Subjects: Election result; Leadership of the Australian Labor Party.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: And, welcome to Richo for this week. I must say I walked into the tally room the other night hopeful of a Labor victory, probably expecting a Labor victory. I wasn’t certain, but I was pretty hopeful. I thought, ‘This is our time’. But the power of prayer apparently was too good for us. Scott Morrison just, I think, thumped us. He did really, really well. So my congratulations go to Scott. If we’re going to get beaten, I like to get beaten by a good bloke and I like him, despite his support for the Sharks. He’s not a bad bloke. And I think it’s good to have an honourable man leading you no matter, no matter who it is. And so I wish him well. I spare a thought for Bill Shorten. Worked hard but you know, you get rejected, and your career fundamentally ends. This is a brutal business, a really brutal business. And I have on my right a man called Anthony Albanese, who’s about to take up the cudgels in this race and become Labor leader. And in three years time hopefully become Australia’s Prime Minister. Welcome to the show, Albo.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks for having me on, Graham.
RICHARDSON: I’m should have just called you Anthony. I should … there should be some respect there. I mean, you’re our leader now.
ALBANESE: Albo’s fine, mate.
RICHARDSON: Albo’s fine, is it? Good. Now, how do you approach it? We’ve got … the Labor Party’s been rejected a couple of times in a row.
RICHARDSON: They like Scott Morrison. There’s no doubt about that. I think he’s proven that. He outdid the polls. The polls have lost a lost of their clout, I think, from now on. So how do you unseat a bloke, because there’s a lot of differences between you and Scott? You’re not exactly the same guys.
ALBANESE: We’re certainly not. I mean the first thing that we have to do is acknowledge our defeat and sometimes that can be hard for people, to look for excuses and, it was the media’s fault or was someone else’s fault. We’ve got to accept responsibility collectively and myself included in that, for the policies that we put forward in the campaign that we ran simply weren’t good enough. So it’s no good worrying about the ref’s decision. The scoreboard’s up there and we lost. We got one in three votes of Australians and we need to lift that. That needs to really have a four in front, rather than a thirty three is what we should be aiming for.
RICHARDSON: The primary vote was pretty terrible.
ALBANESE: It was a terrible primary vote. And of course in some States, it was worse than one in three. In Queensland, our primary vote had a two in front of it and that simply isn’t good enough, so…
RICHARDSON: Queensland’s always a problem for the Labor Party.
ALBANESE: Federally …
RICHARDSON: Every election, somebody has a story about why Labor didn’t do well in Queensland this time.
ALBANESE: But what the about State results, with Annastacia Palaszczuk’s government, with Anna Bligh, Peter Beattie, Wayne Goss? They’ve all led Labor governments in recent periods, relatively recent periods in Queensland, so it’s not like they’re not prepared to ever vote Labor. So we need to have a good look at it. We need to look at other areas where we didn’t do well – Western Australia. Our vote there remains dismally low and if you compare that with the efforts of the McGowan Government, again it shows that people in the West are prepared to vote Labor and give us a go, if it’s a program they believe in.
RICHARDSON: But not federally. I mean it seems to me in Western Australia it’s a ‘gunna’ State. It’s always going to vote Labor. It just doesn’t get around to it and it seems to me federally, time and time again Labor looks to the Western Australians, especially when things are going bad early in the night, there’s only Western Australia to come …
ALBANESE: You hope.
RICHARDSON: You want miracles from the West.
ALBANESE: We were looking for a miracle from the West on Saturday night. Look one of the things, I think, is that Federal Government, when people look at it, it’s about the economy. So we need to acknowledge, I think, that we need to explain our position much better of how we’ll create wealth, not just how we’ll share wealth, because unless you growing the pie, then sharing it becomes a case of diminishing returns. And we have, I think, there are a range of policies that we took to the election that were very positive about job creation, but we had so many messages out there, I don’t think it really cut through. What Scott Morrison did was a very effective campaign. I thought, I remember the first time I heard him talking about a three letter slogan T-A-X, I thought, oh oh, that’s effective, that’ll cut through and stick with people. And we had a bold program because we wanted to do big things in health in education and infrastructure. Clearly though, we got some things wrong. We’ll need to examine all of those policies. We’ll need to examine all of the campaign. We need to do it in a way which doesn’t point any fingers at anyone, which says all of us are responsible. You know I’m a senior member of the Labor Party, so we’re all responsible for the outcome.
RICHARDSON: What I’d say to you on that score though, is that it seems to me you’ve made a lot of enemies in the over 60’s community. It’s way beyond the normal divide of Australian politics. Labor’s doing very poorly with them. How do you address that?
