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Albanese speaking

Jun 3, 2019 • 19m 20s

Anthony Albanese didn’t always expect to be Labor leader but now he’s in the job, he’s not going anywhere.

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Albanese speaking

06 • Jun 3, 2019

Albanese speaking

[Theme Music]

ELIZABETH:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Elizabeth Kulas. This is 7am.

Anthony Albanese has been elected unopposed to lead the Labor Party. He sat down with his biographer, and The Saturday Paper Correspondent, Karen Middleton, to talk about what just happened and what’s guiding his thinking on key policies.

TAPE – Karen

"I'm just heading down to interview the new leader of the opposition who's just arrived back in Canberra. It's freezing cold and raining. I'm sure he's not thrilled about the weather."

ELIZABETH:

Karen Middleton is Chief Political Correspondent at The Saturday Paper.

TAPE – Karen

[Footsteps]

"He is still actually in his old office. He hasn’t moved into the leader’s office yet. The old office is actually just opposite the Opposition party room which is not where Labor was hoping it would be meeting anymore."

ELIZABETH:

Karen, you met with Anthony Albanese just a few days ago, what was his mood like?

KAREN:

Pretty positive, I think.

TAPE:
[Knock, knock]

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"Hello?"

KAREN:

"Hello. How are you?"

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"I'm good."

KAREN:

"Have you got time?"

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"Yeah sure. Come in."

KAREN:

"Thanks."

KAREN:

He's an optimistic person generally and he is choosing very much to dwell on the positive and not on the negative of what happened on May 18, and he's now got the job of taking the party forward. So he's looking to the future.

ELIZABETH:

And given that you've spoken to Albanese many many times over the years, what was it that you were hoping to get out of this conversation?

KAREN:

I think what I hope to get out of this conversation and interview was a bit about where his head is at, and how he intends to approach things. And also how he is going to tackle some of these difficult issues, because he will be tested on these things. This is going to be a tough job for him. I mean, I wanted to get a sense from him about how he was thinking about these things and that might give us a bit of a hint of the kind of leader he's going to be.

ELIZABETH:

Karen, what are the things that define Albanese as a person?

KAREN:

Resilience, I think he's right up there, and he's a really good relationship builder. He gets on with all kinds of people, he's very easygoing. And he’s a person who looks ahead to where he wants to get to, and works backwards figuring out how to get there. So, I think that’s the process he’s now engaging in. He's had to fight his way up through New South Wales Labor politics and that, of all the branches in the country, of all of all the divisions in the country, is probably the most brutal. So I think that's forged that resilience in him. But it's also made him, at times, a ruthless political player. I do think he puts the Labor cause as he says, ahead of other interests in his politics.

ELIZABETH:

So Karen. When you sit down with him as leader, is he any different to the man that you've spent all these years covering?

KAREN:

Well, yes and no. No, because I think "Albo", as he is colloquially known, is the same person as he was before. But yes, because I think it's dawning on him that he has a huge responsibility now.

ELIZABETH:

And what's the first thing that you talk about?

KAREN:

Well it was about that point that he had run six years ago and was defeated in the caucus vote. And I really just said look:

TAPE:

KAREN:
"What does it feel like six years later to take on his job, under these circumstances where everybody thought you'd be in government?"

KAREN:

Not only are you not there but you are opposition leader, what does that feel like?

TAPE

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"Well the Labor Party is very disappointed as an organisation ... "

KAREN:

And he chose to talk about the disappointment in the wider Labor Party and that he sees his job is to tend to that, to show that he is determined and Labor should be determined. So, he's thinking about the morale, I guess.

TAPE:

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"And the first task is to show them that we're determined, not despairing, when it comes to our prospects in the future."

KAREN:

Pull Labor back together, determined to try and win in three years time.

ELIZABETH:

And what is morale in the party is everyone feeling quite as positive as Albanese's sort of trying to promote?

KAREN:

No, most certainly not. It was a terrible defeat and they really did think that they were going to win. And it's all about expectations because if you look at the numbers really the coalition doesn't have a huge majority. But it's all about the expectations …

TAPE:

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"Absolutely. And people in the media who were confident that we were going to be successful treated us as if we were the government."

