Aug 19, 2020







SUBJECTS: Clive Palmer; National Potato Day; state borders; WA’s economy; coronavirus vaccine; aged care crisis; elderly Australians; young Australians; casualisation of the workforce; university fees; climate change; WA drought.


PETER BARR, HOST: The Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese, promised he’d be visiting WA every six weeks. And then COVID-19 happened. I don’t think it was something we said. Nobody predicts a global pandemic. So, I reckon it is one broken political promise this time that we can forgive. Though WA’s restrictions and hard border haven’t stopped all politicians trying to get into the state. Anthony Albanese, good morning.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning. Happy, what is it, world potato day?


BARR: Just national. Let’s not get carried away. How do you like your spuds, Mr Albanese?


ALBANESE: I like them baked, I’ve got to say. Rub a bit of oil into them. Put some salt on them. Put them in the oven so they are crispy on the outside. That is the way to go.


BARR: What part of the country makes the best spuds?


ALBANESE: Where am I talking to now? Albany?


BARR: That is the ultimate political response. Thank you very much for it. Speaking of politicians, is Mr Palmer a politician?


ALBANESE: He certainly is a political activist. And he’s a reactionary one. He certainly had an impact on the last federal election, he spent a record amount of money. I think it was in excess of either $60 million or $80 million to win exactly zero seats. But he had an impact. And he certainly is trying to have an impact on Western Australian politics as well. And it is a good thing that Mark McGowan has stood up to him and stood up to Scott Morrison for siding with him.


BARR: We know now that there is an actual dollar value on Mr Palmer’s litigation regarding WA here in Parliament last night, the Attorney General revealed, it was $27.75 billion. So, it’s close enough to $30 billion to make that figure that has been bandied around that Mr Palmer has been denying a real figure. So, this is Mr Palmer trying to get that kind of money out of the state which would damage the state’s economy considerably. He’s not making many friends in the West. If he intends to run the Palmer United Party again in our next election, it’s an intriguing political strategy, isn’t it?


ALBANESE: Well, he doesn’t deserve to have any friends. He wants to take five figures from every man, woman and child in the West. That’s $30 billion taken from schools, taken from hospitals, taken from public transport, taken from environmental protection, taken from child protection. The services that are provided by state governments in community services. This is just a disgrace. This is greed writ large for all to see. And it is good that WA have a strong Premier and a strong Government standing up to him. Of course, the decision that he’s challenging was a decision of the former Government, Premier Barnett. And it’s good that the WA Parliament has united behind Premier McGowan and say they are going to do what they need to do to protect the interests of their great state.


BARR: The Leader of the Federal Opposition, Anthony Albanese, is my guest this morning on ABC Radio Great Southern. Mr Albanese, parts of WA’s economy is suffering with our hard border firmly in place. And the Premier, Mark McGowan, announced yesterday any easing of restrictions here have been pushed back two months. How long do you think the WA border needs to stay shut?


ALBANESE: Look, I have absolute confidence that Premier McGowan will make the right decisions. I have been supportive of all state premiers, regardless of what political flavour they are, in making decisions on behalf of their state. I think that the original challenge by Clive Palmer backed by the Federal Government was an outrage. I campaigned strongly to reverse the decision that Scott Morrison made to back in Clive Palmer in WA. But also, there has been criticism of the Queensland Premier as well. They are not the only ones. The Tasmanian Premier yesterday made the decision to close the borders of Tasmania until the 1st of December. I think it is the right thing to be cautious, even though that makes my job, as Federal Opposition Leader, that much harder. I enjoyed visiting the West ten times last year and the year before. And I committed to do it again this year. And I was on track. I was there in January. I was there in February. And then it ground to a halt.


BARR: You might have gotten stuck on this side of the fence, Mr Albanese?


ALBANESE: Not allowed back. Well, some people might like that. I think that Western Australia is indeed a great state. And one of the things is that I’ve always felt welcome there. I think it’s a very different lifestyle in the West. People are engaging and friendly, and certainly, in the visits I have had there, whether for work or for pleasure, I’ve always enjoyed my time there.


BARR: A couple more questions for you before I let you go, if I may. We are hearing this morning about Mr Morrison’s intention to pursue the Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine. Trials are underway now. So, if they proved to be effective, free jabs for everyone. What do you make of this?


ALBANESE: Well, let’s all just hope that the Oxford University exercises get the tick. The world needs a vaccine. And, of course, other nation states have got agreements to get access to vaccines much earlier, previously. It’s something we’ve big calling upon the Federal Government to do. We all want this to succeed. And certainly, we want to get back to economic normality. But we can’t do that unless we keep these infections under control. It’s difficult for so many people, it’s a lot easier for me, perhaps that, I think of elderly Australians in Victoria at the moment who are confined to home, who are doing it really, really tough having people deliver food and essentials to their front door, not having that contact. It’s really tough. Let’s just hope that there is success. And, of course, the vaccine should be made available free of charge. This is something that is a small cost compared with the cost to our national economy of dealing with this pandemic.


