Aug 4, 2020







SUBJECTS: The need for Parliament to meet on August 24; paid pandemic leave; aged care; need for an economic recovery plan; Craig Kelly’s comments on hydroxychloroquine; Victorian coronavirus outbreak; Victorian lockdown; state borders; early access to superannuation. 


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks for joining me on what should be a parliamentary sitting day. Of course, Parliament was scheduled to resume today. And indeed, there would have been substantial questions which needed to be answered and substantial scrutiny which is required of the Government, not just about the pandemic but, of course, the range of issues arising from it, as well as broader issues, including those that will be raised by my Deputy Leader, Richard Marles, at the National Press Club at lunchtime today, relating to defence matters and procurement issues. The fact is that we need Parliament to meet. Parliament’s scheduled to meet on the 24th of this month, and we are again today reiterating that the Government needs to put in place measures that ensure that we can meet. We’re prepared to be flexible on these matters. But we do need to meet. Because there’s a range of questions that need answers.


First of all, of course, aged care, and the Federal Government’s responsibility for it. Now, the Minister, as well as the acting Chief Medical Officer, will be appearing before the Senate COVID committee today. But we would like for there to be further scrutiny about the range of issues, including why weren’t the lessons learned from Newmarch, which occurred months ago in New South Wales? Why is it that there hasn’t been adequate training across aged care facilities about the use of PPE, personal protective equipment? Why is it that there hasn’t been a national audit of all nursing homes, aged care facilities, about access to personal protective equipment? The issue of paid pandemic leave. Why is it that now we’re responding to paid pandemic leave after there’s been community transmission? Whereas the point of paid pandemic leave, and why we’ve been calling for it for some time, was to prevent community transmission. The issue of the COVID app. Why is it that it isn’t really playing any role in being able to trace those communities transmission issues? The Ruby Princess issues and the Commonwealth’s role in that. Importantly, going forward, what’s the Government’s plan for job creation? How do we deal with the fact that the Government has said there’ll be 240,000 additional unemployed people between now and Christmas? What’s the Government’s plan going forward to deal with those issues? And, of course, today, as well, there may well have been some questions about the fact that Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who played a role in developing the Coalition’s aged care policy prior to its election in 2013, has written a scathing report to the Royal Commission, raising a whole series of questions about aged care, the need for reform and the need for property scrutiny.


All of these issues need to be dealt with by the Parliament. And that’s why Parliament should meet in August. We’ve been flexible in the past, in the previous meetings, which were conducted safely. There’s no indication that there was any spread, of course, or transmission resulting from those parliamentary sittings that were held earlier this year. We do need to take the appropriate medical advice, which is why both the Chief Medical Officer and the ACT Medical Officer are involved in the committee with the respective managers of the Parliament, including the Speaker and the President of the Senate. I’m happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: The Federal Government has commented on the WA border. How can it be opened safely? Should it be? What middle ground do you see here?


ALBANESE: On the WA border issues, I was, and am, with Mark McGowan. I was not with Clive Palmer or Scott Morrison, who ran a political campaign against Mark McGowan’s Government just like they ran a political campaign against Annastacia Palaszczuk’s Government. Apparently, it’s okay for Liberal states to have closed borders, in Tasmania and South Australia, but Queensland, with an election looming, was singled out. And, of course, WA was singled out. One of the questions to be asked of the Prime Minister in terms of accountability, is why is it that the Attorney-General who is WA based, as well as the Prime Minister, said they had no alternative but to support Clive Palmer’s High Court challenge last week, but this week have reversed that position? How is it possible that both those things are okay? Either last week the Government was simply wrong when it said that it had no choice, or they’ve got some other advice saying that it’s okay for them to pull out of their support. I think that I have been supportive of all state governments when they have made recommendations or decisions, whether it be Gladys Berejiklian in the New South Wales-Victorian border issue, or whether they be other state governments.


JOURNALIST: On the leave issue, do you agree with the ACTU that it should be a payment that reflects people’s normal rate of pay? And do you think it should be available to people who decide to have themselves tested and self-isolate without a state order to do so?


ALBANESE: Look, I think the principle should be clear, which is that no-one should be in a circumstance whereby they feel compelled to go to work because they don’t have other options of financial support. I think the problem here has been that the Government has been slow to act. It’s acted after transmission, whereas the whole point of paid pandemic leave was to stop community transmission occurring.


