Jul 21, 2020









SUBJECTS: Kristy McBain elected as the new Member for Eden-Monaro; Government’s announcement of changes to JobKeeper and JobSeeker; coronavirus outbreaks in Victoria; increase in Newstart; Batemans Bay coronavirus outbreak; small communities of the south coast impacted by coronavirus.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, it is terrific to be here at Australia Rock here in Narooma. One of the iconic tourist areas in what is a magnificent community. And here with Kristy McBain, the Labor Member for Eden-Monaro, on her first day in the job. The by-election was a tough campaign. We started off behind. Kristy McBain showed tenacity, courage and importantly, a capacity to articulate the views and aspirations of the people of Eden-Monaro and to win their support in what was a once in a century by-election, during a once in a century pandemic. The election result is a credit to Kristy, but I also want to thank all those volunteers in the Labor Party, in the trade union movement and just in the community, supporters of Kristy McBain, particularly her family and friends who came out in force during this by-election campaign. This community needs a strong advocate. They suffered from drought, from bushfires, and then, of course, the pandemic. And in Kristy McBain they have someone who will take up these issues in the national Parliament.


I also want to make some comments about JobKeeper and JobSeeker and the changes that have been announced today.


Labor is inclined to not stand in the way of any changes which are due to end, of course, in the last week in September. There’s a connection between these two events. Because the Government’s announcement has been delayed until after the July by-election. That’s led to more uncertainty and a lot of anxiety when the Government postponed its announcement that it committed to make in June. What we have today is an announcement whereby we haven’t seen the legislation. We’ll examine the detail and look for ways in which we can improve it.


But Labor remains concerned that too many people are being left behind. That those people who missed out on JobKeeper will still miss out under this proposal. We also are concerned about the recovery. We want to make sure that no one is held back during the economic recovery. And at the moment, the Government simply doesn’t have a plan for an economic recovery post pandemic. We aren’t seeing the sort of vision that’s required for national reconstruction. The investment in infrastructure projects. The investment in people. We don’t see a plan for that growth. And the fact that one of the measures that all of industry say is holding Australia back is, of course, the failure to have an energy policy. Labor reached out many weeks ago and the Government hasn’t even bothered to respond, about the potential that should be there to get a consistent framework on energy policy for this country that would drive economic growth and drive jobs.


Happy to take some questions on that. But firstly, I want to hear from the Labor Member for Eden-Monaro, who I’m very pleased will be introduced here, will not be sworn in at Parliament at the time we were hoping, it will be delayed. But Labor is also absolutely committed to making sure that there’s parliamentary scrutiny of the changes that the Government is announcing today. Kristy McBain.


KRISTY MCBAIN, MEMBER FOR EDEN-MONARO: Thank you, Anthony. It is a great honour and privilege for me to be the next Member of Eden-Monaro. And I am absolutely committed to rolling up my sleeves and getting down to some hard work. This region has suffered more than many others on the back of droughts, bushfires, and now coronavirus. And now more than ever, our community needs another strong local voice in Canberra to articulate their concerns, their passions and their desires for the future, to make sure that they aren’t forgotten by this Government. Right now, we are hurting right across Eden-Monaro. We’ve got people that are rightly anxious about their elderly relatives. They’re anxious about their kids’ futures. And they’re anxious about job security. I’m here to work for them and make sure that their concerns are relayed to the Parliament, that they are relayed to the Federal Labor Party, and that they are most concerned about relaying that information to the Government. I am here to be a strong advocate for my community. And I will work for them tirelessly until the next election and then hopefully after that, and then after that, and then after that. I’m committed here for the long-term. I’m raising my family here. We run a business here. And it’s a place where I want my kids to be able to grow up and have their careers and their families into the future. So, I look forward to working for every single person in Eden-Monaro, regardless of how they voted, on whom they voted for, because I am here for the long-term for everybody. Thank you.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Kristy. I look forward to continuing to campaign with Kristy to change the Government at the next election. Because what we need is a Federal Labor Government that actually looks after the aspirations that people have for a better life and a higher standard of living. Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: Thank you, Anthony. Just a few questions to start off with in regard to the JobSeeker. As you know, the coronavirus supplement for the JobSeeker will be reduced to $250. Are you comfortable with that revised rate?


ALBANESE: Well, this is a substantial reduction. But, of course, without legislation, it’ll be reduced to zero. So, Labor will examine the detail. I’m also concerned, very concerned, that the Government appears to have not taken this opportunity to announce a permanent increase in JobSeeker, $40 a day is not enough to live on, the current Newstart rate. And to just say that once we’re through this pandemic, it’ll just go back to that figure is, in my view, completely unacceptable. The Government’s acknowledged, by having to introduce a supplement, that the old Newstart rate of $40 a day wasn’t enough. We need to make sure that people have enough income to have the essentials of life available to them.


JOURNALIST: JobKeeper 2.0 is in place until March next year. Is that timeframe adequate?


