SUBJECTS: Federal election; Leadership Team of the Australian Labor Party; Tax cuts; Ruddock Review.
DEB KNIGHT: New Labor leader Anthony Albanese joins us now along with newly installed Trade Minister Simon Birmingham. Fellas, good morning to you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, FEDERAL LABOR LEADER: Good morning.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM, DEPUTY LEADER IN THE SENATE: G’day Deb.
KNIGHT: Albo, what is going on here? Bill Shorten pointing the finger at everyone else but himself. Why can’t he take responsibility for his own mistakes?
ALBANESE: Well, look, I’ve said very clearly Deb that Labor accepts the outcome of the election results.
KNIGHT: But Bill Shorten clearly doesn’t.
ALBANESE: Well, those of us who were in positions in the Labor Party have to accept the outcome and have to accept that we made some strategic errors. We listened to the verdict of the people. The people always get it right. There’s no point complaining about what happened on the field. When you look at the scoreboard at the end of the day, we were defeated by about 77-68, will be the final score.
KNIGHT: So what did you think, though, when you heard Bill Shorten saying that yesterday?
ALBANESE: Well look, there is no doubt that vested interests did play a role. But we also have to accept our responsibility that some of the policies that we put forward clearly didn’t connect with enough people and people didn’t feel they had the capacity to put their faith in us. We have to do better next time. It’s as simple as that.
KNIGHT: You better watch your back too because reports this morning that Bill Shorten has told allies he wants to return as Labor Leader. You were there for the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years. How you can lead effectively Albo with a ghost of leaders past haunting you like this?
ALBANESE: Look we will be a united team. I’ve been elected unanimously by the Labor Party to lead. We had a leadership team. We have gender balance. We have talent. A mix of new people coming in, Richard Marles as my Deputy…
KNIGHT: Will you sit Bill Shorten down then and tell him to tow the line?
ALBANESE: I don’t need to do that. That Bill Shorten knows, as every member of the team does, their responsibility to work for the team…
BIRMINGHAM: It doesn’t sound like it.
KNIGHT: We will bring you in here Birmo because Bill Shorten we know has wanted to be PM all his life. The Liberals, of course, bear the most recent scars from former leaders causing trouble. Is it wise to keep Bill Shorten on Labor’s frontbench?
BIRMINGHAM: Well, I don’t think it is when Bill Shorten is showing that he’s as delusional as he appears to be. You might forgive a bit of bitterness but he doesn’t seem to understand or have heard any of the messages that Albo has been giving or anybody else in that regard. He doesn’t accept, it seems, that there were policy failures at the heart of why the Labor Party lost the election. The Australian people heard there was a real choice. A choice between higher taxes from Labor or lower taxes from Scott Morrison and the Liberal National team and they went for the lower taxes, they went for the stronger economy and the Labor Party’s first big test that Albo is going to face is whether he can of course keep the team together, but in practical terms, will be where they choose to vote when it comes to the tax relief plan that we bring to the parliament shortly. You know, if they vote against it, well then clearly the likes of Bill Shorten will win because they will still be running the agenda of class warfare and so on. If they vote with us, they actually support that tax relief plan, well then maybe there will be a sign that Albo is winning the day and they are learning some lessons.
KNIGHT: So do you concede then that it was a mistake to let Tony Abbott hang around for as long as he did?
BIRMINGHAM: Look, I think there was certainly disruptions the last few years and that, yes, you can see things are smoother, perhaps when you don’t have some of those former leaders there who attract a greater degree of attention. Now, we have got a great team going forward. Scott Morrison this week in swearing in the new cabinet and ministry, very humble, very workmanlike, it’s back to business for us. But it’s back to business with a new team, a fresh team, the youthful leadership team we have got of Scott and Josh and Mathias, and myself. Of course also a fabulous new cabinet. Record number of women sitting around the cabinet table. Linda Reynolds our new Defence Minister is off now to the Shangri-La Dialogue, talking to defence leaders from around the region. This is what we want to see, this type of focus and drive and work ethic and that is what Scott has given as a message to all of us.
KNIGHT: Albo you singled out Kristina Keneally and told your own party that you wanted her on the frontbench. Two other well respected and very capable members of the Labor Party team stepped aside to make room for her. Why is Kristina Keneally so crucial for you?
