ANTHONY ALBANESE, JIM CHALMERS & KRISTY MCBAIN – TRANSCRIPT – DOORSTOP INTERVIEW – MERIMBULA – THURSDAY, 28 MAY 2020
ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
MEMBER FOR RANKIN
LABOR CANDIDATE FOR EDEN-MONARO
THURSDAY, 28 MAY 2020
SUBJECTS: Eden-Monaro by-election; industrial relations; bushfire recovery; Australia beyond the coronavirus; NSW public sector wage freeze; JobKeeper; ski season; easing of restrictions; tourism; state borders; Belt and Road initiative.
KRISTY MCBAIN, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR EDEN-MONARO: Good morning. We are here in Merimbula today and I am joined by the Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese, and Shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers. Yesterday we toured communities in Narooma, Cobargo, Quaama and Bega. We spoke to businesses and farmers who have been falling through the cracks. Farmers like cattle farmers and chicken farmers who aren’t eligible for funding through the State Government. JobKeeper people that aren’t eligible for the program. Hospitality and tourism workers. And today in the Bega District News we heard that there is a potential cut to 34 jobs at the South East Regional Hospital. At a time of a health pandemic, a potential cut to health services locally would signal a further hit to our economy. We have been hit by bushfires, by drought, and by COVID-19. And we cannot take any further cuts to our economy, any further cuts to our health system, or any further falling through the cracks. I am running in the by-election for Eden-Monaro. I want your vote because I want to be your strong voice for this community in Canberra, this community that has been forgotten.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Kristy. It is wonderful to be in beautiful Merimbula. But this is a community that is hurting. It is a community that has been hit by the triple whammy; drought, then bushfires and then the pandemic. And the community is crying out for more support. The fact is that we met yesterday people like Kristy who runs, a different Kristy, who runs the Ice Creamery and coffee shop at Narooma. She employs 40 people, only seven of whom were eligible for JobKeeper. That has meant that a range of people in Narooma are not working as a result of being excluded from JobKeeper. We met chicken farmers Dan and Lyndall and their little boy Leo in Quaama. They are really doing it tough. They have been trying to get a loan for their property to be able to respond to what occurred to them during the bushfire crisis and have been unable to get that support. They’re crying out for just a little bit of help from the Government and they’re trying to navigate their way through this massive bureaucracy. But we know that the bureaucracy is failing people and the Federal Government is failing. We know from yesterday’s Senate committee that $15.9 million that was set aside to provide support for those suffering from trauma as a result of the bushfires, not a single cent has been spent of that $15.9 million months after the fires have gone. In Quaama in the main shop and the relief centre there, we heard about a suicide that had happened just three weeks ago that’s impacted that small and close-knit community. These tragedies are all too familiar to those who visit the region. And I’d say Scott Morrison should actually visit the region and talk to people, go back to Cobargo, go to Quaama, talk to families who are impacted here. And what he will know then is that the Government needs to do better. And that’s why this by-election is an opportunity to say to the Federal Government that they need to do better, that they haven’t got everything right, that the preparation was not good enough prior to the bushfires hitting those communities, and the recovery is not being handled in an appropriate way that looks after people in these communities.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks very much, Anthony and Kristy. The Prime Minister likes to talk about the economy just snapping back to life. The support that has been injected into economies like this one is currently slated to just end on the last weekend of September. “Snap back” will snap communities like these. If Scott Morrison thinks that these communities won’t have a need for ongoing support after the last week in September, then he’s from another planet. It’s very clear to us from speaking with farmers, small business people, and families right throughout the region that Kristy McBain seeks to represent, that these communities need a Government with a plan to address this crisis, to bolster the recovery, and to set these regional economies up for the future. Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg have had many opportunities to tell the communities around here, and indeed around the country, what they intend to do to protect more jobs and to create more jobs into the future. They have failed to do that so far. The bungled approach that the Government has taken to JobKeeper and their failure to come up with a plan means that the downturn will be deeper, the unemployment queues will be longer, the recovery will be patchier and harder, and communities like this will be left in the lurch. We urgently need a plan from the Government to address this crisis and to fix JobKeeper, and we need them to have a plan for jobs into the future. Otherwise, really important communities and economies like we’re in today will struggle for longer.
