ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
NATIONAL PRESS CLUB Q&A
THURSDAY, 27 AUGUST 2020
SUBJECTS: Aged care crisis; neglect from the Government on aged care; superannuation; Aged Care Royal Commission; Belt and Road Initiative; state border closures; Labor Party’s policies; next federal election; coronavirus pandemic; JobKeeper and JobSeeker issues; Government’s response to COVID-19.
SABRA LANE: Thank you, Mr Albanese. There is a piece from the Royal Commission last year that I’d like to talk to you about, it’s called ‘The History of Aged Care Reviews’. It was a background paper prepared for the commission. And it found something like 40 reviews over the last 40 years, about half done in the last 20 years. And while the questions haven’t changed about aged care, the underlying concern still is the system hasn’t been performing as it should. It found that it’s often difficult to determine the Australian Government responses to all of these reviews because they come years after the reviews are actually handed down. The responses are often opaque. The changes often too slow to eventuate or actually fall away over time. And that governments, plural, have responded with ad hoc reforms that have not fixed the underlying problems. Isn’t the sad truth that both the major political parties have failed aged care?
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: The truth is that we need to do better. That’s the truth. The entire political system. But it’s also the truth that the interim report came down on 31 October last year. I responded with my fourth vision statement, which was on respecting and valuing older Australians, given in Brisbane, before the pandemic, before this issue. I was talking about workforce issues. I was talking about what we needed to do to address this issue. The Government says that it responded to the interim report, tick done. Quite clearly, if this is post-response to the interim report, it’s simply not good enough.
LANE: Reminder to everyone; your name, the organisation you work with, one question per person and we’re going to wrap it hard on 1:30. Thank you. Katharine Murphy?
KATHARINE MURPHY: I’m afraid of Sabra, so I’ll be very good. Katharine Murphy from The Guardian Australia. You were critical in your speech about for-profit aged care. The Victorian Liberal MP Russell Broadbent, in a critique this week, said for-profit aged care had basically turned the Australian system into a disaster waiting to happen. So, my question to you is would Labor, post-Royal Commission, contemplate a restructuring of the Australian aged care system that would end for-profit aged care?
ALBANESE: What we will do is wait for the final report of the Royal Commission. But what’s very clear is that once you moved from, essentially, a public system into the privatisation of a whole section of the sector, that needed to be accompanied by very strong regulation. By strong inspection processes. By making sure that there was transparency, the sort of transparency that I have spoken about today that the Royal Commissioners have spoken about. So, we will come up with a more comprehensive long-term plan for aged care after the Royal Commission finalises its report at the beginning of next year. But what is very clear is that the problems that have arisen, if you look at where they are, they are almost exclusively in the for-profit system at the moment. And that should tell the story about a failure to properly regulate the system, which is the Commonwealth’s responsibility.
LANE: Tamsin Rose.
TAMSIN ROSE: Thanks. Tamsin Rose from The Herald Sun. Thanks for the speech. I was just wondering, you’ve previously stated that you wouldn’t support a Belt and Road Initiative if you led the country. With the announcement made today about this new legislation, does that mean you’d be supportive of this scheme? And have you expressed your views on Belt and Road to the Victorian Premier?
ALBANESE: I have expressed it publicly that the Government I lead would not participate in the scheme. And we haven’t seen the legislation yet at all. We’ll examine the legislation. But the idea that the national interests should be looked after by the Federal Government when it comes to foreign policy is something that we’re very supportive of. I would regard it as completely unremarkable. What I do find remarkable for the Government to answer is why Simon Birmingham indeed welcomed the Victorian decision over BRI and why it is that the Federal Government sat by and allowed the Port of Darwin to be sold off to a company that is connected with a non-Australian government. And at the time, not in retrospect, at the time, as the infrastructure spokesperson, I was very critical of that decision.
LANE: Tom McIlroy.
