Dec 2, 2020







SUBJECTS: Robodebt debacle; Australia’s relationship with China; Brereton Report; bushfire season.


MARCUS PAUL, HOST: Anthony Albanese, good morning to you.




PAUL: Thanks, Albo. You did well in asking the important questions in Parliament. But unfortunately, Stuart Robert obfuscated and read the usual spin and marketing spiel that we get from ScoMo and his mob. And nobody wants to take any responsibility at all for the Robodebt scandal, do they?


ALBANESE: Well, ScoMo should be called ‘Promo’ with the way that he acts. And this bloke, Stuart Robert, who has had to resign from the Ministry once before, he should go again. Because they’ve done a settlement here of $1.2 billion. This is a scheme that has resulted in tragedies. This is a scheme whereby they knew it was illegal. They also had multiple reports, at least 17 reports, of self-harm and tragedies occurring as a result of this Robodebt. And they continued to implement it. It’s just extraordinary. And when you ask the Minister, he pretends that this is a scheme that’s been around for decades. In fact, that’s not true. It was a scheme that was designed by Scott Morrison as Social Services Minister.


PAUL: Well, it is his baby, Anthony. From start to finish. He was Prime Minister when the whole thing fell apart. And nobody wants to take any responsibility for it. Taxpayers are going to foot the $1.2 billion bill at the end of it all because it was getting all too difficult with this class action that was being undertaken. And it’s almost as if, well, they bought their way out of trouble. I don’t buy it for a moment.


ALBANESE: Well, he designed this scheme. Then as Treasurer, he boasted that it was going to produce revenue of $2 billion. And of course, we know instead of getting $2 billion revenue, it has cost taxpayers $1.2 billion for this settlement. And then they would have you believe that they’ve paid the largest settlement in Australian history. But no one is saying that they were wrong, they are saying that there’s nothing wrong here. They had report after report from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal that this scheme was illegal. They had advice from their own lawyers that this scheme was illegal. And we had circumstances whereby every single person without fail, every single one, who came into my electorate office there in Marrickville who complained about the debt notices that they’d received had their debt, when it was examined, reduced to either zero or reduced substantially. There wasn’t one of them that actually stacked up. Because they took the humans out of Human Services. These were all just auto-generated letters that had terrible consequences for people. And a whole lot of people would have, of course, if you get a letter, particularly some vulnerable people, you get a letter from the Government demanding that you pay back $1,000 or $2,000 from the Government, you pay it. You pay it because you’re worried. And for a whole lot of regimes that are less democratic than ours that you’d have people knocking on your door.


PAUL: Absolutely.


ALBANESE: And you had ministers saying they would hunt people down. That was the phrase that Alan Tudge used.


PAUL: Well, speaking of regimes, let’s move to China, Anthony. What have you made of everything that’s happened in the last week or so since the Brereton Report was made official? We’ve had a Prime Minister and a Defence Force, I think, come out a little too early and a little too strongly. I mean, I thought in this country you were presumed innocence unless proven otherwise. And it’s good to see that citations and meritorious honours etc, will not be taken away just because of the alleged actions of a very small fraction of the 2,000-3,000 Defence personnel who served in Afghanistan. What have you made of it all?


ALBANESE: Well, we need to bear in mind, of course, that overwhelmingly the men and women who wear our uniform, whether it is serving in the Defence Force domestically or overseas, do us proud. That’s overwhelmingly the case. And we should give thanks to them each and every day. But where people have done the wrong thing, I think it is to Australia’s credit that you’ve had a transparent process. We haven’t tried to gild the lily. I think Angus Campbell as the Chief of the Defence Force clearly made appropriate statements and didn’t try to duck and weave. He held a full-scale press conference and then appeared on other media programs. And obviously, those issues will be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions.


PAUL: And that is where I think it should have stopped, Anthony. It should have stopped there. There shouldn’t have been any further discussion about the War Memorial changing things or whether or not people who’d served in Afghanistan that had nothing to do with these allegations were going to be stripped of their medals and citations. I just think there’s been a bit of an overreaction. And of course, now we see what’s going on with China, they’ve hopped on board with this outrageously inappropriate tweet. And they won’t take it down because Twitter, I mean, they want the Chinese market, why would they bother offending the Chinese?


ALBANESE: Well, it was a disgusting and offensive tweet. And I think all Australians would stand together on that. The idea that you actually mock up a fake photo is just beyond comprehension, frankly, that someone involved in foreign affairs, which, after all is about diplomacy. There was nothing diplomatic about that. It was simply offensive. And it should be taken down.


PAUL: Look, it’ll be difficult, the relationship moving forward with China, Anthony, because we can’t simply, as people would like to in their knee-jerk and anger reactions, just cease all trade. We can’t do that.


ALBANESE: That would hurt Australia. That would hurt Australia and would hurt Australian jobs. And anything that hurts Australian jobs is not a good thing. So, we need to work on the relationship. That doesn’t mean compromising our values and our preparedness to speak up for them. But I remember Prime Minister Rudd giving a speech in China, in Mandarin, of course, which was critical of human rights issues, but done so in a way that also was designed to make clear our values but not designed to offend for offense sake. And what we were able to do, and the Howard Government was able to do as well, is have relationships that built that economic interaction that was very important for us. This Government seems to have presided over a complete breakdown of relationships. The fact that ministers can’t pick up the phone to each other, I find that extraordinary. When I was a minister, Chinese ministers visited Australia and I visited there in our national interest about promoting Australian jobs.


PAUL: Anthony, I am going to have to leave it there today. Before Christmas, I would like to catch up with you to talk a little on the Aged Care Royal Commission special report into COVID and also bushfires and emergency funding going forward. So, we’ll catch up with you next week if we can, Anthony.


ALBANESE: Absolutely. Well, I’m on my way out to Braidwood this morning with Kristy McBain, talking to the Rural Fire Service about the upcoming bushfire season.


PAUL: Good to chat. Thank you.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much.