Subjects; Grayndler electorate, federal election, Labor’s education package, Australian Labor Party, Greens political party, Malcolm Turnbull, public transport funding, cities policy
DAVID SPEERS: Anthony Albanese is our first guest for the year and I spoke to him a short while ago. Anthony Albanese, good evening. Thank you for joining us. I want to start with your announcement today that you’re going around again – you’re recontesting in your seat of Grayndler despite the redistribution of the boundaries that’s happened there.
But I want to ask you, personally, sticking around in Parliament I mean you’ve been in Parliament 20 years this year. You’ve been a Minister. You’ve been Deputy Prime Minister. Labor is out of office and the polls indicate it may be out of office for a while to come. Why are you sticking around for another term at least?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, thanks for the vote of confidence in our political system, David.
SPEERS: I’m talking about the polls.
ALBANESE: I’m running because I want to continue to represent the community where I’ve lived my whole life and I want to see a Labor Government elected. I’ve thought long and hard about whether I would stay in Parliament and contest another term. I’ve chosen to do so.
I think it’s the right thing and I think you need a mix of people with experience but also new people coming through. We’ve had some fantastic new members elected. People like Terri Butler. Andrew Giles. People like Jim Chalmers in Queensland.
But you need people who understand how Government works and you also need people with that Parliamentary experience and I must say, I was very much encouraged by people in the electorate to contest again and hence I’ll be putting myself forward firstly for preselection in the Labor Party. I don’t take that for granted. Nor have I ever taken my electorate for granted.
SPEERS: Well, I’m sure you won’t have too much trouble on the preselection front within the Labor Party, Anthony Albanese but could I just tease out what you said there, you weighed very carefully as to the decision or not. Can you give us an insight into what were the pros and cons? I mean, what were you weighing up? How seriously were you thinking about not recontesting?
ALBANESE: Well, each and every time I’ve contested I’ve never automatically just nominated for Parliament. There are a lot of downsides in being a Member of Parliament. One primarily, which is the time that you spend from your family. I’ve got a son who’s just entered, today literally, Year 10 in high school, so the next few years are pretty important for him. We as a family talked about it, weighed it up, as well. I wouldn’t do it without my family’s support but I think that’s the major negative.
If you speak to Parliamentarians across the spectrum, overwhelmingly people are in politics regardless of what party they represent for the right reasons I believe, but you’ll get a common thread, which is that the time away from family, not just in Canberra of course, but the time that you have to spend travelling round this vast nation.
SPEERS: Well, I’ve got to ask you because a lot of people will interpret your decision to stick around in Parliament as a sign, an indication that you may want another go at the leadership down the track. In all honesty, did this enter your mind when you were considering all of this, did you think about whether the leadership may still come your way yet?
ALBANESE: I’ve only got one thought, David and that is a Labor Government. I want to be a Minister again in a Labor Government. Having been there for two terms, having, I think, a record of achievement in infrastructure and transport, in local government, in communications, I understand that it is when you’re around the Cabinet table that you can make a big difference to the nation. Rolling out fibre to the premises in the National Broadband Network. All of those policies.
SPEERS: And you know that, because you’ve done that. But you also fought pretty hard and successfully for the leadership after the election. You’ve won the vote of the party membership. I mean, would you still like a go at the leadership?
ALBANESE: What I’d like is for us to win the next election, and then I’d be a minister in a Labor Government.
SPEERS: But that’s not the question.
ALBANESE: Well that’s the answer. Because the answer is I want that to not be on the table because I want us to win the next election.
SPEERS: Alright, let me ask you about Grayndler though, because the redistribution there, it does make it a little harder for you. You take in Balmain which is, as you say, where you made the announcement today. A lot of Green voters there. Is this going to be a harder fight for you this time around?
ALBANESE: Oh, look, it’ll be a tough fight, no doubt about that. It always has been. I’ve never taken it for granted. People speak about my seat being vulnerable but if you look at the political pendulum you’ll find Grayndler at the top of the list. That’s out of hard work that I got it to that point. I think I’m well known in the electorate. I’m known as someone who stands up for their values. What you see is what you get.
