Apr 30, 2020

ANTHONY ALBANESE & MIKE KELLY – TRANSCRIPT – PRESS CONFERENCE – PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA – THURSDAY, 30 APRIL 2020

 

ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER

DR MIKE KELLY AM MP
MEMBER FOR EDEN MONARO

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
PRESS CONFERENCE
CANBERRA
THURSDAY, 30 APRIL 2020

 

SUBJECTS: Mike Kelly resignation from Parliament; Eden-Monaro by-election; coronavirus impacting by-election; national security; sports rorts; issues with JobKeeper program; need for Parliament to sit on a normal schedule.

 

ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks for joining us. I am here with a great Australian, Mike Kelly. Someone who has served his nation in the Defence Force and in this Parliament. Someone who has served as a minister, as a Parliamentary Secretary, as an advocate for the electorate of Eden-Monaro. And I am very proud to call Mike Kelly my friend. That will continue. Mike has an announcement. And then I will make some comments.

 

MIKE KELLY, MEMBER FOR EDEN MONARO: Thank you, Albo. I want to firstly begin by thanking Albo very much for being with me here today, supporting me, and providing me with this opportunity to explain to my community what the situation really is. And also, to thank Albo for all his support for Eden-Monaro over the years. We have worked a lot together on all the critical things that were so important to us, key infrastructure and things like the Bega Bypass and helping win bipartisan support for duplication of the Barton Highway. Just so many things, too many to mention. But thank you for your support for the region from me personally, Albo. It has been a wonderful ride working with you.

 

The most important thing I need to do today, and I apologise for distracting people from the national crisis that is confronting us at the moment, but I do need to take this opportunity to explain the situation for my community particularly. People are aware, I think, that I have been going through some health issues. These are all service related, going back to my time in the Army. On the one hand, I suffered some severe episodes of dehydration which led to some renal issues, and of course also, in the last few weeks the Department of Veterans’ Affairs has classified me as permanently impaired due to deteriorating osteoarthritis situation, which has been exacerbated by the nature of the work in Eden-Monaro. The renal situation was at times quite serious. I’ve had ten procedures in the last six months. And the bushfires and coronavirus situation have in some ways masked my inability to be on the road and be out in Eden-Monaro as much as I should have or would have liked to have been. Fortunately, it’s been possible for me to do my work, you know, remotely and online and on the phone through the bushfires and the rest of it. But we are coming to a time now when restrictions are likely to be eased, and it will be time for a Member for Eden-Monaro to be on that road again. So, the timing for me is about enabling that new member to do that work, to prevent myself from being in the position where I would let down my community, my caucus members and my Leader by not being able to do this job to the full extent that it should be done, that the community demands and deserves. I certainly couldn’t cope mentally with not being able to go full pace at this job.

 

My whole life of 36 years of public service has been body and soul into whatever I’ve done. And I’m sort of paying a bit of a heavy price for that at the moment. But I would have continued on if I felt that I could have done the job to the extent to which it has to be done in Eden-Monaro. It is not the seat of Wentworth, it is larger than 66 countries, Eden-Monaro, these days. It is 42,000 square kilometres of rough terrain, difficult weather, incredibly diverse, incredibly challenging, with a community that is spread out and really requires you to be on the road a hell of a lot, thousands and thousands and thousands of kilometres. And I just can’t do that physically anymore.

 

The thing is, though, that all of those characteristics are the things that I love deeply and dearly about Eden-Monaro. The reason I agreed to run for Eden-Monaro in the first place is because I have a deep, abiding love for this region, that stems also from a wonderful family tradition of over 160 years of service to this community in so many ways. Every generation of my family served in the military, in all our wars. There have been the farmers that have helped build the region, helped build the key pieces of infrastructure and social infrastructure and served this community in many, many ways, including my great-grandfather who ran the seat in 1940 but missed out. So, I was glad to have kind of brought it home for the family in that respect. And I hope that I have done my family the honour that they deserve in how we have conducted ourselves. But I really do regret, and it has broken my heart to have to do this. It is gut wrenching, as I have just said. And I wouldn’t be doing it if it just wasn’t absolutely necessary to do it now.

