Mar 23, 2020








SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; Parliament sitting; coronavirus stimulus packages; confusion around clear messaging during the coronavirus issue; calls for wage increases; stimulus package for casuals and sole traders; Centrelink lines; Stuart Robert.


STEVE AUSTIN, HOST: Anthony Albanese, thanks for coming on this afternoon. I appreciate it.




AUSTIN: Did you notice the real dramatic difference in tone and quality of debate in the House of Representatives today?


ALBANESE: I thought it was a good day for the Parliament. And I said that at the end of Question Time. People put forward their views constructively. We made it clear that we disagreed with some elements of the package. It wasn’t what we would have done if we were the Government. But we also said very clearly upfront, as I have said for weeks now, that we wouldn’t stand in the way of that package. We put forward what we see as improvements. If they didn’t get support, what we wouldn’t do is stand in the way because it does require our support. We had to suspend standing orders and do a whole lot of things today that required our agreement. But we know that what is important is getting some dollars in the pockets of people who are listening to us right now.


AUSTIN: Okay. I found it quite useful to hear Jim Chalmers articulate the disagreements very clearly. But what parts of the Federal Government’s response have they got right, have they done right, first of all?


ALBANESE: They’ve got right the $750 to everyone who’s on Newstart or pensioners. They’ve got right the coronavirus supplement in terms of the additional money for welfare recipients. They’ve got the concept right, but we don’t know if the detail is right in terms of the need to provide support for business. And so, they are the major elements of the package. We also support some decisions that aren’t part of the legislation. We think the Reserve Bank got it right with their support for business with $90 billion. That is bigger than either of the Government stimulus packages. That will provide for essentially low interest loans is what they’re doing and providing support therefore for the deferment of things like paying mortgages and paying business loans if need be or deferring of the interest payments on them for six months that will provide some base of support there. They’ve got right the getting rid of the fees and charges for airlines. Of course, that won’t cost $750 million because a lot of the airlines aren’t flying anywhere. Nonetheless, the concept they were right to defer things like air services charges, the fuel excise, and other charges which there are.


AUSTIN: All right. Now, there were five clear areas of difference that Jim Chalmers detailed for your side, the Opposition. What would you do differently, Anthony Albanese?


ALBANESE: What we would do is not do the super changes. We don’t think that it is the right time for people to exit from super. And it’s not so good for individuals because it is at the low end of the market because of what’s happened on the share market.


AUSTIN: You might see more disadvantaged people down the track if they dip into their superannuation too early.


ALBANESE: Absolutely. Because this is the very wrong time to convert an asset, which is what your superannuation is, into cash and spend it. You don’t sell an asset at the bottom of the market. You’d want to hold on to it until its value increases back up again. And so, we’re concerned about that and concerned about the impact on superfunds themselves. Because if they have to sell off, superfunds own Brisbane Airport, for example. If you sell Brisbane Airport tomorrow, it wouldn’t be worth that much at the moment compared with what it was worth six months ago and hopefully what it would be worth in six months’ time.


AUSTIN: Don’t sell at the bottom of the market. It’s not wise. What else would you disagree with? What would you do differently, Anthony Albanese?


ALBANESE: We would bring forward some of the payments. So, we think the timing is wrong. So, things like the deeming rate changes come in May. Some of the other payments, indeed the $750 payment will go out at the beginning of April. We don’t see why that couldn’t have been done earlier. And the second payment doesn’t go out until July. We think that when the economy needs stimulus, it needs it now, not down the track. It may well be that you’ve got to do additional measures, but we do things sooner, rather than later. They were the big two things that we would have like to see. There were other changes as well that we would do differently. So, for example, some of this is a little bit complex. But at the moment, if you are on Austudy or Abstudy, a range of payments, you don’t get any support. And we think that that’s unfortunate and unwise. There’s also a tapering off. So, if you’re a two income family, typically one full-time breadwinner, one part-time breadwinner, once you earn $48,000, the person who remains in employment, so that becomes your whole family income, you don’t get anything out of this, and we think that figure should be increased, because clearly if someone who’s a casual worker, and often that’s the case, you have a full-time, then you have someone whether female or male who works part-time and looks after the kids, has caring responsibilities. Chances are, that casual employee by in the tens of thousands are being laid0off at the moment if they work in hospitality or work in some sort of service delivery. And we think that if you’re on $48,000 and you all of a sudden, you’re now a couple with one or two kids or more, then you deserve some sort of income support as well.


AUSTIN: My guest is Federal Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese. This is ABC Radio Brisbane. Anthony Albanese, do you agree that it’s vital to do as much as possible to keep small business alive and employing people?


ALBANESE: Look, absolutely. That is one of our other concerns is that the support for business doesn’t provide an incentive. It does provide support for the business but there’s no built-in incentive in the way that it has been designed for people to keep employing people.


AUSTIN: Is there anything more that we could be doing for small and medium businesses? Because at the moment they are going through this massive contraction and laying off of people. Is there anything more we could do for them to slow that down or help them sort of readjust more quickly?


ALBANESE: Look, I think one of the things that could be done, and I have raised this, is that for small business in particular, and as well I would add into that sole traders, so the sort of people who many of them might be working for the ABC on contract, the people who particularly in the arts and entertainment industry, chances are the person who’s holding a camera or working the lights of the local theatre, chances are they’re on contracts. They work for themselves. They have just, and indeed the actors or the singers.


AUSTIN: So, people on the gig economy?


ALBANESE: Exactly. They all the sudden, you know, overnight basically the arts and entertainment industry are doing it particularly tough. There is no sectoral support for them yet. If they’re not earning an income, they might be eligible for the coronavirus payments. And that’s something. But if you’re a worker, who currently has outgoings, you have a mortgage, or you’ve got to pay your rent, and you have other payments that you have to make, bills you need to make, and all of a sudden, your incomes just reduced to that. You’ll have real difficulty.


