SUBJECTS: Drought; dams; helping farmers; UN Climate Summit; Prime Minister’s visit to the US; Government’s lack of energy policy; China.
TOM CONNELL: Anthony Albanese, thanks very much for your time.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good to be with you.
CONNELL: We are talking drought. The Prime Minister landed and pretty much whipped straight up to Dalby. Another $100 million announced. Do you welcome this?
ALBANESE: I welcome any assistance for the farmers; but the fact is that Scott Morrison has been dragged kicking and screaming to this. There is a hashtag that has gone viral on social media: ‘Scott Morrison, Where are You’? People in drought affected areas have been very concerned about the Prime Minister’s lack of action and they have responded by posting photos of family members, of everyone, including a few pets involved. They have been very frustrated. The Government since May 18 has been just all about politics, not about fixing things, not about acting like a government and this has been the latest example of that.
CONNELL: Well, since May 18 obviously the Government’s announced several measures, several spending measures, for farmers. And there’s obviously the longer-term drought fund of $7 billion. What are you saying is lacking here?
ALBANESE: Take for example what they’ve done in terms of legislation before the Parliament. They went along to the drought summit that was organised by The Daily Telegraph in Dubbo and announced that they’d have a Drought Fund. They took $3.9 billion from the Building Australia Fund; $3.9 billion, or $3,900 million if you want to put it that way. And they’ve put $100 million forward with today’s announcement. Previously, where they were at was $3.9 billion immediately taken from the Building Australia Fund, supposedly for drought, but only $100 million flowing each year and nothing in the current financial year, only beginning from the following financial year; as if Australia hasn’t been in drought for a number of years now. So, the Government has been very complacent. They in their own words said: ‘this is all about providing a test for Labor’. We were never going to oppose a Drought fund. We said on the day that it was announced at the Daily Telegraph forum, I stood up in Dubbo having been given no notice of it and committed Labor, not just to investment and support for farmers but at whatever level the Government deemed appropriate we would back in. And yet, they just played politics with this, and now I think people have realised that there wasn’t any money flowing from that $3.9 billion.
CONNELL: There’s $100 million now …
ALBANESE: That leaves $3.8 billion later.
CONNELL: Do you have an alternative? Is the situation so bad you’re saying that we need something drastic, like, we’re talking billions here to help out and get the money out there over the next year for example. A special one-off spend. Is that what we are talking?
ALBANESE: What the Government needs to do is to examine the need that is there and respond and quite clearly they haven’t been. We’re not the Government. We’re not on the Treasury benches. But what we do know is, that the response of the Government has been seen to be, but not by us importantly, by people in Queensland; in New South Wales; as being hopelessly inadequate which is why they’ve had this campaign. Obviously a spin off from the ‘Where the Bloody Hell Are You’ campaign that Scott Morrison was known for, and that was a disastrous campaign. This one by people in Western Queensland and New South Wales. It began in the central west of New South Wales, apparently it has been far more effective than Scott Morrison’s campaign was.
CONNELL: So, when it comes though to the response you’re saying should happen, I mean the Government has things in place. There is for example, the Farm Household Allowance and changing how that happens. Money is going to local councils now. There’s fuel and grocery vouchers; they were announcements today.
ALBANESE: But it’s been extraordinarily late given that legislation passed both houses of Parliament taking $3.9 billion.
CONNELL: That $3.9 billion you keep mentioning; I mean it’s not like that was about to be spent?
ALBANESE: They could have spent a dollar of it. Today, now, we’ve had a $100 million announcement. But they took $3.9 billion dollars and said it was all about the drought and then announced as part of that that $100 million would begin in the financial year 2020-2021, then $100 million dollars after that.
CONNELL: The previous role of that money, given it was about infrastructure, it’s not like it was about to spent on water or fodder, or emergency payments, right? Even if you spent that on that day in the old fund it wouldn’t have actually resulted in a project for many years?
ALBANESE: Which is why, at the time, you know full well that we argued, we supported the legislation, but we argued that the need for farmers at the moment right now required and demanded specific payment for it, immediately. And they could have done that, they chose not to, because they would rather play with ‘wedgeislation’ and try to wedge Labor and play political games. Remember they introduced the legislation on the Monday and put it straight through; before it could go to the party rooms which is the normal process in the way we do legislation in this building. Legislation comes in one week, it’s moved, it has a second reading, then it’s debated the week after. That was all thrown out because this was so urgent, and yet the funding didn’t start flowing until 1 July 2020. It’s about time this Government focused on what are the national interest needs of the country, rather than just playing politics with every issue.
