May 11, 2020





MONDAY, 11 MAY 2020


SUBJECTS: Australia beyond the coronavirus; JobKeeper; housing.


RAFAEL EPSTEIN, HOST: Anthony Albanese, good afternoon.




EPSTEIN: I’ll get on to your speech in a moment. Just briefly, the differences between the states, is that inevitable or confusing?


ALBANESE: Look, I think what’s confusing is that some of the messages imply that there’s a national decision being made, even talk of a National Cabinet. But effectively, we have states making decisions as they have the power to do. And it is the case that Victoria and New South Wales have been, firstly, they were ahead of the game, if you like, like in calling for more restrictions and imposing them. And then they have lifted those restrictions slower than some of the other states. And that is a product of the fact that they have had more infections than Western Australia and the Northern Territory and South Australia. So, I think it is somewhat inevitable. We need to be very clear that the decision-making process is up to the states as the Prime Minister has said.


EPSTEIN: You haven’t been as much of an attack person, attack dog, as the Opposition’s in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. Why not?


ALBANESE: Because we’ve been looking for solutions rather than arguments. And we have said repeatedly that we needed to listen to the medical experts. We have raised constructively a range of measures, many of which, of course, have been implemented.


EPSTEIN: You’re not worried about being ignored if you don’t attack as much?


ALBANESE: Well, what I’m interested in is outcomes. There have been lives at risk by this pandemic. And I think it’s a time where people don’t want people playing political games. So, we’ve raised issues like the need for wage subsidies, and that was opposed originally by the Government. But we continued to push, along with the union movement and the business community. And that has been an important measure that has been put in place. We argued for increased testing. We argued for an increased mental health package. We argued for protection for renters. We have put forward a range of constructive suggestions, some of which have been adopted by the Government. That’s a good thing. Some of which haven’t been. We’ve continued to raise the fact that casuals have missed out and that people in the arts and entertainment sector who did so much for us in the wake of the bushfires, raising money for their fellow Australians, have been forgotten during this crisis.


EPSTEIN: Okay, so a JobKeeper question then. There’s a lot of talk around changes. They don’t need your support. The Treasurer, you voted for a bill that gives the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, a lot of freedom to make changes. Do you think it’s a good idea if they spend the same amount of money but maybe widen the net of those who are eligible while shortening the amount of time the money is paid out?


ALBANESE: Well, the problem for the crisis is that the way that JobKeeper is designed, it looks at the employer and it doesn’t look at the employee. So, that’s why you have inequities there so that some people who are casuals and eligible for JobKeeper have actually had many times their normal salary.


EPSTEIN: But it is about the economy, not equity, isn’t it? The aim is the economy not equity?


ALBANESE: That’s right. And I think that’s a weakness in the plan. We need to, I think, that those casuals who have simply missed out, for visa holders who have missed out and who are destitute, some of them, we need to do something to provide support for them. It is about two things. It is about individuals but it’s also about the economy. But both. Whereas the way that JobKeeper is structured, it’s all just about the economy.


EPSTEIN: One more on the JobKeeper. Some casuals are receiving a lot more money than they did receive. Other casuals attached to the same business are getting nothing. Would you support, within a business, lowering the amount of money a casual receives to what they used to receive, and then the business being able to spend the rest on other casuals who wouldn’t normally receive the JobKeeper? That’s what they do in New Zealand. Is that a good idea?


ALBANESE: I think that’s a bit of common sense.


EPSTEIN: We will find out if they adopt it. Quarter past four on ABC Radio Melbourne with Anthony Albanese, the Leader of the Opposition. Your speech today, as Leader of the Opposition, one of your sort of leadership speeches, was quite ambitious, and you want to use it as a moment, a once in a century moment, to reset. Do you really think things are going to change that much? We already have a political debate that looks like it used to look. Do you think things will really change?


ALBANESE: Well, they have changed. People have changed the way that they work. People have had a chance to think about the way that society is structured. The debate that we just had really identifies one of the problems that was occurring beforehand in our economy, which is increasing numbers of people having insecure work. The fact that so many young people don’t have a concept of the idea of holiday pay or have any security in their employment. So, I do think there is a chance because one of the things that’s happened during this crisis is that the values of fairness and security and the power of government to intervene to change people’s lives is essentially the road in which the Morrison Government and state governments have been going down.


