Subjects: Malcolm Turnbull leadership deficit, national infrastructure spending, US election, asylum seekers, National Broadband Network
PETER VAN ONSELEN: All right. Let’s get into things. I want to start if I can with these ABCC changes, well I guess both sets of the Bills that were the trigger for the election. David Leyonhjelm was telling me a little bit earlier that he doesn’t think that the Government is as certain to get these things through as perhaps they think that they are. Negotiations are ongoing. We know that Labor opposes it. How much of a blow though would it be for Labor in your view if the Government does get these items through the Senate?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well the Government of course is a bit all over the shop here Peter. They went to an election saying that they’d present these Bills to a joint sitting. Where is it? They didn’t talk about these Bills during the entire election campaign and then we’ve come back and of course the Senate is more difficult than it was beforehand. The geniuses who went to a double D have recreated, if you like, One Nation, who now have more presence in the Federal Parliament than they have ever had before. And there are more crossbenchers than there were before.
So they are finding it difficult to manage. We’ll be putting forward our arguments about fairness and about how, essentially construction workers shouldn’t be treated as criminals for the fact that they happen to work in construction; that the rule of law should apply, that wherever there is any criminal activity of course that should be dealt with under the law.
But the Government really is floundering looking for an agenda, at the same time as they have real economic dark clouds. They have an issue with their Triple A credit rating, you had Scott Morrison today disown the fact that they said they would have a surplus by 2021.
You have education funding in a mess with Coalition Education Ministers at the state level slamming the cuts to education. You have ongoing cuts to Medicare. And you have a Government that really has lost its way and is struggling to find its feet in this Parliament.
VAN ONSELEN: If the Government is doing so badly if Malcolm Turnbull is running such a shambolic Government, how can Bill Shorten be 10 points behind on the preferred Prime Minister rating? Is he the right person to take Labor to the next election?
ALBANESE: Well we of course are ahead in the two-party preferred count and that is the key issue. The key issue is our team verses their team, and what people are saying is that our team is the preferred Government and it’s been showing that for a while now. The only team which is talking about leadership issues is of course the Government side where Malcolm Turnbull seems to be trying to turn himself into Tony Abbott in order to protect himself from the Abbott forces, and it is no wonder that is causing disillusionment from people who had a great deal of hope.
I think Malcolm Turnbull came to the Prime Ministership with a great deal of goodwill. Australians wanted him to succeed, now they are wondering what happened to him.
VAN ONSELEN: Having said that though is it important on the Labor side that you bill this as a team capable of coming back to government, rather than a sort of man-on-man argument about prime ministers? Because, as you say, primary vote is up, two-party vote you are ahead – all the rest of it – but it is an issue, it is an issue. There is obviously some voter doubts there, when they compare man-on-man the two parliamentary leaders.
ALBANESE: Well we are a team led by Bill Shorten. But with an experienced team and a mix of new people coming in – an experienced team in Chris Bowen a former Treasurer as the Shadow Treasurer. People like Tony Burke and myself and Catherine King and Jenny Macklin and others who served in Government. A Senate Leader in Penny Wong, who is an outstanding advocate for her portfolio, but across the Parliament. And an intake of the team of 2016, who are incredibly impressive, the five new West Australians for example, who have come in. Tim Hammond is immediately on the front bench, you’ve got people like Madeleine King and Josh and Anne and Matt are all really impressive people from Western Australia, where we had a vacant field where no-one was recontesting their spot. And other people who have come in as well. I mean Linda Burney is an outstanding contributor a former senior minister in the NSW Government, who would be ready to step up in a future Federal Labor Government as well.
VAN ONSELEN: How much will Labor look to change or should it look to change in your view, its agenda for the next election? Because obviously you had some pretty significant policies, whether people agreed or disagreed with them, that you took quite boldly I would argue into that first attempt at getting back into government after having lost government. Do you stick to your guns? And do you look to just sell the same policies? Or do you change and change up, and, if so, where?
ALBANESE: Well I think they are a starting point. I just addressed an industry group about our changes that we recommended to negative gearing and capital gains tax and had a discussion with them about those changes – about housing affordability. On infrastructure this morning I have introduced again into the Parliament a High Speed Rail Authority Bill, an important piece of legislation talking about nation building for Australia.
