Aug 24, 2020







SUBJECTS: Michael Sukkar; Victorian Liberals branch-stacking; state borders; Prime Minister passing the buck on issues during the pandemic; JobKeeper; Labor Party.


FRAN KELLY, HOST: Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, joins us in our Parliament House studios. It is a busy studio this morning. Anthony Albanese, welcome back to Breakfast.




KELLY: The Victorian Liberals, if I can go to this first, the report in the Nine Media, the Victorian Liberals stand accused of widespread branch-stacking, using taxpayer-funded electorate offices to recruit members. What’s the take out from this? That the Liberals are no better than Labor Party when it comes to the dark arts of party powerbrokers?


ALBANESE: Well, they stand accused by themselves. This is in their own words, recorded conversations, memos that Michael Sukkar has responded to and endorsed. And this is a test for Scott Morrison. This is the test that he himself set when there were allegations into Victoria. And what happened there, Fran?


KELLY: Very similar allegations against Labor in Victoria.


ALBANESE: Yes. And a minister was gone by the morning. A minister was expelled from the Labor Party the very next day, the equivalent of the Monday. And by Tuesday, the branch had been intervened in, Steve Bracks and Jenny Macklin appointed to administer the branch, and widespread action from myself and Daniel Andrews. Now at the time, what happened was Scott Morrison said this was a test for me. Now, once again, a bit like aged care, he’s saying it’s not his responsibility. “That it is a matter for the organisational wing”. Well, someone needs to tell Scott Morrison that he’s actually in charge of the Liberal Party. That this is a scandal. That his Assistant Treasurer is in it up to his neck in his own words here. And that his position is untenable.


KELLY: The Assistant Treasurer, Michael Sukkar, allegedly according to these reports, endorsed a plan to give a taxpayer-funded job in Kevin Andrews’ office to an operative working for the then-Liberal powerbroker Marcus Bastiaan, he’s not so anymore. But both Michael Sukkar and Kevin Andrews say the claims are false. They’ve referred the matter to the Department of Finance. I mean, just as Anthony Byrne remains in the committee position he had for Labor.


ALBANESE: There are no allegations against Anthony Byrne. None.


KELLY: Well, the allegations confirm concern being filmed in his office.


ALBANESE: There are no allegations against Anthony Byrne, Fran. The people who there were allegations against have been removed from their positions.


KELLY: So, are you happy for the Department of Finance to play out this inquiry and to let that go ahead? And the minister involved to stay in his position while that happens? Is that the right course of action?


ALBANESE: I’m happy for Scott Morrison to be judged on his own words. And if Michael Sukkar is still sitting there at two o’clock as a minister, then that is a failure of Scott Morrison’s leadership.


KELLY: But why would he go before the Department of Finance runs its inquiry? Is that the proper way to do it?


ALBANESE: This is in his own words. This is an internal matter for the Liberal Party in which a Liberal Party powerbroker, in similar terms to the Labor Party person involved, speaks about basically taking over the Liberal Party, speaks about four state MPs being taken out, six federal MPs, six members of Scott Morrison’s caucus spoken about on this show about being taken out by these Liberal Party powerbrokers as a result of branch-stacking, including people who have no real allegiance to the Liberal Party. This is a manipulation of democratic processes. And Scott Morrison deserves to be judged by his words. Go back and have a look at what he was saying at this time on a Monday morning, after there were allegations raised against the Labor Party. Well, the Labor Party leadership, both Premier Andrews and myself, acted. We’ll wait and see what Scott Morrison does. But it is reasonable that he be judged by his own words.


KELLY: Well, all this, of course, happens in the middle of a pandemic, when people’s focus is on something much more critical, I think, to their daily lives. Let’s go to this now. On the crisis, legislation will be introduced to Parliament to scale back JobKeeper from the end of September. Why does Labor now want the full $1,500 wage subsidy to continue for another six months? Because when you heard the Finance Minister there, there needs to be a transition at some point, doesn’t it?


ALBANESE: Fran, this Government, be clear, were reluctant to have wage subsidies at all. Then they said it would snap back in September, which is why the legislation simply runs out in September. So, if there’s not legislation passed this fortnight, it all stops. JobKeeper ends.


KELLY: But you won’t let that happen, will you?


ALBANESE: No, of course not. We’ll be constructive. We’ve been constructive the whole way through, Fran. But one of the things that we’ve said is that you need to tailor the support for the reality that we face. And the reality that we face from the new jobless figures that were released again this morning indicates double-digit unemployment. And it indicates that there are a whole range of businesses that are really struggling and that require this support. And an early withdrawal of support will mean that the downturn is deeper, and it will last longer.


KELLY: So, will Labor vote against this if the Government doesn’t agree to that?