EPSTEIN: We’re going to forget all this, aren’t we? Two years from now, Federal election, we’ll be back to similar fights.


ALBANESE: Well, I want to see some of the principles that have been adopted. Without rancour or without controversy. The idea, not just on the economy, but the idea that we should listen to experts and listen to the scientists about the pandemic is absolutely right. We should be applying that to climate change as well.


EPSTEIN: What do you want on housing? A number of your people in your caucus have been making noises about housing. What do you want the Federal Government to actually do on housing?


ALBANESE: What I want them to do is to put in a plan that increases the investment in social housing. They can do that in partnership with, there are some innovative ideas about how to do it using superannuation as well as government funds because housing can provide a positive return, of course, to investors. I want to look at affordable housing strategies, some of which are being undertaken now by some superannuation investors on the basis of affordable housing for those essential workers, your nurses, your cleaners, the people who’ve kept, essentially, society going over this crisis can’t afford to live anywhere near where they work.


EPSTEIN: Can we afford that if we’ve got a massively increased government debt?


ALBANESE: Can we afford not to? The news report that was just given indicated, I was just listening to before we began speaking, spoke about 400,000 jobs potentially being lost in the housing and construction sector.


EPSTEIN: You’ve criticised the Government repeatedly for doubling the debt. Now you’re proposing to grow it even more? Can you do both?


ALBANESE: One of the things about housing is it’s an investment that produces a return. It’s not just a cost. And we need to make sure that we don’t, one of the things I was critical about today was the idea of snap-back, the idea that we’ll go through these six-month measures put in place, JobKeeper and JobSeeker, and then on the next day, we’ll have JobSeeker, Newstart will go back to $40 a day, JobKeeper will disappear.


EPSTEIN: Well, they don’t use the term snap-back anymore.


ALBANESE: Well, they did for quite a while. And what we need to do is to actually have a transition. Part of that will be to analyse things as they are rather than as we want them to be. And they are, in housing and construction, headed towards a cliff when it comes to activity in three months’ time. It’s just the pipeline of projects is just dropping off. What that means is a whole lot of tradies will be out of work, small businesses will not be able to continue. And that will have a very negative impact on the economy, which is why you have the unusual circumstance of the Master Builders Association and unions all calling for similar packages.


EPSTEIN: Yes. It’s been a time of unions teaming up with unlikely allies. Just two quick ones on housing, because you had two significant policies at the last federal election. I know the next one’s a while away, but changes to negative gearing on housing, is that is that dead?


ALBANESE: Look, we’ll examine those measures. We will release all of our taxation measures at an appropriate time. We have a process to undertake. Of course, the negative gearing proposals that we had would have had zero impact on any existing investments.


EPSTEIN: It wouldn’t make much of a difference in a weaker economy would it, to house prices? It had limited impact on house prices at the time, it’s going to have even less impact on house prices now, no?


ALBANESE: Well, that’s correct. Which is why you need to always reassess your policies. We’re certainly doing that. I’ve said we’re reassessing it. And with regard to franking credits, we won’t be proceeding with the same policy. That was a policy that would have had an impact whereby people who had planned particular investment strategies would have had the goalposts changed and that got a message from the electorate and that’s been heard.


EPSTEIN: Well mind you, there’s not many dividends left. Do you ask aggressive questions, is it back to normal in Question Time?


ALBANESE: We’ll be raising a range of issues around the coronavirus.


EPSTEIN: You have been very friendly for very good reasons. Is it back to normal this week?


ALBANESE: Well, I think we’re entitled to raise questions including the sports rorts saga and the fact that we now have evidence from the National Audit Office that the Prime Minister was the person who sought the authority to finalise the grants.


EPSTEIN: Which he denied today saying that is normal.


ALBANESE: Well, he didn’t really. He didn’t answer the question. But he should answer the question. And it’s important that Parliament not be misled whether it’s by the Prime Minister or by Angus Taylor who has been misleading the Parliament since his first speech.


EPSTEIN: Appreciate your time this afternoon.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much.