Subjects; The Killing Season program, Newspoll, marriage equality; infrastructure
PETER VAN ONSELEN: Well, let’s ask Anthony Albanese about it. He was the Leader in the House. He became the Deputy Prime Minister under Kevin Rudd in his comeback. We appreciate your company. Did you ever feel bullied in those months that you worked as his deputy?
ALBANESE: No certainly not, Peter. I think both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard remain friends of mine. I don’t think that can be said for everyone in my great party, but I have good relationships with both of them.
KRISTINA KENEALLY: That’s interesting. Did you actually put your hand up to be interviewed or agree to be interviewed for the program that’s coming up on the ABC?
ALBANESE: I don’t think it was so much a matter of putting your hand up. I think it was very clear the show was going ahead. Either I could wonder what people were saying or go and be interviewed and be able to respond directly. I did that with Sarah Ferguson. I had a couple of sessions that were pretty lengthy it must be said, but we’ll wait and see what the program holds over the next three weeks. It’s largely of course a matter of history and I think people are more concerned about the future than what has happened in the past. But nonetheless, as a matter of historical record I think it has one advantage which is that people in their own words will be able to say their views whatever they may be, rather than you know unnamed sources being quoted in articles or what have you.
VAN ONSELEN: Well, let me ask you this then, Mr Albanese. You agreed to co-operate. Would you have co-operated if you were the Labor Leader because Bill Shorten, who was right in the thick of it during that period – I don’t think anyone would deny that least of all him – he decided not to be interviewed?
ALBANESE: Well I think it’s legitimate to decide not to be interviewed for any particular program. That’s a decision for the individual to make.
VAN ONSELEN: But would you have done it if you were leader or would you have made a different call because of being leader as opposed to the positon you are in now?
ALBANESE: Well, I made the call for myself. I’m not going to comment on what other people might have done or might not do depending upon circumstances. I’m very proud of the Labor Government. There’s no doubt that we had some issues and the events around June 2010 and people who engaged in backgrounding against others in the Cabinet. The fact is that did happen. We did have leadership issues and that in the end undermined our ability to get re-elected. What it didn’t do though, I don’t think, was undermine our ability to be an effective government. I think that in issues like the response to the Global Financial Crisis in particular, but other issues as well: the apology, the reforms getting rid of Work Choices, the reforms that I was able to do in creating Infrastructure Australia. In all of these issues, I think history will look back very kindly indeed on the policy record of both the Rudd and Gillard governments.
KENEALLY: Well, Anthony you were in fact the Leader on the House in the last Labor Government and today we saw the parliamentary tactics from the Opposition to bring in the vote on the small business package, really calling the government on its bluff. The government seemed to be a little bit surprised by that. Should they have been expecting that kind of tactic from Labor?
ALBANESE: Well, they were the ones who said this should be bought on, we don’t know where Labor stands, even though we had made out positon very clear. So we called them out on it.
VAN ONSELSEN: But they wanted to all speak on it Anthony Albanese. They wanted to be able to talk about the importance of small business and the correlation to the Liberal Party. You were going to deny them that.
ALBANESE: Governments are about outcomes and once again his government showed it wasn’t actually about the outcome, it was about all politics and that is the problem with this government is that it is politics not policy that drives it, which is why we have such internal dissent. One of the things about the Labor Party is that we have learned from the Rudd and Gillard years. It appears that the current government with the Cabinet in-fighting that occurred, the leaking of cabinet decisions, the fighting over issues, once again are showing that they are obsessed by their internals rather than being obsessed, as they should be, about the needs of the nation.
VAN ONSELEN: We’ll get to some of the policy issues in your portfolio in a moment. But just quickly, I’ve got to ask you about yesterday’s Newspoll. Some people, myself included, like to call Bill Shorten Mr Forty Percent because that is how many members of the membership of the Labor Party voted for him. Sixty percent voted for you. He’s gone below that though yesterday. He is down to 37 percent as preferred prime minister. Is this an issue for him and therefore for the Labor Party as the election creeps closer because, if he’s more unpopular than Tony Abbott, boy, that says something?
ALBANESE: Well I think Peter all of the polls including yesterday showed that if an election as held this Saturday, Bill Shorten would be elected as the Labor Prime Minister and I’d be very pleased to serve as a member of his Cabinet.
VAN ONSELEN: But you and I know this far out from an election polls really are a one-horse race on the party vote. But the leader vote is always a two-horse race. Closer to the election it levels up. We saw that with Mark Latham streets ahead leading up to the ‘04 election and mowed down by John Howard. The personal numbers really come into it and Bill Shorten’s personal numbers – even less in the community want him as preferred Prime Minister than Labor members wanted him.
