Subjects: Support payments, Australia Day, Indigenous recognition, defence industry, Tasmanian election.
FRAN KELLY: So another Australia Day has come and gone and the occasion, as we were discussing on the day itself, marked yet again by a divisive debate over our national identity. A lot of Australians celebrated the landing of the First Fleet in 1788, while marches were held in many cities protesting against the date of the national day. Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese has now entered the fray. He is proposing twin referendums to be held on a future Australia Day, one on the Republic, the other on indigenous Constitution recognition, as a way of creating a national platform of unity. Anthony Albanese joins me in the Breakfast studio. Anthony Albanese, welcome back Breakfast.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks for having me Fran.
KELLY: Before we get to the referendums and your ideas there, this revelation we have heard this morning that the Abbott Government considered removing all under 30s from income support in the Budget in 2014, which would have saved $9 billion over four years. No government would every get away with a plan like that anyway would they, and that’s the conclusion they came to?
ALBANESE: Well they certainly tried on a range of harsh and punitive measures in the 2014 Budget. It was a Budget based on division and vilifying some of the less well-off in our society. It’s not surprising that some people pushed back against it and good the fact that Kevin Andrews pushed against this. The problem that the Government had is clearly people including the then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and the then Treasurer, Joe Hockey, it would appear, thought that it was OK to put young people in a position whereby they had no income support whatsoever.
KELLY: Well does it appear that? I mean they called for ideas. Isn’t that what happens? I remember in the 2010 election campaign Julia Gillard was hammered – it was leaked that she questioned during a Cabinet meeting Labor’s paid parental leave scheme for instance. She said: Look this is how good policy gets made, you test it.
ALBANESE: Well this was a bit more than that Fran. This was looking at options to essentially take all income support off young people. They didn’t understand that investing in young people is not just good for themselves and their contribution they are able to make; it’s good for the economy. And we did see in that Budget, massive cuts to education. We have continued to see a failure to support training and skilling that is required for the jobs of the future and that approach is really consistent with ideology that was behind the 2014 Budget. What is interesting is why has it come out now? A Cabinet document being leaked in such a manner can only be designed to cause pain to Tony Abbott and it is a part of the ongoing warfare that is occurring within the Liberal Party at the top.
KELLY: Let’s go to your idea, this idea of holding the referendum on indigenous recognition referendum on January the 26th. Why would that calm the argument? What is your thinking? That it is all about the vibe?
ALBANESE: No, it’s about moving on from an argument and looking for a solution. The truth is that Australia Day is about our past, our present, as well as our future. Australian history didn’t begin in 1788. It goes back at least 65,000 years and it is important that that be recognised and at Australia Day ceremonies around the nation it is of course. But it is a day of great sadness for indigenous people and that needs to be acknowledged. But Australian history isn’t just about that. It’s also about what happened – the reality of the arrival of Europeans and the millions of people who have migrated and made Australia the country that it is today.
I am not saying my response is the only response. I am saying it is a response, just like Noel Pearson had a very constructive idea that he put forward in the papers on the weekend as well, I think, coming from the same perspective – how do we move on from what is a divisive debate? But if you look at how that debate has developed, if it becomes more and more divisive of whether you are either for Australia Day or for Indigenous recognition, it seems to me that that is a debate that won’t take the country forward.
KELLY: Sure, but your notion of having the referendum on Constitutional recognition on that date, do you think that would sort of reposition the date in the minds of the nation. Is that your argument?
ALBANESE: Well it would change the meaning, rather than change the date. It would mean that …
KELLY: This is the day we recognised indigenous Australians.
ALBANESE: Yes. We were acknowledging that yes, this was the arrival of European settlement and that led to the migration of all those millions of people who have come to make Australia the country that it is today. But it is also about recognising the past and reconciliation. And when I say recognition of course, indigenous people have determined for themselves what they want to see with the Uluru Statement from the Heart. And consistent with that of course is a recognition in the Constitution. But more than that, indigenous people want a voice. They don’t want a third chamber of the Parliament. That has been used as a way of knocking the idea. It’s not that. But they do want a say and to be able to have their view heard.
KELLY: And of course the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has already ruled out the notion of putting that proposal – the Uluru Statement from the Heart, the third chamber notion – to a referendum. If Labor was elected under your plan would that proposed model be revived?
