SUBJECTS: John Setka; trade; tax cuts; Peter Dutton; Christian Porter’s tattoo.
LAURA JAYES: Mr Albanese thanks so much for your time.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning.
JAYES: These revelations yesterday, much of it we couldn’t report for a number of weeks. They were revealed yesterday. Did you know about them? Did they strengthen your resolve in this matter?
ALBANESE: Well certainly these revelations that have come through the conviction of Mr Setka yesterday were well known in the movement. People couldn’t discuss the detail of them. But now it’s very clear that this adds to the case I believe which is very clear that for a long period of time, Mr Setka has brought the Labor Party into disrepute. He has of course pleaded guilty to serious charges. So yesterday before the court, some of that detail is out there, the fact that it is about his wife Emma Walters is of course very concerning I think and people will draw their own conclusions. I certainly don’t wish any harm to Mr Setka. I hope that his relationship can be reset, but this is a matter for the Labor Party and whether his ongoing membership of the party is a positive for the party or a negative. I think it’s very clear that it’s a negative which is why he should be expelled next Friday when the National Executive meets.
JAYES: Have you seen added support in the last 24 hours after that conviction? And what does it say about the CFMMEU who many would have known these allegations, would have read these text messages which were quite frankly disgusting. They supported him unequivocally last week, full support and they’ve been silent ever since.
ALBANESE: Well of course the assistant secretary to Mr Setka, Shaun Reardon, resigned his position last week. He made it clear that he was resigning as a matter of his principles and that was a very strong stand to take for Mr Reardon who was a very committed trade union official. It of course is up to the trade union movement to determine its own destiny. That’s something that I don’t – not only do I not have control over that, I don’t seek to have any control over that. I respect the fact that trade unions are democratic organisations that are controlled by their members but the ACTU secretary Sally McManus and others have made it clear that they believe that Mr Setka’s ongoing senior position in the union movement is something that doesn’t bring credit to the movement.
JAYES: What’s the next step there? You expel John Setka from the Labor Party. Sally McManus is asking him to step aside. He’s refusing to do both so far. He won’t have any say over the Labor matter. But why would Labor remain affiliated to such a union that is protecting this guy?
ALBANESE: Well what we’re about of course is the individual, Mr Setka, and his behaviour. The average construction worker should not be tarred with any of the issues that have brought the party into disrepute regarding Mr Setka. The fact is that construction unions play an important role in the workplace, particularly with regard to occupational health and safety in what is a very dangerous industry. And I respect those blue-collar workers who go to work every day who work hard to build things for the nation and to put food on the table for their families. So I’m not joining this anti-union chorus that the Government wants people to be on because of the behaviour of Mr Setka. Of course the latest court case didn’t relate to his job. It did relate to though serious harassment issues of a woman in this case, Emma Walters.
JAYES: Okay, Scott Morrison is headed to the G20, he’s going to meet with Donald Trump on the sidelines there. This is amid the ongoing tension between China and the United States when it comes to trade it is threatening economic growth and broader reform in the area it’s having a global effect, it’s having a domestic effect. Where do you stand as a new Labor Leader on free trade and free trade agreements, have they served us well?
ALBANESE: Look trade is critical and trade has served us well as a nation. We’re an island continent and we have enormous opportunities because we’re located in the fastest growing region of the world in human history. So I wish Mr Morrison well as our Prime Minister representing our country, not representing the Liberal Party he’s there representing Australia. I wish him well. The G20 is an important forum I must say and of course was created when Kevin Rudd was the Prime Minister and pushed very hard to have Australia included in the peak organisation in terms of the G20. I attended the G20 meeting that was first held in London and that was a great honour and a privilege. And I wish Mr Morrison well because trade is critical to our economic future.
JAYES: Will Labor be voting in Parliament whenever it comes up to ratify the three trade agreements that were struck in the last term? That is Hong Kong, Indonesia and Peru.