ALBANESE: Well, one of the things that we clearly should have thought through in more detail was the impact of the dividend changes. Many people were saying to me that they only got two or three thousand dollars, but that two and three thousand dollars was the difference of how they paid their rates, how they went for an overseas holiday or a holiday domestically up the coast at the end of the year. It made a big difference to them and they’d factored that into their retirement. And because of that, there was a view somehow that we were saying they’d done something wrong. So it became not just about the economics, it became about the morality of what they’d done. And they’d done nothing wrong, in terms of they’d complied with the rules. We were proposing to change the rules and that had a big backlash and members, many members – I spoke to Susan Templeman, and in the last couple of days; she was telling people about that and we didn’t respond really appropriately about that. There are a range of things we could have considered. I understand the motivation for it. The amount of money that we’re giving to people who aren’t paying any tax, through this measure is around about, is approaching $6 billion pretty soon. Now that’s more money than we give to public schools. So it’s a significant impact. I understand why we were motivated to look for revenue so that we could make that social expenditure, in particular that we wanted to do. But it had an impact on people that just made them pretty angry at us and they expressed that anger on Saturday.
RICHARDSON: Yeah, they expressed that in the ballot box. When you look at, across the board, industrial relations did not seem to me to play the kind of role that a lot of people expected it to do. It was a relatively minor issue on Saturday, wasn’t it?
ALBANESE: It was, and we had it again there, we need to examine why it is that when you talk to people about issues like penalty rates, we want to talk about the impact in outer suburbs and in regional areas. Taking people’s penalty rates away is a big hit.
RICHARDSON: Really big.
ALBANESE: And you know, it’s what people need to survive on. And we didn’t hit that home strongly enough. We didn’t, I don’t think, you know and once again, I’m not blaming anyone else for this; I was one of the people travelling around the country talking about these issues. But penalty rates and the unfairness. There’s a great deal of concern out there in the community about the casualisation of work, about the fact that real wages aren’t increasing, about the pressures that are on, in terms of living standards. We know that there’s massive underemployment, that is people can’t get the number of hours that they want to put food on the table for their family and to pay for the essentials of life. Now there was a real opportunity. I thought it would be much much bigger and much more effective. We had the union movement working very strongly on those issues and campaigning strongly. I think we got the fundamentals of our IR policy right. And the fact that the Coalition couldn’t attack them, and didn’t attack them, reinforces that. So I think that that idea of fairness in the workplace and ‘Changing the Rules’ was the slogan. I’m not sure though that the people got through exactly what that mean in terms that … that balance is a bit out of whack between workers and employers. And quite clearly though, it didn’t have the electoral impact which we were hoping it would.
RICHARDSON: Now, I looked around on Saturday night for comfort and I wasn’t finding much.
RICHARDSON: I wasn’t finding much. Yes, Gilmore, but there wasn’t much around and what surprised me was that Labor didn’t really seem to do well anywhere. You know, Victoria was supposed to deliver us yet more, even though it’s already, one would have thought, pretty strong Labor state. You know, you looked around, our vote just wasn’t going anywhere, anywhere, was it?
ALBANESE: I was on one of the programs too, Graham, on a commercial network – we won’t give them a free ad – on Saturday night, and it was pretty difficult, sitting there and getting the results through. And you know things are going bad, I’ll say this to you. I’m sure that you had people feeding you results.
ALBANESE: Mine were coming from some of the central campaigns. You know things are going bad when your phone stops getting the messages and the numbers through.
RICHARDSON: It’s funny you said that.
ALBANESE: And that’s what happened.
RICHARDSON: Because around about 8 o’clock, my phone just stopped ringing very much. It rang, but not often, whereas on other election nights, it drives you mad trying to keep up with it. So, I mean, obviously people knew.
ALBANESE: It was a tough night. And what, you know one of the things that motivates me is I care very much about those very fine people who have lost their seats. You know, Susan Lamb and Cathy O’Toole and Justine Keay, and potentially other candidates who were running, expecting to win. But I also, in terms of, more important, I think perhaps, is that those people who are just the volunteers who give up months of their time ringing people, knocking on doors, putting things in letterboxes, and they all expect us to win. So it was quite devastating, and a number of people, when I got to my party at Petersham RSL, there were some people there who were pretty shattered, and we, the Parliamentary Labor Party, let them down.
RICHARDSON: Yeah, it’s funny because I’ve had a few people ring me in last few days who are still shattered. There are a lot of Labor people who…
ALBANESE: There sure are.
RICHARDSON: I think it’s one of those times when you think you’re going to win, especially if you’re a punter out there and it doesn’t happen. It gets very disappointing and obviously we’ve get a lot of people in the Labor movement who are out there, always trying to urge you on, and to barrack for you.