ALBANESE: Well the Statement from the Heart is about more than constitutional change. It’s also about having a voice and that is something I think is worthy of discussion and debate. We need …
KELLY: And a referendum.
ALBANESE: Well, you don’t need a referendum necessarily for that. What you need a referendum for is any element that changes the Constitution. And that is an important distinction that is there. But our Constitution is inadequate whilst it doesn’t recognise the first Australians.
KELLY: Bill Shorten’s office won’t be drawn on your plan. Have you discussed your idea with Bill Shorten or other colleagues?
ALBANESE: I have discussed it with colleagues including in the community. I very consciously made this address, as I do every Australia Day, to a ceremony in Enmore Park. I raise ideas with my local community. I don’t want this to be a party political debate. One of the problems with politics in this country is that Labor or the Coalition come up with an idea and immediately the other side of politics says no. What we need is a debate with civil society most importantly of course. You can’t have any resolution of these issues without indigenous people having their say.
This is an idea that is put forward in the spirit of reconciliation, the spirit of how we engage in way that addresses Australia Day being about not just the past, but the present, the country we are today, and also the future.
KELLY: Yes, but it is a big idea. You are the Shadow Minister for Transport and Infrastructure. Of course, you are allowed to talk with your constituents about big ideas. But it is weighing in on an issue that is contentious; that Bill Shorten has, well, been trying to avoid in the sense that he doesn’t think that we should change the date. But I am wondering whether you discussed this notion with Bill Shorten before you delivered it.
ALBANESE: Well Fran, I got back from overseas on the morning of Australia Day and I raised it in the spirit of which Australia Day commemorations are held. This wasn’t, very consciously, a party political position. This is a position put forward by myself. A number of people have contacted me to express support. Some have expressed a lack of support. That’s fine. What we need to do is to acknowledge that this year the demonstrations and the conflict over Australia Day were bigger than last year. Last year the conflict was bigger than it was the year before. Unless we have a way of actually moving the debate forward rather than just having the tired old arguments and what that requires is for people not to have their party political logo on. What that requires is that people who are senior in politics, in civil society, the indigenous community, to put forward ideas. I note that Noel Pearson did on Saturday as well and that is the spirit in which I have put forward this idea.
KELLY: Anthony Albanese, we heard on AM this morning the Government is planning to invest a lot of money into a loan facility for our defence exporters. It wants Australia to become one of the world’s top ten defence industry weapons exporters. Does Labor support their drive?
ALBANESE: Well, I am very supportive of any proposal that creates jobs. That’s the starting point. But I have got to say, why is it that the Government isn’t talking about advanced manufacturing, isn’t talking about the advances that we can make in terms of food for example?
KELLY: This is advanced manufacturing.
ALBANESE: Well it is, but just in defence. This is a Government that seems to say that manufacturing of cars, advanced manufacturing, use of smart technology is all bad; renewable energy – all of this is bad. What we will do though, when it is defence, it’s OK. What is say is yes, defence industry is important in terms of manufacturing. There can be spin-offs as well for other industries by investing in innovation in defence.
But why is it that the Government isn’t investing, for example its attacks on the energy sector; if we had commercialised over the years the breakthroughs that have been made in Australia is solar, in wind, in wave technology, then we would be a lot better off today in terms of jobs and in terms export potential.
KELLY: One just final question and briefly if you would, Tasmania goes to the polls next month, in March sorry. Poker machines one of the key issues. State Labor has a plan to remove all pokies from pubs and clubs. Would you like to see that adopted by the ALP on the mainland?
ALBANESE: Well it’s not a national issue. It is a state-by-state issue.
KELLY: But what is your view? As you say, you have big ideas. You speak out.
ALBANESE: Well, in NSW the poker machine industry has a different role in terms of the clubs. I don’t support the removal of all poker machines in clubs in NSW for example. But Bec White has got a very clear policy. She is putting it forward for the Tasmanian state election and good on her for the fact that she has been so clear about it. I think Bec White represents the future for Tasmania. The Coalition, Mr Hodgman and his backers like Eric Abetz, represent the past.
KELLY: Anthony Albanese, thanks very much for joining us.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.