Sep 29, 2020







SUBJECTS: National Police Remembrance Day 2020; Government’s re-announcement of a ‘digital strategy’; Federal Budget; MUA; port disputes; industrial relations; hotel quarantine; quarantine at home.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much for joining me. Today is National Police Remembrance Day. And it is a day in which all of us should thank our police officers. Those men and women who run towards danger, who we rely upon to look after us in our everyday lives as well as at times of particular crisis. Today, tragically, the four police officers who lost their lives in Victoria earlier this year will be added to the memorial. That will bring the number of names on the memorial to 798. But they are more than just names. They are men and women who had husbands and wives, who had families, children, who were part of communities. Every one of these tragedies was mourned by their mates and comrades in the police force. And today is a day in which we should give thanks and remember them.


I wanted, today, to respond to the latest re-announcement. The latest triumph of marketing and spin over substance from Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg. Today’s re-announcement is about the so-called ‘digital strategy’. But once again, when you look at the detail, it’s more about announcement than delivery. Scott Morrison is always there for the photo-op, never there for the follow-up. The Digital Transformation Agency was set up by Malcolm Turnbull many years ago. The only thing we’ve heard of it in recent times is the extraordinary amount of money that they spent on stationery, which is ironic given that it is supposed to be about digital transformation. Indeed, more than half of the money that has been re-announced today was actually announced in 2017 and in a funding envelope, that was revealed last year, to create a digital identification number. Labor committed to a Director Identification Number in May 2017.


Today’s announcement follows the extraordinary humiliation of the backflip just a week ago on Paul Fletcher, when the Government discovered that indeed, fibre, 21st technology, was better than copper when it came to the National Broadband Network. This, in spite of the fact that they trashed the model that was established under the Rudd Labor Government to roll out Fibre to the Premises for 93 per cent of Australian households and businesses. During the pandemic we have learned again how necessary 21st century communications technology is. Not just to downloading but to communicating, to uploading, which was always the key for business. How important it is to drive jobs in regional Australia. This Government doesn’t get new technology. It doesn’t get helping to not just imagine the future but creating the future in a way that creates jobs and creates economic activity. And if today’s announcement or re-announcement is the best job they can do, then I think Australians are entitled to have confirmed in their mind that this indeed is a Government that just does re-announcements, that concentrates on marketing and spin and doesn’t deliver when it comes to what is what is necessary.


Now, tomorrow, I’ll be outlining the tests that Labor will set for the Government in a speech to the McKell think tank here in Sydney. This Budget is vital. It is vital to create jobs immediately which is what is required, as well as establishing mechanisms for the long-term economic recovery for the nation. We should be making sure that we learn the lessons that had been there during the pandemic. The lessons that say we need to be more resilient and self-reliant. The lessons that say we need to make sure that we have a skilled workforce that are able to undertake the tasks of the future. The lessons that say we should identify where the gaps are in what we produce in this country and that we should be value-adding up the chain so that we take advantage of the opportunities that are there in the Asian century. A part of that will be new technology, there’s no question about that. And a part of that will be the digital delivery of services and products and engagement is critical for the future. But if today’s re-announcements, and the grab-bag that we’ve seen, is the best they can do, then they need to do much better in this next Tuesday’s Budget.

Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: On the wharf dispute, the Prime Minister’s called the actions of the Maritime Union as extortionist by holding up the cargo ships that are off the ports here and (inaudible). What do you think needs to be done to get through this?


ALBANESE: Everyone wants to see a resolution to this issue. But the Prime Minister, of course, is a commentator, not a leader. This is a bloke who chairs the National Cabinet but isn’t responsible for our national borders, isn’t responsible for quarantining, isn’t responsible for industrial relations. He is a commentator. And he is a commentator who looks for distractions. And there’s no question that what we want to see is cooperation when it comes to industrial relations. But this is, again, a distraction from a Prime Minister who should do his day job and should accept responsibility for that.


JOURNALIST: What do you think should happen to get that cooperation and to make a way through this?