We have seen I think on my front of infrastructure a $3 billion dollar underspend on what the Government said it would spend in the last financial year. So at a time when it should be stepping up investment, that’s not happening. There’s no new public transport investment, the Government isn’t filling the void. We saw last week a $20 billion dollar injection by the Government into the National Broadband Network. Now they said it was all fixed. It is on Malcom Turnbull’s watch that this has happened. He was the Minister and the fact is that we are getting a second-rate NBN for higher cost and with it not fulfilling any of its targets for the rollout. So I think there is a range of measures that Labor got right, but we always reassess those particular policies.
We can improve on them and I think by the time we get to the next election you will have a very comprehensive policy plan indeed, right across the spectrum that reflects our core values of strong economic growth but inclusive growth – growth that brings the nation with us with investment, in particular in infrastructure but also investment in people through education and training.
So I think across the board, Labor is in a good position having done hard policy yards in our first three years of opposition, but that policy work is continuing.
VAN ONSELEN: Well on that can I ask you, obviously you can’t give details, it’s not your role to do here but you are part of Shadow Cabinet, I mean is this something where you are already, as an Opposition in the throes of putting together some new, you know signature, if I could put it that way, policies to build off the ones that you took to the last election? Has that process already started?
ALBANESE: We are constantly working on policy development, on building on some of the positive things that we did in Government. But also the policies that we took to the last election. We are busy holding the Government to account, but you have got to have an alternative policy program.
And I think one of the problems that the Abbott Government suffered from was that they had a plan to get rid of us, but they didn’t have a plan for once they actually won the election.
So they fell back on ideology in the 2014 Budget, that really reflected the prejudices that they have against public education, public health, public transport, the public broadcaster. It became, I think, a Government that quickly alienated people who voted for it and then Malcolm Turnbull had a plan to get rid of Tony Abbott, but he also didn’t have a plan to govern. So he has continued a whole range of those policies which caused a great deal of frustration out there in the electorate and disappointment really in Malcolm Turnbull. They’re not angry with him yet, but they are very disappointed and that disappointment will turn to anger very soon unless we actually see some initiative, some vision, from Malcolm Turnbull and that’s not what we are seeing at the moment.
VAN ONSELEN: Well one of the things that they seem very happy to talk about, is keeping the focus on the refugee debate. Peter Dutton indicated here on Sky News yesterday, that he would expect to bring on those legislative changes in the Senate that have passed the House in relation to banning any possibility of asylum seekers on Nauru or Manus from ever coming to Australia. Is Labor absolute in continuing to oppose that if it goes before the Senate?
ALBANESE: Well what’s the purpose of it Peter? They haven’t put forward any reason why …
VAN ONSELEN: They argue, far be it for me to plead their case, they argue, that without it, and Peter Dutton said this again yesterday, they argue that without it, there is a very real risk that the boats will start up again.
ALBANESE: Well, that’s just nonsense based upon what? The boats will start up again on the basis, they said, if we settled people on Nauru and Manus in first world countries. That was their argument of months ago. They went through an election campaign where they said they had the policy settings right, and then straight after the election they say oh well actually, don’t believe what we said then, this is the new agenda.
There’s got to be a little bit of common sense here and the idea that people, if they go to the United States, settle, become citizens there, will in 40 years’ time for example, will be stopped coming to Australia on a business visa or on a tourist visa, is quite frankly, quite strange and a range of things that this Government puts forward they don’t back up. What Peter Dutton should have been doing as a minister, is finding ways to get people off Manus and Nauru. They now finally acknowledge that that is necessary.
These are real people – real people, who deserve to be treated in a humane way. You can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity, and the Government needs to recognise that. We are on a bipartisan position on being tough on people smugglers. But that doesn’t mean that Labor will just tick off on any absurd proposal.
Because guess what, they’d come up with something else I’m sure, if they are looking just for division. One of the things that this Government needs to do, and I think it’s a big problem that they’ve got, they look for areas of conflict and division in the local community. And people out there are sick of it, they want a Government that gets things done, that unites the country, that moves forward and that’s what they should be doing
VAN ONSELEN: Speaking of having a Government that unites the country, just separately, away from domestic politics for a moment, how did you feel watching the scenes on that night of the US election, or daytime our time, showing that Donald Trump was soon to be President-Elect of the United States?
ALBANESE: Well that of course is a decision for the American people. I do note that Hillary Clinton got many more votes, certainly there’s a minimum of a million votes more than Donald trump in that election. But Donald Trump won the Electoral College and that has to be respected. That is their system and I certainly respect that and Labor and indeed Australia as country will deal with the United States as our ally.
