Subjects: Newspoll; Government chaos; Philip Lowe; penalty rates; Western Sydney Airport; Perth Freight Link.
KRISTINA KENEALLY: Anthony thanks for joining us on To The Point.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be worth you.
KENEALLY: Anthony let me start with Labor’s primary vote. You told Fairfax last November that Labor can’t get comfortable with a primary vote that starts with a three. I take it you are still concerned about where Labor’s primary vote is today?
ALBANESE: Well that has always been the case that really you aim for something that at least begins in a four. When Labor has won Government from Opposition we have had figures, in terms of 2007 we were in the mid-40s. Now it may well be that what’s happened with the rise of non-major parties that that becomes a bit more of a permanent feature of the landscape, but certainly the objective has to be to continue to lift the primary vote. But obviously today’s poll is one that gives Labor a hell of a lot more comfort than the Opposition – than, well they are acting like the Opposition, our Opposition – that they don’t seem to have come to terms with the fact they are the Government. They’ve lost their sense of purpose. They have lost their narrative and it looks like they are just squabbling internally and we know that the public will judge that very harshly.
PETER VAN ONSELSEN: Well we’ve seen this play out before Anthony Albanese. You were right in the middle of it with the Labor Party crumbling around you while you were trying to do your job managing a hung Parliament in that second term of the Labor years. Are you surprised how quickly it has happened though? I mean this is a Government that, sure it scraped home at the election, but it did get a majority, You guys scraped home at the election without a majority and you hung together for a little while before it all started to unravel. These guys, the speculation has started a little bit quicker I would argue.
ALBANESE: I am surprised at just how chaotic and dysfunctional they are. If you look at the issues in which they have alienated major sections of the population, you had pension changes that hit a group of people in January that weren’t expecting it. You then had the Centrelink debacle, with people getting bills and being threatened with legal action and many of them wondering where this came from, where these letters out of the blue of demand came from and that group was alienated. You’ve had of course the penalty rates decision of last week, alienating not just those people who have been directly impacted but all those who are on Enterprise Bargaining Agreements who have been protected in the short term because of those union-based agreements but which, when they come up for negotiation again, that will be on the table. And so everyone who relies upon penalty rates is, I think, really concerned about it. You’ve had the bizarre circumstance of Scott Morrison bringing a lump of coal into the Parliament and thinking that that was the behaviour of a mature Treasurer and alienating people who were concerned about the environment. You’ve had cuts in their so-called Omnibus Bill too, which impact on women’s refuges and the issue of domestic violence and dealing with that. You’ve had cuts across a whole range of areas. You’ve had a complete failure to address public transport funding again on an ongoing basis. So you’ve had all these sections added up. It’s little wonder that the Coalition primary vote has collapsed to 34 per cent, which is an extraordinarily low number and you have tactics which on the floor of the Parliament – I’ve got to say it is beyond my comprehension that Malcolm Turnbull spoke to a suspension of standing orders about penalty rates just about an hour ago. That put him right in the middle of the debate without really having anything to say beyond process. It’s about substance. It’s about people’s living standards. It’s about the impact it’s having on them, not who initiated an inquiry or any other process issue.
KENEALLY: We are going to get to penalty rates in just a moment but Anthony Albanese, while you are correct there’s not a lot of hope for the Government in these polling figures, one ray of sunshine remains – that Malcolm Turnbull leads Bill Shorten as preferred Prime Minister. Does that give pause to anyone on the Labor side?
ALBANESE: Well that is the case but I think the real issue that people in Labor will look at is our vote, is the collapse in the Coalition vote and sometimes when you are the Opposition Leader and you are making some strong statements, then you will lose a bit of paint on the way through. And certainly it is the case I think that Labor, looking at today’s poll, when combined with the Peter Van Onselen excellent article it must be said this morning …
KENEALLY: Oh, his head is big enough, mate. His head’s big enough.
ALBANESE: I just slipped it in there subtlely. That was a remarkable article with all of the detail of the ginger group – of the self-declared deplorables out there campaigning against their own Government. I think that this has been a shocker of day for the Government to add to yesterday, that was pretty bad, and the day before and the day before that.
