May 9, 2020






SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison’s authority on Sports Rorts decisions; Economy pre and post-Coronavirus; Government’s lack of economic plan; JobKeeper, JobSeeker and “snapback”; Tim Wilson and Daniel Andrews.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning. Thanks for joining me. Parliament will resume this week. And given Scott Morrison’s decision, yesterday, along with state premiers and Chief Ministers to begin to lift the restrictions in three stages it’s, absurd, frankly, that Scott Morrison thinks that it’s okay for schools to be open, sporting activities to begin to reopen, cafes, restaurants, all the activity that we take for granted in normal life to reopen, but when Parliament gets up this Thursday, at this stage, the Parliament will not be scheduled to resume until August. It is untenable for Parliament to not establish a normal timetable this week, because it’s important that the Government continue to be accountable, that it’s accountable, with regard to some of the expenditures, and quite frankly, problems that are there with the roll-out of various measures. Most notably, this week, we found out about the fraud that occurred with superannuation. People like Victorian Andrea Dunn, who fraudulently had $10,000 taken from her superannuation account, and many others around the country, the subject of this fraud.


And speaking of fraudulent behaviour, there is a “Sports Rorts” saga that has come to the fore once again. Now the Prime Minister on the 27th of February, told the Parliament that he was not involved in the authorisation of any of these grants. But answers from the Australian National Audit Office show that that simply isn’t true. Indeed, they found that on the 26th of March, to quote the Audit Office; “the Prime Minister’s office had advised the Minister’s office that it was expected that the Minister would write to the Prime Minister to seek authority on the approved projects”. Very clear that the Minister was told by the Prime Minister’s office that it was the Prime Minister who would be the final authoriser of grants. And that’s why of course, the Minister, indeed, sent the list to the Prime Minister’s Office on the 10th of April, and indeed the changes were made on the 10th and the 11th of April to the Sports Rorts grants.


And of course we know also that Minister, well former Minister, Mackenzie has said that she made no changes after the 4th of April. Certainly her evidence before the committee will be very interesting indeed. Because the Audit Office goes on to say that Minister McKenzie, writing to the Prime Minister was, quote, to quote them; “consistent with this expectation that it was the Prime Minister, who would authorise the grants”. And what’s more, that the Prime Minister’s office in consultation with the Liberal and National Party campaign officers would be involved with the detail of the roll-out of these grants. This is taxpayers’ money at a time when the government we know had doubled Australia’s debt prior to the bush fires and the coronavirus issue. This is a part of it. The abuse of taxpayers’ funds as if they were the personal funds of the Liberal and the National Party, at the same time as volunteers were out there busy writing submissions, thinking that this was a real process and not an absolute rort in order to distort results in a federal election campaign.


This is a $100 million dollar scandal that goes straight to the Prime Minister himself, and the Prime Minister’s Office and Bridget Mackenzie has been made the scapegoat for this. But what these revelations show is that Scott Morrison was in it up to his neck, and that he misled Parliament on the 27th of February when he said that he played no role in the authorisation of these grants. The Prime Minister has questions to answer this week. It’s no wonder that this Government doesn’t like Parliament sitting and doesn’t like accountability.
Happy to take questions first from people here and then there’s a few on the phone I think. Okay.


JOURNALIST: In terms of the balancing of COVID and the kind of politics, how careful are you about pursuing this political line of attack while also being aware that people might not be interested in politics right now?


ALBANESE: People are quite rightly focused on the Coronavirus crisis. But one of the things that has occurred there is record government expenditure. And when you have record government expenditure and you have a Government with a record of manipulating taxpayers’ funds, then it’s important that the Government be held to account. It’s also important that people, whether they be Angus Taylor, where there’s been further revelations about the so called “downloading” of a document that we know simply was never downloaded from the City of Sydney website, or whether it be the Sports Rorts saga, it is important in our democracy that there be accountability. The Westminster system provides that you can’t just stand up as a minister or a prime minister and say what you like in Parliament. If there’s no accountability the democratic system folds in on itself. And I think for, to restore that faith we need some actual clear answers from this Government and some accountability. We’ll continue to raise issues associated with the Coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean that everything else stops. It doesn’t mean for example, that the Government should be allowed to just say, “Oh, well, the banking Royal Commission, we won’t worry about that. We didn’t do anything about the recommendations even though it was handed down a long time ago”. They’ve sat on that for a long time and now they’ve deferred action on that as well.


JOURNALIST: The Reserve Bank is predicting the economy won’t return to its size pre-Corona until 2022. With the support payments due to be phased out later this year, should the Government be able to extend them based on where the economy is at?


