Apr 23, 2020







SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; Virgin Australia; support for Australian aviation industry during COVID-19; economic implications due to COVID-19; COVID-19 issues in the Northern Territory; Kakadu National Park; need for two-member representation in the Northern Territory; pay cuts for politicians.


JO LAVERTY, HOST: Anthony Albanese is the Federal Opposition Leader and joins us now. Good morning, Mr Albanese.




LAVERTY: What do people say when you call and offer to do their shopping for them?


ALBANESE: Well, the first thing is it is lucky that my voice is somewhat distinctive. Because the first thing they say is, ‘Is it really you?’ And I say yes, and they say, ‘It is too’. They recognise my Camperdown twang, I guess. And look, what’s been funny is how many people, of course, offered to help me with things. ‘Oh, is there anything I can do for you?’ I had one woman from Petersham in my electorate the other day, she was 93, and offered to come into the office when it gets a bit better and make some calls for me, which was lovely. People, I think at this time many people just want to have a chat. They feel isolated. We have been able to hook people up with services for them to get their shopping. There’s some fantastic non-government organisations doing work in the community. And that’s been of great assistance. So, we’ve tried it in my electorate and I know that other Labor members have done this as well to ring people who are over the age of 80. They’re a particularly vulnerable group. And at this time, I really think we have to look after each other. And if there’s a positive to have come out of this crisis, and there is certainly not much, then it is that we’ve been reminded that we’re interdependent and that we rely upon each other.


LAVERTY: Quite famously people are starting to become disconnected with politics and they put it down to being sick of the in-fighting, they are sick of the fighting across parties, the constant negativity that seems to be coming across. But this bipartisan approach that we’ve seen during these times has been so refreshing and a lot of people have really commended it. Do you think this approach will be able to stay like this when things go back to normal?


ALBANESE: Well, time will tell. I’ve been somewhat concerned that last week at the first opportunity, the Government introduced regulations that make it easier for employers to propose changes of wages in conditions over time. The conditions that the people rely upon with just 24 hours for working people to vote on them. And now that was done with no consultation with the trade union movement or with the Labor Opposition. It was done literally overnight. And so, we’re concerned that the Government will go back to the old bottom drawer of tax cuts for those who least need it, of labour market deregulation, which is code for attacks on working people. And that’s what we don’t need. I hope that the Government continues to respect science. For example, when it comes to other issues like climate change, I hope that they continue to engage constructively with the union movement, which they did over the issue of wage subsidies. But we will wait and see whether that occurs. Certainly, it requires both Government and Opposition to be prepared to be constructive. I’m proud of the way the we have acted during this crisis that I think contrasts with the way that the Coalition behaved during the Global Financial Crisis.


LAVERTY: This is ABC Radio Darwin. You probably recognise the voice of Anthony Albanese. He’s the Federal Opposition Leader. Let’s have a look at the pathway out of COVID-19. And particularly here in the Northern Territory where we haven’t had a new case of Coronavirus in 17 days, we’re probably, I would think it’s safe to say leading the rest of Australia in terms of being able to squash the virus and keep it under control. It’s too early to relax restrictions around the country but many people in the Northern Territory are anxiously waiting for clarity on when they are going to be lifted. What’s your belief on how restrictions in Australia and in the Northern Territory should be lifted?


ALBANESE: Well, I think that Territorians should be really proud of the Government, with Chief Minister Gunner, and his team, but also of each other for the way in which you have responded has lead Australia. There’s no question about that, that you’ve been ahead of the curve. In particular, the strong action that you took to protect remote communities, ensure that the virus that would have been particularly damaging if it had have gone into those communities in a big way, was dealt with them in a way that put the health concerns first. Look, no one wants these restrictions to be in place. And we don’t want it to be there for a day more than necessary. But what you don’t want is southerners coming into the state of Northern Territory and bringing infection. One of the problems with COVID-19 is that people can be carrying the disease and not be showing any symptoms. So, that’s why a precautionary principle needs to apply here. I think that your Government has got it absolutely spot on and right. And your community has got it right as well.


ADAM STEER, HOST: Kakadu National Park is shut down even for Territorians. Should the Federal Government use this time to fast track the $216 million promised for the park, Anthony Albanese?


ALBANESE: Absolutely. I was concerned that when that commitment was made, and it was a bipartisan commitment, I was the Shadow Tourism Minister, you might recall, and it needs to be done as a matter of urgency that the park needs that infrastructure investment. The community of Jabiru needs that investment as well. It’s a fantastic project. It received the support of both sides of politics and that investment should be brought forward. It’s one of the things that the Territory needs and indeed, Australia will need as well. We need for our iconic tourism attractions globally and Kakadu is certainly one of those to be front and centre as we come out of this crisis. And it makes sense to get this infrastructure built now, while the visitors aren’t coming from overseas. There won’t be, I should imagine, for some period of time yet. And interstate visitors are coming either as well. And of course, Territorians will be the first, I should imagine, who the park is opened up to. So, that would be just a common-sense thing for the Federal Government to do.