AUSTIN: Anthony, can I ask you two philosophical questions, if you like. One of them, how important is it now for everyone in Australia to shop and buy locally? I mean, really suburban-like as much as they can? Is that going to make a significant difference at all, Anthony Albanese?


ALBANESE: Absolutely. It will. And one of the things that I was saying just last week was that whilst people, I’ve got a big shopping centre in my electorate, Marrickville Metro, where there is a big Woolworths and there’s Aldi, etc. The queues there were miles long. But if I went to the local Petersham Growers Market, a local store owned by a local family, you didn’t have to queue. You could get through, you get good produce, you couldn’t get everything. But you would get everything you needed to cook a meal. And I think for us to discover the local butcher, local fishmonger, local green grocers, all of that is, I hesitate to say that anything positive will come out of this, but this is a big shake-up. And it will force people to think about the way that they conduct our lives. And if something positive comes out of it, it’s the role of local people who are local small businesses who do it so tough. I was buy my bread at a Vietnamese place, and the bread is fantastic. It’s $1.80 a loaf, cheaper than Coles or Woolies. And it is great. That family who get up every day at 4:30 they’re in there. And it’s open, at eight o’clock at night, seven days a week. And they just they deserve our support. And, you know, I think people will think through those sorts of issues. And hopefully, we’ll see when things return to a more normal way of life that they will benefit from it.


AUSTIN: Okay. Carol from Sandgate has asked me to put this to you. She says the situation has shown our dependence on overseas manufactured items and resulting supply issues. Do you foresee any change or chance of stopping the bleed of industries to foreign shores? In other words, is there an argument now in the national interest, for reasons of national resilience, maybe medicines and others, to bring manufacturing back to Australia, rather than relying on China and India and the like?


ALBANESE: Absolutely, there is. We need to be a country that makes things. And I’ve been saying for some time in the vision statements that i have made, including the one that I made there in Brisbane. The idea, for example, that we make everything that goes into a solar panel or a wind turbine, but we don’t make any of them here. We produce the raw materials, whether it be the traditional raw materials of what goes into steel making, or whether it be new products like lithium that are essential for every battery, copper that will go into electric vehicles, we produce all of that, but we send it overseas and then it gets made up and then it comes back at greatly inflated prices. We need to value-add here. And we also need to identify on issues like I’ve been concerned for a long period of time about our dependence for fuel. For example, if we don’t deal with those issues, then when there is a crisis, we find out what the implications of that are.


AUSTIN: I assume the Federal Government is buying up fuel for our national reserve or whatever, the national reserve, I forget the formal name for it. You’ll know what it is. But, you know, where we keep a certain level of reserves of fuel. I think it’s roughly around 20 days at the moment. It’s supposed to be at around 90 days.


ALBANESE: We are nowhere near what the International Energy Agency say is necessary.


AUSTIN: Okay. Now, my guest is Anthony Albanese. I am mindful of the time. I’ve got a couple quick ones to put to you, Anthony Albanese. You’re an NRL fan. Your reaction to the 2020 season being cancelled?


ALBANESE: I have said for some time. I’m a South Sydney fanatic. Given that I’m on Brisbane radio, congratulations to the Broncos for Friday night. But look, the idea that you can play a game like rugby league in the context of the social distancing that we know is necessary, is to my mind, a triumph of hope over reality. And so, it’s unfortunate. But I do think there were mixed messages being sent with some of the activity. And one of the things I said in my contribution today was that it was understandable that people were going to the beach and doing things that they shouldn’t have done in terms of in big numbers. Because there were those mixed messages out there. And I think we need to be consistent. The truth is, we’re all going to have to sacrifice some of our individual freedom and have capacity to go to the pub and do things that I enjoy doing. I love going to the footy. But, I think that is a sensible decision.


AUSTIN: This is ABC Radio Brisbane. Anthony Albanese is my guest. I’ll let you go in just a moment. But I just want to ask you about this bizarre thing that happened today with Centrelink and the failures of the MyGov website. Stuart Robert, the Minister responsible, did he mislead people earlier on today, when he indicated there was some sort of denial of service attack on the MyGov website and then went into Parliament and said the site simply couldn’t handle the amount of traffic.


ALBANESE: Yes. He quite clearly did. he suggested that it was a cyber-attack and failure. It was a competency failure on behalf of this minister. And it’s beyond my comprehension why he would make an excuse like that. He should have just said it was overwhelmed. The system can take 55,000 people being on it at any one time. And more people were on it than that. And the Government should have foreseen that. But that has the consequence that the system just shut down.


AUSTIN: So many people are going to be accessing the money that’s been passed through Parliament today through the Centrelink website. But if it’s not sorted, they won’t be able to do it. Has it been sorted?


ALBANESE: Well, I hope that the Government gets on top of it. I hope they just don’t come up with excuses that are not truths. They should just be straight about it. I raised the question in the Parliament about that. And Stuart Robert threw out his excuse and just said to Parliament what was correct, which was that it was just overloaded. And that’s what happened. But we need to do much better than that. And we need to have better planning than that.


AUSTIN: Can you confirm, is it true that Australian unions said they want an immediate four per cent wage increase? Is that true?


ALBANESE: I don’t know, to tell you the truth. I don’t know who they said it to, so.


AUSTIN: I understand that Sally McManus said it today.


ALBANESE: I don’t know. If it hasn’t happened in the Parliament, you would understand that I have been in the Parliament today. I actually haven’t seen the news. So, I am not sure. But Sally McManus, it wouldn’t be surprising that a trade unionist wanted an increase in wages for her members.


AUSTIN: I appreciate you coming on and giving me so much of your time. Thanks very much.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Steve