SUBJECTS: Sports rorts; Bridget McKenzie; climate change; bushfire crisis recovery; Australia being a republican country.
OLIVER PETERSON, HOST: Anthony Albanese. Welcome to Perth. And welcome back to Perth Live.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY:
Good to be back here. My first visit to the west for 2020.
PETERSON: Well, Newspoll has you now as the preferred Prime Minister, would you like Scott Morrison to call an election?
ALBANESE: The election period is three years. I reckon that’s about right. I’d like them to be four years, actually. But look, it’s very early days. And we know that polls can be wrong. If people were in any doubt, I think they learned that lesson in the lead up to May.
PETERSON: And you’ve had a few comments to say about what happened in the election last year, which I’ll come to in a moment. But first and foremost, if Bridget McKenzie was a Minister or a Shadow Minister in an Anthony Albanese Shadow Cabinet or Cabinet, would she still have a job?
PETERSON: You’d sack her?
PETERSON: Why is the Prime Minister standing by her?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s the big question. Certainly, there’s no doubt he was involved in some of the announcements himself. One of the clubs in his electorate, of course, was out there spruiking that it had funding two months before the department actually announced that funding. And there’s real concerns here about the process today. I’ve been at Mount Lawley Bowls Club. They put in an application. They spent a couple of hundred hours from volunteers putting it together. They got quotes from local small businesses. They went about it in the right way. They don’t know why they missed that. They don’t know whether they were one of the club applications that were ranked higher than the ones that were approved or not. But here you had a very clear system whereby Sports Australia had independent assessments and they were ignored in favour of politics.
PETERSON: Why do you think Bridget McKenzie is still a minister of the Morrison Government as you and I talk this afternoon?
ALBANESE: Well, they hang on to people and I think one’s got to draw into question the integrity of the Government. They still don’t have a National Integrity Commission. This is the sort of behaviour that means it will just reinforce the need for one. Angus Taylor is still a minister even though clearly there’s no explanation for how documents were provided about the City of Sydney travel and the misleading of Parliament. We need to restore faith in our politics. It is something that I’ve been trying to do. I’ve been constructive as Opposition Leader. Things like this, people would just look at it and they think this is red hot.
PETERSON: But don’t they also think that everybody’s up to this? It can fall into the category of pork-barrelling an electorate and it can fall into a category here whereby, ‘Oh, the Labor Party did it, the Liberal Party did it. We’re all up to it. We’re all as thick as thieves in all of this’.
ALBANESE: Well, when Ros Kelly had an issue over sports grants in 1994, a long time ago now, last century, she resigned. Bridget McKenzie should resign. Here you have circumstances with regard to sport, people expect a level playing field. You wouldn’t cop this at Subiaco or Optus Stadium or the WACA. You shouldn’t cop it in politics whereby people in good faith put in their applications, there’s no transparency, and then the minister overrules decisions by Sport Australia. And there’s, according to the Audit Office, they have questioned any legal basis for it. The Prime Minister has asked Christian Porter to have a look at the legality. Of course, Christian Porter is someone, a minister, having a look at another minister’s activities. This actually requires a bit of leadership from the Prime Minister.
PETERSON: Now over the weekend, you announced changes to franking credits. That policy under Bill Shorten, the unpopular policy he took the election is dead. Why is it taking you so long to draw a line in the sand?
ALBANESE: Look, the truth is that one of the things I did was go around the country, including here in Perth, as you know. And I consulted people about what their views were about the election. We had the election review. And people, including here, came up to me and said, ‘Look, we made arrangements based upon the existing rules, we’re relying upon the franking credits for $2,000 or $3,000. That’s something that we pay our insurance of our car on, or it’s something that we buy Christmas presents for the grandkids and use for everyday expenditure. It’s something we’ve factored into our income’. And for many people, they weren’t wealthy. Some are. Some of the franking credits is a lot of money to high wealth people. But, in a lot of cases that certainly can’t be said. And that’s why I’ve said we won’t be taking the same policy to the election. It’s reasonable that we say that it’s 2022 to the next election, we’ve got a lot of time to roll out policies.
