Has the Government stopped functioning? Labor thinks so

Ross Greenwood speaks to Former Labor deputy leader Anthony Albanese after the Coalition was accused of filibustering in an attempt to avoid a vote on establishing a royal commission into the disability sector in case it didn’t win the vote for the second time in one week

Ross Greenwood: Parliament House, Canberra, where today, as I indicated, the government hanging on by its finger nails, trying to basically tough it out. You’d imagine, so that they can get to a federal budget. The Labor Party, in the meantime, clearly, is keen to put as much pressure on the Prime Minister and the government to see if they can get into an early election. The member for Grayndler, the shadow transport and infrastructure minister, the former deputy prime minister of this country is Anthony Albanese, who is online. Many thanks for your time as always, Anthony.

Interview with: Anthony Albanese, Shadow, Minister for Transport and Infrastructure

Anthony Albanese: Good evening, Ross, always good to talk to you.

Ross Greenwood: Is it a government hanging on by its finger nails?

Anthony Albanese: Well, it’s not a government, because they’ve stopped governing. What we saw this week was a government party lose the first vote since the 1920’s on the eve of the great depression, where, you’re quite right, they then went immediately to an election. Today, we saw the extraordinary circumstances whereby they filibusted and kept question time going because they were concerned that there was going to be a message from the senate, who had carried a resolution calling for a royal commission into the disability sector.

Now, the fact that they kept question time going for so long just in order to delay, effectively, what is always going to happen, you can’t delay it forever, until Monday, when the House of Representatives will get to determine this, says a lot about the government, says a lot about its judgment, it won’t change the outcome on Monday, I don’t know what that outcome will be. I suspect that a majority of members will say, “Yes, that’s a good thing because we’ve heard from our constituents.” We’ve had a government that’s extended question time, so that they don’t have to make a decision. After last year, of course, they canceled question time, and canceled the parliament, because they were busy knocking off Malcolm Turnbull as the Prime Minister.

Ross Greenwood: It’s important here because the votes of some of those who have departed the liberal party now become absolutely key in this. One of the points is try to muster the forces, not only in the senate, the senate now seems to be driving the legislation towards the House of Representatives, which is not the normal way that business is done in Parliament House. This is also coming to the point where the government seems to be trying to hang on to get to a budget because they recognize if they can announce that the budget will be back in surplus over a sustainable number of years, that it might improve their economic credibility, but of course, this is really all about the posturing going into the next election from both political sides, I would have thought.

Anthony Albanese: The problem is that they have stopped governing. Today, we saw removed from the notice paper, its energy policy the version of I think it’s 13 or 14 they’re up to without having actually adopted any of them, the so-called big stick approach. It’s very clear that they’re split massively over whether there should be subsidies for new coal fire power stations. It’s clear that they didn’t know where they were on a Royal Commission into the treatment of people with disabilities.

It’s clear earlier this week, they were shocked, I’m not quite sure why, they had all summer to think about what would happen over the issue of the medical evacuation of refugees. It’s a rabble, it’s not a government. I think the longer it goes the worse the government looks.

Ross Greenwood: You’ve been in government before and the government was split that you were a part of and it caused genuine problems, not only for the Labor party at the time, but also, you’d have to admit for the community. Is the Labor party right now ready to govern in your opinion?

Anthony Albanese: Look, we’re a united team, we have a clear vision for the country, we’re talking about the need for the country, not trying to paper over the divisions internally as the liberal and national parties are, and I think, quite frankly, we learnt some lessons from the mistakes that we made in government. As you know, Ross, I was an opponent of the idea of knocking off an elected sitting Prime Minister in their first term in 2010. The government has done it with three prime ministers now, but across the board, I see it in my own portfolio, they’ve just stopped functioning as a government.

Today was rather bizarre and they’ve been, up in the press gallery, saying they thought there was some other legislation coming over from the senate and that is they were filibustering, but they’re not even communicating to each other between the senate and the House of Representatives within the government parties. This isn’t a government anymore this is, in their own words of the prime minister Scott Morison, a Muppet show, but unfortunately the joke is on the people of Australia.

Ross Greenwood: Okay. I wanted to go to one other thing because if there was criticism of the Rudd government when it came to power, it was possibly ill prepared, I believe, at least anyway for a sudden economic downturn. There are certainly forecasts, I know Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the international monetary fund, the other day warned about the prospects of a global shock and that she believes that the risks of such a thing are increasing. Given the fact you did create Infrastructure Australia, its put out its latest priority list.

Do you believe this time that infrastructure and building infrastructure on this project at least is a bitter way to go than try to create immediate stimulation in the way of $900 handouts or pink batt schemes or the school hall schemes, which really didn’t necessarily advance the cause of Australia longer term?

Anthony Albanese: Well, I point out, Ross, that there will be students who’ve had library lessons today, who’ve had school assemblies today in halls that were funded as a result of the economic stimulus plan, there’ll be people driving on the pacific highway, there’ll be people who’ve ridden on the Regional Rail Link in Victoria or a range of other projects. Driven up the express way, that were all funded as part of the economic stimulus plan, that kept Australia out of recession. It was Labor that created Infrastructure Australia, it’s an important organization. It’s important that the proper planning work be done for infrastructure.

I was somewhat disappointed that the Melbourne Metro and Cross River Rail projects still– That’s not included on their immediate priority list, but the creation of a body that recommends infrastructure priorities to governments and to the private sector, is a very good initiative indeed, and one I’m very proud of having created as the second piece of legislation introduce by the Rudd government after our election.

Ross Greenwood: I was going to ask you that very question. That is, is there anything on this list that you think could be prioritized even more greatly, and indeed, let’s say, for example, we did have storm clouds arrive from international economies and there was a shock, would the way to go in the future be to try and roll these out even more aggressively into the future and that way crate the employment, but to create something that is lasting for the nation, as well?

Anthony Albanese: Well, I think, the key, Ross, is to make sure that we get the planning mechanisms right. One of the things about the global financial crisis was we funded 14 major projects in terms of road projects and 17 major rail freight projects. We re-built one third of the interstate rail freight network, which is very important, but we could have done more if there were more projects that were ready to go. The truth is that it’s up to the state government to control the planning in conjunction with local government and the private sector.

The federal government can provide funds but we don’t have planning powers. What we can do though is to encourage best practice, so that, for example, when the GFC happened if all of the Pacific Highway had been planned, had been through environmental approvals for the full duplication, we could have pressed the button for that and really got that going much faster than we did. As it was, we accelerated it to the extent that that was possible but the truth is a whole range of the planning wasn’t up to scratch. Now, that’s not a criticism of either side of politics, it applies across that board, and state and territory governments will be rewarded if they have that planning in place.

Ross Greenwood: I’ll tell you what, always good to have you in the program and always great to talk infrastructure as well. The member for Grayndler, the shadow transport and infrastructure minister, and of course a key player inside The Labor Party. Anthony Albanese, we appreciate your time.

Anthony Albanese: Thanks very much, Ross.

Image source: 2GB

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