ABC Brisbane Drive 13/09/21

13 September 2021

SUBJECTS: 9/11 Anniversary and lessons from the War on Terror; Bipartisanship on national security; Joel Fitzgibbon’s retirement; Labor as the party of aspiration. 



SUBJECTS: 9/11 Anniversary and lessons from the War on Terror; Bipartisanship on national security; Joel Fitzgibbon’s retirement; Labor as the party of aspiration. 

STEVE AUSTIN, HOST: Jim Chalmers is the Shadow Treasurer and Federal Member for Rankin. It's a bit quiet in Canberra at the moment so there's a couple of broader topics I want to discuss with Jim. One of them is the 9/11 commemorations on the weekend. Here we are 20 years on, in the War on Terror. Does Labor still support the fight? Jim Chalmers do you? Does Federal Labor still support the War on Terror?


JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Of course Steve. It's an ongoing threat to nations around the world and I think the threat evolves and it changes. One of the big risks now is the kind of extreme right-wing terrorism that our security agencies are particularly worried about. We've said repeatedly that you need to be vigilant, and as the nature of the threat evolves, then our response to it needs to evolve as well.


AUSTIN: If Labor was in power would you run the War on Terror any differently? Would you tweak the way we respond or tackle it?


CHALMERS: I think there's a real effort at bipartisanship when it comes to dealing with terrorism. One of the reasons for that is so much of what governments of either political persuasion are responding to is informed in one way or another by information that's not available to the public. There are parliamentary committees that work quite well across partisan lines, there are quite a few professional agencies that work with and for the government to try and make sure that we are alleviating risk and dealing with threats as they emerge. We try not to differentiate too much on that. That's a fight that should go beyond politics.  From time to time there'll be a difference in the relative weight we put on different issues. Kristina Keneally and Mark Dreyfus and others in my team have done a great job pointing to the kinds of right wing extremism, which is becoming a bigger part of the story...


AUSTIN: Let me jump in, it's probably worthwhile highlighting as you say that? Andrew Hastie's committee which looks at security issues for Australia also has a deputy chair of that committees who is a Labor member whose name eludes me but it's a very cooperative committee -


CHALMERS: That's Anthony Byrne. He's become a real authority on some of these issues and I think the secret to his success has been his willingness to work across party lines. So much of what we're dealing with here is not a Labor problem or a Liberal problem. There are some differences in emphasis; there are some things that might be done a little bit differently but this is a serious challenge that Australia faces and all of the comparable countries around the world face. It's a very different War on Terror than it was 20 years ago when the two planes hit the World Trade  Centre but that doesn't mean it's any less serious, any less confronting or any less important.


AUSTIN: There's a lot of introspection post the way we left Afghanistan, and there's no possible way of sugar-coating it. Does that cause Labor to rethink anything about how we go into places like that in the War on Terror in the first place?


CHALMERS: I think not just Labor, I think the whole world. I think the Australian political system but the political systems of all advanced democracies around the world have had lessons to learn from 9/11, the response to 9/11 from mistakes made in Iraq, from the Afghanistan commitment and the Afghanistan withdrawal. I don't think any self-respecting country can pretend that they get every single big call perfectly right and if you don't learn from history, then you're at risk of repeating the errors of the past. I think yes, there's lots to learn. Think about the time since 9/11 and it's easy to forget how all-consuming this was because we've dealt with so much in the last two years. For so much of the 20 years or so since 9/11 this War on Terror has been all-consuming. I think there's a number of lessons but one of the lessons I draw is that power in the international context isn't predictable and it isn't symmetrical. The idea that the Americans and their friends could get bogged down for so long in Iraq and in Afghanistan sort of goes beyond the theories of war and relative strength of the countries that were involved. I think we learned a lot about our limits in the West in particular. I think we learned a lot about how these big decisions, including in my view the Iraq decision which was a mistaken decision, the consequences have such a long tail. We're dealing with the fallout from a lot of those decisions for much of the last 20 years and that comes with an opportunity cost. What if the Americans had mobilised against inequality or climate change or any of these other sorts of big generation-defining issues? If they'd had the time and space to be able to do that then they would be in a better place. It's a long way of saying there's a lot to learn and if we don't learn it, then we're at risk of making the same kinds of mistakes