ALBANESE: Well, Graham, of course in, you know, in our lifetimes, post-war period, we’ve only done it three times. ‘72, ‘83 and 2007. So it doesn’t happen very often that Labor goes from Opposition into Government, and I’m perhaps crazy brave enough to suggest that …
RICHARDSON: What can you do that’s different, that will make you the fourth person?
ALBANESE: Well, I think one of the things are that I have hopefully, Graham. You’ve seen me in a number of environments. Not just in the cities, but up in Townsville.
RICHARDSON: I have. I’ve liked you in some, and I haven’t been too keen on you in others, but there you go.
ALBANESE: But I’ll always have a crack.
RICHARDSON: That’s right. You always do.
ALBANESE: That’s one of the things that I’ll do. Scott Morrison will know he’s in a Parliament, if I’m leader of the Opposition, I will hold the Government to account vigorously. I’ll do it in a way that’s professional, but in a way that doesn’t let him off the hook. I will pursue, as well, with the Caucus, a policy agenda. We have to really look, examine what we’re doing. One of the things that gives me hope, I’ve got to say, is that I look at our side and our team, and I look at the team opposite. I don’t know how they fill the Cabinet. They have Cabinet Ministers there who they had to hide during the election campaign. Now surely they can’t reappoint people like Melissa Price and others who were incapable of doing a doorstop. Well, we’ll wait and see. But they will have trouble surviving the scrutiny that they’ll be put under. This Government now, Scott Morrison’s been elected. He has a team to put together. I think that will be very difficult for him. We have a really talented group of people across the board. On the frontbench but also on the backbench and some of those will no doubt step forward over a period of time. I think the people that we’ve elected at the previous couple of elections have been outstanding. Some of them, those have stepped up already but others will continue to progress through the ranks and get more prominence.
RICHARDSON: Tell me, when do you think of ways forward, of how you set the Labor Party up to do better, some of the obvious weaknesses that we’ve had, some of the policies that did us harm. I don’t know whether you know how much you love them or not, but like the franking credits stuff and the negative gearing stuff. I just, it’s almost like you’re determined not to win when you produce policies like this, because they scare people. You frighten the horses, you don’t do so well. How do you stop sometimes in the Labor Party, there’s something that’s very popular with the Party faithful, but nonetheless is not real popular with the rest of the electorate? How do you balance that?
ALBANESE: Well, that is a great challenge but it’s one I think that, with proper reflection and proper structures, should be addressed. Every time there’s a policy, the examination should be what’s the impact? What’s the downside, not just what’s the upside. And you need to do that. We need also, I think, to go out; part of the process that will happen from now is going out there and listening, not just to people who are our Party members but, important that we do listen to them, but also to people who didn’t vote for us, who aren’t the faithful, but who are potentially ours. So we need to get those people. Either get them to return, get them back or get them for the first time.
RICHARDSON: I notice you’ve talked about a listening tour.
ALBANESE: Well, I’m making the point there that people in politics were often busy talking. Often we’ve got to stop to listen. To listen to what they’re saying because unless you do, you get to listen on election night. We did some listening Saturday night. And there was some pretty clear messages coming through. And the message was that we weren’t good enough as a team. And the tragedy of that, that is I think that, person for person; and part of what government as you know, Graham, part of it’s about the personnel and their capacity to be good Ministers; our Ministerial team, I think, would have been outstanding. An outstanding Cabinet, outstanding junior Ministers, outstanding people coming through and putting pressure on people to perform. And I think it would have been a very good government if we had have been elected. We didn’t get there but some of the talent and the capacity remains. And what I want to do is to harness that capacity. And one of the things that I think I can do, and I’ve been prepared to do for a long period of time, is to stand up and say often, against a majority of my own faction or my own party and say what I think, regardless of whether people are going to pat me on the back over it, and I’ll continue to do that. One of my themes, if you like, of my candidacy for the leadership, is ‘what you see is what you get’. I think I’m a pretty common-sense person. I get around, I talk to a lot of people and I listen to a lot of people as well.
RICHARDSON: Yeah, well I think you are all of those things and, God knows we’ll need you to be, because this is not an easy task. I mean lifting Labor up from the floor and beating Morrison, who’s now had a few wins in a row, and you know is cock a hoop, and is obviously popular. Now, you know the image of, that you see of him, is the Shark’s cap at the football. You’ve obviously, you’re a South Sydney supporter, so you’re another one who supports them but he’s got that sort of homespun image that people just seem to like. How do you crack …?