ALBANESE: I tell you what is crucial, Deb. The fact that our leadership team is two men and two women. Their leadership team that Birmo just spoke about is four men and zero women.
KNIGHT: Merit is pretty important too though, isn’t it?
ALBANESE: Kristina Keneally has talent. So does Penny Wong. They are …
BIRMINGHAM: So does our Foreign Minister Marise Payne. So does our Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, Social Services Ministers Anne Ruston.
ALBANESE: They won’t have any women in the leadership team of the Liberal Party. None. Women make up 50 per cent of the population. I want a team that is representative of the population. It’s that simple.
KNIGHT: Well Ed Husic is a talented individual. He’s now had to stand aside. But Kristina Keneally, when you look at her track record, she led Labor to the worst defeat of a sitting government in NSW history, she lost the Bennelong by-election, is that track record really that strong?
ALBANESE: I think Penny Wong and Kristina Keneally will make a very strong team that will make Birmo’s life in the Senate very difficult, indeed. They are both tough, they’re committed, they’re principled, they’re very effective. And they are very articulate and what they will do is hold the Government to account in the Senate. That is very important.
BIRMINGHAM: I have got to say I back some of the women in our Senate team. Our Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, our new Social Services Minister Anne Ruston, Jobs Minister Michaelia Cash, it’s a pretty powerful line up of senior cabinet ministers that’ll …
ALBANESE: That’s a good thing that there are women in the cabinet. That’s a good thing. It’s a pity that the Liberal Party still has no women in its leadership team. It’s as simple as that. And they’ve already broken a commitment. They could bring the parliament back Deb, in June to put through the first lot of tax cuts that are supposed to come into effect on July 1. That was what they said they would do during the election campaign and they’re not doing it.
BIRMINGHAM: Yeah, it’s giving you time to try to make your decision as to whether you’re going to vote for the whole package or not.
KNIGHT: Will you support it in full, the second and third tier as well?
ALBANESE: We will vote for the tax cuts that come in to play on July 1. What Simon is asking for …
KNIGHT: So will you back it in full?
ALBANESE: What Simon’s asking for and what you’ve just asked me about is tax cuts that come in not during this entire term, but some time after the next election. We will give consideration to that and we will make our announcement after we’ve given it proper consideration. After we’ve seen the legislation, we haven’t even seen any legislation yet Deb.
KNIGHT: All right. So not ruling it in or out. We’ll wait and see.
ALBANESE: What we won’t be doing is giving blank cheques on the basis of legislation that doesn’t exist.
KNIGHT: No, I wanted to ask you …
BIRMINGHAM: The detail is in the budget Albo, this is not difficult legislation.
KNIGHT: I wanted to ask you about the issue of religious freedom. We know that Barnaby Joyce is making his voice heard already on the backbench, another restless former leader What do you think of his push for stronger religious freedom laws?
BIRMINGHAM: We will give effect to the recommendations of the Ruddock review as we outlined in our Government response and that involved asking the Australian Law Reform Commission to do some work around preparing a Bill that would protect religious freedoms in Australia. Just the same as we protect other freedoms and provide for other forms of anti-discrimination in Australia. We want to make sure there’s not unnecessary discrimination against people of faith.
KNIGHT: How you can really police, though, and legislate on religious beliefs?
BIRMINGHAM: We are not legislating on what people believe but we do want to legislate for the right for people to genuinely hold those beliefs and not be discriminated against because they hold those beliefs. Now, we’ve gone through quite a careful process having the Ruddock review which took public submissions, went through a very careful bit of work there, we’ve now asked the Australian Law Reform Commission to take a look at the details of how you would structure such a religious freedoms bill and act and we’ll bring that then to the Parliament for proper scrutiny. I will hope that this is an area that we can enjoy bipartisanship, Australia is a country where freedom of religion sits at its core and we want to make sure that that alongside all of the other rights and responsibilities that are already legislated, and of course the guarantees that we have anti-discrimination laws in relation to people’s sexuality, to people’s age, to people’s gender, they’re important. We also have to make sure that people’s faith is appropriately respected and we’ll do that and I trust and hope that the Labor Party will work cooperatively with us to make sure that this is a unifying step for the nation, it builds upon that existing anti-discrimination framework in a successful way.
KNIGHT: Alright. Well they’re back into business. Albo and Birmo, we thank you both for your time this morning and we will wait and see what emerges from Canberra.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.