ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
TONY BURKE MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS
SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ARTS
MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS
MEMBER FOR WATSON
FRIDAY, 29 MAY 2020
SUBJECTS: Government neglecting arts and entertainment sector; JobKeeper; industrial relations; Bushfire Royal Commission; Palace letters.
TONY BURKE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ARTS: Well, we don’t know how long it’ll be before the chairs around us are filled with crowds again. Certainly, I’m one of the people has come here regularly over the years for different gigs. And there are good health reasons why venues are currently closed, but what we need to make sure of is that we don’t leave the workers behind. And too often, people when they think about the arts and entertainment industry try to see everything through the lens of the word celebrity. And this industry is about hundreds of thousands of workers. The whole creative sector, more than $111 billion for the economy and the Government still, even though it was the first industry to be shut down, still has not come forward with the rescue package for this sector. I’d like some of the workers to be able to tell their own stories. And so we’ll start with Fiona, then Scott, then Kerri. Fiona.
FIONA DONOVAN: Hello, my name is Fiona Donovan. I’m a production designer and I work in screen. And basically, the job I was on was shut down. And I’ve gone from quite a substantial income to one tenth of that income. I’m not eligible for JobKeeper at all because I work on eight-month contracts, being the longest I’ve ever worked on. And I work as a PAYG employee, so I don’t invoice for jobs. I don’t invoice with an ABN and I’m not a company. I’ve not eligible for JobKeeper and neither for JobSeeker, as I’ve ended up working for some friends in a shop whose business has boomed and I’m basically on one tenth of the income I was previously. Thank you.
SCOTT SMITH: Hi everyone, my name is Scott Smith. I’m a theatre lighting technician. I’ve been in this industry now for 35 years. My story is that I do have a contract at the end of this with Disney Australasia. I was not originally allowed to have JobKeeper, and I only just got JobSeeker because my partner then went on to JobKeeper. But originally, I was not even eligible for JobSeeker. As this Monday, I have to start looking for work through JobSeeker, even though in three months’ time I do have a two-year contract. Now I don’t mind looking for work. However, I have been in this industry for 35 years because I love what I do, and I want to keep that up. I’m kind of concerned that if I start looking for work and refuse full time work, because it’s not right on the people that are trying to employ me, will that affect my JobSeeker? I’m also very concerned about the arts and this country and the way that this Government is refusing to acknowledge what we do and how much this affects our economy. Thank you.
KERRI GLASSCOCK: Hi, I’m Kerri Glasscock. I’m the CEO and Director of the Sydney Fringe Festival, we are the largest independent arts festival in New South Wales. Ordinarily we happen in September but of course, we’ve just announced this week that we are cancelling. Many of our core team and there’s only five of us were fortunate to be able to be eligible for JobKeeper, but none of our seasonal contractors were. So about 40 odd employees have slipped through the cracks. We are most concerned as well about the independent and privately-owned venues that we represent. We work with over 80 across greater Sydney each year. Many of them don’t have access to support and nor do the creatives that work in them. So, we’re very keen to see a national plan to ensure that our venues are still here, when we come out of this.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much for Kerrie, Fiona and Scott for telling their stories. They’re the human face of what is a miserable position from this Federal Government. The Federal Government that has contempt for the arts, a $111 billion a year industry, where the economics don’t tell the story. This is about our culture. It is about our quality of life. The arts enrich all of us.
And the truth is that the Government’s so-called Snap Back plan would snap this community, the artistic community. Whether they be in live music, theatre, television, film, writing, all of the arts sector have been hammered by this pandemic. And the idea it’ll just snap back on one day is absurd. Because quite clearly venues such as this, that require substantial numbers of people to actually be commercially viable to hold an event, won’t be snapping back for some period of time. And that’s why we need a government response. We’ve been talking about this now for months. It was one of the major points that I made in my vision statement before Parliament resumed.
The Government has continued to show contempt, continued to mean that people aren’t eligible for JobKeeper at all. A range of people are also not eligible for JobSeeker and have no support whatsoever. These are creative people. These are people who in the crisis of earlier this year, arising from the bushfires gave up their talent, gave up their time, donating it back to put back into the community. These are people who’ve paid taxes their whole lives who have now been forgotten by this Government. We need to do much better.