ALBANESE: Well if you have a look at what Bill Shorten has been able to do, he has managed to hold the Government to account on its cuts to education and health, on the cuts he tried to get through in last year’s Budget to the pension in real terms where the government has had to back off completely.
VAN ONSELEN: What has gone wrong? Because he has gone south since then. He did have a good start, a good reply to last year’s Budget but since then his polling has really tanked at a time when Tony Abbott went from nowhere to – he’s still unpopular of course – but he is on the way up.
ALBANESE: Well he is campaigning on his agenda. The alternative, which is a fairness agenda – I notice that the Abbott Government have issued a dictum whereby every one of its ministers has to use the fair word in every second sentence. But people aren’t conned by that. They are showing that when you look at the polls that have Labor ahead in every single poll that I have seen. There was one that was 50-50 to be fair, but every other poll has shown Labor ahead and that’s been consistent for a long period of time. I have been around a while and I know that during the last period of office we were behind for a long period of time prior to the 2013 election. Every couple of weeks or every month we’d think to ourselves it was going to improve, but the truth is that it didn’t. We were always behind, and we were still behind on polling day.
KENEALLY: There’s still the triumph of hope over experience there.
ALBANESE: You have to have that in order to keep going,
KENEALLY: Indeed you do. I know that more than anyone. One place you and Bill Shorten are on a unity ticket though is the issue of a conscience vote on the issue of same sex marriage. That is going to come up at the debate in the conference later this year. No matter what happens in the Parliament that vote will likely happen at the conference. I’ve got to ask you, you and I represented some of the same area in Sydney as does Tanya Plibersek. What kind of a play was that from Tanya Plibersek? Was she playing to the politics of her own electorate? Is this really likely to happen in the Labor Party – we are going to try and bind people in a matter of conscience?
ALBANESE: Well look, I can speak for myself. It has always been my view – I held that position at the last national conference, I still hold the position – that where people of a view due to their religious beliefs say I can’t vote for a particular position, even though I am in a minority within the Labor Party, then it’s not up to me to tell someone that their conscience is wrong. That we’re a broad-based party> From time to time there will be legitimate disagreements, it is important there be respect for that even though I disagree with them.
And what the marriage equality debate is about, is respect for diversity and tolerance. In terms of how that debate is conducted it must be tolerant and I’ve had that view, I’ve had it consistently. It’s one where many people who I am quite close to politically don’t agree with me. But we’ve had this debate for a long time in the Labor Party as well. In 2002 we produced a position paper to end this debate for all time if you like was what we were trying to do, which outlined that where people have these views, they should be allowed to have a conscience vote on a case-by-case basis and that’s why we’ve had conscience votes on issues including the granting of no-fault divorce, including on issues of liquor trading hours. All of those issues.
VAN ONSELEN: Let me jump in Anthony Albanese. I want to do something radical here and ask you a portfolio policy question.
ALBANESE: Oh, good on you Peter. You can ask two.
VAN ONSELEN: The issue of infrastructure. Both sides of politics talk up the importance of infrastructure Tony Abbott wants to be known as the infrastructure Prime Minister. Jamie Briggs has taken that tag line and used it on Twitter on regular occasions. But infrastructure costs a lot of money at the same time as both sides of politics say that we’ve got to get debt down. Now I know that infrastructure is valuable – productivity and all the rest of it. But how do you marry those two things together. Seriously, because they are in some respects at cross purposes with the rhetoric.
ALBANESE: Well, what you need to do is to break the nexus between the political cycle, which is short term, and the infrastructure investment cycle, which is long term. Once you do that, you acknowledge that an investment in an infrastructure project adds to productivity, adds to economic growth and pays for itself if it is the right project. That is why we established Infrastructure Australia. The new government talked about Infrastructure Australia but what they have done is cut its funding in half, ignore its recommendations, abolish the Major cities Unit that looked at urban policy and not funded a single project that was recommended by Infrastructure Australia on the basis of cost-benefit analysis, instead of that they cut projects that were recommended by Infrastructure Australia like the Melbourne Metro and the Western Ring Road and put the money into the East-West Link that has a cost-benefit of 0.45. You put in a dollar and you get back 45 cents.
KENEALLY: Well there’s no doubt, minister, excuse me shadow minister ….
VAN ONSELEN: Oh you wish. You wish.
ALBANESE: Thanks Kristina.
KENEALLY: I will confess great affection for Anthony Albanese. Thank-you for joining us. I know that you could talk all day about infrastructure but you get to go to Question Time now.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.