DOORSTOP INTERVIEW WITH THE LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY | SYDNEY

ANTHONY ALBANESE MP, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
RICHARD MARLES MP, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY

SUBJECTS: ALP Special Platform Conference; Labor’s National Reconstruction Fund; Andrew Laming; Royal Commission into Veterans’ Suicide; Labor’s policy agenda.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Today, Labor is announcing our National Reconstruction Fund. The pandemic has shown us the strength of Australian society. Australians making sacrifices to look after each other is seeing us through the pandemic. But it’s also shown up some of the weaknesses in our economy. The fact that we’re not resilient enough, that we’re susceptible to shocks, the fact that we didn’t have enough PPE, we didn’t have enough ventilators. There’s a whole range of products that we’re simply not producing. We also need to make sure that we don’t just return what was there, but we use this crisis to build back stronger. It’s a wake-up call for Australia. Those Australians who are in insecure work are looking for secure jobs, permanent jobs, well-paid jobs. And that’s why Australia’s National Reconstruction Fund that Labor would create, of $15 billion, to partner with the private sector, including superannuation funds, will drive future jobs growth and our economy. It will be particularly beneficial for our regions. It will apply to sectors across the board, such as defence industry, such as existing businesses that need to transition towards zero net emissions. It will be an important tool going forward to build confidence in our economy. We know that investment is actually going backwards, that we’re not seeing enough business investment in this country. And we also know that Australia has been fantastic at research and innovation, everything from new solar energy technology through to wine casks, through to Wi-Fi. Australia hasn’t always, though, commercialised the benefit for our inventions and for our expertise. So we need to be a smart country going forward. We need to take advantage of the opportunities that are there from, for example, the fact that we have everything in this country that goes into a battery, but we’re not producing enough here. There are examples such as Tritium in South East Queensland, which is exporting electric vehicle charging stations to the world. But we can do much, much more in the future. This fund is aimed at that. It’s a part of Labor’s focus on jobs, which will be the centre of our recovery.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thank you, Anthony. In the last eight years, we’ve seen the biggest deindustrialisation in our nation’s history. When Australia lost the ability to make cars, when this Government goaded the car industry offshore, we lost our most complex high-tech manufacturing. And what COVID-19 has exposed is that all of that means we have a loss of industrial sovereign capability. And we need to restore all of that. And that’s what the National Reconstruction Fund will do. We’ll be focusing on building companies which provide long-term, well-paid secure jobs. Companies that innovate, companies that commercialise science, which turns science into jobs, which has been a national weakness. We do the science well, but turning that into industry and employment is something we must do better. And the National Reconstruction Fund will focus on that. And it will do so looking at working on our national strengths; mining, agriculture, medical research, transport, defence industry. And it will also look at key enabling sectors such as robotics, data science, artificial intelligence. Australia needs to climb the technological ladder. We need to put ourselves on the path of becoming the most modern country in the world. We need to be grabbing the future. And that’s what the National Reconstruction Fund will do.

ALBANESE: Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: It is the first day of the Labor Party conference today. It’s a very different conference because of COVID. What are you expecting over these two days and what areas of policy will it be in?

ALBANESE: This is an important part of who the Labor Party is. A Party that this year is celebrating 130 years. Australia’s oldest and greatest political party that draws its strength from our members, from our trade union affiliates, that’s a participatory Party, one in which this conference always makes a difference. There’s a full suite of policies that will be debated over the next two days. So it is different because it’s a virtual conference due to the circumstances beyond our control. Our President, Wayne Swan, is unable to participate because of the decision made by the New South Wales Government about people who visited Brisbane in recent days. It is just another reminder that we’re not through COVID yet and that we need to adjust our behaviours. As have individuals and organisations throughout the country, the Labor Party has adjusted. But it’s fantastic that we’re able to have this two-day conference with people participating right around Australia in a virtual way.

