Jul 14, 2020









SUBJECTS: Release of the Palace letters; Victorian coronavirus outbreak; JobSeeker; COVID-safe app; Australian Defence Force.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Hi there. Before I talk about the Palace letters, I do want to make some comments about the difficult period, particularly for Victoria that we’re seeing with the coronavirus, some 270 additional people testing positive today in Victoria, and an increase in the number of people who are in hospital, and a further increase of nine additional people in intensive care. Our thoughts go out to every Victorian who’s going through a difficult period. We know, as well, that there have been issues around the Crossroads Hotel in the southwest of Sydney. I’m very pleased that Anne Stanley, one of our team in Canberra, has just informed me that she has tested negative. She was self-isolating as a result of the fact that she had been to the hotel in recent times. And that is good news for her and her family. But there are many people out there who are self-isolating, doing the right thing, and we need to ensure that we remain vigilant against this disease. This is not business as usual. This disease is a major problem.


I do want to say that it is good that the National Archives have released the Palace letters in full. It’s a good thing because Australians have a right to know, in full, the events that led to the dismissal of a democratically-elected Labor Government on 11th of November 1975. I’m joined today by the Shadow Assistant Minister for the Republic, Matt Thistlethwaite. One of the things that has defined my generation and those older is our experience of the dismissal. I went to school just up the road here at St Mary’s Cathedral. I well recall one of my first political memories is Vince Crowe, my history teacher, coming in, and now a constituent of mine in Haberfield, coming in and saying that the democratic Government has been dismissed by the Governor-General. And the shock, even as a young boy at that time, and I remember the chaos that was there on the streets of Sydney as a result of that dismissal. I remember going home, as well, getting home late and my mother saying to us that they have dismissed ‘our Government’. Because this was, of course, Australians who are Labor supporters who had waited 23 years for the election of the Whitlam Government. The Whitlam Government, like all governments, was not without fault. But they did transform this nation and they made us into the modern, vibrant community that we see here today. And those heady days whereby we withdrew troops from Vietnam, we recognised China, we implemented free tertiary education of which I was a beneficiary, we created Medibank, later changed by the Coalition Government, but then Medicare coming in. The Whitlam Government was one in which we saw advancements for women, advancements for multiculturalism. We saw major engagements in our cities through the Department of Urban and Regional Development. We saw areas of this great city like Woolloomooloo and Glebe saved because of the intervention of the Whitlam Labor Government.


It is, I think, a blight on our character as a nation that a democratically-elected Government was dismissed. Now, we will go through the many letters that have been released today and that will occur with historians over a period of time. But I want to say this, that the actions of the Governor-General on 11th of November to dismiss a Government, to put himself above the Australian people, is one that reinforces the need for us to have an Australian head of state, one that reinforces the need for us to stand on our own two feet. The fact that we have waited 45 years for correspondence between the Queen and the Palace, and the Governor-General in Australia, says that there is something very wrong with our structures of government, the fact that someone across the other side of the world was involved and engaged in this process. So, I might ask Matt to make some further comments as well and then happy to take questions.


MATT THISTLETHWAITE, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR THE REPUBLIC: Thanks, Anthony. Firstly, I’d like to congratulate and thank Professor Jenny Hocking for her decade-long campaign to uncover the contents of these very, very important historical documents that tell the truth about the most significant political upheaval in Australia’s history. Today, Professor Hocking has been vindicated in the contents of those documents being made public. And the High Court was right to determine that the Australian people have the right to know our history, free from interference from the Crown in Britain. The Australian people can look at these documents now and can understand the true meaning of what occurred back in 1975. And it was unfortunate that, through these documents, they were withheld from the Australian public when Sir John Kerr gave these documents to the National Archives, it was his view that they should be released in the future and the Australian public should know their contents. Yet, in 1991 when he passed, Buckingham Palace intervened and said that those documents should remain secret until 2027 and, then, permission must be granted by Buckingham Palace for the documents to be released. Now in modern Australia, that is wrong. And the High Court determined that the Australian people have the right to know what is in these documents.


The uncovering of these documents today highlights the fact that in the future, once we get through the COVID crisis, Australia must begin a mature and serious discussion about our future constitutional arrangements with a view to having a serious discussion about amending our constitution to finally appoint an Australian as our head of state. Whilst these documents are important historical records that tell the story of our past, an Australian republic is about our future. It’s about recognising that we are an independent nation, with our own culture, our own identity and our own pride in our people and their ability to perform this important role of our head of state.


ALBANESE: Thanks, Matt. Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, from what you have heard about the Palace letters so far, are you sure that there’s no conspiracy between Buckingham Palace and Sir John Kerr on the dismissal?


