SUBJECTS: John Setka’s resignation from the Australian Labor party; the need for a national drought strategy.
DEBORAH KNIGHT, HOST: The Opposition Leader joins us now from Canberra. Good morning to you. John Setka didn’t miss, Albo, he is accusing you of selling out Australian workers and Labor values. He’s still a problem for you, isn’t it? He still heads up the construction union.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, he’s out of the Labor Party, Deb, and that was what I sought to achieve. That’s what I have control over. His values aren’t the same as Labor’s values. We respect women. John Setka, of course, pleaded guilty to two very serious charges, one of harassment and one of breaching an order to stay away from someone. And we have circumstances here whereby I made it very clear that the direction I want to take Labor in is an inclusive party. It’s one that shows respect for people. And that’s why John Setka isn’t welcome to stay as a member. And I’m pleased that he has gone.
KNIGHT: If he isn’t welcome and if he isn’t fit to be part of the Labor Party, how then can you justify taking money, a million dollars a year, from the union he heads up? The construction union itself, we know, has been convicted of criminal activity. You can’t have both, can you?
ALBANESE: Let’s be very clear here, Deb, you can’t hold every single construction worker around Australia responsible for the actions of an individual.
KNIGHT: No but if he heads up the union and you say he doesn’t share Labor values, how can you then take the money?
ALBANESE: He is a state secretary in Victoria. And the fact is that if you removed the construction union from construction sites, what you’d see is more exploitation, more workplace deaths and tragedies, more wage theft. You’d see increasing problems in those workplaces that need unions. Workplaces need unions. And the Labor Party makes no apology for the fact that we stay connected with working people through our affiliation from trade unions, whether they be hospitality workers, or people who work in retail, or people who work in construction, people who work in mines. They are all entitled to join their union. It’s a good thing that they do. And I support unions being affiliated to the Labor Party.
KNIGHT: Now, the Prime Minister has rejected your call for a war cabinet to deal with the drought. But what do you think of the Nationals call this morning for an extra $1.3 billion for drought-affected communities?
ALBANESE: Well, Deb, this shows why you need action across the Parliament. It’s not surprising that the Prime Minister rejected the idea of a drought cabinet, in which Coalition members would have a majority but would seek independent members also, such as Bob Katter and Helen Haines, the Member for Indi, participate in that, along with the respective spokespeople from both Labor and the Government. They can’t even agree between the Liberal Party and the National Party. It’s just chaos. And it’s not surprising that some of those National Party members are upset because they haven’t seen the Drought Coordinator’s report. They haven’t had a drought strategy. The first thing this Government did when it came to office was get rid of the COAG Committee that was working on a co-operative approach to drought across the nation. And this Government simply doesn’t have a comprehensive plan. And that is one that is needed.
KNIGHT: And do you think the Nationals themselves are doing enough to help farmers? Because this is a national emergency.
ALBANESE: This is a national emergency, Deb. And quite clearly the National Party backbench are very unhappy with their own leadership and the leadership of the Coalition. We need a comprehensive plan. It’s one that deals with the crisis, which is there right now in terms of not just farmers, but people who rely upon farming and agriculture for their work. The workers in those areas and, of course, the towns that are running out of water. We need to cooperate across Federal, State and local government. We need to listen to farming organisations. At the moment, what you’ve got is the National Farmers Federation have a plan. The National Party have a plan. Scott Morrison had a leak last night to one of the TV networks about a plan coming out next week. For goodness sake, why can’t we all sit down and put the national interest first and come up with a coordinated, comprehensive, bipartisan national drought strategy?
KNIGHT: And just quickly, on that issue of leadership, are you happy with the way it’s all going in the role as Opposition Leader? Are you concerned that perhaps it isn’t living up to what you had hoped it would be when you went into the role?
ALBANESE: Not at all, Deb. I’m enjoying each and every day. And the truth is, it’s a tough job being the Opposition Leader, particularly coming in after a defeat where everyone expected us to be successful. The only thing I miss about my previous life is my Friday morning appearances on The Today Show.
KNIGHT: We miss you Albo. You left us. You took off. Too good for us.
ALBANESE: I’m available at any time, Deb. Maybe we could do this every Thursday, every Thursday of every sitting week.
KNIGHT: We’ll see how we go.
ALBANESE: I’m up for it. G’day to the viewers, I miss you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.