May 19, 2020



TUESDAY, 19 MAY 2020

SUBJECTS: Australia beyond coronavirus; bushfire recovery; visit to the electorate of Eden-Monaro; Eden-Monaro by-election; insecure nature of work; relationship between unions and business; ADF medical trials.


SALLY BRYANT, HOST: Well, the Leader of the Australian Labor Party, Anthony Albanese, is currently visiting the electorate of Eden-Monaro. He’ll be speaking with bushfire-affected communities. He’s heading to Tumbarumba and Batlow this morning and then Tumut and Adelong. Mr Albanese, it’s been a difficult year. Bushfires and now the virus. Many fire-affected communities say they feel like they’re left and have been forgotten about and they want people to continue the conversation and look at how to rebuild. How do you hope to assist people in regional communities to bounce back?


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, there are two ways of looking at it. First, you have to help individuals whether they be single people or households. So, they need much greater assistance in terms of this. There should be a single government point of contact for them to provide whatever services or support is necessary and to assist them to navigate the bureaucracy. So many people have said to me when on the ground that support might be available, but they don’t know how to get it. And I think that’s one measure. But the second is overall support for communities as well. It’s not good enough that councils that were bushfire affected have received just one million dollars in funding. They need much greater support through local government. And that’s the best and most efficient way to distribute that support. We also need a plan for future jobs, growth, how that gets back on its feet, whether there’s a need for specific sectors support, for example, for the orchards and agricultural sectors, whether there’s specific support put together for forestry to deal with the aftermath of the fire. These are all areas that need looking at. Because you’re talking about communities that have been hit by drought, then bushfires, then the coronavirus. So, they’ve really received the triple whammy over a very short period of time.


BRYANT: Now, the economic impact of COVID-19 is going to be big right across the landscape. And I’ve had people say to me that they believe that rural Australia runs the risk of going into depression rather than recession. What are your thoughts about that?


ALBANESE: Well, there certainly is a risk of a significant downturn. You, of course, have had the drought that was there for such a long period of time. You then had the bushfires, which in some areas, for example, for the vineyards, they don’t come back in 12 months’ time, they come back many years down the track. And that’s the case for a number of the agricultural products. So, the industries need support to get over that hump. If they don’t, they’ll simply just disappear. And that would be very bad for them, but also bad for the nation if we reduce our food production that’s so important for us. And so, that’s why I think people in rural sectors do deserve specific support because they are far more vulnerable. And for other sectors as well, we’ve had the arts and entertainment sector in this region, they haven’t received support during the coronavirus crisis. And, of course, the tourism sector that were devastated by the bushfires are now facing a time where they would have expected some tourists to start coming back around March and April over the Easter weekend, and of course, that was the time when we were in lockdown. So, for many of those people, they continue to really struggle to survive.


BRYANT: Now you’re travelling with Kristy McBain, the Labor candidate for Eden-Monaro?


ALBANESE: I am. And she’s just an outstanding candidate. She came very much to prominence during the bushfire crisis as someone who was standing up for her community in Bega where she was the mayor but also standing up for all of the communities as the Deputy Chair of the Canberra Regional Council body which goes all the way from Goulburn to East Gippsland. And so, Kristy is very familiar with the challenges. And we’ll be meeting with the range of the mayors today when we visit Tumbarumba, Batlow, Tumut and Adelong.


BRYANT: Now, according to some media reports, your Party’s campaign for Eden-Monaro has hit a snag with the National Executive being told that the Party will have to borrow money to fight the by-election. Are you facing financial troubles?


ALBANESE: No. Normally the case that when there’s an election on, you have to borrow money. We did so for the last Federal campaign. And then you pay it back. For obvious reasons it is difficult to raise money at the moment. It is pretty hard to hold a fundraising dinner when you can’t gather, before recently, at all and now you can only gather in groups of ten. But one of the things that we’ve been very successful in doing is for raising sometimes for the campaign online in small donations. People want Kristy to be successful. And they also want Labor to be in a position whereby we send a message to the Government that they need to do better. They need to prepare better for crisis like the bushfires. And they need to not be complacent either, coming out of this period in terms of the recovery.


