SUBJECTS: Drug testing welfare recipients; Labor policies; the economy; infrastructure investment.
LAURA JAYES: Let’s go live now to Labor Leader Anthony Albanese. We see some more details from the Government on these welfare changes to drug test. Are you swayed by any of this extra funding and rehabilitation cost being covered?
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well of course funding for rehabilitation is a good thing in its own right and on its own merits. The question here is does what the Government propose have merit? When we look at the examples that have been given, both the Audit Office examination of what has occurred here, the examples in New Zealand where the figures show less than 1 per cent of people who have been tested, it’s been pretty ineffective at a high cost. And the real question here is how is it that the Government – Prime Minister Morrison gave a speech on the weekend where he spoke about this fortnight’s Parliament being all about a test for Labor – How about the Government govern? How about they come up with an economic plan rather than just political tactics from day to day? And that’s my concern, is that what I want to see from the Government is a plan to deal with the lower economic growth that we’re seeing; the low consumer demand; the interest rates at 1 per cent – one third of what they were during the global financial crisis – all of those issues.
JAYES: We’ll get to the economy I promise you. So you see this welfare drug testing proposal as a tactic not a legitimate policy? So, you know, still a no?
ALBANESE: It’s not that I see that, it’s that, quite extraordinarily, Scott Morrison has said that. He said that to the Liberal Party State Conference on the weekend in New South Wales. He said that prior to the last sitting fortnight. We’ve only had, essentially before yesterday, was the 12th sitting day of this Parliament. And before every sitting week Scott Morrison doesn’t say: ‘what I have this week, is a plan to boost the economy, or a plan for social justice, or a plan to deal with the environmental challenges of climate change’. What we see is a government that says: ‘we’ve got a test for Labor’. It’s quite pathetic that we have after the significant election win they got on May 18, they continue to act like an opposition sitting in exile on the Government benches.
JAYES: Okay, well what’s your plan? Who’s right about the future direction of the Labor Party? Is it Wayne Swan or Mark Butler?
ALBANESE: The Labor Party is the party that will get it right. And our priority will be about jobs; about lifting living standards; about recognizing that the Labor Party is the party of aspiration and opportunity. We see the priority for us as lifting the living standards of all – there has to be a concentration on the economy – but also dealing with fairness, dealing with equity issues but also dealing with the big future challenges of climate change. We live in a very fast changing world. And if we just stand still the world will move past us. We have incredible opportunities being located where we are in the fastest growing region of the world in human history. But what it needs is government policies in order to take advantage of that at the moment.
JAYES: Mr Albanese will you take a new policy direction? And I know there’s a review, I’m not asking you to pre-empt that review. But will you, as the next Labor Leader after the election loss, take a new policy direction or will it just be a new advertising campaign which is what the ALP president Wayne Swan seems to be advocating?
ALBANESE: Look we will certainly have a new policy for 2022. When you have an election loss you have to have an examination of the policies, and we’re doing that. But what we’re not doing of course is re-examining our values. The Labor Party is the party of fairness. That’s the first thing that we stand for. But we achieve fairness by making sure we have an economy that’s growing, by making sure that people do have access to jobs. I’ve indicated already that I’ll have a series of vision statements come in coming months. The first of those will be on jobs and the future of work. It’s no accident that that’s the first one because that has to be the priority in our ever-changing world. We have to deal with what’s happening with automation; deal with what’s happening with technological change; deal with what’s happening in the global economy, which of course is competitive and we are seeing the two superpowers emerging of the US and China being in competition over trade issues. That has an impact on us. How are we dealing with that will determine the living standards of the vast majority of the population and we need to make sure that we don’t leave people behind.
JAYES: When will we see this vision statement about the future of work? Because I note that when you’re in Western Australia you did flag that this was coming up. And you said in this statement – you talked about in that speech in WA – you talked about resources and energy and you seem to be suggesting that under your leadership the focus might be shifting away from emissions reduction per se, not in a broad sense, but also I think creating an export industry in that space which could bring down overall emissions. Is that correct?
ALBANESE: We absolutely have to deal with our emissions. Emissions are rising under this Government. We need to turn that around and reduce our emissions in order to do our share to deal with the challenge of climate change. But we also need to recognize that we have enormous opportunities. In WA, lithium and other high value minerals are there. Everything that goes into a solar panel is produced here in Australia. Why aren’t we investing in high value manufacturing?
JAYES: Can I just pull you up there? Labor’s method to reducing that emissions reduction, will that change under your leadership?
ALBANESE: We’re examining that. But we will have a policy that is strong on climate change. We’ll have a policy that reduces emissions, that ensures that we meet our targets, the obligations that the Government, the current Government, signed up to that they’re not going to meet. This is just a fantasy. The emissions are going up not down and calling Angus Taylor the Minister for Emissions Reductions is becoming a bit of a farce, quite frankly. So we will have specific policies, but what we can confirm, certainly, is that we will be strong on climate change in a government were I to be elected. That would be a priority. I have been the Shadow Environment and Climate Change Minister. I was the person who wrote the Climate Change blueprint – which is similar to the vision statement I’m proposing – under Kim Beazley. Now that is the policy that proposed a 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020, which is going to be met. At the time it was opposed by the Coalition, the world was going to end if we adopted a strong policy such as that. But it has certainly been a good policy as has us signing up to the Kyoto Protocol and being re-engaged in the international climate change debate.
JAYES: Knowing what you know, now, we’ve seen low growth figures just last week you’ve been banging on about it. So has Jim Chalmers and that is fair enough. But knowing what you know now with the economy the way it is, is that tax and spend approach that you took to the election… is that the right one for these times, for these economic times?
ALBANESE: What I’m concerned about is the future. And one of the things that we argued for during the tax debate was actually to bring forward stage two of the tax cuts, because the economy does need stimulus. We have argued, as have the Reserve Bank Governor on seven different occasions since the May election, he has called for a bring-forward of infrastructure investment. Now the Government bangs on with high numbers, but when you look at the detail a project like Linkfield Road which is there in the northern suburbs of Brisbane, where Peter Dutton and Luke Howarth, the two members for Dickson and Petrie, that’s where the road goes across – a major choke point. They wrote to all their constituents, Scott Morrison went up there and announced it last year. They’re not going to dig a hole on that project till 2026. Some seven years after the election and eight years after they promised it. It is quite farcical. The fact is that the Reserve Bank Governor is right. We should bring forward infrastructure investment. That would be good for jobs, good to stimulate the economy and at the same time deal with issues like urban congestion, road safety, the issues that we need to deal with.
JAYES: Anthony Albanese, we will have to leave it there.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.