Feb 15, 2021






SUBJECTS: Coronavirus pandemic; state borders; state lockdowns; coronavirus vaccine rollout program; Federal Government’s coronavirus response; assault allegations; industrial relations; Labor’s Secure Australian Jobs Plan; political party donations; need for a national integrity commission; Better Off Overall Test; insecure work.


RAF EPSTEIN, HOST: Joining us for ‘Polygraph’ is the Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese. Good afternoon. Thanks for having a word to us.




EPSTEIN: He is happy to take some of your questions as well. 1300 222 774. Anthony Albanese, first up, the pandemic, do you think New South Wales is doing better than Victoria? Do you think that debate throws light on the issue?


ALBANESE: No, I don’t think trying to pit state against state is of any assistance. What I’ve done during the pandemic is avoid being critical of any state, be they Labor run or Coalition run. I think all states have tried to do their best, take medical advice. And all Australian people, wherever they are, have done an extraordinary job looking after each other.


EPSTEIN: You can look at another state and go, ‘Hang on, that is something we didn’t’. There’s nothing wrong with the comparison, is there?


ALBANESE: There’s nothing wrong with looking at best practice. There have been issues. There’s been issues with hotel quarantine in Victoria. There’s been issues with the Ruby Princess, and hotel quarantine in New South Wales. There’s been lockdowns in South Australia, in Perth, they did very well for a long time, Brisbane had a lockdown as well. And of course, Tasmania was closed to the Northern Island, which we both live on, for a long period of time.


EPSTEIN: Why do you criticise the Government over vaccines? Isn’t the only way they could get more vaccines to pay more money?


ALBANESE: No. They could have got agreements much earlier. Agreements started to be done last March. The Government got its first agreement in September. Best practice is to have six agreements. This Government got three. And there’s now been 173 million doses given across 77 countries. And I’ve simply said, for example, that when the TGA approval has happened, it should be rolled out. It’s good. The Government was going to roll it out, you might recall, in March. It’s good that it’s going to be rolled out earlier. And the job of an opposition is to put forward constructive suggestions. We have been constructive throughout this period.


EPSTEIN: But the only way to get ahead of the queue is to pay more money, isn’t it? I mean, you might be able to sign a deal, but New Zealand and Israel got the drug Pfizer first because they paid more money.


ALBANESE: They did deals before we did. And that was the case across the board that we were very slow in putting place arrangements with these companies.


EPSTEIN: What mark would you give the Federal Government out of 10 for the pandemic?


ALBANESE: It’s not up to me. I’m not a commentator, you are, Raf. My job is to hold the Government to account, to be constructive, to put the national interest first. And I will continue to do that.


EPSTEIN: I will come to industrial relations. I know that was the subject of a significant speech you gave last week. Just one more significant issue, a third woman working within the Liberal Party has come forward with claims of sexual assault. The issue may not be as much whoever the perpetrator may have been but the way people within the Party handled it. Do you think the Liberal Party have a problem with this? Or is it always a fraught issue?


ALBANESE: Well, they will have to answer for this. This is a very brave woman, the first thing that needs to be said for coming forward in circumstances like this. I certainly hope that she receives every support that she needs. My job as the Labor Leader is to ensure that our processes are in place. We have updated our code of conduct and harassment processes. We are providing an updated version of that, both not just for the parliamentary party, it must be said but throughout the organisational wing as well. And our focus is on supporting and ensuring that victims feel that they can have the confidence to have the pathways needed to raise concerns in an appropriate way.


EPSTEIN: Has the Liberal Party failed at that, or do you think they’re worse at this?


ALBANESE: Well, that’s up to them, I think, to respond. I don’t seek, Raf, to politicise what is a traumatic incident for this woman in terms of the outline that she’s made. I understand soon it will be made by herself on a TV program in about an hour or so. I’ve never met this woman and I knew nothing about the allegations until morning.


EPSTEIN: The ins and outs of the better off overall test in just a moment. Matt has got a question from Fairfield about donations. What do you want to say, Matt?


