SUBJECTS: Franking credits; negative gearing; unpopular policies Labor took to the 2019 election; Labor’s new policies; climate change; Labor’s climate change policies going forward; Adani; coal industry; foreign interference in Australian politics; 2022 election; personal life.
ANDREW CLENNELL, HOST: Mr Albanese, thanks for joining us.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning.
CLENNELL: Let’s talk about some of the unpopular policies that Labor took to the election. Franking credits. Reform of that in any form? Dead, buried, cremated?
ALBANESE: Look, we will go through the detail of the announcement that we will make down the track. But, very clearly, we won’t be taking the same policy to the election.
CLENNELL: So, you might grandfather it?
ALBANESE: Well, we won’t be taking the same policy. We will have a process. One of the things that I have been determined to do, Andrew, as I am sure you have noticed, is recognise that the next election is in 2022. We established appropriate mechanisms where I have consultations, we have proper Shadow Cabinet process, and a proper caucus process.
CLENNELL: But you are not ruling out a policy where the change happens, but peoples’ existing benefits are grandfathered?
ALBANESE: Well, I have a view about those things, but we will have our processes.
CLENNELL: Well, your view seems to be that policy would be okay?
ALBANESE: No. We have a policy process that we will establish. And we will announce it in time.
CLENNELL: Negative gearing. How do you feel about that?
ALBANESE: Our policies will be policies for the next election, when we announce them. And that will be the suite of policies that we take.
CLENNELL: So, might you dump that negative gearing policy?
ALBANESE: Look, I have said, our policies aren’t there until we announce them proactively and positively.
CLENNELL: Let’s talk then about these billions more for health and education. Because I guess that argument kind of didn’t work. Do you think that you will be moving away from that, ‘get the tax here, spend billions more on health and education’ type of policy?
ALBANESE: Well, if you have less revenue, you will have less expenditure.
CLENNELL: And that is your intention?
ALBANESE: And it is certainly the case that we intend to match up the two things. When we make announcements about expenditure, we will be explaining where the money will come from.
CLENNELL: Would you envisage no new taxes, no increase in taxes, on the platform you run with?
ALBANESE: Look, I am not about to make those sorts of announcements. We will consider policies on their merits. We will consider them in terms of what revenues are required for the expenditure that is needed. I don’t shy away from the fact that in a civilised society, you need taxation in order to fund schools, in order to fund hospitals.
CLENNELL: Do you believe in surpluses?
ALBANESE: I of course believe in surpluses, but over a period of time.
CLENNELL: Over a period of time, not every single year?
ALBANESE: Well, it depends on the circumstances. Were we right to respond to the Global Financial Crisis in the way that we did? Yes. Should there be a surplus this year? Yes. Had Labor been elected, would we be having a surplus? Yes, we would.
CLENNELL: Okay, let’s talk about climate change. Now, Scott Morrison has a point doesn’t he, when he says that no matter what we do on our own emissions on this front, China will take up that slack in just a few days. I mean, if you believe climate change is a major cause of the bushfires, which you do, aren’t we in serious trouble, no matter what happens in domestic politics?
ALBANESE: It’s quite right that we need the whole world to act. But Australia at the moment, is not only doing anything domestically, on the world stage we are a handbrake. You had Angus Taylor, a discredited minister with no credible policy, go to the Madrid climate change conference and be one of the recalcitrance. Be bracketed with Saudi Arabia and a couple of other countries arguing for less action. And we’re arguing now, at the same time as the Government says, ‘Oh, we’re going to meet our emissions’. The lie of that was exposed by the fact that they went to Madrid and argued for an accounting trick.
CLENNELL: Okay, fair enough. But what’s wrong with you just saying now, which you’ve been reluctant to do in recent days, ‘We are sticking to this 45 per cent reduction target by 2030’? Why are you afraid of endorsing that target that you took to the election?
ALBANESE: That was in 2015. That was a 2015 target established for 15 years’ time. Guess what, Andrew? There’s no Tardis. I can’t go back in time and say in 2022 our 15-year target will be very different, by the way, 15 years from 2022 is 2037, not 2030.
CLENNELL: Will that be a policy then, framed around 2037 instead of 2030?
ALBANESE: We will have our policy based upon…
CLENNELL: So, it is too late for a 45 per cent reduction, is that what you are saying?
ALBANESE: I’m not saying that at all.
CLENNELL: Well, you seem to be.
ALBANESE: No, I’m not saying that at all. What I’m saying is that you can’t define what your point is in terms of where you’ll go to the election in 2022 at the beginning in January of 2020, because the circumstances will change.
