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TDA sits down with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese

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Transcript:

Tom Crowley
Prime Minister, thank you very much for speaking to The Daily Aus.

Anthony Albanese
Good to be with you.

Tom Crowley
I want to start with the referendum on Indigenous Voice to Parliament later this year. Now, some of the latest polling suggests that a lot of Australians still can’t explain what a voice is. How will you bridge that gap between now and the vote?

Anthony Albanese
We’ll be very clear in the lead up to the vote that this is about recognition and consultation. That’s all it’s about. The words that I put forward last July at the Garma Festival were very clear that it begins with recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as Australia’s first peoples and then goes through the three constitutional clauses.

Anthony Albanese
One there shall be a voice. Second, the voice shall make representation on issues which affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. And thirdly, that there will be legislation from the Parliament to determine the structure and the activity of the voice that is subservient to the Parliament. So this is about just that we should be proud that our Constitution should reflect that we share this continent with the oldest continuous culture on earth.

Anthony Albanese
And secondly, where matters affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, we should ask them who should consult with them. That’s good manners, but it won’t be a funding body. It won’t be a body that is able to overrule the parliament or veto what the Parliament does that’s subservient to the Parliament, which is why that detail will be legislated.

Anthony Albanese
And of course that legislation can be changed from time to time.

Tom Crowley
It can, but there are clearly a lot of people who are quite interested in getting a sense as they make their mind up about their votes, about what that legislation will look like. And there is, I suppose, a detailed and authoritative proposal out there and that is a model which people across the spectrum spoke very favourably of.

Tom Crowley
Are you open to being a little bit clearer about whether that is the base of the Voice that you would like to legislate?

Anthony Albanese
Well, there’s a range of reports out there, including there’s already been a parliamentary inquiry reported in 2018 that then led to the calmer Langton report. That has a lot to say about local voices, about the structures in not every area, though, is it definitive, but it will. It is also very clear that it will be subject to legislation.

Anthony Albanese
And of course, that legislation will change from time to time. People, I think, haven’t had a referendum on the constitution this century. So for a lot of people, for everyone under the age of 40, this will be the first time they’ve ever voted. And what they’re voting on isn’t legislation. They’re not voting on the structure of the voice detail.

Anthony Albanese
What they’re voting on is just the principle of constitutional recognition. And that the form in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people themselves determined at Uluru overwhelmingly that they wanted, was to have a voice that is a say in matters that affect them.

Tom Crowley
If I can move onto housing, the cost of owning a house and renting a house are going up significantly at the moment. It’s something that puts pressure on a lot of Australians, millions of Australians, really. Our housing stress rates are some of the highest in the world. A lot of the policies that the government offers cover maybe a few tens of thousands of people a year.

Tom Crowley
Is that really enough to shift the dial on this problem?

Anthony Albanese
Well, this is a massive problem and we’re very cognizant of that. For young people in particular, it’s far more difficult to get into homeownership than it was when I first went into homeownership and went and got a mortgage, which was in the early 1990s. And so what we need to deal with, though, is the whole issue of supply that affects not thousands of people, but hundreds of thousands of people.

Anthony Albanese
And that’s why our housing accord is such a breakthrough, to get agreement from the housing construction industry, from social and housing groups, community housing groups and others about that sort of reform with the government, with not just the Commonwealth government, but every state and territory government, whether it be Labor or Coalition at the head of those governments, is a significant breakthrough and that housing accord will of course be in place for some period of time and that’s on top of the additional social housing investment that we’re doing, the additional emergency housing investment that we’re doing for women and children escaping domestic violence.

Anthony Albanese
That’s on top of our regional home buyer scheme. It’s on top of our Help to Buy scheme, which is a shared equity scheme as well, to allow people to get into the market. So a whole range of reforms are there working together either to try and assist people to get into appropriate housing.

Tom Crowley
But a lot of these problems are very deeply rooted. One thing the Labor Party’s considered in the past is some of the tax treatment of housing and the way that that encourages people to be investing in the housing market. Is that something that you’ll revisit?

Anthony Albanese
Well, we visited it and it was rejected by the Australian people.

Tom Crowley
And so never, never again this.

Anthony Albanese
It was rejected when we put it forward. So what we want to do is to try and work on methods that bring the industry together with people in order to provide solutions. And the key part of the problem clearly has to do with the issue of supply. So everything we’ve been dealing with has been aimed at increasing the supply of housing, because overwhelmingly the advice that we’ve received from Treasury and from private sector analysts say the same thing is that you need to increase the supply of housing, and that is what our reforms are aimed at doing.

