May 11, 2020






MONDAY, 11 MAY 2020


SUBJECTS: Australia beyond the coronavirus; temporary migration; Jack Mundey.


RICHARD GLOVER, HOST: Anthony Albanese is on the line. Good afternoon.




GLOVER: You say this is a once in a lifetime chance?


ALBANESE: It is, absolutely. We don’t want to just return to insecure work, to stagnant wages, to a society where we dismiss experts, including on science when it comes to climate change. I think that the values that have been on show that have seen Australians through this crisis or are seeing us through, we’re not out the other end yet, of course, but those values of fairness, of security, the power of government to change lives have been on display. And they’re the right values for the recovery as well.


GLOVER: Okay. Do you mark the Government highly for embracing those, whether it’s temporary or permanent, they’ve embraced some of those ideas, haven’t they?


ALBANESE: They have with measures like the job subsidies that we called for. They initially opposed it. They weren’t comfortable with it. But it’s good that they’ve got out of their comfort zone. We’ve supported all three of the stimulus packages. We’ve being constructive. Where we’ve seen some shortcomings, we have offered solutions rather than arguments. And many of the changes that we have advanced, they have been adopted. That’s a good thing. I think now there’s an opportunity for us to start to debate what sort of society and economy we want coming out of the crisis. Because some of the weaknesses that have been there for a while have really been very starkly shown. The difference between people who’ve had a permanent job and those who are in casual employment, insecure work, who are precisely the people who’ve struggled and have missed out on some of the support which is there.


GLOVER: The PM has been quoted today saying that the JobKeeper scheme that you mentioned may change. It’s unclear precisely what ways it might change. But there has been a suggestion around in today’s Telegraph, for instance, that they’re looking at the way that some casual workers have ended up being paid more than they were in the past under the scheme. Do you accept that seems wrong?


ALBANESE: Oh, it is wrong. And we pointed that out at the time. It’s one of the problems with the way that JobKeeper has been implemented is that some people have got many times their ordinary wage. At the other end of the spectrum, people in the arts and entertainment industry, for example, have missed out completely. And they’re the very people who were volunteering their time to organise free concerts to help out their fellow Australians after the bushfire crisis. And now they’ve just missed out. And I think when it comes to the Prime Minister’s statement today, it’s very clear that the talk that has been there of snap-back, the idea that we have six months of programmes and then we wake up in six months plus one day, and everything just snaps back and somehow the economy keeps going. That clearly is not a realistic plan. There will need to be a transition. And areas, one of the areas I spoke about today was in housing and construction, which if you look at the forward projections, in a few months it’s ready to drop off the cliff. And we will need, and I called for today, a package of support for social housing construction would be a good thing. It would be a good thing if we had more focus on affordable housing for those essential workers to be able to live closer to where they work. It’s the police, the nurses, the supermarket workers, the cleaners who’ve got us through this crisis. And many of them simply can’t afford anymore to live next to where they work. And we need to use, I think, this crisis and coming out of it to identify ways in which we can build on, not just on what we had, but improve circumstances.


GLOVER: Part of the problem, isn’t it, is that you say we should try to build a fairer Australia. From Labor’s point of view, you tried to do that at the last election with things like the unused franking credit policy, the negative gearing policy. They didn’t work with the electorate, it seems. And already you’ve said we’re not going to do those. Well, they were a badge of Labor’s push to fairness, weren’t they?


ALBANESE: Well, at the last election very clearly, we had a range of measures that didn’t get support. One of the problems with franking credits was that we were proposing changes which altered the plans that people had put together in good faith. And that received a message from the electorate. And it’s been heard, loud and clear. But there’s a range of measures that we can put in place, even consideration of the way that work patterns have changed. So many people have been working from home. The idea that we will snap-back to the way things were, perhaps what we’ll see is productivity improvements from people working from home. And that will, of course, have a reduction in urban congestion if people aren’t travelling long distances to work. I spoke to the board of a major company that employs 30,000 people last week, and they were talking about their surprise at how well they’ve managed to transition into changing the nature of work and how they’ll be talking with their employees about what happens post the pandemic, in terms of the very nature of work.


GLOVER: But that’s not anything to do with Government is it? That is something that is going to either happen or not happen anyway?


