FRIDAY, 16 OCTOBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison abandoning National Cabinet meeting; National Cabinet; Federal Budget; Aussies stranded overseas; Australia’s relationship with China; foreign interference; Howard Springs facility use for quarantine.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much for joining me. Today, Scott Morrison was supposed to be chairing the National Cabinet. But what we have is that has been abandoned because the Prime Minister would have us think that there is only one plane that the VIP fleet have access to, rather than the multiple planes that he has access to, as well as, of course, the RAAF base which is just near Cairns, in Townsville. It would appear that the Prime Minister has prioritised campaigning and fundraising for the LNP rather than doing his day job of looking after Australia in these very difficult circumstances. As Nick Cave says in, ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!’, “I don’t know what it is but there is definitely something going on”. I have consistently said that this is a Prime Minister who's good at announcements, but not good at delivery. And it appears now he can't even deliver himself to a National Cabinet meeting. These meetings are important. Notice is given well in advance. And at a time, one week after the Federal Budget, I would have thought that it was appropriate for the Prime Minister to bring together state premiers and territory leaders together with the Prime Minister on these issues. It's also the case that the Budget, of course, has sunk just one week afterwards. The Prime Minister should hope that the new subs sink as well and as efficiently as this Budget has. Because it's got nothing to say for all those people that are left behind, particularly women, people who are over the age of 35, a whole range of people who look to the Budget to have something in it about childcare, about housing, about other issues to immediately stimulate the economy. Because yesterday, we saw that the unemployment rate is still going up as support for the economy is going down. That makes no sense whatsoever to me. It's very clear that last Tuesday night's Budget really didn't have any vision in it. The only vision that this Prime Minister is interested in is division. And he's been in Queensland sowing division, once again being critical of Labor leaders whilst not being critical, ever, of leaders of the Coalition. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: On cotton, (inaudible). Has Australia done anything wrong in the relationship with Beijing?
ALBANESE: Well, Australia hasn't managed a relationship at all. You have a Trade Minister who can't pick up the phone to their counterpart in Beijing. I can't remember a worst time of relationships at the same time as the Government's presided over circumstances whereby 48 per cent of our exports go to one destination, China.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister's office told us there were no available remote secure facilities to hold today's National Cabinet. (Inaudible). Is that the most important thing?
ALBANESE: Well, the most important thing is that the Prime Minister do his job. And it's not me, it's the Prime Minister who sets the timetable for these National Cabinet meetings. It is the Prime Minister who says they're important. And the Prime Minister couldn't get to Brisbane or Sydney, or to somewhere with a secure facility. The fact is that the Prime Minister doesn't have access to one plane, there's a whole VIP fleet as I've said consistently. And when it comes to Howard Springs, why is that the Government hasn't acted previously? We have been calling for months to bring home Australians. I raised Howard Springs at a press conference at this very venue, two months ago. And the Prime Minister hasn't done anything to pursue that. The Prime Minister chairs the National Cabinet when he decides that it can meet. And the Prime Minister is clearly responsible for our national borders. He's clearly responsible for quarantine. And he's clearly responsible for the fact that 29,000 Australians remained stranded overseas.
JOURNALIST: Howard Springs repatriation efforts have been ramped up. (Inaudible). Do you welcome this step to getting more Aussies home?
ALBANESE: I welcome it, but it's so late. It's two months since we've been calling for use of all the assets at our disposal. And the NT Government of Chief Minister Gunner has been raising this issue for many weeks. The WA Government have offered facilities. We have circumstances in Australia where there are 29,000 Australians stranded overseas. We've never had in our history more airplanes that were free, in terms of not being used. And we've never had so many hotels with empty rooms. It seems to me that it's not rocket science to try and put those two things together.
ALBANESE: Hang on, Marrickville pause.
ALBANESE: Sorry, I can't hear you.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible). You have obviously seen ICAC this week and also ASIO's warning against foreign agents. Do you fear politicians are becoming the greatest targets for foreign interference?
ALBANESE: Well, people need to be diligent. But for goodness sake, you don't need a vetting or advice to know that getting paid a fee for introducing people from a foreign government is the wrong thing to do. And quite clearly, the Liberal Party, and Mr Maguire, was operating an operation out of his office, it was about him using that office to make money for himself. I think that the revelations are quite shocking. And the fact that they must have been known around Macquarie Street, I think there's still many, many questions to answer. Thank you.