Tom Crowley
I’ll change tack to mental health. Now, I suppose we’re in the midst of a really significant mental health crisis that’s particularly acute for young people. In that context, your government allowed ten additional subsidised sessions to expire at the end of last year, and there’s not yet anything in place to replace that. What will you do to replace that and to address mental health?

Anthony Albanese
Well, that measure, of course, was determined by the former government.

Tom Crowley
It was. But it was your decision to allow that to expire.

Anthony Albanese
Well, there no, we didn’t make a decision to change.

Tom Crowley
You could have extended it

Anthony Albanese
The former government made a whole range of commitments that then expired. Were time limited. That was one of them. And the advice was that the problem was that additional people getting access to support services wasn’t being aided enough under that system. That is that the same number of people were getting more support, not more people getting support.

Anthony Albanese
And now people are still having difficulty accessing the services. Now that was the advice to the government. I appreciate one of the things that we’ve we’re doing now. We’ve just announced in the last couple of days a process to enable, including young people to enable a reform of mental health and to get that advice to the government by establishing bodies so that we get that advice to the government to feed into future policy decision making processes.

Anthony Albanese
We, of course, in our budget, continue to provide substantial support. And in the budget in October, again, there was an increase in mental health funding. When the one that we inherited we’ll continue to do what we can to provide more and more support.

Tom Crowley
But I mean, the pattern that we see in mental health and when that decision was announced in December that there was a concession from the government that there were broader issues about cost and access in the mental health system. You’ve spoken quite openly about issues with Medicare more broadly. Is the health system on life support? And to be more specific about it, will a really significant amount of funding need to come from the government to fix that issue?

Anthony Albanese
Well, what we need to do is to fix the health system in general. And at the moment in a range of areas, it’s not functioning properly. And one of the things I’ve been working with state and territory governments on is health reform in delivery. At the moment you have the Medicare system that is run by the Commonwealth. At the same time, you have the hospital systems that are run by the states.

Anthony Albanese
So you have some built in structural inefficiencies where there are rather bizarre financial incentives to not work together. And that’s why in areas like, for example, we allocate in the budget in October additional support for telehealth services, for mental health in rural areas that had been planned to be withdrawn. And that was a commitment that we made at the election and we put that in the budget.

Anthony Albanese
Last Friday I was in Tasmania announcing a system whereby GP fees could, who were working through the hospital system can be employed effectively still by the state health care system, but get access to Medicare so that it provides them with an incentive to stay in the system to get that training, to continue to go into work as GP’s in regional Tasmania, which is defined as all of it effectively.

Anthony Albanese
And that’s a part of a $100 million plan that we put forward in the budget in order to try to look at innovative ways in which we boost efficiency and get better outcomes. Another example is that a whole lot of people end up in emergency departments from aged care residents because there’s not a nurse in nursing homes. If we get that care done at the aged care residents home, it won’t require an ambulance.

Anthony Albanese
Call that a trip to the hospital and sometimes an extensive stay as well in so many areas. So hospital beds are being taken up by people who either should be in some form of aged care residents or people who need disability care, people who shouldn’t be in hospital. And that’s placing pressure on the entire system. So we need to look at health care as a whole.

Anthony Albanese
It’s something that we established a medicare taskforce that we’re reporting to the National Cabinet this Friday when we meet to try and make sure that we get better outcomes. That’s what it’s about.

Tom Crowley
On climate change, your target is to reduce emissions by 43% by the end of the decade. Now the scientific consensus around the world is pretty clear that the world is not on track to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. We are one of the richest nations in the world. Why can’t our target be more ambitious?

Anthony Albanese
Look, it could be, but you’ve got to have a pathway to get there. Plucking a figure out does not change the fact that two things are needed. One, we need to reduce our emissions and we need to do that to every extent possible. But secondly as well, you won’t win support for that if when you walked in this room, you flipped a switch and the light didn’t go on.

Anthony Albanese
You need a transition. And what happened during the former government was you had full gigawatts leave the system of supply and only one gigawatt came in. Now we have a $20 billion rewiring the nation program to bring the grid into the 21st century. We have a plan to support renewables and to support that shift, which is we have a plan to support electric vehicles.

Anthony Albanese
We have a plan to support energy efficiency.
But at the same time, you need.

Anthony Albanese
Time for that investment to occur. And all of the projections going forward show that getting to a 43% reduction by 2030 is extremely ambitious in itself because of the nine lost years which we have.

Tom Crowley
But there are other policy options on the table that could be considered. You’ve spoken about this target as a floor rather than a ceiling, and one of those is the number of coal and gas projects that are currently under consideration, many of which the government has indicated in the past.

Anthony Albanese
But again, where. Which ones?

Tom Crowley
Well, there are.

Anthony Albanese
There are these figures plucked out but which ones?

