Transcript of Interview with Laurie Oakes
The Sunday Show, Channel Nine, Sydney
22 April 2007
LAURIE OAKES AND ANTHONY ALBANESE
Laurie Oakes: I guess we could have an interesting discussion about parliamentary sledging but unfortunately we haven’t got time. Do you think you’re now get a pretty good run in News Limited papers following this interview now that Rupert Murdoch has endorsed your leader.
Anthony Albanese: Well I that that it is appropriate that Kevin Rudd is out there talking to business. One of the things that characterised the Hawke-Keating government was that Labor was able to work with business and unions and the community to drive economic reform and drive that productivity agenda. So Labor will continue, from the leader and shadow ministers such as myself, will continue to be out there talking to business.
Laurie Oakes: Now even though Rupert Murdoch has endorsed Kevin Rudd, you’re trying to roll him at the conference. Are you being disloyal to your leader?
Anthony Albanese: No I’m not at all. The Labor Party is a Democratic Party, we’re a vibrant party and we are very much alive and it is part of our tradition of 116 years that Labor Party members get a say, particularly at national conference which is binding on the party. And uranium is of course a very moderate export earner for Australia, less than 1% of our mineral exports but it is a big principle in the Labor Party and that’s why I have a firm view that whilst you can guarantee that uranium will lead to nuclear waste you can’t guarantee it won’t lead to nuclear weapons.
Laurie Oakes: But if you roll your leader at the conference five months out from an election don’t you damage Labor’s chances of winning?
Anthony Albanese: Not at all. I mean we’ve heard those arguments before.
Laurie Oakes: They can be right sometimes too.
Anthony Albanese: I heard those arguments before over electricity privatisation, for example, before the NSW ALP conference where Bob Carr and Michael Egan didn’t get their way at the conference. The logical end point of ‘let’s not have any debate in the party’ is that we may as well not have a conference and the leader just gets to decide all the policy. I think Kevin Rudd certainly respects the traditions and forums of the party and I don’t think it hurts Labor at all to show the Australian public that we’re prepared to have democratic debate over the future of the nation over a three day conference next weekend.
Laurie Oakes: Is it fair dinkum or is the fix already in, I mean, aren’t the numbers there to make sure Kevin Rudd wins?
Anthony Albanese: Well, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case and I’ll be seeking support for an amendment which says essentially, let’s not put the cart before the horse. Before Labor considers any new uranium mines, I think there should be two conditions met. One is that we need in place an effective nuclear non-proliferation regime. At the moment the NPT has essentially collapsed, you’ve got Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize winner and leader of the International Atomic Energy Agency warning that the threat of terrorism makes the concerns even more acute than they were perhaps 20 years ago. Iran is a reminder of the link between civilian nuclear reactor programs and nuclear weapons proliferation.
Laurie Oakes: But as I understand it, Mr Rudd’s motion to get rid of the ban on new uranium mines if Labor wins government will also include provisions for more safeguards?
Anthony Albanese: It will, as I understand it, include provisions for safeguards, but let’s get the safeguards there in place first. Let’s also get in place a regime which looks after the issue of nuclear waste. Just a couple of weeks ago even Arnold Schwarzenegger, the ‘Governator’, was warning that the nuclear reactors do create waste and it’s just another form of pollution and that it is not a solution to climate change. And the fact is we don’t have, anywhere in the world, a nuclear waste repository that’s functioning. Yukka Mountain was going to be the solution in the United States and 7 billion dollars of taxpayer’s funds later all they’ve got is an entrance road because they’ve found that geological changes that have occurred and a threat to the watertable below the mountain in Nevada means that environmentally it won’t proceed. So until such time as we do have a nuclear non-proliferation regime which is effective and a resolution to the issue of nuclear waste, I don’t believe that we should be expanding new uranium mines.
Laurie Oakes: I’ve seen a letter that Queensland Labor Premier Peter Beattie has written to the state secretary of the AMWU and in that letter Peter Beattie says – should the ALP conference resolution give discretion to individual state governments to determine whether mining should occur, then Queensland will maintain its current policy, in other words, no our uranium mining. So, is Peter Beattie going to back you against Kevin Rudd at the conference?
Anthony Albanese: No, what Peter Beattie is saying is that Queensland has its own policy of no uranium mines as does Western Australia and the Premier Alan Carpenter has made his position clear that as long as he is Premier there won’t be uranium mining in Western Australia.
Laurie Oakes: So those two premiers will look pretty stupid if they don’t back you at the national conference, won’t they?
Anthony Albanese: Well that’s up to them what position they take and they’ll be determining that. But what they’re saying is that for their states, uranium mining won’t proceed. So effectively what we are having is a debate at the conference about South Australian mines because of course if the Commonwealth was fair dinkum and there was this great demand for new uranium mines, they could override the Northern Territory government as they have on numerous other occasions.
