ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
TUESDAY, 15 SEPTEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Australians stranded overseas; Government’s attempt at another energy policy; gas; manufacturing trains and ferries in Australia; Morrison recession; need to create jobs.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Scott Morrison must do more to bring the 25,000 stranded Australians home. And there’s something very practical that he can do. Because the RAAF VIP fleet is largely sitting idle. Scott Morrison, who uses one of the fleet that can carry 100 passengers, the Governor-General has the other large aircraft, and there are a number of smaller aircraft that can be used to travel particularly to the region. They could be put in place now to bring Australians home. We’re hearing stories that are flooding electorate offices around the country, of desperate people. We have a woman with a one-year-old child told to go to a homeless shelter. We have women who are about to give birth, desperate to get home. Speaking of aircrafts. (Noise of aircraft flying overhead). The Government has access to these planes. What’s more, those who staff these planes need to get up their flying hours. They need to get up their hours in the air. And therefore, if people aren’t using those aircraft, they’ll be flying around empty making sure that pilots get the training that they need, and other air force personnel get the training and hours that they need. There’s nothing to stop the Government doing this practical measure. And today, I’m saying to Scott Morrison; do something because you are actually in charge. Scott Morrison continues to hand off everything to the states and territories and won’t accept responsibility. He clearly is in charge of our national borders. He clearly is in charge of quarantine issues. And he clearly has access to the infrastructure through the RAAF VIP fleet that could be put in place right now, today. Bringing home one hundred at a time from Europe and bringing home people from the region. This would be a practical step which would make a major difference, as well as, of course, he has access to the Australian national airline and other airlines based here in Australia which could have planes chartered. It is simply unacceptable that the Prime Minister continues to say that there’s nothing he can do about it and he hopes to have these families home by Christmas. Well, I think those who are desperate to get home should be brought home in September.
JOURNALIST: But the issue is that it isn’t the aircraft, it is the caps. If the caps were lifted from the states, wouldn’t the aircraft fly?
ALBANESE: This is just an excuse by Scott Morrison. What we know is that Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia have all said, if the Commonwealth assists with quarantine issues that they are responsible for, then they would certainly encourage more people to come. It’s not like there’s a shortage of hotel space in this country. The Prime Minister might have noticed that tourists aren’t coming here, and hotels certainly have available space. So, it is just beyond my comprehension how the Prime Minister can continue to duck and weave from responsibility on this issue. The so-called National Cabinet that’s proving itself to be neither national nor a Cabinet is meeting again on Friday. Surely, you can have outcomes. But the Prime Minister can do something more immediate with the aircraft that he directly has at his disposal.
JOURNALIST: The states haven’t increased the caps since they were introduced in July.
ALBANESE: The states have said that they will.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that the Government should set up a federal quarantine facility?
ALBANESE: Of course, the Federal Government is responsible for quarantine. This states issue is just an excuse for non-action. The Australian Government is in charge of our border, or it’s in charge of nothing. It’s in charge of quarantine, very clearly. This is a National Government responsibility. And there needs to be leadership shown here. The only thing that is missing here isn’t hotel space, it’s leadership. And the Prime Minister can show leadership by giving his plane, which by and large is not being used at the moment, to bring Australians home.
JOURNALIST: So do you want to see sites like Christmas Island or Howard Springs in the Northern Territory used to quarantine these people?
ALBANESE: I want to see Australians brought home. Australians can be brought home very easily. There is a lot of space available. The Commonwealth have said, the examples that you give with the states that have, today, reiterated, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland, that they are quite happy to have more people coming in to their states and territories if the Commonwealth helps with quarantine. Let’s be very clear, the Queensland Government doesn’t control our borders. The National Government does.
JOURNALIST: So, when you say more support, do you mean doctors and hotel quarantine and the states to support it?
ALBANESE: The states. I’m not saying it. The states have made comments today.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Federal Government should help the states?
ALBANESE: The states have made comments today of asking for more support. The Commonwealth is in charge of quarantine and our national borders. What we have right now is, frankly, the absurd situation whereby, as this pandemic has gone on, the Commonwealth has passed off more and more responsibilities to the states. But common-sense tells you that the states are not in charge of our national borders and are not in charge of who comes in to this country by aeroplane. The National Government is. It is the National Government that issues visas.
JOURNALIST: Do you buy the argument that there’s plenty of time and people have got themselves into this position now?
ALBANESE: Many of them have tried to come home for many months and they’ve been frustrated. We hear stories about people who have had tickets booked on planes only to have those planes cancelled. We then have them book again and have those planes cancelled. This is incredibly frustrating for people. Others have had to leave the country. I heard on radio just this morning the family speaking about an elderly man who has two siblings, one of whom, unfortunately, committed suicide recently in the United Kingdom. His sibling went across to make arrangements for the funeral. That is now over. This gentleman needs his son to provide support for him. And he can’t get him home.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible). Would you support a federally-owned gas company at somewhere like Kurri Kurri?
