May 18, 2020





MONDAY, 18 MAY 2020


SUBJECTS: Australia beyond coronavirus; unemployment/underemployment; people missing out on support from the Government during COVID-19; issues with JobKeeper; JobSeeker/JobKeeper payments; pronunciation of Albanese; Newspoll.


JOHN LAWS, HOST: We are joined by the Leader of the Labor Party. Who is either Anthony Albanese or Anthony Albanese. And I never know which. But he does because it is his name. And he is on the line. Anthony Albanese, good morning and welcome to the program.


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


LAWS: Can we get it right, finally? Is it Albanese or Albanese?


ALBANESE: Well, in Italian, of course, you always say the last vowels. So, it is Albanese. If you are in Italy, it would be Albanese.


LAWS: But we are not.


ALBANESE: So, Albanese is pretty close.


LAWS: Because I channelled Frank Sinatra for you.


ALBANESE: Well, that is always a good thing.


LAWS: Well, did you remember when I did that? Albanese does it. Albanese does it.


ALBANESE: You did.


LAWS: Did they send you that? I hope they sent you that.


ALBANESE: I remember it. Yes, they did.


LAWS: Okay. Well, there’s plenty to talk about. You say that the post-pandemic period presents a unique opportunity to reshape our economy. What exactly are you proposing? How are you going to reshape our economy? Or how should it be reshaped?


ALBANESE: Well, what we can’t do, John, is to just snap-back to what was there before. So, we need to learn some of the lessons that have happened out of the crisis. And there are a range of them. One is that we can work in different ways. One of the things that has happened, I spoke to a big company a couple of weeks ago who had 26,000 of their 30,000 employees working remotely from home, and it was working out okay for them. Now, that means productivity boosts for the company. It means, for the workers, less time travelling to and from work. And that means less urban congestion for everyone else who is on the road.


LAWS: So, will you endeavour to promote that? Because I think it’s a terrific idea. I’ve been watching too. And you can tell the difference that people are staying home. Hopefully a lot of them are staying home to work. I think that should be encouraged in.


ALBANESE: Absolutely, John. And one of the things that can do, of course, is aid regional development as well. If it doesn’t matter as much whether you’re right next to the place that you’re working and it’s possible to live in a in a regional town where the costs of housing are substantially less, I mean, why wouldn’t you live in a great town like Goulburn even though you’re working in Sydney, for example, or Orange or Bathurst or wherever around our great country. And I think there is an opportunity to think about the way that we work. The fact that people have practiced it. And many people just anecdotally have said to me that they’re surprised that they’re able to do it and they’re able to do it efficiently. People have got used to having meetings on Zoom, so perhaps there will be less flying around for face to face meetings than has happened in the past. There’s a range of other things we need to learn as well. We learned during this crisis, that we weren’t able to have that personal protective equipment to manufacturer it here. So, we quickly adjusted to do that. And we had various breweries and other institutions producing hand sanitiser. But we need to be much more self-reliant when it comes to manufacturing the essentials that we need. And that is another lesson that we have learned as well. And the whole principle of the way that we organise things so that a theme of a response to the pandemic is, ‘We are all in this together’, I want to see that spirit of cooperation and looking after each other, that great Australian value of helping out your neighbour, I want to see that extended and to remain. I know where I live there’s a little online group being set up so that if someone is an elderly person and can’t do their own shopping, then someone’s going and doing it for them. And that is being done through the community.


LAWS: That’s good.


ALBANESE: It’s been wonderful the way that the Australian people have responded to this crisis.


LAWS: I don’t understand how you can say that we can’t go back to the way it was. I mean, it wasn’t too bad, was it? We were about to go into surplus.


