ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
FRIDAY, 22 MAY 2020
SUBJECTS: Bushfire recovery; Target stores closing across Australia; Michael McCormack’s comments on climate change; climate change; nature of work for casuals; Australia’s relationship with China; Australia’s calls for an inquiry into COVID-19.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks for joining me. The news today that Target will see some 14,000 (sic) job losses is a real tragedy for those people and their families. It reinforces the fact that the idea we are going to have a snap-back to what was there before is simply not realistic. But also, it reinforces our view that we have had for some time that the economy was weak well before the bushfires and before the coronavirus, which is why the Reserve Bank was cutting interest rates. Wages were stagnant, unemployment and underemployment were increasing. And, of course, we saw the Reserve Bank act, including acting on infrastructure. Today’s announcement by the Government that $500 million will be available for local government projects is welcome and it is something Labor has called for a long period of time. The local government is in a position to roll out projects efficiently, and they have many shovel-ready projects. I would say that those bushfire-affected communities need more support. They received, local government areas in places like Snowy River and Bega and other councils in that region and on the north coast of New South Wales, Kangaroo Island, received $1 million of funding in terms of to overcome the bushfires. That clearly is clearly an inadequate response.
Lastly, could I say though that in announcing this response, Michael McCormack has made a quite extraordinary comment. Michael McCormack’s comment that, and to quote him accurately, ‘a lot of people I know set their hair on fire about climate change’, is entirely inappropriate. The fact is that the Government has conceded that climate change was one of the factors in the devastating bushfires that saw a loss of life, that saw thousands of homes lost, that saw millions of hectares burnt, and that had a devastating impact on the communities of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. And I’d say to Michael McCormack that he should reflect on those comments and retract them. And we need to be very careful about the language that we use. When it comes to climate change, it is real. We do need action. It’s good that yesterday there was some positive elements of the document put out by the Government, including an acknowledgement that renewables were critical for dealing with the challenge of climate change, and that is a positive thing indeed. We will have more to say about that in coming days. Happy to take questions, from here first.
JOURNALIST: On casuals case and following on the landmark ruling, what do you make of the Government dragging their feet on casuals?
ALBANESE: Look, this is a ruling that has said very clearly that if people aren’t really casual employees then they shouldn’t be called that. If they are permanent part-time, then they should be entitled to the entitlements other permanent workers get. This decision has been made objectively. In terms of the Government and its response, I would say to the Government that one of the issues that has been very clear during this coronavirus pandemic is that people are worried about their security of employment, their security at work. And the Government should be coming up with a plan for increasing people’s work security rather than continuing to undermine it, and when you have an independent decision trying to undermine that very decision.
JOURNALIST: Do you think bushfire-affected communities are feeling a little bit forgotten during this time?
ALBANESE: Very clearly, they have been forgotten. There is no additional support for local government in those communities with today’s announcement. And there is a great deal of concern that when the cameras left, so did some of the support. I’ve been travelling in affected communities this week, and they do feel that there is a lack of support there. There’s a lack of support for specific industries, such as the orchardists around Batlow, the viticulture industry as well, which will be requiring specific support. The timber industry around Tumbarumba needs specific support, and they are asking for some support with freight because they’re going to have to take logs from further away. It is Tumbarumba’s main employment base, some 230 people directly, but many hundreds more indirectly. The tourism sector in the south coast and other areas has been impacted. And of course, the arts and entertainment have been completely forgotten. There is due to be a number of festivals that would normally take place over the Easter period. Those communities were expecting to rebound from the bushfire impact on the local economy and, of course, the coronavirus meant that didn’t happen. The shutdown was just prolonged for them. They’ve had a shutdown not for a period of weeks but for the entire year of 2020. And for some of them, going back even further. So, there is a need to continue to support those communities, and it shouldn’t have taken a by-election to get an announcement such as we had a week ago for increased aerial firefighting to increase the capacity, something that was recommended and had a business case now two years ago.
JOURNALIST: In a report from the telecommunications industry, it found that the number of complaints was said to have gone down in the January to March quarter, so do you think this proved the NBN coped better than expected in the bushfires?
ALBANESE: It could reflect that people couldn’t get onto them because they didn’t have access to communications. The feedback I’ve had from people around Batlow, Tumut, Adelong, Tumbarumba, Yass was that there are still major issues with regard to communications, and there have been major issues with business. We need to be continually vigilant about those issues. I would say this; the ABC was a lifeline during the bushfire crisis. Many people have told me firsthand certainly Kristy McBain, candidate for Eden Monaro, has reinforced the view that for so many people, the information they got about whether to stay or leave their homes, they didn’t have telephone access, they had no mobile coverage, they relied upon the ABC radio reports. And that’s why I think the Government during this crisis should have reinstated the funding they cut from the ABC.
JOURNALIST: Next week there is a special inquiry into the bushfires, what are you hoping for out of that?
