ANTHONY ALBANESE – TRANSCRIPT – RADIO INTERVIEW – 2SM MARCUS PAUL IN THE MORNING – THURSDAY, 18 FEBRUARY 2021
ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
AMANDA RISHWORTH MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT
SHADOW MINISTER FOR YOUTH
MEMBER FOR KINGSTON
ALICIA PAYNE MP
MEMBER FOR CANBERRA
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
THURSDAY, 18 FEBRUARY 2021
SUBJECTS: Labor’s cheaper child care policy; Facebook news ban decision; media bargaining code; alleged assault at Parliament House; workplace culture at Parliament House; nuclear energy; Family Court abolishment decision; One Nation preferences; ABCC.
AMANDA RISHWORTH, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND DEVELOPMENT: It has been really, really wonderful to speak to a number of parents here at Parliament House about what it is like to be a new parent and what it is like to have a third baby. We spoke to Faye and Ben with their little eight-week-old baby about their thoughts. They haven’t started to think about child care, but it will be on their radar soon. And Lisa, who said to me just before that she is feeling very lucky that none of her three children were in child care at the same time because the cost would have been just so great. And that is why we are here today. And that is why Labor has announced a really important policy around child care. Because families are telling us over and over again that the cost is just too great. The cost is too great for people to be able to get the care they need and work the hours they want. That is what Labor’s policy is all about. To get rid of the cap when it comes to child care fees per year and also to increase the subsidy. This is a really important policy as we move out of the global pandemic. Because this will support families to get back to work.
Now, I have to say that there has been new data recently that has come out by the ABS that has shown that Scott Morrison’s so-called once in a generation reform, any benefit that existed has been completely erased in Sydney, Darwin and Brisbane. Parents are worse off than they ever have been in out-of-pocket costs. This is a real challenge for families. And it is really disappointing that the Government is refusing to respond to this. They continue to say that there is no problem. They continue to say that costs are down. Well, they are ignoring the lived experiences of parents. And that is what we are hearing today, that lived experience, saying, ‘Phew, I am so lucky I don’t have two children in child care at the same time because it will break the bank’. So, I am really grateful to hear from those parents, really grateful also to be joined, of course, by Georgie Dent from The Parenthood, who have been doing really important work to make sure that early childhood education and, indeed, all the challenges that parents face are on the national agenda. So I’m really pleased now to hand over to our Leader, Anthony Albanese, who has been such a huge advocate for early childhood education.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much, Amanda. And it is terrific to be here today with Georgie Dent from The Parenthood, but also with local parents and their children. One of the things that happened just in the last few weeks is that kids went back to school. And for a whole lot of parents, what happened to them that indicates to me where the problem is in the system is that they said to me, ‘It’s great because young John or young Mary started kindy so all of a sudden, we’ve got a lot better standard of living because we don’t have to pay for child care’. Why is it that, once a child turns five, then we accept that the public has a role in educating them, in supporting them? That’s something that produces common good for the child and the family, but also for our society. But when it comes to the first early years of life, where most human brain development, overwhelmingly, 90 per cent of human brain development occurs, then somehow that it’s okay that it’s so unaffordable. That’s why our policy that we announced is the centrepiece of the Budget Reply last year, of removing the cap, lifting the subsidy to 90 per cent, improving the taper rates, to provide benefits for 97 per cent of working families, will make an enormous difference. And I say this to working families right around Australia, Labor is on your side. Labor is on your side when it comes to the costs of child care. This year, we know that the costs of child care will increase by more than quadruple the inflation rate. It is unsustainable. We need to invest in those early years. And I’m pleased that non-government organisations, like George’s, are busy campaigning out there for universal child care. Because we’ve also said that we will have in our first term a Productivity Commission report into extending the principle that we have adopted towards universality of child care. Labor created universal healthcare through Medicare. We created universal superannuation, which this Government’s trying to undermine. And we want to create universal child care as a major reform, a major economic reform. This is not welfare. This is about women’s workforce participation. It’s about equity. It’s about making sure that productivity improvements are made for business, but it is also in the interests of children and their families.