JOURNALIST: Are you deliberately gagging the debate (inaudible)?

ALBANESE: To suggest there are no restrictions, our President just had to leave the venue. People are participating all around the country. We made the decision to go ahead with the conference last year. You would be aware of the restrictions that have been in place since then, in Adelaide, in Perth, in Brisbane, on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, in Melbourne. All of the country has been impacted by this. We made the decision. It was the right decision to ensure that we could go ahead in a safe way, the ACTU Congress is taking place in a couple of months in a virtual way. Parliament is still restricted. We’ve had the debate some time about pairs. The fact is there have been 13 pairs on both sides due to ACT Health and their recommendations as well.

JOURNALIST: Part of the reason for holding this conference is to look at what Labor’s policy platform will be ahead of the next election. One of the key findings from the Weatherill-Emerson review was that in the last election, Labor’s suite of measures was too complex, it couldn’t be properly sold to the public. Two of those very contentious elements were capital gains tax and negative gearing. They’re not explicitly mentioned in the draft platform at the moment. Will they have a future as a Labor policy under your leadership?

ALBANESE: Policies are announced when they’re announced. If they’re not announced, they’re not our policies. And one of the things that we’ve done from the Emerson-Weatherill review is to learn one of the errors that was pointed out, which was we lost the 2016 election, we kept all of the policies in place and then just built on them for 2019. We haven’t done that. We will be announcing our proactive policies in the lead-up to the election. If we don’t announce them, they’re not our policies. We’ve already said that we won’t proceed with any policies on franking credits, for example. But we’ll examine the circumstances around the Budget in May. And after that, well in advance to the election, everyone will know precisely what revenue measures we intend to pursue and exactly what expenditures we will pursue. We’ve already started to roll them out. We’ll continue to do that.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).

ALBANESE: Well, I think there’s great opportunity for the automotive industry going forward. One of the things that happened, of course, under this Government was that they dared the car industry to leave. Now, there are a range of manufacturers who are still here in the transport sector. Boeing’s second largest area of operation is right here in Australia, for example, in aviation. We have everything from the Bushmasters being built in regional Victoria, we have buses that are built here, heavy vehicles that are built here. There’s got to be a great opportunity for electric vehicles here in Australia and particularly for components as well. As I said, we have everything that goes into a battery here. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was at the Nickel Refinery in Kwinana in Western Australia. It produces things that go into one in four batteries around the world. There’s an enormous potential that we have. What we need to do is to look at areas where we can value-add, where we can create high-quality, well-paid jobs here. Whether it be building on our mineral resources or building on our agricultural products or other areas, this fund, the National Reconstruction Fund, is aimed at providing a facilitation of gaining of the capital to have that investment so we can see businesses grow, so we can see jobs growth.

JOURNALIST: Will an Albanese Labor Government endorse nuclear energy?

ALBANESE: No.

JOURNALIST: Scott Morrison’s new Ministry meets later today. Do you believe that it’s a good thing to see more women in senior portfolio such as Karen Andrews in Home Affairs ministry? And secondly, will you have to tweak your line-up at all to take into account these female-specific portfolios that have been added like Women’s Economic Security and Women’s Safety?

ALBANESE: At the risk of breaching Cabinet confidence here, when I was Cabinet Minister, we actually had, under the Labor Government, consideration of the impact, gender impact, of every policy as part of submissions. Every single policy. That’s what we did in Government under Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. We, in terms of our line-up, I insisted on having 50 per cent of my leadership team, two of the four leaders, being women. I have a Shadow Cabinet that’s made up of 12 women and 12 men sitting around the Cabinet table. And in terms of the Prime Minister, I just say this: while Andrew Laming remains in the Liberal Party Caucus room, then this Prime Minister has a credibility problem. He got rid of Christine Holgate over the purchase of $20,000 worth of watches that was approved by the Australia Post board, got rid of her on the spot. Is he really saying that Christine Holgate’s penalty should have been greater than a fellow who has harassed his constituents online for years, who’s been accused of upskirting a woman at work, which is a crime, and those complaints have been forwarded on to police, has harassed his local state member in Kim Richards online, including asking for her to be surveilled and for information to be given about her whereabouts and who she was with. This guy’s behaviour is over the top. It’s unacceptable. And he shouldn’t be sitting in the Parliament. And yet, Scott Morrison is prepared to accept his vote and accept his participation in the Liberal Party room.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).

