Sep 16, 2020









SUBJECTS: Coronavirus pandemic impact on retail workers and small businesses; JobKeeper; JobSeeker; Australians stranded overseas; use of RAAF VIP jets to bring Australians home.


ED HUSIC, MEMBER FOR CHIFLEY: Afternoon, everyone. I am Ed Husic, the Federal Member for Chifley. Welcome here to the Eastern Creek border. I wanted to start by making this point; when Josh Frydenberg brings down the first recession Budget in 30 years, he has three priorities, jobs, jobs and jobs. It means a massive deal to people out here where through the pandemic, we saw major layoffs occur. For example, in clubs, if you were a casual, you were probably the first to go and you’d lost your job early on. We had a Government that was slow to put in place wage subsidies as a result of what we were pushing for. There were a lot of people who missed out on getting support, particularly if you’re casuals, or for example, dnata workers who live in this area who couldn’t get that JobKeeper support. Support that lots of local small businesses in this area say kept them afloat. We even had small business owners today approach us and speak with Albo about the value of JobKeeper. And some of them can’t believe that it’s actually being cut early when they need the support right now. So, to have Anthony Albanese here, in our part of Western Sydney, is a big deal to be able to hear from workers here in Woolies about what they did to survive, and what the organisation did to survive through the pandemic and to also make the case for the most important thing for us in our part of Western Sydney, and in fact, the country, is to get the country moving and to get it working again. And I’m grateful, Albo, that you’ve been here today to hear firsthand from workers in our area.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Ed. And it’s great to once again have a very warm welcome here in Western Sydney at Eastern Creek. And today we’ve heard firsthand from retail workers, but also from small business owners, about the pressures that they’ve been under. Firstly, I want to give a big shout out to the retail workers who kept Australia fed and watered during this pandemic. They’ve been doing it tough. And in some cases, there’s been a bit of pressure on them more than usual. It’s important that they have our respect, that people continue to behave in a polite way towards workers who are doing their best to make a difference. And I say thank you to our retail workers today. But the Scott Morrison recession is one that’s having a real impact on people. Now’s not the time, when unemployment is continuing to rise, to have a withdrawal of support. And that’s why the Government should reconsider its decision to cut JobKeeper, to cut JobSeeker, to cut support. They should be looking at ways in which they can increase small business support. And we’ve put forward an eight-point economic plan to boost the economy at this time where it’s really struggling. We know from the Government’s own predictions, that there’ll be an additional 400,000 unemployed between now and Christmas. So, the fact that they’re talking about actually decreasing support at the end of this month is simply inappropriate.


Lastly, I’d say as well, before taking questions, that Scott Morrison needs to do more to bring home the 25,000 Australians who are stranded overseas. You have circumstances whereby a young mum with a one-year-old in London was told to ‘go and find accommodation at a homeless shelter’. That was the official recommendation, and it simply is not good enough. We know that Scott Morrison has assets at his disposal through the Royal Australian Air Force VIP fleet. We know that those planes are good enough to fly Scott Morrison or the Governor General to Europe or to the United States. We know they are available and largely sitting idle right now. And we know there is no additional costs because the planes are there, the RAAF personnel are there, and the need to keep flying in order to keep up their hours and the training that takes place on those flights. In addition, we know that Qantas and other airlines have available aircraft that are also sitting idle at the moment. So, the only thing that is lacking at the moment is leadership. There is no lack of hotel space, there is no lack of planes. All there is a lack of is leadership from Scott Morrison. And if Scott Morrison isn’t in charge of entry into Australia and our national borders, and he is not in control of our quarantine, what is the National Government responsible for? He has a responsibility to these Australians, a duty of care to do much better than is happening at the moment. He can’t continue to want to lead the country but not accept responsibility for anything that is happening during this pandemic. Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: Do you think it is reasonable to relax the cap on arrivals by 2,000? Or should it be more?


ALBANESE: Well, we have a response today to my intervention yesterday. I’m pleased that the Government is starting to respond a little bit, but it’s not enough. The fact is that Northern Territory, Western Australia, Queensland are all saying they’re prepared to do more. They’d be pleased to do more. What they need is some Commonwealth support and Commonwealth leadership. We know at the beginning of the pandemic, for example, the facility outside of Darwin can take 3,000 people alone. And we know that this Government continues to be there for the photo-op, but never there for the follow-up. What they need to do is not make announcements, they need to make sure that this actually happens.


JOURNALIST: Michael McCormack has said that he has asked states and territories and says that they will comply. But do you think they have to agree with the Commonwealth?


ALBANESE: Look, if only the Deputy Prime Minister had some influence. He’s writing a letter to the states and territories. Now, we know the National Cabinet isn’t national, and it’s not acting like a cabinet. But how absurd is it that the Deputy Prime Minister holds a press conference today and says he’s writing a letter about the 25,000 Australians who are stranded overseas and can’t get home and that the National Government is responsible for. This isn’t the responsibility of the states. This is the responsibility of the National Government. And what it requires is national leadership. Not a Deputy Prime Minister who’s writing a letter. The National Cabinet, so-called, is having their telephone hook-up on Friday. It’s become increasingly clear that it is becoming dysfunctional because the National Government, it’s chaired by Scott Morrison. And it’s almost as if they’re not participants, they’re observers on this process and don’t have control over anything at all. But to be reduced to writing letters, is, I find it, quite extraordinary.


JOURNALIST: Are there concerns about using the Howard Springs facility for quarantine of international arrivals when it’s being used to currently quarantine domestic travellers, and would that cause a risk to domestic travel?


ALBANESE: These are practical issues that are able to be sorted through. The Government will come up with a whole range of excuses. That is what they’re good at. What we want is outcomes, not excuses. We are a vast continent. If we can’t provide accommodation and space for many more people than we are now, then it’s because the Government, the Federal Government, is not being fair dinkum about finding those solutions.


JOURNALIST: Do you think you would have a practical response to facilities such as Christmas Island being used where there are currently people waiting to be deported there? What is the practical solution there?


ALBANESE: Well, actually, the last report that I had about Christmas Island was the Biloela family, the two young kids and their mum and dad were the only people in the facility certainly for a while there. And after, Christmas Island had been closed. I’m not sure of how many people are there right now. But I do know that the Commonwealth was able to find literally tens of millions of dollars to deal with this family, of taxpayers’ money, in order to make a political point for a family that the people of Biloela were very happy to stay and continue to make a contribution. The fact is that this Government needs to find a solution. These things aren’t that difficult. This is a time where, newsflash to the Commonwealth Government, there are less international tourists coming into Australia than has been the case in my lifetime, quite possibly. That is the case. Therefore, it is a time where there are more hotel rooms available than have been available in my lifetime, as well. So, in addition to that, of course, there are a range of Commonwealth facilities that could be made available. The truth is that this Government have, like on a range of issues, not been prepared to make decisions and produce outcomes. What they have been more interested in is pretending that they’re observers of this whole process, that the Prime Minister’s job is to chair a so-called National Cabinet meeting once every couple of weeks, be told by the premiers who have a chat with each other about what they’re all doing in their respective jurisdictions, and then he goes out and holds a press conference. Well, the Commonwealth is clearly in charge of our borders. And the Commonwealth is clearly in charge of quarantine. They should be able to fix this.


JOURNALIST: One in five young people in South West Sydney are currently unemployed. What is that going to look like with the Federal Government’s JobKeeper plan?


ALBANESE: Well, it’ll get worse with the cuts to JobKeeper. It’ll get worse with the cuts to JobSeeker that are taking money out of the economy when the Government should be doing the opposite. The Government should be providing support for our economy at a time when it’s needed. Thank you.