ALBANESE: Well, I’m not a commentator. I’m actually a politician and a decision maker. And what we need to do is to make sure that unions and employers recognise that they have a common interest. And here, where you have any dispute, there should be processes put in place to ensure speedy resolution of those disputes. But what we have, of course, is from a Prime Minister who spends most of his time, used to attacking the trade union movement, rather than seeking to bring parties together. That’s a pattern that we saw, repeated up until the pandemic came in. And then, of course, we saw a very different change in rhetoric from the Government, and a recognition that, indeed, the workers that were necessary, including, it must be said, the workers on our wharves, who played an important role during the pandemic in continuing to turn up to work, continuing to engage in that economic activity, we saw the Government speak about how important cooperation was with the ACTU and the trade union movement. I want to see more cooperation and less rhetorical positions from the Prime Minister seeking to distract from attention of the issues that he’s responsible for.


JOURNALIST: (Inaudible). They’re trying to suspend immediately at the Fair Work Commission protected industrial action, industrial action that the MUA has taken, that is protected under the law they’re entitled to, the Commonwealth and the employer supporting the same process to cancel that.


ALBANESE: Which is why the Commonwealth should be playing a role of trying to bring parties together.


JOURNALIST: You don’t support the action?


ALBANESE: The Commonwealth should be playing a role in bringing the parties together to produce a constructive outcome.


JOURNALIST: Are you concerned about the effects that the industrial action is having at the port there with the supply chains at risk?


ALBANESE: No one wants to see industrial action. That’s not the preferred start of either the trade unions or employers. But what we need is a Commonwealth Government that works to bring parties together rather than to divide. And that’s something that the Commonwealth should be playing a role in.


JOURNALIST: So, you want the union or Patrick’s to back down?


ALBANESE: I think that the unions and the employers should have a cooperative relationship. There should be dialogue in the interests of both parties coming together, rather than conflict. And that the Commonwealth should be playing a role in that rather than engaging rhetoric for political purposes.


JOURNALIST: Do you support the Commonwealth supporting Patricks?


ALBANESE: I’ve stated my position now four times.


JOURNALIST: If you were Prime Minister in this position, what would you do?


ALBANESE: If I was Prime Minister in this position, I would be trying to bring the parties together.


JOURNALIST: So, you wouldn’t be going to Fair Work?


ALBANESE: I would be trying to bring the parties together in a cooperative way.


JOURNALIST: It sounds like you don’t necessarily support it?


ALBANESE: I can’t answer the same question with anything other than the same answer.


JOURNALIST: As the Leader of the Australian Labor Party, do you support the MUA and their right to engage in what is protected industrial action?


ALBANESE: Well, of course, we have an industrial relations system that provides for action. This Government has been in place now in its third term. This is the Government’s industrial relations system. But there should be, also, as well as formal processes, the Commonwealth should be playing a role in trying to bring the parties together. Now, we have a circumstance whereby, for example, earlier this year we had an Industrial Relations Minister say that he had never spoken to the Secretary of the ACTU. I find that extraordinary. They’d never picked up the phone, had no contact whatsoever. What we’ve seen from the Government is a change in that rhetoric and the Government engaging with the trade union movement to try to achieve common outcomes in the interests of the national interest during the pandemic. I think that spirit should be taken to industrial relations. It’s the position that I’ve put for a long period of time, that trade unions and employers have common interests. They have an interest in successful businesses, but, of course, successful businesses are ones, as well, that have a cooperative workforce. Of course, Patricks have a history of not necessarily engaging in cooperative dialogue with the trade union movement. Thanks.


JOURNALIST: Just very briefly, have you picked up the phone to Paddy Crumlin from the MUA?


ALBANESE: No, I have not. And it’s not my job, as the Opposition Leader. I’m not part of the Government. And I suggest to the Government that what they should be doing is trying to bring the parties together. Thank you.


JOURNALIST: On another topic, the Prime Minister has floated a possible return to home isolation rather than hotel quarantine. Do you believe that this can provide enough community protection for returning travellers?


ALBANESE: What we should be doing is taking the advice of the medical experts and the Chief Health Officers, rather than making political decisions.


JOURNALIST: And in terms of public servants returning to the office to encourage more spending in the CBD, do you support public servants going back to work in the office?


ALBANESE: Well, I’m a public servant. I’m in an office right now. Thanks very much.