KENEALLY: I take your point but the Coalition, while their primary vote has fallen 5 points as I pointed out earlier – Pete and I were discussing – 5 points since Malcolm Turnbull took over from Tony Abbott, we’ve also seen Labor’s primary vote fail to rise in any significant fashion. It’s gone up a few points but most of the fall of the Coalition seems to be coming at the expense of One Nation. So looking ahead what does Labor need to do in order to see their own primary vote rise up as you said, into that, you know to start with a four in front of it?
ALBANESE: Well I think we need to continue to press our case. What we have done provides a very good base. Policies like the capital gains tax and negative gearing changes that received a virtual endorsement form the Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe last Friday. At the same time he questioned the corporate tax race to the bottom globally and what that would do to our economies, not just in Australia, but around the globe and he also called for increased investment in infrastructure. So all three of his big themes – the Reserve Bank Governor, appearing before the economics committee – were all in line with things that Labor has been calling for. Now we need to take as a base the policies and the framework that we took to the last election but continue to push that through; continue to push our narrative as well which is about fairness, a strong economy, but not as an end in itself, so that people’s living standards can be lifted up, so that the next generation can enjoy a better quality of life than the current one and pushing sustainability across the board. I think Labor can’t be complacent with these figures and we are not complacent. We are continuing to push our case across the policy spectrum.
VAN ONSELEN: I know that you said before, Anthony Albanese, that you know, the Government is caught up in the process around what’s happened with Fair Work rather than the issue, which is the cutting of penalty rates, and that’s not an unfair point. But it is relevant to this debate and to this discussion that Labor is now pledging to legislate away a body that it set up, which is an independent body. It’s a Labor put together independent body. And it was pledged by Bill Shorten not to do away with it if he didn’t like the umpire’s decision ahead of the decision being put down.
ALBANESE: We’re not talking about getting rid of the Fair Work Commission.
VAN ONSELEN: Just stripping away its independence.
ALBANESE: No, we’re talking about going to, if you like, a higher umpire of the Parliament of Australia to express our view that this decision that was made isn’t just bad for the individuals in terms of their living standards, but it’s also bad economic policy. If you take out of the economy that’s already struggling under this Government’s framework, if you take that cash out of the economy that people earn, the sort of cash that they spend. These people working for penalty rates on Sundays aren’t people who are making big savings. They’re people who rely upon that to pay the school fees, to pay their mortgage, to pay their bills. They’re providing that economic activity, which then creates jobs. So this is a bad decision and it contrasts our approach to this, saying, well that decision has been got wrong, we’ve had debates in the past about tribunal decisions under WorkChoices not being allowed to make people worse off, that test, being important in industrial relations. And it’s that principle that we’d be applying here, which stands in stark contrast to the other mob who, when they got a decision from the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, they abolished the whole tribunal and didn’t leave anything in place in terms of road safety. Six months later you had the Transport Minister saying he needed to have an inquiry because of the increased incidents that are occurring on our roads. So I think Labor has taken a balanced view on this. We’ve said to the Coalition they should join us in supporting the legislation that Bill Shorten moved in the Parliament this morning.
KENEALLY: Does this legislation set a precedent that, in the future, the Coalition could move to overturn other decisions of the Fair Work Commission, say for example, an increase in wages?
VAN ONSELEN: And why don’t you get into the Reserve Bank too when you don’t like their decision around interest rates?
ALBANESE: Well the precedent here is very similar to the argument that Labor put when we got rid of WorkChoices, which is that we don’t believe that as a result of a process that doesn’t involve the individuals concerned – you know the person working in a local cafe, or local bar in my electorate yesterday, currently enjoying the benefit of penalty rates, didn’t get consulted, didn’t get a chance to have their say on this. It has been a decision that’s left them worse off and that was at the core of WorkChoices and the Coalition of the time’s views that led to their undoing. The idea that you can leave people worse off in terms of their hip pocket and Government just to say, oh well that’s just the process, is not on. At the moment people are able to have flexible workplace relations, but they’ve got to be part of an enterprise agreement, one whereby you have trade-offs and that occurs in many sectors and that means that yes there’s a loss, but there’s also a gain. What we have here is just a straight out loss of living standards for some of the poorest people in our community who rely upon it and I said last week that I used to work at the Pancakes on the Rocks 11pm-7am shift on a Saturday night, when I was very young, a long time ago. Most young people, 20-year-olds, wouldn’t give up their Saturday night to work all night for the fun of it. You do it because that was a way of increasing my income to be able to get through uni. Now there are many students in that situation, but there are many people as well working a second job who rely upon this money to survive.