KAREN:

And I think that assumption just pervaded right through the party.

ELIZABETH:

You go on to ask Albanese about the scare campaign that the Coalition ran during the election or at least part of their campaigning. What was his response to that?

KAREN:

I think he believes there was a complex range of issues that caused Labor's defeat, a whole lot of things, but one of them was this fear campaign. But he makes the point that he is an optimistic person and he wants to prove that hope can triumph over fear.

TAPE:

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"One of the things that we do is promote hope rather than fear and we hope to be in a position ... to form government after the next election."

KAREN:

And I made the point that fear won in this case.

TAPE:

KAREN:

"Some people are saying that you should have gone harder on fear about the coalition returning to government and you didn't. Isn't that a reasonable argument?"

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"Well … "

KAREN:

And he said, “Well yeah, but you have to be positive in that Labor's job is to be positive.” He talks about needing to change society, to redistribute economic and social power and wealth.

TAPE:

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"We are always going to have to be more positive but it's what we do it's who we are."

KAREN:

But I think his view is that they just didn't execute those policies well, they didn't take the feedback properly from people on the ground who said that the redistributive policies were too one-sided. And that didn't have enough to offer people who wanted to better themselves financially.

ELIZABETH:

When you speak last week he's just come back from Queensland. What did he experience on that trip?

KAREN:

Well he went to Longman, which was one of the seats that Labor lost, to sit down and talk to people who voted against Labor, who might otherwise have been thinking about voting for Labor and find out why they did that.

TAPE

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"What I learned was one, that people were disappointed, but also a range of people talked to me very directly about why they didn't vote Labor. One person who didn't vote Labor who received twelve hundred dollars a year on franking credits."

KAREN:

“I use that for Christmas presents I use it for that very expensive festive season. It's important to me, I'm not a rich person. Please don't suggest that I am.”

TAPE:

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"Someone else was a small business person making outdoor street furniture. He employs 25 people."

KAREN:

He's talked about a small businessman who he says told him that Labor behaved like he was a rich person and he felt that the kind of language that was used, that envy politics language was excluding him and condemning him.

TAPE:

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"And that we weren't respecting him enough ... "

KAREN:

He got a bit of a message about particularly that policy, but also the general language and attitude which went back to that aspirational point, that people just felt that Labor wasn't speaking to them with respect and that's a word he's now been using quite a lot.

KAREN:

Albanese is now talking very much about the need to acknowledge that people are entitled to want to do better in life. And it's not a dirty word or a bad thing to do that. So that's indirectly really criticising the whole politics of envy campaign that Labor rested its case on.

ELIZABETH:

That concern about franking credits, about this kind of general rhetoric of redistribution of wealth that was upsetting to some part of the electorate. That's a concern that carried throughout the election. Was it something that was fed through the party during the campaign or did Albanese raise it himself?

KAREN:

Well, I asked him about this because you know it's all very well to be what the Americans like to call the Monday morning quarterback. Who can look back and say well this is where we went wrong and we're all engaged in that process, those of us watching politics and those of them who are involved in it. So he is looking back and at what went wrong and I did ask him, did you raise it yourself?

TAPE

KAREN:

"Did you have concerns about it?"

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"There were concerns about it which is one of the lessons, is to listen to the feedback from all of the members of the caucus who have a role."

KAREN:

He didn't directly say to me that he took responsibility for this, but later he did say that, publicly, that he accepts responsibility as a member of the executive. So, he's obviously decided that's an important message to send. But he did say there was feedback coming back, he'd be quite pointedly didn't say exactly who gave the feedback, so he ducked my question about whether it was him or not. But he said there was feedback coming back, that there was concern on the ground about the general messaging and the nature of some of the policies and how it would affect people. But he's implying, if not saying directly, that it wasn't taken on board, it was ignored and certainly wasn't acted on.

ELIZABETH:

And what did you ask him about next?

KAREN:

The next thing I asked him was about Bill Shorten and the difficulty he faces in having a disappointed ... well a, crushed former leader still in his parliamentary ranks and how he would manage that because, when you look at history, disappointed former leaders have made some trouble for their new leaders on both sides of politics over the past decade. It's not an ideal situation. And he spoke in some detail about the good relationship he has with Bill Shorten.

