SUBJECTS: Christmas songs; Adani; coal jobs; wages; Bradfield two; climate change; drought.
LAURIE ATLAS: Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese, is on the line. Hello.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: How are you going? Do you want to know mine?
ATLAS: Yes, I do. What’s your favourite Christmas song?
ALBANESE: Well, here’s a different one, it’s not really my favourite but it’s still something a bit different: Paul Kelly’s ‘How to Make Gravy.’
ATLAS: Oh man, a man after my own heart. That is my favourite Christmas song.
ALBANESE: It is a great, great song about being alone at Christmas and life gets stale. He’s a great (inaudible) Paul Kelly and that is one of his best.
ATLAS: I’m led to believe, like Richard Clapton’s ‘Best Years of our Lives’, that ‘How to Make Gravy’ is the most favourite song of Paul Kelly fans. They all love it.
ALBANESE: Yes that doesn’t surprise me. I’ve seen him do it live quite a few times as well and the audience certainly respond very positively when he does. It’s quite a sad song, you know, a bloke in jail and that’s what he’s thinking about: being without his family at Christmas time. It can be a tough time for a lot of people, Christmas.
This year there’s a wonderful fellow, Reverend Bill Crews, who runs the Loaves and Fishes Restaurant in my electorate, which basically feeds the homeless and the destitute, people who are out of luck. Everyone’s welcome and this year I’m going to go and help him at Christmas lunch time because I think that at a time like this, a time when families gather, but it also can be a pretty tough time for people.
ATLAS: Yes, it can be. And it’s only 12-15 days away.
ALBANESE: It is. Santa’s almost getting ready to leave (inaudible).
ATLAS: Absolutely. I have got to tell you, Mr Albanese, I put it out there, what was the question most people wanted me to ask you. And, look, I’m not trying to catch you out, but I got ten back on Facebook in an hour and they all just wanted you to say three words: I support Adani. Can you say it?
ALBANESE: Mate, that’s Matt Canavan under ten dodgy names. Fair dinkum. This bloke every day spent all his time instead of governing and acting like a Minister, ringing journalists. I did a press conference earlier on in Rocky and I got a question that was about live exports, I got one that was bizarrely about who was invited – why didn’t I invite every state member in the region – it was all a bit ridiculous that the Government spent so much time doing that. Look, Adani has been approved. It’s been approved.
ATLAS: It’s all done.
ALBANESE: It’s been through all the (inaudible) approvals. The question is, for Adani actually, why hasn’t it met its own deadlines? It should get on with it. People want to see jobs created and that’s because (inaudible). The question I guess for Mr Canavan as well is what are you doing about the casualisation of people who work in the mines? We’re seeing in some places a majority of workers being put on labour hire contracts, they’re being paid 40 per cent less than people who do the same job, right next to them, without getting sick leave, without any annual leave.
This is a crisis and when the union took a company to court recently, it got ruled, one of the labour hire companies, it got ruled in the Federal Court that the way that they had declared people to be permanent casuals wasn’t lawful and the company is appealing that decision and the Federal Government is backing the company, not the workers. These are the sorts of issues that are being raised with me when I spoke to mine workers in Emerald last night.
ATLAS: It’s an interesting thing isn’t it because I know you were in Parliament back when the last mining boom was on and I remember seeing that 60 Minutes special and admittedly this was up north of Western Australia, but I’m sure that it was the same in Queensland and there were people who were talking about the fact that they were driving just these normal front-end loaders and they were getting about $300,000 to do it and it was good times. Good times for everybody. That was never going to be sustainable, was it? It just didn’t look sustainable. It looked ridiculous to me.
ALBANESE: The difference is you have some miners, that I’ve spoken about, where if you’re a permanent employee you get $160,000 a year, but they work next to people working on labour hire that were getting $114,000 a year. Now that’s just not fair. And that’s before you get into the issue of the difference in terms of leave, conditions and job security – all of those as well. Now this is a major issue that has been raised with me. It was raised with me before the election. It’s been raised with me here in Central Queensland again. The lack of security that’s there is worrying people and the current Federal Government is doing nothing about it overall. People who work next to each other should be paid the same.