Tom Crowley
Well, sure. But I mean, it remains the case that the government won’t commit, that it will never consider any coal and gas projects. And that’s it in a context where the.

Tom Crowley
Cycle is constantly updating.

Anthony Albanese
Timeline, timelines, the debate. There has not been a new coal fired power station built in Australia at any time, at any time.

Tom Crowley
But there are a lot of gas exploration projects around the in.

Anthony Albanese
More than a decade. There has not been any. And all of the science also tells us if you look at the International Energy Agency and the other advice is that, to take a practical example, Rio Tinto has four facilities based around Gladstone. They want to move away from alumina, refinery refining and other activities based upon using fossil fuels, which is how it’s powered at the moment through coal fired power stations.

Anthony Albanese
Gladstone want to move to powering through renewables, but they need the baseload capacity and the certainty of having access to gas as part of that transition. Now longer term they’re looking at hydrogen fulfilling that role. But in the meantime, you’re talking about tens of billions of dollars of private sector investment by a single company aimed at lowering their emissions.

Anthony Albanese
But also enabling them to continue to create jobs, produce products that we need. So that is in the real world. That’s the sort of example that we need in Townsville. I visited the zinc refinery there. That’s it’s a Korean based company is involved there. It’s the largest zinc refinery in the southern hemisphere. When you go there, there are over a million solar panels that are helping to power that.

Anthony Albanese
They’re looking at hydrogen, but they’re also looking at it in the short term as well, using some gas. So you need practical, real solutions going forward or else what you’ll do is you’ll end up doing you will lose support for the changes that occur that need to occur unless we bring communities with us.

Tom Crowley
Right. I’m conscious of time. I want to get to a couple of other topics that may be otherwise kind of headline news. And I want to start with one which is vaping. It’s something that, you know, a lot of experts are kind of worried that we’re losing years of progress on smoking rates with high amounts of vaping among young people.

Tom Crowley
Is that something you think that governments maybe have been a little bit slow to recognize and something we could do something about?

Anthony Albanese
I share their concerns. There are real concerns that vaping is a pathway to the same problem that has existed, and that’s why it’s interesting that some of the big tobacco companies have gone into vaping as a way of trying to maintain their profitability.

Tom Crowley
So what might the government do about that? I mean, plain packaging was the answer for cigarettes. Could it be sort of plain flavouring or something along those lines?

Anthony Albanese
So that’s something I think that the government at every level will examine and I think it will be examined not just here in Australia where historically we were leading the world in plain paper packaging and other methods that we undertook when we were last in government. And I do think that it is a major issue. We know it’s an issue as well coming through from very young people at school, getting access to, to vaping and and getting effectively the same habit that was a problem for them.

Anthony Albanese
Smoking cigarettes, yeah.

Tom Crowley
The government released a plan last year to work towards eliminating violence against women. A lot of past government plans have failed. What specifically will be different this time?

Anthony Albanese
I think today we held an event this morning here in Parliament House about the fact that tomorrow ten days paid domestic and family violence leave comes into force. That will make a big difference. No woman should have to choose between staying safe and being able to secure their job, and that will make a difference. The increased support we have 500 increased community service workers working in this area as well, providing support for women and children in particular, escaping domestic violence.

Anthony Albanese
We have $100 million for increased emergency housing. We have 4000 new social housing units that will be built for families and escaping domestic violence, in particular quarantine for them. It also is, though, a scourge that requires not just government, it requires the whole of society to act and for us to talk about it. For us to say that disrespect of women is always unacceptable.

Anthony Albanese
The rates of domestic violence are horrific, but we know that for a long time people knew about issues and would basically turn away. We need to put a spotlight on this and whether we be people in the media, people in government, people in the private sector, in their businesses, people in sporting organisations, we need a whole of society push to rid society of what is a dreadful scourge that impacts on women, but impacts as well, of course, on children who sometimes can be victims themselves or can be victims in another way by by witnessing the sort of violent episodes which are all too prevalent.

Tom Crowley
On refugee policy, there have been a lot of reports over a really long period of time, but including very recent ones, about the mistreatment of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia’s detention centres. Is that an appropriate way to treat desperate people?

Anthony Albanese
Well, everyone should be treated with respect and with care regardless of where they are. That’s my very firm view.

Tom Crowley
So what action will be taken in response to some of those recent reports about mistreatment at the hands of government contractors in Australia’s detention centres?

Anthony Albanese
Well, we believe that people need to be treated properly and with respect and will continue to do what we can to ensure that that occurs. We find any of the mistreatment that has ever occurred to be unacceptable and that is our firm view. I have a view that you can be strong on borders without being weak on humanity.

