Feb 8, 2021






SUBJECTS: Visit to Cairns; need for a coordinated Federal response to COVID-19; tourism in Queensland; JobKeeper; Federal Election; polls; Labor’s Regional Jobs Taskforce.


MURRAY JONES, HOST: Good morning, Albo. How are you this morning?


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning. Good to be in the studio in beautiful Cairns


JONES: Excellent.


ALBANESE: What a great day.


JONES: And you have brought some beautiful weather with you. You are actually lucky I am here. I have got a six-metre fishing boat that is going to disappear this morning and not be seen for hours.


ALBANESE: Come on, I was in the diary, mate. You couldn’t leave me hanging.


JONES: I could have taken you.


ALBANESE: I could’ve either hosted the show or we could’ve gone fishing together.


JONES: It would have been a bit of fun, actually. We would have had a great time. But tell me, we were just laughing about ScoMo and Albo. ScoMo, I guess, is a bit more of a recent nickname. How long have you actually been Albo for?


ALBANESE: Since primary school. I think a four-syllable surname and a three-syllable first name, Australians do that. So, any of my school mates, I was always just Albo. And interestingly, my son, who’s now 20, I was at a soccer game with him. He was on the field. And I heard people yelling out, ‘Go, Albo’. And I was sort of looking around thinking if they were talking to me. And then you know how year 12 students get their name on the back of the shirt?


JONES: Yes, sure.


ALBANESE: Guess what it says?


JONES: Too long to get Albanese across the shoulder.


ALBANESE: It says, ‘Albo’ there. And I just thought, ‘Well, there you go’. It continues, the tradition.


JONES: It’s great to have you here in Cairns. And thank you for bringing this beautiful weather with you. Let’s get into it. Your Deputy, Richard Marles was on the Insiders on the ABC yesterday. It was really interesting to watch that. And I guess some of the key things that I got out of, and I think he’s talking, I guess, a lot of sense, the states are not going to let their powers go. But when it comes to federalism, we are really in a position where we have to make some major changes. And I think the COVID-19 pandemic, you know, we don’t even have a solid definition of a hotspot, a red spot with respect to COVID-19. Having a coordinated approach with respect to COVID-19 is one of the key things that I think COVID-19 has shown us. But how do we do that?


ALBANESE: Look, I think we do it by showing respect to the states and territories by bringing them all in and having the conversation about more national uniformity. What’s happened during this pandemic is Scott Morrison set up that the so-called National Cabinet, which really isn’t national at all, it should be at the least called a Federal meeting, where the states all tell each other what they’re doing. And he goes out and does a press conference. And that’s it. And then the states go their own way. I think that it would be far better if we had at least more national understanding and consistency there. We’re now in a world whereby Australians travel much greater, they move work, they move around this great continent of ours, much more so than they did 30 years ago. And so, we do need more national uniformity. And over things like our national borders, Scott Morrison has handed over control as if we’re not in charge of who flies into Australia. And issues like quarantine are clearly a national responsibility. And Scott Morrison has chosen not to. And that’s about politics, of course. Because if you’re not in charge, then you can’t be blamed if something goes wrong,


JONES: There’s possibly been a differentiation, using a bit of a US term, between the blue and the red states too. And I think when it comes to some of those meetings, and that National Cabinet, there has possibly been some differentiation there when it really needs to be a coordinated approach.


ALBANESE: That’s right. And the truth is that Scott Morrison and the Federal Liberals have been critical of Labor states but haven’t been critical of Coalition held states that have done the same thing. Tasmania announced a border closure to that state, that it would be closed for three months in advance. South Australia, of course, had the lockdown and the closure as well. I haven’t been critical of any of the states whether they be Labor or Coalition. I think all of them have been acting on health advice. And all of them have, of course, been handed these powers by the Commonwealth. So, if you put the states in charge, you can’t then be critical of the decisions that they make.


JONES: I mean, at the end of the day, how you are going to wrestle that, as you said about respect, but I think there’s got to be delineation with respect to things, certainly like quarantine as it certainly is in place. But with COVID-19, it’s a different ballgame, it really is.


ALBANESE: Look, 2020 was a really tough year for Australians wherever they live, but particularly in regions like Far North Queensland here. You’ve done it tough. I met with the tourism operators yesterday. One operator told me that on a particular day last year in January there were, I think the figure was, 530 guests  going out to see the reef. This year, the same day, 27. So, that is just a sign. We were up on Skyrail yesterday, they’ve had a massive fall, because so many international visitors, the cruise ship visitors are a major market there, they get off the ship, they go up and see beautiful Barron Falls and Kuranda. But that’s just not happening.


JONES: Let’s talk a little bit more specifically about that. And I guess honing in particularly on Cairns, and I think was actually the Chamber of Commerce and Industry here in Queensland has just released a survey across the weekend, saying about 66 per cent of businesses here in Queensland are looking actually pretty positive. And you know, I think that the future is looking pretty solid for most businesses. But here in tropical North Queensland, I doubt that 66 per cent would be having that optimism. What can Labor do in a position where you are in power to pressure the Government with respect to so many things like JobKeeper?