And you might remember before the election, there was legislation introduced into the Parliament by the Government but it didn’t go anywhere, they didn’t get through before we went to the election. And guess what, that legislation hasn’t come back, hasn’t been passed still. And it is typical of the Government who had their anti-union legislation brought into the Reps, lost in the Senate, they’ve brought it all back again last Thursday on the last day, pushed it through without a single speaker. And this says a lot about their priorities.
Workers are really worried about their wages. But the other thing is that the Reserve Bank is worried as well because it’s holding back the entire economy. If you paid workers who live in Rocky 50 per cent less, that’s less economic activity in the pubs, in the restaurants, in the clothes shop, in retail. It has an impact on the economy.
And the Reserve Bank, just a couple of weeks ago, the Governor said that the low wages were going to be perhaps the new norm. And low wages growth shouldn’t be the new norm. We want to grow the economy, not so that a few people can get rich but so the overwhelmingly majority of people can get ahead.
ATLAS: Yeah, what I heard was essentially outside of the public service, most people, most people have not had a pay raise since 2013.
ALBANESE: Yes, it’s incredible. And guess what happened in 2013, Laurie, you could work this out, you know. When the Government changed, the whole attitude changed. And the Coalition are presiding over, you know, a circumstance whereby people are really struggling. They don’t have a plan for wages, they don’t have a plan to grow the economy, they don’t have an energy policy, all they have is sitting around, playing their (inaudible) and play games with issues when they should be, they should be governing.
It’s like they’re the Opposition in exile sitting on the Government benches. They have power and they should be using it for the benefit of people, not just engaging in a never-ending history (inaudible) around Australia. And there’s no response to the bushfires, either at a national level. I just find it quite extraordinary.
ATLAS: I suppose most people while you’ve been in central Queensland are talking about water, they’re talking about the drought. We all know that there would be a way, whether it’s viable or not is the interesting thing, but we all know there would be a way to drought-proof certainly Queensland and maybe even the country by harnessing that water that falls up in the north of Queensland. Do you guys have a plan for it? Is the Deb Frecklington, Leader of the Opposition, Bradfield Two, something you’d support? Would you support more dams?
ALBANESE: Well look Bradfield is sort of occasionally, is sort of something that comes out occasionally but never, never goes anywhere. I think that technology and a range of factors that have moved on since Bradfield has (inaudible) to develop (inaudible) responsible for, not least the Harbour Bridge in my city of Sydney but I’m yet to see (inaudible) a plan for water, a comprehensive plan. This Government hasn’t built a dam anywhere since they’ve been in office and they are in the seventh year.
We support them (inaudible) when we were in government and proposals need to be looked at that are practical, make a difference and if we do that develop solutions. We had a range of (inaudible). We had a policy on that. And the fact that the Government done sometime later. But we do address. It certainly has been raised. The drought is devastating.
ATLAS: Yeah, it is unprecedented. I’ve just got to, I’m just losing you a little bit on the line.
ALBANESE: How’s that?
ATLAS: That’s better. They appear to be as well, making the whole way they are trying to help farmers, very, very complicated. Because what I can see is that farmers, farmers don’t need more loans. What they need is two things, they need water and they need feed for their stock so they don’t have to sell their prime breeding stock. Is that how you see it? And are they making it too complicated without getting too political about it?
ALBANESE: Well that certainly is the feedback I’ve had from farmers. I’ve been talking to farmers from Stanthorpe, to Warwick in the south of this state to up here. Last night to people in Rockhampton, today to people in NSW, in Dubbo and on the North Coast and they are really struggling and what they don’t want is to be saddled up with more debt.
ALBANESE: It’s a major issue.
ATLAS: So, why is it so hard to just get feed and water to where it’s needed? Is it just too difficult for bureaucrats to comprehend? What?
ALBANESE: Well, I think it’s a matter of leadership as well. And the drought strategy that should be in place, the national drought strategy hasn’t happened. We’ve had various piecemeal measures. We had a Drought Co-ordinator who has called for his report to be released and no one has seen it and what’s in it. And why do you have these processes and consultations and getting expert advice, if you don’t act on it and no-one gets to see it so you can’t be held to account.