BRYANT: A review is planned for the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme. There are arguments on both sides for both extending it and also for winding it back early. How long can a stimulus package like that last and what’s your position on it?


ALBANESE: Well, we think that we need to not have snap-back. The idea is that you have all these subsidies in place on the 19th of May and on the 20th of May, it disappears for more than six million workers is simply not practical. That would produce a massive shock to the economy. And we also are of the view that some of the ways that it’s been designed isn’t fair. Casual employees who have missed out because of the nature of their work, they might work for a range of different employers, but they work effectively full time. They’ve missed out the same time as a casual employee working for the single same employer for more than 12 months, they could be a student at the Agricultural college there and they work part time in a supermarket for half a dozen hours a week to give themselves some pocket money, they suddenly are earning many times more the salary than they were earning before the crisis hit. So, some of the design of the scheme has been flawed. We’ve pointed that out. We need to make sure that we get proper value for taxpayers’ dollars. But if we just cut it off too abruptly, then we will produce a real shock to the economy.


BRYANT: Now, the ADF has started medical trials on what they describe as volunteer personnel to see where the chloroquine can be used as a preventative for the virus. Do you believe that the ADF should be calling for volunteers from the ADF staff?


ALBANESE: I’m concerned about these reports. There are precedents whereby a number of ADF personnel have put strong cases about what has happened in the past and they felt as though they weren’t really volunteers. And that was prior to the Timor Leste support that occurred more than 20 years ago. And so, we need to be very careful. There’s nothing wrong with people volunteering for a particular task, but we need to make sure that they’re genuine volunteers.


BRYANT: News polls, or some news polls, have Labor ahead by about, I think, it’s 51.1 to 48.9. Polls can be unreliable, but it is expected to be close contest. How confident are you about Eden-Monaro?


ALBANESE: Well, I’m confident that we have the best candidate in Kristy McBain. There’s no doubt about that. The fact that the other side of politics have been too busy. Nationals fighting Nationals. Liberals fighting Liberals. Nationals fighting Liberals and vice versa, shows that that’s the case. They’ve been concerned about a fight about their own career and their ambition. Kristy McBain has been out there now for weeks just campaigning. And she’s concerned about the people of Eden-Monaro rather than herself. She’s a fantastic candidate, a very strong advocate. And I’m confident that, and if enough people in the difficult circumstances in which we are campaigning, get to meet Kristy, get to hear her story, then they’ll be as impressed by her as I was the first time I met her almost a decade ago. And I’ve seen how strong she has campaigned for her local community and what a great advocate she is. And I want that advocacy to be brought into the national Parliament.


BRYANT: Do you think that the current scenario we find ourselves in at the moment where politics really is less of a feature, that there is much more bipartisan or hopefully a much more bipartisan approach, because of the lockdown because of COVID-19, do you think that will influence the tenure of this campaign?


ALBANESE: Well, I hope that does continue. One of the things that I said when I became the Leader of the ALP was that I wanted to be known as the Labor Leader, not the Opposition Leader, to look for solutions not to look for arguments. And I did that during the bushfire crisis. We were out there arguing for aerial firefighting. An announcement on aerial firefighting capacity was made just last week, it took a by-election to jolt the Government into action. But also, arguing for much greater support. I was arguing for involvement of the Defence Force much earlier. I was arguing to actually listen to what the experts were saying. And I continued that approach in terms of the coronavirus. We argued for wage subsidies when the Government was still opposing them. To their credit, they listened to Labor and unions and to the business community and put that in place. And without that, we would have many more people on the unemployment queue and the recovery from this crisis would be much more prolonged if that hadn’t occurred.


BRYANT: Mr Albanese, thanks for your time this morning.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Sally.