ANDREW BOLT, PRESENTER: Bill Shorten won’t come on this show, which shows a certain weakness. But one man who has, and does still, is frontbencher Anthony Albanese, who ran against Shorten in the last ballot for the Labor leadership, representing the Left. Albanese won nearly 60% of the votes of Labor members, who got half the say, but still lost narrowly because Shorten got 60% of the votes of the MPs, after one faction boss ratted on Albanese. And Anthony Albanese is my guest. Thanks for your time.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE: Good to be with you, Andrew.
BOLT: Now, look, to stop any speculation in the media pack, you agreed to come on a month ago, and you didn’t come rushing on because Shorten just had the worst week of his career and is suddenly in strife.
ALBANESE: Well, we have, today, the opening of the first new rail line in Victoria for 80 years, the Regional Rail Link. I’m very proud that that’s one of the nation-building projects we did in government. 54,000 new passenger services as a result of that. It will contribute $300 million to the Victorian economy every year. A fantastic project for the people of Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong, as well as Melbourne.
BOLT: Good. That’s the advertisement over. Bill Shorten is under fire for the deals that he did as a union boss, allegedly trading workers’ conditions for donations from employers, including cash to sign up workers as AWU members. Do you support donations from bosses to unions?
ALBANESE: Well, the detail of this will come out, of course, in the Royal Commission, and Bill will appear on July 8. He’s made it clear he has nothing to hide and the evidence of that is he’s asked to bring forward his appearance.
BOLT:: But, in principle, a boss donating to a union in gratitude for a deal.
ALBANESE: Well, the-
BOLT: That stinks, doesn’t it? You wouldn’t like that?
ALBANESE: It’s a matter of whether it’s for training, what it’s for. And that detail will come out. If it’s training for people on the job for the project, that’s a good thing.
BOLT: What if it’s for union memberships?
ALBANESE: Well, we’ll wait and see what the detail is –
BOLT: Well, that is the detail.
ALBANESE: -for the Royal Commission. The fact is that Bill Shorten’s proud of his efforts as a trade unionist and, in terms of these arrangements, from what I can see, it’s about enterprise bargaining where employers negotiate with employees. I believe there’s a common interest. Workers have an interest in companies succeeding and companies have an interest in making sure that the workforce is well remunerated, properly trained –
BOLT: I agree with you. That’s absolutely right –
ALBANESE: -That’s the enterprise bargaining system –
BOLT: But talking in principle, Anthony, wouldn’t you think, why would an employer donate to a union? That is wrong.
ALBANESE: Well, it’s a matter of what it’s for, Andrew.
BOLT: No, but no, a donation to a union.
ALBANESE: Well, those details will come out in the Royal Commission.
BOLT: OK, well, we’ll leave that to one side. Do unions, like the AWU, have too much say in Labor?
ALBANESE: Well, I think that we need to empower the Labor Party membership. I make no secret of that. The way that you do that is by giving the members direct say –
BOLT: Not the unions?
ALBANESE: That will reduce the say of the factions that’s often exercised through unions. My view has been very clear about that for a long period of time, Andrew.
BOLT: And you think the AWU has had too much say
ALBANESE: I think we need to empower the membership. Not any… I’m not any… any specific union. And unions play a critical role in the Labor Party and will continue to have a critical role.
BOLT: Yeah, but do you remember that photograph of Bill Ludwig, you know, national president of the AWU, holding up Julia Gillard’s hand like a trophy and Paul Howes, the secretary, saying, “We got you back”? That’s not what you want, is it?
ALBANESE: Well, what we want is for people to feel that they’re empowered, that their membership counts for something, both in terms of selecting candidates but, most importantly, in terms of the policy direction of the party. And we don’t want any group, any faction, or any union to have control of the Labor Party. We need to make sure that that power is diluted to the rank and file.
BOLT: But Bill Shorten’s power has come from exactly the model you’re criticising
ALBANESE: Oh, but Bill Shorten also has support within the Labor Party from the membership –
BOLT: He didn’t. You did. No, no, no, very generous of you. You had 60%. He had 40%.
ALBANESE: He has considerable support and continues to do so. And the way that that worked, I think, showed – put us on the front foot from the very beginning. You have a look at 2013, a devastating loss and we regrouped, we had a mature campaign between myself and Bill. I certainly accepted the result.
BOLT: Oh, but, gee, you’re generous. Mature? Anthony, he salted an audience with, you know, ask him a question that you didn’t know about that Bill had put in there. I mean, that was not a nice little process
ALBANESE: Well, I think people who watched that saw two people with ideas who wanted to lead the Labor Party, competing on the basis of ideas. And they responded in a very positive way. Our party grew out of that process. We need to grow further. We need more members because –
BOLT: And less unions
ALBANESE: Well, we need more membership say.