ALBANESE: Well, the Government has been confused, of course, for a long time. They ran a campaign for years saying that Liddell should stay open. What that did, of course, was provide uncertainty for AGL and companies that were saying that they wanted to invest in dispatchable power to replace the power that comes from the Liddell Power Station. That was for year after year after year. And then they went to the last election saying that they wanted new coal-fired power plants. Matt Canavan has been on TV this morning talking about the commitment that they gave. Today is their 19th attempt at an energy policy that isn’t a broad energy policy. No one is opposed to new gas if the investment is made there. But the thing that has held back new investment across-the-board, whether it be gas or renewables, is uncertainty. We wrote to the Prime Minister in June offering bipartisanship when it comes to energy policy, having a framework there that would drive investment. The Prime Minister didn’t bother to respond to that proposal. We’ll wait to see what comes. A lot of announcements today. How many times can you announce the transmission proposal with Bass Link? It’s been announced time after time after time. It’s in there again today. We’ll wait and see what happens. Because one of the things that has characterised this Government is a gap between its announcements and actual delivery. It’s good at announcements. It’s not good at delivery. And lots of the announcements today actually are pretty extraordinary. One of the things that it’s announced yesterday is fuel reserves. We announced our support for that prior to the 2019 election. It was dismissed by the current Government. Bill Shorten announced it. They dismissed it and said that it would lead to higher taxes and higher prices. Now that’s exactly what they announced yesterday. And today, part of the announcement is calling for industry to have a voluntary Code of Conduct. And this is what they have to say from the policy paper, ‘If industry does not do this by February 2021, the Government will consider developing mandatory Code of Conduct’. How tough of them.
JOURNALIST: You can understand the confusion of private industry. (Inaudible).
ALBANESE: Exactly. Look, the thing that is holding back investment is a serious energy policy framework across-the-board. We have to deal with supply. We have to deal with transmission. There’s been reports from IEMO that call for comprehensive plans going forward. The Government has changed its position from day-to-day, from week-to-week.
JOURNALIST: The PM was in Newcastle. And he was saying that part of the cheap energy is a flourishing manufacturing sector. In New South Wales, with $10 billion worth of rolling stock in trains and not a single carriage has been built here. The Deputy Prime Minister was opening one with the stages of the Inland Rail and they were not using a single carriage for either of the private companies built here in Australia. Is that good enough?
ALBANESE: It’s a disgrace that rail is not being built here in Australia. If we’re serious about manufacturing, then what we need is rail procurement here. Australian-built trains for Australia, creating Australian jobs. That’s what we need. We have a proud history. Down at EDI, they’ve been building train carriages in Maryborough in Queensland for over 100 years. In Newcastle, where the Prime Minister was today, the Tangara trains that were built right there are the foundation of the Sydney Metropolitan rail network. And yet, we have a New South Wales Premier who said that we can’t build things here, and we have a Federal Government that is ignoring it through Inland Rail and through other projects. The fact is that we’re seeing a massive growth in rail. There is an enormous opportunity to create high skilled, high-valued jobs right here in Australia. And the other thing is, that every single time that we have bought a train, or recently a ferry, from overseas, they don’t fit the same rail gauge, or they don’t fit the railway stations, or they won’t fit through the tunnels. Or in the ferry’s case, if they go down the Parramatta River, if you’re on the top, you’ll be decapitated while riding on that ferry. It’s about time that this Government got serious about manufacturing in this country. And that means building rail carriages right here. Creating jobs right here.
JOURNALIST: Just to clarify, you think that the RAAF planes should be flown into Australian cities and people should be in quarantine hotels and the Federal Government helps with that? Is that correct?
ALBANESE: The discussions are there with the states. The issue isn’t quarantining. The quarantining is a responsibility of the National Government. It’s up to the National Government to determine whether it be in hotels or whether it be in other facilities that are available. And there’s lots of options which are there. The key thing is; people are desperate to get home. And we have not just the possibility of chartering commercial flights, but the Australian Government have at their disposal, at any time, planes that are currently not being used, planes that can carry up to 100 passengers. I travelled with the Prime Minister to East Timor, to Timor-Leste, last year. The fact is that this fleet is available. By and large, it’s sitting idle. There are two large aircraft, but there are other smaller aircraft available as well. Certainly, when I was a minister, I travelled to South-East Asia on the smaller Challenger flights. Got refuelled in Darwin and refuelled in Townsville on the way back. There is nothing to stop those planes being utilised at the moment. And this is a very practical measure which the Government could take.
I’ll just say this on the Government’s plan in terms of jobs and how it’s affected today. If the Government is serious about jobs, we know that there are one million people unemployed in the Morrison recession. We also know that the Government says there will be an additional 400,000 unemployed. We need action now. We need action now. And the steps announced today, many of them very positive, but they are off in the future. What we need is job creation now. And the Government has a test upon it in the lead-up to the Budget to outline an immediate plan for job creation such as investment in social housing, be that new social housing or refurbishment renovation of social housing. If not, what they are consigning us to is a very long-term and deep recession. Thank you very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.