JOURNALIST: Do you have a view on the rate? Is the $1,500 enough?


ALBANESE: On the rate, look, we don’t have Treasury and Finance costings available to us. But I think we should err on the side of generosity because we do not want there to be any incentive for people to go to work.


JOURNALIST: So, it should be more than $1,500 a fortnight?


ALBANESE: We don’t have access to Treasury and Finance as the Government does. We called for a system of paid pandemic leave. It should be available not just to Victorians. It should be available to anyone who doesn’t have leave at the moment due to the nature of their working conditions. And it should be available at a reasonable rate that does not provide an incentive for them to work.


JOURNALIST: Does that mean that somebody can self-assess and take that leave and then claim the $1,500 dollars? Or are they going to need the public health order by a public health official before they qualify?


ALBANESE: Well, I think in terms of the idea that people are going to go and get a test and self-isolate for two weeks and not go to work in order to get access to paid pandemic leave is, I believe, an exaggerated one. We face a risk here in terms of community transmission. And what we should do is have the precautionary principle. And if people are sick, they should not be going to work. That’s the principle here. That’s the principle of all the health and medical advice. And the Government needs to step up to provide economic support to back in that advice.


JOURNALIST: Do you regret the degree of latitude the Opposition has given the Government to call off the Parliament and do you think they’ve abused that privilege?


ALBANESE: Well, no. What happens in the Parliament under standing orders is that the Prime Minister has the right to write to the Speaker and set the dates of the Parliament. That’s the way the standing orders work.


JOURNALIST: Do you think they’ve exercised that responsibly or have they abused it?


ALBANESE: Well, I think that they could have put in place planning well in advance. So, for example, the last time that today’s Parliament was put off was just two weeks ago, was on the Friday night with a phone call and an announcement the Saturday morning. And that is why today, we’re being very clear, again, to say, August 24, put in place whatever mechanisms are required to ensure that the national Parliament can meet. Democracy matters. Accountability matters. Scrutiny matters. And it’s one thing for the Prime Minister to stand in the courtyard there, to get one question and not answer it as he did yesterday over Craig Kelly. Now, there’s been two interventions by leaders to support candidates in recent time. I intervened to support Kristy McBain as the candidate for Eden-Monaro. The last time Scott Morrison intervened in a preselection process was to support Craig Kelly being imposed as the Liberal candidate in Hughes. His handpicked guy. And yesterday when he was asked, he said, ‘I don’t respond to Facebook posts’. This is a member of the Government putting in place, out there for all to see, dangerous statements that are contrary to all of the medical advice including the Therapeutic Goods Administration. And ‘Doctor Craigo’ there should not be listened to by any fair-minded Australians. And the Prime Minister needs to do better than refuse to respond to that issue.


JOURNALIST: On the night the Prime Minister telephoned you and told you that he was going to abandon these two weeks, the next day didn’t you say that the decision was one that you accept?




JOURNALIST: Are you now saying that the Chief Medical Officer is wrong?


ALBANESE: No. The advice was given on that time. We had no alternative but to accept it. We do not want this to be an ongoing issue. What we’re saying is, well in advance of August 24, put in place the mechanisms. The reason why two weeks was critical was because if the advice, for example, was that people needed to self-isolate for two weeks, then it is now well in advance of two weeks so that people can make arrangements at a reasonable time. But the way that the date that it was called off, just two weeks beforehand, meant that with that Chief Medical Officer’s advice, there was little alternative but to accept the decision that had been made. But there are mechanisms that can be put in place to ensure that the Parliament can meet. Just as fly-in fly-out workers are putting in place various mechanisms. Just as Richard Marles has put in place mechanisms to allow him to speak at the National Press Club today. He was driven to the border of New South Wales and then picked up by someone else at the border of New South Wales and driven here to Canberra yesterday. You can make those arrangements. We’re saying well in advance, the arrangement should be made, whatever is necessary.


JOURNALIST: Do you think Parliament can be done online or does it have to be face-to-face?