Laurie Oakes: So it is just about South Australia. So that’s obviously why premier Mike Rann I think is likely to second Kevin Rudd’s motion at the conference, [or] certainly support him strongly. Do you think that Mr Rann is justified in doing that given the importance of the uranium industry to South Australia?
Anthony Albanese: Well he makes his own decisions but Premier Rann of course acknowledged the issue of nuclear waste when he was the first State Premier to pass special legislation banning the storage of nuclear waste in South Australia. So what I’m saying is, let’s have a commonsense approach to this. Let’s have a pragmatic approach. Labor is at our best when we put principle together with commonsense and pragmatism. If people say they want to expand uranium mining with these safeguards, let’s put the safeguards in place first, let’s see whether that’s achievable or not before we move to the next step of approving new mines in government.
Laurie Oakes: So you’ll go all-out to beat your leader despite the electoral consequences?
Anthony Albanese: I’ll go all out to put forward the position which I think has the overwhelming support of the Labor Party membership. There have been two branches in the whole nation, I think, that haven’t supported the existing policy.
In terms of electoral politics, I just think it is beyond belief to argue that there are people out there watching this in marginal seats today, who voted for John Howard at recent elections, who’ll say – I’ll change my vote to Labor if only they change their policy on no new uranium mines. I just think that’s an absurd proposition.
I think there is a great deal of opposition to the further involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle. Labor is united in our opposition to a domestic nuclear industry, and I think that the Prime Minister has indeed made a big mistake. I mean on Friday, he actually backed up Ziggy Switkowski’s statement that Lucas Heights, which is important as a medical research facility, there’s no contention there, but argued that it was one of the three iconic sites of Sydney along with the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. I mean, not Bondi Beach, not The Rocks, not the Blue Mountains. It just shows that the Prime Minister really has I think lost the plot with his nuclear fantasies that he is intent on pursuing.
Laurie Oakes: What about other issues, do you expect industrial relations to cause a blow up at the conference?
Anthony Albanese: Well I think the Labor Party is very united that we need a new balance in industrial relations. We need a balance that restores fairness. I see that down at Tristar in my electorate of Marrickville, where people have to clock on every morning, there’s no work for them to do, but they’re being strung along day after day for almost a year now.
Laurie Oakes: But answer my question, is there going to be a row over it at the conference?
Anthony Albanese: Well, we’ll wait and see what the discussion produces.
Laurie Oakes: Because it looks as though the row we’ve heard so far has been very subdued and now Doug Cameron has backed off. It is a dodgy row isn’t it, to make it look as though Labor has taken an independent stand against the unions?
Anthony Albanese: Look, there is absolute unity within the Labor movement that we need to restore a fair balance in industrial relations, and that’s not just within the Labor movement but out there in the community. In the recent state election in New South Wales, it was raised with me every single day.
Laurie Oakes: Now Greg Combet, the ACTU secretary says that Labor should get its whole industrial relations policy out at the conference. Is he entitled to demand that, given the trade union movement’s influence over the Labor Party?
Anthony Albanese: Well people are entitled to put forward their views, but what we know is that the Labor Party conference will set the platform. That’s essentially the principles, and the policy of the implementation is left to the Labor Party caucus. We’ve already seen a great deal of detail from Kevin Rudd in his speech to the National Press Club just this week.
Laurie Oakes: The RSL says that under Work Choices, some employees on AWAs are being forced to work on Anzac Day against their will. Now, has the Labor Party seen any evidence that this is so?
Anthony Albanese: Well I haven’t, but it’s certainly is the case that what WorkChoices does is take away the ability of individual employees to bargain fairly, and we see that in the workplace every day. What is occurring is, I think, that Australians know that the balance has shifted too far and what they want is a system that treats people fairly, that rewards the overwhelming majority of employers who are good employers, but also employees.
Laurie Oakes: You’re the Shadow Minister in charge of water – given the crisis on the Murray River now, will you urge the Victorian Government to sign up to John Howard’s 10 billion dollar plan for the Murray-Darling basin?
Anthony Albanese: Well we’re very supportive of the approach that says there should be a national government control over the Murray-Darling basin. It doesn’t make sense to have the number of jurisdictions that are there and we support the streamlining.
But the Victorian Government of course isn’t alone in calling for further detail of the Prime Minister’s plan. Indeed, the [federal] government’s senior economic adviser, Treasury Secretary Ken Henry, said exactly the same thing, as have the National Farmers’ Federation, as have irrigators, so I think what we’d call for is for the Federal Government to sit down with the Victorian Government to get that detail out.
I mean, it is quite extraordinary that you’ve had a 10 billion dollar plan announced after 11 years of inaction and complacency on climate change and the water crisis, and still you’ve got no funding detail, you’ve got no time lines and there’s questions to be asked about the governance arrangements.
So we would call upon both the Commonwealth and the state government of Victoria to come to terms with the disagreements that are there. We want to see a streamlining of procedures.
Laurie Oakes: Mr Albanese, we’re out of time. We thank you.
Anthony Albanese: Good to talk to you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.