Dec 10, 2020







SUBJECTS: Government’s proposed industrial relations changes; Being Leader of the Opposition during the coronavirus pandemic; last sitting week of Parliament in 2020; economic recovery from COVID-19; Aussies stranded overseas; climate change.


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




KELLY: Quoting the Prime Minister, ‘If the business doesn’t exist, no one has a job’. That’s how he sums up the changes in their bill. A lot of workers who are very anxious about keeping their jobs might see it the same way, don’t you think?


ALBANESE: Well, that’s an argument to drive down wages and conditions, Fran. The Prime Minister says that they’re open to dialogue now. They had months of dialogue between employers and trade unions. They excluded Labor from that dialogue, that was a decision that they made. But in none of those discussions did they raise this plan that would cut workers take home pay. At no stage. And what they did was just spring it in the legislation that they introduced yesterday. And if they’re serious about taking that change off the table, they should walk into Parliament this morning, remove that bill, just withdraw it, and reintroduce a bill without those provisions in.


KELLY: Okay. It’s no secret, though, that employers have been wanting changes to enterprise agreements. If the Government says it’s not a take it or leave it proposition, is Labor open to compromise when it comes to making enterprise agreements more fit for purpose?


ALBANESE: Well, our test is very simple, Fran. We want secure jobs with decent pay. We’ll examine any legislation that does that in a constructive way. That’s the way that we’ve acted all year. But what we won’t do is vote for a pay cut for workers as their Christmas present, who got us through this pandemic. All those supermarket workers, cleaners, truck drivers, childcare workers, aged care staff, they are deserving of our respect. What they’ve got from this Government is that at the very first opportunity, they’ve gone back to what’s in their DNA, which is attacking pay and conditions of working families.


KELLY: Okay. But what would be acceptable to the Opposition? We’re trying to look at what might happen here. Could it work if the language in the section was tightened up to narrow the definition of the businesses allowed to bypass the Better Off Overall Test? Or do you want that provision, which is described as modest by the Attorney General, do you want that dumped altogether from the bill?


ALBANESE: Well, we’ll examine any detail which is there. At the moment, we won’t vote for what’s there. It’s as simple as that. And that’s not the only problem, of course. There’s other problems there, which is that if a casual is looking to be made permanent, and one of the problems that’s been identified by the pandemic is the insecure work, casuals were the first people to be thrown out during the pandemic, the insecure work creates a problem for them in terms of being able to have a mortgage, be able to have that security that a constant income provides. And yet, under this legislation, there’s no remedy for casuals to be able to be made permanent because an employer has to agree there’s no prospect for arbitration. What the Government says is that they should just march down to the Federal Court. People who are casual employees aren’t in a position to take their employer to the Federal Court in order to be made permanent.


KELLY: Are you over-egging this, though, because the Government’s presented you with a weapon, basically? You’ve labelled this bill nasty, but it was Labor, and the Government’s really pointing this out, it was Labor who amended the Fair Work Act back in 2009 to allow employers to set aside the safeguard of the BOOT if they were facing hardships. Since then 60,000 EBAs have been approved, only 21 didn’t comply with the test and only one resulted in lower wages.


ALBANESE: Because there’s a strict test in there, Fran. What we’re doing is consistent with what Labor always does, which is stand up for workers’ pay and conditions. What the provisions in the bill that they introduced yesterday provide for is a very simple test, which is, has a business been affected by the pandemic. Well guess what? Breaking news on Radio National, Fran. Every business has been affected by the pandemic. Some of them have been improved, it must be said, in terms of some of the retail outlets have done okay. But every business has been impacted by the pandemic. And it’s just quite outrageous for the Government to establish a consultative process, which involved the ACTU, Sally McManus and the union movement entered into that process in good faith, and they got hit from behind with this with no notice whatsoever.


KELLY: Okay. So, you’ve said already this morning, ‘We won’t vote for what’s there’. If this provision stays, and you’ve already talked about the casuals, the concerns about the casual provisions too, would Labor vote against this omnibus bill in its entirety? Would you vote it down?


ALBANESE: If it stayed the way it is at the moment, yes, we would.


KELLY: This has been a tough year for you, for the opposition, probably for any opposition, to be fair, in this global pandemic. But Labor has had trouble cutting through, questions are being asked about your leadership. How much do you need and want this fight with the Government?