ALBANESE: That’s right. But Government can play a role in terms of providing support, for example, about where people live, what infrastructure is there that makes that possible as well. So, I think there’s a great need to focus, for example, about regional economic development coming out of this crisis. We’ve had most of the jobs that have been created in recent times have been, it is an enormous amount, around about half the jobs have been created within five kilometres of the Sydney CBD and the Melbourne CBD. Now, how do we actually use the fact that we’re in this vast island continent to change the nature of where jobs are located as well. How do we identify the industries that we need to support? One of the things that has been found missing is some of our capability with the decline in manufacturing. The fact that we had problems being able to provide personal protective equipment to essential workers in our hospitals is a problem that we should resolve to never deal with again.


GLOVER: Everyone would agree with that about PPE and ventilations and stuff like that. But you’re not resiling from Labor’s long commitment back to the Hawke Government of a free trade country. This is the thing that’s done enormously well for Australia is concentrating on the things in which we’ve got a comparative cost advantage, importing the things that we don’t.


ALBANESE: Absolutely. And I spoke about that today. We are a trading nation and it’s very important that we continue to recognise the Hawke-Keating reforms led to three decades of sustained economic growth. But how do we use, for example, there’s a report from the Grattan Institute today about renewables and the role that they can play in heavy manufacturing like steelmaking. And I was up in Gladstone, for example, at the end of last year, where Rio Tinto’s refineries are looking at solar energy to be able to have a massive expansion of their production facility there at Gladstone. There are enormous opportunities that have been identified by people like Professor Garnaut and others of clean energy and how that can drive high-value manufacturing. And we should be doing that. We should be commercialising some of the scientific opportunities that are there. This is a chance for us to reset where we’re headed as a country and to look at the jobs of the future to make sure that people get the skills in order to undertake those jobs as well.


GLOVER: We are talking to Anthony Albanese, the Labor Leader, the Opposition Leader, after his big speech today about how Australia should look after this crisis. Can I fire off a few quick questions to you? Are we going too hard on China? Should we be putting up, whatever the rights and wrongs of it, in a way that the idea of the world investigating where this virus came from, should we be the ones that are leading the charge since us and barley farmers for instance are so liable to a fight back from China?


ALBANESE: Well, I would make two points. One is we should be engaged in diplomacy with the rest of the world on these issues. But the second point that I’d make is that it is to me just a matter of common sense that when you have a pandemic such as this, there should be an investigation into where it came from, not as an academic exercise, but so that that can be avoided ever happening again.


GLOVER: Sure. But should Australia be the one that’s leading the cheer squad?


ALBANESE: Well, I think Australia should be working with other countries on these issues. And sometimes megaphone diplomacy isn’t as effective as working behind the scenes to garner support for measures.


GLOVER: Okay, do you think the Morrison Government has been indulging in megaphone diplomacy?


ALBANESE: Well, it’s pretty clear that a lot of groundwork wasn’t done before announcements were done. I think there should be an investigation. But sometimes you should be talking to your allies and friends before you make an announcement, and I’m not sure that was done.


GLOVER: Do you think the poor old barley farmers who are facing a, you know, a cut-back from China should feel aggrieved?


ALBANESE: Look, I don’t want to see any of our agricultural sectors discriminated against. Australia doesn’t provide subsidies for barley in terms of the allegation about dumping into China or anywhere else. And I’m sure that a proper investigation using the provision to that there under the World Trade Organisation should ensure that market remains open.


GLOVER: Kristina Keneally, your front bencher, has been campaigning for a reduction in temporary migration. She says they’re stealing Australian jobs. Two points, that can look xenophobic very easily, can’t it? A bit like dog whistle politics. The second point, if we’re going to get economic growth going again, we need that sort of migration?


ALBANESE: Look, I’m a supporter of migration and including temporary migration can play an important role. We wouldn’t be able to harvest many of our crops, for example. And temporary migration in the form of the tourism sector can be really important as well. And where there are areas of skill shortage. But one of the things that has happened is that we’ve relied too much, without proper labour market testing, to show if people who are looking for work can fill those jobs if they can do that. And that’s been a problem for some time. There’s nothing new about people arguing for labour market testing and about making sure that if people who are here are able to undertake work, then they should do so.


GLOVER: This is a time of COVID when we’re getting lots of reports that Asian Australians in particular are facing heightened racism. Is now the time to make that call?