This is a major issue, we had in place through the COAG, the Council of Australian Governments, a process whereby the Commonwealth Ministers would meet with the State Ministers to develop and finalise a plan for drought long term and that was abolished, that particular forum. And that’s a pity because we do need that cooperation across the different levels of government, we need to listen to farmers themselves and what they are saying.
ATLAS: Are you a little bit worried that the state governments generally aren’t doing enough, some are doing more than others? Primarily a lot of this stuff has to be administered if nothing else by state governments?
ALBANESE: Look, it does have to be administered by and large by state governments. But what I’m really worried about is the lack of national leadership. I mean the drought doesn’t, just like bushfires, doesn’t recognise state or local government boundaries.
ALBANESE: And that’s why you need national leadership. Some of these issues, there is no doubt that climate change is having an impact on our environment. It’s drying out the continent and, in parts we haven’t seen before, that’s having an impact of course on bushfires as well. There are parts of tropical rainforests that haven’t been impacted by bushfires and that are currently burning and we need to take our responsibilities seriously there. We have the Government over in the Madrid Conference arguing basically that they should be allowed to do some accounting tricks rather than actually meet our target.
ATLAS: Before I let you go, are you happy to start believing and have confidence in polls again? Because the recent polls said your trust quotient had gone up a little bit, they trust you a bit more than the last leader.
ALBANESE: Well, I hope they do, what you see is what you get with me, as you know Laurie. I’m always happy to talk to you and to make myself a (inaudible)…
ATLAS: I’ve got to tell you, Mr Albanese, with all due respect to the last guy, it’s very refreshing, because he wouldn’t speak to me, he wouldn’t speak to anyone, on radio.
ALBANESE: Well this is my seventh radio interview today…
ATLAS: Good for you.
ALBANESE: I did a full scale press conference; I don’t avoid difficult interviews, either with people on radio. I’ll answer whatever questions you like, I’ll take them on. I do TV shows: I’ve done Insiders twice, 7.30 about four times, three or four times this year I think. And I’m always happy – it’s the way you get match fit, too, Laurie! We have two and a half years till the next election. I want to talk with people and I tell you what, talking on radio is a great way to communicate to people because they are directly hearing your message. So, they might agree with some things, they might disagree with others, and that’s fine. Same as I go on Alan Jones’ program, I go on Neil Mitchell’s.
ALBANESE: People around the country. I have a regular spot on Perth radio. And I’m always happy to talk to you, because through talking to you, I’m talking to your listeners, and every one of them is important.
ATLAS: That’s right, radio was the main medium, I think you obviously remember, because you’ve been in parliament for a while, it was the main medium through which John Howard spoke as Prime Minister and certainly worked for him.
ALBANESE: Oh absolutely, yes, I do it whenever I can. It was interesting, I’ve got to say today a couple of the, I won’t name the stations, but I think I spoke to all of the FM stations around central Queensland today, and we had much more serious discussions than sometimes we get on FM and that says something about the nature of what people’s concerns are about work, about bushfires, about the drought, all of these issues are on people’s minds and people want to discuss them.
ATLAS: Can you feel the divide between city and country more so now than ever before in your time in Parliament?
ALBANESE: Look, I think there are some opportunistic politicians who try to drive that divide. I’m of the view that if chiefly we are saying we have common interests. We have common interests in people being able to work, get good work, good paying jobs, we have a common interest in growing our economy and then having a discussion about distribution, making sure that we share the benefits of that growing economy.
People, regardless of where they live, I find Australians don’t ask for much. What they want is for their kids to have a better life and more opportunities then they’ve had. They want proper healthcare so if they’re sick they want to know that it’s there and they want to be respected in terms of their views. We all have a common interest.
There’s a debate, of course, about climate change and the science is very clear from my perspective. And even if, (inaudible) you didn’t think climate change was as big an issue as the science tells us it is then there’s nothing to be (inaudible) in the sort of jobs that will be created through some of the strong action on climate change as well (inaudible) the national economy.
So I think we have common interests. I want to unite the nation, provide leadership, regardless of where people live, regardless of whether they’re men or women, regardless of which faith they follow or no faith at all. I want to unite the nation and I am concerned that so much of our politics deliberately tries to divide people.
ATLAS: All right good to talk to you. Have a Merry Christmas and we’ll speak in the New Year.
ALBANESE: You too Laurie.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.