Can I just say one thing about the Facebook issue? Now, the Government has said that this is all under control. It’s very clear that it is not. And the consequences of people not having access to sites like the Bureau of Meteorology, of not having access to information with regard to emergencies, the Queensland Health Department, for example, emergencies, including what’s happening with the pandemic and vaccinations, those issues really need to be answered by the Government. What is its solution to this? The Government has said that it was all good and they were negotiating and they bragged about the phone calls that were being made. It’s very clear that this is a problem that the Government needs to address. I’d ask Georgie now if she wants to make some comments.
GEORGIE DENT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AT THE PARENTHOOD: Indeed. Thank you very much. It is really genuinely exciting to be here today to be having a really serious conversation about the most significant economic and social reform that is within our grasp and that is making high-quality early education and care universally accessible. We know from the work that The Parenthood does representing 68,000 parents and carers around Australia that they’re struggling. Parents are struggling. They don’t have the support they need when it comes to combining their paid obligations with their caring obligations. And we know that Australian families pay some of the most expensive fees in the world for early childhood education care. As Amanda and Anthony both pointed out, all indicators show that this is only going to get worse. The fees are getting higher and higher and families cannot sustain it. We know that children are missing out. We know in this research report that we commissioned this week, it shows that support for families is lagging developed countries. We know that wellbeing, UNICEF last year ranked Australia 32nd out of 41 OECD countries for child wellbeing. It called Australia out for failing to consistently deliver good outcomes, health outcomes, social outcomes, educational outcomes. Early education is the best thing that we can give our children. And giving children that support and that early education makes their parents’ lives easier. And that makes such a difference in their lives. And I would like to thank the parents that have come here today and all of the parents that I’ve spoken to recently, particularly in recent weeks, about how they are struggling to meet the cost of this critical service. As Anthony said, we need to start asking the question, ‘Why are we comfortable that when a child reaches the age of five, we believe that education is a societal good and service that’s essential, but before five, any assistance that’s given is construed as welfare or as extravagant?’ It’s not. Early education is a basic right and it is the best thing that we can give children and families. And I am really excited to see that Labor recognises that and are putting it on the agenda as an issue. Because this is an issue that affects Australian parents and families and we want to work together to create change.
ALICIA PAYNE, MEMBER FOR CANBERRA: Thank you Anthony, Amanda and Georgie. And a big thank you to the Canberra families that were able to make it here today to talk to us about the challenges they’re facing with child care. And of course, Canberra does have the highest average child care costs of any city in the country. So it’s something I hear about a lot. And it is something that needs to be addressed with people in Canberra. Labor understands working parents. Many of us are working parents. And we understand what it’s like to do that juggle. We want to get behind Australian families and back them in that juggle. We want to back Australian women in that juggle. And our child care plan will see 97 per cent of families be able to afford child care better. The Productivity Commission has shown that 90,000 parents were locked out of the workforce this year because of the costs of child care. Now that is a handbrake on our economy that we cannot afford as we’re trying to recover from a pandemic. And, let’s face it, most of them are women. Right now, many women are being held back around the country, having that conversation about whether they can return to work or whether they can increase their hours of work because the cost of child care is too much for them to afford to continue working. And this decision follows them throughout their career to retirement where they are left with much less superannuation and often living in poverty and struggling to make ends meet. Child care, as Anthony has said, is the time where children’s brains are developing the most at that young preschool age. So why do we see that as different to school? This is something we should be investing in for all of the littlest Australians. And our plan is good for the economy, it’s good for families, and it’s good for our littlest Australians. Thank you.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Alicia. I’m happy to answer questions and so is Georgie.
