Subjects: Infrastructure investment in Victoria, Liberal Party chaos, bullying, immigration, Peter Dutton.
TOM CONNELL: Anthony Albanese has been good enough to join us from Melbourne. Thanks very much for your time Anthony Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks for having us on Tom.
CONNELL: An announcement today – this extension out to Baxter on the Frankston Line. So you could get out there previously but it is an old diesel train, which surprised me. This is a commitment made twice now by the Government so they seem very committed. Now you would welcome this given Labor has committed to this?
ALBANESE: Well, there’s nothing new in today’s announcement and what is still there is that only $60 million of this $225 million is available in the Forward Estimates, so it is off into the Never-Never this commitment. You have to elect Scott Morrison whenever the election is, then you have to elect Tony Abbott or Michael Sukkar or whoever the Leader of the Liberal Party is if they are successful the next time around before you actually see any real investment in this project. And it comes after the leaking on the weekend of the revelations of $7.8 billion of projects – 10 projects – of which Victoria gets not a single new transport project.
And that is after Victoria has only got around eight to nine per cent of Federal infrastructure funding up to this point since the election of Tony Abbott’s Government some five years ago, even though they are one in four of the population and even though Victoria is Australia’s fastest-growing state and Melbourne is Australia’s fastest-growing city.
CONNELL: You mentioned off into the Never Never. So too obviously is this plan to actually connect up all of Melbourne’s metro train lines Anthony Albanese, but is that a good idea?
ALBANESE: It is certainly a good idea but the Victorian Government are getting on with the Melbourne Metro project. That’s a project that had $3 billion of Federal funding in the Budget before Tony Abbott was elected five years ago. And so it was cut by Tony Abbott. Malcolm Turnbull maintained the cut and Scott Morrison has maintained the cut. So Liberal prime ministers have come and gone – three of them with only one election in between – but the cuts to Victorian infrastructure remain. The fact of failing to deal with urban congestion in our major cities remains. And their objections to funding public transport projects like the Melbourne Metro, like Brisbane’s Cross-River Rail Project remains as well.
CONNELL: So what would Labor do though on this linking up of the train lines? Obviously it is in embryonic stages including just how it would happen, but is this something you could see a Labor Government putting billions of dollars towards? That’s the only way it would get up, isn’t it?
ALBANESE: Well potentially down the track absolutely. I mean it is at the early stage. It has got to have its planning done and we would do infrastructure right as we did when we were in Government. We established Infrastructure Australia to get those processes right. What you do is, you have your planning, you then work out your financing and then you get on with construction. The problem with this Government is it cut funding for projects that were ready to go, like the Melbourne Metro, now under construction here in Victoria, and put it towards toll road projects that either didn’t stack up, like the East West Link that produced 45 cents benefit for every dollar invested, or other projects that simply never went ahead like the Perth Freight Link project, of which there had been no planning whatsoever.
We need to do much better when it comes to infrastructure investment and I would have thought when Scott Morrison travelled out there with the local Member and State MPs today we might have actually got a new announcement from the new Prime Minister. But instead all we got was an old announcement being re-announced.
CONNELL: Leadership contests have just been on in earnest in the Liberal Party. Now you know a bit about these Anthony Albanese. They can be brutal. They can be emotional. I still remember you after one of them talking about how you just wanted to fight Tories. Have we actually seen anything in concrete in evidence here that hasn’t necessarily gone on in a Labor leadership contest?
ALBANESE: Well I think what we have seen here is total chaos. We, I think, and I said at the time and I maintain that position consistently, that we made a mistake in 2010 when we replaced an elected Prime Minister in their first term. What we have seen from this Government is it go through three prime ministers with one election in between and no-one can explain why Malcolm Turnbull was replaced – no-one. There is no explanation. It is very clear that there are no policy reasons and no big policy shift. It’s very clear that Scott Morrison doesn’t seem to have an alternative narrative or agenda other than the rather strange speech that he gave in Albury yesterday and it is clear also that the chaos and dysfunction in the Coalition will go on. They’ll all be in the same building next week.
CONNELL: What are you saying on that speech Anthony Albanese? What did you find strange about it? Are you talking about the religious references?
ALBANESE: No no, I think it is fine for people to talk about who they are and their faith. It’s up to them whether people talk about that and I respect people of faith. I think the strange thing was to grab the entire Cabinet, take them all to Albury to hear someone just do off the cuff about a couple of their values that he could have done, frankly, here in Melbourne where the Prime Minister Morrison is here today, or could have done it in his electorate, or could have done it in Parliament next week. I am not quite sure that going back ….
CONNELL: It’s good to get out of the city isn’t it, out to the regions?
ALBANESE: It is good that people get around, but you don’t need to take the entire Cabinet with you. If you look at the images there, apart from Members of Parliament and their staff I don’t know who else was there in Albury. It didn’t look like very many people at all to me. It looked like a hastily convened media opportunity.
CONNELL: Can I just ask you about the leadership contest finally on this though, on the nature of this? Do you consider as a specific example a threat of a pre-selection during a leadership contest – is that bullying, or is that politics?
ALBANESE: That’s bullying, that’s what that is. To try to provide either an incentive …
CONNELL: So if that was made in a Labor contest as well, that would be bullying?
