Apr 17, 2020






SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; current restriction measures due to coronavirus; support for the Australian airline industry during COVID-19; Virgin Australia; Christian Porter undermining industrial relations system; Parliament to re-sit in May; Malcolm Turnbull’s memoir; ask for greater transparency from China concerning COVID-19; confusion regarding compulsion of new app to track Coronavirus spread.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning. Thanks for joining me. Can I say regarding the Virgin Australia issue, that Australia needs a two-airline system. It has served the country well. In particular, it ensures that access is given to the regions. That is so important for regional economies. The fact is, the Government at the moment, is sitting back and watching while 15,000 jobs are at risk. Jobs at risk for Queenslanders where Virgin Australia has its headquarters. Jobs at risk for pilots. Jobs at risk for flight attendants. Jobs at risk for clerical staff. Jobs at risk for those who work in our airport terminals. But on top of the 15,000 jobs which are there, there are also jobs at risk for the tourism sector that needs a two-airline system here in Australia. So, I say to the Government that it needs to do more than wash its hands of this issue. It has been prepared to intervene to support Rex and that is a good thing. But it needs to be prepared to give consideration to support Virgin whilst ensuring that taxpayers’ interests are protected. And they certainly can do both if money is given through an equity injection, for example. That protects taxpayers’ interests and indeed would ensure that at a future time, that equity could be sold down potentially at a higher value. So, I think that the Government needs to re-asses this.


Can I say about one further issue, which is the changes that were made by Christian Porter yesterday to regulations, undermining our industrial relations system. Now, the Government has praised the ACTU and the trade union movement during this crisis. But, this change done without the support of the trade union movement, whereby businesses, whether they are affected by Coronavirus or not can change or give notice of change of wages and conditions with just 24 hours for the opportunity to be given for workers in any workplace to assess what that means for them, and therefore restrict their ability to have proper advice from unions or from other organisations, is really the Government going back to its old standard of using every opportunity to have a go at the rights of working people and the rights of trade unions. We raised this last night with Christian Porter in our telepresence meeting, and can either say also, there was absolutely no consultation with the Opposition about this either. The Government can’t have it so that they want to be bipartisan when it suits them and then just engage in this sort of activity. A Government that we remember on the last day of sitting last year ran through anti-union legislation without a single word being able to be offered in that debate. Happy to take questions which are online, I understand. If you just say where you are from.


JOURNALIST: (Inaudible).


ALBANESE: Sorry, I couldn’t hear the question. Do you want to try again?


JOURNALIST: I was just wondering what you made of the Prime Minister’s suggestion this morning that the Transport Workers Union super fund should be used to bail out Virgin?


ALBANESE: I like the fact that the Government has spent a fair bit of time attacking the Transport Workers Union and attacking industry superannuation now feels as though they are in a position to dictate to those organisations what they do with their investment. What the Government is trying to do is to shake its responsibility. It has a responsibility, because of the imposition, quite rightly of constraints that are supported across the country, that is why there are particular circumstances for the airline industry. It is a direct result of the Coronavirus and the constraints that have been put on. So, industry super funds will make decisions based upon their members. But the Prime Minister shouldn’t abrogate the Government’s responsibility here. The Government has been prepared to step in and provide support to Rex. It needs to explain why it is, if these jobs disappear, be very clear, the Prime Minister has had a range of positions. This is just the latest. He has also, of course, said that cabotage could be looked at. He has said that other funding options might be there in terms of the shareholders of Virgin Australia. He has done everything except accept some responsibility for this himself. This is a time whereby he shouldn’t abrogate that responsibility. We want to protect those jobs, we are not prescriptive about how they are protected. But we want to protect them because of the impact that it would have on those working people, but also because it is in Australia’s national interest for there to be the two-airline structure maintained in Australia.


JOURNALIST: Albo, it’s Phil Coorey here. Would just like to get your reaction to that statement by the Prime Minister yesterday about the need to turn economic policy settings on its head to pursue an aggressive pro-growth strategy, supporting business and if that involves breaking election promises so be it. So, he wasn’t specific in terms of things, but I wonder how you would feel about a revisitation of company tax cuts, further industrial relations changes and so forth?