ALBANESE: It was pretty good. But the problem is you can’t always just snap-back in a day instantly as well. There’ll need to be a transition. And what I’m saying is we can transition into, how can we improve things? How can we make our economy stronger, more resilient? How can we support more permanency in jobs? One of the issues that has been apparent during this crisis as well is that those people who were in casual jobs, who had less security, have done it tougher. They were the first people to be laid off. They were the people who were ineligible for JobKeeper. And I think we need to recognise that as well. And I think we can do that and very much emerge stronger. It has been an opportunity where people have had a chance to think about things and the world has slowed down a little bit for all of us. And I’ve certainly been thinking about what sort of society we want to have, how we can shape that, how we can improve it. And that’s why last Monday, I wanted to start that discussion much more broadly so that we engage with people about the issues that are of concern to them. One of the things, for example, that has served us well during this crisis is listening to experts and scientists. Now, that hasn’t always been the case.


LAWS: No, it hasn’t. But it’s a good thing to do.


ALBANESE: It is an excellent thing to do. And we need to do it, in my view, on issues like climate change and other areas. If we listen to the science, listen to the experts, we can take some of the politics out of it as well. So that when I’ve been asked during this crisis, and there has been some criticism that I haven’t criticised the Government enough, well, what I’ve said is, on things like the restrictions, we just need to listen to the experts. Governments listen to the experts. We need to do it too.


LAWS: Yes, you do the same thing.


ALBANESE: Absolutely. And it’s meant that there’s been less division. And I think that’s one of the things that your listeners want. And one of the things that we need in terms of so much of politics is looking for arguments rather than looking for solutions. But during this crisis, we’ve looked for solutions.


LAWS: You’ve called for the temporary increase to JobSeeker and the payments made under JobKeeper to be extended. Why would that be necessary? Because the economy is opening up now, the economy’s looking better. Why would that be necessary?


ALBANESE: Well, take JobSeeker. What I’ve said is that $40 a day isn’t enough for people to live on. The Government acknowledged that when they increased JobSeeker. That was basically the words that they used, ‘Well, we need to give people enough to live on’. Now, that doesn’t change after the event. Now, I don’t think it should be kept at the level where it is, where JobSeeker is higher than the age pension. That’s not a reasonable proposition. But it is the case, I think, that JobSeeker shouldn’t go back down to $40 a day. And on JobKeeper, all I’m saying there is that we’ll need some sort of a transition. The idea that you have more than six million people being subsidised with $1,500 a fortnight on May the 18th and on May the 19th it just ends for all six million people, that will produce a shock to the economy and there needs to be a much more sensible, pragmatic transition out of the process.


LAWS: You’ve been very critical of Scott Morrison’s approach to economic recovery following the pandemic, yet Australia is doing far better than most countries. I mean, what could you do that would be better?


ALBANESE: We are doing better. Well, I haven’t been critical of measures like JobKeeper. I called for it, in fact. And we wanted that to happen earlier. We said that you needed to keep that relationship between employers and employees. And it is serving the country well. But we are still struggling. We still have something like 600,000 additional people losing their jobs in the month of April. And that figure, of course, is expected to continue to grow, unfortunately. So, what I’ve been critical of is that idea of snap-back, is the idea that you can just turn off the tap on a particular date in September, and that you need to actually have a plan to transition out of it. And we need to plan for where will the jobs grow to get people back into employment. Now, some of that will be in hospitality, the restaurants and bars and other activities that are reopening slowly.


LAWS: A lot of them won’t reopen. A lot of them are just finished.


ALBANESE: Exactly. And I know in my office is in a strip shopping centre in Marrickville, and there are so many ‘for lease’ signs. There are people who have just closed up shop. And they’ve gone. They’re not coming back. And so, we will need to identify where we can have jobs created in be it new manufacturing industries, be it in education services, revitalising it, and in other areas. And I think we will also need to have a significant infrastructure program that creates jobs whilst building things that improve the long-term strength of the Australian economy.


LAWS: Support for the Coalition at the moment is riding at an all-time high. Newspoll revealing that they’re two points ahead of Labor, 51 to 49, on a two-party preferred basis. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s enough. How do you explain that if you say the Coalition is doing a bad job?


