population policy? Because if Peter Dutton gets up tomorrow as most people now expect, I mean, I hear what you say about the possibility of a third candidate but it doesn’t look likely to me right now. If that’s the case, Dutton will scrap the energy targets – the renewable energy targets in a trice, they’ll just be gone. What about population policy, Anthony, where do you stand on that? Do we have too many people coming into this country or not?
ALBANESE: Well it will be interesting to see what Peter Dutton does. He’s been the Immigration Minister. He’s been responsible for the immigration numbers that have been coming in. What I say, is that it is about people’s quality of life that is important. That’s what concerns them. So have we got the infrastructure right? Are we building public transport in our cities? Do we have a policy for decentralization? It is unsustainable to have all of the increase in population in Sydney and in Melbourne.
One of the reasons why I support High Speed Rail down the east coast is so that we can have growth in cities like the one where I am speaking to you from. Australia’s largest inland city is our national capital here in Canberra. Now there is a good quality of life here, people would be attracted to living here more if you were under an hour from the CBD of Sydney and that’s one of the policies that we need – a comprehensive policy rather than – I think people feel very frustrated that you have ad hoc development, that you’ve had increasingly sprawling cities in our east coast capitals in particular without the appropriate transport, health, education infrastructure, without places for kids to place sport on the weekend. And increasingly we’re seeing, in my view, around places like Green Square and Arncliffe in Sydney you’ve had a massive increase in density without any thought being given in advance to where will the kids to go school, where will people get health facilities and importantly something that I know from my electorate in the inner west there’s a crisis in terms of sporting fields, places for kids to play sport on the weekend. You have shifts at night down at Mackey Park at Marrickville. You have four shifts, so that kids are training for soccer at eight o’clock at night. We need to make sure that – it is quality of life that people want. Migration has been very important for us, it will continue to be important for us. But it’s the infrastructure questions that are falling behind.
RICHARDSON: Can I ask, when it comes to that the great bugbears I have is that we’re trumpeting all these new roads but we don’t have freeways anymore. Everything has a toll on it. And if you talk to people from the far west who have got to come into the city or go to the airport or go to the eastern suburbs, they’re paying fortunes and it’s just beyond their control; they have nothing to do with it. And of course the New South Wales Government has announced yet another new road with another big toll and it’s just quite absurd and I think that’s happening all over Australia.
ALBANESE: Absolutely. That’s absolutely right Graham.
RICHARDSON: What happened to governments building roads and not charging a toll? What happened?
ALBANESE: Well part of the problem is what you’ve had under Malcolm Turnbull and under Angus Taylor – all of this view about value capture – you hear all this gobbledygook basically, and what it essentially means is you’ve had a distortion in the market. If you want to get infrastructure for free then essentially what you do is you end up with toll roads. So you’ve had a distortion. So they cancelled for Cross River Rail in Brisbane, for Melbourne Metro, the Western Sydney Rail Line through Badgery’s Creek airport has no actual dollars for construction attached to it nor does the Melbourne Airport Rail Line. They say ‘Oh we’ll get that through value capture or through an equity injection that will receive a return’ – it’s nonsense. The truth is if you want infrastructure you need to pay for it and the problem with our toll road system is that those people who are for reasons of economics forced to live further away from their workplaces are the very people who are being hit for more with tolls and there’s a real inequity in the system and it’s one that is directly as a result of – to shoot the blame home, I mean Tony Abbott cancelled every dollar that had been allocated in Federal Budgets for public transport infrastructure and gave it all to toll roads. And even the Perth Freight Link, he wanted the first ever toll road to be put on in Perth, the East-West Link in Melbourne was going to be a toll road. WestConnex in Sydney – I mean the first road ever which has been under construction for four years. They’ve got the tunnels going down, they’re not sure where the tunnels are coming up yet. The only thing they are certain of is that people are going to be hit for using the road.
RICHARDSON: I’ve got to say just to get from my home to work and back tonight I spend about $23 on tolls. Now I can probably afford it but gee there are a lot of people who can’t and I just get worried that we’re all addicted now to this idea of tolls. You can’t build a road without a toll, that’s what we’re coming to and I think that’s a very sad situation. Mate I’ve got to leave it there, they’re telling me it’s time to go. But thanks for your time Anthony. You will have very few weeks where you’ve had as much fun as this week, so good luck to you. Enjoy it while it lasts.
ALBANESE: I must say I think we’ve had worse weeks but the country has had better weeks and that’s the problem.
RICHARDSON: It is indeed. Thanks very much for your time.