PETERSON: What about negative gearing, is that dead as well?
ALBANESE: Well, we’ll consider all of those measures. We will have a comprehensive plan for taxation. You do need, of course, taxation in a civilised society to pay for schools, to pay for hospitals, to pay for aged care, to pay for the recovery from the bushfires, to pay for essential services. And so, we will have all of our policies well before the next election.
PETERSON: Do you now believe some of those policies, obviously you lost the election, you and I know that, but do you believe that those policies were the reasons as to why Labor didn’t win the election, when we’re talking about polls before, everything pointed the fact you would win?
ALBANESE: Well, we had the review. One of the things that we did was, I think, leave ourselves open to scare campaigns in some cases. For example, on franking credits, pensioners were not going to be impacted at all. And there were people who were pensioners who never held a share in their life, who thought that they’d be impacted.
PETERSON: Did you raise these concerns as a member of Bill Shorten’s Shadow Cabinet?
ALBANESE: I don’t talk about Shadow Cabinet processes. I didn’t talk about it at the time and I won’t now. What’s important is that we’ve had the review and Labor is looking forward. And we’re starting to, this year, there will be a range of announcements made over coming weeks and months. We’ll have our national conference at the end of this year, we’ve brought it forward. So, we’re ready for an election anytime from 2021, whenever it may be held.
PETERSON: All right, and what will Labor do in regard to its emissions targets and climate change? What will be the policy of an Anthony Albanese led Labor Party?
ALBANESE: Look, we’ll have a strong policy on climate change. I’ve said that the policies in general, one of the things that we did between 2013 and 2019 was we kept the same policies once they were announced. We kept mounting on more and more policy after 2016 as if the election hadn’t happened. Now, I’ve said that generally isn’t very smart.
PETERSON: Sure, but then again you were a Shadow Minister at the time of a Bill Shorten-led Opposition. And I know you won’t disclose what was discussed at Shadow Cabinet. But if you had those concerns then, did you make that known to the leadership?
ALBANESE: Well, I don’t talk about it. And I won’t talk about it. What I can talk about is that one of the things that the review recommended, recognised that wasn’t a sensible thing to do. I’ve said that all policies were under review. We’ve done that. We’ll roll out our policy program. But we won’t change our principles. Our principle is that we think climate change is real.
PETERSON: Right. So, do you think the Government is currently doing enough to address climate change?
PETERSON: So, what should they do?
ALBANESE: Well, they should have a policy. They haven’t got one. They haven’t got an energy policy in this country.
PETERSON: Doesn’t sound as though Labor has a policy either? You are sitting on your hands at the moment?
ALBANESE: No. We are the Opposition. You can’t do things from Opposition.
PETERSON: But you got to give the electorate a choice, don’t you? You say the Government. And Labor doesn’t have a policy.
ALBANESE: We had 284 policies that we took to the election. And we’ve seen that movie, we know how it ends. It doesn’t end well. The truth is that our principles are very clear. Our principles on climate changes is that we will have strong policy.
PETERSON: Complete renewables by 2050?
ALBANESE: We will have short, medium and long-term strategies. We do need to transition to a clean energy economy. I’ve said there won’t be another coal-fired power station built in Australia. We have huge opportunities here, Ollie. I outlined a lot of policy in the first vision statement I did very consciously here in Perth. And since then, when I’ve revisited here, I’ve had a look at what’s happening with hydrogen here in terms of the potential sure that it has, but it is just potential at this stage.
PETERSON: So, by the end of the year, will Australians know exactly what Labor’s climate policies are, and the long and medium and short-term targets will be?
ALBANESE: They’ll know what it is well before the election is called. And they will know the platform at the national conference will be determined in December of this year.
PETERSON: Do you think in the wake of the fires that have raged over east over summer, and you were there, Anthony Albanese, and you were there most days on the fire front, and we were talking.
ALBANESE: I was there every day.
PETERSON: About the anxiety as well. When I was in Sydney for a couple of weeks, it was just an anxious time as well for everybody and what everybody was going through. Do you think the national conversation, though, is shifting in regard to climate change and whether or not governments of all persuasions need to do something about it?