TAPE:

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"He has said that he will support my leadership and be constructive and I'm confident that he'll do just that. I have a good relationship with Bill. The truth is that we had a lot of engagement over the last six years. We actually got to know each other pretty well and so we like each other … "

KAREN:

Now, It's important for him to be saying that publicly, but I do think there has been tension behind the scenes between Shorten and Albanese. Shorten saw Albanese as a consistent and persistent rival ... there is still some stress and tension ... and Albanese is going to have to be very conscious of the personal impact that this loss will have had on Bill Shorten

[Music starts]

and the need to, to keep him close and to respect him. That word again as a former leader ... and that may be the best way for him to avoid any unhappiness and unrest ... from either Bill Shorten or the people who supported him.

[Music ends]

ELIZABETH:

We’ll be right back.

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ELIZABETH:

Karen, you sit down with Anthony Albanese a few days ago. You were taking the mood, but you also had a chance to get into policy, a sort of more detailed policy discussion with him. Was he ready to elaborate?

KAREN:

Well, a little bit, I asked him about a few key policy issues that have been controversial for Labor and that might be difficult for him as a leader who comes from the left.

TAPE:

KAREN:

"Starting from scratch with … "

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"All policies … when you lose an election as we did what we don't do is start off with existing policies. What we do is start off with our values …"

KAREN:

He is basically saying they are starting with a blank sheet of paper. That after a defeat like this nothing is assumed. So they will set out the principles that Labor wants to adhere to, the things that it believes in at its core and then they will work out how they translate into policy.

ELIZABETH:

What was the first more detailed policy area he wanted to get in to with him that you think might be difficult for him as leader?

KAREN:

Well, the first policy issue I asked him about is offshore detention and the whole issue of asylum seekers. This has been problematic for Labor for a long time. When Labor took government in 2007, it eased the tough offshore processing to border protection that the coalition government had, had and there was an influx of people arriving in Australia by boat. The detention centres filled up, people drowned at sea, which was a terrible thing, and the Labor Party generally acknowledges, or the leadership does, that that was a bad situation.

TAPE:

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"Well, the policy that we took to the election was, I think a coherent policy. It was one that maintained many of the measures that the government has put in place."

KAREN:

So even Albanese, who is from the party's left and has always opposed offshore processing historically is now saying he's changed his mind. He believes that the offshore processing system has to remain in place but he obviously wants a more compassionate attitude to the people who are being held in detention.

TAPE:

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"The objective should be to stop people coming in a way which then they end up being in an offshore detention."

ELIZABETH:

What do ... Albanese's public statements now on this mean for the hopes of the Left faction of the Labor Party on offshore detention policy?

KAREN:

Well he's a pragmatist. He's not an ideologue. And so the way he sees factions these days is organisational rather than ideological, because he views them as a vehicle to attain power and influence in order to make change. So it's a bit unclear, if he maintains authority over the party, if he keeps the confidence of his colleagues, then they won't be pushing back on things like this if they believe it's going to destabilise and undermine him.

ELIZABETH:

Hmm, and where did you go to next?

KAREN:

The next thing I asked him about was bipartisanship because he's talking about bipartisanship a lot and saying that people are really sick of the partisan conflict, that they have conflict fatigue. And he wants to address that.

TAPE:

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"I’ve been consistent in talking about conflict fatigue. I get it wherever I go and I talk to people, they are sick of seeing people yell at each other."

KAREN:

And I just made the point to him that that's all very well, but we've seen bipartisanship fail spectacularly in recent times.

ELIZABETH:

Right, on major policy issues, climate policy, probably the biggest. What did he have to say about Labor’s climate policy?

KAREN:

Only that climate change is real, that the science is in, and that Labor will not be shifting its beliefs about that and that it will be working to achieve action on climate change, preferably he says with the government rather than against the government.

TAPE:

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"The science is in. Climate change is real. The government has an opportunity to reset and they should do so. It frankly is in the interests of the national economy for that to happen. Climate change is real and we need to act on the science."