ALBANESE: Absolutely it would be. People who are elected Members of Parliament should make their own decisions without having either incentives to vote a particular way or a threat if they don’t vote a particular way. And what we’ve had here, which Mr Morrison seems to have excused and dismissed today, doing this ‘nothing to see here’, is you now have a range of very senior women in the Liberal Party, including Kelly O’Dwyer, the Minister for the Status of Women, including Julie Bishop, the former Deputy Leader and Foreign Minister, including of course Julia Banks, including Sarah Henderson, the Member for Corangamite – a whole range of women in the Liberal Party saying that there were standover tactics and bullying went on in that ballot. Now the Liberal Party needs to address this. They can’t just dismiss it because I think that everyone out there, regardless of their gender, but particularly women will look at this, they’ll look at the Liberal Party and say why is it that the Liberal Party has gone backwards in recent years, since Tony Abbott became the Leader, they’ve gone backwards in terms of women’s representation in the Parliament. Labor is now at 48 per cent women’s representation. We want a Parliament that reflects the community. That will strengthen our democratic processes if that happens.
CONNELL: It keeps getting put to the Liberal Party about quotas. They seem reluctant at the moment. But you mention there that bullying could be threats or incentives, surely every leadership …
ALBANESE: Except that some of their members have come out and supported it.
CONNELL: OK, some have. It’s not happening at the moment. I just want to touch on this element about either threats or incentives. Surely there are incentives in these leadership contests. For example when Kevin Rudd came back as Leader, you were Deputy. Isn’t that an incentive?
ALBANESE: No, I was elected in a ballot in the Caucus. I defeated Simon Crean in that ballot. I don’t think either of us had a chance to lobby at all in that process. And I myself have stood for …
CONNELL: So no one’s ever gotten a ministerial upgrade though from changing sides?
ALBANESE: Well I haven’t been involved in that at all and when I stood for Leader in 2013, I certainly refused to offer any incentive in terms of front bench positions or anything else, any favours. I stood on my own merits. That’s as it should be.
CONNELL: OK. I want to ask about Peter Dutton. I know we’ve gone through so much of the entrails through this enquiry and so far there certainly doesn’t appear to be any sort of smoking gun. Let me put this to you, if you had a friend call you up about an urgent visa matter and it was a Sunday and you were asked to forward something simply to the office – let’s say Labor’s in power at this stage – so forward something on to the Immigration Minister’s office. Would you do that?
ALBANESE: Well it hasn’t happened. That’s a fact. And I’ve been a Minister and I’ve never behaved in that way. And when it comes to Peter Dutton there are a number of issues that will be raised next week. One is his eligibility to sit in the Parliament. Forget about what he does as a Minister. All of the decisions which he makes are drawn into question because there’s a big question mark over whether he can sit in the Parliament and the legal advice from the Solicitor General was quite clear – that only the High Court can make a definitive decision about that. Then, when it comes to Mr Dutton, I’ll tell you what, what we’re talking about here aren’t the circumstances whereby someone’s life is in imminent danger; they are about to be sent back to a country where they would be endangered; there’s a health crisis. What we’re talking about here is au pairs – nannies. There are people in this country who can be au pairs or nannies to young children and who could perform that task.
And what’s more you have a departmental decision here saying that the person, or one of the people, weren’t entitled to work as an au pair. That they had previously been in breach of the visas which had been issued, which is why it was triggered when they attempted to come into Australia on that occasion. And you had an intervention to turn that over.
CONNELL: I understand what you’re saying there, it’s not a life and death situation. I think everyone would agree with that. But it could still be someone coming out here that paid a lot of money, they’re going on holiday. If a constituent came to you in that situation and they couldn’t get through for some reason, to the office on a Sunday …
ALBANESE: Let me be very clear. If someone was going to breach their visa – the Department had said they were coming out here on a visa that didn’t allow them to work, and they were going to work which is why they had been pulled up, absolutely not. Absolutely not and I find it extraordinary that anyone would.
CONNELL: Well the claim is that they weren’t going to work. There was a mix up. You’re saying, is tourist visas the sort of area you just wouldn’t interrupt in. You’re saying you would put forward the concerns of a constituent in a more serious matter, not a tourist visa?
ALBANESE: No. I’m not saying that at all. You can do your hypotheticals all you like. I’m saying I’ve never done that. I’ve certainly made representations to ministers at various times over circumstances. There was one for example where a woman had been in Australia who, according to the Department, had been advised that they had to leave when they were a young girl. They had actually lived in Australia for about 25 years or thereabouts. I can’t remember the exact period, but a long time. In the time in which they had been there after – allegedly they’d been asked to leave – they had done a medical biology Master’s Degree from university. They were precisely the sort of person who we want to come into Australia someone – a woman with those skills in science. They’d lived here for decades and the Department had no evidence that they were ever – when they were a child, asked to leave.
So I did contact the Minister over that case, I wrote to the Minister, there was intervention there. That’s an appropriate circumstance. Because what would have happened was the woman would have won a legal case. It was very clear the courts would have determined that, but it would have cost both the Australian Government and this woman substantial amounts of money and she was someone who’d been a good citizen and thought she was here legitimately for a very long period of time. She had family here. So those are the sort of circumstances where you intervene. So, I’ll give you a specific one rather than you getting to make up hypotheticals. But this isn’t a hypothetical case that we’re dealing with here in either of these au pair cases.
CONNELL: No, it’s not. And I’m just going to jump in there sorry, Anthony Albanese, because we are right out of time. Go on, I’ll give you 10 more seconds.
ALBANESE: Well I think what will jar with Australians, is Peter Dutton saying that he intervened because of justice and compassion. They are words that you don’t associate with Peter Dutton and the Australian people know that.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.