ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
THURSDAY, 5 NOVEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: US presidential election; Australia’s relationship with the US; democracy; democratic values; coronavirus vaccine.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much for joining me. The alliance between Australia and the United States is our most important. And we respect the United States because of its democratic values, which we share. And what we have seen is the largest turnout in the United States for any presidential election since 1908. We need to await the result, clearly. And we need to be patient, as observers from around the world are, as well as US citizens. Because in a democracy, it’s always based on one vote, one value. Every person having their vote counted. And it’s absolutely critical that the counts are allowed to continue so that everyone’s view can be tabulated, and it can be determined who the next President of the United States will serve for the next four years.
Labor, of course, will work with whoever the American people elect. We also understand that American institutions are so important for our democracy. Australians will be somewhat concerned, I think, at some of the footage, for example, outside Detroit, Michigan, outside a county, of people shouting in a chant to ‘stop the count’. That’s really shouting, ‘Stop democracy’. And we need, all of us who hold democratic values around the world, need to be prepared to speak up for democracy. I also say to Joe Hockey, the former Ambassador from Australia to the US, that it doesn’t help to have Australians make comments that aren’t thought through such as this morning’s where he said that there was clearly a question mark over the legitimacy of the Washington DC vote, where Joe Biden secured 93 per cent of support, and said he couldn’t believe that was the case. Joe needed perhaps to get out more when he was in Washington DC, because the Democrats, of course, got over 90 per cent of the vote in 2016, in 2012, and in 2008. And it’s pretty consistent with those outcomes. So, we look forward to continuing to watch the progress that occurs in the United States. Our democratic values are shared. It’s important they be upheld. And Labor looks forward to working with the United States. Because the relationship between us is a relationship between our peoples based upon our common democratic values. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: A huge part of the reason Americans are saying, ‘Stop the vote’ in Detroit is because the President himself said to stop the vote and called for counting to stop. What is your reaction to a President doing something like that?
ALBANESE: Well, I made some comments in Darwin a couple of days ago about the importance of political leaders upholding the principles of a democracy. I drew a contrast between comments questioning democracy and what occurred in our own great democracy of Queensland on Saturday, where both Annastacia Palaszczuk and Deb Frecklington commended the democratic process that had occurred there. And I think that Deb Frecklington, I repeat, again, my comments that I made two days ago, I think her speech gave herself a great deal of credit.
JOURNALIST: And so, how worried are you that the US could end up in a violent situation?
ALBANESE: I’m very confident that the US institutions and their support for democratic processes will prevail. These are strong institutions. I’ve participated for many years in the Australian American Leadership Dialogue. And whilst there are Chatham House Rules, those forums, what it is, is a chance to exchange views between Australian leaders of politics, business, the media, and civil society, and our American counterparts. And one of the things that it has struck me, as someone who’s attended under both President Obama and President Trump, is the consistency in which Americans hold democratic principles so dear, regardless of where they might stand on the political spectrum. And I’m very confident that American institutions, and indeed the American people, will come through this. People would have, of course, everyone would like to see a result clearly on election night, but often that doesn’t happen. They are still counting votes in Queensland, in electorates like Currumbin. In Eden-Monaro, on the night, I privately told those journalists who were there that I was very confident that we’d won by about the amount that we ended up winning by. But we didn’t declare on the night, because there were votes to be counted. Once those pre-poll votes were counted on the Sunday morning, and it was clear that we were definitely going to win, then Kristy McBain claimed victory. That’s the democratic process. And here, it’s not surprising given the different rhetorical positions about early voting, that there’s a difference in the vote cast on the day and the vote cast earlier on.
JOURNALIST: Do you think Donald Trump is trying to undermine democracy in the US, given his reaction?
ALBANESE: I think that democracy is too important for it to be undermined by any individual. And I think that the United States institutions, and its democratic values, which are at its core, can’t be undermined by anyone, beyond any undermining at any particular time. America will come through this. And the fact that more Americans have voted than at any time for over a century in this presidential election really signals how important Americans value their capacity to have a say and express that through the ballot box. That is how we do it in democratic countries. And that is really important. Here in Australia, every time there’s an election in a country that has voluntary voting, I say that Australia’s democracy is very, very strong. It’s a reminder that we got it right when we had compulsory voting. It’s a reminder, as well, that almost all the time, the political party that gets the most support, after people express their preference, gets to form government. There are times where that doesn’t happen, for Kim Beazley in 1998. But that, of course, was accepted completely by the Australian people. And I value our democracy. But I value democratic values around the world as well.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe Joe Biden will be better for Australia and the relationship with the US?
ALBANESE: Look, I don’t think it’s appropriate to make comments until the votes are counted and it’s determined who the next President will be. At that time, certainly, I will be making comments. But I believe that Australia would work with, as we have with President Trump, we’ve worked with presidents of all political persuasions, and our alliance has remained strong. I know Joe Biden. I’ve met him a couple of times when he was the Vice President, of course, people retain their titles in the United States. So, in terms of Vice President Biden, I found him to be a great friend of Australia. I haven’t met President Trump. Of course, Scott Morrison and he have a good relationship. It’s important that that we work with whoever the US people decide will be the next President going forward. Just one more.
JOURNALIST: Just on vaccines, does Labor support the spending of another $1.5 billion on potential coronavirus vaccines? Chris Bowen suggested that Australia catch up to the rest of the world, how would you suggest the Government does that?
ALBANESE: Well, the agreements that were announced today, we welcome as a step forward. But they now bring four agreements. The rest of the world is looking at six or seven agreements. There’s an issue with the vaccine and whether they can be manufactured here. And that presents another challenge. Their transportation, under very severe low temperatures, mean that they could present potential difficulties. But we’ve been calling upon the Government to do more, to catch up with the world in terms of putting agreements in place so that our health can be looked after. Every Australian, indeed, I think every citizen of the world, wants to see a vaccine and wants to see us win over this terrible virus that has caused chaos, has caused a great deal of death and health concerns. But also, it has also wreaked havoc on our economy. So, it’s critical that we do everything possible. And when we look at expenditure, it’s a matter of opportunity cost here. Getting a vaccine is absolutely critical for our future economy, but also for keeping people healthy and safe. Thanks very much.