Subjects: Anti-establishmentarianism, cost of living, fuel standards.
ANDREW BOLT: Anthony Albanese, thank you so much for your time.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you Andrew.
BOLT: Before we get to the business of the day, I just want to get your take on what’s happening around the world and here. I mean, you are seeing in the western world trust in the big institutions collapsing. Here you are seeing trust in the main political parties collapsing. I think 30 years ago you would have got a third more of the primary vote than you are getting now. The same is true for the Liberals obviously. What has happened?
ALBANESE: I think we have seen, particularly post-Global Financial Crisis a light has been shone on the impact of globalisation and people don’t feel like they are getting their fair share. So what is interesting is that the response in the US can be seen to be a response to the right, of Trump, in the UK, Brexit, and then Jeremy Corbyn exceeded all expectations that were there in the election campaign.
In France, Macron, his rise both as an individual but also establishing a party basically with no structure and winning a majority, an overwhelming majority of seats. I think there is a big anti-establishment push whereby people don’t feel like they are getting heard on economic issues, on social issues, on a range of things.
But I think fundamentally politics does come down to the economy and how people are being impacted. We are seeing displacement of people in terms of work, they can see all of these technological changes.
BOLT: You are putting it mainly in terms of the economy like the GFC, and obviously living standards per person have barely risen here in the last three years.
ALBANESE: We’ve got real wages effectively in decline.
BOLT: It’s extraordinary. But it’s not just that is it?
ALBANESE: No, it isn’t. But fundamentally if people feel they are doing well in their hip pocket – all politics comes back to that as an essential frame – then they don’t look at other issues as well so …
BOLT: But what about you then? I can understand with that analysis why the Turnbull Government’s vote has gone through the floor. But why is Labor still very low? You primary vote is still only 36. It used to be like 45, 48, 49.
ALBANESE: Sure. All the major parties are suffering around the world from a perception that traditional allegiances have broken down. Here in Australia, of course, many people will have grown up in households whereby Dad worked and was a member of the trade union and you had that traditional allegiance to the Labor Party. Now the nature of work has changed. The nature of allegiances …
BOLT: So you think it’s nothing about the way you guys are conducting yourselves too? It’s not about your leader? Thirty–six percent? Once if you had 36 percent you would think you can’t win the election. Now of course you are in the hunt because you’ve got the Greens preferences and that fact that Turnbull is even worse.
ALBANESE: Well of course we always need to examine what we are doing. There’s no simple answer to this. I think that we need to make sure that we connect with the interests that people have about their own lives.
BOLT: Well everyone wants to do that.
ALBANESE: So issues of the nature of the work. We need to address issues like housing affordability. I think we are in touch when we talk about penalty rates. It’s a big issue out there.
BOLT: I think for some it is but of course for small businesses it’s the opposite side of the spectrum. But you talk about costs and this is why the news of the day I think is the big news of the day. This is the so-called carbon tax on new cars. The Government has put, one of its departments has put out a paper that suggests there are ways to make people use cars that emit less carbon dioxide and it is being interpreted as a carbon tax on the gassier cars. The Government has now ruled that out, denies it wants that, but it still wants tougher emissions standards. Do you? Even though it’s going to raise people’s living costs?
ALBANESE: The industry does as well. The interesting thing about this paper is that there was a consultation process with the Australian Automobile Association and the industry bodies. Then this paper came out without any consultation. It wasn’t one of the things that was on the agenda. A paper is distributed from the Department of Infrastructure and Transport without giving it – I am still to see the paper as the Shadow Minister – and it is typical of a government that hasn’t engaged. You see, if you do the right thing on fuel standards what you can actually do is reduce costs because you would have more efficient fuel usage.
BOLT: But the point is …
ALBANESE: The industry understands that, which is why they are supportive of it.
BOLT: They just want to sell more new cars. But the point for consumer is if it is going to save me money I will buy it. You don’t need to mandate anything. But this is about mandating – forcing people on to cars and it will increase the average price of a car. I am just wondering why you would want to do that for people.
ALBANESE: There have always been mandated standards of course as well when it comes to fuel efficiency and a range of other safety standards.
ALBANESE: Standards on cars are regulated and that is an appropriate thing.
BOLT: But the reason …
ALBANESE: This has been appalling. It has been badly handled.
BOLT: I accept that the process is appalling. I accept that. But you are basically in favour or higher standards too, even though it raises the costs.
ALBANESE: But it doesn’t necessarily raise the costs Andrew. That’s the point. If you have fuel that is more efficient, it can reduce costs.
BOLT: Basically you will pay more because the cheapest car that actually meets these standard is $50,000.
ALBANESE: Well, that’s actually not necessarily the case. These standards clearly are overegged.
BOLT: So you would want lower standards than these?
ALBANESE: This has been rejected. There hasn’t been proper consultation.
BOLT: You want lower standards than this paper?
ALBANESE: Than what the paper is? Well, I haven’t seen the paper as I have said Andrew. But what I want is a balance to be got, as happened when I was the Minister. There were none of these issues and we dealt with the industry over six years. We produced good outcomes for industry and for consumers.
BOLT: All right well let me get back to, tie this into what you were initially talking about – people are really upset with their standard of living and really thinking the political class is disengaged from their particular interest. Here we have a proposal that Labor supports tougher fuel standards.
A $50,000 car is the cheapest one that meets them. One would assume that some way or other cheaper cars would become more expensive to meet these standards. All this is for a reason and the reason we are doing this is to stop the world from global warming. This actually makes about zero difference to anything. This is just symbolism. If you are telling people for no reason, you are paying more.
ALBANESE: No, that’s not right Andrew. There’s a range of reasons why you want more fuel efficient cars.
BOLT: And what would they be?
