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Television Interview - Flashpoint WA

Radio Interview – ABC Melbourne Mornings with Rafael Epstein

RAFAEL EPSTEIN, HOST: Anthony Albanese is the Prime Minister of Australia, good morning.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, good to be with you Raf.

EPSTEIN: Do you think it was a Dan Andrews Government or a Labor Government?

PRIME MINISTER: It was a Labor Government ably led by Daniel Andrews, but no individual can actually run a government by themselves. I’ve seen some of the commentary, but that’s just not possible. What Dan did have, is a very loyal and competent team around him, and that changed over a period of time, but it had some consistency there as well. People like Tim Pallas and Jacinta Allan were major parts of his Government from the very beginning and I think that consistency and that constant presence of people really made a difference. But there’s no doubt that he was a very strong leader.

EPSTEIN: When you guys chat, who does most of the talking?

PRIME MINISTER: Both of us do and it’s often not about politics, just about how we’re both going, or about his family or issues of the day.

EPSTEIN: Who gives the most advice? I’ve got an idea in my mind of who may be the biggest advice giver.

PRIME MINISTER: I think both of us give advice to each other and I have a good relationship with all of the Premiers and Chief Ministers. What’s interesting about some of the commentary that’s out there about Daniel Andrews being a figure of controversy, is how well he got on with successive NSW Premiers. What I saw around the National Cabinet table was a relationship where Daniel and Dominic Perrottet, as the leaders of the two largest states, had a very close relationship. And we saw that with some of the announcements on childcare and joint work that took place. But I certainly saw that firsthand, as we saw during the pandemic, where Daniel Andrews worked very closely with Gladys Berejiklian.

EPSTEIN: I’ll come back to the pandemic, actually. What do you think is the number one thing people will remember about Dan Andrews?

PRIME MINISTER: I think when they are able to drive their car without being stuck at a level crossing, they will be reminded each and every day on their way to work, or on their way to sporting events with their kids on the weekend, of just what a difference that made. He exceeded the initial promise that he made when he came to office nine years ago. And I saw myself, I remember we did one level crossing in the Deakin electorate when I was the infrastructure minister and it cost some $320 million. It was a very big deal. He was doing multiples, of course, dozens and dozens of them, as well as the Metro Project.

EPSTEIN: Is that a problem, though? Forgive the interruption Prime Minister, but the number one thing also that he leaves not number one, but one of the biggest things is the debt. Is there too much of that in Victoria?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you’ve got to build infrastructure and it doesn’t get cheaper if you delay it. And the Metro Project was one of the three urban congestion busting projects in the big capital cities, all had a problem with their central rail network, effectively, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. Melbourne was funded by, jointly, the Federal Government and State Government, the Metro Project. Then Tony Abbott pulled the money when he came to office and Daniel Andrews pursued the project and has got it done. It will make an enormous difference. And, of course, I lead a Government that inherited almost a trillion dollars of debt. We’re going about dealing with that challenge that we got inherited. Now, part of that is, of course, explainable by the pandemic. The difference with Daniel Andrews is that, yes, it’s the pandemic, but it’s also the infrastructure, the health infrastructure, I’ve seen firsthand there around the Carlton, Parkville precinct, there is one of the world’s great health and medical research precincts now, and Daniel Andrews helped to drive that.

EPSTEIN: You mentioned that it costs more if you delay it. So, before I move on, I have to ask, airport rail has been delayed at the moment, it’s been frozen. You announced a review. Is that going to go ahead? Is that money, I know you pledged the money, the billions of dollars, is it going to go into airport rail?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’ve got a review. That’s why you have a review.

EPSTEIN: We’re way past the reporting date, though.

PRIME MINISTER: There are massive cost blowouts. We’ll be considering all of that and negotiating with State Governments right across the country. We’ve committed to our $120 billion program, but the problem is that some of the commitments that were made by the Federal Government simply didn’t have the funding attached that it costs to build a project. You can’t promise a billion dollar project and allocate $200 million to it.

EPSTEIN: I’ll keep asking you about that. Anthony Albanese is, of course, the Prime Minister. The phone number for your verdict on Dan Andrews legacy is 1300 222 774, 1300 222 774. Prime Minister, a few other issues, but just before I leave Victoria, you’ve announced a COVID inquiry. We had a chat to Brett Sutton, the former Chief Health Officer last week. He told me, I just want to play this to you, he told me that he thinks the lockdown should be a specific focus of the inquiry.

SUTTON: ‘I would be disappointed if we didn’t go to those really important issues. Obviously, they were really impactful in the way that they applied across society.’

