Jul 30, 2020










SUBJECTS: New Closing the Gap targets; Uluru Statement from the Heart; the need for paid pandemic leave; Victorian Coronavirus outbreak; early access superannuation scheme; climate change; bushfires.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much for joining us. I am here today with Linda Burney and with Tony Burke. We will be making some comments firstly on the new Closing the Gap targets, which Linda Burney will comment on. Then we will be announcing Labor’s position on paid pandemic leave which Tony Burke, as the Shadow Minister responsible, will be joining me. And then we will take questions after that.


Can I say that Labor welcomes the new Closing the Gap targets. And we congratulate Pat Turner and the partnership with Peak Organisations on the work that they have done to achieve this outcome. I particularly want to say that the fact that we will have justice targets is an essential move. Our incarceration rates of First Nations people are such that they bring shame on our nation. The fact is, that First Nations people have more people locked up now than they did when the Royal Commission was concluded way back in 1991. We simply have to do better in the future. And Labor is committed to working with the Peak Organisations as well as working constructively with the Government to try and advance the needs and the requirements that will be in the Closing the Gap targets between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. Advances in this will benefit the nation as a whole. And we will continue to play a constructive role. We acknowledge that all governments in the past have simply not done enough in this area. And again, the Government that I lead would be absolutely committed to prioritising reconciliation with First Nations people, with giving First Nations people a Voice to the Parliament, with advancing treaty and truth-telling as well as part of our Commitment to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Linda?


LINDA BURNEY, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Thank you, Anthony. No-one should underestimate the size of the task in front of us to bring parity between First Australians and other Australians. I was 10 years old in 1967 when the Referendum took place. Finally seen as a person. I have worked in the First Nations space for 39 years. Some of the issues that existed 39 years ago still exist today. The gaps are no different. Some have improved. But there is also many, many issues to still address as has been outlined, particularly in terms of incarceration rates, not only of adult Aboriginal people but also young children and teenagers. In fact, it has gotten worse. There has been spectacular failure in many ways when we come to Closing the Gap in relation to First Australians. At the outset, as Anthony said, Labor welcomes the new targets and very much welcomes the partnership approach based on the notion of self-determination with the Coalition of Peak Organisations. I am a little disappointed, but I understand there is work continuing on establishing a target to address the issue of domestic violence. I understand the logic behind the fact that there is no target there at the moment, but there is going to be. I am very pleased that some of the targets go to First People’s relationship with land, with water and with culture. In particular, language. What is required now is leadership, innovation, action and a real sense of urgency. And critically, funding and commitment from all levels of government. Housing is absolutely critical, and the need is massive. Especially in remote communities where clean water and affordable food is not available to many people living in those places. It is also important to assert that mainstream organisations, schools, hospitals, judicial systems, community services, recognise they retain responsibility. Many First Nations people do not have access or use Aboriginal community-based organisations. It is a complex issue. Can I finalise my comments by reiterating what our Leader has said? Labor will commit ourselves to these targets, but they must be backed by money, action and accountability. Targets are only part of the story. As our Leader has said, we are also committed to the Uluru Statement in its entirety, including truth-telling, including treaty making and the constitutionally enshrined Voice to the Parliament. Thank you.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Linda. Can I now go to the issue of paid pandemic leave and firstly can I say that all Australians and certainly Labor stands with all Victorians today, on figures which will be scary for all those who hear them. And we also reach out and provide our sympathy for those who have lost loved ones in recent days these are tough times for Victorians, but they are tough times for all Australians. Because what we know is that an outbreak, an infection in one place can very easily lead to more infections. We have to, as a nation, be prepared to do whatever is necessary to minimise the risk of infections. And what is clear and has been clear for some time is that if people have to choose between putting food on the table for their family and having the risk of going to work in order to earn income and being able to stay at home, then that puts them in a very difficult situation. And we need to provide the security that is necessary so that looking after one’s health is the first and only priority because the risk is just too great. And that is why Labor is calling upon the Government to provide support for paid pandemic leave, for anyone, any worker who is currently not entitled to it. Scott Morrison needs to understand the urgency of the introduction of paid pandemic leave. Frankly, there is no excuse to delay any longer. It has been 142 days since Labor has called for a special leave entitlement that would allow workers to stay at home and isolate if they are sick or suspected of being an exposed to COVID. The Government must act. And it must act as a matter of absolute urgency. Tony?


