Apr 7, 2020






SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; Parliament sitting to pass JobKeeper legislation; constructive role of Labor during coronavirus; coronavirus modelling; transparency from authorities during coronavirus.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Can I begin by expressing our support for Boris Johnson, as he goes through this very difficult time. All Australians will think of our British friends at this time. It is very difficult that the Prime Minister has had to go into intensive care. And we wish him well and wish the British people well as well as they go through this difficult time.


JOURNALIST: So, with the negotiations that seem to have happened between the Government and the unions, do you think that Labor should have been involved in whatever the legislation is going to look like when it’s presented to you?


ALBANESE: Well, look, that is a matter for the Government. But certainly, we’ve expressed our view. And it’s a good thing if there has been some movement from the Government. The ACTU, of course, was arguing that there was no need to change the Fair Work Act. The Government was arguing against the role for the commission. And what is likely to be announced is a compromise, whereby there will be some changes to the Fair Work Act, but there will be an ongoing role for the commission. That’s a good thing. We’re looking for solutions, not arguments. Doesn’t really matter who’s involved. What matters is outcomes here. And just like on the wage subsidy, a position that Labor argued very strongly last time we were in Parliament, we said that without wage subsidies, you wouldn’t be able to keep the ongoing relationship between an employer and their employees that is so critical if we’re going to minimise unemployment, if we’re going to ensure that the recovery will be as strong and as swift as possible once we get through this crisis.


JOURNALIST: Are you convinced that there are enough protections in place for workers to stop their employers going wrong by them during this time?


ALBANESE: Look, we in terms of the wage subsidy argument, we continue to have concerns that, as it’s currently drafted, some 1.1 million casual workers will miss out on the wage subsidies that many of them are in fact permanent workers but who work for a number of different employees on a casual basis. That’s the nature of the modern workforce. Places like universities have more than half their staff are employed casually. People in the arts and entertainment industries, the one to which I’m speaking here in the media, many of them, and you indeed in this press gallery are employed on a casual basis, whether they be reporters or whether they be camera operators, people in studios. That’s the nature of the modern workforce. And we want to make sure that as many people as possible are included in the wage subsidy scheme. Because that will make it more effective. However, we’ve clearly said, just like with the first package, we will pull those arguments, but we won’t be standing in the way of a plan which is one that we broadly support. And one indeed, that we called for, and the Government originally opposed for a period of time. And we could have got this done, frankly, when Parliament last sat, rather than now.


JOURNALIST: The Government says that casuals that miss out, these million workers that could miss out on the JobKeeper payment, they can go on to the JobSeeker and not only do they get the JobSeeker, they get other assistance like rental assistance.


ALBANESE: Well, the Government knows quite well that they’ll be not as well off as if they were included in the JobKeeper payment. That’s the whole point of JobKeeper. And one of the problems here is that the Government that has determined that it’s not about the worker, the recipient, it’s about the employer in terms of where the payments are made. And that’s creating other distortions as well. So that depending upon the size of the company that people work for, it will determine whether people get the JobKeeper payment or not. And indeed, dependent upon the way that a company organises its finances so that if you have a company that has just one BAS statement, then that will be treated differently than a company that is structured in a way that might be exactly the same size but organises through five or 10 or 20 different BAS statements. Now, that creates a situation whereby the employee is affected by the structure of companies. And that’s something that’s been raised, I know, by the business community with the Government. Because they feel that is unfair. And it is. That is something that the Government has to be prepared to listen to. Listen to Labor, but also listen to those members of the business community who are raising concern about the structure of the way that the Government is basing this measure on.


JOURNALIST: Should Parliament’s sit, I mean, effectively, we’re not expecting anyone back here now until August. Given the crisis, the fact that people seem to be reassured by seeing leaders out working together to resolve these issues, is it a bit of a cop out that the Government is shutting down the Parliament until August?


ALBANESE: This Government doesn’t really like the Parliament. And Parliaments are sitting throughout the world. And I did find it extraordinary, the statement by Christian Porter as the Leader of the House, the position that I used to hold, that ministers have better things to do than sit in Parliament. I think that kind of contempt for our democratic processes and structures is not appropriate. One of the things that we’ve done during this crisis is to remind ourselves of the nature of our society. We should be a proud democracy. Parliament sat during the Spanish Flu. It sat during World War One. World War Two. The only time since Federation that you’ve had this level of a gap and cancellation of Parliament has been right now. And I think that is unfortunate. Quite clearly, tomorrow will show that it is possible for Parliament to meet. That the sitting of this Parliament is important in terms of showing Australians that people are prepared to work in a constructive fashion to get results that benefit them. And that’s what we’ll all we doing as a Parliament tomorrow. I’ve said that whilst Australians are now maintaining a 1.5 metre distance in many ways, we’ve never been closer together as we are now. And Parliament should reflect that. We expect nurses expect doctors, teachers, public transport workers, supermarket workers, cleaners to all be at work, keeping the economy going and keeping people safe and looking after the people’s health care. There’s no reason why as parliamentarians we shouldn’t meet that standard.


JOURNALIST: Just on that. Are you expecting Parliament to sit one or two days a week each month during this period given the quarantine restrictions, the border closures and the fact that some politicians tomorrow are coming here using Defence Force aircrafts?


ALBANESE: Well, it’s not unusual for politicians to use Defence Force aircraft. And indeed, the truth is that the people who run the Defence Force get their hours up. If they were not flying politicians they’d be getting their hours up in other ways. So, there’ll no doubt be a story about the cost of that. But, you know, I think our democracy is worth it. I drove down from Sydney yesterday afternoon. I’ll be driving back sometime on Thursday. So, in terms of Parliament sitting, it’s very possible for us to sit with agreements around pairing arrangements and reduced quorum. There is, in my view, no reason why we shouldn’t sit and indeed have some scheduled sittings and to hold the Government to account as well. We’ll be asking questions tomorrow in Question Time, that are constructive, that aren’t aimed at scoring points, that are aimed at trying to get information from the Government. That’s a good thing. Just as it is a good thing that later today they’ll be releasing the modelling. That’s something that we’ve called for. We expect the public to trust authorities when they give advice about social distancing and these matters. In order to achieve that to a maximum level, we need or authorities to trust the public. And that means Parliament sitting. It also means transparency in terms of information for the public.


JOURNALIST: On the economy more broadly, there’s now talk of a $300 billion deficit up to $1.5 trillion in debt. We are printing money for the first time in Australian history. How concerned are you about the recovery, economically? We’re talking about six months. But the reality is, this is going to be generations of debt.


ALBANESE: Well, I am concerned. And I believe that we should be prudent in the measures that we’re considering. That’s one of the reasons why there needs to be engagement and improvements to some of the structures and debate about what we’re rolling out. There’s no doubt at all that just like in other parallels can be drawn to other areas, this has got to be seen as an investment. And you’ve got to consider what the cost of inaction is. In this case, the cost of inaction both in human terms, most importantly, but also in financial terms as well of if you allowed the infection to spread, that would have a cost to it down the track as well. So, we need to give proper consideration to those issues. We will need to scrutinise those issues. Labor, though, argued during the Global Financial Crisis that that was an investment, that improved our economic position. Here, these investments, we support the wage subsidies. We think that some of the measures could have been discussed before more and worked through more. That is a decision for the Government. But you’ve got to look at the cost of action but also the cost of inaction. Thanks very much.