The Government has heard from people like Philip Lowe from the Reserve Bank about the danger that is there of Snap Back and its approach. What we actually need is a government that actually looks at a transition in terms of just as there’s a transition back to normal activity with pubs opening, with more and more people, we need a transition in terms of JobKeeper and support. We also need specific sector programs. And the arts and entertainment sector are one that stands out as needing support in order to maintain viability. If that doesn’t happen, what you’ll see is that some of the venues and we can see here at the Enmore Theatre today, the silence that you hear is the silence that comes from jobs being lost. That is what it is. And what we need to do is do better than that.
We need to make sure the venues can survive, that people will stay in the industry, because otherwise they’ll be lost to us. This is important not just for our national economy, it attracts international dollars in terms of tourism and economic activity as well. If we aren’t telling Australian stories to the world, they won’t know about us. They won’t know about us; they won’t be attracted to us. They won’t see what a sophisticated culture we have in this country. We have a culture that is enriched by the fact that we have the oldest continuous civilisation on the planet, right here, telling stories about First Nations people. Whether through theatre like Bangarra, or whether it be through stories that are told. We had that and then we have our rich multicultural nation as well and the sort of stories that you see on The Heights and on other programs, about the nature of our urban life. We are a rich culture; we need to tell each other that story. But we also need to tell the world the Australian story as well. And it’s in danger of being lost. It’s certainly is being undermined and this Government has done absolutely nothing to provide any support of any substance. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: You must have some great memories of (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: I do. I’ve been in this venue many, many a time from Ian Dury, to Midnight Oil, to Cold Chisel, to The Proclaimers, to artists from all over the world. Sarah Blasko, she lives just around the corner here, performing, and indeed over a long period of time. This is an example; this theatre results in an extraordinary economic benefit for the surrounding community. If you took this theatre away you wouldn’t have the thriving restaurant, pub scene in the local community that we see around Enmore. The spin off from activities and venues like this is simply enormous.
And as a result of that, you have a thriving craft beer scene and you have a spin off as well. Whether it be Cottonmouth Records up the road, whether it be pubs, whether it be Young Henry’s, a bigger venue down the road. They, I think, can all derive their success from this venue. This venue costs a lot of money to upkeep. It’s old, it’s historic, it’s important. And it’s a central part and focal part of the community, just as Sydney without the Sydney Opera House is a different city. The fact is, that venues like this are absolutely of critical importance and a venue like this which is connected with the Factory Theatre just down the road, so the artists who are either on the way up or perhaps not past the peak play down there and hope to make it to a bigger venue like this. It’s an important part of who we are and our identity as well. And walking in here on the stage, they also do a range of other programs.
I was here with Tony Burke for RockWiz a while ago as well. It has the range of activities and it is indeed a valuable asset for the community. And this is private sector risk, this is privately owned, putting their own money in venues like this, the truth is, don’t make a whole lot of money. And most overwhelmingly most people involved in the arts are people who are in it out of their love for the arts. If you want to become a billionaire don’t go into a local live music venue, as a source of where your capital goes, there’s lots of other options. But it is providing an important national service and that should be recognised.
JOURNALIST: So National Cabinet is considering ways to speed up the reopening of venues if rates of infection are low. Is it a risk worth taking?
ALBANESE: Well what it is we need to always pay attention to the health advice. One of the reasons why we’ve been successful is we’ve listened to the science and the medical advice. And so far, compared with many other nations, Australia is coming through this crisis better than most. So, we need to keep vigilant on that advice, but I don’t want to see restrictions in place for one day more than necessary because there is an economic cost of those restrictions. And there’s also social costs in terms of our quality of life. I’m very much looking forward to watching Souths play tonight as a highlight of my week. I think people want to see that interaction. We are social beings and we’ve been reminded of that.
JOURNALIST: What’s your response to the latest emissions data showing a 0.9 per cent drop last year?
ALBANESE: Well, the fact is that Angus Taylor has been presiding over a policy program whereby he’s been more interested in fake documents about the City of Sydney Council than he has on his day job. The fact is the renewable energy investment figures are declining significantly in 2019. The projections aren’t going in the right direction and the Government doesn’t have an energy policy or a climate policy. That’s not good enough in 2020. And we need a Government that actually is prepared to advance forward, to have mechanisms that support policies. They put one forward in the National Energy Guarantee, and then walked away from their own policy. And their internal divisions mean they’re incapable of putting forward a coherent plan. I suspect that Malcolm Turnbull’s right when he says it will take a Labor government to do that.