ALBANESE: One of which is particulates, Andrew. We regulated – years ago there were cars driving around this city of Melbourne…
BOLT: This is about carbon dioxide emissions. It is specifically about…
ALBANESE: It’s not just about that. As I said, I haven’t read the paper because the Government has chosen to not actually try to engage with the Opposition on these issues. But there is a range of reasons why cleaner fuel and fuel standards are important. One of them is climate change and dealing with emissions. But there are others as well.
BOLT: Here we are seeing, we have really seen electricity turning into a luxury item for the poor because of global warming policies which Labor supports.
ALBANESE: That’s not right, Andrew. It’s because of a failure of the national energy market as a result of there being uncertainty. Tony Abbott undid the carbon price. Remember that? Prices were going to go down. Instead wholesale electricity prices have actually doubled and what industry is saying – all of the energy providers, the Business Council of Australia – everyone is saying we need certainty going ahead in order to get that investment.
BOLT: There is no certainty. That’s full stop. Look I won’t get into that argument because I think the certainty argument is stupid. There will be no certainty. But if you go out the door here and just down the highway you will see a moth-balled coal-fired power station. It was one of the country’s biggest, responsible for 20 per cent of the power in Victoria alone and it has been mothballed because of global warming policies. Now, that has made it uneconomic. This is what I am saying.
ALBANESE: Because it was at the end of its life, Andrew.
BOLT: Yes but, no, it wasn’t just that. It needed…
ALBANESE: Because it was at the end of its life and there was a commercial decision. The Government didn’t make a decision to shut it down.
BOLT: It was made uneconomic to refurbish. You guys, when you were in office were saying this had a long period left ahead of it. It’s been made uneconomic by global warming policies. This is what I come back to. Life for Australians has been made much, much harder by global warming policies, now even threatening to affect the price of a car. What makes you so convinced that all this pain is worth the gain?
ALBANESE: Well if you have a look at the actual impact of climate change policies on issues like energy, for example, I think very firmly that what’s needed is certainty in order to attract that investment. Australians have actually voted with their own wallets by putting solar panels on top of …
BOLT: No they did it with our wallets because they were subsidised.
ALBANESE: …on top of houses that is producing renewable energy. Renewable energy has enormous support in this country. The fact is that this is a process that won’t just be turned around, that will continue, because as renewable energy has been used more and more around the world the costs have come down. It’s now of course not just…
BOLT: The costs have not come down on people’s power bills. They just went up 20 per cent this month.
ALBANESE: That’s right, under the Abbott-Turnbull formula.
BOLT: I’m not denying that. But you guys have made it worse. You’ve got energy targets up the wazoo.
ALBANESE: We haven’t made it worse. The thing that made it worse was the actions of the Abbott Government in coming in, getting rid of the price on carbon, pretending that that was all you had to do without looking at supply and without looking at what impact that would have on investment.
BOLT: I don’t know why we’re doing this when you get even the Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, who is a global warming believer saying that even if we scrapped all our emissions in total, 100 per cent, what did he say to the difference it would make to the climate? Virtually none. He said that to a Senate hearing the other day. I don’t know why we’re doing this.
But to your own portfolios; transport, infrastructure, Shadow Minister for Cities. You said today that Victoria needed $3 billion more in funding just to keep up the infrastructure with population growth over the next four years. Now we’re growing so fast, got to spend more. And I guess you would make that same claim in Sydney and in Brisbane, you’ve got transport projects there. My question here is; why have we got such huge population increases through immigration, 200,000 people a year nearly, when it’s costing us this insane amount of money just to keep up?
ALBANESE: Well of course, migration has been good for our economy. Migration helps to add to economic growth. We have an ageing population…
BOLT: Not per person. The figures are actually, we did this segment yesterday showing in total you’re quite right, but when you break it down to per person, felt in your own pocket, our growth rate is only a little bit ahead of Japan’s which has got a virtual no immigration policy and way behind other countries, like Portugal, that have got no immigration and very little population growth.
ALBANESE: It’s certainly true that under this Government growth has stalled and is below trend. One of the reasons for that is a failure to invest in infrastructure. Infrastructure creates jobs and economic activity in the short term, but in the long term helps boost productivity and produces revenue for Government and a return to the national economy.
What we’ve seen in Victoria in particular is that infrastructure investment, even after the recent announcement by Malcolm Turnbull about Regional Rail, over the Asset Recycling Fund is now 12 per cent. Now, Victoria is 25 per cent of the population. Victorians are being punished for having a Labor Government. And indeed, over the next decade, here nationally, the Parliamentary Budget Office have produced this paper that shows that infrastructure investment will fall from 0.4 per cent, as a percentage of GDP, to 0.2, so in half. That will have a devastating impact on growth in the economy. This Government talks about infrastructure, but the figures don’t lie. The figures show that there are massive decreases.
BOLT: I accept that, but the point is it wouldn’t be so devastating if we didn’t have a massive population intake through immigration that we need to cater to. You wouldn’t need to build the more roads, the more rail, the more this, the more that, the more schools, everything if we didn’t have such a wild intake of immigrants.
ALBANESE: But of course migrants aren’t just a cost, they produce economic activity as well, and they produce growth.
BOLT: Some think they produce crowded cities. I don’t understand why we’re doing it.
ALBANESE: Here in Victoria, we had under the former government, when I was the Minister, we had above $200 per capita, per head, spending on infrastructure. By the year 2020-21, that figure drops to $40 per head, per Victorian.
The Commonwealth is withdrawing funding from infrastructure and that’s a bad thing.
BOLT: Just when we’re running out of money. When the debt is what it is and I don’t know that’s going to be solved much. Anthony Albanese, thank you so much for your time.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you as always.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.