May 27, 2020







SUBJECTS: Eden-Monaro by-election; industrial relations; bushfire recovery; Australia beyond the coronavirus; NSW public sector wage freeze; High Speed Rail.


LEON DELANEY, HOST: On the phone, in the car, on his way to Merimbula, the Federal Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese. Good afternoon.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good afternoon, Leon. Thanks for having me on the program.


DELANEY: Thanks for joining us today. And you’ve been on the hustings today in the seat of Eden-Monaro along with the Labor candidate, Kristy McBain. You’ve been visiting various locations throughout the electorate. Obviously, it’s time to hit the campaign trail for this very important by-election. I’m just having trouble figuring out, and maybe you can help me, who exactly is the underdog?


ALBANESE: Well, I think that what I do know is that Kristy McBain is the best candidate. She’s absolutely passionate about her local community and the entire region. She’s someone who worked in her earlier days as a lawyer with offices in Queanbeyan and Yass. She is someone who has been the mayor of Bega, she’s been the Deputy Chair of the Regional Local Government body that covers the entire electorate. So, wherever I have been with her, and today we’ve been in Narooma, Quaama, Bega and Cobargo, Kristy knows people, she’s familiar with the issues as she was when we visited the Yass Valley and Queanbeyan and Batlow and the community around the Snowy Shire earlier on this campaign.


DELANEY: It’s obviously a very, very narrow margin. And historically, governments don’t normally win back seats from oppositions. It hasn’t happened for 100 years, I’m told. But this is kind of an unusual scenario, isn’t it? You’ve lost a very popular member in Mike Kelly who had a great deal of personal support, which obviously was a significant factor in his retaining the seat at the last election. So, how do you rate your chances?


ALBANESE: Look, we’re just doing our best. We believe we have the best candidate. I think it’s important that the electorate take the opportunity to send a message to the Government that they do want an improved performance. I note the comments that Scott Morrison made on Sunday of seeking a complete endorsement of what the Government’s been doing. So, I think if people think in this region, that the lead up to the bushfires could have been dealt with better preparation, or that the recovery could have been seeing improvements, or that there are people who’ve missed out on the JobKeeper program, who have been left behind at the moment, then it is an opportunity to say to the Government, you can’t change the Government in a by-election, but you can send a message that they need to do better. And you cannot change the Government, but you can send a message about a better Government.


DELANEY: Obviously, one of the significant issues in Eden-Monaro is obviously going to be the bushfire recovery and preparation for future bushfire seasons. And of course, the difficulties of that in the COVID-19 environment, it has been a double whammy. What can be done to better prop-up the tourism sector in Eden-Monaro as well as all of the other very important activities in that electorate?


ALBANESE: Well, we met with a local place at Narooma at the ice creamery there that serves cakes and not just ice cream but coffee and has the woman who is also named Kristy who runs a business there. It is a familiar name in this part of the world. She runs another coffee shop as well. They employ 40 people. Only seven have been eligible for JobKeeper. And that means that other people had to be put on hold, if you like. They want to keep giving them employment but just aren’t in a position to do so because the through traffic just isn’t happening there. That means that money’s been taken out of the economy that could be put in to that local economy. So, I really think that the Government needs to look after the people who have been left behind. There are people in whole sectors like the art community that have been left behind by the Government’s response at the moment. And I think that would help the recovery if we had more money circulating in these local economies.


DELANEY: A lot has already been said about JobKeeper and the $60 billion miscalculation on whether or not that money should now be redirected or simply not borrowed in the first place. And I guess we’d just be going over the same old territory to recap that now. But moving on from JobKeeper to the announcement yesterday for Job Maker, it sounds very much like Scott Morrison is attempting to create some sort of consensus outcome here. And a lot of people have made comparisons with the Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, accord with the ACTU way back in the 80s. Is there a similarity?


