May 20, 2020








SUBJECTS: Bushfire recovery; Australia’s relationship with China; China tariffs; Eden-Monaro by-election; issues with JobKeeper; Government neglecting arts and entertainment sector; tourism; trade.


ROWENA ABBEY, MAYOR OF THE YASS VALLEY COUNCIL: Good morning. What I want to do is just introduce the new team that is going to run for Eden-Monaro for the Labor Party. So, first of all, I would like to introduce Kristy McBain, who is currently the mayor of Bega and is well-known to our region for her work that she has done for the Canberra Region Joint Organisation. Kristy is a passionate local councillor as well, like myself. And it will be an interesting contest to see how Eden-Monaro comes out as a bellwether seat and I look forward to getting some strong, solid commitments for our community. And the other person, obviously, this morning is Anthony Albanese who is well-known to everyone as a passionate regional man, as well. And I think what I wanted to do just as the mayor of Yass, from our community’s perspective, is raise the two big issues for us, or three big issues. One is, obviously, front and centre for us is the duplication of the Barton Highway which hopefully will commence work at the end of December this year. But there isn’t sufficient funding to complete the duplication. So, that is something from our community’s perspective that we will be looking for assistance and support from the Federal Government. And also, the water treatment plant is another issue in Yass which is front and centre. Water quality, colour, taste and smell. And we have been having those sorts of discussions this morning. The third item is that, again, Yass has actually missed out from the drought funding because we have a mixture of regional and commuting-travelling people. So, we have people who are employed in Canberra and the ACT from a percentage income perspective that throws us out of the mix from the agricultural perspective. So, from a council view, we would request that they actually work towards seeing if we could also be declared as part of that drought funding to support a regrowth in our communities post- this COVID. So, I will hand over to Kristy. I have made my requests formally and I will hand over to Kristy.


KRISTY MCBAIN, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR EDEN-MONARO: Thank you, Rowena. Rowena is a passionate advocate of this region as the chair of the Canberra Region Joint Organisation and also is the mayor of Yass. And I have worked closely with Rowena on that Canberra Region Joint Organisation around regional projects that really make a difference. And one of those is obviously the duplication of the Barton Highway. A duplication that has been slow in rolling out. A duplication that still isn’t making a difference right now to the communities here. Drought funding has been another issue, where drought funding was declared for some parts of the Eden-Monaro but not others. In the initial roll-out of that program, no community in the Eden-Monaro was eligible for drought funding. No community. Even though all of the Eden-Monaro was in drought. Bega Valley Shire Council was eligible in the second round after serious advocacy. But places like Yass and Cooma, down in Tumut and Tumbarumba, they missed out. It is not acceptable to play politics when regional communities are suffering. We need to make sure that those communities are eligible for drought funding in the future. There are many projects right across the Eden-Monaro that will make a difference. Make a difference to regional communities, to help them grow, to help them come out of the other side of the disasters we have encountered; drought, bushfires, and now COVID-19. So, I will work with all of the mayors in the Eden-Monaro. I will work with community members and businesses to make sure that the projects that we are pushing for right across the Eden-Monaro are the projects that will make a difference to regional communities. Anthony?


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much. And thanks to Rowena for the welcome here in Yass today. And it is great to be here with Kristy McBain, Labor’s candidate for Eden-Monaro. Someone who is absolutely passionate about this region and making a difference to people’s lives. Someone who’s running, not for herself, someone who’s running for the people that she wants to represent.


Can I begin somewhat unusually by singling out the camera bloke who we normally wouldn’t talk about. For 40 years today, working for Channel Nine. That is an extraordinary achievement. And you are respected throughout the gallery and throughout the industry. And it is a great achievement. And good luck to you for your future. And could I use that as a segue into giving a shout out to all those camera people and people in the arts and entertainment industry who currently have been forgotten by this Government. Aren’t eligible for JobKeeper, aren’t eligible for JobSeeker, struggling to get by. And it is quite clear that the Government needs to look at the arts and entertainment sector. It is not just the people in front of the camera or on stage. By and large, for every one of those, there are many multiples behind the scenes who are working who’ve been impacted by the coronavirus crisis. But, a tribute to you, mate. And all the best.