AUSTIN: Jim Chalmers is the Shadow Treasury spokesperson in Federal Labor and is the federal member for Rankin, an electorate on the south side of Brisbane, or as he sometimes says Brisbane is on the northside of his electorate. The news today is that backbencher Joel Fitzgibbon won't be standing at the next federal election for Labor. He's previously been a cabinet minister in federal Labor governments. He said that he has helped shift your party to the centre ground. I'm keen to get your take on that. He's in an electorate that you'd be regard as a coal electorate and lost a really large amount of the federal Labor vote at the last federal election to One Nation at that time. Because there's a lot of coal electorates here in Queensland regionally I think it's quite an interesting comparison. First of all, do you agree with his take that Labor has shifted back to the centre ground in Australia?


CHALMERS: I think certainly we've learned some of the lessons from the last election where we, I think wrongly, were perceived to have shifted somewhat. I think as you and I've spoken about before I've always believed and I think it's self-evident that Labor is successful when it dominates the centre ground. When we build those really broad coalitions of support. Joel has found ways to express that view in the last couple of years -


AUSTIN: He was seen as a bit of rebel I think in the last couple of years. How did you regard him?


CHALMERS: I dealt well with Joel.


AUSTIN: Will you miss him?


CHALMERS: Yes. He's been a member of the Federal Parliament every day of my adult life. He's been there for a quarter of a century, I turned 18 the day he was elected in 96. He has been a big contributor. Not everybody agrees with Joel. I think there's quite often a lot of sense in what Joel says. I don't agree with him on everything. I've got a slightly different approach to issues like renewable energy and climate change. But I think if you've been there for that long and you haven't made a mark or kicked up some dust from time to time then you haven't lived. That's the first point. And I think the second point is you've been there that long you've earned the right to express your view robustly and he has done that. I think that's fine; I'm entirely comfortable with that. There are 94 people in our team and I don't think they want us to be identical. He's been representing his electorate to the best of his ability for a really long time now and I think his contribution will be missed.


AUSTIN: He’s quoted in what used to be called the Fairfax papers, I don’t know if you call them the Nine papers these days. It almost seems like a contradictory term but anyhow. He said in the Brisbane Times and The Sydney Morning Herald, he says quote "I'm confident that Albo has taken us sufficiently to the centre and put sufficient emphasis on hope and aspiration, amongst working families." I'll end the quote there. I know you've always been on about that personally, that's been you Jim Chalmers, for as long as I've known you, but it didn't seem to come out at the last federal election for whatever reason. I'm wondering if you agree with him that there's been some sort of internal shift because there are a lot of coal electorates here in Queensland, that I know Albo must be worried about because he's been visiting them in regional Queensland quite often whenever he can.


CHALMERS: I'm not sure about the political science of it all. Clearly, we need to do a better job dominating that centre ground of politics. I think the motivating factors there as I've always believed, is that Australians have that aspirational instinct and that means we should be and we have been for some time focused on making sure people get well paid for the work that they do so that their kids can get trained and educated; that we can provide opportunities for people to work hard, get ahead and provide for their loved ones. That is the essence of a good Labor government as Albo was saying in the papers on the weekend. So I think that is self-evident and Joel has been noisy about that. I think that's fine. I'm entirely comfortable with that. I agree that we are the party of economic aspiration and we need to reflect that. Not just reflect that in opposition, but -


AUSTIN: Are you the party of blue-collar families?


CHALMERS: Of course we are. We are the Labor Party. We are the party of people who want to be rewarded well for the work that they do. We want to support working families who are just trying to provide for their loved ones and get ahead. That's the essence of us. We are the oldest political party in the country. We've been around since the 1890s and the secret to our longevity is that that has been our focus throughout. The way that we deliver that changes. The policies change over time but at the end of the day we are the aspirational party of middle Australia. We are the party that understands that people need to have a stake in our national prosperity. If we want the country to succeed, then we need to give more people a slice of the action and that's what I've been on about for as long as we've known each other and as long as I've been interested in politics. That's what Joel is on about as well.


AUSTIN: I'll talk to you next week. Thanks for coming on.


CHALMERS: Thanks Steve.