 

The medical situation that I’ve been through, I want to firstly thank all doctors that have helped me through this, particularly Doctor Hodo Haxhimolla who is a wonderful supporter of the veteran community and has pioneered the techniques that have got me through this. Thank you so much, Hodo. And Dr Sanjaya who navigated me through a severe bout of sepsis that came with this and all the other side effects. But he is out here now helping us through COVID-19, a wonderful, wonderful doctor. And of course, this week I consulted with my GP, who confirmed to me that basically I did need to take this step if I wasn’t going to be in a situation of accelerating these conditions. So, thank you to that medical crew. At the same time as I am going through these issues, which can be managed, and they can move into, you know, other contributions in other ways, other employment, but not in a job like this. But also, my wife is going through some health issues herself, and has procedures in front of her, as I have procedures more to come in front of me, which results in weeks at a time not being able to be on the road. But I need to be in a position to better support her through those procedures as well.

 

And just on that, on talking about the family, I know a lot of politicians say that the family are conscripts and we are volunteers in this, but that would be really doing my family a disservice. Every decision that we have made about what I am doing was done around the kitchen table. And they have always been willing servants of the nation as well. There’s a lot of people out there in that defence family situation who will understand all of those sacrifices and all of that pain that they go through and a lot of tough times through that. So, thank you for your love and support through all that, and we will now move on to prioritise them. And I want to thank them first and foremost.

 

But also, you know, I have had a lot of ups and downs in politics, of course, as everyone does. I want to thank in particular Kevin Rudd for his support, his intention in making me Defence Minister, his backing to get the Australian Civil-Military Centre up and running. I was very proud to be part of that. Julia Gillard for making me Minister for Defence Materiel. Bill Shorten’s support for my campaigns for giving us a native shipbuilding industry and making that a bipartisan commitment and supporting me to be in the Shadow National Security Committee, and also the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Security and intelligence. That has been a wonderful experience of working together collegiality with colleagues across the chamber in the interests of national security and our nation generally, and it’s been a really rewarding and enjoyable experience, along with working with my good friend, the Member for Berowra, Julian Leeser, on the Parliamentary Friends of the Prevention of Suicide, a subject close to my heart, and really salute the work we have done together in that space. So, those are possibly the most rewarding experiences in recent years. So, thank you to all of those involved in that/ And to Albo for continuing to support me in the Shadow National Security Committee and the PJCIS.

 

Of course, I do want to take this opportunity to thank all those who have mentored me and made me a better person, starting with the starting point in my life, in particular the Army mentors I have had, one of them a Governor-General, David Hurley, who was a CO in Somalia. David Hurley was just a wonderful support to me all through life and a wonderful example. But others as well, like particularly Peter Lay, one of the finest officers I have ever served with or had the privilege of engaging with, a real intellect as well in the security space. And so many others who I can’t mention today, going right back to my days in Battle Wing with the wonderful staff there in Peeps, Cowboy, Tracker and Woody, I hope you are all doing well. And also, of course, in particular, my electorate office crew who have been unbelievably magnificent in their compassion and commitment to just helping people in their daily lives. And I want to reassure Eden-Monaro that they will continue in that work until a by-election poll is declared, and with the same commitment and compassion they have shown all along. Thank you for your dedication, Robbie, Rad, Brian, Luke and Jo down in Bega. We have built our reputation on caring for people, and it is so important. And of course, my colleagues in the caucus, I wish them all the best. They are a wonderful group of people. It has been a privilege to be friends with them.

 

I have to say, I know another phrase around here is if you want friends get a dog in politics, but I haven’t found that. I don’t believe I have any enemies I have made in politics and I have friends on both sides of the chamber. You know, in my army career I stared into the face of true evil, whether it was genocidal warlords in Somalia, or murdering militia in Timor, or war criminals in Bosnia, or staring into Saddam Hussein’s face and the dirty dozen, so-called, in Iraq. So, it kept me in the situation where I had a good perspective on all of this. And so, I treat people on the other side of the chamber who I find as decent human beings, and having the national interest at heart, as I find that way. And I do count the number of them as friends. We may have deep disagreements about policy issues, but you know, I am quite happy to call some of them friends, and I feel grateful for that experience as well. And certainly, my caucus colleagues.

