Jul 29, 2020







SUBJECTS: The need for Parliament to sit; Consumer Price Index; job security; Labor Environment Action Network (LEAN); Victorian coronavirus outbreak; aged care facilities; WA borders; Clive Palmer’s legal appeal; Margaret Thatcher; state borders; PPE; South China Sea.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thank you for joining me. Today, Senator Fierravanti-Wells has made some comments in the paper about the need for the Parliament to meet. And those comments are very much welcomed. I can confirm that the working group which has been established, which includes Tony Burke and Katy Gallagher, the managers of the Parliament in the respective houses from Labor, the Speaker and the President of the Senate and the Liberal Party managers of parliamentary business have begun meeting to ensure that Parliament can meet on August 24th. This is a Prime Minister who goes out of his way to avoid scrutiny. Mention transparency and openness and this Prime Minister reaches for the dictionary. Parliament has to meet. You can’t have the rhetorical position that the Prime Minister has had; saying that, ‘We need to get out from under the doona’, putting a position whereby he has opposed the border restrictions that have been put in place by state governments, including his support for the Clive palmer challenge against Western Australia, and saying then that it is just too hard for Parliament to meet.


I am confident, and Labor will support, whatever restrictions are required and whatever cooperative mechanisms are required to make sure that the Parliament can meet. Because there are too many issues for us to not be meeting. The Canadian Parliament has had an impact in terms of deaths and infections, considerably higher than Australia’s, and they have reconvened. Parliaments around the world are meeting to discuss these issues. And I say well in advance of August 24, that we need to ensure that Parliament does meet, not just because of the scrutiny that’s required and the transparency, but also because of the message that it sends. If Parliament can’t meet, why is it that schools are still functioning, and that other economic activity can occur?


Now just recently, I do want to comment on one further thing before I take questions.
It has just been announced that we have had the worst quarterly Consumer Price Index on record. A reduction of some 1.9 per cent. What that shows in just one quarter is the extent to which the economy is very much struggling during this first recession in 30 years. What that should do is give the Government pause for thought on their reductions that they’re taking place in support that they announced just a couple of weeks ago. And it also reinforces the need for the Government to actually have a plan for jobs, a plan for job creation, which, at the moment, they have JobSeeker and JobKeeper. What they need is JobCreator. There are 240,000 Australians who the Government says will lose their jobs between now and Christmas. The Government didn’t have an economic plan prior to this pandemic. They certainly need one in terms of the recovery. And that plan shouldn’t be based upon, as Josh Frydenberg has announced, his inspiration of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. It needs to be the opposite, in fact. Margaret Thatcher, who, of course, said that there was no such thing as society, and Ronald Reagan, who, of course, said that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help’. What we actually have needed during this pandemic is Government assistance, Government support. And the fact that Josh Frydenberg has reinforced and doubled down saying that is the Government’s inspiration from the Treasurer, in terms of how he views the recovery, should be of great concern, indeed. Particularly given that he’s raised the issue of industrial relations, which, of course, under Margaret Thatcher saw a considerable attack on the wages and conditions of working people. One of the issues during this pandemic has been the issue of job security. And that’s why issues such as paid pandemic leave has been important that that’s been announced for nursing homes. There needs to be a much broader support for paid pandemic leave. And the Government needs to step up. It is insecure work that is causing a great deal of issues leading to transmissions. If people have a choice between putting food on the family table or doing the right thing and staying home, then if they don’t have that security, including a security of income, then that is causing real issues. One of the issues we need to recognise out of this pandemic is that we need to not just go back to what was there, but we need to take into account the fact that a number of weaknesses have been exposed by this pandemic. And one of the weaknesses in the Australian economy has been casualisation of work and insecure work that has caused real issues in terms of the recent period.


Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: How do you respond to Joel Fitzgibbon’s attack that the Labor Environment Action Network has been fundamentalist and a barrier to winning an election?


ALBANESE: Well, it’s just wrong. LEAN is made up of people who are committed to environmental action. The Labor Party is the Party that should be very proud and are proud of everything from the Daintree being saved, to Franklin being saved, the concern around climate change, concern around the Great Barrier Reef, the creation of the Kakadu National Park. When Labor was in office, the creation of marine parks, the actions that were taken across the board. We have in this country, a real issue with biodiversity and with an extinction crisis. It is a good thing that people who are concerned about the natural environment want to make sure that our kids and grandkids can inherit a natural environment that is at least as pristine as the ones that we’ve been able to enjoy. And the fact that this group, along with a whole range of other groups, join the Labor Party, because if you’re going to change Australia for the better, then you have to be a part of a Party of Government. And I welcome people’s participation. And certainly, with regard to LEAN, I know that they have been very critical, indeed, if you look for a group in the Party that are critical of the actions and the opportunism of the Greens political Party, then you need to go no further than to have interaction with the LEAN organisation.


JOURNALIST: Do you think, though, that the Labor Environment Action Network has exercised too much influence over Labor policy? Do you support Joel’s pushback against it?


