Jan 1, 2021










SUBJECTS: Thank you to essential workers, national anthem lyrics, JobSeeker and JobKeeper changes, stranded Australians, vaccine rollout, 2020


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks for joining us and Happy New Year to all. Can I say a particular shout-out to the contact tracers and others in the health sector who are working so hard, including here on New Year’s Day, to keep their fellow Australians safe. We have been well served by those in the essential services over a considerable period of time now. They must be tired, they must be frustrated, with the outbreak that has occurred here in Sydney and in New South Wales. But they continue to do their job professionally and we say thank you to them.


Can I say that the Prime Minister’s announcement of a change to one word in the national anthem is of course welcome. It’s a common sense change. But what I wanted to hear from the Prime Minister was something of much greater significance. How about two words? Constitutional recognition. Changing a single word in the national anthem, whilst First Nations people aren’t even recognised in our national constitution, is simply not good enough. We’ve now had a discussion about this for a considerable period of time. But no advancement under this Government. And I suspect it will take a Labor Government to get a voice to Parliament, one that recognises that First Nations people have a critical role to play.


Can I say also that today is a day when the further rollback of support for the economy continues unabated. Today those people on JobSeeker will lose $100 per fortnight. Today those people on JobKeeper will lose either $200 on the higher rate or $100 from their income from the first working day, which is of course January 4, in a couple of days’ time. The fact is that this will produce further hardship and a further handbrake on our economy via the withdrawal of money from people who spend every single dollar that goes to them. At the same time, those people working today will, if the Government gets its way with its industrial relations changes, have their pay for today cut, a typical hospitality worker, by some $210. The fact is the Government, the Coalition, doesn’t seem to have learnt from WorkChoices and this is WorkChoices mark two. An attack on penalty rates, an attack on the incomes of people who need that income to survive at a time when wages have been stagnant under this Government for such a long period of time. The combination of an attack on wages, withdrawal of support for incomes for those people who are unemployed or those people who are on JobKeeper, the failure to support those people who are over the age of 35 to get back into work, all of this provides a combination that is premature given the state of the economy which is there.


Can I make two further points? One is that the Prime Minister said that Australians would be home by Christmas. I notice the weasel words and the spin is all out there again. The fact is that many thousands of Australians who he promised would be able to come home by Christmas are still stranded overseas into the new year. And the fact that that remains unresolved, with more than 30,000 Australians trying to get home, won’t be changed by any marketing spin from the prime marketer in the lodge. The fact is that the Prime Minister made a very clear commitment and so many thousands of those people remain stranded overseas and isolated from their families and from support.


And can I make one final comment which is about the rollout of the vaccine. The National Cabinet, so called, is due to not meet until February 5. That’s a long time away. In the meantime, the TGA is expected to approve the Pfizer vaccine in January. The only person, people who are undermining faith in that system is those that say that once it’s approved we still have to wait potentially until March. Surely the ongoing breakouts we’ve seen here in Sydney show that once the TGA approves a rollout we should be rolling it out as soon as possible. I’ll ask Linda to make some comments.


LINDA BURNEY: Thank you Anthony and good morning everyone and thank you for coming. Today, in the areas that I’ve got responsibility for, there are two major issues. Of course, the people who are on JobSeeker will lose, as Anthony said, $100 a fortnight as of today. These are people that support local businesses. These are people who make sure that people hold onto their jobs because they spend all the money that they receive. Scott Morrison and his Government lauded the fact that they were providing all of this stimulus. Well, the crisis is not over and this stimulus funding should not be rolled back today.


The second point that I’d like to speak about is the change to the national anthem. And yes, it is welcome and it is part of the process of truth telling. But it is not what really needs to change. What needs to change, of course, we saw the Prime Minister and I’ve just heard his press conference, talk about his change of one word to the national anthem. The words that need to change are not necessarily in the national anthem, whilst it’s welcome. The words that need to change are words in the Australian constitutional. The constitution does not recognise First Nations people and Labor has been extremely clear for a very long time is that we support the three aspects of the Uluru Statement and one of those aspects is a constitutionally enshrined voice to the Parliament. Labor will maintain this position. It is the correct position and it reflects what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want. Scott Morrison talks about ambition in this area. Well, ambition is very good. But action is what is required. Changing one word in the national anthem is a good thing to do. We agree with that. But what really needs to change if we’re going to truly close the gap is investment into things like housing and also, importantly, and I’ll finish on this point, importantly, listening to First Nations people through a constitutionally enshrined voice to the Parliament. Thank you.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much. Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: On the JobSeeker, given that there are some businesses, particularly in Sydney and potentially in Melbourne, that, you know, will be affected by these latest coronavirus cases, do you think that’s even more reason for the Government to look at not reducing JobSeeker?


