SUBJECTS: Conservative Political Action Conference; Donald Trump Jr; Raheem Kassam; Australia/US alliance; national security legislation; Crown controversy; leadership; Australian economy; equality; aspiration.
KIERAN GILBERT: Anthony Albanese, thanks very much for your time. Donald Trump Jr. has criticised Labor in a tweet for trying to block a visit by a conservative commentator. Where do you draw the line when it comes to free speech?
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: We make no apologies for saying that there is no place in Australia to import hate speech. Hate speech is divisive for Australia and it has no place. This particular gentleman, Raheem Kassam, is someone who has suggested that Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, should have her legs taped together so that she can’t reproduce. This is not someone who is just talking about a political way forward where there are legitimate differences; this is someone who is an extremist and we make no apologies for Kristina Keneally’s statement that says – the Home Affairs Shadow – that we should be blocking this person from entering Australia. Just as the Government have blocked, in the past, other extremists. The concern here is, that this gentleman is speaking at a conference along with Liberal Party members, and the question here is, one for Scott Morrison as well, about what sort of debate he wants in this country.
GILBERT: Are you comfortable with Donald Trump’s family intervening in Australian politics?
ALBANESE: That’s a matter for them, frankly. They make their own judgements but I think that the Australian people understand that it’s up to us to determine what we see as respectful debate. I frankly don’t want to go down the road that we’re seeing in many countries including – the current debate in the United States can be at times very divisive as well – and I don’t think it augurs well for the cohesiveness of our nation if we have that sort of extremist talk; such as presented by this gentleman and the way that he’s engaged in British politics coming here.
GILBERT: Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, arrives this weekend. The Prime Minister is visiting Washington in a month or so; in terms of the broader US alliance, are you comfortable with where things are at in the context of the US asking us to do something else, a further request in say military support against Iran for example? Are you comfortable that the Government won’t be pressured into doing something because of the volatility and unpredictability of the President?
ALBANESE: I’ll be meeting with Mr Pompeo on Sunday and I look forward to that meeting. I’ll be meeting the Defence Secretary on Monday morning. The US alliance is an important thing for Australia. It’s one of the three pillars of our foreign policy, our alliance with the United States, engagement with the region and as far as Labor’s concerned also multilateral forums such as the United Nations. And our relationship between Australia and the United States is greater than one between individuals, it’s nation-to-nation and it’s been important for us. What I want to see on the international stage is a peaceful resolution to the current disputes which are there with Iran. I don’t think it is in the world’s interests, including Australia, to see that escalated in terms of military conflict and I’m certainly hopeful that that will be the outcome.
GILBERT: We know the President though can be volatile, in terms of his treatment of allies as well. If Australia were to say: ‘no’, to any such request on Iran for example that could put Australia in the bad books when it comes to President Trump.
ALBANESE: We are a sovereign nation and we should make any decisions, at any time based upon our own national interest. The United States are very important allies, and I think President Trump has somewhat surprisingly developed a friendship with North Korea in order to advance a peaceful resolution that was looking very volatile at one stage, not that long ago. That’s been a good thing, in my view, and I’m certainly hopeful – it is certainly not in the interests of the United States to get into a situation of armed conflict with Iran, which is a significant nation in its own right.
GILBERT: A couple of other local issues now, latest terror laws that have been reported on the News Corp papers today. This seems to cover a small cohort under a legal complication. Has Labor been briefed on these particular laws that are going into Parliament?
ALBANESE: No, we haven’t. I haven’t been. But there’s a raft of laws coming forward. This is a government that hasn’t been great when it comes to appropriate consultation our national security legislation. It should be bipartisan wherever possible. So, certainly that will be examined by the National Security Intelligence Committee that’s been established; that before recent times has operated on a bipartisan basis. Before this term, we’ve seen all of the recommendations of that Joint Parliamentary Committee adopted. I think that is the appropriate way to go forward, and I’m somewhat disappointed that Prime Minister Morrison has broken with the position that was adopted under Prime Ministers Turnbull and Abbott.