BARR: We’ll concentrate on two sectors of society along these lines, if I may. On Monday this week, the country suffered its most deadly day of the pandemic as Victoria reported 25 deaths, 23 of them linked to aged care. We got a question from Darren, ‘How will Mr Albanese properly regulate and ensure proper funding for nursing homes and aged care facilities?’


ALBANESE: This has been a problem for some time. We called for a Royal Commission. We need to properly fund aged care facilities. We need to make sure that we give support to the workforce, whether they be nurses or orderlies, cleaners, the people who look after our older Australians. I met, just yesterday, at a roundtable with members of the Health Services Union here in Sydney, people who are on the frontline. They are working for $19 an hour, looking after vulnerable Australians, really giving them extraordinary care. And at the moment, it’s the only contact that they have. They do it out of compassion. But they need to be properly paid. But we also need proper training and the right amount of staff. It is no accident, I don’t think, that the worst elements of these cases are all in private facilities rather than state-run facilities. And quite clearly, there’s been an issue for some time that’s been exposed, really, by this pandemic. We need to do much better. I have been giving a series of vision statements. I gave the first one in September last year in Western Australia. And the fourth one I did was in Brisbane on aged care and the ageing of the population. We need to give older Australians the respect and dignity that they deserve. After all, they’ve built our country.


BARR: Mr Albanese, and a shout out to the other end of the age spectrum, young people have been hit really hard during this pandemic, losing jobs, pulling out their super, uni fees have been hiked. These are the people who will be paying for the debt accrued now down the track. What will you do for younger folk?


ALBANESE: Well, one of the things that’s been exposed by this pandemic is the impact of casualisation of the workforce. We need more secure work. It is young people who were laid off first. It is young people who don’t have access to sick leave, to annual leave, because of the nature of their work. And we need to, I think, really examine what the impact of that has been, in particular, of young people. Some of these uni fee hikes simply need to be opposed. It’s an outrage that people doing humanities, doing social work, for example, are going to have their fees doubled. Social workers don’t earn a lot of money. The idea that we would punish them is quite extraordinary and really short-sighted. And I hope the Senate blocks some of the changes that have been proposed by the Government. And the other thing we need to do to look after young people is look after the planet that they’ll be on for longer than those of us who are middle-aged or older. The fact is that climate change is a threat that we need to deal with as well. I think there is a real generational issue in that. This is the first generation for a long while that has seen lower wages and lower standards of living than those who have come before them.


BARR: Should we phase out casual work?


ALBANESE: Well, I think there’ll always be a place for casual work. And for some people, it suits them. But what we need to do is to phase out the manipulation of work which is essentially permanent that’s classified as casual in order to undermine wages and conditions. And that’s one of the things that we’ve seen. Some of the contracting out, some of the indirect hiring of staff rather than direct staff, which is used to manipulate those wages or conditions. I think we really need to address those issues in the industrial relations system. Because it’s bad for young people and for those suffering from lower wages. But it’s also bad for our national economy because it’s holding back that economic activity. If people are on a lower income, if they have a bit more money in their pocket they’ll spend it and that will generate economic activity and employment for others.


BARR: Finally, Mr Albanese, two areas in this patch have been declared water deficient by the state government. Farmers have been trucking in water to provide enough to give to what livestock that remains. We’ve had some pretty good rain over here recently in this area, but it’s not enough. What can you say to farmers in the Great Southern during these continuing conditions?


ALBANESE: The drought has been just extraordinary, including in your region. It is something that we need to address with both short and long-term measures. In the long-term, we do need to be a part of addressing climate change. We can’t do it by ourselves. But you won’t get global action if Australia remains a pariah and argues against change in international forums. And that’s what’s been happening in recent times. In the short-term, we need to regard it as a precious resource. We need to look at issues like water recycling. We need to look at desalination. And I know that the WA Government was ahead of the rest of the country some time ago in going down that track. And we need to recognise that water is a precious resource. And I think for a long time it was taken for granted. It certainly has never been taken for granted by our farmers who do such a fantastic job.


BARR: Thank you very much for your time. Can we hold you to an intention to come West again?


ALBANESE: You can indeed.


BARR: In a physical form?


ALBANESE: Absolutely and I’d love to visit your region again. I actually had a trip planned around the Easter parliamentary break. I was coming down to Albany, that was the intention. And it didn’t work out unfortunately. But I will get there and look forward to having a face-to-face interview with you.


BARR: Thank you very much, Mr Albanese. The Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese, on ABC Radio Great Southern.