Subjects: Bronwyn Bishop; parliamentary entitlements; Mike Baird proposal to lift GST; ALP National Conference; Refugee Policy; Labor Party Platform.
KRISTINA KENEALLY: Anthony Albanese, thank you for joining us.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
KENEALLY: The Prime Minister says that Bronwyn Bishop is on probation. Is that good enough or should she just resign now?
ALBANESE: It’s not good enough. It is in the government’s interest for her to go. It’s in the Parliament’s interest and it’s in the national interest. Her position is untenable. She should realise that. If she doesn’t, Tony Abbott as the Prime Minister certainly should.
KENEALLY: Wouldn’t some people say it’s in Labor’s interests to see her go, for Labor to claim that scalp?
ALBANESE: Well, the truth is that there’s a problem with the way that Bronwyn Bishop has conducted herself in her job. And this issue of a five thousand dollar helicopter ride from Melbourne to Geelong is symptomatic of, I think, the attitude that she’s had as Speaker – that she’s above the fray. The born-to-rule mentality comes through each and every day in the way that she chairs the Parliament. We’ve seen 400 people ejected from the Parliament, with over 390 of those being from the Labor side. So her position and her conduct of the Parliament are already very much in question. But when you are the Speaker you have to be above partisan politics. What we have is a Speaker who’s participated in Q&A in a partisan way, who attends political party meetings every week in Canberra, who interjects from the Chair in a partisan way, and now of course we know uses taxpayers funds to attend political party fundraisers – not even a federal fundraiser, but a fundraiser for the Victorian Liberal Party in the lead up to the last state election.
KENEALLY: Peter Costello said on the weekend that the rules around such entitlements need to be tightened up, that if you can just rock along, say to a wedding and talk to someone about the Parliament perhaps that shouldn’t be able to be counted under the rules. Are the rules really that loose and would Labor support a tightening of the rules around entitlements?
ALBANESE: We’re always happy to look at any proposals which are there, but I think the rules are pretty clear. There’s a common sense test as well. You don’t get a helicopter from Melbourne to Geelong for a political party fundraiser, and what Peter Costello can see if Tony Abbott can’t, is that it’s in the Government’s interests for there to be a new Speaker. A new Speaker, someone senior like Kevin Andrews, which would free up a ministerial position, or another senior member of the Parliament, someone who understands the rules, someone who could command respect from across the Parliament. This issue is not going to go away. When Parliament resumes in August, this is an issue that will dominate the Parliament if Bronwyn Bishop is still the Speaker, and that’s why it’s in Tony Abbott’s interests to seize this opportunity to remove what I think is a problem for the Government even before this specific issue arose, which is a Speaker who is far too partisan in the role.
KENEALLY: When Parliament resumes, will Labor take the opportunity to remind Tony Abbott of the words that he’s wiped off the Liberal Party website about Peter Slipper, where Peter Slipper was hounded by then-Opposition Leader Abbott for a $900 claim? Those words have disappeared from the Liberal Party website.
ALBANESE: The attacks on Peter Slipper were extraordinary. Peter Slipper offered to pay back the money that clearly shouldn’t have been used. But he wasn’t permitted to do so and was prosecuted. Not just prosecuted by the AFP but prosecuted politically in the Parliament by Tony Abbott amongst others. I think that is what adds to the circumstances whereby Bronwyn Bishop’s position is simply untenable.
KENEALLY: Can I take you to the NSW Premier Mike Baird who today got up and called for an increase to the GST from 10% to 15%. That’s the position he’s taken to this Premier’s conference with the Prime Minister this week. Is that the only answer for meeting the growing cost of health care?
ALBANESE: There are a couple of issues here. One is that when it comes to either cutting expenditure in health or education, or raising revenue, there’s something that the Coalition seems to have in common, whether it be Premier Baird or Prime Minister Abbott or Treasurer Hockey, which is that they want to hit those who are most vulnerable and not worry about any progressive form of taxation. The problem of course for the GST is that millionaires or politicians such as me pay the same as pensioners. And that’s why it’s a regressive tax – some of the most disadvantaged people would be hit by an increase in the GST, just as it’s the disadvantaged who have been hit by the cuts to education, and health, and pensions, and the other changes which have been made. At the same time those high end superannuation earners, earning a lot more money than disadvantaged people could even dream of having, get a tax exempt status because of the policies of the Abbott Government.
KENEALLY: Now, Mike Baird has said there should be compensation for families on less than $100,000. Is that not a good enough answer to the regressive nature of the tax?
ALBANESE: No, it’s certainly not good enough. And when you have a Government that won’t ensure that multinationals pay their fair share of tax, where you have considerable tax avoidance occurring, where you have revenue forgone, due to the changes that they’d made to superannuation and in other areas, then you’ve got to ask yourself, why is it that this Government seems to always try to hit low and middle income earners?
KENEALLY: Let’s look at the national conference, ALP National Conference coming up this weekend, one of the big issues that’s forecast to be debated is around boat turn backs and treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, keeping Australian borders safe. Do you anticipate that Labor will emerge from this conference with a clear position on boat turn backs?
ALBANESE: Well, we’ll wait and see. It’s always very bold to predict what will come out of an ALP national conference. But what will come out is a coherent set of policies, policies which will ensure that we don’t have people risking their lives to come here by boat, but which also ensure that there’s proper treatment in accordance with Australia’s obligations, both under the refugee convention and other treaties that we’ve signed, but also to be good international citizens. I don’t believe that you have to go out there and punish people in order to have a good policy. I think it’s possible to frame a policy that ensures that we have an orderly system of migration but one that treats people with dignity and respect.
KENEALLY: Now Labor had an opposition to boat turn backs, but that was based on naval advice, it wasn’t possible. Correct me if I’m wrong, Labor hasn’t had in the past an in-principle opposition to boat turn backs, does that mean that Labor is reconsidering based on the Navy’s assessment?
ALBANESE: One thing that we certainly wouldn’t do is risk people’s lives at sea. That was the advice that we had in Government – that it wasn’t possible to return boats safely. So we would of course always take proper advice with regard to the practical effects of any implementation of policy. So this week will be an opportunity for us to frame where the debate goes, I think the Draft Platform that’s there is very good. It speaks about an increase in our humanitarian intake. It speaks about restrictions on time in terms of which people would be in detention, and it speaks about our international obligations. So, we’ll see what comes out of the conference. There will be a range of debates across the portfolio areas, including in mine of infrastructure and transport policy.
KENEALLY: One last question, NSW Labor Opposition Leader Luke Foley is pushing for a removal of the Socialist Objective from the pledge. Would that be an important step in modernising the Labor Party?
ALBANESE: I don’t see it as a huge deal, I have to say. I’ve been in the Labor Party for 30 years and it’s a long time since I heard anyone say “we need to adopt this policy because of the Socialist Objective.”
KENEALLY: Anthony Albanese, thank you for joining me.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.