CONNELL: On dams, you had criticism: the Government talks about them rather than builds them; where should they have built a dam in the last six years?
ALBANESE: We’re not the Government.
CONNELL: I know but …
ALBANESE: We’re not the Government. The way that you build a dam is you get proper advice to Departments; you go through an EPBC process; you don’t sit in the Sky News studio …
CONNELL: But there are projects out there?
ALBANESE: They have talked about building dams but they haven’t built any. I mean it’s quite extraordinary, the number of mentions; literally thousands of mentions of dams by this Government and yet not a single one being built.
CONNELL: You have been within infrastructure, though, surely you would have seen a few projects?
CONNELL: Can you name any that should have been built or started on in the past six years?
ALBANESE: I’m not the Government, Tom.
CONNELL: I know but you said …
ALBANESE: I’m not the Government. I don’t receive the submissions from state
government and local government to the Shadow Minister. Breaking news here, Tom: we are the Opposition, the Government will have had submissions; Infrastructure Australia should be examining these issues as well – about which
ones should be brought forward – which ones satisfy the criteria …will serve as a priority and satisfy criteria.
CONNELL: Well, there is a priority list for Infrastructure Australia anyway; are there any on there that should be built for example? That’s available to anyone, it’s a website.
ALBANESE: It’s a website, you can look at the website. The fact is we’re not the
Government, Tom. The Government keeps talking about building dams, They just don’t build any. And that’s typical of the Government which in terms of its big spend on infrastructure it talks about in general. Overwhelmingly, a vast majority is outside of the Forward Estimates. Outside of the next four years. So, there are a range of projects that it has announced, specifically, some of which funding starts flowing from 2026-27.
CONNELL: Just on dams, the Victorian Government said the other day: ‘we don’t
any’. It’s hard to build them then isn’t it, they need approval from the States?
ALBANESE: There are other states than Victoria, Tom.
CONNELL: Should Victoria change its mind?
ALBANESE: That’s not a position that I support. I support an examination if
it’s appropriate to build them, if they’re going to make an achievement, if they satisfy the environmental requirements. I mean, they are the processes that go through. And I had a question earlier today about: ‘well, isn’t it state and local government that do dams’? No one has made Barnaby Joyce and Michael McCormack and David Littleproud, and all these Nats – one after the other – go to the dispatch box and talk day-in day-out about building dams.
CONNELL: But it’s right to say you can’t build them? The Federal Government can’t march in and build a dam?
ALBANESE: They can’t build a road, either. They can’t build a railway line.
CONNELL: But they’re not getting pushback on not building roads from state governments?
ALBANESE: I reckon there’s quite a few …
CONNELL: There is a big one in Victoria they don’t want to build but I don’t
want to …
ALBANESE: Because it doesn’t add up.
CONNELL: All right. Well, they’re doing a new case for that one. I don’t want – I know you’re very big on infrastructure so I won’t go down that rabbit hole – and that refers to your tie as well if you like. On drought in a long-term sense, Anthony Albanese, what about our climate commitments? Were your comments this week a marker that you’re going to keep a very ambitious target? You’re not going to take the last election as a sign that Labor needs to pull back?
ALBANESE: Climate change is serious, and we’re reminded all the time. You can’t say that any specific weather event: ‘that’s because of climate change’. You know, there have been droughts before. There has been extreme weather events before. What you can say, though, is that the science is telling us that those events will be more frequent, will be more extreme. We do know that the sort of weather that we’re seeing at this time of the year is extraordinarily unusual. We know that of the last five years, they have been the hottest period on record since we have been recording temperatures on this planet. So, we know that that is the case and we know that
there are extreme weather events; we know we need to act. So, we will be ambitious in what we put forward at the election. We’ve got till 2022 to work on that, and what we want also is for the Government to listen to the business community who are crying out for investment certainty. They want a policy framework in which they can invest, because Scott Morrison went along to the UN and spoke about our targets as if they’re going to be met. They are not – on the Government’s own figures. Emissions have been rising consistently since 2014. They fell under Labor. They’ve been going up under this Government, and they’re projected to increase every year – by the Government – it’s by the Department of the Environment, not by Labor. These are government projections that it will increase every year up to 2030.