BOLT: OK. The Killing Season, the ABC show, that Kevin Rudd was taken down first by union bosses, who weren’t even in Parliament, you know, the Dastyaris and Paul Howes, by faction bosses with union backing like the AWU, and by MPs who had been in Parliament for two minutes, or two years. Power in the hands of that kind of people, that’s not healthy for your party
ALBANESE: Well, my views are very much on the record, including on The Killing Season show, that I think it was a grave error, what happened on the 23rd of June, 2010 –
BOLT: I’m talking about the power structure, though.
ALBANESE: Well, it reflected – that error was only possible because of the power structure. That’s why we need reform of the party. We need to take that further at the national conference in July. It’s an opportunity for us to further dilute the power of the factions and empower the membership.
BOLT: Does that inevitably mean, though, that Labor moves to the left? Because a lot of that power, like with Bill Shorten’s AWU faction, with the shoppies and all that, a right-wing kind of influence on the party, as they… their influence gets cut, the membership – which tends to be of the left – grows, the influence of them, which helps people of the left, like yourself. Does that mean the party shifts to the left?
ALBANESE: No, it doesn’t. Most members of your local ALP branch, if you go in and chat to them, they’re not interested in left or right. They’re actually interested in a better Australia. That’s why they join the Labor Party. They don’t want anything for themselves. They want something for the nation. That’s why they want to contribute. I think people who join other political parties are the same. People who join the Liberal Party – most of them don’t join to get a seat in Parliament.
BOLT: No, but it’s true. What I’m saying is true of both parties. The membership tends to be more radical than the MPs, in turn more radical than the voters, so it drags a party one way or the other, doesn’t it
ALBANESE: Look, I don’t think that’s the case. My experience of the Labor Party membership is that they’re interested in a contest of ideas. They’re not interested in personalities. And if you also give the Labor Party membership more say, it will grow. We saw that last year, with tens of thousands of people joining the Labor Party.
BOLT: This week, Bill Shorten said no to the Government taking pensions… taking the pension off millionaires. The Greens then backed it. Isn’t it a mistake for Labor to seem even less financially responsible than the Greens?
ALBANESE: Well, the Greens, of course, are just opportunistic and they’ve been prepared on this occasion, as they were in getting rid of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme –
BOLT: They got you in the eye.
ALBANESE: – Getting together with the Liberals and voting in that way.
BOLT: Where were you on that debate? Because Bill Shorten apparently sided with the minority in saying we’ll be against that, when people are saying, “Listen, you can’t. Labor has to look economically responsible”. Where were you in that debate?
ALBANESE: Well, I think it’s a legitimate statement to say that Tony Abbott said that there’d be no changes to pensions and that is what he’s being held to account on.
BOLT: So no comment. OK. Should Labor drop its policy against turning back the boats?
ALBANESE: Well, in terms of… That’ll be a debate at the ALP national conference –
BOLT: What’s your position? You’re a senior guy. What’s your position?
ALBANESE: My position is that we’ve got our policy right at the moment –
BOLT: Don’t change it?
ALBANESE: We’ll debate it at the national conference. But one of the things we do have to do, Andrew –
BOLT: You don’t want to be… Come on, you’ve got a hardhead.
ALBANESE: One of the things that I would acknowledge, Andrew, and we need to do, is have a look at what we did in government. What we did right and what we did wrong, where we made errors.
BOLT: You were wrong on the boats?
ALBANESE: One place we made an error is we underestimated the pull factors, as well as the push factors. We need to say that very clearly. I’m one of the people who accepts my responsibility for that. And we, as a party, need to acknowledge that.
BOLT: Are you still interested in the leadership
ALBANESE: No. We’ve moved on. We’ve got a leader. Bill will lead us to the next election and I’m not going to be in politics forever. I want to serve as a minister in Bill Shorten’s government after the next election
BOLT: 60% of the membership say Albo for…for leader. You’re saying you’re not… Forget it?
ALBANESE: Well, we had that process and the party chose Bill as the leader. I’ve respected that, Andrew, and I’ve worked very hard –
BOLT: Mate, he’s looking dead. You know he’s looking dead.
ALBANESE: No, that’s not right.
BOLT: He’s looking dead.
ALBANESE: Well –
BOLT: The Government’s even talking about an early election even, it’s looking so bad
ALBANESE: The last Newspoll had us at 52-48.
BOLT: And they had Bill Shorten at 28%
ALBANESE: And one of the things that we have to learn from the last period in government was don’t destabilise the leader. Get on board the team and work in a united way. I did that. I was loyal to Kevin Rudd and I was loyal to Julia Gillard. I am loyal to Bill Shorten. That will remain the same.
BOLT: Tell you what, mate, there’s only a couple of people that came out of The Killing Season with their integrity looking even better. One was you. Thank you for your time. Coming up: The panel, after this.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.