Apr 8, 2020








SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; Parliament sitting to pass JobKeeper legislation; issues with JobKeeper payment; constructive role of Labor during coronavirus.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Shadow Cabinet met last night and endorsed a strategy that I put to Shadow Cabinet for how we will handle Parliament today. And that is a position that we will take to caucus at 9am. Labor supports JobKeeper. Indeed, it was our idea to have wage subsidies as a central component of ensuring that both workers and businesses are looked after during this crisis and that we emerge after this crisis stronger than we would have otherwise. It is an essential component that we look after the relationship between workers and their employer during this time and that be maintained. And that is at the centre of the JobKeeper arrangements. However, we are concerned about a range of elements. And we do want improvements to the JobKeeper arrangements. We note that the changes to the Fair Work Act have been amendments made that will make a difference there to provide further protection for working people. Thanks to the advocacy of the ACTU. But there remain a range of issues. Largely around the fact that it doesn’t look at the individual worker but looks at the nature of the employer to determine eligibility for the JobKeeper payment. That means that many workers will simply miss out not due to anything other than the nature of their employer. So, we see one million casuals will miss out on the JobKeeper payment. We see people who work in local government, people who work for the NDIS, people who work for our university sector and our private education sector. We see that there are issues in regard to the potential take-up of annual leave entitlements as part of this package that will not assist the recovery once we get through this. So, Labor will be moving second reading amendments in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. In the House, we will move in-detail amendments that will outline our major concerns, particularly with regard to casual workers and temporary visa holders to ensure that they don’t miss out in terms of the JobKeeper payment. If that’s not successful, we won’t pursue those amendments or support amendments moved by other political parties in the Senate. Because what we don’t want to have is a circumstance whereby we have the House determining one issue, the Senate and a bounce back and a delay in this package. This package demands it be passed as urgently as possible. And Labor will facilitate that passage through the House of Representatives and the Senate today. We hope the Government takes on board our amendments that will be moved in the House. They are sensible amendments. They are amendments that will improve the package, that will improve the entitlements for working people and also assists the business community and assist the economic recovery. But if we’re not successful, we will vote for the package. That’s the proposition that I will take to the caucus at 9am when we meet today.


JOURNALIST: In terms of your amendments with the casuals are you pushing for all casuals to be included?


ALBANESE: We’re pushing for casuals in terms of the definition that’s currently there. Currently, casuals who have a relationship with an expectation that work would be available on a continuing basis. So, what we know is there’s a range of definitions of casuals. Some people who might work one day a month casually when work is available, but others have an expectation that they essentially have regular work, but it’s defined as being casual. Those people are missing out. They’re people who are regularly in the workforce. But due to the changing characteristic of the nature of work, take, for example, I’m not sure here, our cameraman, but there’s a reasonable chance that cameraman doing production work around Australia are casually employed by their employer. And the cameraman has just given me a thumbs-up that that is the case. He’s a regular worker, he should be looked after just as much as the people holding the microphones here are. And that’s the problem with this legislation. It discriminates between people who are essentially part of the same workforce, essentially doing different tasks, but the nature of the work is different. And we also will raise indeed, people in the media entertainment and arts sector, who largely are missing out under this package. Now, that’s a sector that has been particularly affected by the downturn. And at the moment, those workers simply aren’t getting enough support.


JOURNALIST: But you’ve raised these concerns for a while now. Is there anything that the Government has indicated to you that they’re going to budge on this legislation?


ALBANESE: Well, I hope that they see common sense. Remember that this is the same Government that when we last sat in this House, said they were opposed to wage subsidies. They were opposed to the very concept of wage subsidies. It is Labor, the union movement and the business community that pursued that. In the interests of working people, in the interests of business, in the interests of our national economy. And the Government eventually saw a bit of common sense and changed their mind. We will continue to advocate today in the Parliament. That’s our job to try to improve legislation. We’ll do that. We support the JobKeeper legislation, but it can be better.


JOURNALIST: But they haven’t indicated anything to you that they’re going to budge on this?