TOM MCILROY: Thanks, Albo. Tom McIlroy from the Financial Review. The Royal Commission released research today that said as much as $3.2 billion would be needed to bring all of Australia’s aged care sector up to the best practice, best standard of care. Is that about the right price? And will Labor be looking at that kind of funding if you win next year?
ALBANESE: I have Jim Chalmers here, Katy Gallagher is our Finance spokesperson. But I’m not about to put dollar attachments. We’ll do that in the lead-up to the election of any commitments we make. But the Royal Commission has clearly identified the shortfall that’s there. It’s a shortfall of money. But it’s also a shortfall of structure.
Some of these problems aren’t just about dollars, some of the problems I have identified and solutions. I sat down with Susan Templeman and relatives last Thursday in Richmond in the Hawkesbury. They told stories about a nursing home that’s failed accreditation where the relatives of many of these residents were, and notice being given. They still failed, but notice of a week being given, ‘We’re going to come and do an inspection in a week’s time’. Bit like me giving a week’s notice about what questions are coming at 2 o’clock in the Parliament. It’s bad practice. And a whole range of these things, some of them, will be about dollars, but many of them aren’t.
LANE: Is there a danger in promising more money? Given I have spoken to experts this week. They say about one in four homes, aged care homes, is actually doing quite well and if the Government funds more, there’s a risk of that going to shareholders.
ALBANESE: That’s one of the things that we need to look at. The examples that I gave of, at the same time as you have these massive problems some of the very companies that are failing accreditation are doing very well, doing very well. What I want to see is the residents doing well. What we have at the moment is some of the investors doing very well and appearing on the BRW Rich List. I think we’ve got our priorities wrong as a nation when that’s the case. And we need to address it.
LANE: David Crowe.
DAVID CROWE: Thanks. David Crowe from the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age. Thanks for your speech. In recent days you seem a bit reluctant to criticise any of the state premiers for their border controls. Yet we’ve seen that people can’t get across the border to go to hospital, can’t get across a border to go to work. We have seen Nationals speak up about this. We saw the Business Council of Australia and 28 groups say that there needs to be an end to this patch work and national principles. Do you fault any of the premiers for the way they’re using these or imposing these state border controls? Do you support a stronger national regime for how these border closures are actually managed?
ALBANESE: Well, I make two points and you quite rightly identified that I haven’t singled out premiers. I’ve been consistent. And I have said that two issues apply here. One is that the state leaders, in the absence of national leadership, need to listen to their respective state medical advisors, the Chief Medical Officer, they have different titles in different states. I certainly think that when you look at Western Australia, for example, I’ve been very critical of the Federal Government joining in with Clive Palmer on an appeal. I was with Mark McGowan. I was against Clive Palmer and Scott Morrison on that issue. In Queensland, they were singled out by the Government as well, Annastacia Palaszczuk. I think people look back at when that criticism was made and probably think that it served Queensland well. So, that’s the first point. And the same as Tasmania and South Australia have, of course, had closed borders. But the Federal Government has ignored them. I think that in terms of the National Cabinet, what is very obvious now is that it isn’t a National Cabinet. I call it the ‘so-called National Cabinet’ because that was always the case. From the Sunday when Gladys Berejiklian and Daniel Andrews essentially stood Scott Morrison up on school closures, what happens now at so-called National Cabinet is state premiers all tell each other what they’re doing, and Scott Morrison goes out and announces it and pretends it is a national decision and then spends the time in between the National Cabinet meetings criticising the decision that he’s been a part of. That’s not a cabinet. And I do think that it’s up to Scott Morrison to explain why it is that there isn’t a national approach to these issues including borders. It’s up to him to explain. He made the decision to have a so-called National Cabinet that excluded the Federal Opposition. And I haven’t complained about that, that’s a decision for him. But he has a responsibility for it. It’s up to him to explain the contradiction that’s there between pretending there’s a cabinet when there’s clearly nothing like cabinet-based decision making.
LANE: Greg Brown.