CONNELL: Labor’s position on this, though, because as I said the last election there were plenty of Labor MPs saying: ‘well, this hurt us’. Would you be willing to take a position that might not be particularly popular right now, on climate, because you feel like it’s the right thing to do?
ALBANESE: We’ll do the right thing. We have a responsibility as policy makers to do the right thing.
CONNELL: And that goes beyond chasing votes?
ALBANESE: Our responsibility is far beyond just politics and seeking votes. We have a responsibility to my family; to my family to come – hopefully grandkids down the track – we have a responsibility. Pollution, someone has to pay for it. And what we’re doing at the moment is saying: ‘Oh well don’t worry about it, we’ll just put that off’. Now, when I was my son’s age, it was pretty common for people to throw things out of the windows of cars and not worry about rubbish, drop things on the street. People don’t do that anymore. There’s a far greater consciousness that you can’t just leave someone else to clean up your mess. And young people we’ve seen are, not surprisingly, are really frustrated at the attitude of you know ‘she’ll be right, mate’. Scott Morrison’s speech to the United Nations didn’t reflect the facts and he blamed the media for pointing out the facts. The fact is our emissions are rising, we need to get them down.
CONNELL: And just finally the other headline out of Scott Morrison’s visit was around trade and China. Do you agree there is an issue with China’s trade practices?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. And certainly issues like IP, and there’s a range of practices that China has been engaged in that are inappropriate, and I’ve said that before. Penny Wong gave a speech in Jakarta this week about that. But it’s a matter of how you resolve the conflict that’s there between China and the United States at the moment. They have a strategic competition at the moment – is going on – and the best way to – the starting point of that should be: is it in Australia’s interests for that strategic competition leading the conflict to be resolved? The answer to that is yes. And therefore, you have to look at Scott Morrison’s comments, did they help to resolve the conflict or did they inflame tensions?
CONNELL: It’s also about the position Australia obviously takes. Should there be a push, albeit perhaps a more diplomatic one, to reclassify China? Perhaps it’s not a developed country. Perhaps it’s not a developing country either, and it’s somewhere in the middle?
ALBANESE: It’s an emerging country.
CONNELL: But the key is what the WTO …
ALBANESE: Well there’s a great contradiction here though, Tom, which is that the government stands up and spruiks ‘ChAFTA’ – The China Australia Free Trade Agreement that was done under the existing trade regime. They say that’s a great achievement. So, was that a great achievement or is it bad because China is classified the wrong way?
CONNELL: Happy to put that to the Government, I think it’s a good point but what about …
ALBANESE: It’s a very good point.
CONNELL: What about your view on reclassifying China, can Australia be part of a concerted push to do that?
ALBANESE: I don’t think that these issues are best resolved through a megaphone from the United States, just after Scott Morrison attended what became a de-facto campaign rally for President Trump’s re-election.
CONNELL: But do you agree that China shouldn’t be just considered a developing country alongside – I mean for example if you go in the alphabet you get Chad, China and Cambodia, they’re very different countries.
ALBANESE: There’s nuances there. And China is certainly also a very different country from Australia or the United States if you look at per capita income. And one of the things that China is very conscious of, is the view that somehow its economic development has not been legitimate. That they should have just stayed in poverty. And they’re very conscious of that. They’re proud of the fact that …
CONNELL: Scott Morrison wasn’t saying that, though.
ALBANESE: What he was saying was that they should be classified in the same way that Australia and the United States are.
CONNELL: Well, he didn’t actually say that, because he said it could be a recently developed nation. So, it still might have a separate status in that regard.
ALBANESE: There was not nuance in Scott Morrison’s comments from Chicago with a loud hailer. China is a critical trading partner for Australia. Many Australians rely upon China and the trade for their jobs. And it is important that Scott Morrison, when he’s overseas, or when he’s in Australia; represent Australia’s national interest rather than get carried away and excited as I think occurred. And in terms of sending a message, I think it showed a great deal of hubris from Scott Morrison who’s shown, I guess, that post May 18 he has, whether it’s on China or on other issues that we’ve discussed here today; I don’t think he’s putting forward the Australian national interest at the forefront. It’s all about politics, and in this case it certainly appealed to President Trump and indeed President Trump used very similar language to Scott Morrison the day after