Subjects: Citizenship changes; Gonski and schools funding.
RICHARDSON: Our next interview is Anthony Albanese –Albo – a great mate of mine I confess. I have known Albo for too many years, I guess. But a terrific bloke, if Bill Shorten was to be challenged it would be this bloke but he looks pretty happy to me and for Labor he does one hell of a job. So here he is, Anthony Albanese. Anthony Albanese, welcome to the program.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you, Graham.
RICHARDSON: Let’s start with the big news of the week as far as Labor is concerned and that’s this decision to oppose some of the new citizenship rules. Now I wrote in a column today that it was basically about caucus management, about not taking the left a bridge too far. Is that a fair description of it?
ALBANESE: No, you’re wrong on this occasion Graham. You get most of the caucus analysis right most of the time but one of the things, particularly in New South Wales, Members are incredibly strong, it’s Tony Burke who has led the charge on this issue as the Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs. You might have met young Tony…
RICHARDSON: I have a few times, yes. I taught him all he knows, you know.
ALBANESE: He is a very committed person to multicultural Australia. He’s someone who led the charge over the changes that were proposed to water down race hate laws by the Coalition and on this issue he has been absolutely right. The Government was proposing changes, or is proposing changes, that would see some of its Cabinet Ministers not be able to pass it. I mean Barnaby Joyce, I’m not sure what language he speaks during Question Time but it certainly isn’t university level English. And, indeed, I saw a tweet from Peter Dutton that was corrected, in 140 characters, five times with correct English grammar yesterday and yet they’re setting this test that is far higher than what common-sense suggests should prevail. There is already a test; people expect conversational level of English so that people can participate in their community, in work, in Australian society. But what we don’t need is a test that would see a whole lot of people, essentially, ruled out.
RICHARDSON: Tell me though, the claim that comes out of Labor is that this is basically a university level entrance degree of English, which is unfair and yet the Liberals tell me the opposite. Some of the journos are writing the opposite, that that’s simply not true, that’s an excuse rather than a reason.
ALBANESE: Well the Tories are wrong. If you have a look; Tony Burke’s issued a very good media release, tonight indeed, looking at the entrance level of, I think it’s called the International English Language System, or something like that. Level six is required for a whole range of universities, or a minimum of 5.5, and that’s listed by Tony Burke. Take this point Graham, the Adult Migrant English Service that teaches people English and teaches people English to a level whereby they can participate in society and in work; they teach up to level four. And the Government’s proposed this change without suggesting any change to that system, without any additional funding or support there. So the Government’s just got this wrong. There are only two explanations; they’ve made a mistake or they’ve deliberately put something up to fail so that they can then run around and try and play wedge politics with this issue.
RICHARDSON: I think there’s no doubt about it, it’s meant as a wedge. We’ll see if that works but of course I saw today Tony Burke quoted in a number of newspapers out of, I think a 2005 or 2006 essay he wrote, saying that there should be more difficult English tests applied now.
ALBANESE: We support a common-sense outcome here; a common-sense outcome so that people can participate. We’re also concerned about the delay that’s retrospective to people being able to apply for Australian citizenship. Can I say this; as a local Member, one of the best days to be a Parliamentarian is Australia Day every year whereby I rock along to Canterbury, to Marrickville, to Ashfield, to Leichhardt and participate in citizenship ceremonies. There you have people from all over the world pledging allegiance to our nation. We are an incredibly successful multicultural nation, we should be proud of that.
In my local community, the inner west of Sydney, people live in harmony side by side, of different religions, different ethnicities and we’re all the richer for it. My son was learning Mandarin in primary school, Italian in secondary school, participating in Harmony Day, participating in the Chinese New Year celebrations. We are so enriched by the fact that, with the exception of Indigenous Australians, we’re all sons or daughters, or grandsons or granddaughters of migrants. I myself am half Italian, half Irish stock. The only thing that’s certain about that is that I was raised a Catholic and that’s a good thing.
RICHARDSON: I think I’d have to agree with you about that generally, I’m not sure if the last statement was correct or not, that’s up to individuals to make up their mind on. Now what about yourself? I keep reading this criticism that you’re not asking questions in the Parliament on your shadow portfolio.