ALBANESE: The Government has said, and I’ll have more to say about this on Monday with my fifth vision statement which will be held in the Parliament, but the Government has spoken about “snapback” as if we will wake up one morning and everything that had happened will snap back to where it was before this crisis. But the truth is that the economy was suffering already before this crisis. We’d already had a doubling of debt. We had household debt at record levels. We had interest rates had been decreased to record lows to try and stimulate the economy. Wages were stagnant, productivity was going backwards, and business investment was on the decline. So the Government has not had an economic plan for some time. They need to get their act together. They need to explain how it is that we’ll come out of this crisis. And quite clearly, the idea of snapback is just not going to happen. The Reserve Bank have made that clear. Common sense tells you that that is the case. The Government’s been too busy involved in rhetoric pretending the Global Financial Crisis didn’t exist. And certainly we will be calling for the Government to outline its economic plan. It’s one of the reasons why we have said that there needs to be a full release of the budget outlook, something that the Government  is ducking at this stage by Josh Frydenberg, on Tuesday, when he addresses the Parliament on what would normally be budget day.


JOURNALIST: Is there a danger in cutting off support payments on a certain date?


ALBANESE: There’s a big threat if people just suddenly get cut off on an arbitrary date. It’s very clear that construction, for example, is due to fall off a cliff in terms of the pipeline of projects in three months’ time. This Government needs to have an economic plan. They didn’t have one before this crisis, they need to have one coming out of this period.


JOURNALIST: They’re talking about restoring 850,000 jobs <inaudible>.


ALBANESE: I think people are very anxious and what they need is a plan from this Government that shows how we transition out of the current crisis. The idea of “snapback” is a marketing slogan from a prime minister who doesn’t have an economic plan.


JOURNALIST: <inaudible>


ALBANESE: I think the states very clearly, what you can’t have here is confusion. And the Prime Minister has said that it’s up to states and territories in terms of the timing of various measures. And that should be respected. Each state has to make their decisions based upon the particular circumstances in their state. And what you can’t have as a sort of political games that we’ve seen again today from Dan Tehan. It’s like he learned nothing last week, last Sunday, but he’s out there again, criticising the Victorian Government, when in fact throughout this crisis one of the things that has characterised it is the Victorian Government, led by Dan Andrews, and the New South Wales Government led by Gladys Berejiklian, essentially being arm-in-arm in the measures that they’ve undertaken, putting out what they believe, is in the best interest of their respective states. And I haven’t sought to play the sort of games that we’re seeing from the Liberal Party, which has been critical of Labor premiers whilst being silent when Liberal premiers are doing exactly the same thing. And I think we deserve better than those political games.


JOURNALIST: Business is calling for borders to be opened today. Is that something that should be considered?


ALBANESE: Well, that will be a matter for the states and territories. Certainly, the issues around the Tweed and the Gold Coast, for example, are no doubt creating difficulties for business. I don’t think anyone wants to see these restrictions imposed for one day longer than is necessary, but they also don’t want to see the health advice from the respective state authorities ignored and they want to make sure that what we don’t have is an opening up on one day, and then restrictions put back on, perhaps even in a stricter fashion the very next day because it hasn’t worked.
I might take some questions online?


JOURNALIST: Jade McMillan here from the ABC. Can I ask what you make of Tim Wilson’s comments this morning that some people believe that Daniel Andrews is enjoying the restrictions because of the power that they’ve given him?


ALBANESE:  I think Tim Wilson brings no credit to the political system with that sort of childish comment. Tim Wilson, I know, will probably appreciate getting a grab up anywhere. But the fact is that Daniel Andrews, like I don’t believe any Australian, gets any pleasure from what’s happened. Tim Wilson should reflect on these comments. People have died in this country. They have families, they have friends, people have suffered. There’ll be a million Australians who are unemployed. We have health workers and others putting their own health at risk in order to protect and look after others. And quite frankly, Tim Wilson needs to have a good look at himself and think before he speaks. Anyone else?


JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese it’s Kerrie from Nine News here. Can I just ask you <inaudible>. Will you next week when Parliament resumes seek to have JobKeeper extended or the Coronavirus supplement for JobSeeker extended beyond the cut-off date at the end of September?


ALBANESE: We’ll be having our discussions through our normal processes during this week through the Shadow Cabinet and caucus processes. I’ll be giving a statement about what some of the measures that we think should occur post the Coronavirus crisis on Monday morning, but we’ll be foreshadowing some of the issues after the Shadow Cabinet and caucus meet this week. Caucus isn’t able to meet, the same with the Coalition party rooms. We’ll meet on Tuesday morning because many people and getting in to Canberra until Monday afternoon, my understanding is. I, myself, am still in Queanbeyan, because there are no flights back, and I chose not to, sort of, drive up-and-back and up-and-back in a couple of days, due to the restrictions. So we will, we’ll make our announcements at the appropriate time.


JOURNALIST: Jim Chalmers has said that there’s room to go further on JobKeeper. Is that, I mean that’s a fairly clear indication of where you’re headed?


ALBANESE: We’ve said very clearly with JobKeeper, and I must say that in the meetings that we have between the Opposition leadership and the Government leadership we raise every week, and will continue to raise, the fact that JobKeeper has left people behind. They’ve been left out, whether they be casuals, visa holders, we continue to raise the issue of the arts and entertainment sector. These are people, and I make this point about the arts and entertainment sector. These are the very people who are giving up their own time and giving donating their talent to raise money for communities that were affected by the bushfires. There is no sector that did more than the arts and entertainment sector and now they have been completely ignored and left out of any support packages by this Government.
Thank you.