JOURNALIST: Just on industrial relations, Sally McManus has expressed sympathy with the employers’ view that the BOOT, the Better Off Overall Test, is holding up agreements and that that argument has some merits. Does Labor agree with that and is it supportive of a move to the Keating era no-disadvantage test where the Commission might have a bit more discretion?
ALBANESE: Well, what we need here is cooperation. There’s nothing new in that from Labor. On my first day as the Labor Leader, a year ago, I said that people had conflict fatigue. I’ve been saying for some time that business and unions have common interests. So, we need to have a bargaining framework whereby we can have win-win, because productivity is going backwards for employers, and wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living for employees. So, the system quite clearly isn’t working at the moment. What we have though from the Federal Government isn’t a plan, it’s a process at the moment. Now hopefully, that process of employers talking to employees, should be nothing unusual about that. And it shouldn’t have taken a pandemic for the Federal Government to acknowledge that unions have a right to exist.
JOURNALIST: Does Labor think though that the no-disadvantage test would be a suitable test for agreements though?
ALBANESE: Look, I’m awaiting the discussions which take place. What I do say is out of any process, workers shouldn’t be left worse off. It’s that simple. And the fact is that what we’ve seen under this Government, over seven long years, is an increase in job insecurity, an increase in casualisation of the workforce, and during this pandemic that insecurity has meant that those very people are the ones who’ve missed out on support like JobKeeper.
JOURNALIST: The Bushfire Royal Commission has unexpectedly suspended hearings today, saying additional material needs to be considered. Do you think these hearings are getting to the bottom of what happened during the fires and determining what needs to be done?
ALBANESE: Well, I certainly hope that they do. But at the moment, as someone who has been in bushfire affected communities just this week, around Narooma, Bega, Merimbula, Quaama, what we’ve seen is that the support isn’t being delivered on the ground. And this week at the Bushfire Royal Commission and at the Senate Committee, we’ve heard some stories that reinforce that. The fact that $15.9 million that was allocated to provide support to frontline workers, people like the firefighters themselves to get mental health support and other support, not a dollar of that has been spent. For goodness sake, it’s the end of May and for months, after grand statements from the Government, not a single dollar has been spent. It’s simply not good enough. These people should not be forgotten because of the pandemic. Because they’ve suffered from drought, then the bushfires and then the pandemic. And what we know from the evidence that’s been given, is that the Government was complacent in the lead up to the bushfires. All the warnings were there, of what was going to occur over this period and yet it took the calling of a by-election in Eden-Monaro to get an announcement about increased aerial firefighting support.
JOURNALIST: On JobKeeper, does Labor support keeping the full JobKeeper rate past September or in a transition period is there room for a reduced rate?
ALBANESE: Are you talking about JobKeeper or JobSeeker?
JOURNALIST: JobKeeper, the $1500 payment. Or is there room for a lower payment?
ALBANESE: Look, what what we say with regard to JobKeeper is that the idea of Snap Back is wrong. Not only to we say, that the Reserve Bank are saying that as well. And I noticed the Government Ministers this morning crab walking away from Snap Back because Snap Back will snap the spirit of communities and will snap our economy. The fact is that this Government doesn’t really have a plan. One of the things that’s characterised this Government is complacency. Complacency prior to the bushfires. Complacency when it announced JobSeeker and wouldn’t engage in wage subsidies with with JobKeeper. If they were as good at delivering programs as they are at thinking up slogans, we’d be much better off. That’s a fact. But with JobKeeper, the fact is that it needs a transition. The idea that it just ends on one day, that we go from what we know now isn’t six million, but it’s three million people being given support of $1500 a fortnight, and that all ends on a single day, which is what the Prime Minister has committed to, is absurd, is counterproductive, will damage the economy as well as hurt the workers directly affected.
JOURNALIST: Are you looking forward to finding out what’s in the Palace letters in the wake of the High Court ruling?
ALBANESE: Well, I do. One of my earliest political memories is the sacking of an elected Labour Government and by the Governor-General. I think that was an outrageous decision that was made. I think transparency is important. Perhaps while that’s happening, we could get some transparency with the Liberal National agreement that is at the heart of this Government, that is one of the reasons why climate change action isn’t possible. Perhaps we can be transparent about what’s happening now, in terms of our governance structures, as well as what happened in 1975 as a matter of historical record.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.