JOURNALIST: Given that it is Facebook that is blocking legitimate news websites and some government websites, doesn’t Facebook have a lot to answer?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. And we have. The whole way through here we have sought to be constructive, something that’s characterised my leadership of the Labor Party. But what we’ve said to the Government is that there’s high stakes here. And they need to just answer the questions of how do we move this forward now?
ALBANESE: No, I’m not suggesting that at all. I’m saying that the Government needs to outline its strategy of dealing with this. We’ve said very clearly, and might I point towards my vision statement in Sydney in 2019 where I spoke about Facebook, I spoke about the rise of social media, a whole range of concerns, not just about media access, but also the use of algorithms, the way that the debate has been polarised in our society as a resulting in part of the way that some of these algorithms work, pushing people towards more extreme positions as it goes on. I think this is something that we’ve needed to debate and something that requires action on. But the Government needs to explain how it is going to deal with what it is now confronted with, which is that the blocking of emergency access, for example, that people rely upon, is a real concern. The ABC, for example, has reported that a whole range of people who access the site for emergency information don’t access it for anything else. That is when they access that site. Now we need to make sure that measures are put in place that protect people’s health, that ensure that people can get access to the information that they need when they need it.
JOURNALIST: The websites that you listed can still be accessed on Google and you can go to the direct website. So the fact that they’re being blocked on Facebook, is that really that much of a problem?
ALBANESE: Well, people do access it through Facebook. So perhaps part of what we need to do to respond to this is getting that information out to people directly about how they can access information. The Government needs to do something more than say, ‘Oh, it’s all okay’, which is what they were doing before this morning, saying that it’s okay. Quite clearly, this is a major challenge for our country.
ALBANESE: Can we deal with the issues we have raised and I’m happy to come back.
JOURNALIST: Is Facebook essentially bullying the Government?
ALBANESE: I think Facebook’s behaviour is reprehensible. Reprehensible. And I say that unequivocally. But we need to deal with the challenge which is there and what the response is. Government has a responsibility to inform people about what the next measures will be. The Government said, Josh Frydenberg was out there talking about his happy phone calls with Mark and having a chat and it was all okay. Doesn’t look okay to me this morning. I’m happy to answer any issues raised first, including child care.
JOURNALIST: Will Labor support the legislation in the current form in the Senate?
ALBANESE: We haven’t seen what amendments might be moved in the Senate. It’s a bit hard to hypothetically say because we don’t know what amendments will be moved in the Senate.
ALBANESE: We voted for it in the House of Representatives. We’ll look at what amendments are moved in the Senate.
JOURNALIST: What’s your response to the Prime Minister’s letter to you yesterday about the independent review?
ALBANESE: Can we just deal with this first and then I’m happy to deal with other issues. And Greg was first to be fair.
JOURNALIST: Do you consider supporting the prohibition on nuclear power? Is it a matter for the market?
JOURNALIST: What’s the reason for the opposition?
ALBANESE: I gave you a pretty clear answer. You can’t do more than that.
JOURNALIST: Would you be able to explain your opposition, though?
ALBANESE: Yes, I would. And happy to at some stage. There’s no proposition before the Parliament. What we have here is a mess in the Coalition. That’s what’s before us. When there’s a proposition, we can deal with it more. But I am not a supporter of nuclear energy in Australia because it doesn’t stack up. There have been numerous reports. Occasionally you’ll get your opinion pieces in the pages of The Australian or other pages suggesting this. And no serious propositions have ever come forward on it. What we’re witnessing here is just a part of the chaos that is the Coalition when it comes to energy policy with their 22 energy policies. We had a debate in the Parliament on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation that’s adjourned. A Government that can’t debate its own legislation because it can’t agree with itself on what should happen with that legislation. It’s more chaos. There’s one thing that’s very clear. It will take a Labor Government to sort out the energy policy certainty that all of the providers and the users of energy say they need.
JOURNALIST: On the review of workplace culture in Parliament, what interaction has Labor had with the Prime Minister on that? We heard the letter arrived late last night.
