Mar 20, 2020







SUBJECTS: Ongoing issues regarding COVID-19; health and economic implications arising from coronavirus; economy; economic stimulus package for coronavirus; schools closing or staying open during coronavirus; Labor’s actions during the Global Financial Crisis; sporting events during COVID-19.


TOM ELLIOTT, HOST: Anthony Albanese, good afternoon.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good afternoon, Tom. Thanks for having me on the program.


ELLIOTT: I know there is not much precedent for it in Australia, but would you like to be part of the Government’s national Cabinet during this time of national emergency?


ALBANESE: Well, look, that is a decision for Scott Morrison. He has chosen to not go down that path. I think when he announced that there would be a national Cabinet, I think that many people listening thought, and I know that is the case for many, thought we would be invited to participate. It is a decision made from the Government. I cannot do anything about that in terms of the response that is required. I have been constructive. I continue to be constructive. The structure of it is, of course, a matter for the Prime Minister.


ELLIOTT: I mean, you could ring Scott Morrison up or just approach him in the corridors of Parliament House, the corridors of power, and just say, ‘Hey, ScoMo, could you let me in?’


ALBANESE: Well, yes, that could happen. But I talked to him this morning, he hasn’t raised it. He knows that it is up to him to be able to do that. But he has chosen to do that. That is a matter for him. He certainly knows that we are being constructive. I’ve been making media conferences every day. I have had full briefings from the Chief Medical Officer yesterday. I was part of a briefing with people from the National Security Network. And I’ll continue to be constructive.


ELLIOTT: On that, the Parliament is going to sit for one day next week with just 100 people in the House of Representatives to debate and probably pass the Government’s stimulus package. Do you support what the Government’s doing there?


ALBANESE: Look, we will be supportive of the package. We may well have amendments. But we haven’t seen the legislation yet in terms of we have seen some of it, but not all of it. We are determined to be constructive. So, we will put forward if we have improvements that can be made. We’ll be making those suggestions. at the end of the day, though, we will vote for a package. We’re not going to stand in the way of economic stimulus. If I have a difference of opinion it is that I think the Government has not had the sense of urgency that’s required. So, for example, the payments of $750. The only reason why those payments haven’t been made already is because of politics. It is because they’re waiting for the last quarter of the financial year that begins in April to come. And they want the stimulus to feed into those figures. To my mind, this is a time when you should put aside politics and just worry about outcomes, whether it is outcomes in terms of health and protecting people and minimising the number of people who contract this virus, or whether it be ameliorating the consequential economic costs that will come as a result of the response, as a result of people limiting their economic activity. So, this is a real challenge. During the Global Financial Crisis, I remember well sitting in the Parliament, and being frustrated that we sat there, I think, until 3AM one morning, while we had the then-Opposition insist that every single measure go to every single vote. We had more than 30 divisions. I’m determined to not be like that. And that’s why when I became the Labor Leader, I said I want to be known as the Labor Leader, not the Opposition Leader. That was in general. But at times like this, it is certainly appropriate that we all put our shoulder to the wheel and head in the same direction as much as possible.


ELLIOTT: Now, one contentious aspect of the Government’s policy is to keep government schools open. A lot of private schools are closing but government schools remain open for the time being, although many parents have taken their kids out of state school for an extended Easter holiday. What do you think? Do you think schools should remain open as they are at the moment?


ALBANESE: Look, I think this is one of the areas whereby caution should be exercised in whatever measure. And if we’re going to make a decision in a few weeks’ time, then that should be communicated. And if it’s appropriate, make a decision today rather than in weeks’ time. But on this issue, my understanding is, as we’ve discussed, I’m not a party to those discussions between the state Premiers, the Prime Minister, and the various health officials and leadership there. We have to take the health advice. So, I don’t want to, I’m not looking for product differentiation for the sake of it from when it comes to these issues.


ELLIOTT: Okay. And what about the Budget being delayed until October? I know a little while ago it went from April to May, but to delay it months and months and months is almost unprecedented. Do you support what Josh Frydenberg is doing there?


ALBANESE: It is. My concern there was that we were not consulted on that measure by the Government. One of the things that should not occur is that it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to not have regular economic update of the state of the economy, including the state of Government finances. That needs to happen. One of the principles here throughout these issues, whether it be on health issues or on the economy, is we want people to trust authority. But authority has to trust the people in order for that to happen. There has to be transparency. And we will certainly be arguing very strongly that there needs to be those economic updates. We can’t have a circumstance whereby from the mid-year economic forecast last year, there to be no update of Budget figures between then and October. That would be unacceptable. Because it will also create a level of uncertainty in the economy. And I think the key here is that more people are looking for certainty. They’re looking for transparency. They want to know what’s going on. They’re feeling anxious. And that is understandable. It’s no good yelling at people saying, ‘Stay calm’. What we have to do, decision-makers, in whatever role we have, is to be transparent. I have argued, for example, that just as the Reserve Bank puts out arguments of why interest rates have changed, and now explains the reasoning, when the Government makes a decision such as it made on a range of issues today, even social gathering has changed today, they need to explain very clearly why those changes of decisions have been made. Because the feedback I’m getting is that one of the reasons why people are anxious is that there are these updates every day. Now, circumstances of why that’s occurring, and I am not being necessarily critical of all of those changes, inevitably there will be some change going through. But I think when people hear information and advice today that changes tomorrow, that creates some doubt in their mind over whether that’s the final advice or not.


ELLIOTT: We are getting stimulus packages, probably another one of those in a few weeks. Hey, very quickly. I know you’re a rugby league man. But are you pleased that the AFL and the NRL are continuing to play?


ALBANESE: I must say that there is some concern. I am both a rugby league fan and an AFL fan. I support the Rabbitohs and the Hawks. And I think it’s good for people that they are getting to watch but I just hope that player welfare is put first. Because I am somewhat concerned about, it’s pretty hard to have a rugby league or an AFL game and have the sort of social interaction distances that the Government is saying are advisable.


ELLIOTT: You’re not going to get two square metres in a rugby league tackle. We better leave it there. Anthony Albanese, I do appreciate your time.