ALBANESE: It has shifted. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t still some climate sceptics out there. But I think for people certainly who are in the affected areas, which is essentially the whole of south eastern Australia, you could not only feel the impact of climate change and watch it on your TV, you could feel it, literally breathe it.
PETERSON: But was climate change the reason for these fires?
ALBANESE: Climate change had an impact on the intensity of the fires, and on the length of the bushfire season. So, what you had was a drying out. So, you had the drought. You had a lot of dry land there. You had no moisture in the soil. And so that when the fires happened, and some started, of course, by people, tragically, and I find that difficult to fathom, some through lightning or a range of causes. What occurred though, was that the intensity of the fires was far greater because of the impact of climate change.
PETERSON: Do you sympathise in some way towards your opponent, Scott Morrison, who is the Prime Minister, because some sections of Australia right now will lay the blame on his feet for the reason as to why the fires were as bad as they were over summer. Is it his fault?
ALBANESE: Well, what I think he does deserve responsibility for is being complacent. I wrote to the Prime Minister in November and suggested a COAG meeting needed to be convened. Because by then, I’d already visited fire grounds in Queensland, in New South Wales. And we were being told what was going to occur. He wouldn’t meet with the former fire chiefs.
PETERSON: But November is too late, isn’t it?
ALBANESE: Well, the fire chiefs were writing to him well in advance. But it was very clear that the sort of measures that we proposed in writing in November, a national approach, involvement of the Defence Force, the support for volunteer firefighters in terms of economic compensation, increase aerial firefighting capacity, the need to have a national disaster strategy for this. The Prime Minister was very reluctant on all of those measures. He said day after day, ‘Oh, it is a matter for the states, I’m not responsible’. And the truth is that it needed a national response. And we were saying that day after day. And just as we were saying and will continue to hold the Government to account about the recovery, about making sure that the stories that we’ve seen on the front page of papers in Sydney certainly yesterday, the fact that some people on the north coast of New South Wales have been living in tents for more than three months after these fires have had an impact. Now, we can do better than that.
PETERSON: Sure. But if we can do better than that, why at the moment, is there a reluctance from leaders, yourself included and Scott Morrison, if climate change is one of the major factors here in regard to the fires, and as I say, the commentary seems to be changing in Australia, why are leaders reluctant to take immediate action? Is it because you are scared you will lose votes?
ALBANESE: I’m not reluctant. I’m not the Government. If I was in Government, we’d be taking action. We wouldn’t be in this treading water position that the Government’s in now. You still have Government backbenchers out there while the fires are flaming, going on international TV and embarrassing Australia saying, ‘Oh, there’s nothing to see here’.
PETERSON: There’s a media opportunity Craig Kelly could have ignored perhaps something you’ve said to your colleagues as well. Ed Husic though, he’s making headlines today, Anthony Albanese. Is it time for Australia to become a republic? Take a leaf out of the book of Megan and Harry?
ALBANESE: I’m a republican. I have been a republican for a very long period of time. I voted yes in the referendum that was held at the end of the last century. So, there’s no changing my position there. And that’s not a reflection on any individual. I have a great deal of respect for the Queen. I think she has done an extraordinary job over half a century. It’s quite remarkable. More than half a century.
PETERSON: Would this be a Labor policy of yours, Anthony Albanese?
ALBANESE: It has been a policy since last century that we support a republican movement.
PETERSON: Is it a priority of yours?
ALBANESE: Look, it’s not an immediate priority. I have bigger issues, I think. But I do think that Australia needs our own head of state. I don’t think it is anything more than us becoming a modern state, independent. It’s rather strange that we have a head of state who lives halfway across the world, in London. And I think we can recognise our history and the importance that’s there. And it’s not a matter of denigrating the royal family. I’ve met the Queen. She is a remarkable leader. But the truth is she’s a British leader, not an Australian leader. And we should have an Australian citizen as our head of state.
PETERSON: Anthony Albanese. Appreciate you coming into the Perth Live studios. We’ll see you again very soon.
ALBANESE: Thanks Ollie, you will.