GREG BROWN: Greg Brown from The Australian. Mr Albanese, since you became Labor Leader you said you want to hasten slowly in announcing policies, but you have made some commitments. Before COVID you committed to increasing Newstart, the welfare measure, and also to net zero emissions. And post-COVID, during the by-election, you committed to more money for the ABC. But we’ve heard no policies about the biggest cohort that turned its back on Labor, aspirational workers and small business owners. So, what is the evidence that you’ve shifted the Party’s focus and appeal away from a narrow progressive base to a broader constituency with a message that can win over the middle?
ALBANESE: Greg, you’ve got to go back and have a look at the speeches that we have laid out.
BROWN: No, policy commitments. So, you’ve made policy commitments in the areas.
ALBANESE: What’s our commitment on Newstart?
BROWN: You’ve committed to increase Newstart.
ALBANESE: Yes, we’ve said it should be higher, something that the Government’s conceded. We’re saying $40 a day isn’t enough and something in terms of when they’ve got the supplement through JobSeeker, something that they have conceded. The fact is that we will outline all of our policies. But we have also put in place a range of measures including saying that we should be concerned about jobs and the future of work. We have created Jobs and Skills Australia, is what we have committed to. That was the first commitment that we have made. A core commitment about assisting small business to grow into medium-sized businesses. And medium-sized businesses to grow into large business. A core commitment that’s about aspiration. That’s about identifying what Australia’s future work patterns look like and giving Australians the skills and the training to deliver it. Good for them. But also good for the business community. That was the first commitment that I made as Labor Leader. Something that’s fundamental to our economy. Something that’s been ignored by the current Government. Something that’s about aspiration. Something that’s about creating opportunity.
I see myself as the embodiment of aspiration. You know, a kid who grew up in a council house with a single mum, and who has risen to be Leader of the Labor Party, the first person in my family to finish school but who got the opportunity to go to university because we believed in the power of education to change people’s lives. I want to translate that into support, in terms of growth in the economy, about aspiration, not just for individuals, but aspiration for the sort of country we can be. A fairer country. A country that grows. But a country that recognises that growing the economy isn’t the end in itself. I want an economy that works for people not the other way around.
LANE: Michelle Grattan.
MICHELLE GRATTAN: Michelle Grattan from the Conversation. Mr Albanese, can I take you back to Katharine Murphy’s question where I think you were fairly generalised, but you’ve been around these issues a long time in Government and in Opposition and obviously delved greatly into them in the current situation. In general, do you believe that reform of the aged care sector is basically a matter of changing and improving regulation of the present structure or do you think there needs to be some shift in the funding model which moves it somewhat away from the for-profit sector towards the not-for-profit sector/government funding/government-run homes and so on, which on the evidence out this week seemed to perform better?
ALBANESE: I think, undoubtedly, and I was a former Shadow Minister for Aged Care, I was Shadow Minister for Ageing and Seniors under Simon Crean’s leadership, and I believe that the changes that will be required will include structural changes, to the structure of the industry. Quite clearly, we have to be very open to that. And I think that will be undoubtedly a part of the Royal Commission’s recommendations and something that should be a part of the Royal Commission’s recommendations.
GRATTAN: Thank you.
LANE: Andrew Clennell.
ANDREW CLENNELL: Mr Albanese, Andrew Clennell, Sky News. Do you expect the next election to be next year? And do you accept it will be difficult to win because Scott Morrison’s happy to go to the centre, and even the left, in terms of things like the $200 billion stimulus, any ground you can campaign on he seems to take.
