Radio interview – 2SM Breakfast with Richard King
RICHARD KING, HOST: Good morning, Prime Minister.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: G’day Richard, good to be with you. I’m looking forward to heading up from Canberra this morning to wonderful Newcastle.
KING: What’s the purpose of the visit, Prime Minister?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’ll be visiting Varley there. I visited there before at Carrington. Now, that’s a great example of how Australia can and must manufacture things more. We need a future made in Australia. It’s one of the key commitments that I made during the election campaign. And we know a few years ago, you might recall a Liberal Premier of NSW saying, ‘Oh, Australia and NSW aren’t good at building trains. That’s why we have to purchase them.’ Well, the trains and the ferries that have been purchased from overseas, of course, don’t meet the, can’t go through tunnels, can’t go under bridges. There’s been problems with all of them. And when we make things here in Australia, we can be the world’s best. And that’s what I want to see. That’s why I committed to a National Rail Manufacturing Plant. That’s why the National Reconstruction Fund, $15 billion, about how we make more things in transport, in renewables medical science, value add in agriculture, defence capability as well, all of these aimed at making more things in Australia. And of course, the Hunter has been a great centre for industry and manufacturing and I want to see more of that and that’s why I’ll be visiting Carrington today with Sharon Claydon, the local Member.
KING: Well, I think we’d all agree that building things here in Australia is a great idea. And while we’re talking about trains, I noticed part of the NSW Budget yesterday was the commitment not to spend any money going it alone on a high speed rail between Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong. Well, look, and I’ve spoken to you in the past when you were in Opposition, and it’s been a cause célèbre of yours, a high speed rail, for many years. You’ve established a High Speed Rail Authority, many would argue, look, if you added up all the money that’s been spent on research, surveys, et cetera, it could have been done by now. A lot of people argue it’s just pie in the sky and will never happen. But you obviously think high speed rail will happen, Prime Minister?
PRIME MINISTER: I think high speed rail will happen. It’s happening on every continent, every inhabited continent, I should say. It’s not happening in Antarctica, but that’s the only other continent in the world where it’s not happening. It’s been rolled out in Africa, South America, North America, Europe, Asia, and we know that it can be such an efficient form of transport. The proposal that was there by the former NSW Government was for faster rail, not for high speed rail. Now, we’ve established a High Speed Rail Authority, the legislation went through the House of Reps and the Senate. It was one of the commitments that we gave. And we want to work with the jurisdictions, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and the ACT. Because the research that was done a long time ago, when I was the Minister and I had people like Tim Fischer involved, Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council, having a really close look at the economics of this. Because our population is so concentrated around the East Coast, that is what makes it viable. It makes it viable for that transport between capital cities where you could go between Sydney and Melbourne or Sydney and Brisbane, which are often, well Sydney and Melbourne is always in the top five routes in the world in terms of air travel. But what really makes it viable is that it opens up regional areas, including Canberra, where I’m talking to you this morning, as a regional city but importantly, as well, Newcastle and the Central Coast. So, we’ll continue to have those discussions. We’ve established the Authority. But the New South Wales Budget, I think, was a very good one, that was handed down last night, making sure that they head back towards getting the Budget under control.
KING: PFAS contamination is certainly a hot topic, it has been for years in my area, but in many areas of Australia. A Federal Government independent review will be announced today into long term options for land on and surrounding Defence properties right around Australia that have been contaminated with this PFAS due to this independent contamination review. Are buybacks still a possibility? Are buybacks on the table? Because a lot of these people that own property, they can’t do anything with it. They can’t borrow money on the property, people can’t borrow money to buy those properties. Are buybacks still a possibility?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, this was put in the too hard basket by the former Government, we went to the election with the support and advocacy of people like Meryl Swanson and our Northern Territory Members to say we need to deal with this. PFAS has had an impact and what this independent review will do is look at future land use and how it can be productive. If you’ve got land that can’t be used for agriculture or can’t be used for the sources that it had been used for, for many years, as a result of PFAS, then the responsible thing to do is to say, let’s have a look at, and you’re talking about a sizeable area of land, let’s have a look at how it can be used in a productive way. And Mr Varghese, who will look at this, is doing that, it’ll report back so that we can really have a win, win. And it may well be that some of the projects, for example, that will come out of the Defence Strategic Review provide an opportunity there, but we know it’s had a particular impact around the Williamtown Airport there and we want to make sure, I was there for the expansion announcement just a little while ago during a previous visit, and so this is a sensible, mature response. And Matt Thistlethwaite, the Assistant Minister for Defence, will be on site this morning in a short period of time, I understand, with Meryl Swanson to make this announcement.
KING: I spoke yesterday with Ted O’Brien, the Shadow Climate Change and Energy Minister. Ted’s been a fan of nuclear power for many, a long time now. Chris Bowen doesn’t want to talk about it. Do you think we should be at least having a conversation about the possibility of nuclear power generation in Australia?
