Aug 25, 2020







SUBJECTS: Federal Government’s response to COVID-19; Michael Sukkar; Victorian Liberals branch-stacking; aged care crisis; Victorian state of emergency; JobKeeper.


FIONA PARKER, HOST: Let’s catch up with the Federal Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, who is on the phone to talk about some of the issues making news, specifically in relation to COVID-19 and the Federal Government’s response to it. Anthony Albanese, good morning.




PARKER: Now I know you might say this is a state issue, but all the talk here in Victoria is about your Victorian counterpart, Daniel Andrews, extending the state of emergency for another year. Crossbenchers say they weren’t even consulted. What do you think of what Daniel Andrews has done?


ALBANESE: Well, I’m not across all of that detail. But what it appears is that Daniel Andrews is just after the right to be able to extend restrictions which may well be necessary from time to time. Everything from wearing a face mask to restrictions on numbers in restaurants, in indoor places. And it seems to me that that’s what he’s after rather than having to go back and change the rules repeatedly through legislative changes. He is just after a broad ability to do that.


PARKER: But he doesn’t have to extend it for that long though. He is rewriting the Public Health and Well-being Act to allow this state of emergency to last for up to 18 months. Isn’t that overreach?


ALBANESE: Well, I think what he’s saying is that these issues will been around for some time and that he wants the capacity to be able to do that. He is not saying that all the current restrictions will be on for that time. Obviously, he’s hoping that that’s not the case. Monday’s numbers were the lowest in seven weeks for Victoria. That’s a good thing. I don’t think anyone wants restrictions to be on a day more than necessary. And that includes Daniel Andrews.


PARKER: Well, if the numbers are getting lower, why the need, then, to extend the state of emergency for another year?


ALBANESE: Quite clearly, the Government’s made the decision that they want the capacity to be able to deal with restrictions into the future. And they’re saying that it may well be necessary that some restrictions are required. But what the legislation doesn’t do, as I understand it, is say that any specific restrictions will be on for a day longer than necessary.


PARKER: Speaking of Government response to Coronavirus, let’s turn our attention to Federal politics. And 15 deaths in Victoria yesterday, all linked to aged care. You’ve called for Aged Care Minister, Richard Colbeck, to go or be sacked. Now, he did apologise for the blunder where he didn’t know the number of COVID deaths in nursing homes. And according to reports this morning, he’s been cut out of decisions about new aged care or new aged care decisions, I should say, by the Federal Government. So, he’s apologised, he’s been benched. Why should he go entirely?


ALBANESE: Because you shouldn’t still remain on the website as the ABC Central Victoria broadcaster in the morning if you are not actually doing your job. So, what they have done is removed his capacity, an essential component of his job, but he still has the title. He still has the salary. It is quite absurd. Quite clearly, the Government themselves with this move are saying that they have no confidence in Richard Colbeck. If they have no confidence in Richard Colbeck, which is a perfectly reasonable decision to make, they should remove him from his position.


PARKER: But why should he be removed from his position after one blunder where, yes, he had to look-up numbers, because he was unable to produce them during that Senate hearing. Why is that a sackable offence?


ALBANESE: Let’s be clear. That is not a sackable offence. What that is, is a public demonstration of his incompetence. But the problem here isn’t that. The problem here is that the Aged Care Royal Commission has heard that in spite of the fact that you had reports from the Dorothy Henderson Lodge, that the Government have had since April, you have reports about Newmarch House in New South Wales that was only made public yesterday, that show quite clearly the problems that were there in the aged care sector. The Government was warned. The alarm bells were going off. But no one was listening. And someone has to accept responsibility for that. We now have 328 deaths in aged care of aged care residents under this Minister’s watch. And quite clearly, he hasn’t put in place the sort of mechanisms that were necessary. We have stories about personal protective equipment not being available for nurses and carers and workers in aged care homes. And the fact is that this Government, under this Minister, as the Aged Care Minister, has not been on top of the brief. The Government’s acknowledged that, but they want him to keep the title.


PARKER: In terms of what’s happened in aged care, though, through this pandemic, and you say the Federal Government’s obviously have a clear responsibility for aged care, this is a systemic problem, though. If you take out the fact that you say there wasn’t PPE available and that type of thing in a crisis situation. But the actual problems in aged care, it’s not like Labor hasn’t been in power while the system employed contract and casual labour at an alarming rate and paid workers low wages to the point where they had to find other jobs or do long shifts at various homes to make ends meet. How can you lay the blame squarely at this Morrison Government when the systemic problems within the aged care system have been around for a lot longer than just this year?


ALBANESE: This Government’s been in office for seven years. For seven years, they’ve been in charge.


PARKER: There’s been a whittling away of the system and how it works, and who’s employed there and how they are able to work. There’s been a very big change in the way aged care is delivered. And that hasn’t just happened even in the last seven years. It’s a systemic issue that goes back even longer than that.


