May 19, 2020





TUESDAY, 19 MAY 2020


SUBJECTS: Australia beyond coronavirus; bushfire recovery; visit to the electorate of Eden-Monaro; Eden-Monaro by-election; insecure nature of work; relationship between unions and business; High-Speed Rail.


LYNDAL CURTIS, HOST: Anthony Albanese, welcome to ABC Mornings.




CURTIS: You’re out campaigning in Eden-Monaro today. Have you managed to elbow-bump any babies yet?


ALBANESE: Well, what I’m doing with Kristy McBain is introducing her to the community as the candidate for Eden-Monaro. She, of course, is very familiar with the area. She’s been the Deputy Chair of the Region of Councils that goes from Goulburn all the way down to the East Gippsland area. So, she’s very familiar with the challenges which are here with the needs of this community. And as mayor of Bega, in particular, she was outstanding in standing up for her community in their time of need.


CURTIS: But it must be a very different way of campaigning now, trying to figure out how you can do it with social distancing in place with the limits still on the numbers of people you can gather at any one time?


ALBANESE: It is very different. Normally you’d be door-knocking and meeting as many people as possible. So, it’s a matter of meeting with community leaders, meeting with business. We will be at the timber mill at Tumbarumba and then we’re going to an orchard in Batlow, meeting people in Tumut and Adelong today. And these are all areas, of course, that were impacted by the bushfires. We’ll be listening to peoples’ stories, hearing stories about the recovery and what these communities need from the Government. Of course, there are further reports today about how slow some of the support has been from the Commonwealth.


CURTIS: But Eden-Monaro is probably the electorate most affected by the fires. Its recovery has also been really hampered by COVID-19 and the restrictions, particularly on tourism. Any recovery from a major disaster like a bushfire is a very long road, as the people of Canberra would know. Isn’t it the case that when you’re in that position, you want to help really quickly but it actually is a long and slow process?


ALBANESE: Look, what you say re the challenges is true, but there really isn’t an excuse for the debris still being there. There’s not an excuse for having people in temporary accommodation using community shower facilities after all these months. The winter months are just about here. It’s very chilly in the morning in this region. And we need to make sure that people are looked after. We have circumstances whereby people were very slow to receive their thousand dollars. The local council in this region received a grand total of one million dollars each. And quite frankly, that didn’t touch the sides compared with the impact. These are the communities that were affected by drought, then got hit by bushfires, and then as you say, could have expected some economic recovery before the coronavirus hit, but then it hit. And so, they’ve been hit by the triple whammy.


CURTIS: Does it make you think about the limits of what Government can do particularly when it’s hit by major disasters? The fires were not limited, they were extraordinarily large, covering extraordinarily large distances of Australia, and then to be hit by COVID. There’s actually times when governments can move quickly and times when it does take a while.


ALBANESE: Look, these are challenging times. But it’s very clear that the Government was complacent in the lead-up to these bushfires. We had, last week, an announcement of increased aerial firefighting capacity. Well, that’s a year too late, that announcement. The bushfire chiefs were all saying that the season that was headed up to 2019-2020 would be a catastrophic one potentially. And indeed, their predictions were proven to be correct. I was writing to the Prime Minister calling for practical measures, such as increased aerial firefighting capacity. We took that commitment to the May election one year ago. And indeed, the National Centre provided a business case more than 18 months ago about the reason why this was required. And it just wasn’t forthcoming. So, I think there are lessons to be learned. We can’t be complacent. And have we not been, then there would have been much greater protection measures put in place.


CURTIS: You’re campaigning Eden-Monaro. It will be a very tight contest, presumably when the Coalition chooses a candidate. What’s the benefit in electing a Labor member instead of a member of the Government who maybe might be able to say they can push things through Government faster?


