Feb 9, 2021






SUBJECTS: Visit to Queensland; Queensland tourism industry; Regional Jobs Taskforce; COVID-19 affecting tourism sector; Queensland Labor; Federal Election; New Acland Coal Mine; JobKeeper; Labor’s policy agenda; South Sydney Rabbitohs. 


NEIL BREEN, HOST: Joining me in the studio is Anthony Albanese who has been continuing his Queensland blitz. He’s just back in Brisbane from Cairns and he’s heading off again to the north today. How are you, Anthony?


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: I’m very well, Neil. Good to be in the studio.


BREEN: Now, I should call you Opposition Leader, but sitting so close to you makes it feel very personal. Now, Cairns, what did you see up there with tourism operators, did you see carnage?


ALBANESE: What I saw was devastation. We had breakfast on the Sunday with the tourism operators from Tourism Tropical North Queensland, and we went out to the jetty there, and you just see the ships there. The boats that would normally be going out taking people out to the reef, beautiful day in Cairns, and they were just moored. What’s  moored really, is jobs. And I heard from one of the operators who had on a particular day, in January last year, some 530 passengers, and this year 27. We also went up Skyrail. It’s had a massive drop off. What used to happen was the cruise ships would come in, everyone gets off and goes off to Kuranda, have a look at Barron Falls, beautiful part of the world. They’re not there now. And that operates, a family-run business, for 25 years. Great people. They’ve kept on all of their workforce because JobKeeper has enabled them to do that. But come the end of March it’s just incredibly tough for them. And what the operators are worried about there is not just losing the business and infrastructure, even those that have kept going are worried about losing the skills, the people to pilot the boats.


BREEN: That’s right, they will go find other employment.


ALBANESE: There is a sign on a caryard in Cairns that has cars available to head south. That says it all. People packing up, getting in the cars one way, not bringing the cars back.


BREEN: So, the caryards are marketing people?


ALBANESE: The caryards are marketing people to go south.


BREEN: And they get here and unemployment in Queensland, seven and a half percent, is not so much better here. Now, I’ll move on. I’ve got some questions here from listeners. And they are particularly interested in the New Acland Mine. And people say, ‘Ask Anthony Albanese if he supports the opening of Acland Coal Mine like his members, Senator Chisholm, Shayne Neumann, some other people as well’. And other people just saying, ‘Acland Coal Mine, 13 years, what would you do?’


ALBANESE: What we need is certainty. Certainty for the workers there, certainty for the business, certainty for the farmers.


BREEN: How do they get the certainty? People are asking for political leaders like you to give them the certainty.


ALBANESE: Well, it’s not a Federal decision. The Federal approvals that they required are done. It’s now with the state. I’m confident that the state will see this through. They, of course, have approved more than 30 coal mines since they were elected. But this has been too long. We do need to look at these processes and make sure that they’re done properly. And that it’s the uncertainty that creates a problem for investment and a problem for the local community.


BREEN: Are you meeting with our Premier while you’re here? Will this be an agenda item?


ALBANESE: I had a chat with that with Annastacia already since I’ve been here. And we’re hoping to catch up later on the week. I’m pretty mobile. Today, I’ll be in Hervey Bay, Maryborough and Bundaberg. And I’m looking forward to having ongoing chats with Annastacia. We talk probably once a fortnight. I think she’s doing a great job. And Queensland is quite clearly do as well, which is why she was returned with an increased majority.


BREEN: She could be an asset for you. There could be a Federal election this year, we could get bogged down and talking about that. But that’s just a possibility. 23 seats in Queensland held by the Coalition, six by Labor. Queensland swings wildly. In the Rudd slide of ’07, you had nearly all the seats, then you lose them all at various times. But Annastacia Palaszczuk won three in a row. Will she be an asset to you in a Federal election campaign?


ALBANESE: Absolutely. And we will use every Queensland asset at our disposal. Annastacia also is a great source of advice about jobs, about prioritising what matters to Queenslanders. She’s really in touch. And we’ll also have, today, I’ll be traveling with Anthony Chisholm and Jim Chalmers. Last night I was with Murray Watt. We have people on the ground. We had Milton Dick and Nita Green up with me in Cairns. We’ve got a jobs taskforce that we launched.


BREEN: Milton Dick is a good operator.


ALBANESE: He’s a great operator. A very good friend. And a great source of advice. He’s really got his feet on the ground. He knows what matters to Queenslanders, particularly in the outer suburbs. And he’s a great fella. I’ve known him for a long time. And we have quality, what we need is to match that with quantity after the next election.


BREEN: That’s right. And it’s a key state. Simple as that. 23-6, you’d have to reduce that to at least 17-12, would you think, in the affirmative for Labor?


ALBANESE: We will be targeting a range of seats. And in Queensland, of course, you wouldn’t discount anything at all. In 2007 we won seats like Dawson with double digit swings. A few people, I think, made a bit of money on the betting market with Dawson that year. One of the things I think that will count against the Government is that they’ve taken Queenslanders for granted. There’s a certain arrogance about the way that Scott Morrison came up here during the Queensland state election, told Queenslanders the borders should be open, was critical of Annastacia Palaszczuk and continues to be so. And wherever he went, Labor held on to those seats and won seats right down the regional cities like Cairns and Townsville and Rockhampton.


BREEN: That’s the truth.