ALBANESE: No, there was a change in how aged care was delivered primarily because of changes and privatisation by the Coalition Government under John Howard. What we’ve seen under this Government is the promotion of casualisation of the workforce across the board.


PARKER: Since John Howard, Labor has been in power.


ALBANESE: This Government has been there for seven years. When you’ve been there for three terms, seven years, which is longer than we were in office, by the way, the fact is that this Government has to accept responsibility. We had the interim report of the Royal Commission handed down towards the end of last year. And what we’ve seen is not an adequate response. We then had substantial warnings to the Government that the impact of the pandemic meant that elderly Australians were particularly vulnerable and aged care residents were particularly vulnerable. We had specific examples happening in Newmarch House and Dorothy Henderson Lodge in March and April. And we had a Government that simply wasn’t prepared for it. They didn’t take action. And they didn’t do the response that was required to protect these vulnerable Australians.


PARKER: Okay. We must move on to other issues. Anthony Albanese is Federal Opposition Leader with us here this morning on ABC Central Victoria. A couple of issues just before we let you go. Let’s talk branch-stacking in the Liberal Party revealed by Nine on 60 Minutes. Liberal power broker Marcus Bastiaan fell on his sword yesterday after revelations of him being very intimately involved in that branch-stacking. In any other situation, this would be a great opportunity for an Opposition, a free kick at the Government. But the Labor Party can’t really talk, can it?


ALBANESE: Well, the fact is that when issues were raised about the Labor Party, Daniel Andrews as the Victorian Labor Leader, and myself, took action. We had National Executive intervention into the branch. And by this time after that 60 Minutes episode, Mr Somyurek had been expelled from the Labor Party, three ministers resigned, and we had federal executive intervention to impose Steve Bracks and Jenny Macklin to administer the Victorian branch. Strong action was taken to cut the cancer out. What we have under this Government is Michael Sukkar, as the Assistant Treasurer of the country, still sitting in Question Time yesterday, when he’s been a part of an operation that itself, through these reports, was targeting four state MPs and six Federal MPs, saw an abuse of taxpayers’ funds, and quite clearly, his position is untenable. Marcus Bastiaan knew he had to resign. But Michael Sukkar is a part of this operation under Scott Morrison’s Government where no matter what you do, nothing is a sackable offence.


PARKER: Well, this morning there are revelations in The Age newspaper that he paid a friend from his electorate office budget for tasks that may not be within the rules for use of taxpayer funded money. So, you’re saying, along with those other revelations and seeming to benefit from the branch stacking going on, that Michael Sukkar should resign? If we look at Victoria, Adem Somyurek went entirely, but there were some other ministers caught up in that that just lost their portfolios.


ALBANESE: And they are sitting on the backbench. What we have here is the suggestion that this staff member who was paid by taxpayers in Michael Sukkar’s office had a full-time job somewhere else. That’s what is suggested in the papers this morning. And you have a range of revelations, I’m sure there’ll be more to come. But Michel Sukkar, quite clearly, is in this up to his neck. No wonder he is not doing his job properly as the Housing Minister. No wonder there is no policy under this Government of any support whatsoever during this pandemic for public or social housing.


PARKER: Anthony Albanese, speaking of support, onto JobKeeper, you’re calling for JobKeeper payments to be kept at their current rate beyond the end of September. The payments seem to be staying but are going to drop. The Government announced that a week or two ago. But the Government did come to the party yesterday in backing down on plans to grant businesses that have returned profitability the power to cut workers hours. So, that’s good at least, isn’t it?


ALBANESE: We’ll look at the detail. We are somewhat concerned that it would appear under this legislation that it only would require a 10 per cent drop in order to be able to slash workers hours. Now, at the moment, because businesses that were on JobKeeper meant that effectively there was a floor in that workers could, even if they had their hours cut to zero would still be eligible for that $750 a week payment. So, we’ll have a look. We want to make sure that low paid workers aren’t missing out and aren’t going to have their already low wages slashed substantially under this legislation.


PARKER: Are you going to vote for it?


ALBANESE: We only received it last night, Fiona. The fact is that it’s substantial, it’s not a couple of pages. It is a substantial piece of legislation. And the Government hasn’t even been briefed the Opposition on it. That is taking place this morning. So, we’ll examine the detail.


PARKER: Once you examine the detail, would you be happy to vote it through, given still that the Government is going to drop the payments beyond September?


ALBANESE: Well, that’s not in the legislation.


PARKER: What do you mean?


ALBANESE: It’s not a part of the legislation. Our preliminary look at it last night is that all it does is extend the date. There aren’t any changes to amounts in the legislations. Because that’s up to the Treasurer. That’s the preliminary examination of legislation as of last night. But we’ll look at it in detail. As I said, the Government only provided the legislation to the Opposition after Question Time yesterday.


PARKER: Thank you for joining us this morning and enjoy the rest of your day.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Fiona.