Aug 5, 2020







SUBJECTS: Beirut explosion; need for Parliament to sit on August 24; Victorian coronavirus outbreak; paid pandemic leave; WA border closure; Government backflipping on Clive Palmer’s High Court challenge.


OLIVER PETERSON, HOST: Let’s bring in the Australian Labor Party Leader, Anthony Albanese, who joins me live from Sydney. Albo, good afternoon to you. Obviously, a big Lebanese community, particularly in your neck of the woods where you are the member in Sydney. How are they responding to the news that they woke up to this morning?


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Look, I think everyone in Australia is going through a difficult period at the moment with the pandemic. But to wake up with this quite horrific news, I visited the port of Beirut in 2012, and it is right in the city. It is the equivalent of just being on the Swan River just down from where you are in east Perth. It is really in the heartland. And that is why as soon as I heard the news this morning, I just thought it would have catastrophic consequences. And this is even more difficult because so many Lebanese Australians, of course, have relatives in Beirut. And they are very concerned. I have spoken to the Bishop as well as speaking to leaders of the Lebanese Muslim community. And they are deeply concerned. And the trauma, of course, is added to by the fact that normally what would happen would be that the community would come together in church, or at a mosque, or at a community centre. And that, of course, isn’t possible at the moment either. So, I think that has added to the feeling of the community. My heart goes out to that community at the moment, as I am sure all Australians would be. This is a major tragedy from a country, frankly, that has had too much tragedy.


PETERSON: Absolutely, it is. Now, I saw you over the television screens earlier this morning talking about Parliament not sitting. Why are you so obsessed with this when we have got so many border closures? Do you think the public actually cares that Federal Parliament isn’t sitting this week?


ALBANESE: Well, we do have to, of course, sit to deal with things that affect the public’s life. JobKeeper and JobSeeker, these payments are time-limited according to the legislation. It needs laws to be passed in order to extend those payments. We need to have a discussion about issues including paid pandemic leave on a national scale. We need to talk about the need to respond to issues like child care and aged care. Have we got the right measures in place? The Commonwealth, of course, has responsibility for that issue. So, this isn’t just an exercise in a talk-fest. This makes a real difference to real people’s lives. And that’s why Parliament matters. Our democracy matters. And our democracy is something that is important. State and territory parliaments are continuing to sit. And parliaments are sitting around the world for that very reason. Now, if we’ve going to make some modifications to that, which we did earlier this year, then so be it. We should be prepared to be flexible about these matters.


PETERSON: But Parliament is cancelled due to the fact that we have state border closures, the pandemic, particularly in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, with the developments today. JobKeeper and JobSeeker, we know is going to extend until March.


ALBANESE: Well, it won’t be extended until March unless the Parliament sits, Oly. That’s the point.


PETERSON: But can’t you have these discussions in the media at the moment, Anthony Albanese? Just use Parliament to rubber-stamp the policies that need to be rubber-stamped at this challenging time?


ALBANESE: The point is Parliament needs to meet. You can’t have a rubber stamp without the Parliament. Payments can’t be made without authorisation in a democracy. And the legislation that we passed did a couple of things. It allowed JobKeeper and these payments to continue until September. But after that they run out. And it also allowed for the Parliament to meet flexibly in different forms. And the Manager of Opposition Business, Tony Burke, is authorised, with the Leader of the House, Christian Porter, to have discussions and to make recommendations on that basis. There’s the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, as well, are a part of that. And they will, of course, be listening to the Chief Medical Officer’s advice as well. When Parliament was cancelled early this year, of course, the Government cancelled it for six months. And then subsequently we were able to meet. The WA borders, of course, had quite rightly being closed for a considerable period of time, but that didn’t prevent WA members being able to attend and indeed they did so. And they successfully met. That’s why JobKeeper is in place. Because Parliament passed that legislation.


PETERSON: But in Victoria, Parliament was sitting yesterday against the Chief Medical Officer’s advice. The Victorian Parliament still gathered. Is this just a dangerous situation? Could you not even meet virtually?


ALBANESE: That is something that can be considered if that’s allowed. There would need to be, according to the constitution and legal issues, there’s issues in terms of making up the quorum of the Parliament for it to commence. But those are issues that are being debated right now by the committee that’s been established to try to work at how it is and in what form the Parliament can meet. We’ve already passed a resolution of the Parliament to allow that under standing orders. And no doubt, the people responsible will be having those discussions.


PETERSON: How disappointed are you in how Victoria has handled the COVID crisis?


ALBANESE: I think this is, of course, a national issue. And any outbreak, whether it be the Ruby Princess, whether they be issue with the quarantining and the outbreaks resulting from that, are of course disappointing. Every infection is one too many. What we need to do is to make sure that we learn lessons. One of the issues of paid pandemic leave, for example, is that I don’t want paid pandemic leave just for areas that have outbreaks. The point of paid pandemic leave should be to prevent outbreaks so that people don’t feel that they have to go to work in order to have money to put food on the table.


PETERSON: So, it should be offered to be extended right around the country right now, Albo?


ALBANESE: Absolutely.


PETERSON: So, it doesn’t have to be whether or not your state has been disaster-declared to be eligible for paid pandemic leave, which is what the announcement was from the Federal Government a few days ago?


ALBANESE: No, I think the weakness in that argument, with respect to its proponents, and something that we’d say to the Government that they need to really think about is that, is to use an old Aussie saying, that is, ‘Shutting the gate after the horse has bolted’. The point of paid pandemic leave should be that if people are feeling symptoms or if people have been tested or they’re feeling sick and they don’t have access to sick leave or some other leave, and they’re in a situation whereby the only way that they can earn income is to turn up at work, then that is putting them in a very difficult situation. And under the current circumstances, the Government should be playing a role working with business to make sure that people aren’t in that predicament.


PETERSON: Do you reckon you picked up a little bit more support, a few votes here in Western Australia, with the Federal Government’s backflip on the Clive Palmer border challenge?


ALBANESE: I think we probably picked up some considerable feelings of sympathy, if you like, in that we understood. I was with the Western Australian Government the whole way through. I think it was quite extraordinary for the Morrison Government to support Clive Palmer’s actions in the High Court. They said they didn’t have a choice. But when they backflipped, what that did was expose the fact that they always had a choice. Otherwise they couldn’t have done what they’ve done under political pressure. Mark McGowan has stood up for his state. And the truth is, you look at the figures, it’s been effective. You’re getting to go to the footy there in WA in much bigger numbers than you are in other places. And you’re able to open up the economy. WA’s economy is, of course, very important. As much as I’ve regretted not being able to fulfil my commitment to you of once again visiting the West on at least ten occasions over this calendar year, it’s the right thing to do. And it’s been proven that it’s been the right thing to do.


PETERSON: Anthony Albanese, appreciate your time this afternoon. You have a good evening. Thank you.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Oly.


PETERSON: The Australian Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese, live from Sydney.