Labor seeks 'grown-up' political debate

Anthony Albanese has used a speech in Sydney to call for a higher quality of political debate.
Anthony Albanese has used a speech in Sydney to call for a higher quality of political debate.

Anthony Albanese has called for parliament to debate any decision to go to war, as part of a broader plan to improve trust in Australia's democracy.

In his third major speech since assuming the leadership, Mr Albanese set out a plan to restore integrity and accountability while improving the tone of debate.

The opposition leader also urged social media giants like Facebook to crack down on fake news.

He pledged to work with media companies and journalists to enshrine in law protections of press freedom.

Mr Albanese said parliament "at the very least" should debate any cabinet decision to go to war - something coalition governments have been reluctant to do.

"We can't ask people to put their lives on the line if we as legislators are too afraid to put our arguments on the line. If democracy has real meaning, it is in moments like this," Mr Albanese told the Towards 2022 forum in Sydney on Saturday.

Bob Hawke allowed two days of parliamentary debate after his cabinet decided to join the first Gulf War.

Mr Albanese said political debate in Australia must move beyond Twitter trolling and anti-coal convoys towards a "proper, grown-up, democratic conversation".

"In a world that's being revolutionised by science and technology, and threatened by a changing climate, what sort of country treats its scientists, educators and firefighters like enemies of the people?" he asked.

"The answer is: one that will have fewer jobs, a lower standard of living and a more dangerous environment in the decades to come."

Labor took an electoral hit in Queensland over the party's confusing stance on the coal industry.

Mr Albanese urged those who advocate change to understand the viewpoints of "those who will feel insecure by that change".

He said Labor stood with media companies in their united campaign to strengthen press freedom.

"Journalism is not a crime. It's essential to preserving our democracy. We don't need a culture of secrecy. We need a culture of disclosure," he said.

Mr Albanese also took a shot at Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for not doing enough to combat fake news.

"What if Facebook's laws of the jungle trump Australia's laws of the land?" he said.

He said constitutional reform to give indigenous people a voice to parliament was a bigger priority than making Australia a republic.

As well, a national integrity commission - with the powers of a standing royal commission - was needed to "root out corruption in the federal sphere".

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers also addressed the conference, arguing the party needs to be more inclusive.

"When it comes to policy, we can do big things slowly or small things quickly, but not big things quickly," he said.

"And starting - every time - with a focus on economic growth."

ALP national president Wayne Swan said economic inequality and climate change were the defining issues of the generation.

Australian Associated Press