ALBANESE: Look, absolutely. The fact is that every dollar that goes to someone on JobSeeker is spent. Spent at local small businesses; spent putting food on the table for people. We know that people were in poverty who were on the previous JobSeeker rate. And we know that $40 a day simply isn’t enough to live in on. But what we have is a Government that is winding back to that $40 a day rate. And surely now it is beyond question that there remains a major economic handbrake. We’ve seen borders closed. Myself and Linda are here in Sydney. We’ll be in Sydney for the foreseeable future because it’s just not possible to travel north, south or west at the moment, and we can go east but not very far. So the fact is that this is a premature withdrawal of support that will hurt people and will hurt the economy.


JOURNALIST: And can I ask about the national anthem as well. I mean, how long do you think it might be before people get used to the new lyrics?


ALBANESE: Well, it’s one word. So I reckon people will be used to it. The difference between saying “young” and saying “one” will take a millisecond. This is a common sense change. But it’s not a big change. And it doesn’t change the important power problems which First Nations people face, the fact that we don’t have recognition in our nation’s document that says who we are. And, of course, it’s a common sense change. I supported it when it was suggested. I spoke with the Prime Minister last night about it and indicated that this change would have Labor’s support. But I also indicated that this, in the scheme of things, isn’t the sort of change that is needed. What is needed is serious reform. And it worries me that this Government now, that was elected way back in 2013, into its eighth year, just doesn’t seem to have an agenda for reform, whether it be economic reform, whether it be social reform, or environmental reform. Linda?


BURNEY: Just on that point. What we do know, I’ve actually seen the document, or the documents, that Ken Wyatt issued to the three working groups looking at a voice to the Parliament. They are expressly forbidden from dealing with the Uluru Statement. So the idea of constitutional recognition was not even canvassed by this Government. We’ve asked the Prime Minister directly in Question Time what his ambition is in terms of constitutional reform. And what’s clear is that he has no ambition in this area. You can’t, on the one hand, say we’re going to work with Aboriginal people, we’re going to talk to Aboriginal people and not do what previous governments have done, and on the other hand think that this symbolic change is going to make people satisfied. What people want, clearly, is constitutional recognition and a voice to the Parliament. Like Anthony said, we very much welcome this change in terms of the national anthem. But the real picture, the big picture, is constitutional reform.


JOURNALIST: And on the national anthem, there’s just been this one change. But do you think he could have gone further? Because there’s still no clear, direct reference to First Nations people in the national anthem at all.


BURNEY: Well, it was interesting, I’ve just read the Prime Minister’s views on why the change is being announced today. And they were to do with waves of migration. They were to do with the long association First Nations people have had with Australia. And they were to do with the way in which Australia has come together throughout the pandemic. I’m not arguing with any of those things. All of those things are very important and very relevant. But I have heard from a number of people, both last night and today, that say that the change is not going to satisfy them in terms of changing the national anthem. We welcome it. It’s an important change. But, like I say, the real change needs to be within the Australian constitution.


JOURNALIST: I understand that you, you know, believe there are bigger priorities than the national anthem. But a lot of people in the Indigenous community wanted this for a long time. A lot of Aboriginal people started this movement. Shouldn’t it be a victory for the Indigenous community?


BURNEY: I think it is. It is something that people have expressed a view about for a very long time. When Gladys Berejiklian suggested this change some months ago, both Anthony and I welcomed it. I said it was something that would be very welcomed. And that’s important. Will it stop protests at sports matches? I don’t know. I suspect probably not. But it is an important change and it is something that people have argued for for a long time. I just heard Deborah Cheetham being interviewed on the radio. And she said, changing the anthem, one word at a time. She welcomed it but saw that there was a bigger picture as well.


ALBANESE: I do think it’s worth noting that the national anthem in the second verse has in it, “for those who come across the sea”. There’s still no recognition in the national anthem about First Nations people. And so, that’s why constitutional recognition is so important. And a word can be important, but actions are more important. And real action requires a voice to Parliament, as determined in the Uluru Statement by First Nations people themselves after an extensive consultation period. I think it’s an incredibly generous statement. And I would urge people to read the Uluru Statement for the generosity of spirit that it reflects. Thank you.


JOURNALIST: Obviously, like, 2020 was a chaotic year (inaudible) these issues that you’re talking about might have got a little bit buried last year?


ALBANESE: Oh look, there’s no doubt that 2020 was a tough year. I’ve said it was a year from hell. And the pandemic dominated issues, as it did around the world. So Labor, for example, was constructive and was focused on both the health consequences and the economic consequences of the pandemic. And so that is just a fact. But it is possible to also advance other issues. And that’s why we have continued to raise these issues in the national Parliament. It is important that we continue to actually look forward to what sort of future we want Australia to be. And then when we look at the recovery, that we use this period to not just try to go back to what was there before, but how do we become a stronger, fairer, more inclusive nation, and that includes, I have very much at the top, recognition of First Nations people. Thank you.