Oct 6, 2020





SUBJECTS: Federal Budget; Budget reply; economy; Morrison recession; JobKeeper; JobSeeker; need for an Australian Centre for Disease Control; economic recovery; jobs; tax cuts; NBN; NAIF.

MURRAY JONES, HOST: The big thing that we’re talking about is the Budget. It is to be released in the next 24 hours or so. And, of course, for Australia after COVID-19, it is possibly the most important Budget that any Treasurer in the history of Australia has had to hand down. Well, they paid 10 times the value for Badgerys Creek. They underestimated JobKeeper to the tune of $60 billion. Thankfully, they actually estimated it up, not down. But still that’s a rather gaping big mistake there. There’s been the illusory surplus. We had a surplus before the last election that wasn’t quite across the line. It will be and, of course, it never was. As we head towards Christmas, 1.4 million Aussies are out of work as well. The Australian economy was even in dire straits before COVID-19. So, it’s a very important Budget in so many ways. My special guest this morning, Leader of the Opposition, Albo, joins me. Albo, I should imagine not only just the Government getting sorted out for a big Budget, with respect to Labor, I think there’s some holes that you’ve going to be exploiting, I should imagine.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: There sure are. I hope there’s as many holes in the Parramatta defence for Souths to run through on Saturday night, I’ve got to say. But the fact is that this economy was really struggling last year. That’s why the Reserve Bank kept intervening repeatedly and lowering interest rates. We know wages have been stagnant for years now under this Government. Business investment was in decline. Consumer confidence down. Productivity was actually going backwards. All of the indicators were not good. And then, of course, a pandemic. So, the Morison Recession is indeed the first in 30 years. And it will be deeper and longer, in part because of the lack of preparedness for this such event. And the fact that the Government was slow to act early, it was slow to put JobKeeper on. And then it has been quick to withdraw it. They withdrew it for childcare, of course, two months ago. But everyone’s rate went down this week. So, the Government’s talking about tax cuts, they are talking about giving $50 back, but they’ve just taken $300 away. So, certainly people won’t be better off as a result of that.

JONES: That’s an interesting point, too, because as we well know, JobKeeper will be tapering off. But there is maybe another illusionary promise with respect to exactly what’s happening there with the tax cuts. But you’re saying the difference is around 250 bucks, did you say?

ALBANESE: If you take $300 off people, but then you give them back $50, then they end up being $250 worse off. And the Government wants a clap for it. The fact is that we think that withdrawal and cutting of JobKeeper and JobSeeker is too early. And we think that will place pressure, particularly on small businesses. And we know that communities like Cairns have really done it tough because you’re so reliant upon the tourism sector, particularly in international tourism. And what we’re seeing, of course, is that the planes have stopped arriving. And that is putting real pressure in that community.

JONES: Now, to be fair to the Government, with what’s happening here with COVID-19, obviously with trade, with so many things, it’s a completely different ball-game. At the end of the day, as we move forward, there’s been a lot of focus on shovel-ready projects, because obviously, we don’t want people falling through those cracks because once they fall through them, it’s very difficult to get them back up again. What type of things could we be doing differently just to, I guess, take the best options and what is available, post recovery of COVID-19?

ALBANESE: Well, the first thing that we could be doing, of course, is actually delivering on promises. But the problem for this Government is very good at announcements, but not so good at delivery. And people of Cairns know that, Far North Queenslanders know, they’ve had announcement after announcement, but a failure to deliver from the Government that’s been there for, it is now in its eighth year. The underspend, the difference between what they’ve announced they would invest in infrastructure, for example, and what has actually been spent over the Government’s first six Budgets, is $6.8 billion. So, $6.8 billion they said they would spend that they haven’t. For small business, they’ve had a support package where less than around about five per cent of it has actually got out the door. The emergency response fund that was established in the wake of the bushfires but is there for disaster mitigation, they set up a $4 billion fund, there’s $200 million available each year. The last year, they spent not a dollar of it preparing for bushfires, for cyclones, for floods. The idea that there isn’t identified work that could be done is quite frankly absurd. And then you’ve got the National Broadband Network. Now, I rolled out fibre-to-the-home there in Cairns as the Infrastructure and Communications Minister there in 2013. The new Government came in, stopped that rollout of fibre and said, ‘No, no. copper will do’. And guess what? In its eighth year, they have to retrofit it at a greater cost. They said their rollout will be cheaper, it costs $29 billion. It’s actually been more expensive. It’s costs $51 billion. They bought enough copper wire to literally go right around the planet. 50,000 kilometres of it.


