May 12, 2020





TUESDAY, 12 MAY 2020


SUBJECTS: Australia beyond coronavirus; JobSeeker/Newstart payments; sports rorts sage; Parliament resuming.


FRAN KELLY, HOST: Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese, joins us now in the Parliament House studios. Anthony Albanese, welcome back to Breakfast.




KELLY: So, the Treasurer will make it clear today that there won’t be any more assistance beyond what has already been announced. And given we are at more than 16 per cent of GDP in financial help, debt has blown out to a record $618 billion. Is that a prudent approach by the Government?


ALBANESE: Well, the Treasurer, of course, had already doubled the debt before the bushfires and before the coronavirus crisis. This sounds like it is going to be a triumph of spin over substance, talking about the $9.6 billion boost to the economy. That is not a boost to the economy, compared with the massive loss to the economy that is occurring right now. There’s an excuse for putting off the Budget, there is no excuse for putting off a plan. And this Government didn’t have an economic plan last year. They have doubled the debt. Productivity was going backwards. Consumer demand was falling. We had interest rates to record lows to try and boost the economy. We had underemployment going up. We had business investment in decline. And they don’t seem to be offering a plan now either.


KELLY: Well, is now the time for plan, though? I mean, the Budget will be in October. The Government doesn’t have, you know, the data when it comes to deficits, growth forecasts, unemployment numbers, isn’t it fair enough to wait for that data before you formulate an economic plan and where you’re going to start spending next or cutting next for that matter?


ALBANESE: Well, it’s fair enough that the Budget’s being put off. But today, let me tell you, the Treasurer would be in a position to outline all the Budget forecasts, the state of the Budget, the fiscal position, and he’s not doing that. He’s not telling us. Now, the truth is that with Treasury and Finance, they calculate every year for the Budget to be in May. And they’re not doing that.


KELLY: I apologise for Buster. He’s obviously sensed something dangerous in the hallway. So, apologies, everybody.


ALBANESE: Talking about Josh Frydenberg is upsetting it.


KELLY: But in terms of, okay, what it looks like, you are of the view this pandemic presents a once in a generation opportunity to reshape the economy to make it fairer, especially for workers. But we are facing Budget deficits, huge Budget deficits, according to private forecasters, more than $130 billion each in the next year, next two years. How does the Government pay down such a big black hole without inflicting some sort of pain on people without asking all of us to make some kind of tightening of the belt?


ALBANESE: Well, look, Fran, this is about looking at what the values were that saw us through this crisis. And they were they were fairness, they were security. They were the power of government to make a positive difference to people’s lives. So, they’re the values that have seen us through together. They’re the same values that can see us through recovery. There’s a range of measures that can be put in place with a bit of vision. One of the things that’s happening like you and Buster there at home working, there’s a range of people have, I spoke to a boardroom meeting last week, a company that employs, we did it through social distancing, company that employs 30,000 people, of whom, overwhelmingly, almost all of them are working from home. We can have a real decentralisation strategy. We can have people working from home, boosting productivity, improving urban congestion. There are a range of possibilities that we have arising out of this crisis. The fact that people have been enforced to take a step back and think about the way that society is structured, the way our economy is structured. We need to, for example, if we don’t do something about housing, then the construction industry is about to fall off a cliff in three months’ time. So, it is appropriate that we look at social housing, that we look at affordable housing for those essential workers being able to live closer to work who have seen us through this crisis, police and emergency service workers, nurses.


KELLY: So, two big ideas there. But one of them, let’s look at the housing thing. You want increased investment in social and affordable housing. That means more Government spending. So, you are proposing the Government borrow more to invest in housing and try and support the construction industry as well as social housing.


ALBANESE: Fran, every Galah in the pet shop can make money out of housing in Australia, except for governments apparently, it’s just a cost.


KELLY: Even social and affordable housing?


ALBANESE: Well, the fact is that working with the private sector, working with superannuation, there’s a range of superannuation funds today that are investing in affordable housing for essential workers. We need to expand those schemes so that the people who have looked after us during this crisis can’t be just forgotten. One of the things that I said in my speech yesterday is that there is this cult of celebrity. It’s about time we also gave praise to ordinary workers who have seen us through this crisis. And this crisis has been a reminder of how important those workers are, whether they are cleaners, whether they are nurses, whether they are supermarket workers, public transport workers, they’re the people who haven’t had the choice of working from home. They have to work on site. But many of them are travelling an hour and a half each way to get to work every day. How about we actually have a strategy and think about those issues whilst we’re in this crisis? And I drew an analogy yesterday with Curtin and Chifley, they saw us through World War Two. And the reconstruction that occurred in the post-World War Two period, that built modern Australia, began in the midst of the war. They started planning for what reconstruction looked like. We need to plan for what the jobs of the future are. We can have a clean energy revolution in this country that powers advanced manufacturing, that powers steel and aluminium. They’re the sort of regional jobs, as well, that can be created. But it needs Government working with the private sector, making sure that we give Australians the skills for the jobs of the future. They’re the sort of ideas that we need to discuss. And we can begin discussing them now.