Anthony Albanese
And we already have taken considerable action. We will, as we’ve said, we’re committed to changing, giving temporary protection visa holders more certainty going forward. We, of course, took the notice and family home to below. There was discussion at the time we did that about that would stop the people smuggling trade. And there was a lot of criticism about that.

Anthony Albanese
And of course, that hasn’t occurred. Treating that family with respect was an appropriate response.

Tom Crowley
And the last policy issue on my list is another left field one, and that’s pokies. Australia’s got one of the worst pokies problems in the world. It’s getting a bit of attention in New South Wales and Tasmania, the Gillard government briefly considered national controls.

Anthony Albanese
Will you look at states that regulate poker machines? The Commonwealth does have responsibility for some gambling issues.

Tom Crowley
But it did consider the Government to reconsider a matter.

Anthony Albanese
Well, it didn’t do it.

Tom Crowley
No, it didn’t.

Anthony Albanese
It didn’t do it because it’s a state responsibility. The Federal Government has responsibility in a range of areas of regulating. For example, online gambling is something that can also be considered. And the government will consider appropriate responses in the areas which are our responsibility. There’s a range of things in industry while in a commonwealth or state.

Anthony Albanese
What doesn’t work out terribly well is if you have both jurisdictions trying to compete over the same issues. So the things that we’re responsible for, we’ll examine and we’ll provide a response. We’ve been in government for seven months. I don’t think anyone can say that we haven’t been active each and every day. And we have a big legislative agenda.

Anthony Albanese
We have a big one coming up when Parliament resumes next week. And we’ll continue to make sure that we respond to the issues which are our responsibility. But I want to make sure as well that this is a government that is characterised by being orderly, by being considerate, by being consultative. By doing the things that we said we would do and then delivering on them and on the big things we said we would do.

Anthony Albanese
Last year on emissions reduction, we introduced legislation and have legislated for 43% by 2030 and 100% and net zero by 2050. We have put in place a range of measures in that space, cheaper electric vehicles. We brought in legislation for a National Anti-Corruption commission and that will be established in the coming year. We have ten days paid for domestic violence leave, starting tomorrow.

Anthony Albanese
We have cheaper medicines, which have already started. On January one. We have 180,000 free places, starting on January 1st. We have cheaper childcare commences on July one. We’re going through in an orderly, considered way because I want to give Australia a government that is strong and committed and forward looking as the Australian people are themselves our promise.

Tom Crowley
We really appreciate your time. If I can finish just on maybe a more personal question. When Jacinda Ardern left office, she identified compassion and empathy and kindness as some of the most important traits for a Prime Minister. What’s on the top of your list?

Anthony Albanese
Well, kindness. I mentioned in my victory speech accepting the job on May 21st. And it’s really interesting that as I’ve gone around the country, so many people have said to me that they registered that night. Now, that was just a conscious decision which was which. So that, I think, is a really important characteristic.

Anthony Albanese
I think also a range of other characteristics that I had were being straight with people. My biography is that part of the theme of it that was written by Karen Middleton was subtitled, ‘Telling It Straight’. And I hope that I’ll always be upfront with people. The discussion we’ve had today about climate and targets and what you hit.

Anthony Albanese
I don’t think that you restore faith in government and government processes by just telling people what they want to hear. The easy answers. You have to have clear paths to deliver what you say you can do, and that’s part of my objective as well. So that can be summarised in one word as integrity. I want to lead a government that has integrity.

Tom Crowley
Well, if I can I mean, to balance it out a little bit, that uncertainty is much like a job interview, but what about your biggest weakness when it comes to that list.

Anthony Albanese
Oh, that’s up to others to identify.

Tom Crowley
Fair enough.

Anthony Albanese
You know, none of us are perfect. We all do our best in the job that we have. I work hard. I am collegiate and I’m very privileged to lead an extraordinarily strong team of ministers, many of whom have served in government in the past in senior roles. And I think if you look at where the government sat after just seven months in office, we have delivered on a whole range of the commitments that we made.

Anthony Albanese
And I think I hope that we’re restoring faith in the political process as well. I think being a politician is an honourable profession, and I realised there’s a lot of disillusionment out there about it. But I as well recognise that for a lot of young people, they don’t identify as much as they used to. When I was your age with the major political parties.

Anthony Albanese
But the job of government is usually done by one or either of the major parties. And that’s why I’m in the Labor Party, because I want to be in the room and make decisions about the future of Australia, not wait for the decisions to be made and then decide whether I’ll protest against or not, or whether it’s a good thing or not to have that.

Anthony Albanese
That saying is really important, but it’s important as well that a genuine government in a democracy like ours that’s prepared to listen and engage with people. And that’s why I must say that the rise of new-media such as yours is really important to give young people that voice. And that’s why.

Tom Crowley
Prime Minister, thank you.

Anthony Albanese
Thanks very much.

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