Apr 7, 2020









SUBJECTS: Announcement of a Senate Select Committee to provide oversight during the coronavirus; Coronavirus; Parliament sitting to pass JobKeeper legislation; constructive role of Labor during coronavirus; coronavirus modelling; transparency from authorities during coronavirus.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks for joining me. I am here to announce that Labor has secured support for a Senate Select Committee that will provide oversight on the extraordinary amounts of expenditure that have already been authorised by the Parliament and the further expenditure through the JobKeeper payments that will be authorised by the Parliament this week. The fact is that what we’re seeing is an unprecedented level of expenditure in response to an unprecedented health and economic crisis. This requires oversight of the Parliament. Labor’s view has been very clear, that Parliament should be continuing to sit on regular intervals during this period. And tomorrow’s sitting of the Parliament will show that that’s possible. However, the Government seems determined to not do that. We will, however, tomorrow be able to establish a Senate Select Committee. It will be chaired by Labor’s Shadow Finance Minister and Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate, Katy Gallagher. It will consistent of three Labor members, a Green Party member, a crossbench member, and members of the Government. What that will do is ensure that there is oversight during this period, which is very important indeed. We have put this very strongly to both the crossbenchers and Government members. And we’re confident it will be agreed tomorrow. In Katy Gallagher, we think that Katy is an appropriate person to chair the committee as the Shadow Finance Minister with particular responsibilities. We also want to indicate that we believe that the Senate Select Committee is an appropriate way forward. It has been suggested, either a Joint Committee or a House of Representatives’ committee, both joint committees and House of Representatives’ committees, have members of the Government chairing them. We don’t think, given the particular circumstances that we have at the moment, that would be appropriate. Indeed, in New Zealand, it is the Leader of the Opposition who chairs the oversight committee. But, of course, the New Zealand Parliament, like other Parliaments around the world, doesn’t have the long interval that’s envisaged by the Government. I would ask Katy Gallagher to make some comments as well.


KATY GALLAGHER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Thanks very much, Anthony. Just building on Anthony’s points, the Senate Select Committee will be a very important way of providing scrutiny and accountability to the Australian people for the unprecedented expenditure that is being made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The committee itself will have quite broad terms of reference, that is, it will be charged to inquiry into all aspects of the Australian Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and any other related matter. And we have kept them broad and high level, so that we can, as this situation unfolds, and the response unfolds, continue to ensure that we are able through our terms of reference to inquiry into every single matter relating to the Australian Government’s response to this COVID-19 pandemic. It will have long terms of reference, not required to report until June 2022. And there will be seven members. So, three Labor members, two Government members, Jacqui Lambie as the crossbench member, and a members of the Greens’ political party as well. We think it certainly get underway quickly, as quickly as we can, through established channels of conducting committee inquiries by tele-presence or other mean, so we can conduct those in a safe way. But it is really important while, as Anthony said, while the Parliament’s not sitting, or the Government’s not allowing the Parliament to sit, that we are able to ask questions of officials, to gather evidence, and also to take submissions across Australia from things that matter to Australians about what they are experiencing, seeing, concerned about in relation to the pandemic response. It will be one of the most inquiries that I have been a part of. It is a defining, this outbreak, a defining feature really of this Parliament. It’s very important that this committee does the job that the Australian people need it to do. And that is to provide that transparency and that scrutiny and the accountability over vast sums of expenditure and significant changes to the way that we’re all living as a requirement of this pandemic, and the response to it. Thanks.


JOURNALIST: Given Labor wants (inaudible) sittings of Parliament, will you vote to recall Parliament sooner than August on the condition that the Government and Opposition can vacate the dates if necessary?


ALBANESE: Look, we voted for that last time. So, go have a look at the minutes of Hansard. We’ve already done that. That remains our position, that should occur. The truth is the, though, that it’s up to the Government at any time over whether the House of Representatives sits. And the Prime Minister can write to the Speaker at any time and cancel sittings. We felt it would have been better to keep the Parliament sitting schedule as it was, and if need be, at any time, the Speaker could be written to and that those Parliamentary dates not be proceeded with. We think that would have been a much better process.


JOURNALIST: What would the procedure be in the Senate, Katy? Could we see the Senate sitting through May/June while the House is still adjourned until August?


GALLAGHER: I think there are some issues around the House not sitting and the Senate sitting. But there are procedural limitations in regard to the Government and the control of the program, essentially. You could be quite easily faced with the Senate sitting without any business coming forward, the Government not bringing a program forward. And I guess people would raise questions like, ‘What good is that?’ That’s part of the response with the Senate Committee, is that we are able to conduct our business, to take evidence, to have hearings, to do all that work, once it’s established in the meantime. We certainly think that’s probably a more practical way of getting the job done and providing the scrutiny and accountability that’s needed particularly if the Parliament is not sitting. So, there are some procedural ways the Government, well, the Government controls the agenda in terms of the program it brings forward.


JOURNALIST: You don’t think it would be worthwhile to have Senate Question Time, having the Senate scrutinise the Government if they won’t do it in the House?


GALLAGHER: We will scrutinise the Government. While the Government’s decision is that the Parliament doesn’t sit, which is as I understand it the Government’s decision, they don’t want to Parliament to sit. While that remains their position, there are procedural limitations on what the Senate could actually do. So, the Senate committee can actually get the job done in the meantime.


JOURNALIST: Scott Buchholz has (inaudible).


ALBANESE: Sorry, who?


JOURNALIST: Scott Buchholz.


ALBANESE: And his position is? His authority to suggest that?


JOURNALIST: It would have been part of the Government. He believes there will be further packages for these 1.1 million casuals. Would you support any further packages that would look at these casuals that are missing out on the wage subsidy?


ALBANESE: I support fixing it tomorrow. If he acknowledges that there is a problem, and Government members acknowledge that there is a problem, Parliament hasn’t sat yet to consider the legislation. And quite frankly, it is absurd to suggest that we could delay action that can be fixed tomorrow. So, if the Government agrees to fix it, it should do it tomorrow consistent with the fact that we could have had wage subsidies passed when Labor argued for it when we last sat a couple of weeks ago.


JOURNALIST: We have just seen some details and modelling released by the Chief Medical Officer, are you satisfied by what you have seen?


ALBANESE: I haven’t seen it, obviously. It hasn’t been given to us. It’s just been released in a press conference. Chris Bowen will be responding to the detail when he’s had a chance to have a look at it, our health spokesperson. But it’s a good thing, can I say this, to have transparency. And it’s good that the Government have released some detail. Any further comment than that, you’ve just come from the press conference where it was released. I’ve been here.


JOURNALIST: National Cabinet has set a code of conduct for commercial tenancies, but the Prime Minister said it is up to states and territories what they do to support residential landlords and tenants. Do you have a view on whether there should be rent reductions supported by land tax waivers?


ALBANESE: That is up to the various governments to sort those issues through with national leadership. What we’ve said is that there shouldn’t be evictions and that there needs to be support given at this time for both tenants and for landlords at this point in time. I mean, not everyone has had a change in their circumstance, for example. But the banks have come forward with interest rate policies and deferment policies, in terms of the Big Four, at least, that have been constructive. And the state and territory governments, along with the Federal Government need to continue to work this through.


JOURNALIST: And there have been some discussions about the concept of a virtual Parliament, whether or not standing orders would be changed in such a way. I understand that in the past there has been some reticence to go down that path but given social distancing, travel and movement is that on the agenda at all for you?


ALBANESE: I’m in favour of Parliament meeting as we will tomorrow. Thank you.