ALBANESE: Well, we will wait and see how the Government responds. Our concern is that the economy was flat before the pandemic. The economy was seeing a doubling of the debt, wage stagnation, we were seeing productivity going backwards, and we saw people really struggling. At the same time, some of the design of the programs simply has been badly designed. The fact that there were 850,000 Australians getting more money at the same time as so many low-income Australians were getting nothing at all. Casual employees, people on visas, a whole lot of people relying upon charity to get by. It shouldn’t be the circumstances whereby a single mum trying to raise a couple of kids in a circumstance whereby they had some casual employment in order to get by simply missed out on support, as a result of the way that the Government designed JobKeeper.


So, we will certainly be examining all of the detail of the proposals that the Government is putting forward. We also are concerned that the Government doesn’t have a plan for economic recovery. And in energy policy and infrastructure, in so many areas, they essentially today are just having more of what was already in place but at a lower rate, without having any vision for how we’re going to create jobs, how we are going to aspire during this economic recovery to actually produce a better Australia. Some of our weaknesses as a nation have been exposed during this crisis. The fact that we don’t manufacture things here. We need to have industry policy that will create jobs. We need infrastructure investment that will create jobs. And we need to take up that opportunity during this crisis.


JOURNALIST: Businesses will be required to complete two turnover tests with JobKeeper 2.0, one in October and one in January. What do you make of that?


ALBANESE: Well, it is reasonable the idea that you need to monitor whether businesses remain eligible for JobKeeper in terms of the reduction in their income. It is there to supplement businesses that are struggling as a result of the pandemic. We’ll wait and see what the detail of that is. It shouldn’t be too onerous in terms of some of the bureaucracy shouldn’t be created so that people aren’t able to get support. And certainly, one of the things that we’ve seen, for example, with their small business proposal, in terms of the interest, the $40 billion that was allocated for loans for businesses, just over $1 billion of that was taken up. Overwhelmingly, it hasn’t been taken up. And then the Government has announced an increase in that amount. Well, they should get it right in the first place before they talk about further increases. So, we’ll wait and see the design of the scheme. We will examine in great detail. I know this Government doesn’t like scrutiny. But we will ensure that occurs. And the COVID-19 Committee of the Senate, chaired by Senator Katy Gallagher, will be having special hearings to go through some of this detail so that there can be some transparency there. Because we don’t want the same mistakes that have been made up to this point to just continue to be repeated, which means that people miss out and others simply don’t get the opportunity to go forward.


JOURNALIST: Eight people were tested positive and were linked to the Batemans Bay Soldiers Club incident. Yesterday, a lot of people were turned away after going to the pop-up clinic in Batemans Bay, due to the Batemans Bay pop-up clinic being at full capacity just after one hour of being opened. Are you concerned about that?


ALBANESE: Yes it’s simply not good enough. We tell people quite rightly that they need to be tested. When they turn up for a test, those tests should be available. The fact that it didn’t last past 10 o’clock yesterday is of real concern, and the Government needs to do better, the state government. I visited Mogo this morning as well. Many of those shops have shut down in the main street of Mogo. I visited just after the bushfires with Fiona Phillips and with some of my other colleagues, Jim Chalmers and Chris Bowen. That was a community that was really hurting in the wake of the bushfires and now in the wake of the pandemic, particularly with the local infections, it’s suffering again. And these communities really do need assistance. And that’s why I stand very much with Fiona and Kristy as two outstanding local members who will stand up for their local communities.


JOURNALIST: Are more pop-up clinics needed?


ALBANESE: Quite clearly, we need to provide whatever resources are necessary to ensure people can be tested.


JOURNALIST: Do you have the confidence in New South Wales Government’s handling of the coronavirus situation?


ALBANESE: Look, I haven’t been into the blame game during those circumstances. State governments have a difficult job. Whether it be the New South Wales Government, the Victorian Government, the Queensland Government, right around the country. I’ll leave the cheap shots that have been taking place, firstly at Annastacia Palaszczuk for having the temerity to say that borders should be closed before others closes their borders as well – and some of the cheap shots that have been also aimed at Victoria. I stand with all Australians. And I know that governments are doing their best, whether it be the Government of Gladys Berejiklian, or the Government of Daniel Andrews or Annastacia Palaszczuk, or Mark McGowan. I don’t think this is a time for cheap shots. I think what it is, is a time for all of us to recognise that we all need to do our bit. Whether we’re in Government or Opposition. Or in this case, every Australian has a responsibility to do their bit, to observe the rules that are in place for good reason about social distancing, about ensuring that people wash their hands and that they engage in safe health practices, according to what the authorities recommend.


JOURNALIST: Just with regard to the vulnerability of the south coast in particular and all the smaller communities here, I realise health is a state issue but there are no respirators on the south coast at all. Just wondering if that’s something Kristy will be pushing for as the new Member?


MCBAIN: Thank you for the question. There is rightly some concerns right across coastal communities about the capacity of our local hospitals to undertake some of that ICU work if there is a large-scale outbreak. Of course, I will happily be speaking to our state counterparts about those issues as I believe Fiona Phillips has already done. And I know the local state Member, Andrew Constance, is already having those discussions within his own Government. So, look, more than happy to keep pushing it along because I think the last thing we need along the south coast after the summer bushfires we’ve had is any large-scale outbreak which puts further pressure on already strained communities.


ALBANESE: Thank you.