TONY BURKE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: The call for paid pandemic leave is not driven by the numbers today. But the need for it is demonstrated by the numbers today. Back when we first called, 142 days, I think Anthony said, 142 days ago when we first called for paid pandemic leave, the response from Christian Porter, as the Government’s Industrial Relations Minister, was to say, ‘No, casuals are already covered, they get a loading for this’. As though casuals were somehow putting aside their loading just in case there was a global pandemic at some point, the person on the checkout saving for the pandemic. We know that the Government’s negligence on this has contributed to the current circumstance where some employers have stepped forward, some employers have done the right thing and have established their own pandemic leave schemes for their workforce and we welcome that. The Fair Work Commission has made a decision for aged care workers who are covered by awards, and many, many won’t benefit from this decision because they’re covered by enterprise agreements, but for those covered by awards, to establish paid pandemic leave. But by and large across the Australian workforce, we are still faced with these three key facts; 40 per cent of the Australian workforce does not have leave entitlements, either because they never had them or because they’ve used them up. that’s the first fact. Fact two; through Victoria, 80 per cent of the transmission has been at the workplace. And third, whenever a worker has to choose between public health and whether they can pay their bills, they are being put in an impossible situation. The Government can’t delay a contribution to this anymore. They can’t continue to say that it is someone else’s problem. And so, as of today, Labor makes clear that the Commonwealth has to contribute to a paid pandemic leaves scheme for those workers who are missing out.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much. Happy to take questions, to all three of us.


JOURNALIST: About 2.6 million Australians have already access their super early. Do you think that they should be allowed to keep doing that after September when JobKeeper ends?


ALBANESE: We think there’s a massive problem for individuals in terms of their retirement incomes, but there’s also a problem for the national economy with this significant amount being withdrawn from superannuation. What we know is that superannuation funds in particular are perfect for investment in nation building infrastructure. They are a ballast for our economy. And we know that this Government has been prepared to undermine superannuation at every opportunity. So, we don’t blame, at all, people, individuals, that have taken decisions based upon feeling that they need to get some immediate income. But we are very concerned that what that will mean is less income for them, substantially less, when they retire. And that will place a greater burden on the future taxpayers as well. Because one of the reasons why Paul Keating showed such vision in introducing compulsory superannuation, opposed by the Coalition at the time, undermined by the Coalition every day since, is that it was about alleviating the burden on taxpayers of paying retirement income, as we have an aging population, as we have people spending longer in their retirement years than was the case decades ago. So, not only are we now facing the issue of increased debt, which will have to be paid off for many years into the future, there’ll also be an increased burden as a result of people not having superannuation funds to fund their own retirement. And indeed, it is of great concern that for many people, their superannuation balances have been reduced to zero. Every dollar has been taken out of superannuation. And this is a case of ideology being imposed by the Government. And we are very concerned about it. We expressed our concern when the Government first announced this scheme. And it remains a concern. And it’s consistent with the Government’s attitude towards superannuation. But Burkey might want to add.


JOURNALIST: Do you want the early access scheme to be completely scrapped?


BURKE: The people who are accessing it are accessing it because they have been given almost no other choices. That’s the circumstance that they’re in. So, we don’t blame them. But the decision of the Government that that would be the only option that they had, will, as this time goes on, be one of the most significant examples of intergenerational theft that we will see. Not only are they having their accounts reduced, they are selling at the bottom of the market. So, it is the worst time for money to be being taken out. And the burden will, in the future, be on those exact same individuals and on every single taxpayer, because when Scott Morrison decided that that would be the way that people dealing with distress would have as their only option right now, he decided to send those bills to the next generation.


JOURNALIST: Do you think that these new targets are a bit ambitious given that we are starting off in a pandemic, and also the Government hasn’t announced any immediate new funding to help with these targets?