ALBANESE: It didn’t arrive late last night. It arrived yesterday morning. The Prime Minister spoke about it in Question Time yesterday. And then it was released to the media as if it was something new last night because of other issues.
ALBANESE: None. We have asked for, my understanding, I released a media release with Tanya Plibersek, the Shadow Minister for the Status of Women yesterday morning or the day before, sorry, the day before. We released that because it was very clear that there’s a need for an independent inquiry at arm’s length from the Government and people who work directly for the Government. It suggested a range of measures that needed to be looked at aimed at ensuring that women in particular felt safe in this building and going to a range of issues. We released tat publicly. I asked a question of the Prime Minister in Question Time on Tuesday, the first question. He indicated then that he was supportive of it then. We then received a response from the Prime Minister yesterday again, a bit prior to Question Time, and the Prime Minister’s indicated that Ben Morton would be the contact. I await a meeting to be held. A meeting hasn’t been scheduled yet. I’m hopeful that will happen today.
JOURNALIST: Are you going to work collaboratively on this third independent review?
ALBANESE: Well, it’s not a third independent review. It’s the only independent review. And we asked for it. So, by definition, we asked for it, the Government agreed to it. It’s a good thing that it happens. It needs to be at arm’s length. It needs someone serious to look at it. I’ve suggested, for example, Elizabeth Broderick, who did the review into the Department of Defence, she is experienced at looking at these issues, a former Sex Discrimination Commissioner. I suggested, also, Natasha Stott Despoja, who obviously worked in this building as a Senator and Leader of the Democrats and someone who’s respected across the board. I think it needs someone senior at arm’s length from the Government to undertake this task, to be able to talk to former and current staff and to produce recommendations that, certainly, Labor believes should be followed.
JOURNALIST: Just outside all of the timelines, do you broadly think that the Prime Minister’s proposal to you in that letter that you got yesterday is a good thing?
ALBANESE: Well, it’s not the Prime Minister’s proposal to me. I go back to, notwithstanding the fact the ABC reported yesterday morning that the crossbench members had come up with this plan, it’s our proposal. It’s our proposal. And the Prime Minister’s response was constructive.
JOURNALIST: Pauline Hanson has talked about doing (inaudible). She wants Labor to put the LNP behind One Nation. Would you consider doing that?
ALBANESE: I haven’t had any discusses with Pauline Hanson.
ALBANESE: I haven’t had any discussions with them.
ALBANESE: I have not had any discussions. Greg, with respect, you can come up with hypotheticals about anything. Labor, those decisions are made by the Queensland branch and I would expect no change to Labor’s position on those issues.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible). Yesterday, a Federal Court judge handed down the decision in the case brought by the ABCC, describing serious coercion or serious concerns over coercion from the CFMEU, describing their conduct and record as deplorable, shameful and disgraceful. Do you stand by the decision? Could it make the construction landscaping and construction industry a more difficult place to work in without a watchdog in place?
ALBANESE: If people break the law, then they should be prosecuted.
JOURNALIST: Who will do the prosecution if there is no watchdog?
ALBANESE: Who does prosecution if you break the law? The same people. The same people if the law is broken. What we should not have, though, is rulings from on high about what stickers people can have on their hard hats. I mean, seriously?
ALBANESE: I am saying that there are laws in this country that apply if they’re broken and a whole range of authorities enforce the law. I can’t be any clearer than that.
ALBANESE: We have a very clear position, which is that the ABCC and the Registered Organisation Commission are politicised bodies that have acted politically, at great cost to the taxpayers. And the farce of the raid on the AWU, for example, and the involvement of ministers’ offices in this building shows the problem that is there. I have a very firm, clear and unequivocal view. And I do it without fear or favour. And, from time to time, organisations have published views about me as a result of that. I have stood up against unlawful conduct. I’ve stood up against inappropriate conduct consistently. I will continue to do so. Thank you.