SUBJECTS: Israel Folau’s comments on the bushfires and drought; Liberal MPs banned from China; China; state Labor conferences; tax cuts; economy.
LAURA JAYES, HOST: Let’s go live now to Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese, who joins us live from Sydney. Good morning to you Mr Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning Laura.
JAYES: First of all, let’s pick up where we just left off. Israel Folau blaming the bushfires and the drought, saying its God’s punishment for legalising abortion and same-sex marriage. What’s your take?
ALBANESE: Well, I think most people regard, when they think of God or their spirituality, they think of something positive and they think of a loving God. They don’t think of religion or faith in those terms. And his comments are in line with some of his other comments, which are pretty reprehensible, frankly.
JAYES: How do you think farmers and bushfire victims feel about that this morning?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s a concern here. You know, we have these dreadful bushfires and we’ve had four deaths. We’ve had many more injuries. We’ve got firefighters who I’ve spoken to going out there and fighting these fires. And it would be good if people thought before they spoke about the impact that their comments, which are intemperate, might have. And these comments certainly won’t bring anything positive or constructive to the debate. And I think it’s unfortunate that they were made. But Mr Folau has, of course, a history of making provocative comments. He’s entitled to his view, but it’s also incumbent, I think, upon people who have a bit of common sense here to reject those comments.
JAYES: We have seen two Liberal MPs over the weekend banned from going to China. Matt Keogh, a Labor MP, was also supposed to go on this trip. Will he be going?
ALBANESE: Look, I don’t know, I haven’t discussed that with Matt. But, I think it is unfortunate that these two MPs have been banned. We support freedom of expression here in Australia. There are genuine and legitimate concerns about human rights in China, particularly what we hear about the treatment of the Uighurs and the concerns about what is happening in Hong Kong. So, certainly it is of concern that the Chinese Government would effectively ban two MPs. Now, that’s not to say that I agree with all of the views of Mr Hastie, for example. I know him well. I’ve got to know him since he’s been elected to Parliament. I think he’s genuine in his views. Some of those views I agree with, some of them I don’t. I think that in our dealings with China, we need to deal with them diplomatically and respectfully while standing up for our views on human rights.
JAYES: If Matt Keogh does go to China, what kind of tacit message does that send to China about Australia’s bipartisanship?
ALBANESE: There’ll be Liberal Party MPs going to China all the time. Let’s be clear here. There have been MPs going. There will be MPs going in the future. And I have no doubt that will be the case. Indeed, I’m aware of a delegation that’s being organised, cross-party, next year in terms of the Party organisation. So, I don’t draw any more into it than that. The fact is we do need to have relations with China. Prime Minister Morrison had a meeting recently with a senior Chinese representative. Are we going to say that the Government won’t have any meetings with anyone from China because of these instances? I don’t think so. I think what we need to do is to call it out as a wrong decision by China. Say that we disagree with that. Across the political spectrum here in Australia, we think that any Australian official, an elected representative, is entitled to express their views, and that shouldn’t be a barrier to them being allowed to visit another nation.
JAYES: Well, will Matt Keogh go with your authority to call out some of these things when it comes to human rights in China?
ALBANESE: Of course he will. And when Prime Minister Rudd went up there as the Prime Minister, he gave a speech about human rights in China. We should always be prepared to raise issues and be prepared to put an Australian perspective. That’s the whole point of having people-to-people relations, is that we hear from different perspectives, just as it’s perfectly legitimate for a Chinese representative here to state their views. We support freedom of expression in this country. It’s an important foundation stone of our democracy.
JAYES: We can hear that here in your electorate of Marrickville this morning with the planes flying over your head.
ALBANESE: I am indeed. That’s the Marrickville pause. There’s dogs being walked.
JAYES: We’re not going to pause, we’re going to push on. You weren’t in Victoria for the Labor conference over the weekend. Does that show that you’re willing to stand up to John Setka, but not the CFMEU?
