Apr 21, 2020







SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; Virgin Australia; support for Australian aviation industry during COVID-19; Government app to track Coronavirus spread; debt generated from COVID-19 crisis; opportunities to grow Australia’s manufacturing sector.


LEON COMPTON, HOST: Mr Albanese, good morning to you.




COMPTON: Good to talk to you this morning. I know you were on AM this morning a little earlier, about 20 minutes ago, and talked a lot about Virgin Airlines and the implications of it going into voluntary administration this morning. Tasmania is incredibly air-dependent. What are the impacts of a potential monopoly to Qantas going to be for Tasmania on your assessment?


ALBANESE: Well, they’re very significant indeed. Because we don’t have to theorise, we can look back at times when there has been an effective monopoly. And what it has led to is higher prices and a dampening down on the tourism potential for a great state like Tasmania that is very much dependent upon aviation travel and is very much dependent as well on domestic aviation connections. So, the survival of Virgin as the second carrier in Australia is in my view, very much, not just in the interests of those people who work for Virgin and depend directly on Virgin for their employment to provide for their families, it’s very much in the national interest as well.


COMPTON: So, you would have found the one billion dollars plus that they were seeking in loans to support them through this?


ALBANESE: Well, what I would have supported is an equity injection into the airline that would have ensured that the events that are taking place this morning wouldn’t have happened. And I would have worked with the airline to make sure that it was able to continue into the future. The idea that another airline will just appear from nowhere, when you look at the investment that’s taken place over the last two decades, both capital investment in the form of aircraft and other machinery etc, but importantly, human investment as well, in a workforce that is a viable workforce, a workforce that has produced in my view, the best domestic airline industry in the world with our two carriers, full service with budget attachments to them in the form of Tiger and Jetstar has served the Australian people very well indeed.


COMPTON: People can go back and listen to your many comments on this on AM a bit earlier this morning if they want to hear more. Mr Albanese, will you be signing up to have the Government’s tracking app downloaded to your phone?


ALBANESE: Look, I don’t have a problem with it at all. My concern was that there would be an element of compulsion that was floated by the Government. I rejected that on behalf of Labor because I think that is an imposition of such by the state against individuals that I just found unacceptable. I do think that the appropriate constraints need to be on there and protections of individual liberties and privacy.


COMPTON: It rolls out as soon as the end of this week. Have you been convinced yet that those protections of privacy exist on there?


ALBANESE: I think the Government is yet to convince the Australian people about that. And they need to do much better in making clear what their plans are. I think it’s unfortunate, for example, that as the Leader of the Opposition, I found out about this when it appeared in the paper following an interview by the Chief Medical Officer with the New Zealand Parliamentary Committee. That is how this came to public attention. And I think that’s unfortunate. The Government, if it wants people to trust it, it needs to trust the people and needs to be very transparent about what measures it has in mind and exactly what the process is, in order to allay people’s fears that this downloading of the app will somehow impinge on their civil liberties. If it’s done right, then it obviously can help in providing a different level of protection for people’s health. So that if someone is found to be COVID-19 positive, they can very quickly find out who may have either transmitted to them or been subject to infection as a result of close proximity.


COMPTON: But there has been no parliamentary committee scrutiny of the civil liberties underpinnings or the information security underpinnings that go behind this, or the regulations around who can use it and for what?


ALBANESE: No, there hasn’t. And that is my concern is that that’s why we have argued that Parliament should be sitting. It’s good that we’ll be sitting for one week in May. But we should be sitting regularly. Other parliaments around the world are sitting. And there’s no reason why as a democracy that shouldn’t be occurring. Indeed, I’d argue that given the health and economic circumstances that we’re dealing with here, we need more scrutiny, not less. And there’s more of an argument for Parliament to sit than, perhaps at usual business-as-usual times.


COMPTON: Anthony Albanese, Leader of the Labor Opposition, is our guest this morning on mornings around Tasmania. There have been some parallels with wartime experience as we respond to the Coronavirus threat and the best comparisons involving isolation as air and sea lanes close in many cases. And the fact that it seems more than a month into this, in fact closer to two, we still can’t seem to produce a quantity of our own surgical masks for the country. What are the lessons for manufacturing policy that you think will come out of this experience?


ALBANESE: Look, I think there are a range of lessons to come out of this experience. One of which is we need to be far more independent, far more capable of being able to deliver our own manufacturing base for essential products, and whether that is surgical masks or ventilators, other equipment that has been in sharp demand, or whether it be in terms of just providing that support is essential. I think arising out of this as well there will be a step back and a look at what sort of economy and society that we want to be into the future. We have been reminded that we are all interdependent. That, yes, we’re individuals, but we rely upon each other. And I think that hopefully, that spirit of cooperation and looking after each other, will be something that lasts well beyond this immediate crisis


COMPTON: Well, what will also last well beyond the immediate crisis is the debt that’s being generated nationally at the moment to respond to it. Specifically, what ideas do you have for policy to pay the debt that’s being generated at the moment? What do you think will need to change in terms of the way that the Government generates revenue to pay that debt?


ALBANESE: Well, we need to look at the full suite of measures. One of the concerns that I’ve had at the time of the text debate last year was that we made decisions about tax based upon 2023/24 as if we knew what the economy would look like with certainty then. That looks like a real folly now and Labor warned against that at the time. We also need, I think, to look at where growth will come from and the opportunities that are there to grow our manufacturing sector to actually get serious about energy policy so that one of the ways we can become more independent is to really revitalise our high-value manufacturing sector. And we can do that. We should be the cheap energy capital of the world, given the access that we have to the products that will drive the 21st century economies as we move away from fossil fuels and towards elements like hydrogen. So, there are real opportunities for us to grow the economy, to look at where future jobs will come from.


COMPTON: That’s on the growth side. What about on the revenue side? In terms of tax reform that might need change?


ALBANESE: Growth of course produces revenue through company tax, by employing people and being able to pay those individuals paying tax as well. Look, I think there will be a need to look at, when we come through this, the suite of economic measures. We must remember that before the bushfire crisis, and before this this health pandemic, Australia, under the Coalition Government, had already doubled the debt. We’ve had productivity going backwards. We’ve had a number of interest rate decreases because the economy was so flat to try and boost consumer demand. So, the economy was struggling before this. We need constantly to have a productivity and micro-economic reform agenda. That work is never done. We need to look at growth sectors and how we can grow the economy. In Tasmania, a few years ago, we looked at when I was a minister, we looked at regional economic growth and provided support for industries like the salmon industry and the agricultural sector that lead to increases in employment, increases in exports. So, there’s no magic solution to this. This is going to be, of course, a debt which will be around for some time. But we need to have strategies based upon growth and based upon being able to pay that down. And also, I think perhaps we’ve been reminded, as well, when governments have said that we need to listen to the science and they’ve been quite right on this medical crisis. I hope they apply the same principles to dealing with climate change and listening to the science there.


COMPTON: Appreciate you talking with us this morning.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Leon.