ALBANESE: Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: The State Government says the 12-month wage freeze for public servants will save jobs as the recession looms amid the coronavirus pandemic. What do you make of this?
ALBANESE: Well, this is an outrageous slap in the face for those working people who’ve kept the economy and our society going during these difficult times. Our nurses, our police, our emergency service workers. They have put literally their own health on the line in order to support their community. And for a government to effectively have, bear in mind, a pay freeze is a real wage cut, is what the Berejiklian Government is asking them to just accept, and it is unacceptable. And I say to Scott Morrison, don’t just give a speech at the National Press Club saying that you recognise that working people actually have a role in our society. Step in here, pick up the phone to the New South Wales Premier, and talk to her about why this is unacceptable.
JOURNALIST: The Government has announced that the ski season will commence on the 22nd of June. What do you make of this? Is this a good idea?
ALBANESE: Well, it’s a good thing as long as, obviously, the appropriate health measures are put in place. I don’t want to see economic constraints there for one day more than necessary. We should take the health advice. But as long as that advice says that things are okay to open up, they should. We need economic activity in communities like the Snowy in New South Wales. It would be a very good thing if those jobs can be created and that economic activity created. I know that communities will be nervous. When I was in Cooma with Kristy McBain, we heard that was the case because Cooma has been COVID-free up to this point. So, we need to make sure that appropriate health protocols are put in place. But we don’t want people to be held back from the economic activity any longer than is necessary.
JOURNALIST: If I could also through that question to Ms McBain? Kristy, as you are aware, tourism businesses rely on the ski season and have taken a massive hit in this particular electorate following the fires and as you say, COVID-19 and the drought. Do you think it was too slow for this announcement to come out?
MCBAIN: Look, I think that everyone is working towards reopening the economy is as fast as they can. But they also have to take into account the health requirements, the social distancing requirements. And obviously, with the ski season there are numerous things that have to be worked out. Logistically, everyone wants it to go ahead. But there are some plans that they’ll need to put in place for their staff and for the patrons that come there. But I’m looking forward to it opening on June the 22nd. And I hope to get up there soon. I know that we have small businesses in Cooma, in Jindabyne and in Thredbo and Crackenback all waiting to welcome visitors again and restart their economy as soon as possible.
JOURNALIST: Religious groups are calling on the New South Wales Premier to allow more than 10 people to attend places of worship in light of the relaxation of restrictions that allow pubs, clubs and restaurants to seat up to 50 people from June the 1st. Do you support this?
ALBANESE: Look, that would seem to me to be prima facie consistent with the rules that are in placing in pubs and clubs. It’s important that we get back to normal activity as soon as possible. But of course, the health advice has to be primary. But what we would need to do is to make sure that there were social distancing measures put in place at any of those religious ceremonies because they are indoor confined spaces where people tend to, I am more familiar with Catholic religious ceremonies than others, but you tend to be in one spot for up to an hour. And that is obviously one that requires appropriate precautions.
JOURNALIST: In another topic this morning, tourism operators in Queensland and Tasmania are increasingly anxious about the impact of prolonged border closures. The Prime Minister yesterday said expert medical advisors never recommended state borders be closed. Are states like Queensland, South Australia and WA being overly cautious?
ALBANESE: Look, we need to be consistent here which is the Prime Minister wants to say two things that are contradictory. One, that it’s up to the states, and then criticise the states. I haven’t criticised either the Liberal or Labor state governments, but I don’t want to see any measures, any restrictions, in place longer than necessary. Of course, they need to listen to the appropriate health advice. And once they receive that advice from their state Chief Medical Officers, then of course, the borders should be open. We want an open economy and society. But we do have to bear in mind that the health advice that has been followed has put us in a position whereby we have recovered or responded, come through, the COVID-19 crisis better than many like countries. It is because we followed the advice. We don’t want to see a second wave of this pandemic.
