Apr 24, 2020







SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; constructive role of the Opposition during the coronavirus crisis; post-coronavirus reshaping of Australia; Virgin Australia; support for the aviation industry; NRL.


RICHARD KING, HOST: Joining us now is the ALP Leader and Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese. A very good morning, Mr Albanese.


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


KING: You have, up until now, certainly the Opposition, been pretty supportive of the Government’s handling of the COVID-19 restrictions etc, other than perhaps, you know, putting the pressure on for the rollout ASAP. But certainly, one point of difference, and it’s been a hot topic this week, is how you would handle the collapse of Virgin Airlines. And you would take a very different approach?


ALBANESE: We would indeed. Look, we have said that we would be constructive, and we have been looking for solutions, not arguments. But Virgin Australia employs around about 16,000 people nationally. Three thousand of those are across New South Wales, many of them in the regions. It operates many flights, of course, into Newcastle. And that’s an important route. And Virgin Australia plays an important role in ensuring that because we have effectively a two-airline system here in Australia, there’s competition. And what that’s done is open up new routes and open up those routes at a much more competitive price than would otherwise. Now, our concern is that Virgin Australia, essentially, the Government is saying they wanted a market-based solution. But there’s no market because the Government has shut down that very market.


KIM BAUER, HOST: Mr Albanese, we did speak with our listeners about this when the news broke during the week and put it to them. ‘Would you like to see the Government bailout Virgin?’ And overwhelmingly they said no, it’s a commercial concern. And, you know, some of the shareholders, specifically Singapore and Etihad airlines have deep pockets. They thought it should be their responsibility.


ALBANESE: Well, two points there. No one was asking for a bailout of Virgin. Virgin were not asking for a donation of taxpayers’ money into the company. That was never on the agenda. And secondly, any support in the form of either a line of credit or what we’re in favor of which is an equity injection, that is an investment that would be made that would come with a capacity then to sell down that investment down the track would lead to that money, hopefully, not just being repaid, but being able to be got back for the tax payer with additional money. And in the meantime, you’ve got to think about what happens if those people go on the unemployment queue who currently work for Virgin Australia. They then will be paid for by the taxpayer in the form of Centrelink payments. And the costs of that will be substantial, let alone the costs of not just the 16,000 people who work for Virgin, but the hundreds of thousands of Australians who depend upon a viable tourism sector for their employment. And that is particularly the case for our regions that rely upon aviation for people to access those regional jobs. And it’s not surprising, it’s not just me saying this, and Labor. I note that David Gillespie just up the road there, a National Party member just to your north, has supported intervention into Virgin Australia by the Government.


KING: Yes, as I understand it, Virgin Australia have been asking for help for quite some time. If we weren’t in the middle of this pandemic, would Labor’s attitude have been the same some time ago when they asked for help? Would you have given them a hand?


ALBANESE: Well, they wouldn’t have needed a hand were it not for this pandemic. There was a restructuring and a new CEO. The company did need to make improvements. There’s no question about that. There was substantial capital investment when they bought SkyWest in particular, over in the West. And they bought that and a whole lot of planes with it at a time when the mining boom was tapering off. And that was an unwise investment that led to more debt than is wise for a company like that to hold. There’s no question there’s been some bad decisions made by Virgin Australia. But at the same time, what they have done is build a company over the last two decades that employs a significant number of Australians, that has significant capital investment right around the country. But the request for assistance only came during the current crisis. And that’s a direct result of the fact that the market has been shut down. People are not allowed to fly. And under those circumstances, what’s happened around the world is that nation states have supported their airline industries, whether it be in the United States, whether it be in Singapore. Singapore Airlines received $21 billion as an injection from the government. Whether it be in Europe or whether it be in the Middle East. Australia has been well served by our airline industry. We have a great national carrier in Qantas that is a source of great pride. But we should also be proud of the fact that we have the safest aviation system in the world. It’s the most competitive in terms of domestically. And it serves us well. And you’ve got to look at how do we come out of this economic crisis with strength. And the way to do that is to make sure that some of the structures that have served us well are maintained.


BAUER: Well, the PM is, you know, yesterday, he said he’s looking for new ideas, not stale, old ideas on how to move the economy. You got any ideas for him?


ALBANESE: Oh, absolutely. We need to look at new industries and the way that we cannot just rebuild manufacturing but take advantage of the fact that we have some of the greatest new mineral resources like lithium and others that are really driving the economies of this century. We produce everything, for example, that goes into a battery, but we’re not making them here, by and large. We should be looking at how we do that. How we use the fact that renewable energy can be harnessed in a cheap way. New resources such as hydrogen, how do we use that to repower manufacturing to drive the economy of the century? How do we look at new innovation and the fact that we are located next to the fastest growing region of the world in in human history, notwithstanding what we’re going through now? How do we ensure that we pick industries, and the great city of Newcastle is an example of that, whereby when the steel plant shut down there, there was great concern about Newcastle’s future. But it has re-emerged as a high tech. It has, of course, an important university and tertiary sector. It has grown. And that’s is the sort of vision that we need to create the jobs of the future and make sure that we skill-up Australians for those jobs.


KING: And we have a very good rugby league team here in the Newcastle Knights.


ALBANESE: You do have a good rugby league team. No doubt about that. Joel Fitzgibbon keeps reminding me that you were two from two.


KING: That’s right. And you blokes, the Rabbitohs, are one and one, I think, aren’t you?


ALBANESE: We lost out to Brisbane at home. But importantly, we beat Cronulla. So, that was a good start to the year. But Sharon and Pat and the whole team up there are very excited by Newcastle’s start. I’ve got to say, I’ve got a very soft spot for Newcastle. I think it is one of the great attributes of your great city that even when Newcastle weren’t doing particularly well, remember going to a game up there versus Souths, it was, I think, the last round of the year, and Newcastle couldn’t make the finals, but it was packed. And the atmosphere was fantastic. You’re very loyal supporters there in Newcastle, which is why a South Sydney supporter can relate to you.


KING: And looking forward to the re-emergence of the NRL and a whole lot of other things. Thank you very much for having a chat with us this morning and have a great ANZAC Day weekend, Anthony.


ALBANESE: I’m looking forward to it. I’m attending the War Memorial tomorrow. It’s the one service that will be held tomorrow at dawn. It’ll be very limited. I think there’ll be a dozen of us there in total, including the Governor General and the Prime Minister and myself. It will be a solemn occasion. But I think it is remarkable the way that Australians have embraced the idea of going to the end of their driveway at dawn tomorrow. And that’s a great thing to pay tribute to those who’ve put their lives on the line to keep our country the great country that it is.


KING: Hear hear. Thanks again for your time. Have a great day.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much.