Sep 17, 2020







SUBJECTS: JobKeeper; JobSeeker; Australians stranded overseas; use of RAAF VIP jets to bring Australians home; energy policy.


MARCUS PAUL, HOST: Anthony Albanese joins us, the Federal Labor Opposition Leader. Are you in Sydney, Albo?


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning, Marcus. I am indeed. I’m off to Minto this morning out in south-west Sydney with Mike Freelander, the local member, where we’re going to visit a small manufacturing business that’s actually struggling to get skilled staff at the moment and there’s worry about the cutbacks that’ll happen in JobKeeper as well.


PAUL: All right. Well, let’s go to that first. What are your concerns with the cutbacks? And we know that they’ve been forecast. There’s a tiered system that is happening. There’ll be a wind back in the coming months. The next one, of course, in January. What do you make of it all, Anthony?


ALBANESE: Well, my concern is that the reason why JobKeeper was a good idea, to keep relations between employers and employees, is very much still there. The reason for economic stimulus, to keep that activity in the economy, is still there. And what we’re going to see is a cutback in both JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments this month. A lot of people won’t be expecting it either. It will come as a surprise, not everyone follows the day-to-day news. And at a time when we are seeing an ongoing increase in unemployment, we’ll have new figures out this morning on a national level, now’s not the time to be winding back that economic support.


PAUL: Look, it is a concern. I understand it. I hear it very loudly from some business owners. What about the other side of the argument? And many people, of course, advance it that the Government, the Federal Government, can’t continue to be an ATM. Maybe we should look at other options, that is enforcing, if you like, the lifting of borders. But I guess that’s very difficult when some premiers across the country are going their own way at this stage for their own obvious reasons, health reasons, and they’ve been advised by their Chief Health Officers. It’s all become a little bit of a mess, I think, the border issue, Anthony?


ALBANESE: It has, in terms of a failure to provide national leadership, we can’t even get sensible outcomes on returning the 25,000 Australians who are stranded overseas. We’ve put forward a practical eight-point economic plan, reversing the immediate cuts to JobKeeper and JobSeeker, giving support to small business or improving their cash flow, investing in aged care, providing support for community groups and charities that are providing those services, encouraging local government to bring forward their plans for local infrastructure, reversing the decision to freeze the pension, which will also, of course, rip a whole lot of money out of the economy through that pension freeze. These are all practical suggestions that we’ve put forward to the Government. We are being constructive as we have been throughout this. But what we see is a Government that I believe is being complacent about a range of issues. We’ve discussed the aged care crisis many times. But there are other areas as well in which the Government is always there for the photo-op and the announcement, but never there for the follow-up and the delivery.


PAUL: Written on the front page every Australian passport is the request that Australians traveling overseas be allowed to pass without let or hindrance. It’s a request the Morrison Government is failing to honour. As we know, there are around 25,000 Australians stranded abroad who still call Australia home and are desperate to return. Planes are sitting idle. Hotel rooms sitting empty. The Government needs to find a way to bring these people home now. Look, there have been some ideas flagged in the last 24 hours. The Prime Minister’s gone to the premiers. New South Wales has agreed to up its intake. But we also have fleets, and I know Richard Marles has been on about this this morning, we’ve got a full two government planes that also sit idle, maybe they should be used to bring people home, Anthony?


ALBANESE: Well, of course they should be. The Prime Minister has his own plane. Effectively, the Governor General has one. There’s two very large planes that fly dignitaries to Europe, to the United States, that are by and large sitting idle in Canberra. There are RAAF personnel who fly the planes and service the planes. So, they’re available now. A practical step would be to use them. A practical step, as well, would be to use some of the many Qantas planes and other jets, of course, that we know aren’t being used at the moment. They are just parked. And indeed, there’s going to be a problem with some of those planes because it’s a bit like a car engine. If you leave it idle for too long, then that creates a problem in terms of safety and maintenance issues. Planes are one of those pieces of technology that you’ve got to keep in use. Look, it just seems to me that the Prime Minister is always there when there’s an announcement to be made. There were more announcements this week. But he is often found missing when the solutions and the practical outcomes need to be delivered. Now, the Prime Minister is saying that it is about the states. What we know is that our borders are the responsibility of the National Government, or it’s not responsible for anything if it’s not responsible for our Australian borders on this island continent that we’re privileged to live in. And they’re also, of course, responsible for quarantine. And even yesterday, Mark McGowan the WA Premier, said that Rottnest Island off the coast, of course, of Freo there would be available for quarantining.


PAUL: Plenty of options.


ALBANESE: There are so many sites that have been used in the past. And it’s beyond my comprehension that the Government can’t seem to find solutions, that the National Cabinet doesn’t seem to be functioning. It’s not national and it’s not functioning like a Cabinet.


PAUL: No, not at all. The Prime Minister has been found, to be honest, to be really no more than a spokesperson on issues regarding the National Cabinet because states have gone and done their own things anyway.


ALBANESE: That’s only with the tick off from the Prime Minister. Our borders surely are a national responsibility. Quarantine certainly is as well. But it seems the Prime Minister’s strategy here is ‘well, we’ll say it’s all the states and that way if anything goes wrong, I can’t be blamed’. Well, we need to do better than that.


PAUL: I spoke to your colleague on the program yesterday, Joel Fitzgibbon. What did you make of Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister, in Joel’s heartland of the Hunter yesterday, spruiking gas as being a possible way out of some of the economic recession from the pandemic? I found it a bit odd to be honest.


ALBANESE: Look, there wasn’t terribly much that will assist the immediate need to create economic activity in this announcement. It was all ‘maybe if this happens, then that might happen’ sort of stuff. The fact is that if we had an energy policy framework that was genuinely technology neutral, that would drive that investment, then these problems wouldn’t have arisen. The Prime Minister kept saying that Liddell would be kept open. The Government kept saying it over and over again. They don’t talk about that anymore because it was always a nonsense idea.


PAUL: Well, it’s gone. 2023 it closes down. Something will need to be put in instead to ensure a regular and secure supply of energy. The Prime Minister basically has pushed AGL up against the wall saying, ‘Well, if you’re not going to invest in gas and you’re not going to rebuild something there, then the Australian taxpayers will’. What did you make of that statement?


ALBANESE: Well, guess what? It has been pushed off until after the next Federal election, I suspect. It’s another just announcement to fill the void like all the other announcements have been around Liddell, that it was going to be extended and there were going to be all these provisions. AGL are already making new investments in the region to boost power supply. And the only reason why there’s been any delay has been because of policy uncertainty. What we need in this country is an energy policy. Simple as that. We don’t have to agree on targets. We don’t even have to agree on what the best form of new energy is. Because the market will sort that out. And one of the things that the market is telling us is that the cheapest form of new investment is renewables. That’s what AGL is saying. That’s what the Australian Energy Market Operator is saying. That’s what organisations, companies like Energy Australia, Catherine Tanna, has been saying. A very serious business person, indeed, is just saying, ‘Give us some policy certainty. The private sector will work after investment and you don’t have to have these ‘maybe sometime in the future”.


PAUL: More action, less marketing, Albo. I get the message.


ALBANESE: That is exactly right.


PAUL: Good to talk to you. We’ll catch up again soon. Thank you very much.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Marcus.