Subjects: Gun control; Backpacker Tax; infrastructure funding.
DAVID SPEERS: With me now Labor’s Anthony Albanese, the Shadow Minister for transport and infrastructure. A very good afternoon to you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you David.
SPEERS: Part of Labor’s main attack here is that the Government might have tried to horse trade on gun laws for other measures. As a former Leader of the Government in the House, you know horse trading takes place.
ALBANESE: I’ll tell you what you don’t horse trade over, David, that’s Australia’s gun laws, which had bi-partisan support. They should be above politics. This is an issue, particularly given issues of national security, that we just shouldn’t even enter into political discourse in terms of trading.
SPEERS: But are there other areas where you don’t horse trade? I mean, I get gun laws.
ALBANESE: Yes, there are.
SPEERS: I mean you did horse trade on a lot of other things. What other areas shouldn’t you actually horse trade on?
ALBANESE: You don’t trade over issues of national security, point one. That’s just beyond belief that the emails that were referred to by Bill Shorten today in Question Time that clearly indicated from Minister Keenan’s office, a relationship or a linking of the 12-month clause on these guns with a bill on migration. They have absolutely nothing to do with the issue of gun control and what’s extraordinary is that you had as well Malcolm Turnbull all morning refusing to answer a straight question. All he had to do this morning David was say no between the linking, of whether it was on the table, and he wasn’t capable of doing it.
SPEERS: Let’s be clear about something though. What’s being discussed here, this import ban on seven-shot firearms, that’s not part of the Howard 1996 firearms agreement.
ALBANESE: No, of course it’s not.
SPEERS: Labor has been suggesting all day that this is weakening the Howard firearms laws.
ALBANESE: Of course it is. There are new guns essentially is what’s happened and they need new regulations. What’s happened here with the Adler gun is that it is something that’s new. COAG are discussing it. But clearly the Government has been discussing it in relation to securing Senator Leyonhjelm’s votes in the Parliament and that’s why it’s completely unacceptable.
SPEERS: But we’re not technically talking about watering down the Howard laws.
ALBANESE: I tell you what David, I was here when the Howard Laws went through. They went through unanimously, they went through with the bipartisan support of the Parliament.
SPEERS: They said nothing about seven-shot firearms.
ALBANESE: No they didn’t. But I’ll tell you what, they weren’t technical. They were a matter of a whole principle, which is getting dangerous guns off our streets. That’s what they were aimed at doing and they were successful.
SPEERS: Are you saying there is anything wrong with what the Government’s done here. When this Adler gun comes along 18 months ago or whatever and there’s a concern they are about to be imported, together with COAG there was a deal to ban them for 12 months to work out what to do. Was that the right course of action?
ALBANESE: Clearly we need a permanent ban, but in terms of the processes that COAG go through. The problem here though is that you have in writing, emails from the Minister’s office on behalf of Minister Keenan and Minister Dutton with Senator Leyonhjelm linking the issue of gun control. And we know Senator Leyonhjelm’s views. This is the person who made frankly made quite repulsive comments after the Lindt Café siege and on a number of occasions where you have had mass shootings has intervened in the public debate in a way which brings no credit to him nor, dare I say, to the Parliament of Australia. The fact that those views that are so strongly opposed by Australians. Australians don’t want to go down the US road. Australians are very proud, no matter what our political background, of what we have done here. And give credit where credit is due – John Howard’s leadership at the time – being undermined here; these laws being undermined by a government being prepared to negotiate over legislation that has nothing to do with guns. And that is the concern that we have here.
SPEERS: But obviously you want to see a ban permanently. Others like David Leyonhjelm say it’s needed for feral pigs and whatever …
ALBANESE: Well, David Leyonhjelm is opposed to gun laws, to gun restrictions.
ALBANESE: That’s his view.
SPEERS: But this is for COAG to work out, right. They regulate firearms.
ALBANESE: That’s how it happens. Like a range of things that happen in our federation, you require the Commonwealth and state and territory governments. But what is a necessary component of that is Commonwealth leadership. And if you had the national government sitting down in a back corner somewhere with emails with a senator’s office, a senator who is opposed to any restrictions on gun control in this country, then that is of real concern. And what was interesting this morning was while Malcom Turnbull was on his feet in the House, of course Tony Abbott, who was the Prime Minister when these trade-offs were occurring, tweeted out his opposition to any linking of gun control with any other piece of legislation.