ALBANESE: Well, if the Government is successful in this by-election, then they will take that as a message that they got everything right, that they got everything right in preparing for the bushfires, that they got everything right during the bushfires, and they’ve got everything right during the recovery. And I don’t think the Government deserves to get that message. What they need to get is a message they need to do better. They need to have better preparation. They need to look after people more. They need to do things such as having caseworkers on the ground looking after the people in the recovery phase. They shouldn’t have done measures such as take money that had been allocated for tourism recovery in the bushfire regions and take them and put them interstate once the coronavirus hit. The Government does need to do better. And this is an opportunity for the electorate of Eden-Monaro to send that message that they want more from the Government.


CURTIS: This is ABC Canberra Mornings. I’m Lyndal Curtis standing in for Adam Shirley. And we’re speaking to the Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese. Mr Albanese, if we can turn to the recovery from COVID-19. There’s a lot of talk both from the Government and from the Labor Party about prescriptions about help, talking about housing, about manufacturing and infrastructure. And while times have changed and like there aren’t specific gender roles, those tend to be male-dominated industries. But in this downturn, unlike previous ones, it’s women who are hardest hit. Are there prescriptions that are more aimed at the kind of sorts of roles that women perform?


ALBANESE: Well, one of the things that we have to do arising out of this crisis, we’re living in an age of celebrity, and it’s about time that we gave more respect and praise to the ordinary working people. To the people who did look after us during this crisis, whether they be aged care workers, whether they be nurses, childcare workers, public transport workers, supermarket workers, many of those industries are dominated by women. And one of the propositions I put forward last Monday, in my vision statement, was for investment in social and community housing and affordable housing, particularly building housing for essential workers so that those people who perform those tasks can actually work closer to where they live.


CURTIS: And while that’s all laudable, the jobs still in construction, jobs are still male-dominated.


ALBANESE: But these are for the houses for those workers. And the other thing that I put forward there was a need to talk about security at work. And many of those industries are dominated by insecure work. One of the things that’s been identified during this crisis is the impact that casualisation whereby people working side by side can be paid different wages, many of these workers, if they are working for labour hire companies won’t be paid proper leave and those conditions will be impacted. And that’s come through as well. And there are many women who, of course, are working in insecure work. And we also need to look at the value of that work. When Labor was last in Government, we looked at the community sector, for example, got a significant increase in pay due to the intervention of the Federal Labor Government. We did similar things in childcare. And we need to look at the inequity which is still there with women’s wages, compared with professions which are dominated by men.


CURTIS: And do we also need to look at, when you’re talking about stimulus and recovery, putting focus on industries that aren’t necessarily male-dominated and the ones that are focused on every time there’s a downturn which is construction, infrastructure and manufacturing?


ALBANESE: Well, what we need is an across-the-board support. One way that you can stimulate the economy is in infrastructure. And we shouldn’t shy away from that. It’s an obvious way to stimulate the economy, but also to grow the productive capacity of the economy. But we also need to look at areas such as childcare and other sectors, which I mentioned in my speech last Monday.


CURTIS: You also talked in that speech about unions and businesses working together more. What do you think business leaders and union leaders could do right now to help build the future economy?


ALBANESE: Well, the first thing they could do is to take the cooperative spirit that has existed during this crisis and continue it on. It shouldn’t have taken a crisis to get the idea that what we have is a common interest between unions and business and that’s worked very effectively during this period. We do need reform for enterprise bargaining. It’s not working for employers, because productivity has actually gone backwards at the end of last year, for two quarters in a row. And it’s not working for working people either because wages have been stagnant. So, we need a system of enterprise bargaining that actually works in the interests of both employers and their employees. And that should be possible. It’s been possible in the past. But over recent years, it simply hasn’t been functioning properly.


CURTIS: But both unions and business are still very wary of each other and mistrustful, aren’t they?


ALBANESE: Well, they are. And unions are quite rightly distrustful of this Government. This is a Government that put forward anti-union legislation in the House of Representatives as its last act of 2019 and put it through the Parliament without a single word of debate.