CLENNELL: Your policy will involve a higher target of reductions by 2030 than the Government’s?
ALBANESE: We will take climate change seriously.
CLENNELL: Well, surely it will be greater. Surely your target will be greater than theirs. Otherwise, what’s the point of all the rhetoric?
ALBANESE: We will make the announcement. I’m trying to be generous to them. Hopefully, they’ll wake up tomorrow and go, ‘There could be something in this climate change thing’ and take action. I don’t want to let them off the hook. But we will have a very strong position on climate change. But the reason why we can’t now, it is a bit like saying, do an AFL analogy. It’s a four-quarter game between 2019 and 2022. You’re asking me how it will play out in the final quarter. You’ve got to know what the three-quarter time score is whether you are putting all your people forward, putting all your people back, what the framework is, what the score is at that time. And the idea, frankly, I think it was a mistake in 2019 to continue to say, ‘Well, we’ll do exactly what we’re doing in 2015’, as if it hadn’t changed. Earlier on I spoke about the six-year period. What we did during that period was to add on policies. So, everything stayed the same and we just added more on. We have seen how that plays out. It doesn’t end well.
CLENNELL: So, 45 per cent now by 2030 is too ambitious? That’s what you are really saying.
ALBANESE: I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that we will determine our policy. It will be as ambitious as possible. You know what, Andrew? I want to have a very strong framework. I want to be ambitious. And I want it to be as strong as possible. But you’ve got to know what your starting point is. And I am not going to let this Government off the hook. Part of what I think we should have said more of at various times in the early stages of the last term and the one before is, ‘That’s a question for the Government’. But we will, on climate change for example, one of the things that we’re likely to do is to announce a longer-term target before we announce, because by definition, you are able to do that.
CLENNELL: For 2050? Zero emissions by 2050?
ALBANESE: We will make our announcements at an appropriate time. But you can make those longer-term announcements before you then make announcements that are impacted by what’s happening right now.
CLENNELL: Do you support the Adani project?
ALBANESE: Well, the Adani project isn’t a Government project. The Adani project is a project by a private company. What I support, and what the role of Government is, is to set up appropriate mechanisms in terms of through the EPBC act.
CLENNELL: There could be a situation where it’s appropriate that on environmental grounds, Adani does not go ahead.
ALBANESE: Well, the environmental approvals have occurred. The project wasn’t able to secure finance. That says something about what the international scene saw about the financing and of a new mine in a new coal basin. And they made that decision. So, they’re self-financing the project. But it’s been approved. So, it is going ahead.
CLENNELL: Isn’t your problem that there’ll be some viewers in Queensland watching this who will be saying, ‘I can’t vote for this bloke, because he’s too wishy-washy on supporting our coal industry’. Isn’t that, in essence, one of the problems with Labor getting re-elected?
ALBANESE: No, that is not right. People in Queensland and everywhere else who are involved in the industry know that the industry is continuing, whether it be domestically, it continues to provide. The questions that you had before about our target, be it our emissions reduction target or renewable energy target. If you have got a 50 per cent renewable energy target, by definition, there’s 50 per cent coming from fossil fuels. So, let’s be realistic there about what the framework is domestically and internationally. Of course, there will continue to be coal exports. I have made that very clear.
CLENNELL: Look, I want to ask you about a change of subject here, and ask you about China and foreign influence in politics. How concerned are you about this in Australian politics? And have you yourself had any approaches you’ve been concerned about?
ALBANESE: No, I’ve never had anything inappropriate occur at all to myself. But of course, both sides of politics have had issues. There’s people in the Morrison Cabinet who received watches and had to declare them and there were issues of Stuart Robert, of course, who is now back in the Cabinet, having to resign previously whilst having a Defence-related portfolio, being involved in meetings that were inappropriate in China. So, I haven’t had any experience of that.
CLENNELL: Is it an issue of concern?
ALBANESE: Well, of course it’s an issue of any involvement or attempt to interfere. Let’s be clear, though, to put it in perspective. It’s not just China that tries to influence Australian politics. There are a range of countries and businesses that try and influence Australian politics.
CLENNELL: Well, which other countries are of that sort of concern?
ALBANESE: Well, all of them try to influence Australian politics. That’s the nature of it. Just as Australia likes to influence what happens internationally around the globe as well. That’s why we have things called embassies and ambassadors as well.
CLENNELL: You sound almost like you are trivialising it there?
ALBANESE: No, I’m not. I’m just putting it in perspective, which is that if you look at, for example, the number of politicians or journalists, for that matter, who’ve had sponsored travel overseas, you won’t find China at the top of the list, you’ll find other countries have had more than China. That’s just a fact. But we need to recognise that we always need to be vigilant.