ALBANESE: Craig Thompson wasn’t sitting in the Labor Party room.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).

ALBANESE: Craig Thompson did not sit in the Labor Party room, he was excluded.

JOURNALIST: Would you say the Government therefore shouldn’t accept Andrew Laming’s vote? Is his vote tainted?

ALBANESE: Andrew Laming shouldn’t be in the Parliament.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).
 
ALBANESE: We’ll consider all of the options that are available to us. Parliament sits in May. I believe the Prime Minister should reconsider his decision to continue to accept Andrew Laming as a member of the Liberal Party room. And I’ll just say this, the idea that this bloke, all he needs is empathy training. Well, empathy training hasn’t worked for other members of this Government.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).

ALBANESE: Well, Andrew Laming shouldn’t be a Member of Parliament, in my very strong view. I think that he has brought disrepute into the Parliament for his constituents. This behaviour has gone on for a considerable period of time. He has not really expressed any remorse. He was doing radio interviews yesterday, the day after he asked for his privacy to be respected. On Thursday night, he gave an apology in the Parliament and on Friday on Facebook, he was saying he wasn’t sure what he’d done wrong. It’s very clear that this bloke does not accept any remorse. And the Prime Minister needs to be the Prime Minister for all Australians. And that means not accepting that Andrew Laming can just go on with business as usual.

JOURNALIST: You have spoken very highly about Julie-Ann Finney’s call for a Royal Commission. The RSL President, Greg Melick, said that Julie-Ann Finney has done immense damage to the cause to assuage her guilt over her own failed relationship with their son and many families who did not want massive public exposure will now suffer significant trauma if a Royal Commission goes ahead. Do you think that the RSL President’s position is tenable?

ALBANESE: I think Julie-Ann Finney is a fine Australian who deserves respect. I respect her. I think she’s shown great courage in speaking out for her son who can no longer speak out. And she deserves our respect. It is the right thing to call for a Royal Commission into the suicide of our veterans and serving personnel. It’s one that we came to after considerable discussion, not just with Julie-Anne Finney, but from veterans themselves, and from their families across the board. I think she deserves respect. And she has my respect.

JOURNALIST: Bill Shorten is introducing you, apparently, at the conference.

ALBANESE: You’ll have to wait and see.

JOURNALIST: Is that a show of unity in terms of the leadership dramas of Labor being behind you now?

ALBANESE: They’ve been behind us since when I was elected unopposed as Leader of the Labor Party.

JOURNALIST: How would you describe the Labor Party at the moment? Is it united? Are you ready to govern?

ALBANESE: The Labor Party is united. We are determined and we are absolutely ready to govern in the interests of all Australians. Our focus is on the needs of Australians. The Government is focused on itself. The Government is focused on short-term political management and spin. We are focused on the jobs of Australians, on the welfare of Australians, on improving our environment, on putting together a plan. And at the next election, we will have a very clear message for Australians, which is simply this: we are on your side. We don’t want anyone to be left behind. We don’t want anyone to be held back. Australia is a great country, but we can be even stronger in the future. And that stands in stark contrast with Scott Morrison’s priority, which is all about political management of every issue. And Scott Morrison is on his own side. And that’s the great divide in Australian politics at the moment. I’ve seen it before; this Government has been in office for eight long years. They’re tired, they’re out of ideas, they’re out of time. And after the next election, they should be out of office.

ENDS

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