SPEERS: No horse trading.
ALBANESE: Tony Abbott was right in terms of his tweet. Unfortunately his government was wrong when they were prepared to horse trade.
SPEERS: Just before we leave guns, you heard the Government today repeatedly point out today that when it comes to illegal firearms, Labor has twice voted against mandatory jail terms on the trading of illegal firearms. How does Labor defend that?
ALBANESE: Come on, David. You and I both know that the issue of mandatory sentencing is a very different issue. That’s about the law, the rule of law. There are pages, books, learned scholars who are opposed to mandatory sentencing. It’s a whole separate legal issue in which lawyers, of which I am not one, spend a lot of time debating those issues. The idea somehow that we are anything other than strong on those issues is quite frankly absurd and our record is that we are prepared to take action wherever it’s required and of course Labor took strong action in terms of guns, not just in terms of John Howard’s laws but of course that required as well state governments to undertake strong action as well. And in New South Wales of course and various other states that was Labor governments.
SPEERS: Let’s turn to your portfolio. Now that Backpacker’s Tax went through the House yesterday, the changes that the Government has announced, including an increase in the departure tax, the Passenger Movement Charge. Labor is opposed to that. You did put up the Passenger Movement Charge in government.
ALBANESE: We did, David, and one of the things that we said though, when we went to the election, was that we would support the freeze that was a bipartisan freeze, it must be said, from the Government and the Opposition – both went to the election saying that would occur. What’s happened here, the problem with the Backpacker Tax, it came in with no discussion, with no economic analysis about its impact and we’ve had 18 months of chaos as a result. Farmers not being able to plant crops, tourist sectors not being able to get staff and a massive drop-off already, even though the tax, isn’t even in place, because these days there are these wonderful little things on front of you whereby people can log on and get what the details are and the message that is out there that backpackers are not welcome in Australia.
SPEERS: So you are voting against this in the Senate?
ALBANESE: Well what we’ve done is refer it to a committee. We want to get the facts out there. What’s amazing is that when we met with Scott Morrison’s office and the officials and we asked have you done any modelling on the increase in the Passenger Movement Charges, or the departure tax, we were told no. When we asked them what is the difference between the 32 per cent rate of taxation on the Backpacker Tax originally proposed and the Government’s halfway house or the semi-backflip of 19 per cent, what will the difference be? We were we told the modelling is based upon a 60 per cent reduction. That is, the same, that it won’t have an impact. So we want to get to the details.
Evidence-based policy requires you to get the evidence first and then you make a decision. The problem with this Government is it makes a decision and then looks for evidence. We are ensuring though the Senate process that we get this right. But on the Passenger Movement Charge we will hold the Government to account certainly as part of that process, for what it has said itself. It described it as strangling the goose, the golden goose, that is the tourism industry.
SPEERS: And finally you have been very critical of the Government today over infrastructure spending or a lack of infrastructure spending – the amount that was actually spent on various projects last financial year. Are you saying Labor would actually have gone ahead and spent this money?
ALBANESE: Absolutely, we would have. The Cross River Rail, had we been re-elected in 2013, would have been more than half completed by now. The Melbourne Metro would be under construction, the M80 wouldn’t have been stopped in Melbourne. The Perth airport rail link, the $500 million that was in the Budget would still have been there. Now the problem with what this Government has done was that they essentially when they came to office either cancelled projects completely in the category of projects like Melbourne Metro and Cross River Rail. In other areas they simply paused them so the M80, the South Road upgrade in Adelaide; other projects they stopped until they realised oh yes, they are good projects and they began – in the M80’s case, the latest upgrade, two weeks ago.
Or they just slowed down the funding for important projects like the Pacific Highway or the Bruce Highway. When you look at the forward estimates in this year’s Budget the figure for rail transport investment in 2019-20 is zero. Not one dollar. And that’s because they haven’t begun anything. All they have done is gone along and opened projects that we funded like the Moreton Bay rail link to Redcliffe that was opened last month. And the problem is that investment is dropping off. That will have a huge impact on future economic growth. It’s currently having an impact on jobs.
SPEERS: Anthony Albanese we have to leave it there. Thanks very much for joining us.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.