SUBJECTS: Bendigo manufacturing facility; regional jobs; the future of work; first Labor Leader’s vision statement; skillls & training; UN Climate Summit; Prime Minister’s visit to the US; Government’s lack of energy policy; Australia’s relationship with China; dams; military ties with China; China as a developing economy.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: I’m here at Keech 3D Advanced Manufacturing. It’s a great example of what I’ll be talking about in my vision statement in a month’s time about jobs and the future of work. Here we have a foundry; but a foundry not like the foundry of decades ago a foundry based upon 3D printing producing high value manufacturing. Not just supporting over 120 jobs here in Bendigo, but exporting to the world.
DAVID SPEERS: Well if these are the sort of jobs of the future, what do you think about the Prime Minister’s announcement of putting $150 million into Donald Trump’s goal to get to the moon and then Mars? Is that going to generate some jobs of the future in Australia?
ALBANESE: We support any initiative that creates jobs. But it would appear that this announcement was news to some of Prime Minister Morrison’s own ministers. And so, that’s of concern. We’ll look at the detail which is there, but we support any initiative which is about jobs, which is why we’re saying the Prime Minister should be concentrating on economic policy and having a plan to deal with the low economic growth, the wage stagnation that’s holding back the economy. All the other negative economic indicators including, of course, the fact that productivity has gone backwards for four quarters in a row.
SPEERS: Well, let’s look at what he has been doing this week in the United States with Donald Trump. Would you say he’s gone too far in his support for this US President?
ALBANESE: People will make their own judgments here but it’s important when the Prime Minister visits the United States that he bears in mind two factors: one, of course, is that the United States is our most important and trusted ally. That’s important. We share values, we share our democratic traditions. But it’s also important the Prime Minister represents the national interest. And it is clearly in Australia’s national interest for there to be a reduction in the tension between the United States and China on trade, because that has a potential impact on Australia.
SPEERS: But just specifically on the rally, or the factory opening that he went to in Ohio – that did certainly have the hallmarks of a campaign rally. Should he have been there?
ALBANESE: The Prime Minister’s judgment people will I think examine, on this. It is in the lead up to, of course, an election in the United States next year. It’s very important that Australia not be participants in what is a decision that the American people will have to make. And certainly the fact that it was timed with an election rally, in Ohio, a marginal state that is critical for President Trump. That of course he won last time around and is seeking to be returned in terms of a majority in that state. And some of Prime Minister Morrison’s own language, which fitted in with the rhetorical position of President Trump, did make it appear that it was in effect a joint campaign rally between the Australian Prime Minister and the US president. Now our relationship with the US isn’t about a relationship between individuals. That can be important; but this is a country-to-country relationship that needs to be above partisan issues, that certainly is Labor’s approach. We support the alliance very strongly, but we think that it should be beyond a relationship between individuals and certainly not be the subject of partisanship.
SPEERS: So to be clear, okay to open the factory; but you think he should have said to the President: ‘let’s not have your cheering supporters here’?
ALBANESE: I think if you compare this visit with the visit of former prime ministers – including Prime Minister Howard – I think people will make their own judgment about Scott Morrison. And one of the concerns that people have, I think, is that since May the Prime Minister has been on a victory tour. He’s treating Parliament as not something to advance the national interest to deal with economic challenges, social challenges. No mention of climate change in his meetings with President Trump. And I think that people will look at the actions of Prime Minister Morrison; the fact that when he’s asked questions whether it be about whether he called Sam Dastyari ‘Shanghai Sam’, or whether it be other issues regarding the invite of Mr. Houston to the state dinner that was held and his statements there that that was just gossip. I think people will start to see that this is a Prime Minister who perhaps needs to think about whether he is coming across as being a little bit arrogant and putting a bit of hubris forward. It’s important that Australia’s national leaders put their best foot forward when they’re representing Australia overseas.
SPEERS: Look, you’ve been critical of, I guess, Scott Morrison not doing enough to ease the trade tensions between the US and China while he’s there. What do you think he should have done in his meeting with Donald Trump?