ALBANESE: But there’s nothing new about us expressing concern about some of the temporary migration leading to exploitation of people, which therefore then places downward pressure on wages. I’m a supporter of migration. This is a country that’s been built off the back of migrants. And at a time like this though, when migration effectively has stopped, let’s be clear, people aren’t coming in to the country and people aren’t leaving. So, having a debate about the nature of the migration makeup between permanent, temporary workers making sure that people aren’t exploited.


GLOVER: Kristina is not conducting debate. She’s advocating for a rapid cutback in it.


ALBANESE: No, she’s not at all. That’s just not true. What she said was there needed to be a discussion about the nature of the migration program. And there’s nothing wrong with having a discussion at a time when, of course, there has been a pause in migration at the moment, both in and out of Australia. And that’s one that’s likely to be there for some time.


GLOVER: Anthony Albanese is here, the Leader of the Opposition, following a big speech he made today about how Australia should look, how this crisis should be used to refashion the country. Can I ask you more generally about whether you think we are easing too early? Some people think that, you know, we’ve done very well, all hats off to everybody from the Prime Minister to the union movement, but that we are wasting our success. What do you think?


ALBANESE: Well, the success can be derived from a couple of things. One is that the Government and governments, to their credit, have listened to the health experts. So, the decisions haven’t been made on a political basis. That’s a good thing. We need to continue to do that. So, I don’t think anyone wants these restrictions, that are having an economic impact, to be on any longer than necessary. But we have to listen to the experts. And if the experts are telling us that if we lift restrictions too quickly, then what we’ll see is another second wave, if you like, of this pandemic, then that would not be a good thing. So, I think it’s very important that we listen to the health experts on this.


GLOVER: Fair enough. But I suppose I’m trying to get a sense, it’s the political role to listen to the experts and translate that into policy. Do you think the Prime Minister is eating up too early or do you agree with him that we’ve got, I think his phrase for it was to get up from underneath the doona?


ALBANESE: Well, that’s not a term that I would have used. Because I don’t think anyone’s been under the doona or comfortable with this, that phrase implies. People have been, Australians have done a remarkable job of answering the call to look after each other. And whether they be the workers, the health professionals, the cleaners, the teachers, the aged care workers, transport workers, they’ve been looking after their fellow Australians and risking their own health while they’ve been doing it. But other Australians as well have been keeping their distance, have by and large, with a couple of exceptions, obviously, have been doing the right thing by their fellow citizens as well. And they deserve credit for it. I don’t think anyone wants this to be in place for any longer than necessary. But we do have to listen to the experts. And one of the difficulties here as well is that, of course, it’s up to state governments and they’ve got different timetables for that. But good on Gladys Berejiklian and Daniel Andrews in particular in the two biggest states have been, first of all, they’ve been proactive in putting on some of the restrictions. And then they’ve been behind other states in taking them off. And that’s because they’re listening to their experts. It is New South Wales and Victoria that have had the largest number of infections and they are acting cautiously and I think they are right to be acting cautiously.


GLOVER: That’s nice to be able to give praise to one from each side of politics, isn’t it? But I think most people agree that Daniel Andrews and Gladys Berejiklian have both done a stunning job.


ALBANESE: The interesting thing about that has been that they’ve been hand in hand throughout this period and it’s to their credit. And I think the fact that it’s been both of them from different sides of politics has given them the political cover, if you like, to be able to do that.


GLOVER: Lots of best friends forever around in Australia, at least at the moment. Just finally, tell me about Jack Mundey and why he was such a figure for Sydney in particular.


ALBANESE: Oh, look, Jack Mundey is just a great loss. But his legacy remains. And the Rocks and our heritage around Sydney, particularly around the inner areas, the inner city, the inner west in my electorate. The sort of work that was taken place by people like Jack Mundey, and my mentor, Tom Uren, Glebe wouldn’t be there, it would be just a big freeway, if it wasn’t for the actions that took place. And the green bans at the time were radical moves and it represented unions and working people not being concerned just about the industrial issues and their wages and conditions but concerned about the society in which they live. And because of that, we have the Rocks and a great legacy and a great Australian. And I think that he should be revered, and he deserves all the praise that is coming his way today.


GLOVER: Hurray to that. Nice to talk to you. Thank you so much for your time.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Richard.