ALBANESE: Absolutely. And there’s no reason at all why we can’t be successful again. I’m a former Regional Development Minister. What that means is that wherever I go, I can point to, as former Deputy Prime Minister, projects that we built on the Bruce Highway, community infrastructure projects, projects Einasleigh River Bridge. We did the right thing. And one of the things that I’m here to say is to Queenslanders, I’m on your side. I’m on your side when it comes to infrastructure and good quality jobs. It’s no accident that I’m launching the first part of our industrial relations policy about job security here in Queensland tomorrow night.


BREEN: Where’s that occurring?


ALBANESE: We’re doing that at Southbank TAFE in Brisbane.


BREEN: It’ll be a key battleground, industrial relations. The Federal Government’s playing with fire with some policy.


ALBANESE: They sure are. And they’re getting rid of the Better Off Overall Test. Now, common sense tells you, if you are getting rid of something called the Better Off Overall Test, it’s because you don’t want workers to be better off overall. It is as simple as that. And to cut wages at the same time as they’re trying to cut superannuation, they are cutting JobKeeper, they are cutting JobSeeker back, this is no time. We’re still in a pandemic. In Cairns, over the last couple of days, that community has been smashed by the pandemic. And whilst our international borders remain closed, then they continue to need support. The tourism Minister fronted up there yesterday.


BREEN: He was following you around, Dan Tehan.


ALBANESE: He was. But he fronted up and said, ‘I’m just here for a chat’, as if he wasn’t in a position to do something. JobKeeper runs out in March. And those businesses need certainty. And I know that the people I spoke to in the tourism sector were just devastated that the Minister fronted up for a chat empty-handed, with no commitments, no certainty. And that really just is devastating.


BREEN: You’d find it hard now that Dan Tehan, if he goes and sees the devastation that you’ve seen, he goes back to Canberra and he says to Josh Frydenberg, the Treasurer, and the Prime Minister, ‘Look, we’re going to have to keep JobKeeper going’. They can’t change their minds now because they’ve been so vehement.


ALBANESE: Well, they should. When the facts are there, you should listen to them. And there’s no place for stubbornness. Because the reasons why you have JobKeeper, and we argued for wage subsidies, even when Scott Morrison said that was a dangerous idea, was that if you keep that relationship between an employer and their employee, then it costs you less than it being destroyed and trying to put it all together again.


BREEN: That’s right.


ALBANESE: And that’s the whole point. And the turnover is still massively down in those businesses. It will be for the foreseeable future. The international borders closed. That market relies upon Japan, Europe, the United States, China. It relies upon international tourism. And it’s such a great product for our nation. And the great thing about Far North Queensland is it brings people there and then also they visit other parts of Queensland and other parts of Australia.


BREEN: And they spend money. On Saturday, I was interested to see on your first trip around Brisbane, you were at the markets at Southbank, and you were flanked by Kevin Rudd. Raised a lot of eyebrows, a lot of people would think that maybe he’s not so much an asset for you going forward. Did you obviously see differently?


ALBANESE: He’s an asset, as is Terri Butler, our current Member for Griffith. It was in Kevin’s old seat. I caught up with Kevin in the morning and said, ‘We’re going on a street walk, do you want to come?’ And he loved it. And people were very warm towards all of us on that walk. We were there with Senator Murray Watt as well. And it’s great to be able to get out there and engage. There are some people who will say to you to never do an unscripted street walk for a kilometre with everything that can go wrong at those moments. I’m determined to talk with people and engage with people. I’ve been visiting childcare centres. You might have seen some funny footage from time to time. Because when you’re doing stuff with kids, we’ve had microphones knocked over, we’ve had one little kid get his trike stuck under a rock and need help during the press conference. All of that is real. And I intend to keep it real, to get out there and talk to Queenslanders wherever they work, wherever they’re spending their weekends, and engage with them. Because that’s how you find out what Queenslanders think. And it is something I’ve always done in my own electorate. I’ve always doorknocked, I have always gone out there and talked with people where they are. And that I think is a responsibility that politicians have.


BREEN: Okay, Anthony Albanese, the Opposition Leader. Just one remark, you’ve lost weight since your accident.


ALBANESE: No, it was a bit before. I was quite lucky that I am on a fitness kick.


BREEN: You look fit.


ALBANESE: I did a 50k walk in December down in Tasmania and I got fit for that and I’ve kept it going. I’ve dropped a bit. I needed new clothes.


BREEN: That is good.


ALBANESE: I think it helped me get through the accident. It was a pretty major crash. And my neurosurgeon, I’ve seen every specialist under the sun, the good thing is I know now I’ve been poked and prodded and had an MRI and CAT scan, I now know I am in really good health.


BREEN: Well, you need it because the Rabbitohs will have a losing season.


ALBANESE: Come on. Jai Arrow. Josh Mansour on the wing.


BREEN: Pinching people from everywhere. Good luck for the rest of your morning.


ALBANESE: No one wanted poor old Josh. And he’ll be terrific.


BREEN: And Wayne Bennett.


ALBANESE: Well, Wayne Bennett did okay for you guys doing Origin, didn’t he?


BREEN: He is a super coach.


ALBANESE: And one more premiership to go.


BREEN: I shouldn’t have mentioned the Rabbitohs. I got to get to a break.


ALBANESE: You got me excited now, mate.


BREEN: Enjoy Maryborough, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay today. Say hello to my brother Pat. He will be out in force. He’s a Labor man.


ALBANESE: And where will he be?


BREEN: He’ll be in Hervey Bay. He’s a good fella.


ALBANESE: He’s the good Breen.


BREEN: He’s the good Breen. Thanks very much, Anthony Albanese.