ALBANESE: Well, I have a very strong preference to, because of accountability issues, to face-to-face mechanisms. This is a Government that avoids scrutiny. You’ve all seen that any time I have tried to speak on a motion throughout this entire Parliament, I have been shut down. The Government moves that people be no longer heard. That how it deals with debates. Unlike John Howard. Unlike Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott or Malcolm Turnbull. Scott Morrison avoids scrutiny unlike any previous Prime Minister. No one. And no Parliament has functioned like this one has in shutting down any debate, not just from Labor, but from the crossbenchers as well. No one is allowed to put an alternative view. So, under those circumstances, obviously, face-to-face is much easier to get more accountability. And, of course, as well, a range of things occur when parliamentary sittings are on that are outside the formal chamber as well. But we should work through those issues. We have the committee. I know that the Speaker and the President are both keen for Parliament to sit as are various people including some members of the Government.


JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, on early withdrawal of super, the Government has consistently said, ‘Well, it is their money’. If they move to extend the early withdrawal scheme, what attitude would Labor bring to it? Or will you just wave it through like last time?


ALBANESE: Well, that’s just not correct, Andrew, with respect. What Labor has done throughout the legislation before this Parliament, is say that we wouldn’t allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. So, the way that the packages have been presented is yes, we haven’t blocked them. If we had, you would have been very critical. All of you would have been very critical. And the Australian people wouldn’t have had access to JobKeeper, wouldn’t have had access to the increase in JobSeeker, wouldn’t have had access to a range of measures. So, we have pointed out from the very beginning that these super changes will result in people’s retirement income being less, there being more pressure on future budgets, and an undermining, as well, of the national capacity of our economy. Our superfunds provide a ballast for our economy. This Government, as you said in your introduction in terms of your question, where you quoted the Government saying, ‘This is people’s money’, taken to its logical conclusion, people should do whatever they like with the money that’s in their super funds and withdraw it whenever they like, like it’s a normal bank account. It is not a normal bank account. It is there to provide an adequate and good quality retirement for Australians. And with the ageing of the population, that’s more important than ever. It’s there to take pressure off future budgets, because of the ageing of the population. It is there, as well, to provide an economic resource to invest in infrastructure and nation building. To improve the quality of life of all Australians. Superannuation should not be a plaything of this Government. The Coalition opposed superannuation when Paul Keating and Bob Hawke introduced it. And the Coalition continue to undermine it at each and every opportunity. And the fact is that a range of people have, of course, been forced to dip into their savings, which will hurt them in the long run, because they feel as though they haven’t had any other options. And the fact is a whole lot of younger Australians now have superannuation balances of zero, of nothing whatsoever. And that’s a big problem for them and their retirement. But it’s a big problem for the national economy as well.


JOURNALIST: Your Deputy, Richard Marles, today will say at the Press Club that the Government (inaudible). What is your opinion there?


ALBANESE: Look, I’m not going to pre-empt Richard Marles’ terrific speech at the National Press Club. And I think the Deputy Leader is perfectly entitled to be the person who is making those comments. I’ve read the speech, it’s a cracker. Go along. Enjoy. Richard Marles is speaking, and you only have to wait two hours. But suffice to say, I always agree with everything that my Deputy says. And I have read the speech.


JOURNALIST: On the lessons from Newmarch on aged care, what do you think are priority changes that need to be done as soon as possible to fix what’s happening in aged care?


ALBANESE: Well, there needs to be a full audit of the capacity of aged care facilities to deal with the potential, which is clearly there, for outbreaks. So, that means proper training and skills. That means making sure that equipment like PPE is available, and people are trained on how to use it. That means a full audit of what occurred there, what went wrong, not just as an exercise in itself. When all of this is over, of course, there’ll be various inquiries, I’m sure, looking at how we’ve handled these issues. We ourselves run through audits and think through the sort of questions that have been raised here at this press conference. You know, have we done the right thing by being supportive and constructive and not standing in the way even though we have issues? I believe we have. There are some out there who are critical, who say we should have stopped and blocked and done all that. We have not done that. But no doubt there will be an audit. Should it be the case that the Government stopped, after just a few weeks, briefing the Opposition fully and providing that information? Should the National Cabinet, so-called, have actually been a National Cabinet and operated in that way? These are all questions that will be looked at. Ruby Princess, no doubt there’s more lessons to be learnt there. If Parliament was sitting, we would be asking why is it the federal officials have been blocked from giving evidence to the New South Wales Government, the Liberal Government’s Ruby Princess initiated inquiry? These are all questions that we need to look at over a period of time. But the urgency is to look at aged care facilities, make sure that we’re prepared, and the national Government has responsibility for regulation here. They should be making sure that we’re prepared wherever those aged care facilities are. Thanks very much.