ALBANESE: Well, I’m here today. And guess what? There’s a Federal Minister arriving here today as well. I don’t think that’s an accident. We’re placing pressure on recognising that the tourism sector here in Far North Queensland is doing it tough. They need support. The same logic that was there about keeping an employer in touch, connected with their workers, is still valid today. The same conditions are there. The turnover is down. The support should remain while that turnover remains down. And yes, there are some businesses in Southeast Queensland or Sydney or Melbourne that are doing very well. If they are retail businesses, some of them, their profits are through the roof. Some of them have used JobKeeper to actually pay executive bonuses. So, why is it that that’s being allowed and at the same time money ripped away from tourism businesses here in Cairns from the end of March? That makes no sense.


JONES: Especially when the prospect of having international visitors here back in Australia is years away at this time. So, there’s a complete change as to the way that we’re doing things. There’s no doubt about that.


ALBANESE: That’s exactly right. And the issue here is twofold. One, the loss of infrastructure, particularly if businesses disappear. But also, the loss of skills. And that was one of the things that the businesses are worried about here is that the people who drive the ships, who have those skills in terms of tourism operators, if they aren’t able to continue to have that connection with their employer, then those skills will be lost. And sometimes it might take six months more to train people up. And so, we need to recognise the tourism sector here is quality, it’s growing, it was continually over a period of time. It’s a great national asset for Australia. And we should be supporting it.


JONES: A real showcase. Now, I’m going to try and wrap this up into one question. I believe just in the last couple of days, they’re inching towards zero emissions by 2050 from the Prime Minister. Your Deputy yesterday was also talking about nation building. Australians they need certainly after the 12 months that we’ve been through. But I’m keen to talk to you about turning around the polls and getting a position where you’re likely to be in a far better position. Because that election could be coming up at any time now. What type of nation building things are you talking about, the opportunities that are there, even with climate change industries, between now and this pending election? How can you turn this around and get your figures up a little bit higher?


ALBANESE: Well, I’ll be supporting, today, announcing the Regional Jobs Taskforce that we’re establishing. And I’ve got Milton Dick and Nita Green, of course, the local senator here with me, launching it down where boat building occurs here in Cairns. Now that’s an example of a sector that can grow substantially. We can grow manufacturing jobs here. The pandemic has shown us what’s good about Australian society, that we look after each other, that we care about each other. We’re prepared to make sacrifices. But it’s also shown us what’s weak in our economy. Our lack of resilience, our incapacity to rely on ourselves. We didn’t have enough personal protective equipment. So how do we identify where those industries are that can grow? One of them here in Far North Queensland, of course, is the renewable sector. Projects that I’ve seen in the past like Big Kennedy, Little Kennedy. They have enormous potential for further activity like that. We can be a renewable energy superpower for the world. But we can also build things here. We’ve been very good at coming up with ideas through science. We invented the black box, we invented Wi-Fi. We invented some things that some people would regard as important as well, like the cask wine, we did all sorts of things. What we haven’t been good at is commercialising those. We need to be better at it. We need to value-add here. The rare earths that are available here in North Queensland and Far North Queensland will play a critical role in things like batteries, in things like electric vehicles. Copper is going to be an asset that we have that is worth more in the future because of demand. So, we need to identify that, see what we can manufacture here so that we keep jobs here. And in particular, I think Queensland has such a great future if we get this right.


JONES: Certainly, some great opportunities there. And look, as we wrap up this morning, let’s quickly talk about the polls, because I know you’ve been getting a bit of a caning in recent weeks.


ALBANESE: Well, not at all actually. The polls at the beginning of the year are either Newspoll on 50-50 and the Essential poll we were ahead by two. So, given the pandemic, we are, I think, very well-positioned. I think people understand that during the pandemic, people didn’t want politics as usual. They wanted us to act in the national interest. And we did that. And I make no apologies for that. We voted for all of the Government’s packages, even when we had reservations on it. But what was there before the pandemic, a lack of a plan from this Government, for the economy, for jobs, for greater fairness, for climate change, those issues are still there, they haven’t gone away. And at the next election, we’ll be saying that we acted in the national interest, unlike what the Coalition did during the Global Financial Crisis. But we also have a plan for a better recovery. And we’re on your side. We’re on your side when it comes to support for tourism businesses in Cairns. The Government has a lot of money to spend on Sports Rorts, to spend on its own political advertising. They’ve spent a billion dollars on Government ads since they came into office. That’s just extraordinary. They can find money for their priorities, which are looking after their mates, but they can’t find money for good nation building projects. And here in Cairns, of course, I can point towards things I did as Infrastructure Minister, like the Cape York Roads Package, like the upgrades to the Bruce Highway, other projects here in Cairns and in Townsville and right throughout Queensland that we put in place, the Ironsley River Bridge that made an enormous difference to the communities around Kurumba and Normanton. They weren’t political decisions. They were decisions based upon the national interest. And they were the right decisions. And I’m very proud of them.


JONES: Certainly, a lot of challenges ahead, but so are some opportunities because systemic change is something that I’ve spoken about that is certainly needed. We better let you go. Look, it’s been wonderful to see you in studio. Enjoy your day in Cairns and maybe get out there and at least go and have a look at some of the water.


ALBANESE: I can look at it, but unfortunately, I won’t be in it. That’s unfortunate. But I look forward to coming back as a tourist rather than as the Labor Leader. And I hope to have some time off up here next time I am here.


JONES: Anthony Albanese, Leader of the Opposition, thank you so much for your time. Have a great day. Cheers.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much.