GILBERT: On to the Crown Casino controversy. Government agencies and Crown to be under the scrutiny of the Crime Commission, is this something that would potentially, this episode, come under the scrutiny of a corruption commission federal, If the Parliament does agree, as expected, to one?
ALBANESE: We’ve just moved in Parliament a resolution to bring on the Government’s position of what they promised which was a National Integrity Commission. It is of concern to us that after the May 18 election we still have, not only no legislation, it’s not even on the Notice Paper, it’s not listed for debate this year. And that’s why this morning in Parliament, literally as we speak, Labor through our Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, have moved a suspension of Standing Orders in order to call upon the Government to bring forward that legislation. It’s very clear that there’s support out there in the Australian public for a National Integrity Commission, that we need to ensure that there’s continued confidence in our institutions and a capacity to have appropriate investigations by a body at the national level.
GILBERT: Why didn’t Labor back the Parliamentary Inquiry into Crown?
ALBANESE: Because a Parliamentary Committee doesn’t have the capacity of the standing body that Minister Porter has recommended will investigate. That has the powers of a standing Royal Commission. A Parliamentary Committee would have actually been weaker. It would have been a talkfest. They don’t have the same power. Whereas the body that is looking at this, that has oversight, will be able to really compel investigation, do proper investigation to get to the bottom of what’s occurred here.
GILBERT: Is it concerning to you that the hotline, the special access and so on – expedited visas for high rollers?
ALBANESE: We will wait and see what the details are. But there is nothing unusual, in some circumstances, of people getting business visas to Australia. There’s a whole range of ways in which people can get visas to Australia, who are bringing money to Australia to invest, or I’m not sure what all the circumstances are. Which is why there needs to be a proper investigation into this, rather than second-guessing based upon innuendo. But it’s also why you do need that National Integrity Commission so that people can have confidence, on an ongoing basis, that matters can be referred to it.
GILBERT: You have brought a different approach to Parliament, obviously been around it long enough. But sharp questions – you’re wanting to put the focus on the answers, obviously, without any preambles. So, we know your approach to Question Time, when are voters going to know the Albanese vision for the country?
ALBANESE: That will evolve over a period of time. But I think people do know what my values are. I’m a progressive. I want to shape change to move the country forward. I’m concerned that Australia is treading water at the moment. We have enormous potential as a nation. But in order to do that, we need to address some fundamental issues. The first, of course, is economy and jobs has to be the priority. And to do that we need to invest in infrastructure, we need to invest in people as well, we need to identify where the future jobs will come from. Seems to me, that we’re not making the most of our assets; what we do is we dig up resources – take Lithium for example – which is a big growth industry, we’re exporting that, we’re exporting everything else that can go into a solar battery and then importing it back once it’s been value added to overseas, in terms of manufacturing. What I want to see; is how we maximise the benefit of our natural assets right here in Australia.
GILBERT: And what’s your message to the aspirational voter then that seemed to walk away from Labor at the recent election?
ALBANESE: What Labor has always been about is aspiration. I’m a living example. I grew up in a public housing house in Camperdown, the son of a single mum, who was encouraged to finish school. I was the first person in my family to finish school, let alone go to university. My mother wanted a better life for me.
GILBERT: So, you think you can win that cohort back?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. That’s what people want. What Australia is about is making sure, and all Australians want their kids to have more opportunities in life than they had. They also want to have an environment that’s more pristine than the one that they enjoy now, which is why climate change action is so necessary. But when we talk about aspiration, I think they want something else as well. It’s not just about individualism. I think that Australians aspire to themselves and their kids doing better, but their broader family, their neighbours, their community and indeed the nation doing better as well. And I think that’s a bit of a distinction between Labor’s view of aspiration being a broader concept than the current government, that seems to be all about individualism. And if people get left behind, then that’s just a product of trickle-down economics. We believe that the Government has a role in lifting everyone up, not just leaving some people behind. Because if you leave the market to just let rip, the market has no conscience, the market can provide a very important role but it’s not great at distributional issues. And what we want to make sure is that every Australian has the opportunity to lift themselves up in life.
GILBERT: Mr Albanese great to see you, appreciate your time. Thanks.
ALBANESE: Thanks, Kieran.