ALBANESE: Look we’ll assess all of those issues through our through our internal processes. But Labor believes in trade we’re a trading nation and we certainly will view those issues in that context. We think that it’s important that Australia’s national interest be protected as well, particularly with regard to employment issues. And we examine each trade deal in that context. We have been concerned about some of the issues that have been raised about past free trade agreements. But we are certainly pro-trade. We want to make sure that the detail in terms of negotiations serve Australia’s national interests particularly when it comes down to jobs.
JAYES: Is this a new environment though? Under Bill Shorten there were – before the election there were calls and Labor’s position was that you would scrap labour market testing waivers and exclude investor state dispute settlement clauses from future agreements and renegotiate current ones. Are you rethinking that position. Is it tenable?
ALBANESE: Let’s be very clear – we don’t think that investor state dispute clauses are appropriate. Other countries exclude them from trade agreements because they raise real issues of national sovereignty when it comes to our capacity to control what happens in our national economy. So we don’t think that a commitment to being a trading nation means that you give away your sovereignty or that you give away the idea that you examine each issue with regard to jobs being created here in Australia
JAYES: But there has never been a successful ISDS dispute, a case brought against the Australian Government, they are included in the three free trade agreements that have been signed. Would you risk those or will you ratify them? The Indonesia, Peru, Hong Kong.
ALBANESE: Look we’ll examine those through the processes …
JAYES: Are you inclined to though given this new environment?
ALBANESE: I’m inclined to support trade; that’s my inclination; that’s the starting point is an acceptance that trade is a good thing and that we’re a trading nation. We’ll look at the detail though with regard to issues like labour market testing. It is reasonable that if Australians are available to do a job, then Australians should get those jobs. We still have significant pockets of youth unemployment around this country. We make no apologies for the fact that we have raised issues of Australian jobs, we’ll continue to do that. We also make no apologies for the fact that some of the concerns that Labor has raised have been addressed in the past, issues such as the the impact that pharmacy, for example the big pharma companies if they had control over what happened here over our PBS system has been a critical issue. So we do have to look at the national interest, I would hope that the Government is doing that as well because it has a responsibility. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. I think that trade with Indonesia for example – is our big neighbout just to our north; it’s not even in our top ten trading partners. And just two weeks ago I appointed Luke Gosling our Member for Solomon who speaks Bahasa who’s an expert on Indonesia to look at particularly regional trade to assist Madeleine King our new Shadow Trade Minister. She’s doing a fantastic job. I very consciously appointed a West Australian MP as our Shadow Minister for Trade because I understand how important trade is for the West’s economy.
JAYES: Okay. Well we will follow that up with you when it comes to the floor in Parliament. Let’s talk about income tax cuts now, Anthony Albanese. Where do you sit on this? I’ve got a feeling that your position hasn’t changed since that shadow cabinet meeting earlier this week, but are you ruling out income tax cuts for higher income earners those earning $180,000 or $200,000?
ALBANESE: No, in fact what Labor’s proposing by supporting Stage One and saying Stage Two should be brought forward is that we’re the only party arguing at the moment that every worker whether they’re on $45,000 or $200,000 right now should get a tax cut in this term. The Government only has an increase in the low income tax threshold, they only have that in Stage One. They don’t have the Stage Two proposal until 2022. Now what that does is give everyone above $90,000 an increase. Once it hits $120,000 dollars then it’s a flat increase of $1,350 dollars. That’s what we’re proposing because the economy is soft. It does need stimulus right now. And the only people threatening to exclude anyone from getting a tax cut is the Government which is threatening because of the political way that they’re handling this. We’ve made a genuine offer and I think it is a pity that the Government is refusing to even consider the need to bring forward not just Stage Two but also to bring forward infrastructure investment that the Reserve Bank say is required.
JAYES: It looks like the crossbench will come to the party on this though and deal Labor out of any relevance when it comes to this income tax cut package. Is that how you want to start this parliament?
ALBANESE: Well if we just gave a tick without any thought to the national economic interest then we’ve excluded ourselves from any input. What we’re doing is making sure that we do have input. We are pointing out that the economy in terms of growth is very slow. We’re pointing out that wages are not keeping up with the cost of living. And that that’s putting pressure on families and the Government has no strategy for wages. We’re pointing out that productivity is actually in decline for quarter after quarter after quarter.
