Feb 1, 2021






SUBJECTS: First sitting of Parliament in 2021; holding the Government to account; vaccine roll out; Western Australia coronavirus lockdown; Party donations; Prime Minister’s speech to the National Press Club.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning, it is good to be back looking forward to Parliament sitting for the first sitting week of 2021. I’m looking forward to holding the Government to account, but also, to continue the rollout of a Labor agenda, the alternative that will be put to the Australian people, whenever the election is held, whether it’s 2022 when it is due, or if the Prime Minister decides he doesn’t have confidence in his own capacity to actually last a three-year term, then sometime later this year. Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister will give a speech today and says that (inaudible). Is it the right time?


ALBANESE: Well, I will tell you what it’s time for. It’s time for the Government to stop Sports Rorts. It’s time for the Government to stop spending taxpayers’ money on the Liberal and National parties. It’s time for the Government to stop spending a billion dollars on party political advertising, funding the Liberal Party pollsters to do research that we don’t get to see even though taxpayers have paid for it. And it’s also time to stop the waste in the rollout of some of the Government programs. Take JobKeeper, what we know is that a whole lot of companies received JobKeeper who actually not only didn’t get a downturn in their revenues, they actually got an increase in their profits and paid big bonuses to executives. And you know what they get from this Government? They get a polite, ‘Oh, you might like to pay it back’. Compare that with what happened to those Australians who are vulnerable, who got affected by Robodebt, $1.2 billion that the Government has had to pay back, who got threatening letters in the mail for debts that they didn’t owe because the Government alleged that what happened to their incomes didn’t reflect what they said would happen to their incomes when they put that into Centrelink. This is a Government that is prepared to attack working people and vulnerable Australians at every opportunity. And in today’s speech at the National Press Club, the Prime Minister has to explain how getting rid of the Better Off Overall Test from industrial relations will help working people and will help the economy. I will give the Prime Minister the big hint, Better Off Overall Test, it’s a test to see whether workers are better off by an agreement that he wants to abolish as a part of the legislation that he introduced at the end of last year.


JOURNALIST: Should JobKeeper be extended beyond March for those who need it in the affected industries?


ALBANESE: Well quite clearly, industries like tourism continue to be impacted. There are a whole lot of businesses and sections that are excluded from JobKeeper. Sections like the arts and entertainment sector that continues to suffer, that at the moment has a plan under this Government to wind back the support for the Australian film industry that will further decimate it. And Paul Fletcher has that idea to wind that back from 40 per cent to 30 per cent. This is a Government that has its priorities all wrong. What we’ve said is that the reasons for JobKeeper, and why we argued for wage subsidies, is that it’s good policy for individuals, for businesses, but it’s also good policy for the economy. Because if you ensure that businesses can continue to employ, then that will be better for the economy than trying to recover once businesses have disappeared.


JOURNALIST: There are more concerns about securing supply of a Pfizer vaccine overseas. Overnight, the EU has essentially given themselves powers to block shipments. Should the Government be doing more to firm up our supply that we’ve got an agreement with?


ALBANESE: Well, the supply should have been here by now. That’s the point. And this isn’t something that Labor is saying in, I think it’s February now, in February. This is something that Labor has been saying early on. Chris Bowen was arguing the case, as was all of Labor, that we needed to have six vaccine deals, that was international best practice. The rest of the world started doing these deals in March of last year. We waited many months. So, we’re at the back of the queue. In the United States, the Pfizer vaccine was given to essential health workers three days after its approval. Here in Australia, it was approved some time ago. It’s gone through all its processes. We have full faith in the TGA. It should have been rolled out immediately once that approval was done as soon as possible. And we’ve said that consistently.


JOURNALIST: This first sitting week has been upended by the situation in Western Australia. How many of your MPs and Senators have been caught up in what’s happened?


ALBANESE: Well, the West Australians are caught up in this. And that’s something that will be dealt with. ACT Health will give appropriate advice. We will obviously give pairs to anyone who’s affected by this. We hope this can be dealt with expeditiously. But it is appropriate. And the lesson has been learned that you’ve got to be cautious when it comes to this. One more.


JOURNALIST: We see some reports today that $1.1 billion in hidden donations has been given to the major parties. Do you think it is appropriate for donors to be hiding their own donations? Would you be asking the Labor executive to make sure that donors don’t hide them?


ALBANESE: Well, we declare all donations of $1,000 and above, even though we don’t have to under the law. That’s what Labor does, because we believe in transparency and we think that should be the law. We have consistently argued that. We tried to do that when we were in Government. This Coalition Government, of course, don’t believe in transparency. They don’t believe in accountability. We’ll see how many times they shut down Parliament this week in terms of debates. But I think in terms of priorities, this is one. And that’s one of the reasons why as well, we need a national integrity commission. We have a problem with confidence in the political system in this country. We need a national integrity commission.


Just one final thing on today’s test, I think, for Scott Morrison at the National Press Club. I’ll just say this, people know that if you want to get ahead, many people will go out there and they’ll borrow in order to have a mortgage to get a home. At the end of the day, they have a house, they have increased their wealth, they own something that they can see and touch and feel and it improves their living standards. The question for this Government is with a trillion dollars of debt, what’s the legacy? What’s the economic reform? Where’s the big infrastructure project? Where’s the big change that has occurred as a result of this Government’s trillion-dollar debt that, of course, will have to be paid for over time by all Australians, but particularly younger generations? This is a do-nothing Government. And quite frankly, when I read considerable excerpts of the Prime Minister’s speech, I looked for something in it. There’s nothing there. What we know is that he still is committed to, as a result of that speech, getting rid of the Better Off Overall Test. So, what we know is this Government wants to cut wages, they want to cut working conditions, they want to cut JobKeeper, and they want to cut JobSeeker. That’s no way to advance the economy. Thanks very much.