Mar 23, 2020







SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; Parliament sitting; coronavirus stimulus packages; confusion around clear messaging during the coronavirus issue.


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




KELLY: Parliament will consider both the $66 billion plan unveiled yesterday and the $17.5 billion package announced a fortnight ago. Will those packages pass Parliament today in full?


ALBANESE: Yes, they will, Fran. The package is likely to have a procedural motion this morning that will ensure that it will pass by 5pm this afternoon. We met with the Prime Minister and Josh Frydenberg and other leaders of the Government yesterday. It was a constructive meeting. We have been determined to be constructive. We have a range of concerns, Fran. Including on superannuation. We will be pursuing those. But if they are not successful, that will not mean that we stand in the way of this stimulus package. Because quite clearly, our economy needs it and it needs it right now.


KELLY: So, when you say you’re pursuing them, I understand you’ve advised the Prime Minister yesterday of a range of amendments and improvements you want. What are they? And was there any interest from the Prime Minister and the Government in considering them?


ALBANESE: Well, we’ll wait and see what happens on the floor of the Parliament, Fran. But it may well be that the Government sees some common-sense. On superannuation, for example, it clearly isn’t in the interest of individual superannuants to essentially sell-out at the bottom of the market. That would have a negative impact on their retirement incomes. And it would also, of course, have a negative impact potentially on superannuation if super funds have to sell their assets once again at the bottom of the market.


KELLY: Sure, but these are desperate times, they require desperate measures. If you’re a low paid hospitality worker, you’ve got money sitting in super and you’ve got nothing else, you know, as the Treasurer reminded us, it’s your money.


ALBANESE: That is right, Fran. But the Government is providing support and assistance in a range of other ways. We think the Government should be stepping in and providing more support for low income workers. We think there should be a greater act of urgency. We’re concerned that a range of the measures that have been introduced have been introduced with an eye on politics. So, for example, even the first stimulus payments of $750 doesn’t flow until the second quarter, until the June quarter. The next payment flows in the quarter that begins the first quarter of the next financial year beginning in July. That clearly is aimed at trying to avoid recession. What we actually need to do is to get money into the economy sooner rather than later. That’s one of the reasons why we argued that Parliament should have met last week and passed this package a week ago.


KELLY: Do you believe that the coronavirus supplement of $550 a fortnight which comes on top of people have lost their jobs, as the Treasurer just told us, being able to sign up to effectively a kicked-up Newstart payment, so $1100 over a fortnight, is that enough for a worker that has been stood down from their factory job, or their shop job, or office job, whatever?


ALBANESE: Well, we’re concerned, Fran, that for many workers who will have fixed payments, outgoings, their rent, their other bills to pay, or their mortgages, that it won’t be enough. We have expressed that concern. The fact that it’s an acknowledgement finally from this Government, that Newstart needed to be increased, that people couldn’t survive on $40 a day is a good thing.


KELLY: It’s only short-term six months.


ALBANESE: Well, we’ll have that fight, Fran, let me tell you. Because this Government’s rhetoric on a range of issues has been torpedoed by reality in the last month, frankly.


KELLY: But do you think the Government should be increasing the payments. I mean, other governments have given huge amount of money to workers, 60 per cent of their incomes or 80 per cent of their income. Should we be following that model? It would cost an enormous amount of money.


ALBANESE: Well, we think they should be more generous towards low income earners in particular, Fran. Yes, we do.


KELLY: So, what is your proposal? Have you put something to the Government? A model you support?


ALBANESE: Well, what we put to the Government yesterday remains what we put to the Government yesterday. I am capable of having private meetings, Fran. And we did that yesterday. Look, it was a very constructive discussion. The Government has its package. We have said we’ll pursue amendments and improvements that we think are necessary. But we will not stand in the way of the package. We have said that from the very beginning, unlike what the Coalition did with our economic stimulus plan that saved Australia from the Global Financial Crisis. We are going to be responsible and do the right thing by the nation. We will put forward some suggestions that we have, but we’ll do them in a constructive way.


KELLY: I’m sure you’re talking to Labor premiers. The non-essential services will close today. The Prime Minister announced that late last night. Will that be enough to slow the rate of infections, which is almost doubling every three days at the moment? Or do you think we need a more total lockdown?


ALBANESE: I’ve said for a long time, Fran, that if we think something is a good idea and is going to happen next week or the week after we should be doing it today. We need to respect today so that we have a better tomorrow. That’s the truth of this virus. The earlier we act on the health issues, the better it will be, the lower the economic impact. And as well most importantly, the lower the human impact, Fran. This is about saving lives, but it’s also about saving livelihoods. The earlier we act on economic stimulus and providing support, the better it will be as well.


KELLY: The same goes for school closures. There’s a lot of confusion over school closures. And some states and territories are going their own ways. The Government has bought some time in saying that many schools will be open now until the end of Easter and then it will be reviewed again on the health advice. Are you concerned about equity issues in terms of access to distance learning, online learning, for some in our state schools?


ALBANESE: I’ve got to say, Fran, I watched that media conference last night and I thought it was as clear as mud. And no wonder parents are confused out there. The Prime Minister has set up this COAG phone hook-up that he’s calling the national cabinet. He has chosen to exclude the Opposition from that process.


KELLY: Do you think you should be in that national cabinet?


ALBANESE: Well, it’s not a national cabinet, Fran.


KELLY: But would you ask for seat at that table?


ALBANESE: It’s not a national cabinet, Fran. The Labor Party is the biggest Party sitting in the Parliament, by the way, we’re bigger than the Liberal Party, which relies upon the National Party to form Government. And we’re not involved in it. That’s a decision for the Government.


KELLY: Have you asked for a seat around that national cabinet?


ALBANESE: Fran, I’m not someone who goes with the begging bowl. That’s the decision of the Government. And it’s Scott Morrison’s right to do that. I respect that. He is the Government. He won an election. It is his right. But common-sense tells you it’s not a national cabinet unless it actually involves all the representatives of certainly both major sides of politics at least. Certainly, the concern that’s there last night is that Victorian schools, I think effectively close today is the last day. ACT is the same and there had to be some clarification from the minister. New South Wales, if you know what’s going on you’re better than me Fran. Because I’m not sure. And I think what we need is, with all of these measures, one of the things that the community are crying out for is clear messages from our national leaders, which people can follow. And clear explanations of why those decisions are being made.


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


ALBANESE: Thanks very much.