CLENNELL: After the defeat in May, your side was said to be in depression, shell-shocked. Is that a fair characterisation?
ALBANESE: It is. it is. People expected us to win. And so did you, I suspect, Andrew.
CLENNELL: Was your frontbench in a funk for six months?
ALBANESE: No. I think that we came to it pretty quickly.
CLENNELL: Has your team recovered?
ALBANESE: We’ve done much better than just recover. We are resilient. And one of the things that we did was we examined what we did wrong, through the review process. We put that out for all to see. We adopted the recommendation through the National Executive. We have already, in just six months, we have restructured the national office. We have a new national secretary in Paul Erickson. And we have a new frontbench team led by my self and Richard Marles as the Deputy, with Penny Wong and Kristina Keneally in the Senate leadership team. And a new frontbench that has been reinvigorated with some new blood.
CLENNELL: So, the rebuild is on, you are saying?
ALBANESE: We are far more advanced. I laid out at the National Press Club, I did an unusual thing. I said that these are the stages in which we’re operating. I’m interested, and have said very clearly, I’m not particularly interested in the tactics of what happens in 24 hours. I’m interested in strategy. I’m interested in 2022. Every single one of my Shadow Ministers has come up with the three things that they think are the priority issues for 2022.
CLENNELL: What if it goes early? What if it is in 2021?
ALBANESE: We’re ready to go. We’re ready to go. Which is why we have all of that in place. I suspect that the window for going to an election is sometime between October 2021 and March 2022. That’s our plans. That’s our time frame. We will be ready to go.
CLENNELL: Okay, look, there are eight Labor seats with margins less than 2 percent and only four Coalition seats with margins less than 2 per cent.
ALBANESE: I am glad you noticed.
CLENNELL: The Coalition think that they can actually beat you and increase their margin. What do you say to that?
ALBANESE: Well, we’ll see how they go. I’m glad they’re so arrogant. That’s a good thing. I think their arrogance has shown itself during this term. They’ve been on a victory lap since May. What we’ve done is hard-headed assessments. Restructured, renewed, revitalised. That’s what we’ve done. We’ve taken the time to do it. I said, we would hasten slowly. And we did that in the first couple of months. We didn’t go out there and say what our policy would be for 2030 in the first couple of months, as much as people would like us to do that, I’m sure. We haven’t swung at every ball that’s been thrown at us. And I don’t intend to do so. I intend to be strategic going forward. To have a full suite of policies driven by the economy, driven by jobs. But also, strong policy on social policy about creating opportunity, about creating economic security, about creating a strong environmental policy, led with at the centre of it, a strong policy on climate change, as well as having a strong international policy about Australia’s place in the world, our place in the region, making sure that we stand up for Australia’s national interest. So, we had that framework. It’s outlined at the National Press Club. It’s been endorsed by all of my team. We’ve made sure, before we’ve made announcements, we’ve had proper Shadow Cabinet processes. Proper caucus processes as well. I think, person-for-person, one of the big strengths we have is that my team is much better than their team.
CLENNELL: I just want to ask you a final question. And I guess it’s an opportunity to tell people a bit personally about yourself. You have separated from your wife, the former Deputy Premier, not long ago. And you’ve got a 19-year-old son that you’re very close to. Tell us a bit about that.
ALBANESE: Well, that was a difficult time. And that happened on the first of January last year. And it meant that it was a big adjustment. And so, last year was a difficult year for me on the personal level. Nathan and I enjoy a very strong relationship, my son. People have to, when something like that happens, particularly when it’s unexpected, what you have to do, I think, is to accept the decision. And as difficult as that may be, work it through. I certainly have worked through that. It was difficult. But there’s an old saying, ‘That which does not kill us, makes us stronger’. And last year, in terms of in the first half of the year, I had had that occur. And the media were very respectful of that, I have got to say. And I’m not the only one to have gone through a marriage breakdown that occurs. There were no third parties involved. It was a decision that was made, and I had to accept. And a lot of people do it tough. And at times like this, I have got to say, one of the things I’ve taken from the last couple of months is having the absolute privilege of being inspired by ordinary Australians out there. The firefighters, the people who’ve been through incredible difficulty, who have lost everything. People have lost loved ones, people who have lost their homes, who think of others. And during the tragedies that have occurred during the bushfires, Australians have been putting money into their pockets. There’s been little kids out there holding lemonade stalls to raise five and ten and twenty cents to help out people that they’ll never meet. That’s the Australia that I want to represent. That is the Australia that I want every Australian, no matter how humble their beginnings, to have the best opportunity in life.
CLENNELL: Thank you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.