ALBANESE: I expect the election will be sometime between August 2021 and May 2022. And I’ll be ready each and every one of those days, as will my entire team. One of the things that we’ve done during this period is develop a draft platform for the party, is to develop a whole range of policies that we’ve used the time that we have through a range of Shadow Cabinet subcommittees that we have to be able to go forward whenever the button is pressed. We will have a smaller agenda than Labor took to the last election. That doesn’t mean it’s a less ambitious agenda. It just means that when you’ve got 284 things to talk about, that’s a very long doorknock if you want to go through the list. And what I want as Labor Leader is to have a series of commitments that are clearly understood, that are able to be articulated in a clear way. And I believe we’re well-positioned. I think that by the time we get to the next election, the Government will be shooting for more than a decade in office, longer than the Howard Government is what they’ll be asking for. Say what you like about John Howard, I was critical of a range of measures that he had, but you knew what he stood for. Speak about Scott Morrison, you know, shifting to the centre, I don’t think it’s a matter of that. I think it’s just a matter of Scott Morrison being shifty.
And the fact is that at the time of the next election, people will be asking themselves, ‘Am I better off than I was in 2013? What are the economic, social or environmental reforms that the Coalition Government of eight or nine years standing, shooting for more than a decade, will be remembered for?’ I know what our legacy is from our short time in office. In terms of the Rudd and Gillard Governments. And it’s Labor Governments that change things. It’s Labor Governments that do the big reforms. It’s Labor Governments that will be required, the values that will be required to take us into the economic recovery. And I believe we will be successful at the next election. But that will be a matter for the Australian people. But we will have a strong, coherent narrative about growing the economy, about supporting jobs as the core principle but also about good social policy including looking after vulnerable Australians, not leaving people behind, as well as acting on environmental challenges such as climate change.
LANE: Andrew Probyn.
ADNREW PROBYN: Mr Albanese, Andrew Probyn from the ABC. The Labor Party’s been on a bit of a journey when it comes to the Belt and Road Initiative. Back in September 2017, Chris Bowen said that Labor would have an open-mind on collaborating with China on BRI. And Penny Wong said that Labor wouldn’t be reflexively negative to the BRI. At what point of time and why did you have a rethink about the Belt and Road Initiative?
LANE: No, sorry, mate, no second questions.
PROBYN: Port of Darwin, should that be reconsidered?
ALBANESE: Well, it would be interesting to see the legislation, won’t it, to see how fair dinkum the Government is. Whether it’s about a headline today or whether it’s about actually changes. That’ll be interesting for the Government to determine. With regard to BRI, in terms of the response, without going into a long answer about the changes that have occurred in international politics, I think it’s fair to say that the stance of the People’s Republic of China has changed under Xi in recent times. They are far
more interventionist than was the case under previous regimes. And that, of course, has to be taken into account when we’re talking about Australia’s national interests.
LANE: Tegan George.
TEGAN GEORGE: Mr Albanese, Tegan George from Network 10. Earlier today we heard Minister Colbeck talking about the aged care COVID response in the Senate. He conceded there have been missteps. In your opinion what was the first misstep, the first crucial thing the Government missed specifically during this pandemic and when do you believe it happened?
ALBANESE: It happened when Scott Morrison went to the courtyard on the Thursday afternoon after Question Time had finished. He went there and stood up with a document and said, ‘Here is the outline of our plan to deal with COVID’. And in it, it said, ‘We’re responsible for aged care’, and there was no plan. No specific aged care plan from the Government in spite of the fact that they had the interim report in October, they had the overseas experience in January and February that showed in places like Italy and Spain and others that had major outbreaks during this pandemic first. They failed to learn any of the experience which had already taken place overseas, the older people were particularly vulnerable and the aged care sector. So, for example, overseas one of the things that they did was very quickly move people into hospitals. And to separate out, once there was an infection. That was something they learnt. We didn’t learn from anything. What we had, and Minister Colbeck today in Parliament, I forget the exact term that he used, but I’m sure it will appear on 2, 7, 9, 10 and SBS tonight saying, ‘Everything’s hunky dory and we did well’. The boast that I quoted from Greg Hunt in the speech, I think it traces back to then, to that document. Again, they had the marketing document done, they just didn’t do the follow-up.
LANE: Pablo Vinales.