Even people who might disagree with me on some issues might respect the fact that I am a conviction politician. I’m authentic and I am who I am. So people will make their own judgements about that at the next election. I think I’ve been helped by the fact that the Liberal Party haven’t selected a candidate at all yet and the Greens political party have selected someone who has spent more time in the International Socialist organisation than they have in the Greens political party.
I think it’s a pity that so many from the fringe parties seem to have joined the Greens political party as a vehicle to give themselves some legitimacy. That seems to be a common thread through the New South Wales Greens and why the New South Wales Greens are so at odds with the national Greens Party leadership.
SPEERS: Well I see the candidate that you’re talking about there, Jim Casey, he’s made no apologies. He says ‘for his socialist ideals, it is a bit sad that Anthony Albanese is running away from this. He’s happy to DJ songs for his mates but when it comes to a political context he’s channelling Joe McCarthy’. That’s been his response to what you’ve said today.
ALBANESE: Well, that’s just absurd. He just needs to be honest. The truth is that he was an activist for a long period of time. I didn’t even know he was in the Greens. I have heard of his involvement as part of the fringe parties, including the International Socialist organisation that has now evolved into the Socialist Alliance, all part of this fringe international group that seem to have gone into the Greens in the inner west.
People who are thinking about voting Greens will think about people who have been involved with the Australian Conservation Foundation, with the various movements, Greenpeace, people have been involved as environmental activists. What they tend to be in my area in terms of the leadership – not their voters but the leadership, seem to be people who all have histories with the fringe parties who have all gone into the Greens to give themselves some legitimacy.
SPEERS: Well, the federal leader, Richard Di Natale I suppose is trying to position the Greens as a more mainstream party. But you know, more broadly on the fight against the Greens, do you accept that there will be quite a lot of voters in Grayndler who quite like what the Greens are saying about boat turnbacks, for example. They are flat out opposed to them. They won’t be happy with where Labor’s gone on this.
ALBANESE: I think people are very sophisticated in the electorate of Grayndler. They’ve elected me in the past. One of the things I know that they’ve weighed up, including, might I say, members of the Greens political party I know, who vote for me in the election, because they actually understand that whilst they like the idea of many of the Greens party policies, they know that it’s better to have someone there who can actually make a decision, rather than someone who can just protest against that decision once it’s made.
There are two possible governments after the next election. The Labor Government is by far the best option for progressives and having someone such as myself, who has been a strong advocate, including on environmental issues as well as human rights issues, is something that I think progressive voters in Grayndler will embrace at the next election and one of the reasons why I’m being encouraged to run – not just by Labor Party members, but by members of other political parties, be it the Greens or even some conservatives who like the fact that I’m prepared to stand up for my values.
SPEERS: Ok, that’s interesting. But just on boat turnbacks, you don’t think that’s going to hurt you in your electorate, the fact that Labor’s now embraced this policy?
ALBANESE: I’ll be standing up and advocating Labor’s policies. But I’ll also be arguing for my record, and I have a proud record. In terms of my electorate office in Grayndler doesn’t just talk about assisting asylum seekers, we do it.
I’ve always had someone in my office who dealt with migration issues. There are people in the Grayndler electorate who have been assisted in their time of need. They’ll be out there I’m sure telling their stories and advocating the need to have someone who’s actually effective. Not someone who can just protest, but someone who can get things done.
I’ve always campaigned since the 1998 election under the slogan ‘real solutions’. I know Tony Abbott liked it so much he stole it at the last federal election for the Liberal Party. But that’s been my slogan, that’s been on my letterhead since the last century, literally.
That’s because one of the big distinctions I draw between me and my opponents in terms of the Greens political party is that I can actually get things done and be a part of decision making, not just protest after the decisions have been made.
SPEERS: I want to just turn to the big election battle nationally, and this year it will be on things like tax but also schools and hospitals. Today Bill Shorten has been announcing what Labor intends to do to fully roll out the Gonski funding. This is $4.5 billion over the forward estimates but $37 billion over the decade. The government says, look, we can’t really afford all of that. I mean, are you confident that Labor can pay for these sorts of promises?
ALBANESE: Look, we can’t afford not to do it as a nation. This is an investment, not just a cost. This is an investment in people. And if there’s one thing that’s characterised my political involvement, it’s that I believe in investing in capital in terms of infrastructure and investing in social capital in terms of people – in health and education.
