ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
WEDNESDAY, 4 MARCH 2020
SUBJECTS: Currumbin by-election; Government’s relocation of bushfire funding; economy; coronavirus; sports rorts saga; Gold Coast tourism.
KAYLEE CAMPRADT, QUEENSLAND STATE LABOR CANDIDATE FOR CURRUMBIN: We are welcoming Anthony Albanese here today to the beautiful Southern Gold Coast. This morning we have been meeting with our supporters and volunteers. And also talking with local businesses about the effect of the coronavirus and the downturn that is having an effect on small business in the area. We know that this area relies upon tourism. So, thanks Anthony for taking time out to be here this morning. Welcome to the beautiful Southern Gold Coast. We are really pleased that you can be here today with us.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much, Kaylee. And I am very pleased to be here, supporting Kaylee’s campaign in the Currumbin by-election. And today we’ve been talking to small business. Kaylee understands small business. She understands this community. She was born here. She’s raising her family here. A mum, I’ve met today, for the first time as well. She is a local. She has been the president of the Queensland Parents and Citizens Association. She’s been active on her own local P&C for seven years. She’s been active in providing advice as a community advocate for the health sector for this region. Kaylee will get things done as a local representative in Anastasia Palaszczuk’s Government. But in order to do that, in order to be more effective, what we need is a Government in Canberra that cares about Queenslanders. That cares about jobs. That can see us through the current economic difficulties which are there. And we know that there is a massive impact particularly on the tourism economies like the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast, like far north Queensland. We know that this local economy here very much relies upon visitor numbers, both international but also domestic numbers. And we know that the numbers of people coming from overseas has crashed. In some cases, they can’t come even if they want to come here to Queensland. And that’s having an impact on the economy here. Now, during the bushfire crisis, the Government announced $76 million for tourism. What they are saying when today there is a meeting of the tourism peak organisations. And when I met with them yesterday afternoon in Canberra, that there are no extra dollars on the table. There’s just a reallocation away from the bushfire-affected areas to areas like Cairns. That, frankly, is not good enough. What we need at the moment is an injection of support from the Commonwealth Government into communities like this one, in order to maintain jobs, and to make sure that the economy keeps going forward. We got, last time I was in Government as a minister, we go to Australia through the Global Financial Crisis, the biggest downturn since the Great Depression. This Government dismisses all of that. But here we had particular sectors that have been impacted, like tourism, they need support. Kaylee’s arguing the case here and will be a strong advocate in Queensland. We need the same approach from the national Government as well.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, the Prime Minister has accused you of being more interested in taking pictures with sports stars than dealing with coronavirus. What is your response to that?
ALBANESE: It is just another appalling misrepresentation. The fact is that I was with the Prime Minister at that time. And there was no notice given. It was a stuff-up. The Chief Medical Officer has said that, in terms of his office. He arrived without notice. The Health Shadow, Chris Bowen, was advised of that. He was informed by Minister Hunt’s office. So, he saw him anyway. And I have had, along with my Chief of Staff, I have had a number of briefings with the Chief Medical Officer, including this week. This week, the Chief Medical Officer also briefed the caucus. This is a desperate Prime Minister. A Prime Minister who will say anything at all. And at the time that the calls were made to my office, I was with the Prime Minister at the vigil for Hannah Clarke and her children. That vigil, I think it was broadcasted actually, at that time. There were speeches from myself and from the Prime Minister, from others. It was a sombre event. And it was a good event organised across the Parliament where everyone was there.
JOURNALIST: A cheap shot?
ALBANESE: Well, others will judge. But I haven’t sought to politicise the coronavirus issue. It’s a pity that the Prime Minister sought to yesterday. Because it’s not surprising that he’s desperate to talk about anything other than his own accountability including, of course, the further revelations that are there today about the sports rorts saga.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, your friends in Government are urging Australians to holiday at home given this situation with coronavirus. Can you say where you might like to be holidaying in the near future?
