Feb 1, 2021






SUBJECTS: Holding the Government to account; Federal Government responsibility during the pandemic; hotel quarantine; possibility of a Federal Election; JobKeeper; Labor Shadow Ministry reshuffle; borders.


JOHN LAWS, HOST: Well, as we gallop off into a possible election year, the stakes couldn’t be higher for Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese as he deals with forces from within his Party who seemingly want to throw the ALP into chaos. And they really do. Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, was already expected to call an early election with his popularity at an all-time high, likely due to his handling of the virus thing. But he’ll be even more keen if the Opposition continues to self-destruct. And it would appear that that’s what they’re doing. Sadly, as we know, politics is a pretty untidy sort of game full of people who are hungry for power. And it seems that’s what the ALP is currently dealing with. And to tell us more, I’m delighted to say that we have somebody who will front up and tell us the story as the story does exist. Anthony Albanese, he joins me on the line. Anthony Albanese, good morning and welcome to the program.


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


LAWS: That’s nice of you. Let’s not beat around the bush, are you going to lead the Labor Party to the next Federal Election?


ALBANESE: Absolutely.


LAWS: Okay. All right. I saw you on television say it and you seem determined to do it. But are they really happy with you? Is there a bit of upset within the within the Party itself?


ALBANESE: The truth is, John, that overwhelmingly, people are united, are focused on winning the next election. They understand what happens when the Party looks like it’s focused on itself. We need to give a very clear message to the Australian people at the next election that we are on their side. And we’ll be saying to them, ‘We’re on your side’. We’re on your side when it comes to secure jobs and good income security, dealing with the rise in inequality that we’ve seen, dealing with the precarious position that so many Australians find themselves in, struggling to pay a mortgage, struggling to pay the rent, struggling to put food on the table for their families. We are on your side when it comes to issues like paying for your childcare. We’re on your side when it comes to creating opportunities for your kids. We are on your side when it comes to making sure that your children and grandchildren can inherit a better environment than you had.


LAWS: Anthony, you’ve just given me an entire election speech.


ALBANESE: That’s right. And I’ll be doing it all year. And one of the things that I’m focused on is on making sure that we have a very clear message to the Australian people. That’s overwhelmingly what my team is focused on as well. We know that we will just be marked down if people perceive that we’re talking about ourselves.


LAWS: Tell me this, we’re going through very, very extraordinary times. What will you do that is better than what the Government is doing today?


ALBANESE: Well, we’ll focus firstly on jobs and secure jobs with secure incomes. There is legislation before the Parliament now to get rid of the Better Off Overall Test when it comes to industrial relations. Now, people, the hint is in the title, which is that if you don’t want people to be better off overall, then you’re about cutting their wages and conditions. We think that the withdrawal of JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments ends too early before some industries, in particular, have dealt with the crisis that they’re having to deal with, such as the tourism sector. We also will make sure we restore confidence in the Government of the day. One of the problems, and you know this, John, there’s a whole lot of cynicism out there. And we need a national integrity commission to restore faith in integrity and in politics. I think, overwhelmingly, that most people enter politics on whatever side for all the right reasons. But the truth is that we’ve seen sports rorts and we’ve seen an abuse of taxpayers’ funds in so many areas that do require a change in attitude when it comes to integrity. And that will be a major issue at the next election.


LAWS: Okay, but what do you do about people? Like, Annastacia Palaszczuk who closes borders?


ALBANESE: Well, what we will do is show that we’re prepared to have strong leadership.


LAWS: But that doesn’t answer the question. What are you going to do about her when she wants to close the borders? Can you overrule her?


ALBANESE: One of the things that I’ve said is that the Prime Minister who has established the system whereby he has essentially carried on like he did during bushfires when he said, ‘I don’t hold a hose, mate’. He’s done the same on a whole lot of areas of the pandemic. He, essentially, has handed over control to the states and territories without any appropriate Federal coordination. Now, the benefit for him that he sees is clearly that if something goes wrong, he can’t be blamed for it. But that’s not national leadership. And I think last week, with the extensive reshuffle that I put in place, yes, that wasn’t the safe thing to do. But it was the right thing to do. Just as Mr Morrison should have, when he reshuffled his frontbench, he should have dealt with Stuart Robert and Angus Taylor and made significant changes. But he didn’t do so. And the idea that everything’s hunky dory as we’re going forward just doesn’t reflect reality.