CURTIS: And that is Government but I’m talking about business and unions being mistrustful of each other. How do you break that down?


ALBANESE: Well, you break that down by building up relationships. And I know that the Business Council have been talking with the ACTU during this period. And that’s a good thing. You can’t wave a magic wand. What you can do is build trust over a period of time and recognise that common interest is there. This is something I’ve been talking about, as you know, Lyndal, for a long period of time.


CURTIS: You are coming up to one year in the job. What have you learnt that you didn’t know before?


ALBANESE: I certainly have learned that it’s a tough job. And that you can’t anticipate everything that’s coming before you, including, we’ve had the coronavirus crisis, the bushfire crisis. We have had so much activity. But I’ve very much enjoyed it. I enjoy meeting people, I enjoy the breadth of issues that you have to get across, everything from foreign affairs down to what’s happening in local communities. And it is a challenging job. You don’t have the resources of Government. I, of course, have served as a senior Government minister, including Deputy Prime Minister, but there you have a lot more backup and briefings than you get as the Opposition.


CURTIS: Given that there’s lots of talk now about needing to do things differently, about how the coronavirus will change things and talk about taking this opportunity to build a future economy, are there any sacred cows that the Labor Party needs to let go of?


ALBANESE: Look, I think that the values that have seen us come through this recovery, the values of fairness, the values of security, the values of listening to science, are all good ones. And they are Labor values, effectively. And those values have seen us through or are seeing us through this crisis. I think they’re the right values for the recovery as well. Labor has to always be prepared to engage. So, one of the things from time to time that I’ve received criticism of is that I noticed on my social media feed criticism because I did an interview with John Laws yesterday. I mean quite frankly, we need to speak to each other.


CURTIS: And maybe not listen to criticism on Twitter?


ALBANESE: Well, exactly. That is one of the things, you just let it go. You recognise that people, some people, for some reason go on, I’m always amused by people who go on Twitter and say, ‘Who would want to listen to you?’ Well, they just did and responded. So, they don’t see the irony of that. But we have to engage. We have to engage with both people who agree with us, but people who don’t as well. And listen to their views. I said when I became Leader almost a year ago now that I wanted to be known as the Labor Leader rather than the Opposition Leader. And I think that we’ve stayed true to that. We have been constructive during this crisis as we were during the bushfire crisis.


CURTIS: Isn’t the trick with that, though, keeping it when things are not at a crisis mode, when politics returns to normal?


ALBANESE: That’s right. But that will be challenging in some circumstances. That’s up to the Government as for how that goes. Its attitude in the past has been to shut down any debate in the Parliament, let alone engage in debate. We were constantly shut down and stopped from speaking last year. There are issues in which the Government has to be held to account. And I think the trend which is perhaps seen most evidently in the United States, but also here now whereby a Government leader just refuses to answer questions which are legitimate, such as over the sports rorts saga, needs to be taken on. It needs to be taken on by the media, and it also needs to be taken on by those of us in public life whose job is to hold the Government to account.


CURTIS: Aren’t these things the hardy perennials of politics that you promise transparency and openness in opposition and not so much in government? It’s like promising to build the High-Speed Rail, it’s never going to happen is it?


ALBANESE: Well, I think the High-Speed Rail will happen. There you go, Lyndal. One of the things that we have to overcome in politics is cynicism. I understand why it’s there. But it’s a destroyer of ideas. And what we do need to do is to look at, for example, High-Speed Rail stacks up economically. It produces a return greater than two dollars for every dollar invested. It is a whole lot more than many of the projects that this Government has funded.


CURTIS: I think we’ve discussed this in the past in another venue, and I suggested that if it ever happens, I might eat my phone. And I think that stands.


ALBANESE: I hope it’s tasty. Get yourself a liquorice one. Probably when it happens, they will exist.


CURTIS: Anthony Albanese, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you very much for joining me.


ALBANESE: Thanks, Lyndal.