 

But now, of course, the focus has to be on all of us pulling together to face the crisis we are in right now. And I think for Eden-Monaro, I’m sorry to be putting you to a by-election at the moment. But I do believe, you know, that with the restrictions and a process of being eased in the months ahead that it will be feasible to hold a by-election in that space as well. This is a chance for us to get our issues up in lights as a national priority. There is no area in Australia that has suffered more in recent times than Eden-Monaro. Through the drought, into the worst bushfires in Australia, we were at the centre of that crisis, and then rolling into the coronavirus issues. So, they deserve to be prioritised right now, and the policies that should be put in place to help them are policies that will hopefully be then generally applicable to other areas of need in the country. I know that the team is going to really put their best foot forward in that respect, and particularly issues like climate change, as well, and beyond all of that, that our region has been suffering from so much, and has the threat in front of them and much worse to come unless we adopt a serious policy in that respect.

 

So, I am quite confident Albo and the team are going to come home at the next election and be able to put all of those good policies in place, as the country needs. But I also wish that the country takes what we have learned out of this process, to take us to a slightly higher plane in politics from some of the low levels we have seen over the last 13 years. And probably my only regret, really, is that 2010 leadership stuff which, you know, was so painful to go through, and set everyone back, I think, on all sides of politics, with the tone that was kind of set at that time. But thankfully we have moved on from that, with a good unified team with a good leadership that we need. So, I am confident and optimistic about the future. And now it’s time to get back to work and focus on the national interest and the crisis in front of us. So, thank you very much for being here today.

 

ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Mike. Can I just say a few things on behalf of the Australian Labor Party about my friend Mike Kelly? Firstly, on behalf of the Labor family, I want to thank Mike’s family. They may well not be conscripts, they may well have been volunteers, but nonetheless, people’s family give up a lot. And so, to Rachelle and the family, and in politics, as well, you have two families. I have found. One, people you are related to. And secondly, your family in your office who you work with, who you spend so much time with. So, to the family of Mike in the electorate office, thank you to the work that you have done on behalf of constituents, and thank you for the work you will do up until the by-election, at least, and hopefully beyond.

 

Mike Kelly is an extraordinary Australian, and he has brought a great deal of dignity, talent, capacity and commitment to this Parliament. Having served the nation in uniform for two decades, including in Timor-Leste, Somalia, the Balkans and Iraq. He came to this place in 2007, winning a seat off the Coalition. Mike Kelly is one of the few people in this place who can say that he won a seat off the Coalition not once, but twice. Eden-Monaro is a tough seat to win. Antony Green’s analysis which compares, has a look historically at the Eden-Monaro vote and the two-party preferred vote indicates that this bloke is worth 3-4 per cent of the vote in Eden-Monaro and has been so since he has been a candidate. Before then, it followed the New South Wales trends. But with Mike as the candidate, you see that jump. And we have seen today in the way that he has handled this difficult decision exactly why he has had the faith of the people of Eden-Monaro.

 

He perhaps, has downplayed how tough the last six months has been for him. Ten surgical and medical procedures, he has been through. I have spoken to him throughout that period, and I know how difficult he has found it. But at the same time, every time I have spoken to him, even on the days when he is about to undergo a procedure, he has focused on the people of the electorate of Eden-Monaro. And his work that he did during the bushfire crisis was quite extraordinary, the commitment that he showed. But he had shown that commitment before. The Bega Bypass is one of the few roads in Australia you will find that is a state road that was 100 per cent Federally funded. Because this bloke was tenacious in arguing the case for it. Similarly, in terms of state achievements, like Bega Hospital, it is there because of this bloke. Without him, it wouldn’t have happened. He didn’t care who was in government, what level of government it was, he argued tenaciously for it. Similarly, the other commitments for a whole range of, Sapphire Aquatic Centre, Four Winds festival facilities, Queanbeyan Cricket Pavilion, Bega Rec grounds, The Campese Field White House, Riverside Football facility, Bermagui Surf Lifesaving Club, the port at Eden is somewhere I’ve been to multiple times to have a look and the potential that Eden has as a tourism destination is quite extraordinary. And that work wouldn’t have proceeded without Mike Kelly’s commitment. The work that he’s done in the Parliament, on defence and national security issues, is frankly second to none. He brings with him real world experience, not just reading about issues. And it is that real world issues which has resulted in directly attributed to his health problems, arising from that period of being in Iraq. We have spoken about 56-degree heat. Suffering from dehydration that has had a long-term impact on his physical health and his capacity to get around. So, once again, in making this decision, Mike is putting his electorate first. He simply has indicated to me that Eden-Monaro, the nature of the electorate, you don’t really fly around, you have to drive around. And getting across from the coast to the Monaro region down to the Snowy and the highlands, the agricultural area around Batlow, this is a diverse electorate that you have got to spend a whole lot of time in the car. It is simply not possible for that to continue to the extent to which Mike would be satisfied to do that.