ALBANESE: Well, I’ll give you a footy analogy, Graham, which you won’t mind. I was on the Souths board when we got kicked out of the comp. That, let me tell you, people were as devastated by that decision as Labor faithful were on Saturday night. There were tears.
RICHARDSON: I remember, yeah.
ALBANESE: It was a shocker. Now, I could have at that time, and those of us who are directors of the club said, ‘Well this is too hard’. We lost and we’re out. We didn’t. We went out there. We picked ourselves up. We organised for a hundred thousand people to march in the streets. We mobilised support. We engaged community. We had a clear message as well, about football being about identity and who people are, and belonging to a community. It wasn’t just about profit.
RICHARDSON: I remember the marches and things, and all the people.
ALBANESE: We had a good message and we articulated it. We did it strongly. We brought people with us. We negotiated in the end with people who were not on our side in the dispute and we got back. We’re now on top of the comp. The fact is that if you …
RICHARDSON: You had to say that, didn’t you.
ALBANESE: I just had to get that in, Graham.
RICHARDSON: I can see that.
ALBANESE: You know, if you look at my life it’s one of, you know, overcoming odds. That was one of the times where my involvement overcame odds. I don’t think that leading the Labor Party back into Government will be easy. It’s a big challenge but it’s one that I’m up for, and I hope that I receive the support of the Caucus and of the Party to do it.
RICHARDSON: Well mate, you’ll certainly get that. There is a grab of Chris Bowen that in my ear, that everyone tells me we’ve got to watch. Let’s have a look.
CHRIS BOWEN: I also wanted to ensure, through the leadership process, that the Party urgently deals with the matter of people of faith in our community not feeling that the Labor Party talks to them. I’ve noticed, as I’ve been around during election campaign, and even in the days since as people have stopped me in the street to wish me the best in the leadership ballot, or just stop to talk about what happened the election, how often it has been raised with me that people of faith no longer feel that progressive politics cares about them. These are people with a social conscience who want to be included in the progressive movement. We need to tackle this urgently.
RICHARDSON: People of faith. What do you say to that?
ALBANESE: What I say to that is that people of faith need to be respected. Chris Bowen’s right. And that’s one of the reasons why there’s no one in the Parliament, who has been a stronger supporter of marriage equality than I was, over a longer period of time. I spoke in my first speech about removing discrimination on the basis of someone’s sexuality, along with race and gender and other issues. And that’s why, even though that was my position, I respected people who disagreed with me, and in particular I supported a conscience vote. I did it strongly. There weren’t too many of my close friends were doing that. I did it publicly, consistently, throughout national executive, national conferences and to our public forums. And I did that because you shouldn’t put someone in a position of choosing between the faith that they genuinely hold, and the love that they have for the Labor Party. And people felt as though, if we had have had a binding decision there, what we would have been saying is that if you don’t support marriage equality, you don’t have a place in the Labor Party. And literally in terms of, under our rules, it would have meant that for Parliamentarians. So I very strongly held that position. I did it consistently, and that’s what drove me. I’m very close to, particularly the communities, like the Greek Orthodox community, the Maronite Christian community in my electorate, the Islamic community. I have a big Muslim Alawite population. And all of those were saying to me about this as an issue, and one of the things I’ve found is that if you treat people with respect, they’ll respect the view that you have, even if they don’t agree with it. So marriage equality was an example of that. And you know I’ve been very consistent. I’m a strong…
RICHARDSON: I’ve got to give you consistency on it. How is the Labor Party going to be different under Anthony Albanese?
ALBANESE: I think you’ll find it’s emphasising far more basic issues if you like, if you want a term of that way. Jobs. How we get the economy to grow. How you engage in the future as well. What’s the future look like, in terms of employment? What’s the impact of new technology? How do we transition in a way that helps working people. See, you can’t stop change. What government can do, though, is manage change in the interests of people and bring people with you, because people can be quite scared by change. But you’ve got to be prepared to engage with them, and talk with them and come up with policies that they can relate to. I mean, I doubt whether many people out there had heard of…I’m sure some had, if they were directly involved, but imputation, the idea that imputation of dividends would be a major electoral issue in Australia is not one that many people would have seen coming.
RICHARDSON: I think ten years ago if you had said that, I’ve had told you you were mad. Look, I’ve got to leave it there but I’m looking at Labor’s future right now and I wish you the very best. It’s no great secret I might be a Labor supporter, and I’d have to say, Anthony, I’m delighted that you’re the one who’s going to take up the cudgels. I think you’ve earned it. I think you’ll be a terrific leader. You have my absolute support, whatever I can do for you, you let me know.
ALBANESE: Thank you, mate.
RICHARDSON: Good on you, Anthony Albanese.