Can I say that it is great to be here in Yass this morning. This is a dynamic community. It’s a growing community. It’s one that needs investment in infrastructure and investment in people. The Barton Highway is the main thoroughfare for which some three and a half thousand people commute every day between Yass and Canberra for work. On top of that, of course, it’s a significant freight route that has been identified for a long period of time as being in need of an upgrade. Both in terms of efficiency, but also in terms of safety. I’m very proud of my record, as Transport Minister, but also as Regional Development and Local Government Minister. That if we are successful at the next election, and I’m in a position to form Government, they will be areas in which I concentrate and in which I have a record in, including the doubling of the roads budget. During the last time campaign, we committed $250 million for the Barton Highway with Mike Kelly. And that is a commitment to which we stand. We want to make sure that this highway is upgraded so that people are kept safe and so that traffic can flow in a reasonable way. The fact is that far less has been spent on the highway since the change of Government in 2013. And at the last election, the Coalition committed $100 million, less than half of what Labor committed. But, of course, that money hasn’t been rolled out yet. We need to commence the roll-out for the duplication of the Barton Highway. It is a major issue for this community. With regard to water infrastructure as well, it is something that we need to look at in terms of when we were last in Government, we had a plan for water infrastructure in our towns and cities. That was a major part of what we did. And there is a role for the Commonwealth in securing fresh water, clean water, for our towns and cities. And clearly, local government can’t do it all by itself. On drought funding, it is a fact that this community have missed out not once, but twice. The fact that no area in Eden-Monaro was declared as being eligible for drought funding in the first round shows just how political this Government has got. And it should be making decisions based upon need, not based upon just electoral boundaries. I will leave it there. Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, do you back Tim Pallas’ comments on China today?


ALBANESE: I back Labor’s comments on China and the comments that I’ve made as the Federal Labor Leader, which is that we supported the Government in the inquiry. There’s been no distinction between the Coalition and Labor on these issues.


JOURNALIST: Have trade tensions between the two countries risen because of this issue of the inquiry?


ALBANESE: Well, quite clearly, there are trade tensions between the countries. There is no point in pretending that is not the case. Simon Birmingham can’t get a phone call returned from China. What we need to do is to make sure that we look at the impact of this. The impact is on farmers and their families working hard, particularly barley farmers in the first instance. Australia does not subsidise barley. The Government, we have encouraged, to take China to the World Trade Organisation because any objective analysis will show that there should not be tariffs imposed. We’ve also expressed concern that Australia needs to pick up the phone not just to China but to engage with the United States. It is clear that the United States did a deal with China over an increase of agriculture into China. And we need to know and examine clearly what the implications of that are for Australia, not just for barley but for other agricultural produce as well.


JOURNALIST: Is there a link between the barley tariffs and the inquiry?


ALBANESE: It’s not up to me to be a commentator. What it’s up to me to do is to state that it’s an issue that needs resolution.


JOURNALIST: Do you think the resolution that was passed by the World Health Assembly was watered down too much from what Australia initially wanted?


ALBANESE: It was a good resolution. I welcome the resolution. The Australian Government has welcomed it. And it is good that inevitably what occurs in international forums is there is negotiations and Australia played a constructive role on this issue. And there’s no difference between the Coalition position and Labor’s position on this.


JOURNALIST: Some Federal MPs have been inundated with what looks like thousands of letters from anti-vaxxers who are already starting to oppose the coronavirus vaccine. Should, first of all, being vaccinated be a condition for entry into aged care facilities? And secondly, should the Government be doing more to combat misinformation around the coronavirus?


