Subjects: Morrison Government chaos, medical evacuation legislation and border security, energy policy.
KIERAN GILBERT: Joining us now is Anthony Albanese, senior Labor frontbencher. After what was quite an eventful week, a moment of history really in terms of the Government losing a vote in the House, but have they lost the short term battle but, in a political sense, they’re in a better position because they’re back on border security, which is their favoured turf?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well they’ve stopped governing, that’s the problem here Kieran and we had the Government lose the first vote on legislation on the floor of the Parliament since the 1920s. We had the same Government that last year cancelled Question Time and cancelled the Parliament so they could remove an elected Prime Minister in Malcolm Turnbull. Yesterday they had Question Time go for two and a half hours so they could avoid a vote on whether there should be a Royal Commission into disabilities, a vote that on Monday they’re now saying they’re going to vote for. This is a Government that has just lost control. It’s too obsessed with their internals to worry about governing for the nation and I think the Australian people will punish them accordingly.
LAURA JAYES: Speaking of internals, it’s well known that there are divisions within your party when it comes to border protection. Do you think it’s fair enough, Anthony Albanese, that voters know, we know, where Labor’s red line on border protection is? Can you guarantee that Labor will not seek to further dilute any of these three pillars?
ALBANESE: Well it’s important to note, Laura, that there hasn’t been one inch of movement when it comes to border protection policy. All that happened this week was an acknowledgement that you can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity. You don’t have to go down the road that the Government’s gone and bear in mind, just take a step back, why is this still an issue? Because people have languished on Manus and Nauru for more than half a decade. It is the Government’s incompetence in finding…
JAYES: So will there be further changes?
ALBANESE: No. No. Our position’s very clear.
JAYES: That’s it? You can guarantee that?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. Our position’s very clear and what’s more these are positions that have been unanimously adopted by the ALP National Conference. It’s not just the Caucus. We’ve been through an extensive process of determining our policy and yes we’ll be more supportive of regional processing than the current Government is and we’ll work with the UNHCR, as we’ve said we would do. But in terms of the border protection framework, it will remain in place.
GILBERT: But what happens if there is a boat that arrives – one, two, a number of boats? I know it is a hypothetical but it’s possible and the Government reopening Christmas Island.
ALBANESE: Well that’s just embarrassing. What we know from Indonesia is that the so-called – the people smugglers and the Indonesian media paid no attention at all to the changes earlier this week. What they’ve paid attention to is the Government’s decision to reopen Christmas Island. What for? What for? This just shows they’re prepared to spend taxpayers’ money to promote, essentially, their fear campaign. It’s a fear campaign because they don’t have a positive agenda on the economy, on health, on education, on infrastructure.
GILBERT: But if a boat were to arrive would that be a negative for Labor now? Because we’re only a couple of months out from the election.
ALBANESE: What’s changed Kieran? It’s the Government that is still there, even though they’ve stopped governing. But the measures that were in place last week are still in place today.
JAYES: A fear campaign though, Anthony Albanese, based on your record when Labor was last in government. Don’t you think it would be more prudent to say: ‘Look our policy is as it stands at the moment but we will schedule in monthly security updates, conferences with the experts’, to see what effect your policy is having? Why is this now set and forget?
ALBANESE: Well Laura of course in Government you have regular meetings of the National Security Committee. You have regular meetings with appropriate authorities. I’ve been a member of course of the National Security Committee in the past as the Deputy Prime Minister. I get the way that Government works and one of the things about this Labor Opposition, can I say this, is that we will be one of the most experienced people coming into government if we are successful in the May Election or whenever the election comes along. I mean this really is a Government that should think about Scott Morrison going and visiting the Governor General on Sunday given how hopeless they have been this week.
GILBERT: Shouldn’t you, as a former Leader of the Government in the House and, as you say, you’ve got a lot of experience in this place – from my reckoning wasn’t it also Labor’s responsibility to have a vote of – you know, test the confidence of the Government, because the events of this week seem to shift this Westminster Parliament in a way because the legislation was driven not by the Government of the day, not by the Government on the Treasury Benches, but elsewhere. Every other time that’s happened in our history the Government has had its confidence tested. That didn’t happen this week.
ALBANESE: That was something for Scott Morrison and the Government to consider frankly, their responsibility, but the numbers weren’t there and I don’t think are there for a no-confidence vote. Some of the crossbenchers have given commitments to not vote for a no-confidence motion. What they have done though this week quite clearly…
GILBERT: It’s not because you didn’t want a fight on border protection? Because if you did test it and the Government fell you’d have to go to an election on this.
ALBANESE: The crossbenchers have made it very clear and public that they are not in a position to vote for a no-confidence motion. They are waiting, they’re waiting patiently and they are waiting for May. But the Government, I would have thought, has time to consider now over the next couple of days whether indeed we do come back to Parliament on Monday.
JAYES: What do you mean? Is there a suggestion that maybe you will not return to Parliament on Monday? What do you know that we don’t Anthony Albanese?
ALBANESE: Well if you’re that hopeless frankly, if you’re losing votes on the floor, if you’re filibustering Question Time so we’re having the longest Question Time since Federation, if you are in a position whereby you’ve cancelled the Parliament as they did last year – they have stopped governing, that is very, very clear.
GILBERT: Are you ready for an election if they were to call it on Saturday, Sunday?
ALBANESE: We’re ready whenever it’s called. We have the greatest range and depth of policy of any opposition that I can recall. We have people in place who’ve been in their portfolios for a considerable length of time. I mean Chris Bowen as the Shadow Treasurer was of course the Treasurer. We have people in key portfolios – health, education, infrastructure – who’ve been in positions in the past and we have our policies out there and we’re ready to put ourselves forward.
JAYES: Just quickly and finally, the Government pulled legislation yesterday after the Greens secured the support of Labor and six crossbenchers. It would have effectively prohibited the Government of underwriting new coal-fired power, so is that a strong signal from the Labor Party that you will move, if in government, to expedite the death of coal in this country and doesn’t that amount to a carbon tax?
ALBANESE: That’s a big call Laura. Not at all. What it is is stating very clearly that the idea that you would have taxpayer subsidy for what is a private sector decision to build a new coal-fired power station is quite frankly just rotten policy. The reason why – there’s nothing stopping anyone today building a new coal-fired power station, what stops it is economics…
JAYES: A $10 million fine would.
ALBANESE: It doesn’t add up and that’s why you’re not seeing that. But coal will play a role in the mix into the future but the future is really about renewables. The economics is what is driving that change because the cleanest as well as the cheapest form of new energy is renewables.
GILBERT: Anthony Albanese, thanks.
GILBERT: We will see you next week maybe. Maybe next week.
ALBANESE: I think we will probably will. The Government’s sort of running scared but who knows maybe they will run to Yarralumla.
JAYES: Who knows? Perhaps. I don’t think so. I’m not cancelling my flight just yet.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.