Aug 4, 2020







SUBJECTS: The need for Parliament to meet on August 24; aged care; Senate Select Committee on COVID-19; Victorian lockdowns. 


ALI MOORE, HOST: Anthony Albanese, welcome to the program.




MOORE: How worried are you about the current state of play in Victoria?


ALBANESE: Look, my heart goes out to Victorians who are doing it really tough at the moment. I had a discussion with Dan Andrews on the weekend about the circumstances which are there. We have seen the community transmission be a major issue. And I certainly understand, I had a phone hook-up with all of the Victorian caucus members about a week ago, and I know that they are doing it tough in terms of on behalf of their constituents, trying to engage out there. And this will be difficult, of course, as an economic cost every time there is restrictions put in place. But there’s no question that these restrictions aren’t necessary.


MOORE: And you think that despite the community transmission that we’re seeing in this state, at least, you think Federal Parliament should be meeting?


ALBANESE: Well, I think we certainly can meet with proper preparation. That’s why when the Prime Minister made the decision to cancel this fortnight’s sitting of Parliament, we wrote to the Speaker and the President and they agreed to set up a committee, which they have, with the Managers of both Government and Opposition Business in both houses of Parliament, with the Chief Medical Officer federally but also the ACT Health Officer. And they’re working through the issues. It should be possible for us to sit in a way which mitigates the risk. For example, Richard Marles spoke at the National Press Club today. He drove up, there were some strict protocols in place, he wasn’t permitted to go out to restaurants or to do anything other than do his work in Parliament and at the National Press Club, he was required to wear a mask whenever he wasn’t in his office or in those locations.


MOORE: But if Richard Marles subsequently tests positives, then all those people he has come into contact with, regardless of the mask or not, they are going to be considered close contacts and will have to isolate. Imagine if that was multiplied with so many politicians coming from so many different parts of the country.


ALBANESE: Ali, the Parliament sat early this year. The Prime Minister deferred Parliament for six months, you might recall. And then we sat on two occasions. There were no outbreaks as a result of those parliamentary sittings. As a result of that we were able to put in place measures like JobKeeper and JobSeeker and to provide that support. We should listen to the health advice. But it is possible to put in place protocols, just as Josh Frydenberg was in Canberra last week. Greg Hunt, the Prime Minister. I’m here today. Of course, there aren’t restrictions on Sydney people being in the national capital. So, it is possible to put in place health measures. And we should obviously do that.


MOORE: It doesn’t seem to be the opinion of the Chief Medical Officer. I mean, he says the entry of a high-risk group of individuals could jeopardise the health situation in the ACT.


ALBANESE: He hasn’t said that today, at all. Ali, to be fair.


MOORE: But he did a couple of weeks ago when they decided to delay, or to put off, what would have been a sitting day today.


ALBANESE: That is right. He said that two weeks ago. And that’s why we’re saying now that Parliament should meet well in advance. So, for example, one of the things that was suggested then was that people from the Victoria or from hotspots could self-isolate for two weeks, for the period which was appropriate. We are saying well in advance what are the protocols that need to be put in place so that the Parliament can meet. Parliaments throughout the world are meeting. Parliaments in countries with much higher infection rates, much higher fatalities, unfortunately, than we are seeing here. Australia is travelling relatively well compared with the rest of the world. One of the reasons for that is we have listened to the health advice. Which is why the Chief Medical Officer himself is a part of this committee that is considering what measures need to be put in place.


MOORE: And I understand that as you say that it’s face-to-face, it has to be done under certain restrictions. But why not online? What is the big barrier to Federal Parliament going online? Businesses do it. Court cases are being done online? I mean, health consultations have been done online. If there are privacy concerns, then surely, they would be relevant to all those other areas as well?


ALBANESE: Well, no one has said they are privacy concerns, Ali. I have never heard that suggestion.


MOORE: So, what stops it?