MATT, CALLER: Certainly. And in context of whether the Labor Party supports an ICAC or IVAC, a Federal one, will you accept any further donations from Crown given the money may be tainted, Mr Albanese?


ALBANESE: Well, we support a national integrity commission. And Labor declares all donations of $1,000 or above even though we don’t have to do that, the figures much higher. We have tried to do that in Government and weren’t successful in lowering the figure. I think at one stage it was $13,000 and now it’s even higher. We think that transparency of donations is very important.


EPSTEIN: And Crown?


ALBANESE: Well, I’m not aware of what the circumstances are for Crown in terms of whether they donate or not, frankly.


EPSTEIN: They donate to both sides, don’t they? And would you want the Labor Party to stop accepting money from them if they can’t hold a casino licence?


ALBANESE: Well, they do hold a licence, of course, in Victoria. That would be a matter for the organisational wing. Labor has, of course, ruled out, et cetera, we don’t accept tobacco donations. We think that all donations should be transparent. And we’re strong supporters of a real national integrity commission with teeth that can undertake its own independent investigations and not be beholden to the Government of the day.


EPSTEIN: The Better Off Overall Test, which the Government is seeking to change, essentially says that workers can’t make a separate agreement in their workplace if it delivers them something that is worse off than the award in general. Your Party’s made a number of claims in Parliament. Do you think you’ve over-egged that seeing as we haven’t had the industrial umpire run any of the ruler over that? Have you gone too far?


ALBANESE: Not at all. Why would you get rid of the Better Off Overall Test if you still want people to be better off overall? This is a pretty straightforward question.


EPSTEIN: Well, they are not getting rid of it, they are changing it.


ALBANESE: Well, what they’re doing is suspending it. So effectively, they’re getting rid of it for a couple of years. And in the legislation, it says that any business that’s been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Well, every business has been impacted. Some have actually done better, a lot have done worse. But everyone’s been impacted by this pandemic in Australia, indeed, in the whole world. So, it is back to what the Government’s always wanted, which is to drive down wages further. You have circumstances whereby we’ve had wage stagnation effectively since 2013.


EPSTEIN: Can I get back some of the examples you’ve given in Parliament? How can you say such and such a worker is going to lose this much money when none of the changes have gone through the Parliament and the umpire hasn’t ruled on them? Isn’t that going too far?


ALBANESE: Not at all. Because the legislation provides for that to happen. And it’s important that we point that out. What legislation does is provide the parameters for which the umpire, if you like, will determine. Now, if this was a cricket game and you were hit anywhere on the legs, you could be given out, then you’d suggest that isn’t necessarily a fair outcome. That’s what this does. It will allow for wages to be cut, conditions to be cut in terms of real wages, if you get rid of things like annual leave, if you get rid of things like sick leave, if you get rid of loading. And one of the things that happens is that you’ve had one major company that I used to work at, McDonald’s, they’ve put forward a submission to the Senate inquiry saying that the Fair Work Commission should take into account whether a worker is better off overall if they’ve had a meal break or non-monetary compensation.


EPSTEIN: They don’t want to give them free burgers.


ALBANESE: Now, when I worked there you weren’t actually allowed to have a chicken nugget. You could just have a limited number of foods during your meal break. But let me tell you that it wasn’t regarded as a luxury during the short time that you got given off.


EPSTEIN: I want to ask about transferable leave between workplaces. But Anna’s got a query first calling from reservoir. What do you want to say, Anna?


ANNA, CALLER: I just want to say it’s nice to hear from you, Anthony. Where have you been? It seems to me the job of the opposition is to oppose.


EPSTEIN: Are you talking about any pandemic politics or what do you mean?


ANNA: In general. I feel like I haven’t heard from Labor in 12 months. There’s been so many issues going through to the keeper that the Labor Party should be talking about, tax cuts for rich people, scandals in the Government like Angus Taylor, the bushfire funding.


EPSTEIN: There’s a long list there.