SPEERS: But has more money worked in education? I mean, we’ve fallen down the international rankings despite extra investment.
ALBANESE: I’ll tell you what. If you don’t have additional funding you can’t get additional teacher support. You can’t get one on one assistance for those people who are most in need. Those people, who can afford it, at the wealthy end, will always be able to buy a good education for their kids and if their kids fall back a bit they can hire a tutor.
Someone like me as a Member of Parliament can afford to do that. People in my electorate and people around the country who can’t afford that who rely upon the public education system, who if their kid needs help with literacy and numeracy, can get that additional assistance. Now, every student will benefit as a result of this and every school will benefit.
SPEERS: So does that mean that this has got to be for Labor a higher priority, spending this money than repairing the Budget, for example.
ALBANESE: We have made, at the same time as we’ve made this announcement, we’ve made of course over this cycle we’ve already announced more than $70 billion worth of savings. So those decisions have been tough decisions. But we’ve made them to create the space to make today’s announcements.
And bear in mind, David, that these are cuts that were made by the Abbott Government reinforced by the Turnbull Government. I think when the Prime Ministership changed at the end of last year, Australians were entitled to do two things.
One, to breathe a sigh of relief that the politics of negativity characterised by Tony Abbott had gone. But they had an expectation there would be new policies. But we’ve got the same. The same policy on education. The same policy on health cuts. The same policy on climate change. The same policy of not prevaricating over marriage equality. The same policy on the republic as Tony Abbott had.
SPEERS: But despite all that, and despite some problems for the Government over the summer break with ministerial resignations and internal preselection brawls in New South Wales, I mean the early polls show he’s still going from strength to strength, Malcolm Turnbull and certainly Bill Shorten’s popularity is going backwards. Why do you think this is?
ALBANESE: Malcolm Turnbull did pretty well when he was last Liberal leader, until they had a good look at him. And then you saw judgement come into the frame. Here, I think Australians will have a look at Malcolm Turnbull and say, what was the change about? Apart from changing who had the keys to The Lodge.
SPEERS: You don’t think they have been looking at him for a few months now?
ALBANESE: I think what there was, was a great sigh of relief that the shouting game was over and one of the things that Malcolm Turnbull did very well when he became Prime Minister, was have the nuance of, if you like, the new vibe, that there’d be a new politics, he was positive in terms of his outlook, the sort of statements of, ‘there’s never been a better time to be an Australian’.
Well, never been a better time unless you actually want NBN to the home, never been a better time unless you want marriage equality, or you want a republic or you want real action to avoid dangerous climate change, or you want funding for schools based upon need in the Gonski funding principles, or funding for public hospitals.
If you want any of that then this isn’t a great time, because Malcolm Turnbull has walked away from all of the principles that he has held for so long in order to have the keys to the Lodge.
SPEERS: So finally, let me ask you this, how long is it before people do wake up to that reality that you’re talking about there, how long until things improve for Labor, how long can Labor afford to wait this year in the position that it’s currently in, in all of the polls?
ALBANESE: We have a very significant announcement today on schools funding. Schools are so important for our future. I think most Australians are pretty simple in life. They don’t ask for everything, but what they want is greater opportunity for their children than they themselves had. It’s as simple as that. And today’s policy front and centre on the day that schools have gone back just about right around the country is very significant.
SPEERS: So you’ll get a boost in the next couple of weeks?
ALBANESE: I think it will mark a turnaround. We’ll be holding the government to account, but we’ll also be putting out our positive alternatives for the future. Malcolm Turnbull, for example said in my area, ‘I’m the Shadow Minister for Cities’, he came in, he appointed a Minister for Cities, that didn’t go real well for Jamie Briggs, but more importantly than the personality is the policy.
What has he done? There’s still no funding for public transport except a small stage of the Gold Coast Light Rail project where the funding was taken from somewhere else. There’s no urban policy. There’s no Major Cities Unit. It was a headline but no changes of substance.
I think that will be borne out across the board, and I think when people have a look at Malcolm Turnbull, they’ll see someone who not only has conflict with the conservatives in his own party, but more importantly has conflict with himself and the views that he has held for so long that he seems to have abandoned in order to secure the Prime Ministership.
SPEERS: Anthony Albanese, good to talk to you at the start of this election year. Appreciate your time.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you, David.