STEER: Well, let’s stay on tourism. The cost of flying to and from the Territory is one of the strongest bottlenecks on our economy. Now that Virgin has gone into voluntary administration, there’s every chance that we will see even less competition and more expensive flights. What do you make of the Federal Government’s decision not to bail out Virgin?


ALBANESE: Well, I think it’s regrettable that the Government is saying, ‘Leave it to the market’, but it’s Government policy that has shut down the market here. And that’s why it is deserving of Government support. The Government can’t be complacent here. Aviation is very much a national interest industry. And it is one that goes to the heart of employment both directly, the 16,000 employees of Virgin Australia, but also those hundreds of thousands of Australians who depend upon aviation in the tourism sector for their job. And the Territory has tourism as one of its major industries but the potential of tourism in the Territory is quite extraordinary. I think you live in a beautiful part of the world that is unique.


STEER: But that’s all well and good. But if it’s too expensive to get to and from here then people won’t be coming. What needs to be done to keep flight prices down in the Northern Territory?


ALBANESE: Well, for a start, we need to save Virgin Australia. We need that competition there. We know what will happen if there is just a single airline. We know that flights, I know, are expensive into the Territory now but they were more expensive when there wasn’t the competition available. And that is why it’s essential that the Government ensure that Virgin Australia can continue and not a stripped-down Virgin Australia where an equity-based company comes in, strips the asset and continues to fly from Sydney to Melbourne and Sydney to Brisbane but doesn’t fly to Darwin and doesn’t fly to Alice Springs or to Nhulunbuy. And that’s why it’s essential that the Government not just wash their hands of this issue.


LAVERTY: Well, one of the main arguments for not giving taxpayer money to Virgin Australia is that it’s largely foreign-owned, and it’s up to shareholders and those foreign interests to keep it afloat if it’s a viable industry. So, isn’t that a fair argument that this is not necessarily a problem for the Federal Government and its taxpayers to sort out?


ALBANESE: No, with respect that is a nonsense argument. The Government’s been prepared to intervene to give direct support to Rex. What Virgin Australia asked for isn’t a government handout. They asked for support and that could take a number of forms. And what we were arguing for was an equity injection just like the Federal Government is putting over $9 billion of equity into the Inland Rail route. Now, the idea that the Inland Rail is more important to our national economy than the aviation sector, it just doesn’t stack up. And an equity injection would mean that taxpayers’ interest were protected that it could be sold-down down the track, hopefully producing additional revenue back to the taxpayer. And that’s why the Government needs to have a proper approach to this. They also have said that, one of the myths of this debate is that a billion dollars was given to Qantas and Virgin and to airlines earlier on in this crisis. But what happened was that the Government said it would waive the fees for landing charges, Air Services Australis, the various services that are provided by government entity. But they are on the basis of a fee for flying. Now, planes aren’t flying. They’re not landing, they’re not needing air traffic control. So, it is waiving fees that don’t exist. And $400 million of that has been given to Air Services Australia, from the Government. A government entity receiving money from the Government. So, there’s been a lot of misinformation in this. Virgin never ever asked for a straight handout of taxpayers’ money. Not once. And the Virgin CEO, Paul Scurrah, made that very clear. What he was talking about was just some support, whether it be support for a line of credit or whether it be an equity injection, which was our favoured approach, which would of course not result in a hit to tax payers but would result in jobs being protected and the tourism sector being protected at this vital time.


LAVERTY: It’s just after quarter to nine on ABC Radio Darwin. Anthony Albanese is Federal Opposition Leader. Now, back to another local issue and it’s really an issue of population here in the Northern Territory. Because the number of seats that we have at the Federal level is determined on how many people we have in the Territory. We are on the cusp of not quite having enough people in order to have the two elected members that we have for the whole of the Northern Territory. And if it decreases any further, we may go down to one elected member in Parliament House. Do you see this is as a big issue for the Northern Territory?


ALBANESE: I certainly do. Look, the Territory is served well by Luke Gosling and Warren Snowdon in the House of Representatives. And what you have is Luke looking after most of Darwin and Palmerston and doing a fantastic role there. But the concerns of some of the remote communities that Warren Snowdon looks after in around near the Gulf and around Tennant Creek, their interests and their needs are very different from the needs of people in Darwin or Palmerston.


STEER: But would you like to see Parliament legislate so there’s always two seats in the House of Representatives for the Northern Territory?


ALBANESE: Well, we’re certainly open to that. Tasmania, of course, is guaranteed five seats under the existing processes. And Tasmanian seats have just around about 60,000 people in them, voters in them. My seat has 120,000. There’s a real interest in the Northern Territory having those two seats that provide it with, common sense tells you it’s literally double the voice that they would otherwise. And I do remember when the Northern Territory did go down to one seat. It was very difficult for Nick Dondas was the member at that time from the CLP. It was very difficult to service that entire electorate.


STEER: Anthony Albanese, we are running out of time. Quick yes or no question though, from Ian. He asks, ‘Will Mr Albanese support a pay cut for politicians during this crisis?’ Yes or no?


ALBANESE: It’s not my decision. It’s the decision or the remuneration tribunal. And that’s important that I shouldn’t have a say.


STEER: Anthony Albanese, good to talk to you this morning. Appreciate your time.


ALBANESE: Thank you very much.