SUBJECTS: Bushfires; coal exporting; Queensland; drought; Murray-Darling Basin plan; fake news on Facebook and other social media.
STEVE PRICE, HOST: Thanks for your time Mr Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning, Steve. Good to talk to you.
PRICE: It’s nice to talk to you again. Can I just start by asking about the bushfires? We are heading for a day with low 40s forecasted for parts of Queensland and New South Wales tomorrow. What are you saying to people trying to link the so-called Government inaction on climate change and these bushfires?
ALBANESE: Look, what I say is that the immediate priority needs to be to look after peoples’ safety and to make sure that we all listen to those emergency warnings. We need to make sure to protect property to the extent that we can. The truth is that the scientists did warn us that climate change would lead to a longer bushfire season and more intensity in it. You can’t draw any specific extreme weather event and say that is because of climate change but what you can point towards is the trend. And quite clearly that the trends are what scientists told us what they would be. But the priority has to be looking after people at the moment.
PRICE: Well stopping the export of coal as the Greens would like us have to do is not going to stop us having bushfires is it?
ALBANESE: Look, one of the points that I make as well is that the demand for coal and our coal exports are demand-driven. That is that places in the world want to buy our product, whether it’s coal, or iron ore, or copper, or other products. It is not something that is driven by the fact of the export; it is the other way around. And if we were to stop exporting coal tomorrow, then that would just lead to a displacement with more coal being bought from all the places in the world; South America, Indonesia, a range of countries, we are not unique in having coal assets. And that would likely lead to an actual increase in global emissions because much of our coal is much better quality than is available from the alternatives. So, we need to be sensible about the way we examine this. We do need to reduce our use of fossil fuels around the world. That’s something that is happening here on Australia, of course. I think, very clearly, it is obvious to all that there won’t be a new coal-fired power station built in Australia.
PRICE: Well, there should be.
ALBANESE: Well, there won’t be because the market is indicating that just won’t happen. There’s nothing stopping it at all except for the economics. And the economics just don’t stack up compared to the other alternatives that are there.
PRICE: Right or wrongly, Labor was seen during the last Federal Election to demonise coal and it always seemed a very odd place for your Party to be in, given you represent mine workers in Queensland. You’re going there today or this week, what sort of reaction do you think you are going to get given how badly you went in Queensland in that poll in May?
ALBANESE: Look, I have always had a positive reaction in Queensland.
PRICE: Bill Shorten didn’t.
ALBANESE: Well, I am someone who what you see is what you get, as you know Steve. I say it as I see it. And I will be pleased to talk to workers from across industries. I fly to Barcaldine tomorrow, the place where the Labor Party was formed. And I will be going to Emerald; I have a meeting there tomorrow. I am going to Rockhampton and Hervey Bay and Bundaberg and all those wonderful towns. Maryborough, to look at rail manufacturing and what’s happening there. I’m going to go to where the bushfires have had an impact down the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. And I enjoy talking to people whether it’s in a pub, in a club or in a worksite. And I very much look forward to not just talking but listening as well.
PRICE: Well, the other topic that will come out is the drought. Is the Morrison Government doing enough for the farmers? I mean, Alan on this program talks constantly about the fact that the dollars don’t seem to be getting to where they need to get.
ALBANESE: I think Alan is absolutely right on those issues. We haven’t had a drought strategy put together under this Government. You have various piecemeal announcements but there’s not a comprehensive plan. There was a plan in place when we lost Government. And immediately COAG, the meeting that coordinates that activity between the Commonwealth and the state, that body was gotten rid of. And our farmers are really, really struggling. And we need to do much better than we have done to this point.
PRICE: What would you do differently?