 

So, no one likes by-elections. But this is a necessary one. And it’s one in which Mike retires from Parliament, not from politics. Because he will continue to be an important source of advice for me. And I know for Richard Marles as our Defence Shadow Minister and my Deputy. And our entire team on defence and security issues, as well as other issues affecting regional New South Wales and regional Australia. So, I do pay tribute to Mike to both his time in uniform, but also his time as a parliamentarian. He’s been a mate of mine throughout that period, I’ve got to know him. He has extraordinary character and integrity. And Parliament will be poorer for the lack of his presence. But on behalf of our entire team, and I could be so bold, I think, on this occasion, to say on behalf of the Parliament, thank you for your contribution. Happy to take questions.

 

JOURNALIST: Just to you, Dr Kelly, congratulations on your career. What issues specifically are going to be critical in the seat in the forthcoming by-election that candidate should focus on? Mr Albanese, yesterday Scott Morrison was out sandbagging early playing down his chances of winning this seat on the basis of history. Do you feel any pressure as Labor Leader? What lesson will you take out of this result or what do you ascribe to the outcome of this election?

 

KELLY: Look, the first and foremost thing is the recovery process right now. Our economy in Eden-Monaro has been completely smashed, every aspect of it, to the loss of orchards in Batlow, to the forestry industry. It’s been decimated over there on the southwest slopes, Snowy Valleys area. Our tourism industry has been crippled, absolutely smashed as well. Almost every aspect of activity has suffered badly. Farmers, loss of losing so much livestock, over 9,000 livestock. We’ve lost over 1,000 homes across the region. We had a million hectares burnt which is bigger than the Amazon fires or the Black Saturday fires in Victoria or the California wildfires all just within Eden-Monaro from end to end, and top to bottom, we were devastated. And there are issues around how we weren’t, I think, effectively supported through the drought even before that. And there are issues about how the bushfire recovery process went. And now there are issues around this impact that has just completely finished off a lot of businesses with the Coronavirus. So, we need now clear, well thought-out imaginative policies to rebuild our economy. About the only thing we’ve still got left going for us at the moment is the Snowy Two project. And, you know, we have to start thinking creatively about the new economies of the future and having creative policies around that. But climate change will be a big feature. You know, it is the birthplace of the Clean Energy for Eternity movement and they were one of the first groups that I linked up with when I decided to run for Eden-Monaro. And no region is at more risk, you know, the skiing industry, for example, in the Monaro area is 50 per cent of the economy. It’s a $2 billion industry. And every year, you know, the ski season contracts, rises higher at level and thins out the snow. We won’t have a ski industry if the degrees of warming that are projected with uncontrolled emissions happens. It will just be devastating for our region but our farmers going through these extreme weather conditions, you know, it’s a massive challenge for us. We are the canary in the coal mine, so to speak. And candidates and parties are going to have to get out there accept the science and put forward meaningful, serious, effective climate change policy. And I intend to continue to be a strong advocate on the issue of climate change as I’ve tried to do all through this situation. And, you know, we’ve got a lot of veterans in our region as well. I’m going to continue to work for them. But the recovery is from the beginning and ending now of where we need to go to bring the support this region deserves and needs right now.

 

ALBANESE: I think that the Coalition start as favourites in this by-election. I think there’s no question that that’s the case if you look at the analysis of the vote, and how much of a personal vote Mike Kelly has. But it is an opportunity for the people of Eden-Monaro to send Scott Morrison, in particular, and the Government a message. During the bushfire crisis, that message was given not just by Labor people, but by others as well about how satisfactory the Government’s response and Scott Morrison’s response was to the bushfire crisis. Since then, my contact with the electorate has confirmed that people of Eden-Monaro, particularly those vast sections that were affected by the bushfire crisis, feel even further let down that they’ve been forgotten. And it’s an opportunity for them to send a message that the Government needs to do better when it comes to responding to the needs of Australians. It will be about jobs. And the response to the Coronavirus crisis, whether it’s acceptable that in an area in which casuals are a fair portion of the workforce, they’ve been left out of the JobKeeper package, in spite of our continued advocacy for them. The arts and entertainment industry, which there are substantial people in what is a very creative community, have missed out as well. The tourism sector has been forgotten. I attended a meeting just up here in the last week in which Parliament sat its normal session with the Canberra Region of Councils that includes every local government area in the Eden-Monaro electorate. Senior Government representatives didn’t bother to turn up even though people had travelled, it includes East Gippsland, by the way, in that very large council area. They just weren’t interested in engaging with the local communities about what was needed responding to that ongoing crisis. And the figure of a million dollars, one million dollars, for each local government area was what they got given as compensation for the bushfire crisis. Think about what’s happened recently, and the sort of figures which are bandied around in this chamber and compare it with that. I think that they were left behind. And longer-term, this Government, the economy was suffering before the bushfire crisis and before the Coronavirus crises. And the Government had no plan for the economy. And that included the impact of having no energy policy and no climate change policy as well. Having an impact on jobs and the economy, something that was reflected very much.