ALBANESE: I got a couple of questions last week and I had a Matter of Public Importance the week before that Parliament sat. I don’t think anyone can argue that I’m not out there with opinion pieces, I had one this week in the Australian, I’ve had one in the Huffington Post today, I’ve addressed the Australian Logistics Council, I’ve addressed the Australian Local Government Association, I’ve just addressed a group of people involved in the maritime sector. I’m very active in my portfolio. Question Time is one element; we have been concentrating this week not surprisingly on the education proposals of the Government. I sit as a member of the Tactics Committee of the Labor Party Caucus and certainly I participate in the decision making about who gets questions and what those processes are.
RICHARDSON: Tell me, after all this, because I don’t understand really what is happening in all of this education situation, who’s up who in the zoo here? Who is going to vote where? Because I can’t work it out.
ALBANESE: Well it’s a bit all over the shop. The Greens it would appear made a whole lot of demands which were met, so therefore they are now voting against it. I think that’s what has happened with the Greens, which is rather surprising. And because the Greens demands have been met, other people including One Nation, are voting for it. So, it’s difficult to see. What is very clear is that there are cuts to education funding, and today one of the concerns that I have is that today Josh Frydenberg, who represents the Education Minister in the House of Representatives, was quoting a whole range of figures of what would happen to schools in a particular electorate. When Tony Burke, as Manager of Opposition Business, asked for that information to be tabled so that there was some transparency there, Josh Frydenberg wouldn’t do it, he said it was confidential information. Surely what we need here is a bit of openness, the Government has refused to do that and it is beyond belief frankly that the Senate crossbenchers would vote for a system without knowing what the outcome was. But I think that is what has happened, it appears that the Government has the numbers to get their changes through the Senate and it will come back to the House of Representatives, which is a bit of a fait accompli.
RICHARDSON: It’s interesting to me though, are you, or do you subscribe to the theory that the Catholic school sector had a special deal, which gave them more than they were entitled to, and that the Government were entitled to pair that back somewhat?
ALBANESE: Well one of the things that I know about the Catholic school sector, is that some of the analysis that suggests overfunding of some schools, isn’t quite the way the system works. See the way that funding occurs, is that it goes to the Catholic system as a whole, and I know that the Catholic school system then applies its social justice principles, frankly, to where funding goes. I know that when I was a student, and this is outlined in my book, available in all good bookstores by Karen Middleton …
RICHARDSON: Even in some bad ones they tell me.
ALBANESE: In about Year Five, I was going to have to move, because simply my mother, we couldn’t afford school fees. The principal of the school found out that I was going to move and so had my mum in, she was a proud woman she was too proud to go and tell the principal literally that we couldn’t afford any school fees. It was my local school in the inner city, St Mary’s. From that point on they waived fees and told my mother to just pay what we could. I know that’s not an uncommon thing and certainly I received the education, for better or worse, that made me, or contributed to who I am today. So I think a lot of the system; one of the things that we tried to do with the reforms that were introduced by the Gillard Government, is to get away from the old private school, public school system. I very proudly, our son is at the local public school and is receiving a good education and has been through that system. He is in Year 11 now, we will wait and see how it goes, next year is a big year …
RICHARDSON: It is indeed.
ALBANESE: But I am a supporter of a parent’s right to choose. We have chosen the public school system for our son, but both myself and Carmel went to our respective local Catholic schools.
RICHARDSON: I find this whole argument fascinating. Usually the Catholics are faster out of the box than they were this time. They were slow, but they have made up a bit of ground. But you are saying that, after all the comings and goings this week, the Government will get it up and get it through the Senate.
ALBANESE: They will get it through; I’m pretty confident about that. There is talk of people crossing floors but I think they, at the end of the day, will get that outcome through the Senate, and people will have to judge what the reality is on the ground as a result of that legislation being carried.
RICHARDSON: Indeed they will, Anthony Albanese thank you very much for your time.
ALBANESE: Great to talk to you Graham.
RICHARDSON: Good on you Albo.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.