Jan 25, 2021






SUBJECTS: Vaccination roll-out in Australia; Australia’s relationship with China; Labor’s policy agenda for the next Federal Election; Australia Day.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning. It is great news that one year after the first recorded case of COVID in Australia, today the TGA has approved the first vaccine. But the job, of course, is not done. Vaccines don’t save lives, vaccinations do. That’s why it’s important that this Pfizer vaccine be rolled out as soon as possible. In the US, Canada, the EU and the UK, doses were administered within one week of approval. How long will Australians have to wait after now, the TGA has given the big tick? Labor, as all Australians should, have absolute faith in the processes of the TGA. We said consistently that once the TGA approval occurred, the vaccines should be rolled out as soon as possible. We were told it would be late March. Then it was early March. Then it was sometime in February. But the Prime Minister has also committed to four million people being vaccinated by the end of March. We’ll be holding him to account on that, because it appears that is going the way of the commitment that all Australians who were stranded overseas would be home by Christmas. This Government consistently doesn’t deliver on what it says it will do. If the Morrison Government had secured the Pfizer deal before other countries had secured one billion doses of their own, maybe the Government would have more than one in five Australians being looked after by this vaccine. Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, sorry, Mr Albanese, just in relation to the vaccines, the Prime Minister made clear that the four million doses of the vaccines would be likely administered in early April rather than March.


ALBANESE: No, he said March.


JOURNALIST: Today in the press conference he indicated that it would likely be April.


ALBANESE: But he did say March.


JOURNALIST: Isn’t it reasonable that given the global supply shocks that we’re seeing that there is going to be a little bit of movement in vaccine supplies and the October end date is still the most likely outcome for the vaccination of the population? Isn’t everything really just going along as the Government said that it would?


ALBANESE: Well I didn’t put words into the Prime Minister’s mouth. He chose to say that four million doses would occur before March. It is relevant, not just for me to hold the Prime Minister to account for what he says, but, without telling Fourth Estate your job, it’s up to you also to hold him to account for what he says.


JOURNALIST: On a similar note, as you mentioned with the timetable was March, then mid-February and now potentially back to March as a start date. Is that a reasonable alteration of the time frame? Obviously, with the delivery of the vaccine, are you concerned by it being early March?


ALBANESE: There are two issues here. One is the fact that Australia is towards the end of the queue, not the at the front of the queue. And the Prime Minister last year was saying that Australia was at the front of the queue. That’s not true. It’s also the case that Australia has access to three potential vaccines. And the fact that world’s best practice means five or six should be available. And I note various experts with more expertise than the Prime Minister or me in the papers today again raising concerns about that, again saying that we should look at Australia getting access to vaccines like Moderna that are proven to be the most successful, along with the Pfizer vaccine, in terms of the clinical examinations that have occurred.


JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, are you taking a tiny policy agenda to the next election as Bill Shorten hinted at?


ALBANESE: We’ll take a good Labor agenda to the next election. Can I say this? If you look at policies that we’ve already announced, I’ll give you a few big ones that we’ve already announced. Wage subsidies, they’ve now been done. Mental health support for people during COVID, they’ve been done. Increase to Newstart, that was done. A whole range of the things that we prioritised to announce that the Government should be doing during the pandemic were adopted by the Government. That’s a good thing. If they’d listened to us about the vaccines, they would have had one more, and we wouldn’t be under the circumstances that we are right now.


JOURNALIST: Were you frustrated by Bill Shorten’s speech yesterday as some of your colleagues were?


ALBANESE: Not at all. Bill Shorten launched a book. Labor Party people write books. Labor Party people launch books. We’re the party of ideas.


JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister said that he’s consulting with former Prime Ministers Howard and Rudd in relation to the Australia-China relationship. Do you think that it should be stepped further in terms of their involvement to that relationship?


ALBANESE: I wrote to the Prime Minister last week suggesting that he engage with former Prime Ministers Rudd and Howard, both of whom have significant relationships with China and as well, of course, Kevin Rudd has significant relationships with the incoming Biden Administration as well. It’s very clear that when Australian jobs in industries as diverse as wine, education, the timber industry, coal and other exports are under threat because of what has occurred with the breakdown in the relationship and China’s actions. To be clear, it is China that is to blame for breaking down that relationship. But you need to find a way through. And I think that it is very sensible to engage former Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and John Howard. That is suggestions that have come to me from senior people in the business community as well as people in the union movement who have been worried about jobs.