LAWS: Yes, but the states are in charge of health for their state, not the Federal Government. It’s up to the state, isn’t it? So what you just said is incorrect?


ALBANESE: No, they’re not in charge of issues like quarantine and our national borders.


LAWS: Well, isn’t that health?


ALBANESE: No, it’s customs and immigration. It’s actually in our Constitution.


LAWS: Okay. But the states are in charge of health for their state.


ALBANESE: They are in charge of health for the state. But they’re not in charge of issues like our international borders. They’re not in charge of aged care. That is a Commonwealth responsibility. And that is where a whole range of the problems have come from.


LAWS: Yes, but that’s different. That’s a different story altogether.


ALBANESE: I think it’s completely linked. And the fact is that they’re responsible for regulation and funding of aged care. And yet the Government still hasn’t really put in place, according to the Aged Care Royal Commission, an appropriate plan to deal with aged care. When it comes to the state borders, what we could have had was much greater coordination between the states, and consistencies. And one of the things that has concerned people is that each of the states is operating on its own basis, rather than any Federal coordination there. And that has created uncertainty, which uncertainty means less confidence. But it’s not surprising that premiers like Annastacia Palaszczuk, or the South Australian Liberal Premier, or the Tasmanian Liberal Premier, have taken their own action. Before a week ago, John, as a Sydneysider, I couldn’t go to any of the other capital cities anywhere around Australia. And those decisions were all made at different times. And we’re seeing it with regard to Western Australia now. Some of the states and territories make decisions but they’re not consistent decisions across the board.


LAWS: Do you concede that it’s pretty unlikely for any Government across the country to change during a pandemic? I mean, likely due to our country’s very, very good handling of the virus and the fear of the unknown? Do you think that people are going to want to change that? I would have thought not.


ALBANESE: Well, I think one of the things we’ve seen during the pandemic is that it is Labor values that are getting us through this. I think the Labor values of people looking after each other, of people being concerned with people, even people who they’ve never met, and Australians have done a magnificent job on that. With a whole range of the issues that have been put in place by the Government, there have been ones advocated by Labor, including wage subsidies, mental health reform, getting Australians home from overseas, the rollout of the vaccines. These are all issues that Labor has advocated constructively. One of the things we’ll say at the next election is that Labor was responsible in Opposition, that we played our part in being constructive and that we have a plan as well for a stronger recovery, not just going back to what was there, but how we recover stronger. I think one of the things that’s happened during the pandemic is that it has shown the strength of our society, but it’s also shown some weaknesses with regard to our resilience, our capacity to manufacture things for ourselves, the vulnerable people in casual employment without that security, people who’ve been left behind, and other people who’ve been unable to get ahead. And those are issues that we will be raising. And we’ll also be looking forward very much on economic reform, on social policy. The idea, for example, that we’re going to go back to $40 a day for people to live on is simply not good enough. And other reforms that we have put forward, like childcare, like a Future Made in Australia, making sure that Australian jobs are prioritised.


LAWS: Very important. Just onto another subject, the move has been criticised, you replaced Mark Butler with Chris Bowen in the climate portfolio. Is that going to be enough to appease that belligerent strange person, Joel Fitzgibbon, and his right faction allies? Is that going to be able to settle him down?


ALBANESE: Well there aren’t too many other people other than Joel who are speaking out on his behalf. And people will make their own judgment on whether Joel is playing a constructive role or not. But Chris Bowen will bring to the portfolio very much an economic focus. He’s a former Treasurer of Australia. He’s someone who understands the economy and understands the importance of job creation, understands that, if we take positive action on climate change, it’ll be good for jobs, it’ll be good for the economy. And that’s what all of the economic analysis shows that that’s the case. And I’m very positive that he will play an exceptional role. He’s been very good as our Health spokesperson. And he’ll be very good in climate. And in Mark Butler, we have the only MP I know who’s written a book on the ageing process and on aged care.


