Television Interview - ABC 7.30

17 Aug 2023
Prime Minister
ALP National Conference; National Cabinet; Help to Buy Scheme; Housing Australia Future Fund; AUKUS; Voice to Parliament

LAURA TINGLE, HOST: Your first Labor Conference as PM, the first Labor in power in more than a decade. Yesterday, you had a National Cabinet meeting of wall-to-wall Labor mainland governments. The Opposition is wallowing in the polls, yet the overwhelming messages of the Conference from your own Party, that you aren't doing enough, whether it be on housing, climate, energy. Should voters be wondering whether you are ambitious enough with what you're trying to achieve in Government?

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: The message of the Conference is that we're working for Australia, that what we've done is implement almost every one of the policies that we took to the election, perhaps with the exception of the Housing Australia Future Fund stuck in the Senate. We’re a Government of purpose, that we're a Government that is building a strong economy, in order to lift living standards. We're dealing with cost of living pressures without putting pressure on inflation. We have addressed the challenge of climate change by taking it seriously and by looking after our environment. And we have a significant social policy agenda, one of the measures of which is putting women and gender equality at the centre of our economic strategy.

TINGLE: But with respect, you said today your Government was not here for mere gestures, but to change the country. What measures have you announced which really reset the policy discussions, whether it be on climate, national security or defence from the previous Government? I mean, the memorable ALP conferences that everybody gets sentimental about really saw the Government driving the Party to change its positions, and you're basically fending off the Party trying to change your positions.

PRIME MINISTER: I don't think that's right, Laura. What we're doing on climate, for example, is setting the agenda. We have the first legislative targets ever in Australia, in Australian history. We have an ambitious agenda that's driving towards net zero by 2050 and a 43 per cent reduction by 2030. We have a National Reconstruction Fund, it's about revitalising manufacturing. Our cheaper child care policy is a policy that's about making sure that child care is affordable. And we'll move towards universal provisions of universal child care. That's a significant economic reform that will make an enormous difference to the contribution of women that are able to make to our economy. In addition to that, of course, we have the upcoming referendum to recognise First Nations people in our Constitution. If you look across the economic, the social and environmental agenda, ours is a Government with a sense of purpose that is delivering on what we took to the Australian people in 2022. But not resting there. Always addressing the immediate challenges that are thrown at us. But in a way that also builds for the medium and long term.

TINGLE: Well, one of those immediate challenges which you devoted quite a lot of your speech to today was housing. Most people describe it as a crisis. You’ve thrown a lot of money at it. You had the meeting yesterday. But a delegate at the Conference possibly reflected the frustration of many voters when she said, ‘When we're in a hole so deep, we need something bigger and bolder’. And it feels like the Greens are the ones who have been really pressing you to move further on housing policy than you were originally prepared to do?

PRIME MINISTER: Not at all. What I've been doing is working with state and territory leaders across the political spectrum who all understand that we need to do more. We need to do more to build, supply is the key, in order to assist by homeownership purchasing, but also in order to assist renters. And the proposals that we announced yesterday, of a Housing Accord now envisaging 1.2 million additional homes being built by the end of the decade, as well as our renters' rights prescriptions that have been agreed to by state and territory governments. Our plan that we announced today, the Shared Equity Scheme by state and territory governments giving up their rights, if you like, or approving the Commonwealth having such a scheme which was necessary, will make a difference as well. Right across the board we are delivering on housing. And it's the most comprehensive housing strategy that we've seen for a generation. And it comes after 10 years of neglect from the former Government, who for a long time didn't even have a Housing Minister.

TINGLE: To what extent did the measures that you put in place now, in some ways, mean that the Housing Fund if it doesn't go through, won’t be quite so crucial? You've got a lot of building work getting underway now in the next 12 to 18 months if all these other aspects of your policy get through, don’t they?

PRIME MINISTER: The Housing Australia Future Fund is necessary legislation. I put it on centrepiece of my second Budget Reply two years before the election. We have a mandate for it. And I say to the crossbenchers, including the Greens Party, you can't say you support more public housing and then continue to vote against it. This will be 30,000 homes, a $10 billion fund, 4,000 of those homes reserved for women and children escaping family violence, additional funding reserved for Indigenous communities in remote areas, additional funding reserved for veterans at risk of homelessness. This is good policy. It's supported by industry. It's supported by every housing group, social welfare group. It's necessary. The Senate should vote for it. They should vote for it when it next sits.

TINGLE: On AUKUS, Prime Minister, it’s an obviously contentious issue at Conference. Now, it seems like the negotiations between all the backroom players are going to lead to the incorporation of a statement of support for nuclear powered submarines into the Party platform. But 50 branches, including six in your electorate, are really opposed to the submarines and to AUKUS. Will you be taking part in a debate on AUKUS at the Conference? And if not, should you be?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we're democratic Party, Laura. And the difference between us and the Liberal Party is they hold conferences, and no one focuses on anything they're talking about because they're essentially just fundraisers. The Greens have parties that exclude the media.

TINGLE: This is a really big debate. And shouldn't they be hearing from the Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, quite possibly they will be, Laura, tomorrow.

TINGLE: Has the Government worked out how it will deal with the issue of nuclear waste from the submarines yet?

PRIME MINISTER: What we've said is that we’ve commissioned, the Department of Defence is looking at defence sites, Defence land. There'll be an appropriate report back in consideration of that. But obviously, this isn't something that is imminent. But we have indicated at the time we made the announcement that was our plan.

TINGLE: Which seems to be an extension of the nuclear waste dump debate of the last twenty years. Moving on to the Voice, this is an issue that you're investing the most political capital on at present. Yet you've had relatively little to say about it in your speech this morning. You referred yourself to the fact that Peter Dutton and the Opposition now see this purely as a political attack, whatever the merits of the case should be. Do you need to change your approach on this issue? Can you just continue to try to go high if they're going low?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we'll continue to put the case, Laura, for a Yes vote in this referendum. We will continue to focus on what the question actually is. And what this is about is recognition of First Nations people in our founding document. And then listening to them in order to get better results in areas like education and health, in order to close the gap. That is what this is about.

TINGLE: But, Prime Minister, that isn’t working.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’ll continue to put the case. And the fact that the No campaign is talking about everything but what the question is about shows that they do not have confidence in their position. We’ll continue to put the case and say, 'If not now, when?' 122 years after Federation, when are we going to recognise First Nations People in our Constitution? This is a gracious request. It's one that is in the form in which Indigenous people themselves asked for at Uluru in 2017. I have a strong conviction about this. And this is a matter of our values. But also one that is supported by every single delegate in this Conference is on that page. And increasingly, when I talk to people and engage with them about what is before the Australian people, they react very positively. Australians are generous people. And I'm confident that they will vote Yes in the referendum in the last quarter of this year.

TINGLE: We'll have to leave it there. Thanks for your time, Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, Laura.