ALBANESE: No, they haven’t. Labor Party policy is determined by the delegates to Party conferences. And the Labor Party takes climate change seriously. We recognise that it is a massive threat to our economy, as well as to our natural environment and indeed to our society. And over the recent summer, and indeed the prolonged period, where we saw the impact of bushfires, the warnings that were there from scientists were there for a long period of time. We need to ensure in terms of the science, I go to the speech I gave at the National Press Club about listening to science, the last vision statement. That was strongly supported by Joel Fitzgibbon and strongly supported by all of my frontbench team. Joel plays a very important role on the frontbench and will continue to do so.


JOURNALIST: Just on the situation down in Victoria, especially in the aged care homes; are you disappointed that some of the lessons from Newmarch weren’t learnt from the first wave here in New South Wales?


ALBANESE: Well, they should have been, of course. But it shouldn’t have taken a pandemic for the Government to really acknowledge the weaknesses that were there in the aged care system that the Federal Government have responsibility for. And I gave, earlier this year, another vision statement about valuing and respecting older Australians. We’ve had an interim report from the Aged Care Royal Commission that has shown quite horrific statements that should have prompted much faster Government action. We still have major problems with staffing issues in our aged care facilities that are privately run. We have issues of over 100,000 Australians who’ve been approved for homecare packages unable to get them and too many Australians dying before their approved packages are actually put in place. We need to have a comprehensive plan on aged care. Aged Care was cut, of course, by Scott Morrison while he was responsible for finances in this country. He’s refused to acknowledge that. And it would stop if we had a bit of honesty about the issues which have been there, which have been really exposed during the current period. The fact is there have been multiple warnings about these weaknesses. And my heart goes out to those Australians who have their mum or dad, uncle, aunty, grandfather, grandmother in facilities at the moment, which is causing a great deal of distress. I do note that the Prime Minister’s language was considerably different from the language of the Health Minister in the press conference that he just gave.


JOURNALIST: We have heard some awful stories recently about people who lost their loved ones in aged care because of the virus. I mean, would you personally feel comfortable having your loved ones in a nursing home at the moment?


ALBANESE: I’m unfortunately not in a position of that. So, I won’t comment. But certainly, I have every sympathy for people who are distressed at the moment and who are really concerned. The Newmarch issue was there for all to see in Sydney a while ago. And the Federal Government does need to get on top of this. They are responsible. They need to cooperate and work with the various state governments, because we know that elderly people are particularly vulnerable to being impacted by COVID-19.


JOURNALIST: Just coming back to the WA border issue, do you agree with Clive Palmer and the Government that WA probably should look at reopening their borders?


ALBANESE: Let’s be very clear, I’m with Mark McGowan on the WA border issue and I am not with Clive Palmer and Scott Morrison on the WA border issue. The actions of Mark McGowan as the Premier of Western Australia have served his state well. And that, in my view, should be respected. I don’t buy this issue that the Prime Minister says he had no choice but to join in supporting the Clive Palmer legal appeal. Because the Government itself, on the issue of live exports, made a decision just a week ago, a political decision based upon the views of some of their backbenchers and frontbenchers, to not appeal that decision. Governments will do that from time to time. This is about politics. Of course, we know that Clive Palmer spent $60 million trying to get Scott Morrison’s Government elected just in May last year. And I stand with Mark McGowan, just as I respect the decision that Annastacia Palaszczuk has made with regard to the Queensland borders. That causes some issues. I had a meeting scheduled with Premier Palaszczuk next week in Brisbane, and I intended to be in Queensland next week. That now won’t be possible. But I respect that decision. And we need to have an abundance of caution here. And the precautionary principle, I understand, that states, whether it be also Steven Marshall or the Tasmanian Government, when they make these decisions, they should be backed in, not saying that it’s up to them, but then really saying other things in the very next sentence and being critical of those decisions.


JOURNALIST: You have spoken about how the Government needs to do more to help across the country for states get on top of coronavirus. Do you think that it’s maybe time here in your home state for people to start wearing masks or taking greater precautions?


ALBANESE: Look, I think that is a decision that should be up to the respective medical officers. One of the things that I have been consistent on is that we should listen to the medical advice. These decisions shouldn’t be political, whether they be a closure of borders, whether they be restrictions on activity, whether they be use of PPE, they should all be based upon the medical advice and based upon the science rather than based upon the politics. And that way, everyone should then, once the decision has been made, they should be complied with, absolutely. We all have a responsibility. I don’t have Margaret Thatcher as my role model. I understand that there is such a thing as society, that we’re all interconnected, and that we all have a responsibility to look after each other. It’s that principle of ‘we’re all in this together’, that is getting us through this crisis better than most comparative nations. And that is a good thing. And that’s in Australian’s nature to look after each other.


JOURNALIST: Just on Marise Payne’s recent talks with the US on the South China Sea, are you happy that we have seemed to have avoided getting more involved in freedom of navigation exercise?


ALBANESE: Look, it makes sense for Australia to look after our own national interest. It also makes sense for us to be engaged in our region with our regional partners. We stand for international law, including the International Law of the Sea. ITLOS is an important treaty. And we have been consistent about that. But we need to engage in our region, with our partners in our region. And I think that should be the basis upon moving forward. Penny Wong, our Foreign Shadow, will be giving a substantial update on Labor’s response shortly. Thank you.