SUBJECTS: John Setka’s resignation from the Australian Labor party; trade unions affiliated with the Labor Party; the need for a national drought strategy; tensions between the national party and the Liberal Party; factions within the Labor Party.
LAURA JAYES, HOST: Joining me now is Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese. Thanks so much for your time. John Setka is out of the Party, as you wished.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning, Laura.
JAYES: Good morning. Why was it so important for you to see the back of him?
ALBANESE: Because his values aren’t the same values as the Australian Labor Party, Laura. He pleaded guilty to two charges which are very serious, breaching an apprehended violence order and of course also harassing a woman. We take these issues very seriously. He’d also engaged in many years of conduct, which brought the Labor Party into disrepute. He’d breached the Victorian Party rules in terms of some fierce attacks on other Party members, including various people in leadership positions of the party. And I want to lead a Party which we can all be proud of. The only time John Setka has ever got a run in the media has not reflected well, either on the Labor Party whilst he was a member, or might I say, on the trade union movement, which is why people like Sally McManus, the Secretary of the ACTU, have also called upon him to step aside from his position in the interests of the union movement.
JAYES: Is he the worst example of a culture that still exists within the CFMEU, and that is one of fear and intimidation?
ALBANESE: Well look, the problem here is as well, is that your average CFMEU member is someone who goes to work, relies upon their union for occupational health and safety issues, for their wages and conditions, and wants to just make a living to feed their family, to look after their family. They’re someone who makes a great contribution to our nation, particularly building, construction, or whether it be mining, or energy, or whether it be in the forestry sector, that they are workers who contribute to our national economy and contribute to the livelihoods of their families. And what John Setka does is provide a running commentary which just gives ammunition to those who really want to undermine wages and conditions of the membership who aren’t concerned about occupational health and safety.
JAYES: John Setka isn’t just one bad apple. There are other members of the CFMEU, indeed, who have been before court using these tactics of illegality, stand over and intimidation tactics. You made a captain’s call on John Setka. What more can you do to clean up the union?
ALBANESE: Well look, there’s no place for intimidation in any Australian workplace, whether it be intimidation by an employer, by a union representative or an employee. It’s 2019. We need to treat each other with respect and laws need to be upheld. It is a tough industry and certainly I understand that, you know, there are far too many deaths on work sites. So I understand that from time to time, it is a difficult industry. But that does not provide an excuse for behaviour which is unacceptable. When it occurs, of course, the laws are applied. What we had here with John Setka is, though, someone who undermined, in my view, on an ongoing basis, the standing of the union movement. And quite clearly people in the Labor Party National Executive, across the factions, across the states, were all supportive of my call that he’d be removed from the Labor Party. John Setka fought that pretty strongly. He took us to court and he lost in the court. And yesterday, he withdrew his appeal. I’ve made it very clear, this is a call I made just a couple of weeks into my Leadership. I made it very clear that I was determined to see this through. And yesterday, this process was complete.
JAYES: Well, you took a risk and it was a captain’s call at the time on Setka. Why won’t you make that same call on the CFMEU, at least some of the branches of the Tasmanian and Victorian branch that he still heads up and disaffiliate Labor from those sections?
ALBANESE: Well, I think union affiliation to the Labor Party is part of our strength. What it does is give us contact with workplaces. And I don’t characterise any trade union as being the same as any individual member of a union. It’s as simple as that.
JAYES: How do you deal with John Setka then, if he’s still heading up those branches of the union in Victoria and Tasmania, will you refuse to deal with him? Will you refuse to take money from that branch? Or is this just a sacking from the Labor Party and it has, really, no material effect?
ALBANESE: Well, what I have control over is, of course, the Labor Party and I’ve taken action there. I have said before, I’ve never had a conversation with John Setka. I don’t suggest, under the circumstances, I ever will have. And I’m fine with that. What I want to do is to deal with members of the union and certainly the national officials of the union. I do talk to and I do seek their guidance. I had a conversation about the legislation that was before the Parliament this week that would have impacted on workers entitlements in the mining sector. And it’s important that we defend workers entitlements and the rights of working people. That doesn’t mean that you have to associate with every state secretary of every union. And I certainly will continue to be someone who is supportive of unions. Part of my concern with Mr Setka is two-fold. One, in terms of I think he brings no credit to the union movement. But secondly, also the issue of domestic violence is one that you can’t be half at it. You either support the view that domestic violence is a crime or you don’t, or you regard as a private matter. That is just an extraordinary point of view, which is unacceptable in 2019 to me and unacceptable to the overwhelming majority of Australian society. And importantly, particularly, if we’re going to be inclusive, it’s unacceptable to women.
JAYES: OK. Just quickly, the Nationals say $1.3 billion more needs to be spent on drought-affected communities. Do you agree?
ALBANESE: Well, we’ve got chaos here. I think, in terms of the call that we made on the weekend for a drought cabinet, to actually get a national drought strategy. This is the National Party calling out the Coalition Government for not having a national drought strategy. They don’t have a plan. They have ad-hoc measures. And that’s why I proposed a drought cabinet that would be overwhelmingly a majority of Coalition members and no attempt to usurp our role and get ahead of ourselves, to involve Independent members like Bob Katter and Helen Haines from Indi, and really have a comprehensive plan. So, you’ve got a National Drought Coordinator’s report that no one has seen. You’ve had a Drought Envoy that didn’t really lead to anything at all. You’ve had the National Farmers Federation come up with a plan and now you’ve had the National Party come up with a plan. And I think what we saw last night on one of the public broadcasters was an attempt by the Liberal Party to get ahead of the fact that the National Party were putting their plan out there to Sky News and to therefore try and pretend that this was a Coalition plan. When clearly the National Party thought, the Coalition’s plan isn’t good enough, we’re going to go our own way and come up with our own strategy and leak it to the press in order to put pressure on their own Government to actually act in a comprehensive way.
JAYES: I’ll let you speculate on that. Now, just quickly, at the weekend, you were asked about your leadership of the left faction…
ALBANESE: I think Barnaby Joyce might have given himself up in the interview that I’ve just heard. But clearly, they’re very open about their unhappiness with the Coalition. And last week, of course, we saw all of the National Party here in Parliament House do a press conference and being gazumped by Scott Morrison, going on John Laws program and announcing the same thing. They were furious. And it wasn’t a matter of leaking to the media. They were talking to us about it in the corridors.
JAYES: Are you still a member of the left faction and the Leader of the left faction in New South Wales? At the weekend you suggested that was no longer the case. When did that happen?
ALBANESE: I said that on the day that I became Leader. I said that like other Leaders, I withdrew from factional activity. I don’t attend factional meetings, whether it be here in Parliament House or in the organisational wing. And that’s what Kevin Rudd did. That’s what Julia Gillard did. And that’s what Kim Beazley did. And I’ve done that. When you are Leader of the Labor Party, you’ve got to represent everyone, not a particular interest, let alone a particular interest in a particular state.
JAYES: Anthony Albanese, appreciate your time this morning.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Laura.