ALBANESE: I’d like to have a holiday right here. I’ve got to say this is a fantastic place for a holiday. I’ve been here in the past at a number of places along here, further up at Broadbeach. This Gold Coast region is sensational, as is the far north coast of New South Wales around Kingscliff. I’ll be actually having a bit of a break in this region during BluesFest coming up, I will spend a couple of days here. But I haven’t had a holiday for some period of time, I’ve got to say. And I did have some plans in January that were cancelled because of the bushfire crisis. But this is a great place to come. And I would encourage Australians to come right here.
JOURNALIST: Just quickly, I mean, would you be blaming the Government if we did end up in recession again against this backdrop of coronavirus and of course bushfires and different floods?
ALBANESE: Well, what we have seen from this Government is that when it comes to making economic decisions based upon politics, there’s no limit to that money flowing out the door. We saw that with the sports rorts saga. And today I’ve got to say, Bridget McKenzie has belled the cat once again to this scandal. Because Bridget McKenzie has said in a post overnight, that she in fact didn’t make the changes to which organisations got Government funding on the 11th of April. That was during the caretaker period. Bridget McKenzie has said that someone else made those changes. The Prime Minister has said repeatedly that it was Minister McKenzie who made all the decisions. She says that’s wrong. Who did make the decisions? Who was it who was allocating funding? We know that the Prime Minister’s office made a change early on the morning at 8:46am on the 11th of April. Who made the further nine additional funding grants with one removed later that afternoon during caretaker period? The Prime Minister has to answer these questions and answer them very clearly. And what also is clear is that the so-called investigation by his former Chief of Staff, Mr Gaetjens didn’t interview anyone in the Prime Minister’s office and doesn’t seem to have been aware of this either. Did he ask Senator McKenzie whether she made the changes on the 11th of April? You can’t have taxpayer funds being allocated, and changed, and swapped around without knowing who was making those decisions. There is a lot of more questions to answer. I don’t know why this Government just can’t come clean when they get a simple question and give a simple answer. This week, we saw how that’s possible when the head of the Australian Defence Force, General Campbell, said in response to a question, did he object to the advertising that was done on the bushfire crisis? Did he contact the Prime Minister personally to express those concerns? He answered yes. A simple answer to a simple question. This Prime Minister’s incapable of ever doing that.
JOURNALIST: What are you going to do now in response to Bridget McKenzie’s statement?
ALBANESE: Well, look, Bridget McKenzie is scheduled to appear before the Senate Committee. Mr Gaetjens is scheduled to appear before the Senate Committee as well. We actually just need some straight answers about this scandal. What we know is that I’m sure in this region here, hardworking volunteers would have spent hundreds of hours of time filling out application forms, thinking there was a level playing field, when in fact, the fix was in. And we had colour-coded charts, a Pantone chart of rorting. And the Prime Minister can’t continue. He used to talk about on water matters now and he couldn’t talk about them. Now he says he can’t talk about on rort matters. That’s what the Prime Minister is doing here. There is huge rorting going on. It’s taxpayers’ funds. And then there needs to be answers and transparency.
JOURNALIST: Just on the coronavirus again. Do you think the Government’s doing enough to respond to it and the do you accept that millions of Australians could possibly contract it?
ALBANESE: We need to listen to the Chief Medical Officer and the medical advice on this. Quite frankly, politicians, whether it’s from the Labor Party, or the Liberal Party, or the National Party, are not in the best position to give medical advice. The experts are. And we have followed that advice the whole way through. We will continue to follow that advice the whole way through. What the Government’s responsible for, though, is making sure that the impact that we know about is mitigated. And that’s why we need more support for the tourism sector in particular, and in regions like the Gold Coast that are so reliant upon it.
JOURNALIST: So, if Bridget McKenzie didn’t change anything, who do you think did?