ALBANESE: Well, it would appear from the letters that there was a discussion on the fourth of November about the reserve powers, but that in the letters also state that Sir John Kerr did not inform, as a conscious decision, the Queen of his intention to dismiss the Government. So, I take those matters at face value. But of course, there are many documents here. I certainly haven’t had the time to go through all of the details. So, there’s a caveat obviously there in terms of historians will look through, but I suspect that many Australians, as well, will look through these documents. Part of the issue has been that the website has crashed in terms of the number of people who wanted to see all of the detail in these documents. This is an important historical event. It’s certainly the most significant historical political event, an upheaval in my lifetime.


JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, just on the COVID-safe app, do you agree with your colleagues that is (inaudible)?


ALBANESE: Well, quite clearly, the facts speak for itself. And we were told by the Government that it would be a critical element in being able to trace people. And we know that has not occurred for a single person. So, this is, at this stage, it would appear that it’s a $2 million dud and the Government has to explain why it is that once again there’s a gap between what the Government said was going to occur and what actually has occurred. And this is something that characterises this Government. Talking things up big but when it comes to delivery, there’s a significant gap there between delivery and promise.


JOURNALIST: Just back on the Palace letters, it’s been reported that the whole Palace letters dispute has cost the National Archives at least $2 million, including the High Court case. Do you think the Federal Government needs to increase the budgets for the Archives to swallow that cost?


ALBANESE: Well, they should, appropriately. I mean, these circumstances whereby the Australian public clearly had a right to know what happened here in detail. And therefore, it would be appropriate that the funding be increased to cover the costs of the National Archives. They didn’t ask for this to have to go to the High Court. It was a decision by the Palace, essentially, to do that. And it would be appropriate that the Archives don’t have to make further cost cutting. The National Archives is a very important part of our institutions and is a guardian of our history.


JOURNALIST: And on the lines of funding as well, the Director General of the Archives has suggested that his agency’s overrun with request requests for documents. Do you think, given that they are suggesting they can’t meet all those requirements, does the Archives need more funding so that it can do that job properly?


ALBANESE: Look, I’ve responded to the specific which is that they should be compensated. Those other matters would be matters for Katy Gallagher, our Shadow Finance Minister, to give consideration to. I would say, that Labor, and I would hope the entire Parliament and our national leadership, recognises the important role that the National Archives has.


JOURNALIST: Just on the COVID situation with the Crossroads Hotel and that area specifically, is there any merit in locking down a specific area of Sydney rather than the whole state locking down, perhaps the southwest given there’s such a problem there?


ALBANESE: Well, we will take advice from the respective state medical officer, I’m sure that the state government will do that as well. I note that from time to time in Victoria, there were sections of Melbourne shut down, but then it was expanded into the entire Melbourne metropolitan area and then further. So, we need to take appropriate advice. I don’t think those decisions should be political. They should be based upon the health advice.


JOURNALIST: Just on JobSeeker, is there no other option but keeping the increased rate past September given the economic turmoil we will see in the future?


ALBANESE: What we know is that there are 13 applicants for every job vacancy. We know that’s the case. And we know that the reason why JobSeeker was increased from the old Newstart rate was that the Government put up its hand and finally conceded that the rate of Newstart was not enough to live on, that it was consigning people to poverty. And that had a detrimental impact on their health. But it also had a detrimental impact on the economy. Because we know that people on JobSeeker won’t be putting money in the bank to save for a rainy day. It’s raining on them right now. They will be spending that money and contributing to economic activity, which is one of the things that we need.


JOURNALIST: Just overnight there were allegations of potential war crimes by Australian forces in Afghanistan. (Inaudible).


ALBANESE: Well, the Defence department should commit to being transparent about the inquiry and about what is found and then taking action. It’s not appropriate to comment on the detail of the inquiry while it’s undertaking its work. And we will respond appropriately. But I would hope that, well, I know, that the Defence Department take these issues very seriously indeed. And we will respond when the inquiry has completed its work. But it’s important that those recommendations be made public and that at the time of those recommendations that there be a very quick response as to their implementation.


JOURNALIST: Are you concerned about the culture that exists within our troops?


ALBANESE: I think overwhelmingly the men and women who wear our uniform, do us proud and do a magnificent job on behalf of Australia, and on behalf of our values, which are universal values of democracy, values of freedom, but also values of human rights. And that is why, when there are allegations of any breach of that, they need to be investigated fully and responded to. But overwhelmingly, men and women in uniform do this nation proud. And I thank them for the work that they do. It’s one thing to stand, myself and Matt, here in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices, it’s another to make the decision to put yourself in danger. And for them and for their families, I think all Australians owe them thanks. Thanks very much.