ALBANESE: What he should have done and I think some of it began quite well in terms of some of the statements he made after the meeting with President Trump; saying that Australia did have different interests. But it is difficult to see how it advances the cause of reducing tension between the United States and China where Australia, as allies of the United States, but as a country that has China as our most important economic partner; should be playing a role in reducing that tension. It’s hard to see how that’s advanced by stating from Chicago a new Australian policy which is about the characterisation of the economy of China. It is very difficult to see how that will be received in any positive way by China and therefore how it will reduce that trade tension between US and China which is not in Australia’s national interest.
SPEERS: He has said similar things over recent months. To be clear, you disagree? You don’t think China is a developed country?
ALBANESE: These things, David, aren’t a matter of individuals or even political party leaders making statements. The fact is that the per capita income of China is substantially less than developed nations like Australia and the United States. The fact is that we have to accept that it is perfectly legitimate …
SPEERS: Does that mean they should still get more generous treatment under world trade rules and indeed under when it comes to climate change?
ALBANESE: It is perfectly legitimate for China as a national government to be trying to lift its people out of poverty. China is home to just about one in four of the world’s population. They certainly don’t have one in four of the world’s economy, 25 per cent of the world’s economy, at this point in time. Now, China is growing. But the way that you change its status to a developed nation isn’t by giving a speech as an Australian leader in the United States which is involved in a tense trade relationship at the moment with China.
SPEERS: I take your point on that, but to be clear you’re still saying China should be treated as a developing country when it comes to world trade rules, and when it comes to climate change?
ALBANESE: Well look what should happen, isn’t shouting from the United States towards Beijing, from an Australian based leader, that means we don’t advance working towards a common solution. We have a common objective of dealing with climate change. Prime Minister Morrison is in New York where there is the most important global conference on climate change taking place right now, and he’s not participating. Even President Trump dropped by the Climate Change Summit, and I would say that Prime Minister Morrison should take advantage of calling-in to the summit and indeed participating. Because you can’t say in Australia at a time where our domestic emissions are rising as they have been since 2014. You can’t say that the reason why, or give as an excuse, that we only make up a very small proportion of global emissions; and then not participate in global conferences. Just like you can’t criticise China for having rising emissions when Australia’s emissions are rising. I mean, Angus Taylor likes to fudge the answer to the questions …
SPEERS: Not to the same degree, to be fair, as they are rising in China. I know you have to go, but I just want one more question if I can. You’ve talked today, so has Richard Marles, about deeper military cooperation with China. Look this is a country as you know – and you share human rights concerns – about the treatment of Uyghurs, those in Tibet, Hong Kong, and of course the detention of the Australian writer Yang Hengjun. What exactly are you talking about when you say you want some deeper military cooperation with China?
ALBANESE: What we’re talking about is not treating China as the enemy. We already participate for example in a joint peacekeeping force in South Sudan. That’s a good thing. We say that when natural disasters occur in the Pacific and often the emergency response is led by the Australian military, that given China’s presence cooperation in that area would be a good thing as well. Richard Marles, our Defence Spokesperson and the Deputy Leader is in China today. He’s having discussions with his counterparts in the Chinese defence forces. That’s a good thing. What we need is less tension in the world; that is in Australia’s interests. We are in a period of strategic competition between the United States and China. Australia is the United States ally but that’s not to say that we can’t play a role in fashioning the rules of the future, in putting together a framework that is also in Australia’s national interest. And in order to do that we need to treat other nations …
SPEERS: But you’re talking about more military exercises, is that what you’re suggesting?
ALBANESE: I’m not suggesting that. What I’m suggesting is that being open to a cooperative approach would be a good first step. Some of that is happening and that’s why we’re pointed towards a peace keeping force that has joint operations between Australia and China in South Sudan. What I’m saying is that we should be promoting, if you like, greater cooperation as well between the US and China. Because Australia has a strategic national interest here, in a lowering of tension, part of lowering tension whether it’s over trade or economic issues, is those people to people relations and cooperating where we can because that is in Australia’s national interest and also happens to be in the Globe’s interests as well.
SPEERS: All right. Labor Leader Anthony Albanese thanks very much for joining us there from Bendigo.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, David.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.