ALBANESE: Well, the question went to who was responsible for this. And it’s a good question because Bridget McKenzie has said it’s not her. Who did it? Was it the Prime Minister? The Prime Minister’s office? Someone else? We need answers to this. This isn’t election commitments, by the way. This is Government decisions from which dollars flow that was in the Budget. And this was overturning, we know over 75 per cent of the recommendations from Sport Australia were not followed. So, this was a purely political pork-barrel. And it was a pork-barrel of nuclear proportions. And what we saw was an abuse. And if the Minister has said that she didn’t make those decisions, I’m not surprised, frankly, that Minister McKenzie is sick of being thrown under the bus. Because that’s what the Government did. The Gaetjens inquiry was all designed to have circumstances whereby Bridget McKenzie would resign, but not for anything to do with the rorting of the program. That was the whole design of the way it was set up. And frankly, it has a smell around this scandal. And the smell just gets smellier each and every day. And the Government, the Government needs to answer these questions.
ALBANESE: No, what is needs is a sensible response which does things that we were calling for early on. I think that they could consider bringing forward stage two of the tax cuts. We said that should happen in the middle of last year. We said that. The economy has been soft for a long period of time. There was one interest rate decrease this week. But there had been three cuts, there have been three downgrades of growth. Wages are not keeping up with the cost of living. Families are under pressure. Productivity is not growing. Consumer confidence is going backwards. All of the indicators. Business investment has fallen, because the Treasurer said six months ago that they would look at increased support for business investment. So, guess what? All those businesses that were thinking of making new investment have held off for the increase benefit from a change in the allowances that would flow from that foreshadowing of the change. So, the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, has actually driven down business investment through making the foreshadowing of that announcement. This Government needs to act. The fact is they dismissed the Global Financial Crisis response. But it was regarded, widely regarded, as the best response in the world. And it kept us out of recession at the same time as right around the world millions of people were losing their jobs.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, can you say, I guess locally, how you feel as though coronavirus might be impacting this part of the Gold Coast? You mentioned tourism. And obviously this is an area that’s heavily reliant on tourist numbers. Can you say how you feel as though coronavirus is biting this part of the Gold Coast?
ALBANESE: Well, you can see it. This part, the southern Gold Coast in particular relies upon tourists. It relies upon people domestically to travel. And obviously in the circumstances whereby we have seen in the domestic economy, people rushing to supermarkets to buy products. That’s not the kind of psyche that then says the next day, ‘Yeah, let’s go away for a week on a holiday’. The international tourism, though, is where particularly if you look at the analysis, visitors from China in particular, spend more than visitors from some other countries. And this economy here very much relies upon that. When you go into facilities here, you see languages, you can press languages, in English, or Chinese. In a lift I was in last night that was the case. Now, if there are no Chinese visitors coming here, that has an impact on cash flow. It has an impact on jobs. And businesses here are really under pressure. And this is the peak season. The Gold Coast is a fantastic place to come to, particularly in this time of the year when it’s still very warm but not as hot as it is in December, January. And we’re missing out on those tourists. And the Government needs to respond to that. I met with all the tourism sector last night. And they’re very concerned. They’re in Canberra today as they were yesterday afternoon, lobbying for support. Tourism jobs are so vital for this constituency. And I just say to the Government, they need to do something more than just reallocate money to this region.
JOURNALIST: So, you are fine justifying seeing people taking rolls of toilet paper of the shelves?
ALBANESE: No. There is no evidence that there’s going to be a shortage. And people need to, if I have a message, it is keep calm and wash your hands. That was the message from the Chief Medical Officer to me. And I’d say to people out there, there’s no need to go out and buy dunny paper. There’s no need to go out there and buy pasta. It will all be available. Just keep calm, wash your hands. Go through sensible measures. And no doubt that we will go through this. We have a very good medical system. And I have confidence in the Chief Medical Officer and in following his advice.
JOURNALIST: So, are you saying that the Gold Coast needs some sort of cash stimulus in the form of tourism grants, that sort of thing?
ALBANESE: There is a range of measures you could do to boost this economy here. One is to bring forward some of the infrastructure spending that’s being foreshadowed. The other is in terms of a campaign. There is a campaign for domestic marketing, in terms of tourism. That’s a good thing. But we need to look at ways in which we can improve other marketing as well internationally, and work with the industry. That’s what the industry is saying, ‘Work with us’. They’ll have ideas. They had some ideas for me yesterday afternoon. They are putting them in a considered way today. And that’s a good thing. Thanks very much.