PABLO VINALES: Pablo Vinales, SBS news. Mr Albanese, since the last election we have seen a lot of anxiety from some in the party about winning back the more conservative regional voters. And there are some parallels with that when you look at multicultural voters, the same-sex marriage plebiscite, Labor electorates had a very high ‘No’ turn-out in Sydney. And even the vaccine that’s come out, some religious leaders are expressing concerns about that. How is Labor going to balance its more progressive views and try and win over multicultural voters towards the next election?
ALBANESE: We had a test recently in a regional seat. Whether you go north, south, east or west from here, Kristy McBain is the local member. From Yass to Batlow, across to the coast, down to Cooma, Kristy McBain is the local member. A real test, not a fantasy, a real test whereby for those of you who live in Canberra you will know that the Liberal Party outspent us massively during that by-election campaign. Because you couldn’t turn on a TV without getting book-ended ads during every ad break. So, we’ve had a test. The fact is that there’s nothing new about Labor as a party of government which seeks to represent all Australians but seeks to get the support of a majority of Australians. And that means that we have to appeal very broadly. I see my own seat as a bit of a microcosm of that. A seat that, yes, has some wealthier people with gentrification, but also has the highest number of boarding houses of any electorate in Australia, that also has a significant multicultural population. Whether it’s the Portuguese in Petersham, the Chinese in Ashfield, the Greeks in Marrickville, the Lebanese in the southern part of the electorate, the Italians in Leichardt and Haberfield. I’ve been forced each and every day that I’ve been in Parliament, and I wouldn’t have got here were I not able to appeal to people of different backgrounds, different faiths, and to give respect to those views. I’m working very strongly with multicultural communities. I’ll continue to do so. And what we’ve seen this week from the Liberal Party is Michael Sukkar, the Assistant Treasurer, involved with people in Victoria who used a derogatory term to people of background from, not Mr Sukkar, but the group involved, of people from subcontinent backgrounds using people in a way that is entirely inappropriate. Michael Sukkar’s still sitting in the Parliament as the Assistant Treasurer in spite of the fact that each day Nine newspapers have had new revelations. Compare that with the action that I took when I saw inappropriate behaviour in my Party.
LANE: Chris Uhlmann.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Mr Albanese, Chris Uhlmann, Nine News. You said that JobKeeper should taper but not at the end of the September, you said the borders should open but not now. So, if not a date then a marker as to when JobKeeper should start to taper and what would you be looking for, for borders to reopen?
ALBANESE: Well, JobKeeper, we’re concerned at the moment, for example, we’re concerned with the legislation that’s before the Parliament. And we moved amendments yesterday that were defeated. Under JobKeeper at the moment, the way that it’s designed, this legislation, a company that has lost 10 per cent of its revenue can remove 40 per cent of the work available to an individual worker. So, essentially move from five days to three days’ work. That worker, if you’re a retail worker, unless changes are made, could be earning less money than someone working for a less successful company who’s eligible for the entire JobKeeper payment. So, that’s the concern that we had with the design of the system. We are concerned also that an early removal will result in a longer and a deeper recession. And indeed, changed the legislation last time Parliament sat to give Minister Frydenberg the opportunity to change without going back to Parliament. We gave them that flexibility because we were concerned that people were missing out. So, it needs to be based upon the circumstances at the time. We know now that we certainly aren’t through this. And the Government, bear in mind, with its snap-back policy, the reason why we’ve got to have legislation at all is that it was all going to end in September. It was all going to be back to normal and all government support withdrawn. That clearly was premature. Our call was right. The Government was wrong. We’ll continue to push the Government to make sure that we’re defended. On borders, I don’t want restrictions of any sort to be there for one day more than is necessary, be very clear. That’s my position. But at the same time, I do think that we need to listen to the medical advice. And we do need, I think, for the Government, when it comes to the so-called National Cabinet, to actually have something that looks like a national process coming out of it.
LANE: We are close to time. Mr Albanese, thank you very much. Everybody, please join me in thanking Anthony Albanese.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.