Feb 23, 2021








SUBJECTS: COVID-19 vaccine rollout; JobSeeker rate; Alleged assault in Parliament House; review into workplace culture in Parliament House.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much for joining us here this morning at the vaccination centre adjacent to Royal Canberra Hospital. This morning I’ve been very pleased to receive the vaccination with Peta Murphy, my colleague, and with Adam Bandt also, the Leader of the Greens. We wanted to send a public safety message that vaccines don’t save lives, vaccinations too. We need Australians to get vaccinated. And we need the rollout to happen as soon as possible. It’s already been rolled out, of course, in 92 countries. There are well over 200 million people who have been vaccinated. It’s safe and doesn’t hurt. It’s a very good thing to happen. And it’s important that we encourage, as people in public life, people to get vaccinated.


PETA MURPHY, MEMBER FOR DUNKLEY: Thank you, Anthony. And I just wanted to add that I’m here today and I volunteered to get vaccinated in order to show people with underlying health conditions, that make you either more vulnerable to catching COVID or make it harder for you to fight COVID off if you catch it, that it’s okay to get vaccinated. And in fact, that you should. And if you fall into category 1B, then the public health message is that if you’re worried about anything, talk to your GP, talk to your specialist. But like me, get the advice that it’s safe, get vaccinated. And as Anthony said, it’s really a public health imperative.


ALBANESE: Happy to take questions about this firstly.


JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).


ALBANESE: Well, I think it’s very important. It is an important moment for Australia, the rollout of this vaccine. We have said for a long period of time that we were falling behind the rest of the world in the rollout of vaccinations. As I said, more than 90 countries have already been rolling out this vaccine. Greg Hunt approached us last year about all the leaders getting the vaccinations at once. We agreed to that. And measures were put in place for that timetable to be done today. My view was that we should take the advice of the health experts. And the health experts said that it was important for people in leadership positions, if we were asking others to get vaccinated, that we do it ourselves and do it publicly. We were also invited to nominate a person in the Labor Party and a member of the Coalition. We chose Peta for obvious reasons to send that public message as well. And it’s terrific that she agreed to be a part of this process early on.


JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).


ALBANESE: Well, we need to make sure that it’s rolled out to the vulnerable and to essential workers as well. It is absolutely critical. The fact is that this vaccine is safe. This vaccine will make a difference for how we live our lives. We’ve always said from the very beginning that we needed to get the health response right. Because unless you get that right, there’ll be an economic cost. it wasn’t either/or, but there was a very distinct order. And we said that unequivocally and have said that consistently the whole way through.


JOURNALIST: Do you think it should be mandatory for essential workers and aged care worker?


ALBANESE: Well, I think that’s a matter for the health experts to determine that. What we know is that for a range of professions now it’s mandatory to have the flu vaccine. So there is nothing unusual about mandating, given specific circumstances, for particular vaccines. And I think we should be prepared to accept the health experts’ advice. That’s a decision, though, that shouldn’t be made by politicians. It should be made by medical experts.


JOURNALIST: Can we just go to JobSeeker?


ALBANESE: Is there any more on this first?


JOURNALIST: We are expecting the Federal Government to announce the new rate for JobSeeker today. (Inaudible). Is there an amount?


ALBANESE: Well, what we have said very clearly is that $40 a day wasn’t enough to live on. It’s one of the first announcements I made as the Labor Leader back in 2019. We’ve campaigned strongly for that. The Government resisted that. But when COVID came along, and more people went onto Newstart, they conceded that, indeed, it was necessary to increase. Now, having conceded that, it’s important there be a permanent increase and that be done as a matter of urgency, just to provide certainty for people as well. I don’t quite understand why this Government has held back on this announcement. I look forward to it being announced today and then Labor will obviously respond after we’ve given it proper consideration.


JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).


ALBANESE: Well, we’re not the Government, I’ll give you the big tip. We don’t have a chance to change the figure today or next week or next month. What we have to do is consider what our approach would be as an alternative government.


JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).


ALBANESE: I certainly haven’t been aware of the similar circumstances to which we’ve seen outlined in this case. I am quite shocked by these revelations. And I’ll say this. That it shouldn’t be the case that, day after day, there are revelations being made. There are people in the Government who know and have known for a long period of time what occurred in March 2019. Brittany Higgins reported it at that time. I believe Brittany Higgins. She should have been believed. The Government’s response was inadequate. It didn’t show an appropriate duty of care. And the Prime Minister’s dissembling of information in Question Time is, quite frankly, not good enough.


JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).


ALBANESE: Have I been aware about the treatment of women in the Labor Party? Of course there have been circumstances whereby, in all political parties, like all society, there have been issues of inappropriate treatment. Yes. Some of those have been documented. But I haven’t been aware of anything like these circumstances. We have procedures in place and have had so since 2018. The Labor Party has considered and established a committee, chaired by Sharon Claydon, the Chair of our Caucus, made up of senior women in the Labor Party, who have adopted a four-part code of conduct, sexual harassment policy, updated, as I asked to happen. That goes to the National Executive this Friday for adoption. It’s a comprehensive plan which applies, not just in terms of the parliamentary party, but applies across the board to anywhere the Labor Party is involved, be it a campaign, be it a function, anywhere whatsoever. We’ll release that publicly after it’s adopted when it will be considered this Friday.


JOURNALIST: (Inaudible). Do you think it should be?


ALBANESE: Of course the Gaetjens report should be released publicly. But I’ll say this. It shouldn’t need a report. Scott Morrison might just like to ask his Chief of Staff what he knew, but I’ll go further than that. He should have known. He should have known. What sort of operation is it that two years after an event was reported, the reported sexual assault, was reported to people in the Government? And I’ll say this. Every member of staff of ministerial office is accountable to Scott Morrison as Prime Minister, just like every member of the Opposition staff is accountable to me and my office. That’s the structure that’s in place in terms of accountability. There’s a duty of care here. And I find it extraordinary that Scott Morrison continues to say, one, that he didn’t know anything about any of this until last Monday, even though we know now as of today, there are at least two people in his office who were fully aware of the circumstances. One was the Defence Minister’s Chief of Staff at the time. They work for him. How can he then say that his office didn’t know? And then he has his former Chief of Staff do an inquiry which he won’t even say he will release publicly. It’s not good enough. One of the things that we need here is transparency. And the idea that the bloke who is in charge of the inquiry into Sports Rorts, who found ‘nothing to see here’ with regard to inappropriate activity, even though we’ve all seen the colour-coded sheets to allocate taxpayers’ funds as if they were funds of the Liberal and National parties, is just extraordinary.


JOURNALIST: Is it right that all of Parliament House gets looked at? (Inaudible).


ALBANESE: Look, it’s absolutely right that we look at the whole culture of the building. That’s what we called for with the independent inquiry. Myself and Tanya Plibersek called for that last Tuesday. I asked a question about that in the Parliament. And it is appropriate that they be an arm’s length independent investigation, that it be released publicly. But I say this also. The Labor Party will be releasing our policy, our updated policy. We have released the one adopted in 2018. We’ll be releasing it after Friday. Scott Morrison should release all of the reports that are being conducted with these inquiries. We don’t have faith in Phil Gaetjens’ inquiry. We say that very clearly. Because there is form there when it comes to Sports Rorts. And the fact that you’ve got to have an inquiry into what happened in the office, how about he just walk around this morning and ask his office what happens and when he’s asked a question in Parliament at two o’clock, answer it openly and honestly? Thanks very much.