LAWS: Well, it doesn’t matter if he’s written a book, it might not be a very good book.


ALBANESE: It’s a very good book. It is indeed a very good book. And he will be outstanding in Health and Ageing. He is a former Aged Care Minister who put in place some very good reforms. But when it comes to climate change, Deloitte Access Economics, not a Labor Party think tank, they estimated that we will create here in Australia 250,000 jobs by transitioning to net zero emissions by 2050. And that if we don’t take action, we’ll lose 880,000 jobs through inaction. So, that to me seems pretty obvious that is the way forward.


LAWS: Just hang on, 250,000 new jobs. Where? How?


ALBANESE: Over issues by, for example, lowering the price of energy.


LAWS: No, no, no, no. You’ve missed the point. How are you going to create 250,000 new jobs?


ALBANESE: If you lower energy prices, what you do is lower the cost of manufacturing and encourage manufacturing here. That’s the big thing that you can do through climate change action. And we’ve seen that as well there are additional jobs in areas like Tritium in South East Queensland is producing electric vehicle charging stations and exporting them to the United States and to Europe. You have the largest solar farm in the world being created near Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory that will be exporting energy to Singapore, under the sea. Renewable energy which will help.


LAWS: Well, that is terrific, but you can’t take credit for that.


ALBANESE: What Government should do is put in place the mechanisms that allow the private sector to invest and operate. And that is what the private sector are calling out for is certainty. The Australian Energy Market Operator has been very clear about what’s needed with our energy grid. And one of the things I did at the last Budget Reply was have a program called Rewiring the Nation, which is about transmission, making sure that the grid can operate effectively, so that you get that certainty. And that’s what will drive job creation in this country.


LAWS: The Queensland Premier has called on the Federal Government to extend JobKeeper for some industries, including travel. And yet she’s the one who closed the border. Do you think that the scheme should be extended past March?


ALBANESE: I certainly think that for areas like tourism it should be extended. Areas like Far North Queensland rely upon international tourism.


LAWS: Yes, they do. So why has this woman closed the borders?


ALBANESE: Well, she hasn’t. The National Government is responsible for our international borders. And it’s the National Government that’s ignored their own reports that have come to them from no less than Jane Halton, a former Head of the Department of Health and former senior bureaucrat, produced a report about quarantining, about how we could get more Australians home and deal with our borders far better than they’ve been dealt with up to now. And it simply hasn’t been acted upon.


LAWS: Well, you’re quite right. It’s certainly not been acted upon. But who will act upon it?


ALBANESE: It needs the Federal Government to deal with the international border issue and quarantine. It also, of course, regardless of who was in Government, it is fair to say that our international borders for tourism would be restricted. That’s just a fact of the pandemic. And that’s why industries like tourism in Far North Queensland do need additional support so that they don’t collapse because it’s obvious that sometimes that why the whole benefit of wage subsidies through the JobKeeper program was something that we advocated and the Government eventually came on board for doing, which is a good thing because it’s in recognition that it’s easier to keep jobs and businesses going than is to see them collapse and then try and restart again. That in the end, it’s cheaper if you keep the collapse from occurring. And that’s what wage subsidies through JobKeeper were aimed at. And that’s why the Queensland Premier is, I believe, quite right in calling for additional support for the tourism sector in Far North Queensland.


LAWS: Okay. Anthony, as usual, it’s been good to talk to you. And I hope that we get the opportunity to talk again.


ALBANESE: I’m sure we’ll talk regularly during what will prove to be an interesting year. Let’s hope for all Australians that it’s a bit easier than it was in 2020.


LAWS: Okay, and maybe along the way we can have a lunch or something.


ALBANESE: Indeed, that would be a pleasure. Thanks, John.


LAWS: Okay, Anthony, thank you very much for your time.




LAWS: Bye. Anthony Albanese, interesting man. Anthony Albanese, no dill, let me tell you. Very, very smart fellow. And a very charming one. I’ve had lunch with him before and he’s a very interesting fellow to talk to, not necessarily about politics, he has a broad spectrum of thought.