JOURNALIST: Do you think it’s possible that flights could resume across the Tasman before state borders in Australia are open?
ALBANESE: Well, it’s certainly possible that would occur in terms of New South Wales certainly and Victoria are the two states, the only two states, along with the ACT, that don’t have closed borders at the moment. So, if agreements can be got with New Zealand, again, that would be a good thing. And New Zealand under Prime Minister Ardern’s leadership has responded very well to this crisis.
JOURNALIST: On industrial relations, the Government has indicated it is willing to contemplate IR changes, which could make it easier for casuals to request permanent employment. Would Labor welcome this?
ALBANESE: We have been calling for this for a long time. The big issue is security at work. That’s something that resonates right around the country. And the fact that people feel very insecure in their work, in their wages and conditions, is something that’s been acutely felt during this crisis. This isn’t new to Labor. If the Coalition are now recognising that insecure work and casualisation is a problem, it contrasts with their response to the law decision that was handed down just over a week ago.
JOURNALIST: Do you think unions must ensure that the 12 per cent super guarantee is protected in negotiations with Government and business?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. Superannuation is good for individuals and for the quality of life they enjoy once they retire. But it’s also good for the national economy. We have a $3 trillion Bank of National Savings that has served us well. It’s a ballast for the national economy that served us well, including during this crisis. This Government has used this crisis to once again undermine superannuation. All those people who because they’ve missed out on JobKeeper and JobSeeker have had to withdraw their savings. For some young people, they’ve withdrawn all of their superannuation savings. And that will not serve them and will not serve the country well either. Because it will mean that they have less money when they retire. And we are supporters of compulsory superannuation. It’s important that occur. We have a legislated 12 per cent increase but no doubt the Government has always taken every opportunity. They never supported at the beginning when it was introduced by Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. And they have undermined it ever since.
JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to Daniel Andrews about the Victorian Government’s decision to sign up to the Belt and Road initiative?
JOURNALIST: Is it still your position that a future Labor Government would not sign a Belt and Road agreement with China?
JOURNALIST: Some Federal Labor MPs have been privately critical of the Victorian Government’s approach to China, arguing that the Premier is taking a naive approach and undermining federal agencies, including the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Do you think that’s a fair criticism?
ALBANESE: The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are the department that advised the Government to sign up to the Free Trade Agreement and the Comprehensive Economic Partnership with the People’s Republic of China. That was signed by this Coalition Government. It’s this Coalition Government who have former ministers like Andrew Robb who’ve gone straight into jobs with corporations that were directly impacted by that. It’s this Government that sold off the Port of Darwin. I’m concerned with Federal issues. And I’m concerned with Australia’s national interest. China is an important economic partner of Australia. We have important economic relationships. At the same time, we should always be prepared to stand up for our national interest. And I don’t believe, and didn’t believe at the time, that it was in Australia’s national interest for the Port of Darwin to be sold to any country. I believe that is an important national asset which should have stayed in public hands.
JOURNALIST: Just returning back to the looming by-election. Where to from here in terms of this particular campaign? Have you got another town you will be heading to next?
ALBANESE: Well, we’ve got the best candidate. We know that, in Kristy McBain. She’s running for all the right reasons. She’s passionate about this community. She wants to make a difference for this community. She wants to make sure this community is not forgotten. The best way to remind the Federal Government that they can’t just move on from the impact of the various crisis on this community is to elect Kristy McBain as a member for Eden-Monaro. The fact that yesterday’s Senate inquiry found that $15.9 million that was allocated to provide support for frontline workers impacted in terms of the bushfires, mental health support, other support that would be necessary, and not a single dollar of that has been spent is quite frankly outrageous. The fact that money that was allocated to bushfire communities for tourism has been taken off this community and sent interstate is outrageous. This community needs support. Kristy McBain will be an advocate and a passionate fighter to make sure that support is given to this community. Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.