PRIME MINISTER: Gee whiz, Richard. We’ve had conversations since the 1950s, I think, about this. The truth is, it just doesn’t stack up. So, there’s no market, there’s no one going to invest in something that is the most expensive and will take an incredibly long period of time. There have been reviews. Every time the Coalition get elected, they have a review and it doesn’t lead anywhere, it’s a cul-de-sac. And it’s a cul-de-sac which is a distraction from what we need to do with our energy grid. The former Government had 22 different policy announcements on energy and didn’t land a single one. And now they’re talking about so called small modular reactors. Well, where are they operating? Where’s the commercial aspect to it? And when Ted O’Brien fronts up and does a press conference with an investor who’s prepared to invest billions of dollars in it, then he can be taken seriously. Or even when he comes up with a costing of his own policy, then that would be handy as well.
KING: Cathy Freeman, the latest high profile Australian to support the Yes vote in the referendum, and an Indigenous Australian. We might just recap what you had to say on the night that you delivered your victory speech after winning the federal election. ‘I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. I pay my respect to their elders, past, present and emerging. And on behalf of the Australian Labor Party, I commit to the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full.’ If you had your time over again, given that from one perspective, this is generated, at times a very nasty, divisive debate, if you had your time over again, would you have started that victory speech the same way?
PRIME MINISTER: Yes.
PRIME MINISTER: Because when are we going to get this done, Richard? It’s been 122 years. We have, you know, there’s provisions in the Constitution to allow New Zealand to be the 7th state of Australia, but there’s no acknowledgment of the first peoples of Australia. Now, every other country in the world has done it. This should not be controversial. This is a very modest request and Cathy Freeman has joined with the overwhelming majority of Indigenous Australians, wanting to be recognised in our nation’s founding document. And that’s all this will do, is that, and have an advisory group that won’t change the way that government functions, doesn’t have a right of veto, it won’t be a funding body, it will just allow us to listen. Because if we do things the same way, the same way, then we should get the same outcomes. And I’ll make this point, I wasn’t the only political leader to say that there would be a referendum in my term. That happened, that was the Coalition’s position as well, before the last election, before 2019, before 2016, go back all the way to 2007, John Howard committed to it within 18 months of his election, there was going to be a referendum for Constitutional recognition. The only difference is, one of the things I’ve been determined to do, is to do what we said we would do. So, it’s like, whether it’s PFAS, whether it’s the National Reconstruction Fund, whether it’s the commitment to a referendum. I’ve been determined to restore faith in politics, by doing what we said we would do. And this is an opportunity to move the country forward and there’s nothing to fear from this proposal.
KING: On a much lighter subject, earlier in the week, you had this to say about a television show, ‘Neighbours is a part of Australian life.’ Well, it’s been rebooted. Have you seen the new Neighbours yet, Prime Minister?
PRIME MINISTER: I haven’t had a chance because I’ve been on the road. Yesterday, I did Canberra, down to Melbourne, across the Bass Strait to Devonport and then back up to Canberra, where I am now. And today, I’m doing Newcastle and then onto Adelaide. So, it’s been a very busy week. But it is fantastic, I think, that the program is back on mainstream TV. It has been a massive source of tourism incentive from overseas. I think people in London, it’s always been bigger in the UK, than it is in Australia. And of course, it’s provided an opportunity to launch some amazing careers, going back to Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan, all those years ago with Scott and Charlene.
KING: To rugby league, your beloved South Sydney, obviously are out of the finals race, but your Prime Minister’s XIII take on Papua New Guinea on Saturday. Do you actually become involved in selecting that team, Prime Minister?
PRIME MINISTER: I do, I had a phone hookup with Mal Meninga, the coach, and we went through and it wasn’t surprising that Cam Murray came out the other end as the captain of the Australian Prime Minister’s XIII.
KING: So, that was a captain’s pick, was it?
PRIME MINISTER: Absolutely, it was. And sat down with Mal and we had a chat, was over the phone, but we spent half an hour, a bit more, I think, actually going through players and who was available. A number of players weren’t available because of injuries or they’re getting things fixed after the season. And of course, at that time it excluded the four clubs, or the six clubs, that were still in the competition, were excluded from selection. But I think it’s a great team. It’s an opportunity to blend some of the newer players who’ve come in with the experience of people like Daly Cherry Evans and Cody Walker as the halves, so it’s a bit of fun. One of the things that I get to do. Mal Meninga is a great bloke. He’s another Indigenous Australian who is out there supporting the Yes campaign, of course, along with Cathy Freeman and Johnathan Thurston and Eddie Betts, and others, Greg Inglis.
KING: Yes, there’s many of them. Appreciate your time this morning, Prime Minister. Safe trip to Newcastle and enjoy your stay in this area. God’s own country and the Labor heartland here in the Hunter, Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER: It is indeed, Richard, and I always enjoy my visits to the Hunter. As you know, I’m a very regular visitor. I think it has so much to offer and has an incredible future ahead of it.