Topics: Labor leadership; legislating tax cuts; gender equity; religious freedom laws.

31 May 2019


Deb Knight: With newly installed Trade Minister Simon Birmingham. Fellas, good morning to you.


Anthony Albanese: Good morning.


Simon Birmingham: G’day Deb.


Deb Knight: Albo, what is going on here? Bill Shorten is pointing the finger at everyone else but himself. Why can’t he take responsibility for his own mistakes?


Anthony Albanese: Well look I’ve said very clearly Deb that Labor accepts the outcome of the election result…


Deb Knight: But Bill Shorten clearly doesn’t.


Anthony Albanese: Well, those of us who were in positions in the Labor Party have to accept the outcome and have to accept that we made some strategic errors. We listened to the verdict of the people, the people always get it right. No point complaining about what happened on the field, when you look at the score board at the end of the day, we were defeated by about 77 to 68, will be the final score.


Deb Knight: So what did you think though when you heard Bill Shorten say that yesterday?


Anthony Albanese: Well look there’s no doubt that vested interests did play a role, but we also have to accept our responsibility that some of the policies that we put forward clearly didn’t connect with enough people and people didn’t feel they had the capacity to put their faith in us. We have to do better next time, it’s as simple as that.


Deb Knight: And you’ve got to watch your back too because reports this morning that Bill Shorten has told allies he wants to return as Labor leader. You were there for the Rudd Gillard Rudd years, how can you lead effectively Albo with a ghost of leaders’ past haunting you like this?


Anthony Albanese: Look we will be a united team, I’ve been elected unanimously by the Labor Party to lead. We have a leadership team, we have gender balance, we have talent and a mix some new people coming, Richard Marles as my deputy…


Deb Knight: So will you sit Bill Shorten down then and tell him to toe the line?


Anthony Albanese: Well I don’t need to do that. Bill Shorten knows as every member of the team does, their responsibility to work for the team.


Simon Birmingham: Doesn’t sound like it. 


Deb Knight: Well we’ll bring you in here Birmo, because Bill Shorten we know was wanting to be PM all his life, the Liberals of course bear the most recent scars from former leaders causing trouble. Is it wise to keep Bill Shorten on Labor’s frontbench?


Simon Birmingham: Well, I don’t think it is when Bill Shorten is showing that he is as delusional as he appears to be. I mean, you might forgive a bit of bitterness but he doesn’t seem to understand or have heard any of the messages that Albo’s been giving or anybody else in that regard. He doesn’t accept it seems, that there were policy failures at the heart of why the Labor Party lost the election. The Australian people heard there was a real choice, a choice between higher taxes from Labor or lower taxes from Scott Morrison and the Liberal-National team, and they went for the lower taxes, they went for the stronger economy. And the Labor Party’s first big test that Albo’s going to face is whether of course he can keep the team together, but in practical terms will be where they choose to vote when it comes to the tax relief plan that we bring to the Parliament shortly. And if they vote against it, well then clearly the likes of Bill Shorten will win because Bill will still be running the agenda of class warfare and so on. If they vote with us and actually support that tax relief plan, well then maybe there’ll be a sign that Albo’s winning the day and they are all learning some lessons.  


Deb Knight: So you can see then that it was a mistake to let Tony Abbott hang around for as long as he did?


Simon Birmingham: Look I think there were certainly disruptions for the last few years and that yes, you can see things are smoother perhaps when you don’t have some of those former leaders there who attract a greater degree of attention. Now, we have got a great team going forward Scott Morrison this week in swearing in the new cabinet and ministry, very humble, very workman like, it’s back to business for us but it’s back to business, we’ve got a new team and fresh team that youthful leadership team we’ve got of Scott and Josh, and Mathias and myself.  And of course also a fabulous new cabinet, record number of women sitting around the cabinet table, Linda Reynolds our new Defence Minister is off now to Shangri-La Dialogue, talking to defence leaders from around the region. This is what we want to see, this type of focus and drive and work effort and that’s what Scott’s given as a message to all of us.


Deb Knight: Albo, you’ve singled out Kristina Keneally and told your own party that you wanted her on the frontbench, two other well-respected and very capable members of the Labor Party team stepped aside to make room for her. Why is Kristina Keneally so crucial for you?


Anthony Albanese: I’ll tell you what’s crucial Deb, it’s the fact that our leadership team is two men and two women. Their leadership team that that Birmo just spoke about, there’s four men and zero women.