ALBANESE: No, but we’ll wait and see what happens. Remember last time when Parliament sat, even during the debate on the floor of the House, there was opposition to Labor’s suggestion that we expand the JobSeeker payment to 230,000 Austudy, Abstudy and Youth Allowance participants. And the Government changed its mind. We got that change through the Senate. We got through the changes to allow for where two people are at work, two partners, and one person loses their job, to increase the salary allowable for the other partner from $48,000 to $79,000 in terms of the eligibility for some payments. So, we got through significant changes. We argued our case. We’ll continue to argue our case. What we won’t to do is hold up the JobKeeper payment. We won’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And we’ve been very explicit about that, from the very beginning, so that the Government knows what the circumstances are. So does the Parliament.


JOURNALIST: The Government’s point seems to be that, just on those casuals, that they’ll still receive the JobKeeper payment. I mean, these people will still be covered by the safety net, won’t they?


ALBANESE: No, they won’t receive the JobKeeper payment. They will receive the JobSeeker payment, which means that they will sever the relationship that they have with their employer. That’s the whole point that the Government says the JobKeeper system is about. We’re about saying that the people who have relationships with employers aren’t just permanents. They are casuals. The nature of the workforce has changed. There will be a debate when we get through this, about security of work, and how important it is. About the nature of casualisation and what it’s meant for people’s security at work. And certainly, the Government’s own rhetoric about the importance and why they’re doing the JobKeeper payment, the logic of it, means that they should be including casuals in this as well.


JOURNALIST: Can I ask about leave in more detail? You raised that before. So, under the current agreement, an employer could ask their employee to take leave. And that’s okay as long as there’s two weeks remaining. What do you think would be a fair arrangement?


ALBANESE: What they can do, importantly, is ask their employee to take their annual leave, and the employer will receive still the JobKeeper payment. That is your anomaly here. There’s an incentive in there for an employer to get the employee to take their annual leave, they still get the JobKeeper payment paid to them, but the employee is running down their annual leave. That is the circumstance here so there’s an incentive in doing that. Now, what that will have is two consequences. One is for the individual worker, when things come back to normal and they’re looking to take the family to the beach next December or January, hopefully somewhere like the south coast of New South Wales. Susan got decimated by the bushfires this year. They’ll want that annual leave. That’s good for that family. But it’s also good for the economy. The tourism sector has been decimated by a combination of bushfires, and then followed by the coronavirus outbreak. We want people to have leave. We want people to take leave. We want those jobs in the tourism sector to be revitalised. And that is one of the reasons why we have raised this provision and we will continue to raise it on the floor of the Parliament today.


JOURNALIST: Do you regret saying that you’re going to support this legislation so early?


ALBANESE: No because it was our idea. It was our idea.


JOURNALIST: You’ve essentially lost your leverage to make any changes.


ALBANESE: It was our idea. The idea that we wouldn’t support something that we’ve advocated and said should happen is about as likely as, I will give you the big tip too, when the NRL does start, I’ll be supporting South Sydney.


JOURNALIST: Have you been impressed by the Government’s ability to put aside ideological differences and work with the union movement?


ALBANESE: Look, what I’ll be impressed by is what happens after this event. The truth is that it is working people largely in unionised industries of health, transport, hospitality cleaners, who are teachers, nurses, who are keeping this economy going. Workers are deserving of respect, not just when the Government finds it convenient, but each and every day. There’s something that’s also characterised by many of those workers. They’re in low-paid industries, in low-paid industries. And one of the things I’ve been impressed by is the discipline of the trade union movement and working people in going to work each and every day, each and every day, putting themselves at risk in order to look after their fellow Australians. That’s what I’ve been impressed by, not by politicians. I’m impressed by working people who kept us going during this crisis. Thanks very much.


JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)?


ALBANESE: All the time now. Because we’ve all got to, we have all got to engage in social distancing. And it’s not personal. We have to be very disciplined about it. And it’s a good thing that Australians are doing the right thing and people in leadership positions have a particular responsibility, I think, to show leadership on the measures that we expect other Australians to participate in. So, the least we can do is do what we say that others should do. Thanks very much.