Jan 4, 2021









SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison’s cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker; industrial relations; coronavirus vaccine strategy; Huifeng ‘Haha’ Liu; political party donations; state border closures; coronavirus crisis; Scott Morrison’s lack of leadership; gathering restrictions for the cricket.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks for joining us today on the day when JobKeeper will be slashed by $100 for some and $200 for others. There are millions of Australians who continue to do it tough. And at the very time that restrictions are going up, and therefore economic activity going down, the Government support goes down today. This is a premature withdrawal of support. Just as the cutting of JobSeeker payments to those who are unemployed was premature when it occurred three days ago. The Government can’t have it both ways. They want to say that the economy is doing it incredibly well, but at the same time they say that we can make these cuts when restrictions are coming in.


Can I also say that it’s consistent with this Government’s approach to looking after workers in general? In the last week of Parliament, we saw legislation introduced that would cut wages, cut wages of those essential workers who’ve done so much to see us through this pandemic. Those people who worked on January 1, on December 25, on December 26. If this Government get its way, it will have legislation in place that will allow for the cuts of penalty rates and other leave loadings that are available as compensation for people working on public holidays. These wage cuts would have a devastating impact on working families who are already doing it tough. But today’s cuts to JobKeeper are premature, will hurt workers, will hurt businesses, but will also hurt our economy. Because withdrawal of support at the time when we’re still very much dealing with the economic impact of this crisis is premature. Tony?


TONY BURKE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: Thanks, Anthony. People are worried at the moment. And they want security. Instead, the Government’s giving them cuts. Cuts to JobKeeper, cuts to JobSeeker and cuts to wages. We just had three public holidays, we’ve got another one later in the month. Every penalty rate for those workers is up for grabs and can be gone under the legislation that the Government’s got before the Parliament right now. At the exact time that people are already so worried about the safety of their health, they shouldn’t also be worried about whether or not they can pay their bills. But that’s exactly the position that Scott Morrison is putting them in.


ALBANESE: Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister says that his vaccine strategy puts Australia at the front of the queue. Do you believe that to be the case?


ALBANESE: Well, quite clearly, we’re not at the front of the queue. The fact is that it makes no sense for the TGA to have recommended, as it is likely to do, in January, the approval of the Pfizer vaccine, but then for the rollout to not occur until March. What we know is that Australia is not at the front of the queue. We have never been at the front of the queue. And that’s why Labor argued very early on that we needed to get these deals signed, that we needed to get six deals signed, which is international best practice. And the fact is that other nations got to the front of the queue way back in March of last year and Australia isn’t at that point yet. Can I make this position clear as well with regard to the Government’s misinformation campaign? Labor supports the independence of the TGA. No-one is calling for a shortcutting of that process. What we are saying, though, is that if you have confidence in the TGA processes, once it’s approved it should be rolled out.


JOURNALIST: On the industrial relations changes, the Government’s justification for allowing companies to go below is that they might be in financial distress. Do the additional cases that we are seeing make the Government’s case for it?


ALBANESE: No, it makes the opposite. What the Government is putting forward is, in the legislation, you have to look at the legislation and what it actually says, because that is the law that they want to put into place. The law that they want is that any business impacted by the coronavirus pandemic can implement these changes. The fact is that every business in Australia has been impacted, every Australian has been impacted, every family, every worker, every business. It would be across the board, these cuts could be allowed to happen, and that’s consistent with a Government that’s presided over stagnant wages ever since it came to office.


JOURNALIST: The former prosecutor of the Nazi war crimes fears Australian police don’t have the appropriate expertise to pursue Afghanistan allegations and wants Army’s chain of command re-examined, does Labor agree?


ALBANESE: Justice Brereton put forward in his recommendations a clear argument for police prosecutions to occur. We support the recommendations arising from the Brereton report and we also say that we are certain that, if any further resources are required, they should be requested and they should be granted and I’m confident that the Government would do that.


JOURNALIST: What is the level that you would like to see JobKeeper and JobSeeker remain at and for how long?


ALBANESE: I would like to see JobKeeper stay where it is prior to today. For these cuts not to happen. And I wanted to see JobSeeker stay where it was before January 1 as well. There needs to be a withdrawal at some time in the future of additional payments in terms of JobKeeper support and JobSeeker, we never argued should be maintained at double the old Newstart rate. However, JobSeeker should be increased permanently, and the Government should announce that. We’re not going to let the Government off the hook between now and the next election by naming a figure.


JOURNALIST: Do you want it to remain at the level it was four days ago?


ALBANESE: Well, right now we oppose the cuts that occurred on January 1. I held a press conference on that day and I’m holding a press conference today saying that the JobKeeper payment should not be reduced, that these reductions are unwise. They will hurt individuals, they will hurt families but, importantly as well, they will hurt businesses by reducing economic activity at a time when we know there is still a major hand brake on the economy.


JOURNALIST: How should the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party respond to the revelations about Gladys Liu, Michael Sukkar and Haha Liu?


ALBANESE: By taking them seriously, which is what they haven’t done up to now. Michael Sukkar is a rolling problem for the Government. The only time he gets a run is in various forms of scandal, due to his priority, which seems to be branch-stacking and fundraising in the Victorian branch of the Liberal Party. Scott Morrison has done nothing about it, absolutely nothing. And he remains as the Assistant Treasurer and these allegations should be investigated properly. But if Scott Morrison remains true to form, it is a free-for-all for people in the Liberal and the National Party. There has been no action taken. I suggest that stands in stark contrast to the action which Labor took, myself as the Federal Labor Leader and Daniel Andrews as the Premier of Victoria on intervening into the Victorian branch to weed out problems that have been identified and exposed there.