ALBANESE: No, I didn’t go to the South Australian conference either. And I didn’t go to the Tasmanian conference either. I can’t be everywhere at all times. I had a meeting scheduled in my electorate yesterday with Bill Crews of the Exodus Foundation. I can’t be all places at once. And indeed, the week before, I was in Victoria three times and I’ll be in Geelong this Saturday. The fact is that I took action against John Setka. He’s now out of the Party. That’s something I demanded. And the Victorian branch were fully aware a couple of months ago, unlike some other conferences, the WA conference, for example, is once every two years they do a big conference. Victoria has conferences every five or six months. Their next one is in the first half of next year. And then they’ll have another one, the second half. Guess what? I won’t go to every single Victorian state conference. And it’s entirely appropriate that the Deputy Leader spoke on Saturday. Everyone knew that. What happened for reasons of their own making, someone decided to try and make that a story by giving it to the Oz on Friday, even though they knew many months ago. In part because I had so many meetings scheduled in Victoria, and indeed we had the National Executive meeting in Victoria, of course, that received the review.
JOURNALIST: All right. We’ve been forewarned, you won’t be turning up to every state Labor conference. Bill Shorten was more than happy, it seems a step into your shoes, though, with a rallying speech. Was that helpful?
ALBANESE: Bill is entitled to speak at an ALP conference in his local branch, and indeed Moonee Valley, of course, is in his electorate. So, I’d be surprised if he went through an entire state conference weekend with that giving a speech. I tend to give speeches at New South Wales state conferences over the years. I have spoken at the Queensland Party conference and the WA conference. For those conferences I wasn’t able to get to because of schedules, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, I’ll get to them next year.
JOURNALIST: You think he’s happy in the role he currently holds and he’s not indeed hoping the wheels do turn a little bit more quickly?
ALBANESE: I think I think everyone is fully aware of what the circumstances are, which are unfortunate. We all worked for a Shorten Labor Government. We worked very hard. We worked for six years. We didn’t get there. And Bill’s role is as a Shadow Minister in the team that I lead.
JOURNALIST: Just finally on the economy, look, we haven’t seen some great signals. The Government still says that we’re doing better than the rest of the world. Should a second round of tax cuts be brought forward to this year, or is it Labor’s position that you see what the RBA does in February perhaps, and then make a move after that?
ALBANESE: Well, we argued and indeed moved on the floor of the Parliament to bring forward the second round of tax cuts for the same time that the first round came in. We argued that before the debate, as soon as you could see post May, you’ve seen a real downturn in the in the economic figures that are coming out, whether it be the downgrading on growth that’s occurred, including from the IMF, including from the Reserve Bank. You’ve seen the retail trade figures being the worst since the 1990s. You’ve seen three interest rate cuts from the Reserve Bank. They’re waving the flag, saying, ‘hey, it’s slow, we need to do something, we’re seeing unemployment increase’.
JOURNALIST: So, when? When should this second round be implemented? Is the May Budget too late?
ALBANESE: Two months ago, is when they should have been implemented. Two months ago, when Labor moved on the floor of the Parliament that that happened. That’s when it should have occurred, just like the infrastructure investment and we’ve seen some brought forward. But we’ve been arguing the case for this as well. I’m visiting Adelaide tomorrow, and I suspect that’s why, because we gave some advance stories. I suspect that’s why some of the bring forward is happening in South Australia, of infrastructure being announced by the Government today. Maybe the way that I get an infrastructure bring forward is to put out notices of everywhere I’m going and see if that can bring forward some money. I’ll be in Geelong on Saturday, Prime Minister Morrison, so maybe you can do a bring forward of investment for some of the Geelong projects and the projects in western Victoria.
JOURNALIST: Yeah helping out your Deputy there, no doubt. Just quickly before I let you go, on the economy, I think people really want to know where you stand. Rudd described himself as an economic conservative. Would you describe yourself in similar terms?
ALBANESE: I describe myself as someone who regards the economic mainstream. I think that you need strong fiscal policy and you need strong discipline, but you also need to not be a fetishist about issues. We do need to be in surplus, but you can bring forward infrastructure investment and you can have some sensible stimulus is what is required and called for by the current circumstances. You can’t just, in economic policy, take a position and just hold the line and pretend it’ll all be okay. And that’s what this Government is doing. It’s just been so complacent since the election.
JOURNALIST: Anthony Albanese, pleasure. Thanks so much for your time.
ALBANESE: Thanks for having us on Laura.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.