Feb 1, 2021






SUBJECTS: First sitting of Parliament in 2021; holding the Government to account; vaccine roll out; Western Australia coronavirus lockdown; Prime Minister’s speech to the National Press Club; hotel quarantine.


FRAN KELLY, HOST: Anthony Albanese, welcome back to Breakfast.




KELLY: Before we get to those matters, the start of Parliament’s been thrown into some disarray with the snap Perth lockdown. How many of your MPs who flew in from WA yesterday have been told to isolate? And have you all agreed to pairs with the Government to make sure that disruption is kept to a minimum?


ALBANESE: Well, of course, pairs will be agreed. Everyone who was on the Qantas flight last night, my understanding is, that they have been told to isolate at this stage. But it’s possible that advice, when ACT health examine it, they’ll advise the Speaker, they will advise the members, and we’ll all follow the health advice.


KELLY: It’s understood the security guard who tested positive in WA was also working as a rideshare driver, which, of course, dramatically increases the risk of spreading the virus. That’s a huge hole in WA’s hotel quarantine regime, isn’t it, that could have enormous consequences?


ALBANESE: We’ll wait and see the detail, Fran. The important thing at this point in time is to make sure that the response is there. This is a case which WA haven’t had for a long period of time. Under Mark McGowan, the Western Australian people have been well served over many months now. And the West Australians have done very well. When these lockdowns occur, it’s important that people follow the advice, that people be reassured that if that occurs, then they’ll come through the other side, as we’ve seen occur in the Northern Beaches of Sydney and Victoria and in other parts of Australia, including South Australia.


KELLY: Sure, but given that hotel quarantine remains one of our major weapons for keeping this out of the community, isn’t it important that all states and territories have basic protocols like workers aren’t allowed to work in a couple of jobs or across a number of workplaces and also that they’re tested daily?


ALBANESE: Well, what I’ve said on this program to you before, Fran, is that quarantine is a Federal responsibility. And it’s beyond my comprehension, now it’s many months since Jane Halton produced a report to the Federal Government recommending, including places like Exmouth in WA, be used for quarantine and that the Federal Government play a greater role. I remain of that view. And the breakouts that have occurred from time to time in states and cities show that’s the case.


KELLY: Can I go to the Prime Minister speech today, key messages are suppressing the virus and shoring up the economic recovery will be the Government’s priority this year. And the central message of the Prime Minister’s speech apparently will be that the big spending has to stop. To quote him, ‘You can’t run the Australian economy on taxpayers’ money forever’. Is the PM right to be tightening the purse strings again? Growth is up, jobs are coming back, households have money to spend. If not now, when?


ALBANESE: Well, it would be good, Fran, if the PM tightened the right purse strings. Because what we’ve seen is that JobKeeper go to companies that actually are doing extremely well, that have done so well and had a lift in their profits that have given massive bonuses to their executives.


KELLY: And the Treasurer says that those companies should give it back. Should they make them give it back?


ALBANESE: Well, what are they going to do, send a nice polite letter? Compare that, Fran, with what happens to someone who puts in a claim to Centrelink that doesn’t prove to be correct with the passage of time, they get a debt. And we had the Robodebt debacle, $1.2 billion dollars having to be paid back of taxpayers’ money. Compare the billion dollars that’s been spent on Government advertising, most of it just party political, including for programs that didn’t actually get a dollar out the door, but just spent money advertising programs that didn’t deliver anything. Compare that with the Government’s wastes that we’ve seen in areas like Sports Rorts. You know, the problem here is, Fran, not that there’s been spending. That was needed during a crisis, as it was needed during the Global Financial Crisis. The problem here is you have a trillion dollars of debt with nothing to show for it.


KELLY: Well, nothing to show for it? 6.6 per cent unemployment, low compared to global standards. And Australia’s growth running higher than global growth too.


ALBANESE: What’s the economic reform or legacy arising out of this, Fran? That’s the question. That’s why we are arguing for increased investment in social housing, for example. Households know that from time to time you have to go into debt. That’s how most people, certainly myself, still have a large mortgage, have to borrow in order to advance your position. And you do that, but at the end of it, you have a house, you have something to show for it. This Government don’t have a major infrastructure project. They don’t have a major economic reform. They won’t have any legacy from this trillion dollars of debt, which does have to be paid back.


KELLY: There will be more spending, $1.9 billion as a down payment on the vaccine rollout, we understand. And the Health Minister, Greg Hunt, said yesterday that he’s been assured by Pfizer and AstraZeneca that, quote, ‘Our vaccine supply and guidance remain on track’. That’s despite the EU threatening export controls on doses leaving Europe. He also says he’s got the same assurances from the EU. Are you satisfied with the Government’s efforts here and you’re confident that the vaccinations will be able to roll out later this month?