EPSTEIN: He thinks, Prime Minister, the lockdowns should be a big part of your inquiry. Why aren’t they?

PRIME MINISTER: This is a Commonwealth Government inquiry and it will examine the way that the Commonwealth interacted with states and territories. It’s an independent inquiry. It will look at the full range of issues, including decisions that were made right across the country. What it won’t do is look at decisions that are solely the decision of State Governments. State Governments, of course, can have inquiries and can examine their own actions, as well. You would need effectively nine different inquiries because each state did some things that were very different. And we want to learn about what worked, what didn’t work, and to project about the future. How do we deal with –

EPSTEIN: But don’t we deal with the future by –

PRIME MINISTER: A future pandemic?

EPSTEIN: But don’t we deal with the future by having a federal inquiry? Compare the responses. Isn’t that the best way for someone to go, they did this in NSW, they did this in WA, they did this in VIC. That would work, that’s the best way, isn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER: And the very competent people who’ve been appointed to this inquiry, chaired by Robyn Kruk, who will examine the full range of issues. It will be independent, so she will work, and all of the State Governments, including the Andrews Government, have said they’ll cooperate with it.

EPSTEIN: Just before I leave Dan Andrews and his Government. Do you think his Government has an integrity problem?

PRIME MINISTER: I think that Daniel Andrews is someone who’ll be remembered as a very great Premier of Victoria, a man of deep conviction, a man of deep compassion, as well. Someone who dealt with issues like mental health and family violence, someone who had a fierce determination and someone who is a passionate Victorian. Let me tell you, he is very passionate about his state. He’ll be remembered as someone who did his best each and every day. And even people who will disagree with some of the decisions that he made, have to have respect for what he did and for his conviction. And when it comes to the Labor Party, Daniel Andrews and myself, I presided over the National Executive decision, where Daniel Andrews presided over the largest intervention into the Victorian branch since 1971. One that cleaned up all of the operations that were there. He had the courage to do that, including dismissing Ministers in his own Government.

EPSTEIN: Just the final word on this, the anti-corruption watchdog that you have established, it can investigate far more issues than the Victorian anti-corruption watchdog ever could. That points to the problem we’ve got in Victoria, doesn’t it? If you’ve given your new one greater powers.

PRIME MINISTER: It points to the fact that we’re doing what we said we’d do and we have implemented a National Anti-Corruption Commission and that will do its work at arm’s length. Different states have different structures to their anti-corruption bodies. The Commonwealth didn’t have one. It took the election of a Labor Government to get one. And I’m not sure when the Victorian body was created, but certainly, it’s something that has been able to, from a distance, do its task.

EPSTEIN: Its certainly been busy. Just the conspiracy theories that have surrounded Dan Andrews. It was amusing when it involved you, because they questioned whether or not he’d actually cooked the meat on the barbecue, when you guys took a picture. But it was pretty out there, the things that were said about him on social media, do you think that’s changed the way we think about people like you or a Premier?

PRIME MINISTER: Certainly it has and I think for young people thinking about going into politics today, would have a look at some of the activity that is now a part of public life and would give, I think, give pause for thought.

EPSTEIN: It drives you nuts, doesn’t it?

PRIME MINISTER: Whether they will go down that road. I mean, the idea, I went to Dan’s place for a political chat and a barbecue. He cooked a couple of steaks and was, actually you had Federal MPs backing it up as well from the Liberal Party over whether the steak was cooked. Now, I’m not quite sure why you would have a fake steak or plastic. I’m not quite sure where the conspiracy theories were coming from there, but I mean it’s just bizarre. Just like, I think that a low point in journalism was the publishing of a front page photo, I’m not sure whether it was an interview with the set of stairs in the place that Daniel Andrews –

EPSTEIN: Where he hit his head.

PRIME MINISTER: Had a holiday on. But the bloke, you know, had an accident, as can happen, and with real consequences for his health. And to have to put up with that sort of nonsense that was going on at that time, I just found quite extraordinary, the level of vitriol. And it’s unfortunate that some people, who should know better, help to push that sort of activity. But it will put off people going into public life. And I think, similarly, I made a comment yesterday, I think that the assault, which is what it was on the Northern Territory Chief Minister, wasn’t a joke. It wasn’t a pie. It was actually a pie with a plate smashed into her face. And the idea that that should just be dismissed is of concern.

EPSTEIN: Prime Minister, thank you for your time. We’ll get you in the studio when you’re next in Melbourne.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much.

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