 

JOURNALIST: As much as this is an opportunity for people to send a message, as you say to Scott Morrison, it’s also a test for you. Unusual circumstances at an unusual time. But no Opposition has lost a by-election seat to a Government, as you know, for a century. So, it is a test for you personally. How visible are you going to be in this campaign? And how visible do you think the Prime Minister is going to be in the electorate that didn’t warm to him during the bushfire crisis?

 

ALBANESE: Well, he won’t have the handshake problem at the moment. So, I’m sure he’ll be relieved at that. I’ve never had a problem previously in shaking hands on the south coast and throughout the electorate of Eden-Monaro and engaging with people. And I’ve done it consistently over a long, long period of time. The fact is, that this is a challenge. I will be as visible as possible under the circumstances. There are unusual circumstances with regard to social distancing provisions. I’m not sure, looking back at this, but you would be more cognisant of it perhaps than I am, but traditionally when members of Parliament have announced their resignation from Parliament, they haven’t stood next to the Leader while they’ve been doing it. I’m not shy about associating myself with this great Australian next to me. And I won’t be shy about associating myself with the Labor candidate and our entire team will be doing obviously what we can to keep Eden-Monaro in Labor hands. And we will be working with Mike and our candidate to that end.

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, have you got any idea of the logistics of that by-election? When is it going to happen? Do you know who the next candidate is going to be?

 

ALBANESE: The by-election date is a matter for the Speaker. The Speaker has been aware, is aware of this announcement. It will be a matter for him. But in the normal course of events would be I would expect that he would announce a by-election date no later than when Parliament sits in a couple of weeks’ time. I would think that was appropriate for that to be put in place. With regard to Labor’s candidate, today’s Mike Kelly’s day. There will be another day for that

 

JOURNALIST: Will it be a local pre-selection?

 

ALBANESE: We will consider those matters. The ALP National Executive will be meeting this afternoon. And we’ll be giving consideration to those matters.

 

JOURNALIST: Have you locked in Kristy McBain yet?

 

ALBANESE: We’ll be giving consideration this afternoon. Today’s about Mike Kelly. And today’s about paying tribute to him. The by-election isn’t this Saturday. We have time to work through those issues. We will, of course, Mike has only confirmed this decision today. And I can confirm that he was considering his position up to today, since this is a tough decision for Mike to have made. And I wanted to give him the space to make that decision himself and to explain what that decision was. I’m here in Canberra to be with him out of my respect for him.

 

JOURNALIST: Dr Kelly, who would you like to see replace you and what do you make of the prospect John Barilaro is talking up the fact he may run?

 

KELLY: I mean, I really had great working relationships with the five state seat members that sit under me in Eden-Monaro. And we’ve worked very hard together, trying to get our issues on the agenda for the bushfire recovery. I have enjoyed the experience of working with them no matter what party they were in. But right now, this is going to be a contest of ideas. So, to me, it’s not about the personalities, it’s about what they stand for. And what I’ve highlighted as the key issues for us where they stand on that. You know, I was really disappointed at the last election, you know, Liberal opponent in every way was, you know, obviously, I saw as a decent person, but didn’t accept the science of climate change and recently written an article on the Australian Financial Review sort of bagging out South Pacific leaders for their worry about sea level rises and telling them they should be more focused on diabetes. You know, that’s not what the region needs. I want to see a candidate who is committed to the key issues and has ideas and passion to bring to that contest. That’s the issue for me.

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, are you concerned that the Government is planning on withdrawing economic supports too soon?