ALBANESE: The fact that you know about it is the fact that we raised it. On the bushfires, I was on the ground each and every day. Each and every day in bushfire affected areas in Victoria, in New South Wales, in Queensland. Each and every day. The only time I’ve given a press conference on Christmas Day was during that period. During the pandemic we were on the ground every day.


EPSTEIN: Was it you or the media raising those issues?


ALBANESE: Well, I was raising it. And in many cases, the media certainly weren’t the first to raise issues like wage subsidies. That was Labor, along with the trade union movement, along with businesses, who raised the issues with regard to job security, to keep people in work during that period. Scott Morrison described it as dangerous when we first did that. We raised issues of mental health support. We’ve raised a whole range of issues that were related to the pandemic, some of which have been adopted, some of which haven’t.


EPSTEIN: Is it rubbish being an Opposition Leader during a pandemic? I reckon Michael O’Brien would say it is.


ALBANESE: Well, the fact is that it’s a difficult job because it’s not business as usual. And Michael O’Brien is the alternative. If you’re out there making outrageous statements, being critical and destructive at each and every turn, then you will get hurt. What we’ve done is be constructive. I make no apologies for that.


EPSTEIN: Do you mean that because you haven’t been an outrageous, you might not have been heard as much?


ALBANESE: Of course that’s the case. If you say something completely over the top, there is a state member down there, I don’t want to say his name because I might get it wrong, but there’s one bloke down there who says over the top stuff all the time. And he gets a bit of a run. Now, I could have done that. I could have criticised everything. We voted for each of the stimulus packages in the Parliament, I make no apologies for that. This was a time whereby partisan politics needed to be put well behind the national interest. And I did that. But at the same time, we did the prep work. We’ve got out there a childcare policy that will make a significant difference moving towards universal childcare. We put out there a Future Made in Australia. We put out there last week industrial relations. In January, I gave a major speech on international politics. And I appear on your program whenever I’m asked, Raf, which you know.


EPSTEIN: Not whenever, but I wouldn’t say you duck from scrutiny. And could you actually create a system where you could make it so that a waiter takes their leave when she goes from restaurant to restaurant, cafe to cafe? Could you create that system without costing those restaurant owners more?


ALBANESE: Well, those are the things that need to be looked at and worked through. One of the things that we’re saying is that the nature of work has changed. In the old days, I finished my HSC on a Thursday, I think. And I started work in the Commonwealth Bank on the Monday. And I thought I’d been there for 20 or 30 years. Work isn’t like that anymore. People do work in jobs for a short period of time. And unless we address this, then we’ll have two classes of people and a whole underclass who will retire without assets. Because a secure job, you need to be able to get a home loan, to plan a family. All of those things you need to be paid super to have a comfortable retirement.


EPSTEIN: You can’t smash a whole lot of restaurants have just come out with a pandemic with that cost, can you?


ALBANESE: No one is suggesting that. Which is why, in terms of portability, we’ve said we’ll consult with unions, with industry, with state and territory governments. But we know that there are measures of portability in place. In Victoria, the Andrews Government took the lead on paid sick leave for those who are in insecure work because they are aware of the consequences of insecure work. One of the problems during the pandemic was people having to work multiple jobs, and therefore, the infection spreading. The pandemic has identified a great deal of strength in our society. People looking after each other, nowhere more so than Victoria. But it’s also identified some real weaknesses in our economy and in our structures. And that’s what we’re trying to address through having more secure work, better wages, fairer conditions.


EPSTEIN: It is Emily in Greensboro who wants to know what song does DJ Albo recommend to get us through the next few days of lockdown?


ALBANESE: I’ve just been in the gym listening to Alex the Astronaut. So, I recommend that as a great album. But there’s lots of good Aussie artists out there that you could listen to. If you want to listen to a Victorian artist, Angie McMahon.


EPSTEIN: Oh, gosh, he knows his music, Angie McMahon, Alex the Astronaut. Thanks for your time.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Raf.