JAYES: Let me ask you this: it’s 49 cents in the dollar or even 47 cents for high income earners as income tax; is that too high in principle?
ALBANESE: Well the fact is that you need to have revenue in order to pay for expenditure. And one of the things that the Government hasn’t explained about its proposal off in the never never in 2024-25 is if you pass it that here today you won’t know what the economy looks like. I mean the economy has changed since May 18. Since May 18, we’ve had the Reserve Bank intervene to cut interest rates and foreshadow a further interest rate cut and say that monetary policy can’t do all the heavy lifting. We have to look at fiscal policy, we have to look at bringing forward infrastructure investment. So my concern is that if we make a decision about 2024-25 which reduces revenue, which we don’t know what expenditure will have to be reduced in terms of schools or hospitals or infrastructure, then that’s my concern. We are trying to be economically responsible here. The Government is just playing politics and when people actually realise those high income earners that you spoke about in terms of whether it’s 180 or 200 but they won’t get anything this term from this Government, be very clear – not a dollar from this Government for those people. So when we talk about aspiration it is actually Labor that are putting forward a proposal that would give all workers a tax cut.
JAYES: Okay. Just two quick things Paul Kelly has made some pretty stunning revelations in The Australian newspaper this morning. Malcolm Turnbull tried to invoke the Governor-General to stop his leadership from imploding. This was all around stopping Peter Dutton taking over because of his issues under Section 44 of the Constitution, and that is his ownership or his wife’s ownership of childcare centres. This hasn’t been resolved in the High Court. Is this a matter you would like to see the Parliament pursue?
ALBANESE: Well I’d like to see it resolved certainly one way one way or the other. These are well, these are very serious revelations from Paul Kelly today that the then Prime Minister thought they were so serious that they would prevent Peter Dutton from being sworn in if he was elected leader of the Liberal Party as Prime Minister and it just shows the ongoing conflict in the Coalition hasn’t gone away. It’s still there, it’s been on Sky News last night and the night before. It’s now on the front page of The Australian today. And when they gather in their party room next week those tensions will still be there.
JAYES: Will you pursue the Section 44 matter though in Peter Dutton? You need the Parliament to refer the matter to the High Court.
ALBANESE: Well we don’t need the Parliament to do that of course. Peter Dutton could do that himself. Look, we’ll examine all of these issues in the fullness of time. My point is that the ongoing conflict has not been resolved. You still have people in the party room who fundamentally think climate change is nonsense and you have others who want action who actually understand the science. But in the meantime Australia still doesn’t have an energy policy. There are a range of issues that need to be pursued, not just this one – the ongoing issues regarding water policy that raise really serious questions for senior members of the Government. There are a range of policy conflicts which are there which I believe will hinder the capacity of the Morrison Government to actually govern in the national interest. And I suspect that’s one of the reasons why they’re digging in on tax and refusing to acknowledge that the economy needs stimulus and that we need to bring forward Stage Two of the tax cuts is that they’re just looking for an argument rather than looking for a solution because they think if they’re arguing with us then they’re not arguing with each other.
JAYES: Just before I let you go, Christian Porter has demonstrated his commitment to keeping a promise. He’s got a tattoo on his rib cage, does that just show that at least the Attorney-General is willing to go above and beyond?
ALBANESE: I think it’s pretty weird myself. I don’t think it’s a – I think it looks like a scribble to me rather than …
JAYES: You’re not a Star Wars fan then obviously Anthony Albanese?
ALBANESE: I am a big Star Wars fan. I’m just questioning the extent to which if you looked at it without being told what it was you would know anyway about that.
JAYES: Do you have any tattoos?
ALBANESE: It could be a spider. That’s something Laura that you’ll never find out.
JAYES: Really? So not a yes or no, not ruling it out though Anthony Albanese?
ALBANESE: Indeed. I can assure you I don’t have any spiders.
JAYES: Well there you go. I’m sure someone else will pursue that as well. Anthony Albanese looking forward to talking to you again sometime soon. Thanks so much.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Laura.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.