Jul 25, 2020







SUBJECTS: Budget update; people missing out on JobKeeper; sole traders’ South China Sea; Australia’s relationship with China; Australia’s relationship with the US; vaccines.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning. We’ve heard from the Government that there’ll be 240,000 Australians additionally who are likely to lose their jobs between now and Christmas. But we still don’t have a plan from the Government to create jobs. We have no major plan for infrastructure, no plan to grow productivity, no plan to deal with the growing inequality that is arising from this pandemic crisis. What we have from the Government when it comes to the medium and long-term is just going into that bottom drawer and speaking about more labour market deregulation. The fact is that insecure work is not just a problem for the economy, we’ve seen during this crisis that insecure work is an issue with the spread of this virus. The fact that many people feel that they have no alternative but to turn up to work in order to feed their kids, or to simply miss out on that income they need. We’ve also seen the casual employment with people without proper training being employed at the heart of the spread of the virus. What we need to do is to think about how we can emerge from this crisis with a stronger economy and a stronger society. An economy that works for people, not the other way around. And that’s why we need to do much better than what Josh Frydenberg offered with the statement on Thursday, and then again with his statement to the National Press Club.


We now know as well that the Government was giving consideration to removing sole traders from the JobKeeper program. The Government needs to explain exactly what it had in mind. The fact that Treasury released documentation saying that they’d assumed that the Government decision was to exclude sole traders, shows just how far down the track this went.


There’s the other issue which Labor will examine about JobKeeper, which is the number of people who are likely to be excluded as a result of the criteria that they’ve established for businesses. The fact is that a range of businesses saw their income improve short-term and then saw it decrease again when the coronavirus pandemic hit Victoria hard in recent weeks. So, we may well see, if you look at the June month, a spike in income short-term, which would exclude businesses from receiving JobKeeper, but then them go back into a downturn, those very businesses. If we’re going to protect jobs, we need to examine the details of JobKeeper as they are, rather than as we want them to be. And there needs to be a fair analysis to give businesses and their employees the support that they need during this difficult time.


Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: Opposition Leader, on the South China Sea, the Federal Government has made clear its position to join with the US to formally reject China’s extensive maritime plans. Do you support Australia’s view to align with countries in this position?


ALBANESE: Well, what I support is the International Law of the Sea being implemented and all countries abiding by it. That’s why we have multilateral forums. That’s why the idea of negative globalism, that was once espoused by Scott Morrison, is a bad one. We need not just Australia to support those international regulations, but we need all nations, including China, to abide by the rulings that have been made.


JOURNALIST: Are you worried that this will raise the ire of Beijing and lead to further retaliation from China?


ALBANESE: Australia needs to defend the Australian national interest. And we also need to stand up for international law. And the International Law of the Sea provides for freedom of navigation which is absolutely critical to international trade.


JOURNALIST: And so, with Australia, do you think that we should take an even stronger stance on China, as the US would like?


ALBANESE: Well, Australia needs to defend our national interest. And that means, also, as a middle power, ensuring that we abide by, and we call upon other countries to abide by international organisations. That’s why Australia has been quite right, and I’m sure it will be raised with the US this week, to oppose any withdrawal from the WHO. Those international multilateral forums are absolutely essential to govern what is a globalised world.


JOURNALIST: And with those discussions in the US taking place, do you think it’s the right decision to send Senator Payne and Senator Reynolds to Washington in the middle of COVID-19?


ALBANESE: It’s absolutely the right thing for Australia to engage and participate with the United States. The United States is our most important ally. And it’s important that these discussions take place. And I certainly wish the Defence and Foreign Minister well. I’m sure that there will be appropriate safety mechanisms put in place.


JOURNALIST: And what would you like to see come out of the talks in Washington?


ALBANESE: Look, these talks are important. It’s important at this time in particular where the world is dealing with a global pandemic. But that’s also having an impact on the global economy. The Australian ministers need to stress Australia’s national interests as well. We saw with the decision on barley, an issue whereby Australia was disadvantaged. We need to make sure that in decisions that the United States makes in terms of its relationship with China, that Australia doesn’t suffer due to consideration not being given to Australia’s national interests.


JOURNALIST: And just on JobKeeper, you want the Government to support more businesses, but you also have said you don’t want the Government to go further into deficit. So, how do you balance the two?


ALBANESE: No, what we’ve said is that spending is entirely appropriate, but it needs to be the right spending and it needs to be targeted and needs to not cause undue waste. We’ve criticised, very clearly, the fact that so many people missed out on JobKeeper. Those casual employees are still missing out. The dnata workers are still missing out. Visa holders are still missing out. So many people have been excluded. University lecturers and people who work at universities have missed out. We need to make sure that the principle of employers keeping a relationship with their employees, which is the basis of wage subsidies that Labor called for well before the Government decided to support wage subsidies, is an important one. We don’t want people to be left behind. But we also want to make sure that in the recovery phase, no one is held back from opportunity. So, no one left behind during the pandemic, but no one held back during the recovery. How do we grow the economy stronger? How do we have appropriate industry policies to support advanced manufacturing? How do we make work more secure? How do we provide training and skills for people? How do we build the infrastructure that will actually lead to productivity growth and to growth in the future? That’s the forward planning that’s missing from this Government’s approach. And we want an economy that is stronger, an economy that is fairer, and an economy that works for people, not the other way around. Thanks very much. Questions on the phone?


JOURNALIST: Should the Australian Government be doing more to secure commercial arrangements with international drug companies if a vaccine becomes available overseas?


ALBANESE: Well, the Australian Government needs do everything that it can to make sure that Australians gain access to any vaccinations should it become available. And Australia needs to participate in those international discussions. We also need to, of course, support our scientists here. There’s important work taking place in Queensland and in other places, including through the CSIRO. That’s why support for science is something that has been neglected by this Government. It’s quite extraordinary that the CSIRO have had cuts to its budget under this Government, the very body that we’re relying upon to make a difference and to save lives.


JOURNALIST: How confident are you that other international governments such as China or Russia would play ball in distributing a vaccine and not use it for political persuasion?


ALBANESE: Look, we need to participate in those international processes. That’s why it is important. And if we look back to the WHO, for example, played a critical role, including with the United States and China, in finding a vaccine for smallpox and in the eradication of smallpox. These issues need to go beyond just national borders. This is an issue of humanity and it requires a global response. Thank you.