ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
FRIDAY, 24 APRIL 2020
SUBJECTS: Anzac Day; Parliament sitting; Coronavirus tracing app; Coronavirus; constructive role of the Opposition during the coronavirus crisis; need for accountability during COVID-19; JobSeeker payment and Newstart allowance; schools.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Tomorrow morning I will be attending the Australian War Memorial along with the Governor General, the Prime Minister and the New Zealand High Commissioner. Anzac Day is always a special day. Tomorrow will be different. But Australians will still be commemorating the sacrifice of servicemen and women, they will be doing it at home. Many of them will be doing it in their driveway, paying tribute to those who have sacrificed their lives in order to maintain our freedom and the Australian way of life. It is a day in which we remember the past. But we also thank those who continue to serve us, whether in Australia or around the world, in uniform, in order to protect our way of life. And it is always an extraordinary day in Australian life. I will miss being at my usual functions with the dawn commemorations each alternate year at Petersham Town Hall or at Balmain. And certainly, it is difficult, I’m sure, for many families who are used to marching each year, remembering loved ones and for those servicemen and women who march each year. But it will be no less significant. And I’m sure that Australians will participate in their millions tomorrow.
Last night, we met with the Prime Minister’s team, with my leadership team, around by telepresence but I was here in Canberra. It is good that we confirmed that Parliament will sit from the 12th to the 14th May. We reiterated our call the Parliament should be sitting more than that. There is no reason why Parliament should not be sitting on its schedule that was done earlier this year before it was cancelled. And we warned in March when they cancelled all sittings up to August that that was premature. And that, just as we expected teachers, nurses, police officers, supermarket workers, childcare workers, transport workers to go to work and do their job, we could expect parliamentarians to be able to do our job, particularly at a time whereby we have a responsibility to scrutinise the extraordinary level of government spending that we have seen in recent times. So, it is a good thing that Parliament is returning. But we should be returning more often than just that one week sitting. We will have to deal with a range of issues, including of course the potential issues regarding the app for the coronavirus that would enable people who had come into contact with someone who had tested positive to be traced in terms of those they have come into contact with. And there will need to be important privacy legislation around that and that is one of the measures that will be considered during that sitting week. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Just on the app, Mr Albanese, the Prime Minister was today trying to reduce fears about it. Do you have any concerns when it comes to privacy and this app?
ALBANESE: Well, of course privacy needs to be given its due importance here. And we need to make sure that there are very strong protections around privacy. Because unless there are, Australians will not take up this app. We indicated very early on that we were opposed to any imposition, any compulsion, for people to download this app. It will be voluntary. The Prime Minister has confirmed that. Frankly, I do not think the Parliament would have supported anything else. But there has been a review of what will be necessary to maintain privacy and to ensure that there can be no abuse of anyone who has downloaded this app and their information. And we will be scrutinising the legislation carefully. The Government has said they will provide it to us in advance. And we will be ensuring that privacy concerns are met. It can be, obviously, a very useful tool. The medical experts have said that. We got that in the briefing last night from Doctor Kelly that it will be important. So, we need to make sure that we get the legislation right. The appropriate way to do that, I have asked that parliamentary committees could perhaps look at the legislation beforehand, prior to Parliament sitting in the second week of May. And that could expedite the process of consideration of any legislation.
JOURNALIST: What else has the Government told you about what is on the business for when Parliament comes back other than the legislation for the app?
ALBANESE: We have asked for a list of what legislation it intends to introduce. At this point in time that has not been provided. We have also asked for discussions to take place between Tony Burke and Christian Porter as the respective managers in the House of Representatives and Katy Gallagher and Matthias Cormann in the Senate to look at what legislation will be up. We will have a caucus meeting and our internal processes on the Monday. And there will be pairing arrangements, it has not been finalised how many pairs. But people will not be stopped from coming to Canberra. They never have been. But what we will have is an agreement around a number of pairs so as to restrict the numbers who are there present on the floor of the Parliament at any time consistent with the social distancing measures which are important to keep all of us safe and, importantly, as well, to keep those we come into contact when Members and Senators go back to their electorates, to keep those people safe as well.
JOURNALIST: Just on schools. There seems to be a bit of a pick and mix approach when it comes to states and territories and the Prime Minister today saying the medical advice around social distancing at schools means you can have more kids at those schools. Should states and territories like Victoria and the ACT, who are looking at remote learning for term two, should they be sending kids back to school?
ALBANESE: Well, look, we haven’t had a uniform national process here for the last, for more than one month. That is just the case. What happened was that New South Wales and Victoria said they were going to make their own decisions and at that point in time, there stopped being a national approach to this. And the Prime Minister has said a number of times that we should listen to people who are parents, should listen to the respective state premiers and to their state and territory governments. That is appropriate. It would be good if it was left at that because that would stop the confusion which has been out there which characterised this issue early on where there were confusing messages each and every day. One of the things that was good, and I said to Scott Morrison last night, that it was positive that last week an announcement was made that there would be four weeks of the existing social distancing measures would be in place. That is a good thing. It provides certainty for people in terms of the planning to go about their everyday lives. It is important that there not be confusion when it comes to schools. This is a decision of state and territory governments and it is up to them to make it.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister yesterday emphasised that the increase to Newstart, the old Newstart payment is time-limited for six months as currently budgeted. Can Australia afford to extend it or what would you like to see happen at the end of the six months for those on the JobSeeker program?
ALBANESE: Well, the Prime Minister, one of the things in terms of holding this Government to account that will occur is that some of the statements that they’ve made at various times, that doesn’t disappear. And they’ve made the statement that the reason why they increased the JobSeeker amount, and for Newstart recipients it was that $40 a day, wasn’t enough to live on. If it wasn’t enough to live on two months ago, when these changes were made, why will it be enough to live on in six months’ time? The Government has to explain its logic there. Because there’s a real gap between what the Government has said on that issue, and I suspect there’ll be others as well. But part of our job is to hold them to account for that.
JOURNALIST: Should kids be returning to the classroom?
ALBANESE: I got asked that, sorry. I’ve dealt with that issue.
JOURNALIST: Do you support the Prime Minister and medical advice, or do you support the teachers union on that?
ALBANESE: Well, quite frankly, that’s not a question. That’s a sledge, with respect. The state governments, the Prime Minister has said that it is up to state governments and that parents should listen to Premiers and Chief Ministers. It’ll be good if there was some consistency in the Prime Minister’s messaging on these issues.
JOURNALIST: So, should children be returning to schools as soon as next week or not?
ALBANESE: It would be good if there was one message out there, consistent with what the Prime Minister has said, which is that people should listen to Premiers and Chief Ministers who are making decisions based upon the advice that they receive from their respective medical officers, which is they’re the people who the Prime Minister has said would be the decision makers in this, not politicians. And that’s a good thing. Thank you.