FRIDAY, 8 JANUARY 2021
SUBJECTS: The Government’s $1 billion marketing spend, masks on domestic flights, getting the vaccine jab, dealing with UK passengers, rapid testing for domestic travellers, Brisbane lockdown, Abu Bakar Bashir’s expected release, Craig Kelly spreading conspiracy theories.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks for joining me. Scott Morrison is the billion dollar man. Since the LNP came to government in 2013, the Coalition has spent $1 billion on political advertising. He’s more promo than ScoMo. More the prime marketer than the Prime Minister. And it’s about time that this abuse of taxpayer’s funds was stopped. The fact is that it has now reached $1 billion. So Scott Morrison’s legacy is a billion dollars of political advertising and a trillion dollars of debt. And this advertising has reached absurd proportions when he has now employed a former Liberal Party staffer with a contract of $190,000 to produce a video promoting the Government’s response to bushfires at this time last year. At a time when people on the south coast of NSW, in Gippsland and in other communities that were impacted by the bushfires, many of them still struggling to get a home, many of them still living in caravans, in spite of the fact you have a $4 billion fund established, the Emergency Response Fund, of which the expenditure hasn’t been made. This is just absurd. And the fact is that this Government has also made further abuse by using companies that do Liberal Party research, giving them Government contracts, like Crosby Textor, in order to therefore advise the Government on research that it then doesn’t release publicly. This is a Government and a Prime Minister that doesn’t understand the difference between taxpayers’ funds and Liberal Party funds. And today Labor is calling it out and saying enough is enough. When it comes to 2021, we need to stop this largesse and make sure, given there is $1 trillion as a legacy of this Government, that it stops at the billion dollar figure.
JOURNALIST: How much do you think is reasonable to spend in advertising?
ALBANESE: Look, there are guidelines there. And when there is advertising that's appropriate for public information campaigns, such as some of the advertising about the need for people to wash their hands, to wear face masks, to respond appropriately to the pandemic, then that is appropriate. But what's not appropriate is doing funding which promotes infrastructure which hasn't been built and still hasn't been started. What isn't appropriate is funding for advertising, of course, for the app that didn't work. What isn't appropriate is funding this video of the bushfire response when the bushfire response was poor at the time and the recovery has been inadequate as well. I think when we're talking about taxpayers’ funds, whether it be sports rorts, whether it be this largesse as well, then it needs to be examined by a national integrity commission. But whether this represents good value for money, or whether it's just an abuse of taxpayers funds, quite clearly people know the difference between advertising which is genuine community information and advertising in which ministers stand up in Question Time and give the spin that fits in with the spin that's in the advertising, such as the Government's recovery plan, so-called. It would be better if money was actually spent on job creation rather than funds being spent on advertising.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) a figure, a budget for your advertising?
ALBANESE: Well this clearly is just over the top. And there are guidelines that have quite clearly been abused. And when we have research, then, if it is genuine public information research, then it should be transparent. What we know is that a billion dollars over the seven years of this Government, that's a billion dollars that is added to the debt. The debt that was doubled before the pandemic under this Government. The debt that has now ballooned up to a trillion dollars and will rise over the next decade, according to the Government's own estimates, to $1.7 trillion. This is a Government that treats advertising as its priority, that treats an announcement as the end in itself, rather than the delivery of that announcement. You can't drive on an ad, you can't ride on a public transport project that's on TV, you've got to actually build the project. And what this Government does is prioritise that advertising, prioritise that spin, and it's important that it be called out.
JOURNALIST: It’s expected that National Cabinet is going to mandate masks on domestic flights and airports. Do you support this move?
ALBANESE: I do. And I've been wearing a mask on flights for some time. And I know that flights, for example, to and from Melbourne, when I was able to travel there last year, were mandated. So I'm not sure what the rules were around the country. But common sense tells you that given the close proximity in which people are in on a plane, in an aircraft cabin, they're in a confined space, they're there for a period of time, then common sense suggests that this should occur. By and large on flights that I've been on people have been wearing masks, but not everyone has. And it makes sense to mandate this health measure in accordance with the recommendations of the health experts.
JOURNALIST: Should having a nationally compulsory mask policy have been prioritised earlier?
ALBANESE: Well it's up to the Government to respond to the health advice. What I know is that various state governments have responded. Victoria. Tasmania when I flew back from Tasmania in January certainly there was, in December sorry, certainly there was an announcement made that everyone should wear a mask. I was wearing one anyway. But that seems to me to be a common sense arrangement.
JOURNALIST: Are you looking forward to receiving the vaccine and have you been told when you might be getting that jab?
