ABC Brisbane Drive 18/01/21

18 January 2021

SUBJECTS: Australia Day; Paul Keating

SUBJECTS: Australia Day; Paul Keating

STEVE AUSTIN, HOST: Welcome back to Labor's  Jim Chalmers, the ALP Shadow Treasury spokesperson, and member for Rankin. Happy New Year.

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks Steve, it's nice to be sitting across from you for the first time in a while not just on the blower.

AUSTIN: I hope you'll make a habit of it.

CHALMERS: I'd like to.

AUSTIN: When you're not in Canberra.

CHALMERS: I like to see the whites of your eyes Steve, I'm sure you're the same.

AUSTIN: How was your time away? What did you do?

CHALMERS: I had a great break with the family in Adelaide. I think you gave me some grief about that last time -

AUSTIN: Did you go to Glenelg?

CHALMERS: Glenelg and Henley Beach in South Australia but lots of time knocking around here as well. I feel really rested, refreshed and feel good and hope you do too. 

AUSTIN: Australia Day. Why is Australia Day so troublesome at the moment? It seem to me the last few years, I don't have any evidence, it just seems to be an irritant for many people rather than something that we all go: "Yeah, well, for all our faults or issues it's not a bad thing to celebrate and come together as a nation".

CHALMERS: I think it is a good opportunity to come together as a country and reflect on what we like about the place but also we need to acknowledge at the same time that it's a really difficult day for some people, particularly for First Nations Australians. So ideally we'd use the day not just to celebrate the good parts of our history but to recognise the difficult parts of our history as well so we can make the day as inclusive as possible.

AUSTIN: Would you change anything?

CHALMERS: We're not proposing to change the date itself but I certainly think that we can change the way we mark it. Obviously it's an opportunity to spend time with friends. In my case I do citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day and I think that's a good way to mark it. Ideally we can find an opportunity in an inclusive way right across the country to recognise it's a difficult day for a lot of people. If it's a day that gives us an opportunity to reflect on that, and how we can be more inclusive about recognising our history, then that's good too.

AUSTIN: At the moment there's suggestions we change the date, change the significance, change the national anthem. I'm not convinced in my mind at least that any change will actually diminish some of Australia being concerned or upset or worried about it.

CHALMERS: I think symbols really matter. Whether it's Australia Day, whether it's our anthem, our flag or more broadly, and more substantially whether we're a republic or not - these things really matter. Our focus needs to be on wages, jobs and job security and all of that but it doesn't mean we can't reflect on the symbols of our country as well and so I think it's a legitimate thing for people to have a conversation about. My view is, at least in the interim until somebody comes up with a better way to do it, we should be really good in Australia at reflecting on the difficult parts of our history but not just the good parts. That means trying to recognise in an inclusive way, the injustice done to the first of us.

AUSTIN: You'd be pretty hard-pressed finding any country in the world that doesn't have a troubled past wouldn't you?

CHALMERS: Of course there are difficult parts in the history of all countries, but it's not beyond us to recognise that more effectively as part of this ongoing truth-telling process. We believe, in Labor, in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and part of that is truth-telling. So we need to tell the truth about our past, reconcile with the first of us and then go forward in an inclusive spirit. Part of that means not dismissing the legitimate concerns people have about our symbols and our national day.

AUSTIN: 4:44pm. News at 5:00pm. My guest is Federal member for Rankin Labor's Jim Chalmers. Jim joins me every Monday, or will be joining me every Monday, hopefully in the studio when he's not in Canberra, to talk about some of the issues in federal politics or what's on his mind. I note that today is Paul Keating, former Australian Prime Minister's, 76th birthday. As I hear it, you for some reason credit him with you getting into politics, is this right?

CHALMERS: I do. He was for me the biggest earliest influence on my interest in politics. Knocking around as a teenager in Logan City I came across Paul. I wasn't from a political family. I hadn't had any experience with politics as a kid or growing up. We didn't discuss it around the dinner table, our family was one of those families that was quite private and quiet about politics.

AUSTIN: Three things you don't discuss in polite company: sex, politics and religion.

CHALMERS: That's right. I came across this guy called Paul Keating towards the tail end of his Prime Ministership. I actually turned 18 the day he lost the Prime Ministership. I just couldn't believe the vision, the language, the passion, the fire in the belly and the fact that he came from a community a bit like mine, and I was just really taken by that. I think every generation of people who are politically active have, whether it's Gough's generation or whoever have that captivating person. For me and my generation, it was Paul Keating.

AUSTIN: Have you got a copy of the Rolling Stone magazine where he's wearing a pair of Ray Bans?

CHALMERS: I don't have the original but I've got a copy of the photo. It's a beauty! I've become friends with him over time; a number of us have in our federal team not just me and I talk to him fairly regularly. I spoke to him today at some length. I wished him happy birthday.

AUSTIN: What did he say?

CHALMERS: It's actually his 77th birthday. He was born in 1944. We reflected a bit on the fact that in Australia, he got into federal politics, into the parliament when he was 25. He got out when he was 52. He's 77 now. He's younger than Joe Biden is now coming into the presidency in the US, and we reflected on the fact that in Australia, we're not as good at maintaining that corporate knowledge that our ex-leaders have. He spent that time from 52 to 77 out of the parliament and he's still fired up about superannuation, wages, living standards, the economy and international engagement. So I try to pick his brain as frequently as I can and a number of my colleagues do that as well. For someone who got into the Labor Party partly because of Paul it's a real buzz to be able to talk with him now.

AUSTIN: So guys like Paul give people in the Labor movement corporate memory?

CHALMERS: Absolutely. I mean you go and can sit down with him as others do or speak to him on the phone and he's really generous with his time, and with his friendship and so he will give you a sense of some of those debates through time. But the beautiful thing about Paul is he's always looking forward. He's still thinking about the future of superannuation, the future of the economy and international engagement and relationships around the world. So he's got an extraordinary sense of sweep and perspective which is a real buzz to tap into from time to time.

AUSTIN: Did you give him a birthday gift?

CHALMERS: I gave him a call! He's in good spirits, he said a lot of people got in touch with him today and he's grateful for it.

AUSTIN: Thanks for coming in.

CHALMERS: Thanks Steve.

AUSTIN: See you next week.

CHALMERS: Thank you. Cheers.