BURNEY: Well, two points there, I don’t think the targets are too ambitious. I think they have been worked out very carefully. And the determination, the partnership between the Coalition of Peaks and the Government have sat down together and worked the targets out together. And that’s really important. They’ve been determined by First Nations people. In relation to the issue of funding. The Prime Minister made a comment today in his press conference, there will be not buckets of money, we will use the money that’s already there. Now, that raises a whole range of issues. And I cannot see how the targets will be reached if there isn’t additional money both at the state level and the territory level, as well as at the Federal level. Take, for example, housing. The need for housing in remote communities is enormous. And the Government has moved away from funding any remote housing at a national level and pushed it back onto the states. So, the states and the Federal Government have 12 months to come back with plans on how they’re going to achieve the targets. And the issue of funding to me is a very important one. You can’t have that as a separate discussion as the Minister said it was going to be separate to what the targets are.


JOURNALIST: So, you think that they should be willing to throw some more money at this if they do want to achieve these targets?


BURNEY: The point that I’m making is that there has been a lot of money obviously spent. But the disparity is just so enormous that it is very difficult to see how the Government’s going to achieve the targets that they’ve articulated without at least addressing the issue of funding and how it’s used.


JOURNALIST: Do you think that a lot of Indigenous people would be happy about the process of implementing the Uluru Statement kind of not being a part of these new targets? Do you think that those two goals should be separate?


BURNEY: Well, the Government is certainly seeing them as incredibly separate and it is unclear where the Government is moving in terms of the Uluru Statement. What we do know is that the working groups that have been established to advance a Voice to the Parliament have been expressly forbidden than dealing with the Uluru Statement. That’s part of the terms of reference. Labor’s commitment is absolutely clear, as has been articulated twice today. We are fully committed to the three aspects of the Uluru Statement. And as I said in my opening comments, you cannot divorce that from the reality of Aboriginal people on the ground. So, I think the whole the whole spectrum of Aboriginal affairs should be dealt with and it should not be said segmented out in the way that it has been.


JOURNALIST: There are a few interesting new targets that were introduced. One of them was trying to revive more Indigenous languages. Most of them have, unfortunately, died out. What did you make of those types of targets?


BURNEY: I really welcomed that there was going to be a target about Indigenous languages. Both Anthony, well the two Anthonys, know this topic very, very well, that so many of our languages have disappeared entirely. In fact, there are only 200 words that have actually survived from the Eora language, the very place that we sit in today. My own language group, the Wiradjuri, there are only two old people that can still speak Wiradjuri fluently and they are very, very old. But the interesting thing is that at the end of the day, states and territories really need to pick up this particular issue. Because it is in schools and TAFES and universities as well where language revival is taking place, particularly in schools and TAFE. So, it is a responsibility for all Australians. These are the languages of this country, the original languages. And the fact that there are only 60 left, fluently and daily spoken, out of something like 300, is something serious for us as a nation.


JOURNALIST: And I know that sometimes Labor disagrees with Ken Wyatt on how they should approach these issues. But how important do you think it is for him to be given support and resources to meet these goals in the next 10 years?


BURNEY: It is crucially important. And that is a question that could probably be asked of the Prime Minister better so than us. But Labor is absolutely committed, as the Leader said, to the targets. They exist over electoral periods, they exist for 10 years. But I want to make it very clear that when Kevin Rudd made the apology in 2008, he also embarked on long-term changes in terms of the targets. And we know that not all of them have been met, but Labor’s track record in the Indigenous affairs space is really something I’m very, very proud of. In major investment in schools, major investment in housing, and major investment and many changes in terms of Native Title, in terms of Paul Keating’s establishment of the Reconciliation Council and so forth. So, at the end of the day, it’s really important that these targets be properly resourced, and that is squarely the responsibility of the Government.


JOURNALIST: And I’ve just got one more question, bushfire related. There’s a proposal by the Emergency Leaders for Climate Action for the Government to impose a levy on the fossil fuel industry to pay for the impact of natural disasters. What do you make of that idea?


ALBANESE: We’re concerned about the issue of climate change. And we are also concerned about the impact that the bushfires had. I think that with regard to such a proposal, it’s not on our agenda. What’s on our agenda is to make sure that the first step is that the Government actually takes climate change seriously. It could start by actually meeting with people who are experts. And by taking the view that, just as we are performing better than comparative countries on the response to this pandemic by listening to the science and by listening to the medical experts, this Government should take that position to broader issues, including listening to the science and the experts when it comes to acting on climate change. Thanks very much.