Jan 12, 2021







SUBJECTS: Car accident; the year ahead; state borders; national coordination of coronavirus response; National Cabinet; Aussies stranded overseas; quarantine; possibility of an early election.


OLIVER PETERSON, HOST: On the line is the Australian Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese, who has been released from hospital over the weekend. He was in a car crash. How’s your health, Albo? Good afternoon.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: I’m still a bit sore, mate. But I’m very, very lucky and very pleased to be in a position to speak to you. There was a moment there that I’ll never forget where I thought it was all going to end with a Range Rover headed straight for me. It was a very scary experience. But fortunately, I have some injuries, some external injuries and a bit of internal swelling as well and needs a bit of further examination. But essentially, I’ll be, I’ll come through it. Which is very, very lucky indeed.


PETERSON: We wish you a speedy recovery, of course. Now, do you actually agree with your fellow Labor WA Premier in Mark McGowan saying today that every state bar New South Wales, your home state, is handling the COVID restrictions well?


ALBANESE: Look, I’m not critical of any state government, including my own. They’re all responding on the basis of medical advice. I think the big thing that’s happened during 2020 and at the beginning of this year is the response of ordinary Australians who are making a difference. It was a tough time to be on the Northern Beaches during the Christmas and New Year period. And people in Sydney certainly have had some real restrictions on what they would normally do at this time of the year. And this is the first time I haven’t attended a Sydney cricket Test for a long period of time. But I think that we’re showing our resilience and our preparedness to get on top of this.


PETERSON: What do you think about Mark McGowan suggesting that we should eliminate rather than suppress the virus? Is that even possible?


ALBANESE: Well, that effectively is what people have been trying to do. And they’ve been doing it pretty successfully. The problem with, as Scott Morrison suggested way back in July, living with it, is that this is a virus that doesn’t say, ‘Okay, I’ve got a few infections, my job’s done’. It multiplies. And the mathematics of this can see it get out of control very quickly. That’s why Annastacia Palaszczuk shut down Brisbane and southeast Queensland over the weekend pretty quickly. We saw Daniel Andrews get on top of the outbreak in Victoria. And these are measures that no-one wants to happen. We don’t want this virus to exist. But I do think that the lessons are that you’ve got to be very strict, act quickly, get on top of any outbreak, because they have occurred. They’ve occurred in almost every state. WA, of course, has come through the last year better than other states. But we’ve seen outbreaks in South Australia, Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales. And certainly, I think that people have listened to the science, listened to the medical experts. And that’s the right thing to do.


PETERSON: New South Wales, could it have gone harder? Should have it been more strict?


ALBANESE: I’ve avoided being critical of any state government. So I haven’t done what some in the Liberal Party have done, which is to be critical of Labor state governments. Of course, the Federal Government joined Clive Palmer in taking WA to court over the restrictions that were put in place there that, frankly, have served the population of Western Australia very well. I think that certainly we need to be clear about the messages which are given. I said a week ago, well before the Cricket Test started, when we were talking about 20,000 people attending, that we need to be careful saying to people that you can have five people in your home, but we have 20,000 cavorting around the SCG. That to me didn’t pass the common sense test. And I do think that we’ve got to be consistent. And we’ve got to be, when in doubt, be cautious. That’s the real lesson. Because a minor restriction today is better than a major restriction down the track.


PETERSON: I think the consistency is what can frustrate a lot of Australians at the moment, Anthony Albanese, because the rules around state border closures, they differ from state to state. Do you think it is perhaps time the Federal Government took over the management of these measures?


ALBANESE: Well, to be frank, we’ve spoken about this last year. And it’s now the case, it should be clear to everyone, if it wasn’t beforehand, that there isn’t really a National Cabinet. What happens is that state premiers meet, tell each other what they’re doing, Scott Morrison makes an announcement at the end of it all. And then, if things go well, he tries to take credit for it. And if things don’t go perfectly, then he blames the states.


PETERSON: So there’s a vacuum with the national leadership and coordination of the response to the pandemic?


ALBANESE: Well, quite clearly, there should, in my view, be much more consistent rules. There should be better national coordination. But the Federal Government’s chosen not to do that. Even over issues like international arrivals, the Federal Government has sought to pass blame on to the states. And that is just absurd. Issues like quarantining, even when the Federal Government got a report by Jane Halton, the former head of the Health Department, did a review, recommended quarantining at the national level, greater national coordination of it, so we could bring home the 40,000 Australians who are stranded, recommended places like Exmouth there in WA as a venue, recommended an expansion of the Northern Territory facility there at Howard springs which now has belatedly been done, recommended some separation of the quarantining from your CBD hotels where a lot of the accommodation is being kept. These were common sense recommendations. And the Government seems to have ignored it. I do think that the Federal Government has strategically made a political decision that they’re quite happy to hand over responsibility to others, even if it means less national coordination, because less national responsibility means that they can point to someone else if something doesn’t go right.


PETERSON: Now, I want to see as many Australians home as possible as quickly as possible, because it’s a conversation I was hoping we wouldn’t have to have in 2021. And as you say, we should have learned some of those lessons about bringing people into places which are away from the major population centres of our cities, whether it be here in Perth, or where you are in Sydney.


ALBANESE: Well, Oly, we were told that Australians will be home by Christmas. And I’ll tell you what, every office, political office in the land, the number one inquiry which we’re getting is from relatives or from people directly contacting us from overseas who just can’t get home, who’ve tried to book, often paid one, two, three times and had flights cancelled. And this is a source of major frustration. It’s meant that families were kept apart at Christmas. It also means that for many of those Australian citizens, they’ve had to stay in places like the United Kingdom and the United States, which continue to see a rise in the number of infections. And they’d be much safer if they came home here, quarantined and then got to stay here. And we’ve seen too many of our best and brightest travel overseas for opportunities and they want to come home and make a contribution here. And they can’t get home. And we have a responsibility to do whatever we can to smooth that return to their nation.


PETERSON: You’re out of the blocks early this year. You’ve killed the franking credits policy that Labor took to the last Federal election. Are you preparing for a poll September/October of 2021?


ALBANESE: Well, I’m ready whenever it’s called. I know that if it is called in 2021, it’s because the Government doesn’t have faith in its capacity to keep control of the economy or social policy or that there are big problems coming in 2022. We have three-year terms in Australia, that’s too short. Four years is the norm for state governments. And internationally, four or five years is the norm. So I think the Government would want to have a pretty good excuse if they do go to an election this year. But for Scott Morrison, he’s always got his eye on the politics rather than anything else. And so we’ll be ready to go anytime from August/September. We’ve put in place our review, we’ve had our vision statements, we’re rolling out policies such as the cheaper childcare policy and a Future Made in Australia. We have our zero net emissions by 2050. We’ll be rolling out more policies. We’ll have our national conference online on March 30 and 31. And we are prepared to go for an election whenever it’s called. And as far as I’m concerned, one of the things about last Friday’s events in Hill Street, Marrickville, with the car I used to love but is no more, I was confident I could tackle anything that 2021 threw at me. I am now absolutely confident that I can do that and beat it and be successful at the election.


PETERSON: Well, we wish you all the very best in your recovery and through navigating the political path of 2021. And we look forward to speaking with you again throughout the year here on Perth Live. Anthony Albanese, always appreciate your time. Thank you very much.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Oly. And welcome back. And a big shout-out to the viewers, your listeners there. I did commit to ten visits to WA. We will wait and see when I’m able to travel there. But I certainly look forward to coming over and talking to you and taking some calls in the studio as I do.


PETERSON: Look forward to that. Take care.


ALBANESE: Thanks, Oly.