ALBANESE: We should take the advice of health experts on all of these matters. And the health experts tell us, and history tells us, that vaccination has been critical in keeping people healthy and eradicating diseases that were very common in my lifetime. I have no time for misinformation from anti-vaxxers. No time. And what they do in spreading misinformation is also pose dangers to others in the community, because vaccination works by getting the vaccination rates up to a level where it is effective. Conspiracy theories in today’s media seems to take on more hold than otherwise. People on social media can say whatever they like regardless of the facts. We don’t need fact-free information when it comes to health. What we need is proper information. And I would support any measure by the Government to promote further health information based upon the facts. And those facts are that we need people to be vaccinated.


JOURNALIST: When should ski resorts come back?


MCBAIN: This is going to be an interesting discussion and obviously the regional travel being allowed on the 1st of June, the state government has signalled to the New South Wales community that they are willing to allow that travel to take place. It will now be up to those resorts as to their decisions to whether they reopen on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.


JOURNALIST: And then lastly, just any comments on the deliberations by the Supreme Court on how to spend that $51 million raised for bushfire recovery?


MCBAIN: Is that the Celeste Barber fund? Yes. There’s been a lot of dollars raised in terms of bushfire recovery. From personal experience having had three bushfires in two years in the Bega Valley, we know that people are going to need money. And they’re going to need it immediately for their immediate needs but they’re also going to need it six and 12 months down the track as building starts to take place. So, I would hope that a sensible resolution is reached with that fund with Celeste Barber, her lawyers, and the RFS to make sure that it really filters down to the people that need it the most. And the people that need it the most right now are those people that have been directly impacted by bushfires.


ALBANESE: Can I just make a comment on tourism? That the Government announced a tourism support package for the bushfire-affected areas, when coronavirus came along, they took some of that money and reallocated it to interstate. I’ve got no problem with funding interstate, but it should be additional funding, not money that was taken from the bushfire-affected communities. Now that New South Wales has opened up, I call upon the Federal Government to recommit that funding for bushfire-affected communities. To communities around here, around the Snowy Valley, around the south coast, whether it be Batemans Bay, or Bega, or Merimbula, all need that support, and they need it for the time that the tourism sector is able to open up, at least for internal domestic travel within New South Wales. And, of course, Canberra residents spend a lot of time, as well, whether on the coast or in this region.


JOURNALIST: What do you think about the borders opening up?


ALBANESE: That is a matter for the states. I personally, of course, don’t want to see any restrictions in place one day more than what is necessary. It’s absolutely critical that we get the economy going. But it is also critical that we act on their health advice. So, the Government, the Commonwealth, has said that it’s up to the states and territories what they do in their specific jurisdictions. I welcome New South Wales opening up for domestic tourism. I think that is a very good thing indeed.


JOURNALIST: Universities have reported that they are not getting Government help.


ALBANESE: Well, universities are one of the sectors that have just missed out under this Government. The problem with JobKeeper is that there are huge gaps. On the one hand, you have casual employees who might be working their way through university for half a dozen hours a week, but they’ve been in that job for more than 12 months. But all of a sudden, instead of earning $150 a week, they are earning $750 a week. They have had a five-fold increase in their income depending on the accident of where they happen to be working and whether that business has had a downturn. And some of those might be people, indeed, who aren’t working at all but are receiving that money. For others, they’re just missing out. Whether they be casual employees, visa holders, whether they be people in the arts and entertainment sector, or some in the university sector. That is why we moved in the Parliament last week, to try and address this issue.


JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).


ALBANESE: Well, what we need to do is to have discussions with our trading partners. There shouldn’t be any conflict over the issues and they shouldn’t be put together. Australia has stood up for Australia’s national interest. But I don’t see anything remarkable in saying that there should be an inquiry. And the fact that the inquiry was agreed to unanimously shows that it shouldn’t have been controversial. When we have incidents, we have inquiries to find out what occurred, not just as an academic exercise, but so that we can avoid it happening ever again. There have been 300,000 deaths. We should ensure that it never happens again. Thanks very much.