VAN ONSELEN: But they’re still getting penalty rates.
ALBANESE: But they’re getting less. They’re getting less and it’s extraordinary. I reckon that every single person watching this program now, if essentially the principle here is 200 down to 150, that’s a 25 per cent cut. If they said you earn $100, now you earn $75, I reckon people would be pretty angry about that. We’re talking about 700,000 people being impacted by this decision.
VAN ONSELEN: But Anthony Albanese, the example that you used, when you were working at Pancakes at the Rocks between 11pm and 7am, presumably you were a casual so you wouldn’t be affected by this decision.
ALBANESE: I’m not sure of the detail to tell you the truth, in terms of whether I was that or permanent part-time, that was my regular shift. Because, let me tell you, there wasn’t a queue to work on Saturday night and to give it up. I did it because I had to. It obviously had a big impact, working all night, and a lot of people out there are doing just that. Working in terms of permanent part-time, working to try to make a difference and it will have an impact on them.
VAN ONSELEN: Let me ask you a policy question; heaven forbid in your portfolio area, Anthony Albanese, before we run out of time. Why do you support a curfew for Mascot airport but not Badgerys Creek? Is there an issue in relation to the flight path not being as significantly over residential areas, because people around Badgerys Creek argue that toss?
ALBANESE: It’s very simple; the only airports in which there are curfews in Australia are the ones that are essentially right in the middle of residential zones. They are Sydney, Gold Coast, Adelaide and Essendon airport in Melbourne. All of the other airports are curfew free. One of the benefits of Badgerys Creek is because of the restrictions that the Hawke Government put in place in 1984, you’ve had restrictions about development around the site. So you can actually have flight paths to the south west that will impact on nobody. That will ensure that communities are not impacted at all and that’s something that should be ensured, as a result of the decisions. Of course at Sydney Airport now, there’s over 4000 flights last year between 11pm and 6am. It’ll be a very long time indeed until we see at Badgerys Creek those sort of numbers at night time and the benefit is that protection that’s there to the south west away from communities needs to happen. When we announced that the Government was critical and I’m pleased to say that they now seem to have come on board.
KENEALLY: Anthony Albanese let me ask you one more in your portfolio area. You’re the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, why aren’t you supporting the Government’s key infrastructure project in Perth, the Perth Freight Link? I thought you would have been quite happy to see a link to the port there.
ALBANESE: There are two issues, well three issues. One is they took money away from public transport that had been allocated. They did that in their 2014 Budget. The second is that the port there will reach capacity in around about 2022. The real issue in Perth is what happens with the Outer Harbour, getting the planning, getting the infrastructure there to get that right so it can cope with the growth. And the third is that this project doesn’t even go to the port. It stops 3km short and this morning in Senate Estimates we had it confirmed by the Department and by Infrastructure Australia that they’ve seen no proposals that would take it any further than where it’s envisioned to stop. So this is a project that ….
VAN ONSELEN: It could go underground surely?
ALBANESE: …that doesn’t take sense.
KENEALLY: Surely, wouldn’t they go underground?
ALBANESE: No what they are saying is that the bridge is wide enough to cope with the increased traffic and then it will just go through the streets to the port. There is no proposal and Infrastructure Australia have confirmed that this morning. There has been no proposal to actually get this right. Goodness knows where it came from. The Roe 8 project in Perth, through the Beeliar Wetlands was ruled out essentially. It was off the agenda, for a long time and the Government had to legislate to overturn essentially the environmental protections which have protected the wetlands there.
VAN ONSELEN: Well Anthony Albanese, if Muhammad won’t come to the mountain maybe the mountain has to come to Muhammad. Maybe they should move the port to wherever this freeway is. Is it near the water?
KENEALLY: Move it 3km in. That’s right. What a great idea.
ALBANESE: It helps if ports are near liquid.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.