JOURNALIST: So, has Mr Liu donated to the state or federal branches of the Labor Party? And how much in total?


ALBANESE: I have no idea. I’ve never heard of him, frankly, before recent times. I’m certainly not an acquaintance of him. And I certainly didn’t send him a Christmas card.


JOURNALIST: Will you be disclosing that? Because the public does deserve to know.


ALBANESE: We disclose everything. We disclose our donations, unlike the Liberal Party. We oppose the current restrictions which are there, which the Government changed legislation it has that you can donate a whole a lot of money, you can donate thousands of dollars, without it being disclosed. We voluntarily disclose all donations over $1000 and above. We comply with all the electoral laws. And we want greater transparency. And the other thing that we want in 2021 is the national integrity commission to be put in place so that people can have confidence in the transparency and the integrity of our political processes. That was promised by Scott Morrison in 2018. It’s now 2021. And we’re no closer to actually having that legislation. And it’s not surprising, with donations to the Liberal Party, with the Leppington Triangle affair, where $30 million dollars was paid for land that was worth $3 million, and the minister who had presided over that, Paul Fletcher, has been put back in charge of that process, and when we have the Sports Torts and other scandals involved in the Liberal and National Party, who seem to think that taxpayers’ money is their money to spend.


JOURNALIST: What questions do you have for the Liberal Party in particular around Haha Liu’s Australia Emergency Assistance Association, which had a public deal as an agency of China’s Melbourne consulate?


ALBANESE: Well, I hadn’t heard of that organisation, frankly, nor had I heard of the gentleman involved. I have seen the reports this morning. Clearly, the Liberal Party needs to explain the connections which are clearly there and why it was that a senior minister of the Crown seems to have a relationship with this gentleman.


JOURNALIST: On border closures, are you satisfied with how Victoria and Queensland have handled the emerging NSW cases?


ALBANESE: Look, I haven’t been critical of any of the state and territory governments, regardless of their political persuasion. I note that you only name Labor governments. There are Liberal governments in this country. And they have restrictions too, including Tasmania. I was in Tasmania when the restrictions were put in place. And South Australia also has put in restrictions. What’s important is identified by the question, which is that we deal with things not on a political partisan basis, but on the basis of responsible action based upon medical advice. I will say this though, that Scott Morrison has outsourced the national responsibility for our borders and for so many of the responses that have been required for this pandemic. We have a so-called National Cabinet that won’t be meeting for a month, that hasn’t met for a month in the past. But the so-called National Cabinet seems to be where the outsourced responsibility for various measures, the state’s report on what they are doing, and then the Prime Minister holds a press conference and announces what the states have told him they’re doing. That, for me, isn’t national leadership. And Scott Morrison has shown consistently that he’s a follower, whether it be following Gladys Berejiklian about the one word change to the anthem, whether it be following, belatedly, the advice that was given surrounding bushfires, whether it be following the advice that was given by health experts about the need to impose restrictions at the beginning of the pandemic, whether it be following the calls for wage subsidies and other support to be given in the economy that we were arguing for that he opposed. Scott Morrison is a follower. He waits for others to make decisions and lead and then makes a decision over whether to support it or criticise it. It would be far preferable if we had some form of national coordination and national leadership of these issues. But Scott Morrison has chosen not to play that national leadership role.


JOURNALIST: If you were the Prime Minister and you were in the National Cabinet would you convene in National Cabinet that you would be saying the same thing, a national approach, on borders (inaudible)?


ALBANESE: We’ve been arguing for national leadership on these issues, not this year, but throughout last year as well. We’ve consistently argued that is the case. That there’s a need for much more national consistency, there’s a need for less confusion, and therefore you’ll get better outcomes. I think the states, and I’m not critical of any of them, Labor or Coalition, have done a responsible job, listening to the various medical advice that they’ve got. But everyone can see that various times there hasn’t been coordination, including over things that are clearly a national responsibility. It is clearly the response of the National Government as to who comes to Australia, for example. Quarantining is clearly a national responsibility. And, indeed, Jane Halton made those recommendations to the Government. And as well, obviously, it is a national responsibility, the rollout of vaccinations. And so, I await down the track Scott Morrison handing that over as well to the states and territories. We need a far more consistent response.


JOURNALIST: Do you believe it is responsible to hold the cricket on Thursday and is it the national leaders’ responsibility to say something about it?


ALBANESE: Well, I won’t be going to the cricket on Thursday or Friday or Saturday or Sunday or Monday, if it goes that long. And I think the problem is that he sends mixed messages. Myself and Tony wore a mask to get into this building prior to the press conference. When we leave here, we’ll put a mask on as well. The idea that you had to have just five people in your home on New Year’s Eve, but you can have 20,000 people at the Sydney Cricket Ground, I think that is something that Gladys Berejiklian and the New South Wales Government needs to explain. I’m a big sports fan. I’ll be watching it on the television. And I watched most of the Boxing Day Test. And I think Australia-India clashes are important. But what we’ve seen is that events can go ahead safely. We’ve seen that happen throughout last year. But when they do, we need to make sure that the right messages are sent to the public. And my problem with 20,000 people attending is that I don’t know how you then explain to people, who might not be cricket fans, why that’s okay but you can only have had five people at New Year’s Eve. And it seems to me to be very similar to the dilemma that was there last year, where Scott Morrison said it was okay for everyone to go to the footy on Saturday and Sunday, but on Monday it wasn’t okay. We need to be clear about the public messaging here. And I hope that the New South Wales Government has got it right. Thanks very much.