ALBANESE: But Parliament is under the Westminster systems and adversarial system. And I sit through a range of Zoom meetings, including Zoom meetings with the business community, with a range of forums and up to many hundreds of people have participated in them. In them, you have a moderator, who has the mute button, if you like, and one person speaking at a time. You can log in if you wish to join a speaking list and it’s controlled. The nature of our Parliament, as an observer, as you would have observed over many years, Ali, is not quite like that. It’s adversarial. It’s people wanting to have their say. And if we’re going to hold the Government to account, then one way to do it is to have those face-to-face meetings. But the Parliament also, when we sat earlier this year, a couple of months ago, we passed a resolution allowing for the Leader of the House and the Manager of Opposition Business to consider the methods by which Parliament could meet. So, that permits it, if it comes down to it, if that is the recommendation, then wait and see what they come up with.


MOORE: So, it is possible that there might be, I understand what you’re saying about an adversarial system, but in extraordinary times, calls for extraordinary measures. So, it is possible that Federal Parliament could go online?


ALBANESE: Well, that is possible. There would need to be some advice as well about a number of people, how you achieve quorum, for example, which requires a certain number of people to be present in the Parliament for it to commence. So, there are rules there that are very clear. What we don’t want is to have laws passed which can then be challenged. And so, those issues would need to be worked through as well.


MOORE: I think there’s a number of people, looking at the text message service, Anthony Albanese, for example, Steve says, ‘I think Question Time should definitely be conducted via Zoom. They can mute everyone who isn’t currently speaking’. It would be a far more civilised affair, no doubt.


ALBANESE: Who decides who gets the call, Ali?


MOORE: Well, I suppose the Speaker does. I take the point. There are many dilemmas in operating a system in a very different way to the one we’re used to. Although, what is happening at the moment, though, Parliament is not sitting, is committees. Committee hearings are continuing. And you were indeed a part of a committee hearing today, the Senate COVID Committee, which I understand was focused on aged care. I just want to play for our audience just a little snippet of that committee. This is the Labor Senator, Katy Gallagher, asking Brendan Murphy when the Federal Government knew about the St Basil’s outbreak.


KATY GALLAGHER, CHAIR OF THE SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON COVID-19: There was that five-day window where the Commonwealth had no line of sight, no understanding that there was an outbreak occurring in St Basil’s?


GALLAGHER: So, it wasn’t raised to the AHPPC, which was getting daily briefings on the Victorian situation?

MURPHY: No, Senator. The AHPPC obviously would get overall briefings. There were several outbreaks in Victoria, I think. And I suspected the Victorian AHPPC official was not aware of this outbreak either.


MOORE: That’s a little bit of that Senate committee hearing today. Anthony Albanese, did your jaw go on to the desk?


ALBANESE: Well, I wasn’t a participant. I am not a Senator.


MOORE: Of course, sorry. Of course, you are not.


ALBANESE: This is a Senate COVID Committee, which took place today. And certainly, the evidence was quite extraordinary. The Aged Care Minister, who has responsibility for regulating aged care, gave a range of responses that are of real concern. That the planning in spite of the fact that of course we’ve had the outbreak at the New South Wales home some months ago, there wasn’t put in place even simple things like ensuring that personal protective equipment was available to everyone in aged care homes, not after there was a problem, but beforehand. And it’s very clear that aged care is a Federal responsibility. And the response of the Minister to questioning from Labor’s senators as well as Jacqui Lambie, who was her usual very strong self as well, questioning the Minister about why was that it was only when there was a problem that there seem to be a response, rather than putting in place mechanisms including proper training of how to use PPE equipment to keep both staff and to keep patients as safe as possible.


MOORE: Do you think that what needs to be done is now being done?


ALBANESE: Well, I’m very concerned that there would appear to be from today’s evidence, not a national plan across the board being put in place at all aged care facilities. I’m concerned that the evidence that we saw as well from Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, a Liberal former minister, who’s made a submission to the Aged Care Royal Commission was damning about the Government not putting in place any reform process of aged care. And her evidence was quite extraordinary splashed across the front page of The Age this morning. So, I think the Government really does need to get on top of aged care issues. The Federal Government clearly has responsibility for it. And for those people who have loved ones in aged care homes, this will be a very difficult time for them. These are people, of course, who built the country and have fought for our country, they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. And we must do all that we can to make sure that all aged care homes throughout the whole of Australia are ready for any outbreaks.


MOORE: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for talking to us and stay well.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Ali.