JOURNALIST: Just back on this speech, what are you going to be doing in the next couple of months to win the working class war? Bill Shorten has said that the oxygen the Party’s been taken out of focusing on work and workers and it’s more environmental issues. What are you going to do to win back the working class believer?


ALBANESE: You’ll see a range of policies rolled out. I am focussed on looking outwards, not focused on internals. And that’s the way that we’ll be successful. If we focus on ourselves, then we won’t be successful. And I note that the Labor Party review was handed down more than a year ago at the end of 2019. There’s nothing that I’ve seen put forward in recent times that wasn’t contained in that review that I spoke at the National Press Club and outlined there, the strategy going forward that was unanimously adopted by the National Executive, those recommendations. And I’ve been following that. What we need is more strategy, less day-to-day tactics.


JOURNALIST: Just on China again, can you point to any substantive difference in how you would approach the relationship? Or is it more rhetorical and a matter of tactics rather than the big picture?


ALBANESE: Well, look, I wouldn’t compromise any Australian values. That’s very clear. And we have a bipartisan position about that. But under Prime Minister Howard and under Prime Minister Rudd, we were able to manage those issues, I think, appropriately. Under this Government, we’ve seen more linkage with China in terms of the percentage of our exports that go to that one nation have meant that we’ve been more dependent than ever before. But we have a circumstance whereby we need to look towards some form of a circuit breaker. Not one that compromises our values, that’s important. I’ve spoken in a range of contexts about our democratic values, about human rights and how we should be consistent about that. And I think that this would be a practical suggestion. Because at the moment, we know that there’s no dialogue occurring at all.


JOURNALIST: Paul Fletcher, the Communications Minister, suggested the ABC had got it wrong in an article they published referring to Australia Day as Invasion Day. What are your thoughts on that? Do you believe the ABC is wrong?


ALBANESE: I’ll leave those matters for the ABC. I’ll be here participating in the Australia Day commemorations tomorrow. Can I say this about Australia Day? What we need to do is to make sure that when we look at our nation, we look at ways in which we unite. We look at ways in which we’re able to move forward. Now, in 2018, in my Australia Day address in my electorate, I raised the prospect perhaps of the constitutional recognition of First Nations people being held on that date. So that, indeed, you could have a recognition that history certainly didn’t begin in this country in 1788 with the arrival of the 11 ships in the First Fleet. So, what occurs is that I think that would be a way in which we acknowledge history going backwards. I think we need a constructive discussion. And I don’t want to add to anything that further divides. It’s clear we need a mature discussion going forward. Because I perfectly understand that for First Nations people, that’s a painful day, that we need to acknowledge our history as it was and that people weren’t there welcoming the First Fleet and what occurred after then was frontier wars and all that history, much of which hasn’t been written. I understand Stan Grant is doing a bit of a history on some of those things. So we need to acknowledge all of our history.


We are diminished as a nation while we don’t recognise First Nation people in our Constitution. And I’ve been very disappointed that there hasn’t been an advance. In the first discussion I had with the Prime Minister in his office when the Parliament resumed and I became Labor Leader, we discussed advancing those issues. I strongly support the Uluru Statement. I think it’s a very generous statement. It’s a request, that’s a polite request, from First Nations people, after considerable consultation, to engage with them. And a Voice to the Parliament, on issues that affect First Nations people, is, to my mind, just common sense. And enshrining that in the Constitution reflects the capacity of the Parliament and the Australian people to show faith that process won’t be just discontinued due to a change in government, as happened in the past with ATSIC, for example.


So I think these issues are important going forward. When I put forward that idea, the idea of three things, one, Australia Day does recognise that was the day the First Fleet arrived, constitutional recognition is something that’s required and also, I think, having an Australian head of state going forward is something else that I support. So we could have a past, present and future agenda perhaps looked at down the track. There have been other constructive proposals as well, Noel Pearson speaking about two days of commemoration. I’m very open to these ideas but I think they should be generous and I think they should be warm-hearted in the same spirit as the Uluru Statement from the Heart. And I think that stands in stark contrast to the contribution of Andrew Laming that, I’ve got to say, is entirely unworthy of a member of our Australian Parliament. Thanks very much.