May 27, 2020








SUBJECTS: Industrial relations; public-sector wage freezes in NSW; border closures; Eden-Monaro; return of NRL.


MARK LEVY, HOST: Mr Albanese, good afternoon.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good afternoon, Mark. Good to talk with you.


LEVY: You as well. Scott Morrison’s been described as the modern-day Bob Hawke after his address at the National Press Club. The PM’s intent on this industrial relations reform is urging the unions and the business sector to work together which ACTU Secretary, Sally McManus, has agreed to do. Is the Labor Party prepared to come to the party as well?


ALBANESE: Well, the fact is that we’ve never been out of the party. It’s been Scott Morrison that’s been obsessed for such a long period of time with attacking working people’s rights and conditions, with attacking the rights of unions to exist. And it was only the last sitting day of Parliament last year that he rammed through the Ensuring Integrity Bill through the House of Representatives without a single word of debate. Now, it is good that he has had a conversion to a view that I have had for a very long period of time, which is that unions and business have common interest. I have spoken regularly about Australians having conflict fatigue, that what we want is cooperative workplaces. But at the moment, the industrial relations system isn’t working in terms of productivity is going backwards for employers and businesses. And in terms of wages, of course, they’ve been stagnant for a long period of time, and that’s been identified by the Reserve Bank as a real problem for the economy.


LEVY: Well, it’s interesting you talk about conflict fatigue, Mr Albanese. I mean, this is a time when everyone needs to come together to ensure we kickstart that economy. Surely you can see then that it was poor timing from Richard Marles, who 30 minutes after the National Press Club address yesterday from the Prime Minister was already questioning the reforms?


ALBANESE: Well, what reforms are they, Mark?


LEVY: But I mean, when we just heard from the Prime Minister, and he’s up on a stage and he’s talking about, you know, the country coming together to kickstart the economy, you’ve got Sally McManus getting behind the Prime Minister, which is fantastic. And then someone from the Opposition, one of your colleagues, Richard Marles, 30 minutes after that statement comes out there and starts questioning what the way of the future is, how can we say that everyone’s on the same page?


ALBANESE: Well, I think what Richard was doing was expressing some surprise that after weeks or months or indeed years, but decades of having a consistent view, then, Scott Morrison, people are entitled to question whether it is just a marketing slogan or whether there’s something of substance behind it. I hope that the Prime Minister has seen the position that Labor has been in advancing, including Richard Marles, for a long period of time, that we have a common interest. That is something that was championed by Bob Hawke, but it wasn’t championed in one speech. That was championed with action. Action including superannuation being compulsory and delivering higher retirement incomes for working people, Medicare and other measures in the social wage that delivered support for working people across the board in terms of occupational health, safety and other changes. And it was only a couple of weeks ago with the decision of the courts that a casual worker in Central Queensland who was essentially not really casual, they’d been given their shifts a year in advance, everything that they were working, they deserved the same entitlements as a permanent part time worker. The Government was questioning that decision just a week ago. So, it’s not surprising that there’s a question mark there. And as your news just reported, the idea that we would not pass on the wages that were expected to begin to our nurses, for goodness sake, and emergency service workers who’ve been doing such an amazing job during the pandemic, is a real concern as well.


LEVY: Well, we’ve spoken to the Health Services Union on the program this afternoon. That announcement from the New South Wales Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, today freezing the public-sector wages for the next 12 months, that doesn’t help what Mr Morrison announced yesterday, does it?


ALBANESE: Well, it certainly doesn’t. It undermines it. And this is the same New South Wales Liberal Party to which Scott Morrison is a former state director and a proud member of. So, I don’t know what’s going on with the communication there. But perhaps Scott Morrison, if he wants to show some goodwill, should get onto the New South Wales Premier and tell her that those brave Australians have been looking after us, putting their own health at risk, working in hospitals, working in the emergency services. Our police are deserving of this wage rise.


LEVY: What are your thoughts on the borders? There’s a lot of people listening this afternoon who don’t understand why some of the states are refusing to open their borders. We’re broadcasting into Queensland at the moment. So, I mean, how do I explain to the people that other states will soon be able to fly internationally to New Zealand, but they can’t fly to states like Queensland?


ALBANESE: Well, of course the only borders that are open a New South Wales and Victoria.


LEVY: And Canberra.


ALBANESE: Well, I regard it, as you know, pretty close to Canberra there.


LEVY: Apples and oranges.


ALBANESE: Exactly. It’s sort of a bit hard to close the border there. But all of the other states are closed. The Commonwealth has made the decision with what it calls the National Cabinet that states essentially can make their own decisions. I don’t want to see any restrictions there for one day more than is necessary. People have got to take health advice. But I do want to see an opening up of all the restrictions as soon as practicable. Taking into account, obviously, the health advice has to be primary concern. But really, the economic costs, of course, is there of these restrictions and one of those restrictions, of course, is state border controls.


LEVY: A couple of quick ones before I let you go. I know you’re a busy man. You mentioned National Cabinet. I’m interested in your thoughts because it seems to me and a number of my listeners that it’s given the Premiers and the Chief Ministers a heightened sense of entitlement and an opportunity to what seems to be run their own way race.


ALBANESE: Well, they are running their own race, of course. It isn’t really a Cabinet, of course. There’s no guidelines in terms of binding processes. There is no Cabinet handbook. There’s no anything of substance. Our Constitution does make us a Federation and when the head of the Department the Prime Minister and Cabinet appeared before the inquiry that’s been established in the Senate into the Coronavirus response, he didn’t really have any answers as to what the status of the National Cabinet, as it’s called, is. It is really just COAG meetings because the states maintain the control over things like when schools are open etc. I think it’s been useful that we have cooperation and dialogue. But the states, effectively, are still in control of what they used to be in control of. I would like to see, myself, more national consistency, I’ve got to say, across the board. It’s something that if we’re starting Australia again, you might design our governance structures a bit different from the way they are today.


LEVY: All right, well, you’re obviously down in Merimbula and Bega in a beautiful part of New South Wales. I was actually down there, Mr Albanese, earlier this year, with the continuous call team for the NRL trial between Penrith and Parramatta and we actually caught up with Kristy McBain, your candidate, in the seat of Eden-Monaro. I’ll tell you one thing, she’s pretty popular in that part of the world.


ALBANESE: She is an outstanding candidate. She’s as good a candidate as I’ve seen a first-time candidate anywhere in any context. She’s passionate about her local community. She’s running for all the right reasons. And today we’ve been in Narooma and I am in Bega now, we’ve just met with the heads of Bega Cheese that employ, of course, 700 people at the factory here in Bega. Very proud Australian company. And we’ve been to Quaama talking to chook farmers there. We were talking to beef and cattle people in Cobargo. We visited the evacuation centre that has been established and relief centres. It’s been a very busy day. This is a community that are incredibly tough. They’ve dealt with drought, bushfires, and now the coronavirus. And they are resilient, though. But they do need support. And it was a fantastic thing that trial game took place. I think it was here in Bega, from memory. And it’s a great city. And it’s a great region that produces so much of the greatest Australian product.


LEVY: All right, well, I hope you didn’t run into any Roosters. Because our Rabbitohs take on the Roosters on Friday night and hopefully we’ll get the two competition points. Good to talk to you as always.


ALBANESE: Mate, you’ll see a photo on my social media soon of me holding a rooster and I’m holding it around the legs. And I hope that is an omen for Friday night. Lots of Rabbitohs tackling around the legs and bringing them to ground. So, go the Rabbits on Friday night. I think it’s great that Rugby League will be back.


LEVY: Good on you, Albo. Good to talk to you.


ALBANESE: See you, Mark.