Deb Knight: Merit is pretty important too though isn’t it?


Anthony Albanese: Well Kristina Keneally has talent, so does Penny Wong.


Simon Birmingham: So does our Foreign Minister Marise Payne, so does Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, so does Social Services Minister Anne Ruston. 


Anthony Albanese: But they don’t have any women in their leadership team of the Liberal Party, none. Women make up 50 per cent of the population, I want a team that is representative of the population. It’s that simple.


Deb Knight: Well Ed Husic is a talented individual, and he’s now stepped aside.


Anthony Albanese: He is indeed.


Deb Knight: But Kristina Keneally, when you look at her track record, she led Labor to the worst defeat of a sitting government in New South Wales history, she lost the Bennelong by-election. Is that track record really that strong?>


Anthony Albanese: I think Penny Wong and Kristina Keneally will make a very strong team that will make Birmo’s life in the Senate very difficult indeed. They’re both tough, they’re committed, they’re principled, they’re very effective, and they’re very articulate and what they will do is hold the Government to account in the Senate. That is very important.


Deb Knight: All right.


Simon Birmingham: I’ve got to say I back some of the women in our Senate team, our Foreign Minister Marise Payne, our Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, our new Social Services Minister Anne Ruston, our Jobs Minister Michaelia Cash, it’s a pretty powerful line up of sensible cabinet Ministers (indistinct).


Anthony Albanese: That’s a good thing that there are women in the cabinet, that’s a good thing. It’s a pity that the Liberal Party still has no women in its leadership team, it’s as simple as that. And they’ve already broken a commitment, they could bring the Parliament back Deb in June, to put through the first lot of tax cuts that are supposed to come into effect on July 1. That was what they said they would do during the election campaign and they’re not doing it.


Deb Knight: Will you pass the tax cuts?


Simon Birmingham: Well we’re giving you time to go a make a decision about whether you are oing to vote for the whole package or not.


Deb Knight: And will you Albo, will you support it in full, the second and third tier as well?


Anthony Albanese: We will vote for the tax cuts that come into play on July 1. What Simon’s asking for…


Deb Knight: But will you back it in full?


Anthony Albanese: What Simon’s asking for and what you’ve just asked me about is tax cuts that come in, not during this entire term but sometime after the next election. We’ll give consideration to that and we’ll make our announcement after we’ve given it proper consideration, after we have seen the legislation, we haven’t even seen any legislation yet Deb.


Deb Knight: Alright, so not ruling it in or out. We’ll wait and see.


Anthony Albanese: What we won’t be doing is giving blank cheques on the basis of legislation that doesn’t exist.


Simon Birmingham: But it’s all in the Budget Albo, this is not difficult legislation.


Deb Knight: Birmo, I wanted to ask you about the issue of religious freedom. We know that Barnaby Joyce is making his voice heard already on the backbench and another restive former leader. What do you think of his push for stronger religious freedom laws? 


Simon Birmingham: Well we’ll give effect to the recommendations of the Ruddock review as we outlined in our government response and that involved asking the Australian Law Reform Commission to do some work around preparing a bill that would protect religious freedoms in Australia just the same as we protect and other freedoms and provide for other forms of anti-discrimination in Australia. We want to make sure there’s no unnecessary discrimination against people of faith.


Deb Knight: How can you really police and really legislate on religious beliefs?


Simon Birmingham: We are not legislating on what people beieve but we do want to legislate for the right for people to genuinely hold those beliefs and not be discriminated against because they hold those beliefs. Now, we’ve gone through quite a careful process having the Ruddock review which took public submissions, went through a very careful bit of work there, we’ve now asked the Australian Law Reform Commission to take a look at the details of how you would structure such a religious freedom bill and act and we’ll bring that then to the Parliament for proper scrutiny. I will hope that this is an area that we can enjoy bipartisanship, Australia is a country where freedom of religion sits at its core and we want to make sure that that alongside all of the other rights and responsibilities that are already legislated, and of course the guarantees that we have anti-discrimination laws in relation to people’s sexuality, to people’s age, to people’s gender, they’re important. We also have to make sure that people’s faith is appropriately respected and we’ll do that and I trust and hope that the Labor Party will work cooperatively with us to make sure that this is a unifying step for the nation, it builds upon that existing anti-discrimination framework in a successful way.


Deb Knight: Alright. Well they’re back into business. Albo and Birmo, we thank you both for your time this morning and we will wait and see what emerges from Canberra.