ALBANESE: This is just a speech at this stage, saying that unions and business should talk with each other and they have common interests. Now, it shouldn’t have taken a pandemic for the Coalition to realise that. That’s consistent with the speeches and statements I’ve made over a period of decades. And actions, indeed, that we have taken in office. The only reason why this is big news is that in the past, anytime the Coalition had mentioned unions it’s been criticise them and to try to create laws which would make it more difficult for unions to operate or to recruit members. And so, I think that’s why it’s a news story at this stage. But what we haven’t had is any actual plans for change. We do need to work on the industrial relations system as I said when I gave my vision statement in Canberra just a couple of weeks ago, because productivity isn’t working for business, and it’s going backwards. And wages, of course, have been constrained and stagnant for a period of time. And the Reserve Bank has said that’s something that’s holding the economy back.


DELANEY: There seems to be increasing recognition not just here in Australia, but around the world, that more respect and understanding needs to be shown to the people who are effectively the base of the economic pyramid, and they should be allowed to share in a greater proportion of the rewards of prosperity and economic success, which has not been the case in recent decades, particularly in some other parts of the world, but also here in Australia. How long do you think that newfound acknowledgement and respect for the frontline workers is actually going to last on the other side of this crisis before it comes back to the same old story of business-as-usual and all of the benefits of economic prosperity being hoovered up to the top of the pyramid?


ALBANESE: Well, I hope that it continues. I am concerned that today, the New South Wales Premier has announced a pay freeze for nurses, emergency service workers, our police. Those frontline service workers have kept us all safe. Who have risked their own health in order to do so. And I’m somewhat stunned that this statement has been made a day after Scott Morrison has given a speech saying that we need to work together more, employers and workers. Well, perhaps he should have a chat with these Liberal colleague, Gladys Berejiklian, about respect being given to these frontline service workers who I think are deserving of so much respect. I hope that we never again take for granted, as a society and as a community, the work that not just pay for what nurses do, but our cleaners and the people who do those services that have protected us and made us safe during what’s been extremely difficult period.


DELANEY: You’ve also been a long-time advocate of High-Speed Rail, but we saw a Grattan Institute report this week that basically it’s too expensive and we should forget about it. Do you think they’re right?


ALBANESE: I think they’re totally wrong. And I think they didn’t bother to actually read the study that was done when we were in Government. It was completed in two stages that showed that it would produce a positive economic return of over two dollars, between Sydney and Melbourne via Canberra hasĀ a very positive economic return. And it would create significant regional economic development, including, of course, in Australia’s largest inland city, our national capital.


DELANEY: And finally, on rail, there’s also a proposal for a rail link from Canberra to Eden partially using existing corridors and some new development as well. That’s been given some money for a feasibility study by the New South Wales Government. Do you think there’s any future in that one?


ALBANESE: Look, I await to see what the study shows. Of course, you don’t have the population along that route that you have long the High-Speed Rail route that’s provided, which is what delivers that positive economic return. We have Sydney to Melbourne has been at one stage it was the highest patronage of any air route in the world. It consistently is in the top five. And Sydney to Brisbane is in the top ten. We have a very concentrated population along that corridor. And what you’d have is, I think, regional economic growth opportunities as well, including, of course in the national capital, but also in places like Wagga and Albury-Wodonga that would make a difference, I think. For other routes, studies tend to show that you need substantial population. But it may well be that in terms of freight and other routes, if there’s a corridor there, that it’s possible to do. Certainly, this century will be the century of rail once again. After decades of decline, what we’re seeing right around the world there is an expansion of rail, high speed rail, or indeed light rail and other rail forms as well, because it’s a clean way of travel. It’s comfortable and it’s efficient.


DELANEY: A part of the Eden proposal, of course, is making greater use of the seaport at Eden, which would be critical for freight. But, as you say, time will tell.


ALBANESE: There is a huge opportunity there for both freight and also for people as well. Eden Port is one of the most majestic places in this country. And, indeed, Kristy McBain is a graduate of Eden High School.


DELANEY: Back on the hustings again.


ALBANESE: I worked it in there smoothly.


DELANEY: You did very, very well, indeed. Thanks very much for your time today.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, mate.