ALBANESE: Well, certainly I am on the side of hoping that is correct. In the United States, once the Pfizer vaccine was approved by their regulatory authorities, it was rolled out to essential workers in the health sector within three days. One of the things that we’ve consistently argued is that once the TGA has gone through its independent processes and approved a vaccine, it was important it be rolled out as soon as possible. And we are pleased that the Government listened and brought forward the rollout from the end of March. But we really believe once it has been approved, and it has been now, we should be getting it to people as urgently as possible. And also, that we need to continue to try to gain more access to the Pfizer vaccine. And we should be looking at deals over vaccines like Moderna that’s proven to be particularly good when it’s been rolled out overseas.


KELLY: You’ve got your own set of challenges at the start of this year. And after your recent car crash which, happy to say, you’ve survived, but you were told that actually if the point of impact had been about 30 centimetres either side, you could have died or at least suffered catastrophic injury. Has that brush with death altered you? Not just as a person, but also as a political leader?


ALBANESE: Well, I think you have to make every day count. And one of the things when you have an experience of having a head-on crash with a Range Rover, it’s a reminder that life is short and that you need to do everything you can to make a difference. Now, I’m committed to making a difference in this country. To us becoming a stronger, fairer, more inclusive society. To tackling the big challenges, be they inequality in Australia, be they the challenge of climate change, that you have to make a difference. I’m determined to do that. And you will see, as the year rolls out, I always said that we had a strategy, not tactics. And the strategy was always to kick with the wind in the last quarter. That will begin with the Budget that will come down in May. But we’re now in the third quarter. And you’ll see more policy roll out from Labor, as I promised and committed to do.


KELLY: Okay. But Newspoll has Labor 50-50 with the Government, two-party-preferred at the moment. So, it’s a good position to be in. But can you honestly claim any personal credit for that, given there are now more people who are dissatisfied with your performance than who are satisfied? Does that come as a surprise to you? Why do you think more people are dissatisfied rather than satisfied with you?


ALBANESE: Fran, when you have some people talking about ourselves, there’ll be a response. But the fact is, I’m focused not on polls. There’s only one poll that counts, and the Labor Party learnt that the hard way. And some of the media learnt that the hard way as well at the last election. And that’ll be on election day. I’m determined to ensure that Labor is ahead on polling day and that we’re in a position to form Government. I looked at the summary of what the Prime Minister said today. He’s actually in Government in a position to make a difference today, right now. And quite frankly, the series of commitments or pledges that are in there, the priorities, of course, we’re going to deal with vaccinations and the pandemic. Of course, we know that in terms of the economy, we need over a period of time to withdraw programs which are temporary, like JobKeeper, but where’s the real strategy or vision from this Prime Minister, who’s in Government in a position to do it right now?


KELLY: Okay. But as you’ve acknowledged, some within your own side are talking about yourselves, and that’s never good for political party. Leadership problems have become entrenched in recent political history here for both sides of politics.


ALBANESE: They have, Fran, and I’ve been consistent. And I’ve been consistent in saying, whether it was when we were in Government, in the Rudd and Gillard Government, I was very proud of the role that I played as Leader of the House, in ensuring that we got our agenda through the Parliament, in focusing on advancing a Labor agenda. That’s what I’m focused on now too, Fran.


KELLY: Sure. But also consistent is that every leader who’s suffered leadership tension around them in the past 15 years has ended up being dumped. Kim Beazley, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Brendan Nelson, Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull again. None have survived. The jungle drums have started on your leadership. How do you plan to rewrite that script?


ALBANESE: The Caucus has learned its lesson. We know what occurs when we’re focused on ourselves. And I’m just focused on making sure that we have the best platform, the best menu if you like, that we will be taking to the Australian people at the next election, very much along the themes, as you say, Fran, no one left behind, no one held back. But making sure that Australians understand that we are on their side. Whereas the Coalition Government that’s more and more focused on itself, more and more focused on looking after their mates, more and more thinking that taxpayers’ money is their own money. That’s why we haven’t seen a national integrity commission, in spite of the fact that the Government said in 2018 that they would deliver it. Where is it, Fran? Why isn’t it in place to hold the Government to account? Because one of the things that we’re seeing across politics, across the parties, is a lack of faith in integrity in our politics. And I think that’s tragic. I think most people enter politics for all the right reasons. I certainly did. I entered politics to make a difference to people’s lives, particularly the vulnerable, the sort of people who I grew up with, the family I grew up in with a single mum, and I’m determined to make a difference.


KELLY: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for joining us.


ALBANESE: Thanks, Fran.