ALBANESE: Well, what we don’t want, is when we get through this crisis, is for the Government to just return to its old ideological position of attacking the rights of working people. That is what we don’t want. This Government didn’t have a large economic agenda or a reform agenda prior to the bushfires and the Coronavirus crisis. This Government had presided over a doubling of the debt. And it presided over productivity going backwards for two quarters in a row. Consumer demand flatlining. Circumstances whereby the Reserve Bank had intervened to cut interest rates on multiple occasions. And an economy that was really going nowhere. And the Government has been involved in a victory lap since May 2019, since they won the election. There haven’t been many changes at all. And you would recall that during the tax debate, Labor warned that it was premature and a triumphant of hope over experience to say that the Government could know what the economy looks like in 2023-2024 and to legislate tax cuts then. That was an extraordinary position that the Government took. And it was unwise. It certainly wasn’t prudent. And I think that Labor’s comments at that time have stood the test of time, unlike the Government. That is one of the reasons why you don’t say in five years’ time tax cuts will occur, without knowing what the economy looks like at that point in time, and without having an economic reform agenda. There’s been no micro-economic reform under this Government. They have given up on productivity. We know that wages have been not keeping up with where they should be. And the Reserve Bank was warning for the whole of last year that wages being lower was a real issue. If the Government’s response post this crisis is to further undermine our unions and to attack wages and conditions of working people, then that will not help the recovery. It will not help growth.


JOURNALIST: Just to follow on from Phil, Shane Wright here from the SMH and the Age. The Prime Minister said both the RBA and Steven Kennedy saying you can’t have the same sort of policy mix if you want to get real growth going post virus, does that mean for the Labor Party and its own policy development, you are going to have to rethink things?


ALBANESE: We were already developing policies to support growth. So, there is nothing new in that for us. We wanted to see higher wages and higher productivity. We wanted to see more investment in infrastructure. We wanted to see support for training in particular, so that Australians were available with the skills for the jobs of the future. I gave two vision statements last year. One in Perth about the jobs of the future that outlined an agenda for Jobs and Skills Australia being created, that outlined an agenda for where new job opportunities would be, using industry policy to drive the industries of the future, support for advanced and high-value manufacturing here in Australia. And I did a further one in Brisbane on the economy as well that was focused on productivity. So, there is nothing new for Labor in this. What might be new for the Government is a Government that essentially was coasting, coasting and basking in the victory from May last year and really didn’t have an agenda, when Parliament sat at the beginning of this year, we didn’t have very much legislation before the Parliament at all. And can I say that Labor welcomes the fact that last night we agreed the Parliament would resume in the second week of May. That’s something that Labor has been calling for. We should be sitting in the normal pattern. There’s no reason why that can’t occur. We expect Australians to go to work if you’re a nurse, or a teacher, or a cleaner, or someone who’s a part of our essential services, including supermarket workers, childcare workers. There’s no reason why parliamentarians can’t, as we have the last two times we’ve met, met in a way that protects the health of both parliamentarians and people who work at Parliament House, but do the work that we are elected to do, protecting the national interest.


JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, Matt Doran from ABC News here. Just picking up on that, what you were saying there about Parliament. Have you had any discussions following what Mr Morrison said yesterday about the potential for Parliament coming back sometime in May for a trial sitting? Have you had any discussions as to when exactly in May that would happen, how that would occur? And secondly, the UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, has said that his country will have to rethink its relationship with China after the Coronavirus pandemic and certainly the rhetoric from the Federal Government here from people like the Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, has been that China has serious questions to answer about how it dealt with outbreak in the first instance and how it’s managed it since. Does Labor agree that China needs to be more transparent here and that this will prompt a rethink of the broader relationship?


ALBANESE: Well, I’m going to attempt a natural segue between your two questions. The first of which is regarding Parliament. It’s been agreed, and we’ll work through the details, that Parliament will sit in the second week of May, beginning on either May 11th or 12th, around that date. And we’ll sit for three or four days of that week in the normal way. I’m not quite sure why the Prime Minister used the word ‘test’. The fact is that we have met successfully twice already. If we need to meet with restricted numbers, that’s fine. We can agree on a pairing arrangement. And Labor will certainly agree with that. Those details will be sorted out by the Leader of the House and the Manager of Opposition Business in conjunction with the Senate and the Senate President as well as the Speaker, the managers in both houses. I think Australians expect us to be sitting. I think that it sends the right message that we are sitting. And I say that it’s not, as I’ve said consistently, it’s not just to deal with the Coronavirus crisis. Governments need to continue to do work on economic policy, social policy, environmental policy. It would be interesting, for example, to see whether the principle that the Government has discovered with regard to recent events of listening to the science applies to climate change, for example. So, these are all issues that we need to deal with. Things just do not stop. And if you don’t move forward, the world moves past you. And the other principle that’s important is one of the great distinctions between Australia and China is that we are a democracy. Democracies require Parliament to meet. So, of course, when you have a one-party state, you have less democracy, you have less transparency there as well. So, that is a circumstance we want there to be transparency about all the events surrounding this crisis. China needs to be transparent about it, because the world needs to know not just what happened as a matter of record, but they need to know so that it can be avoided this happening ever again. Can I just say, I’ll give everyone a go but if you’re not speaking if you could go on mute please? Tegan?