ALBANESE: We have said very clearly from the start, Fran, we’re not about blocking and having no support. We’ve been like that the whole way through. We’re not like how the Liberal Party was during the Global Financial Crisis, we’re not wreckers. But what we will do, as we’ve done on a range of issues, we have pointed out that the superannuation changes would be rorted, we have pointed at some of the weaknesses in the system, we will continue to do so. We will argue the case and hope that the Government sees sense.


KELLY: It sort of leaves you on the sidelines, though, doesn’t it? I mean, the Government’s also going to attach to this JobKeeper bill with changes to the workplace relations laws. This will allow businesses that have come off JobKeeper but are still distressed, under a definition to be worked out, to continue varying a workers’ hours and duties. Your workplace spokesperson, Tony Burke, has said this will allow employers to slash out and stand down workers. But again, you’ll have no choice but to pass the changes, won’t you?


ALBANESE: We’ll wait and see what the legislation actually says, Fran, frankly. Why is JobSeeker there? Why are a range of measures there? They’re there to stimulate the economy. To keep money going so that employment is maintained. If at the same time, they are slashing wages and conditions, including from businesses that are doing well, there’s no case for that, Fran. And we’ll put that case very strongly.


KELLY: Is there a line in the sand for Labor? I know you don’t want to be seen, obviously, to be blocking income support for people, but you don’t have much choice, do you?


ALBANESE: Well, we’ll wait and see what the legislation says, Fran. We haven’t been given the courtesy of it being released publicly in advance. This is a Government that is making up as they go along, essentially. Why is it that Parliament was cancelled, the last sitting fortnight, and still we haven’t seen any of this legislation out there? You haven’t seen it. I haven’t seen it.


KELLY: What’s your view on border closures? The Government’s released this new Treasury analysis that you talked about there, showing the effective unemployment rate back above 13 per cent. And that’s likely to get there and stay there because of border closures to some degree. Are they killing jobs and delaying any hope and economic recovery? Do you think that some states and territories are keeping their borders closed for political reasons, and is that good enough?


ALBANESE: Well, I’m not a member of the National Cabinet, Fran, as you know.


KELLY: But do you have a view?


ALBANESE: That’s a decision that Scott Morrison made. The decision Scott Morrison made was to essentially chair meetings, whereby state premiers go their own way and make their own decisions. And then he stands up and does a press conference and reports on it afterwards. I would have thought that if there was a genuine National Cabinet, there should be a national position on these things and coordination.


KELLY: But that is not the way a federation works.


ALBANESE: But I thought there was a National Cabinet, Fran, that was coordinating everything. When you have a cabinet, what you do is you have a decision that everyone is bound by.


KELLY: What would your advice be to the states and territories? Should they open some of these borders?


ALBANESE: My advice is that the states and territories should take the advice of their respective medical officers.


KELLY: Which is what they’re doing.




KELLY: Okay. So, you support the closures as they stand?


ALBANESE: Well, it’s a decision based upon advice. But the problem here is that Scott Morrison wants to have it both ways. He wants to say, ‘states and territories can do whatever they like, but I’ll just snipe at the sidelines as if I’m not involved and as if I’m not the chair of the National Cabinet’. He backed up Clive Palmer’s legal case against the WA McGowan Government and said he had no choice but to support that legal case and then halfway through, withdraw the support after all the Commonwealth arguments against border closures, and in favour of Mr Palmer’s case, were already put before the court and therefore taken into consideration. This has been, frankly, a lack of leadership from the Commonwealth on these issues. And it’s not good enough that the criticism, as well, I note, has been just of the WA Government and just of the Queensland Government. Not Gladys Berejiklian’s border measures between New South Wales and Victoria, not the Tasmanian Government that’s announced the border closures will continue until December 1. And not the border closures in South Australia. If we’re going to truly have a national response, it can’t be based upon who is in Government in particular states.


KELLY: And can I just ask you finally, on your side of politics last week, Joel Fitzgibbon warned of an eventual split in the Labor Party as the only way to, quote, ‘reconcile the difficulty of trying to represent its inner-city base and regional areas such as central Queensland’. Do you see a split as inevitable?


ALBANESE: He himself, Fran, said it wasn’t in his lifetime. Now, I suspected, without giving too much information to the listeners, yourself, myself and Joel are around about the same age. So, we’ll let the idea that you can predict what will happen to our kids and grandkids is a triumph of hope over reality. And so, I think it was a pretty meaningless statement, frankly. What I know is this; the Labor Party has been around since 1891. We’re Australia’s oldest and proudest party. We are a resilient party. We change with the times. Because unless you do that, the world moves past you. We will continue to evolve. We’re a mass-based party. We’re proud of our connection with the trade union movement. And we’re proud of the fact that we are one of the most successful social democratic parties in the world who have been in Government for far more than the British Labour Party, far more in terms of state and territory governments as well. We have a proud record. And I expect that will continue, including for my son, and hopefully grandkids to come, but not too soon.


KELLY: Anthony Albanese, thanks very much for joining us.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Fran.