 

ALBANESE: Sorry, could we deal maybe with this first and then happy to take general questions?

 

JOURNALIST: JobSeeker is set to halve when the Coronavirus supplement comes off, that could feature in this campaign as an example of the sort of support that should continue?

 

ALBANESE: People will look at the range of issues, no doubt, will feature in a by-election campaign. And might I say, there might be more than one by-election as well. Mike hasn’t been the only person who has been absent from Parliament. And so, we’ll wait and see what happens, what happens there. In terms of, Mike’s obviously the only one on our side who has been absent from Parliament. Can I say that it will consider local issues, but it will consider the national issues as well. And one of the issues that will feature, no doubt, is the Government what it said during this period and what it has said previously, and whether it returns as if none of this has happened. During this period, it has said that they needed to increase JobSeeker because $40 a day wasn’t enough to live on. If it’s not enough to live on now, it wasn’t enough to live on before. Does it go back to being enough to live on down the track? It’s up to the Government to explain that contradiction. Just as it’ll be up to the Government to explain the contradiction between its attitude towards government intervention in the economy before, during the Global Financial Crisis was bad, now government intervention is good. It’ll be up to the Government to explain why they should listen to, and Australia has got through, or is getting through this crisis, we have got the result that we have, because we have listened to the science and listen to the experts. If we’re going to do that, as we should have during this crisis, why is it that the Government won’t listen to the science and the experts when it comes to climate change? So, they’ll have to deal with those issues as well.

 

JOURNALIST: Dr Kelly, you have been very strong on national security. Obviously, a pandemic will change the way that geopolitics works in the world. What are your concerns about what you see at the moment about what might happen to the stability of the entire region?

 

KELLY: Well, I’ve actually put forward a few ideas about how we might need to deal with both our mega disaster issues in future and also some of the things that need to be addressed, the lessons learned out of dealing with this pandemic situation. But certainly, every major global disruption always poses issues of instability changes, security settings, in many ways. We’ve seen, you know, particularly the disruption to international trade through this. And if you look at China, their growth has been solely based really on international trade. And so, hopefully this may create the realisation that we are all interdependent and that good free-flowing international trade is a way that we tie ourselves together, we join ourselves at the hip and make conflict and in disruption regionally a thing that we should absolutely avoid. So, I think, you know, that should be the focus for the region now, is how we work together to rebuild trade, and to understand how interdependent we are, and how we need to work together and how we should avoid issues that raise tensions in the region, and that threaten that international trade. So, hopefully this is an opportunity, as well as being aware of all those security threats that have been out there that I’ve been working on in the PJCIS committee. And that those threats now cover quite a range. We’ve seen active foreign intelligence, engaging in a breathtaking array of measures to disrupt liberal democracy around the world. And I’d encourage you to have a read of the four volumes of the US Senate Intelligence Committee that they produced on the 2016 US election as an example of some of the morphing threats that we face which have to be met. But there are solutions to these things and we should factor in, as many of my colleagues that I’ve served with, senior military commanders around the world, have focused on the security impacts and issues around climate change as well. So, all these things mean we have to really start thinking outside the square. It’s a bit like playing 3D chess, but we are capable of that. And the technological solutions to a lot of it are out there. But we need to be on the front foot on all of these things and engagement in the region is going to be absolutely critical from here on in. We can use that recovery process to build confidence in the region and closer ties and deflect, you know, the potential for conflict intention.

 

JOURNALIST: Just on a second by-election, do you have knowledge that this is going to happen or?

 

ALBANESE: No, I don’t. I just made the point that people from time to time are absent from Parliament. And it may well be that there are others as well.

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, aside from the actual timing of a by-election and the logistics around campaigning, do you foresee a situation where because of the Coronavirus situation, there might have to be changes made to the actual by-election process itself so that there aren’t too many people showing up at polling booths, more postal votes, or anything like that? And would Labor be making any suggestions to the Speaker or anyone like that surrounding that?