JOURNALIST: Albo, have you pre-ordered Malcolm Turnbull’s memoir?


ALBANESE: I haven’t pre-ordered. I’m old-fashioned. I go into a bookstore and buy my books. I love bookstores. There is a fantastic one, Glebe Books at Dulwich Hill in my electorate. There is Better Read Than Dead at Newtown. A big shout-out to book retailers out there. And I am someone who for the same reason I like reading a newspaper by touching it rather than reading it online, that maybe says something about when I was born as much as anything else. But look, I certainly have an interest in biographies and autobiographies. So, no doubt, I think, Malcolm Turnbull will have some interesting things to say in that book. He’s someone who was an elected Prime Minister of Australia. And he certainly has some interesting insights into the people who he served with in the Party room. But I’m sure that his comments that he made when he said that he’ll refer to the events of him being removed as Prime Minister and Scott Morrison’s role in that, and he refers interestingly to Scott Morrison, saying one thing at other occasions and his supporters all going the other way. And Australians are entitled to know how it is that their Prime Minister was changed without an election. We asked in Parliament why Malcolm Turnbull was removed multiple times to Scott Morrison and didn’t receive an answer. People will recall Scott Morrison standing in the Prime Minister’s courtyard with Malcolm Turnbull and saying that he had Malcolm Turnbull’s back. Well, he put a knife in Malcolm Turnbull’s back. That’s how he became the Prime Minister. And people are entitled to know the details of how that occurred.


JOURNALIST: Jonathan Kearsley from Nine News. If I could just ask you, you mentioned before that you think China should have greater transparency, what do you think China needs to have greater transparency over? Is it the cause of the virus, the spread of the virus, the true extent of the virus and its handling of it? What specifically do you want China to be transparent about and how do you want it to be transparent, what does it need to say to the world?


ALBANESE: All of the above. But I would prefer for China to be a democracy. I’m a supporter of democracy. That’s one of the reasons why we need the Australian Parliament to sit as other democratic nations are. The British Parliament, which has had over 10,000 people die, I spoke to the new Leader of the British Labour Party and his team last night. They were talking with me about Parliament going back at Westminster. There’s no reason why our Parliament shouldn’t be sitting. Can I say with regard to China, they need to be transparent so that as well, what we don’t want is theories that don’t have any basis spreading out there. We’ve seen a lot of that on social media. And what we want is the facts. The facts of what the origin of this Coronavirus-19 was. What occurred in terms of how it originated, how it spread, and the circumstances around that. I think that the world is entitled to know. Thank you anything else?


JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese Matt Doran from the ABC. Just one more for you. The Government is planning to roll out this app to help with tracking Coronavirus spread around the country. The Prime Minister has said this morning on 3AW in Melbourne, he said previously that there needed to be a take up a 40 per cent of Australians for it to be a viable prospect. But he’s gone a step further this morning saying that unless 40 per cent of Australians sign up for this voluntary app that social restrictions would have to be in place. Is that something that Labor agrees with? And do you think that is a good way to try to convince people to get on board?


ALBANESE: Well, I think my concern about the Prime Minister’s comments this morning go to another interview that he did where he refused to rule out compulsion with regard to this app. I don’t think that you can have a circumstance, I’d be very concerned and would need a lot of convincing as Australians would. to say that we are going to effectively force Australians to be tracked. One of the things that would occur, if that was the Government response, would be some people would simply stop taking their phone to places is one way that could operate. We are concerned about some of the privacy issues. We weren’t consulted and read about this app in the newspaper. The Prime Minister says that we’re having these meetings once a week so that we can get consultation and bipartisanship. The spirit of that would indicate that we don’t read about major changes in the newspaper, which is what occurred. We raised our concerns last night. It’s up to the Government, frankly, to explain exactly what it has in mind with this app and to be very clear with the Australian public about whether it is going to be voluntary, or whether it is going to be some level of compulsion involved in this. Thanks very much.