ALBANESE: Well, one thing I would do is have much better coordination between the different levels of government. And in this area, I think the level of government that knows more of what’s going on than any other, I say this as a former Commonwealth Minister for Local Government, is local government. It is the people on the grounds that really know what is going on. The Government has been very complacent on this for far too long. I’m still waiting to see what the Drought Envoy, Barnaby Joyce, contributed to the debate. It’s one thing to give titles to people but there hasn’t been anything to come out of that. We have had a report from the Drought Coordinator that we haven’t even seen which is pretty counter-productive in my view. I have travelled to places like Stanthorpe in Queensland and parts of NSW. The farmers are really struggling and they need our support. One of the things about this great country is that when people do need assistance, Australians will put their hands in their pockets and put their hands up to provide that assistance.
PRICE: We are headed for a state brawl over the Murray-Darling Basin plan. Does Labor support the plan as it exists now?
ALBANESE: We support the plan; you need a coordinated strategy for water.
PRICE: Well, the New South Wales National Party says we should rip it up.
ALBANESE: Well, the New South Wales National Party is all over the shop, frankly. They make some statements to get a headline but you have to ask about what they are doing about it. Certainly, some of the water allocation has been really problematic whereby you have huge amounts of money paid for water that doesn’t exist. And I do think we need to examine those issues as well.
PRICE: Well you’ve got people who own water rights who don’t own any real estate, any land, and any farming property.
ALBANESE: That’s right. And we have raised concerns about that. We have raised concerns as well about speculators trying to engage in water buying like it’s a game of monopoly. This is not a game. It affects peoples’ livelihoods. This affects peoples’ very existence on the land as well as those towns in regional Australia that are in danger of running out of water, literally. This is a major issue and the Government has again been really complacent, as if they had won the election in May and has engaged in a victory lap ever since.
PRICE: Just a couple of other quick things. You had a crack at Facebook yesterday, congratulations on doing that. I have had an online story on Facebook connect me with an erectile dysfunction product. I had some trolls that were trolling me online on the weekend calling me a misogynist. You’ve had fake news posted about you, what can you do about it?
ALBANESE: Well, what you do is regulate properly. I did the same thing in public that I said in private, directly. I met with the Vice President of Facebook; he came to see me a few weeks ago from Washington DC. And there I just frankly told him that his response wasn’t good enough. This idea that you can put up a post, and there’s been a range of posts affecting me, one of them was essentially a post that was defending the right to protest and it was turned into something about the family court which had nothing to do with the original post. They left the authorisation on it so it looked like it was authorised by me, a political statement. And they regarded that as not being against community guidelines when we raised the issue with them. Funnily enough, after I gave my speech on Saturday, and it appeared in the papers in advance, they were on the phone to my office offering to do something. The fact is the average Australian can’t have the response that you and I, frankly, can have, you as a public broadcaster and myself as someone in the public as well. This thing of fake news, whereby something can appear to be from someone and it is just not, if it were in a newspaper, or if you did it on radio and just said something outrageous like, ‘Anthony Albanese supports Manly’, there could be action taken.
PRICE: Yes there could be. It is called defamation, isn’t it?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. But as it is, you have no recourse. And this can go to hundreds of thousands of people. And it is adding to, and this is the important point that I made, it is adding to a circumstance in our political discussion whereby people are more and more polarised, they are more and more angry, they are more and more talking in silos and getting outraged on, sometimes, things that aren’t even real. And that doesn’t help us advance as a country. As you know Steve, I have always been prepared to debate my views. I think climate change is real. I think we need to act on it. You and I would have different views on that. But, let’s talk about it. Let’s respect each other’s’ views. And this sort of polarisation, driven by social media, is really unhealthy and is undermining our democracy and our capacity to come up with solutions to take the country forward together.
PRICE: Just finally, you must have great sympathy for Rosslyn Dillon, Bob Hawke’s youngest child, with these allegations that are now going to go before the courts.
ALBANESE: These are matters that are before the courts so it is inappropriate for me to comment on any specifics of the allegations which are there. Suffice to say that in general terms, where there is an assault by any person to another, it should be reported and action should be taken.
PRICE: Thanks very much for your time and good luck on your trip to Queensland.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Steve