ALBANESE: Fran, what we want is good outcomes. And that’s what we’ve fought for all year. I take great pride in the way that we’ve conducted ourselves. It was Labor who argued for wage subsidies that became JobKeeper. It was Labor, along with the trade union movement, that pointed out there was a problem with no paid pandemic leave. It was Labor that has been constructive each and every day, not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. We’ve put forward constructive ideas. We’ve raised issues legitimately which are there. And that stands in stark contrast to the Government, which when they were in opposition as a Coalition during the Global Financial Crisis, voted against the economic stimulus package and just voted no to everything.


KELLY: Where’s all that got you though? I mean, yes, that is true, that is the way Labor’s behaved. Some Labor MPs are expressing disappointment privately in your leadership. Next year could be an election year. What’s your plan to turn things around and create the space to take the fight up to the Government?


ALBANESE: Well, we’re actually in a position, Fran, if you look at where we are.


KELLY: In the polls?


ALBANESE: We are three points higher, our primary vote, then we were at the last election during a global pandemic which has given great advantage to every government in the world unless it’s been completely mishandled. So, I’m very confident that we will get credit for the fact that we’ve being constructive. But what next year will be all about is the economic recovery and whether we look after people who’ve got us through this pandemic. The people who deserve the greatest credit for coming through, likely having Australia better than most countries in the world, are the Australian people themselves. Those people who have looked after each other. It has been state and territory governments, of course, that have put in place very strong provisions, many of them under severe criticism from the Federal Government, only Labor Government that they’ve been prepared to criticise, of course. But we will continue to put forward our plan as I did in the Budget Reply for cheaper childcare, for a future made in Australia, to recognise the weaknesses in our economy that have been exposed by the coronavirus and have a practical plan to fix them.


KELLY: Anthony Albanese is the Federal Opposition Leader. This is the final sitting week of the year of 2020. What a year it’s been. Just two issues just to canvas quickly. In terms of the recovery and the pandemic, 39,000 Australians are still stranded overseas, they won’t be home for Christmas, we can see that now. Labor’s calling for a plan to get them all home by February after which the focus should then be on flying in international students and other workforces that might be needed. Given the log jam in quarantine hotels, how do you propose that would happen? Where would you house tens of thousands of arrivals? They’re not all going to fit into Howard Springs.


ALBANESE: Fran, this is a great example of the gap that is there between what Scott Morrison announces, which was that everyone would be home by Christmas, and what he actually delivers, which in this case is 40,000 families around Australia who will have an empty seat at their Christmas lunch table this year because of the Government’s failure. The fact is that a plan was identified to the Government by Jane Halton, who recommended the Government taking charge of quarantine facilities, who recommended a practical plan that, given the Federal Government does run quarantine under our federal system, she recommended imposing exclusion zones around quarantine facilities, opening up further quarantine centres like the RAAF centre at Learmonth. The fact is, that report to the Government has been completely ignored. And of those who were already registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade when Scott Morrison made his home by Christmas promise, there’s 12,000 of those who are not home.


KELLY: Okay. And just one last issue for the year, and it remains a major issue, we started this year off with bushfires and a lot of focus on climate change. On climate change, we still don’t know if the Prime Minister will get a speaking slot at the Global Leaders’ Summit on Saturday. But new figures released in this country today project a 29 per cent cut to Australian emissions by 2030, which is better than our Paris Commitment of a 26 to 28 per cent drop. On that basis, do you think Scott Morrison should be given a slot? Because this is happening without using credit carryover credits. The Government has drop that. Should the PM be given a speaker’s slot? What do you think?


ALBANESE: Well, there’s been a recession, Fran. That’s why emissions have gone down. People weren’t driving around in their cars and planes weren’t flying. It’s as simple as that. And that had an impact. The fact is that the rest of the world regarded the idea that we would be able to use Kyoto carryover credits for our 2030 targets that the Morrison Government has set with contempt.


KELLY: And the Government has dropped it because it doesn’t need them anymore.


ALBANESE: No. They dropped it because it was never going to be allowed, Fran. It was just a farce. And the fact is that the last time Australia attended an international climate change conference, they were sitting in a corner with Saudi Arabia and Brazil, as the international pariahs, when they attempted to argue an absurd position. The fact is, if the Prime Minister can’t even get a speaking slot at a global conference, that says a lot about the way that the world is regarding Australia’s position. And the fact is that now that Joe Biden has been elected as the President-Elect of the United States, Australia stands as one of the very few places in the world that isn’t prepared to commit to net zero emissions by 2050. And that’s the big problem that this Government has. It has no credibility on the international stage. It says that we need global action for climate change, and it’s right. It is right. But they are not a part of the solution, they’re part of the problem.


KELLY: Thank you very much for joining us.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Fran.