That doesn’t mean that immediately you should say that you don’t have a view about things that President-Elect Trump has said. I think an Australian politician for example who mocked a reporter who happened to have a disability in the way in which President-Elect Trump did would have had great difficulty, proceeding through an election campaign. And one of the things that it does for me is it shows if I look at the US election …
(BREAK IN INTERVIEW FOR ROD CULLETON PRESS CONFERENCE)
VAN ONSELEN: Let’s bring back Anthony Albanese. Sorry for the interruption there.
ALBANESE: That’s OK.
VAN ONSELEN: You never want to miss a Rob Culleton media conference Anthony Albanese. After having seen the last one that is not one that you want to miss if you can avoid it. I want to get back to this story that is in both The Financial Review as well as The Australian today. The Triple A credit rating at risk because of low wages growth as well as low profits. Is that really the time not to try to find ways to spur on economic growth? That’s what the Government would say.
ALBANESE: It of course is the time to spur on economic growth, but it is also not the time to continue to attack the trade union movement, and that is what this Government is obsessed about. We have, real living standards have fallen by 2 per cent, in the recent period and that is having an impact on household budgets which means that people can’t spend as much, which means they’re not creating as many jobs. At the same time the Government, when you say as they did in their 2014 Budget, we are cutting pensions, education, health, but we are going to invest in infrastructure. But you underspend by $3 billion dollars in 2015-16 on what you said you would do, then that has an impact in terms of contraction of the economy, not just in the short term, but in the long term because you don’t have that productivity boosting infrastructure.
And that is why the Government has got it wrong, in terms of a failure to invest, particularly at a time when the Reserve Bank governors both past and present, have warned, Mr Lowe and Mr Stevens, have warned that monetary policy can’t do all of the heavy lifting in terms of economic stimulus; that investing in infrastructure there is no better time because of the level of interest rates to do now. Given that as well, the context of the mining boom, moving from the investment phase to the production phase, means that there is a drop off in infrastructure investment associated with that. So the Government should be stepping up and they are not doing it. They should be building a railway line in terms of the new airport at Badgerys Creek. They should be building the Cross River Rail, they should be investing in Melbourne Metro in Victoria, they should be investing in the Metronet in Perth, they should be investing in AdeLINK Light Rail in Adelaide. They should be doing these things but they are not doing it, they have a slogan of jobs and growth but nothing beneath it, no strategy to get there.
VAN ONSELEN: One final question if I can before I let you go Anthony Albanese, I mean in your space of infrastructure, you’ve been talking about it there. The Government claims, and they’ve done it since the Abbott era if I could put it that way, that they’re sort of an infrastructure spending government; they’re using it to drive growth. Senator Zed Seselja did it earlier on this program. Where is the divide between Labor’s criticism of the Government in this key portfolio area – your portfolio area, verses what they say? How different is it, what they’re doing from what Labor argued for? And how different is the quantum of spending; that in your opinion renders their claims false?
ALBANESE: Well you just have to look at their own Budget figures – actual investment as opposed to proposed investment. The Budget figures for actual investment in 2015-16, show $5.5 billion dollars, rather than $8 billion. And that includes $490 million dollars as a one-off payment to WA for GST compensation. So a $3 billion underspend – underspends on the Pacific Highway, the Bruce Highway, a whole range of projects that they said they would do, that simply haven’t got done. And that follows a $1 billion dollar underspend on the previous year.
So it’s not surprising when you stop projects that were ready to go, like Melbourne Metro, the M80 in Melbourne, the Cross River Rail Project in Brisbane and come up with thought bubbles for projects that aren’t ready to go, or that don’t stack up, like Perth Freight Link. Then you have a gap and that’s what we are seeing – a gap. There was a 20 per cent decline in public sector infrastructure investment in its first two years of office, and not in a single quarter since they came to office have they matched the infrastructure investment that was there in our last quarter of September 2013. So they simply aren’t investing, and the NBN of course it is just disastrous to have this $20 billion dollar additional funding be required from the Government to NBN, in order to produce what is a second-rate NBN, where they used money of course, to purchase copper wire. Literally enough copper wire to go from here to Japan, at a time when everyone knows everyone knows that that future is fibre, not copper, and they just haven’t got the infrastructure agenda right and it is one of the big failings of this Government.
VAN ONSELEN: Anthony Albanese always appreciate you joining us, thanks for being on To the Point today, cheers.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.