Leadership of the Australian Labor Party

BRETT MASON: Anthony Albanese joins us now live from the Caucus Room here at Parliament House in Canberra. Tomorrow you will become the Labor Leader. You will address your colleagues here in the Caucus Room. What will you tell them?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The first thing I’ll say is: I will acknowledge the great privilege and honour of being the 21st Leader of the Australian Labor Party. We have such an amazing history, going back to 1891. And it is, indeed, a great honour. We have a mountain to climb. We’ve only formed government three times from Opposition since the Second World War. But we need to be not despairing about the outcome. We need to be determined to ensure that we get it better next time, that we listen to people, work out where we went wrong and how we can improve our performance, so that next time we’re not in this room, we’re in the Government Party Room.

MASON: Where did the campaign go wrong and at what point did alarm bells start to ring for you that this wasn’t the campaign the entire Labor Party was expecting?

ALBANESE: Elections in Australia tend to be very close. But quite clearly we got some things wrong. If you do the same thing, you should expect the same outcome. And that’s why we’ll examine, over a period of time, exactly what we did wrong – listen to people, listen to that feedback. I’ve been, in my recent political career over the last decade, someone who’s been into building roads and building bridges, building a new airport, building infrastructure. Now, I want to build relationships with the Australian people; listen to them, and then respond.

MASON: It’s a bit of a tough challenge though, internally speaking, of building bridges. Will Bill Shorten have a place on your frontbench? And will Chris Bowen stay on as Shadow Treasurer?

ALBANESE: If Bill Shorten wants a place on the frontbench, there is certainly one on the frontbench of the Party that I lead. Chris Bowen, I’ll talk to people about portfolios after the Shadow Ministry is elected. I intend to announce the Shadow Ministry and portfolios either on Sunday or Monday. I intend to hasten slowly. We’re three years away from the next election, we don’t have to make decisions immediately. What we need to do is to make sure that we get it right.

MASON: And in terms of portfolio priorities, you said that everything is up for review. Our audience particularly is interested in the immigration portfolio and also Indigenous affairs. We know that Bill Shorten was committed to a voice to Parliament. He spoke very passionately about the Uluru Statement. Where do you stand on those two portfolios?

ALBANESE: I’ve said that all our specific policies are up for grabs, but not our values. And one of our values is that Australia is diminished when we don’t recognise the First Australians in our national Constitution. So that is very important. And the Uluru Statement was a product of a great deal of consultation. So we think that is worthwhile proceeding with, with the Government. The Government pretended that it was going to be an extra Chamber of Parliament. It’s not. But we want to work with the Government because the only way that you change the Constitution in this country is with bipartisan support. I’m offering that bipartisanship in the spirit of co-operation and advancing the needs of First Nations people.

MASON: You spoke about bipartisanship at your first press conference following the close of the ballot for the Labor leadership. You said: ‘I’m not Tony Abbott’. He was a very effective Opposition Leader. Is consensus enough for Labor to win government in three years?

ALBANESE: We’ll fight the Government where there are genuine differences. We’ll hold them to account. I also said that I was tough, and I was prepared to fight for good policy and good outcomes. But I think that Australians want outcomes rather than arguments. They want solutions, and I’m prepared to be constructive. But there’ll be major differences. There are big differences in philosophy between Labor and the Coalition. And the thing is that the Coalition is so divided within themselves about what they fundamentally stand for that, for example, we don’t have a climate change and energy policy in this country.

MASON: Anthony Albanese, congratulations. Thank you for joining us on SBS and we’ll see you here tomorrow.

ALBANESE: Thanks for having me on the program.