ALBANESE: It is a chance to hear the voices of those who have been forgotten, the voices of those who have made such an extraordinary period that they got through somehow. Of course, we lost lives on during the bushfire crisis. Many people lost their jobs. Many businesses have gone down never to be returned. I want an opportunity for people to put forward their stories, and for us to learn the lessons as well. And to make sure, bushfires have been a permanent feature of the Australian landscape, but we haven’t seen something like we saw during this summer. So, it is an opportunity to speak about preparation for those bushfires, including issues like back-burning and those issues, the management of national parks, but also, do we have the right equipment available? How do we deal with information getting out? How do we deal with road infrastructure? That was an issue with one road in, one road out for many communities that were blocked. I think all of those issues need to be aired so that governments and the private sector at all levels in communities can get the response better for future events. Let’s hope we don’t see events like we saw this summer. But the climate experts are telling us that bushfires will be more intense, and the bushfire season will be longer as a result of climate change. Thank you. Anyone on the phone?
JOURNALIST: It is Jen from Channel Seven.
JOURNALIST: How concerned are you that there are reports from China this morning that the country’s moving to prioritise the domestic coal market, and with the Resources Minister saying he has yet to speak to his Chinese counterpart, that’s three ministers ignored by China. Is the Coalition capable of maintaining this critical relationship or is China being unreasonable and it’s time for us to further diversify our export markets?
ALBANESE: Labor was at one with the Government in saying there should be an inquiry, that’s just common sense. When you have 300,000 lives lost, I saw that as completely unremarkable that you would have an inquiry. And that’s good that that’s going ahead. We need to make sure that the Australian Government and ministers should be in contact with their counterparts in China, like they should be in regular contact with their counterparts in other nations. We simply can’t afford the job losses that would result from the sort of incidents that seeing with barley, but if it spreads to other industries as well, that clearly is not in Australia’s interests. So, the Government needs to always stand up for our own national interests. We need always to diversify as much as possible, that’s just common sense that should occur in terms of risk management. But we also need to ensure that we continue to have a good economic relationship with China. In the past, the Government has trumpeted the China Free Trade Agreement, an economic partnership. It’s up to the Government to explain further why it is that they’re not getting that contact with their Chinese counterparts.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, Tom from Sky News. A lot of what you’ve just said seems to be at odds with your Shadow Agriculture Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon. He said yesterday we don’t need to be out front defending the Chinese. Have you spoken with Mr Fitzgibbon about those comments and do you share them?
ALBANESE: No, I haven’t.
JOURNALIST: The Government has said that Joel Fitzgibbon has failed team Australia movement and is weaponising foreign policy and our sovereignty. What do you make of the comments?
ALBANESE: The Government needs to do its own job and deal with the Deputy Prime Minister making really unfortunate comments related to fires and climate change. The Government needs to manage its own game when it comes to having an economic plan for the recovery. And the government needs to have a plan. At the moment, they put out a paper yesterday that could have been done by any academic listing a whole range of technologies that are available, including electric vehicles. It is like it is a Government full of goldfish in the Cabinet. They were putting out papers and writing op-eds, Josh Frydenberg, they were funding electrical vehicle charging stations and when Labor had the temerity to suggest electric vehicles would continue to expand in the future, which is just a fact, the Government ran this mighty scare campaign. What I would say to including your good self is you need to focus on this Government and its lack of a plan for the nation. If Government ministers concentrated on their own game, then we’d be better off.
JOURNALIST: With respect, Mr Albanese, the question wasn’t about the technology roadmap, it was about Joel Fitzgibbon waging a war of coercion against Australia in terms of economic trade tensions. And we had a senior member of your front bench out there basically running China’s lines for them. Is there no issue with him freelancing on this? Is it against what you’re saying in this press conference?
ALBANESE: I speak on behalf of the Labor Party. And when it comes to the Government and people in the media parroting the Government’s lines, that’s up to them. This is a Government that doesn’t have a plan on so many areas. Doesn’t have an economic plan. I expected last Tuesday Josh Frydenberg to make some comments about what would happen in the recovery to boost employment. What are they doing about the fact that today Target has announced 14,000 (sic) job losses? That’s what Australians are really concerned about is job losses. And they’re concerned about economic security. What we have is government ministers, often let off scot free. You have Peter Dutton, who has become the Queensland state Coalition spokesperson out there doing press conferences about Annastacia Palaszczuk at the same time, when he was the minister in charge of Australia’s borders that allowed in the Ruby Princess. I would say that the Government should worry about doing its job and having a plan for the country. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, Tegan George from Channel Ten. Does the Labor Party believe that the Coalition has behaved appropriately in calling for a COVID-19 inquiry?
ALBANESE: I am not sure what the basis of the question is, sorry.
JOURNALIST: Have you been happy with how the Coalition has behaved, in terms of international standing?
ALBANESE: We called for, we supported, the inquiry into the origins and spread of COVID-19. We supported it unequivocally. We saw it as being just common sense that that would occur, and completely unremarkable. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, Matt Doran from the ABC. Sorry, I keep catching you just as you are about to walk off. You are agile. I appreciate that.
ALBANESE: No problem. We are worried about the rain here, Matt.
JOURNALIST: I will make it very quick them. One very quick question.
ALBANESE: There are nervous camera people here.
JOURNALIST: David Littleproud effectively said there should be a boycott of Wesfarmers outlets after closing Target and shedding more than 1,000 jobs. Do you think Australians will turn on Wesfarmers for making that announcement at such a difficult time in the economic situation?
ALBANESE: Look, Australians will make their own decisions. But I’ve got to say, I’m not sure what a boycott for Wesfarmers means except people not going into stores and further job losses. I am not sure what Mr Littleproud’s comments would result in, and how that would be constructive. Thank you. Anyone else? Thanks very much. Thank you phone people.