 

ALBANESE: Look, I would have thought that it’s possible for the election to take place in the normal way. People can, of course, exercise postal votes. There will need to be, on the day, whatever rules that are in place at the time of the by-election, one would have thought that there can’t be a by-election for, it’ll take a bit of time. The Coalition, the Liberal and National Party seem to be fighting between the Deputy Premier, another senior minister, a Senator in this place, and others all jostling. So, that will take a bit of time to wash through I suspect, as well. So, I wouldn’t anticipate that the by-election will be called until late June is the earliest, about six weeks from now. We’ll wait and see what, mid-June at least, we’ll wait and see what the process takes place. That will be a matter for the Speaker. But obviously, we all hope that restrictions are removed gradually according to health advice, so the by-election isn’t right now. So, we will wait and see what they are. So, it may well be if need be, just as people queuing at Aussies here have to have a bit of social distancing, people can do that at polling booths. People also, of course, pre-poll a lot these days as well. So, the voting has tended to be over a period of time, not just on the day. So, that obviously has meant that historically, the sort of queues that we saw on Saturday mornings at eight o’clock are far less these days. And I should imagine that with a by-election, that will happen as well. So, it’s just a matter of common sense. But there’s no reason why we have had elections, of course, in Queensland at the height of this crisis, there’s no reason we can’t have a by-election. And it’s important, obviously, that the people of Eden-Monaro be represented in the national Parliament with a Member of the House of Representatives. So, the Speaker has a responsibility to do that. But I’m sure he will do it in a professional way. I think we have a very good Speaker in this Parliament.

 

KELLY: Can I just add to that? I want to congratulate the Chief Minister in the ACT, Andrew Barr, on the great work he has done through this crisis, which has set our region up really well to be one of the first areas that can start lifting those restrictions, which gives me confidence that we can do this effectively without much risk. He’s done a tremendous job. And we only have a couple of people now in the ACT who are still in isolation. And that has had a big effect on the situation in the rest of the region. So, I want to thank Andrew Barr for his work in that respect.

 

JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, just on something separate. Before the end of the year, Labor was calling for the next stage of personal tax cuts to be brought forward to help stimulate the economy. The Government has talked about a very pro-growth agenda post-virus. Is Labor’s position still to support bringing forward those personal tax cuts? Or to look at other ways of relieving pressure on working people in terms of their income?

 

ALBANESE: Well, we think round two, we argued, should have been brought forward last year. The economy was sluggish before the bushfire crisis and before the Coronavirus crisis. We had a doubling of the debt, productivity going backwards, consumer demand flatlining. We had household debt increasing to record levels. We had the Reserve Bank consistently reducing interest rates to try and stimulate the economy and saying there should be more investment in infrastructure. So, that’s the context in which we went into this difficult period of which obviously, the Coronavirus crisis as well as the bushfires are beyond what the Government could have anticipated. Although on bushfires, they certainly should have listened to some experts who were telling them from the rafters. If they had of met with the experts, the people who run emergency services and ex fire chiefs around this country, they would have been better prepared for it, and there would have been less of an impact on a seat like Eden-Monaro if there had been that advance preparation. But we think that, we thought at the time, that it should be brought forward. It’s a matter of fact that the Government refused to do that at the time.

 

JOURNALIST: One from Queensland. In Queensland apparently 2,000 pub workers are ineligible for the JobKeeper program because the bottle shops that are attached to the pubs are still doing quite well. So, do you think the Government is moving fast enough to close loopholes in the scheme? And in New South Wales we’ve got another sports grants rorts program, is this another contagion that’s going around Australia?

 

ALBANESE: Well, I think what we need is some common sense. One of the problems with the JobKeeper structure is that it is aimed at the state of the employer rather than the employee. So, individual workers can be in exactly the same circumstance in one section missing out, on another section eligible. And we’ve argued that those anomalies should be sorted out. We should make sure during this period, that Labor argued strongly for wage subsidies, we argued because we think that keeping a relationship between an employer and their employee is critical at this time and will be critical to how strong we emerge from the crisis. We maintain that position. With regard to sports rorts and other issues, some of those issues are still very much there. The Government does need to be held to account for expenditure. And we’re doing that through the Senate committee and it is meeting again today. I say that to Scott Morrison, I have no idea why he is calling May 12-14 a trial sitting of the Parliament. We need a Parliament to continue to sit that holds the Government to account. And we expect teachers, nurses, supermarket workers, bus drivers, cleaners to go to work and do their job. There’s no reason why parliamentarians can’t be doing it as well. And I think the Australian people expect that to occur. You know, my son goes up and works at Woolies three times a week to help people get food and to help look after people. Why is it that I shouldn’t be sitting in the Parliament doing my job according with a normal schedule? Thanks very much.

 

ENDS