KAREN:

It hasn't been addressed in Australia adequately for the last decade, but there’s certainly going to be the question about the level of their targets and the nuts and bolts and what mechanisms they might choose. So, I think that's all up for debate again now. But the general principles remain.

ELIZABETH:

And what about Adani, where was Albanese’s head on that?

KAREN:

Well, he still isn't giving a straight answer really on what his position is on the Adani mine and this has been a really difficult issue for Labor ... The way that Albanese is responding to it is saying: look, government has made the decisions about this mine, the people shouldn't pretend that we can take a position and somehow have an influence over this. We're out of the game now. It's a government decision now.

TAPE:

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"So, that's the process. There won't be a vote in the national parliament about the Adani coal mine and people need to stop pretending that there will be."

KAREN:

"But people expect you to take a position."

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"Because, because there won't be … "

ELIZABETH:

If we step back now, having sat with Albanese, done this interview, what kind of party does it look like he intends to lead?

KAREN:

Well, I think it comes back to that word respect, again. He doesn't want to lead a party that is sneering at people for their income levels or for their beliefs. You know his big challenge now is not only to pull Labor people together, but ultimately if he wants to win the next election, he's got to win over liberal voters, and people who voted for Clive Palmer's United Australia Party and people who voted One Nation, and the Centre Alliance in South Australia and all the voters, the Greens as well. So he's got to win people from the right and from the left he really has to be try and be a genuine unifier. If Labor is going to get across the line.

ELIZABETH:

You've been following Albanese for so long, and you know part of the coverage you've done of him over the years is that even people who are big planners themselves say, you know, if I'm a four steps ahead kind of person Albanese is a 10 steps ahead kind of person. He's a waiter. He's a planner. He's a strategic thinker in your opinion, having watched him is this always where he was going to end up, as leader of the opposition or leader of the Labor Party?

KAREN:

No, I don't think so. He's different in the sense that he's not one of the people who's had this burning ambition since he was a child. I don't think he ever thought he would be leader of the Labor Party, I don't think he really felt that. He certainly didn't feel that it was his destiny. You know Malcolm Turnbull thought he was always going to be Prime Minister. Bill Shorten has long had an ambition to always be Prime Minister. Anthony Albanese hasn't had that ambition as a young man. But I think after the 2013 contest with Bill Shorten, having lost it in the way that he did, and having discovered that he had strong support in the wider party, I think that made him more determined. So while he does have now the lofty ambitions about making change in the Labor cause and all that, I do think it became a little bit more personal for him, in recent years and that has also driven him on a little bit.

ELIZABETH:

Karen, you’ve said, you think that in Albanese’s mind, this wasn’t necessarily part of his destiny, nonetheless, he is now here. What happens next for him?

[Music starts]

KAREN:

Well now that he's there I think he's going to fight very hard to stay there, so he will be thinking not only about the best policy for Labor to win the election, but the best approach for him to make sure that he maintains that authority and isn't challenged.

TAPE:

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"The truth is, also as someone who's been in this building government having a position, in the opposition doesn't matter anywhere near as much as having a position in government. That's what really counts."

KAREN:

"Thank you."

ANTHONY ALBANESE:

"No worries."

ELIZABETH:

Thank you, Karen. Thanks for joining us.

KAREN:

No problem at all, thank you for having me.

ELIZABETH:

Karen’s biography is called Albanese, Telling it Straight it was first published in 2016. And you can find it wherever good books are sold.

[Music ends]

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Elizabeth

Elsewhere in the news:

Anthony Albanese has announced his shadow cabinet. Bill Shorten has been made shadow minister for the NDIS. Jim Chalmers has been made shadow treasurer. Richard Marles is deputy leader. And Kristina Keneally has been given Home Affairs.

This is 7am.

I’m Elizabeth Kulas

See you Tuesday.

Anthony Albanese has been elected unopposed to lead the Labor Party. He sat down with his biographer, Karen Middleton, to talk about what just happened and what guides his thinking on key policies.

Guest: The Saturday Paper’s chief political correspondent Karen Middleton.

Background reading:

Starting again: the Albanese interview in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein and Ruby Schwartz. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Equate Studio.

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06: Albanese speaking