ALBANESE: No I haven't. I've had no contact from the Government. I've been busy out there arguing the case, along with Chris Bowen, for the vaccination process to be brought forward. And I'm pleased that the Government has reluctantly agreed with what Labor’s been saying since last year. We've been arguing the case that the TGA is an independent body which makes assessment with regard to the rollout of pharmaceuticals and whether they're ready to go. Once it's approved, it should be rolled out as soon as possible. If it's the case, I understand that Chris Bowen has had a discussion with Greg Hunt where Greg Hunt raised the issue of whether himself and myself and perhaps others might be willing to engage in an early vaccination in order to promote it. I'm certainly up for that. But no one from the Government has approached me and the Prime Minister hasn't raised it. So certainly I'm not after any special treatment. But if it assists the process of promoting vaccination, then I will do whatever I can as a responsible leader to do just that.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe that it's time to shut the border to UK passengers or should any changes in quarantine arrangements be changed for UK arrivals?
ALBANESE: Well we should listen to the experts here and take advice. Certainly it's common sense that people have to be tested before they get on planes. I would have thought that was an arrangement that should have been put in place a long time ago, frankly. I am pleased though, on the vaccination issue, that there is that change. I note that the rhetoric of the Government was that somehow Labor's call was dangerous. I note that that's what they said about wage subsidies as well before they adopted them. This is a Prime Minister who is always following, not leading. So he says something is bad and not appropriate before he adopts it. And it's about time that, and I hope in the National Cabinet process today, we actually see some national leadership rather than what has been occurring which is states going their own way on various issues and then the Prime Minister announcing them at the end of that process. We need a far more consistent approach. And in order to achieve that, we need national leadership and we need a Prime Minister who's prepared to put politics aside, not engage in the selective criticism of Labor state governments, while Coalition state governments that are doing exactly the same thing are beyond reproach.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned rapid testing for international travellers. Do you support that for domestic travellers between states here?
ALBANESE: Well, I take medical advice there but I think there is a particular, if we look at where infections have come from, obviously people coming from Europe or the United States in particular and nations that have far higher infection rates than us are a greater risk. So what health authorities should do is make proper assessments of that risk and then have a cautious approach to it. So I haven't seen suggestions that that would be necessary for domestic travel. There are obviously restrictions in place, have been put in place, over people travelling. We’re here in Sydney where at the moment I don't think that there is any state or territory that we’re able to travel to without receiving exemptions. And that's a response to the level of risk which is there.
JOURNALIST: Many people would have been surprised by this announcement of the three-day lockdown in Brisbane. Is this something that you believe is necessary?
ALBANESE: Well I think Premier Palaszczuk has done an outstanding job throughout this crisis. She's shown leadership. She has prioritised keeping Queenslanders safe. This is a measure which is strict but it's proportionate. Locking down over a weekend. The evidence from Victoria and what occurred there is that when you have an outbreak it is far easier to get on top of it early with strict measures and then you can return to a more normal way of, level of activity. And so Premier Palaszczuk is responding consistent with the way that she's handled the crisis. And I note that her handling of it was overwhelmingly supported by the people of Queensland just months ago, in spite of the Coalition in Queensland saying the border should be opened and arguing against the restrictions and that being backed up by no less than Scott Morrison who prioritised campaigning against the Palaszczuk Government over holding a National Cabinet meeting last year.
JOURNALIST: On another topic, Abu Bakar Bashir is likely to be released today. Should he be released?
ALBANESE: I don't want to see this promoter of terrorism and violence released ever. And I think this will be a difficult day for the families of those who were victims of the Bali bombings and other activities. I had a number of people affected in my electorate who were involved in, from Dulwich Hill, young girls, a mother and daughter as well, the Websters, who were killed in that atrocity. And I think this will be a difficult day and my heart goes out to all those who will be doing it tough today. And I would hope that the Australian Government, I’m sure, are making strong representations to make sure that the closest eye is kept on this bloke to make sure that his activities don't further the, quite frankly, catastrophic human consequences of his ideological position. Thank you very much.
Can I just make one further comment about Craig Kelly. Craig Kelly has put out a tweet overnight that seeks to support conspiracy theories over what we saw in the United States yesterday. The idea that a member of the Australian Parliament seeks to legitimise what was an insurrection on the floor of the Capitol Building of the United States, an important symbol of not just democracy in the United States but global democracy, is reprehensible. Craig Kelly, has promoted conspiracy theories about the coronavirus, peddling dangerous comments about that and advice that it's all a conspiracy, and now we have him justifying and seeking to make excuses for [yesterday’s events in the US], and indeed just making comments that are just beyond belief. It is my strong view that it is time for Scott Morrison and the Liberal Party to do something about this bloke in their ranks. He has been protected on the last two occasions by intervention by Liberal Party prime ministers to ensure his preselection. His own branch members in Hughes don't want him to be their representative. And yet Scott Morrison intervened to make him a captain's pick before the 2019 election. I've had a captain's pick too. Mine was Kristy McBain. Scott Morrison's was Craig Kelly. I stand by mine. He should cut himself loose from his. It is time that Craig Kelly was disendorsed by the Liberal Party. And it's time, I think, that at the next election, whether Craig Kelly stands as a Liberal Party member or not, I just don't think that he brings anything to our national Parliament. And I don't comprehend how someone who sits in our House of Representatives can justify, which is effectively what he has done, the storming of the United States Parliament building. Thanks very much.