ALBANESE: Well, I haven’t said they’ve got everything wrong at all. And indeed, we’ve been very constructive during this crisis. What’s happening if you look at world leaders with only a couple of exceptions, people during a crisis have bonded with whoever is in leadership positions whether that be Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, or any of the Premiers, Gladys Berejiklian and Daniel Andrews, Mark McGowan, they’re all through the roof in terms of their popularity. You got to remember that just one year ago today, the Coalition received more than 55 per cent of the two-party preferred vote. So, in terms of the position, it is basically the same. They’re a little bit less than where they were a year ago.


LAWS: That’s true.


ALBANESE: My challenge is to make sure that we’re putting forward a constructive alternative, that we’re being positive, that we’re holding the Government to account where need be. And we have on other issues like the abuse of taxpayers’ funds for sports rorts and other issues we’ve continued to raise. But the primary issue that Australians have been concerned about, and we have as well, is getting through what is a health crisis. And we’ve been constructive there. And then dealing with the economic consequences of that crisis. And we have put forward a range of constructive suggestions. We’ll continue to do so rather than just oppose for opposition’s sake. I said when I became Labor Leader, after the election a year ago, that I wanted to be known as the Labor Leader rather than the Opposition Leader. And I think I have kept true to that. We voted for every single one of the packages that went through the Parliament. We did make suggestions, some of which were adopted, some of which weren’t. And that is up to the Government to do that. But I think we improved the system by making sure that payments were given to young people through the Youth Allowance and Austudy. We made sure that wage subsidies came in. They were originally opposed by the Government. We argued for mental health support. And we argued for an increase in the number of testing and particularly making sure that our borders were strengthened in terms of checks for people coming in.


LAWS: I want to talk about you as Leader. Scott Morrison’s got a massive lead over you as preferred Prime Minister. I don’t like to say it because it must make you feel uncomfortable. I don’t like to do that, 56 to 29. That’s a hell of a difference, isn’t it? Is it your fault that Labor is polling poorly?


ALBANESE: Well, I was ahead of preferred Prime Minister, remarkably for an Opposition Leader, before this crisis came. So, polls will go up and down. If that compares with Mark McGowan who is on a 93 per cent approval rating in Western Australia. Daniel Andrews is up in the high 80s. And so, I think, it is what it is. I still have a positive outcome in terms of positive to negative remains in the black. And that’s a good thing. My job is to do the best job individually that I can but lead my team as well. And I think the whole team is being very constructive in the way that they’ve responded to what was a devastating defeat this time last year. We expected to win. Everyone expected us to win. And that wasn’t the case. We actually went backwards from where we were. Now, our job is to make sure that the memory of that sustains us into a determination to do better next time and to constantly be focused on what people want. And I, maybe it’s naive, but I think if you get the policies right and you get the approach right, then the politics will look after itself over a period of time.


LAWS: Well you are probably right there. Now, I want to solve this once and for all. Anthony Albanese or Albanese? What does your wife call you?


ALBANESE: Albanese or Anthony, of course, although my mates all, and perhaps this explains why over the difficulty of the pronunciation, but all my mates just call me Albo and have had since I was a little boy. I always got Albo. And my son who’s 19 has, I noticed that a few years ago at the side of the football field people shouting out Albo on the fields and I was wondering why people were calling out for me or trying to talk to me and I realised that he unfortunately has inherited my nickname of Albo as well.


LAWS: It was your birthday last week, wasn’t it?


ALBANESE: No. In March.


LAWS: In March? March or May? Anyway, whenever it is, happy birthday. I don’t know when it is.


ALBANESE: Thanks, John. I was elected on my birthday to Parliament. So, that was a rather nice prize but more than 20 years ago now. I hope I get a birthday present with an election win next time around, but I’ll be doing my best.


LAWS: That’s all you can do.


ALBANESE: Absolutely.


LAWS: That is all you can do. All right. Anthony, Albo, thank you very much for your time. Been good to talk to you. And I hope we talk again soon.


ALBANESE: Thanks, John. Lovely to talk to you.