ALBANESE: Now they’ve got to rip it up and put fibre in because copper is, of course, last century’s technology.

JONES: Look, can we take a positive out of that? There’s going to be some work involved in actually getting the fibre into houses as well. But one thing that I have spoken to a few of the Labor senators about in recent times, too, is the lack of action on the NAIF. I mean, it’s something that’s specifically for us in this part of the world. But we’re just not seeing the runs, basically, up on the board and the jobs on the ground, Albo.

ALBANESE: A $5 billion fund established years ago and nothing’s happened. Nothing’s happened. The rollout of that it’ll take them, I think one of my colleagues, Senator Murray Watt, calculated that it would take about 100 years I think it was. The figure was just ridiculous, at the rate that it’s actually being invested. Once again, a big figure. $5 billion for Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund. But nothing actually happened. And that was announced in their first term. They’re now in their third. So, I think that people need to see action on the ground. They need to see not just photo-ops, they need to see follow-up. And it’s that that matters. The problem for this Government is when they make an announcement, they pat each other on the back, and they say, ‘Well done’. And then they forget about actually what was announced and don’t bother to follow it up. The NAIF is a classic example of that.

JONES: Look, sometimes it gets a bit political. But if you look back in our history, I think a lot of people certainly would agree, when it comes to economic management certainly Rudd and Swan and the Labor Party has certainly got actually a pretty solid track record. But as we’re looking at what’s happening here in COVID-19, let’s talk about the confidence that you can instil in the Australian public to get voted up as the next Prime Minister of Australia. We’ve got a few years to go. This is obviously a pretty solid time with respect to what’s happening with the Budget. But what type of things can you see might happen over the next year or so that will basically turn the people around here in Australia to be voting for you, Albo?

ALBANESE: Well, what we need is a plan for immediate jobs. But we also need a vision of how we have a better future, a stronger economy, a fairer society. We need to put in place measures that are permanent reforms. And today we’ve announced the first part of our Budget response that we would support the Australian Centre for Disease Control. Now, every single advanced economy, every member of the OECD, has a Centre for Disease Control. We don’t here in Australia and that holds us back. This pandemic is one in 100 years at this stage. But all of the evidence is that if you look at SARS and you look at the impact of other diseases and pandemics that have occurred, then we could expect and indeed need to anticipate that this isn’t the only one that will happen in our lifetime. Now the last time there was an exercise, which is best practice, to go through these processes, was in 2008, under the Rudd Labor Government. We haven’t had one since. If you go through that, then you identify weaknesses and best practice. And then when the real thing happens, you can actually put it into play. So, for example, the Ruby Princess might not have happened, if people had thought through those processes. And we know that led to, I think the figure was in the order of 28 deaths that have directly been associated with the Ruby Princess. So, this isn’t just an academic exercise. This is about best practice. Making sure that we’re prepared. We know that when the pandemic happened, we didn’t have enough gloves or surgical gowns. We didn’t have enough equipment, enough ventilators. All of these issues can be examined in cooperation with the states. And we can make sure that our preparedness is much better in accordance with best practice.

JONES: I mean, a lot of people talk about Government over-spending but when it comes to these type of things, if those facilities are not in place, I’m sure they’ll be complaining about the Government’s lack of spending with respect to it. So, it’s a tough call either way isn’t it?

ALBANESE: Well, it ends up costing you more if you don’t get it right, because you’re doing it in circumstances whereby you’re paying premium, rather than being prepared in a measured way.

JONES: Leader of the Opposition, and I am a bit suspicious he might be going for assistant coach of the Rabbitohs, Anthony Albanese, thank you so much for joining me this morning.

ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Murray. Always good to talk.