KELLY: But we can’t discuss them without price tags. And the price tag is what the Government’s all about at the moment. And partly, it’s all about that because we’ve got a million and a half people now on the unemployment queue. Plus, we’ve got 5 million people on JobKeeper which is to cost the Government $130 billion. Now, the Prime Minister says the ultimate test is ensuring we get people back into jobs. If people are in jobs, they don’t need income support. Should the Government start winding back JobKeeper for some, if people are back in work we shouldn’t keep paying them a job subsidy for six months if we don’t have to, should we?


ALBANESE: Well, Fran, the scheme has flaws in its design. And we’ve pointed that out. If you’re someone who’s a mum with three kids, and you’ve been in a casual job for 11 months, you don’t get support. If you’re someone who’s doing a part-time job, but a university student and you’ve been working six or seven hours a week, but you’ve been doing it for more than 12 months, all of a sudden you might be receiving multiples of your ordinary wage, much more than you received beforehand. So, your pay has been increased from $200 to $750 a week. That’s one of the anomalies which is there in the Government’s scheme that it designed that we pointed out at the beginning was a flaw. We didn’t allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good, we’ve been constructive. But there are flaws and there has been waste in the way that the Government has rolled out this game. They need to be careful, though, that in rolling back what they don’t do is mean that what business is saying, for example, if JobKeeper ends too early, it will simply lead to more people on the unemployment queue, which will add costs to Government because they will then go on to certain Centrelink welfare payments. And we know that part of the whole principle of JobKeeper was trying to stop that because we know that once people go on the unemployment queue it’s far more difficult to get them into a job than it is to keep them in a job.


KELLY: Okay, so for some you’d like the Government to extend the change, the JobKeeper allowance, if they’re going to need it beyond the six months, beyond September. But for others, you’d like the Government to start now taking money from people if they were the lucky ones who actually got paid more than they’d actually been earning. So, you want the Government to push and pull this?


ALBANESE: Well, I don’t think there’s ever been a justification for people to get more money than they were getting before.


KELLY: No, but they have been. So, you want that wound back?


ALBANESE: I want it to have not never happened, Fran.


KELLY: So, you want it to change now?


ALBANESE: I want it to have never happened, let alone changed now. But it has happened. It’s been a flaw in the scheme. We pointed out at the time. But there’s a range of measures, I mean, that, for example, has increased the debt burden now but made a longer-term impact as well. But the Government needs to have a plan to transition as well. One of the themes in my speech yesterday was to express concern about the Government’s so-called snap-back that the Prime Minister has spoken about.


KELLY: Well he is not speaking about it now. He doesn’t say that’s going to happen.


ALBANESE: Well, that is what he was saying over and over again. That’s been their plan. And implicit in it is perhaps not just a snap-back but a bring-forward of snap-back is potentially what they’re talking about. And the idea that you can just have support one day, no support the next, is quite frankly absurd. You clearly will need a transition of the support mechanisms which are there.


KELLY: Okay. Just on another issues. Parliament’s back today. Are we going to see the end of the sort of political bipartisanship that has been on display through the six weeks or more of this COVID-19 pandemic? It’s been constructive. People have liked that. But other issues go on and sports rorts saga goes on. We’ve seen some new information come to light from the Auditor General over the last week. Some say it contradicts the Prime Minister’s claim that he wasn’t the decision-maker when it comes to approving some of those projects that were funded. Now, Scott Morrison has flatly denied misleading Parliament over sports rorts. Do you accept his denial?


ALBANESE: No. Well, he hasn’t done that. He’s dismissed the question. He’s done one of these old, ‘that’s just in the bubble’ type stunts that he does to avoid answering questions. And there are questions to answer. The Auditor General’s office has been very clear that the Prime Minister and his office were the authority that the Minister McKenzie was submitting it to the PMO for approval. And that’s what we know happened on the 10th of April, after on the 27th of February he said that he wasn’t the authority. So, there’s a clear contradiction between what he told Parliament and what the National Audit Office, it is a pretty independent body, Fran, this isn’t the Labor Party, they are saying that he was the authority. And what’s more, that it went to the campaign office of the Liberal and National parties, the Coalition campaign office, for approval in terms of timing of announcements. And it didn’t just involve Members of Parliament, it involved candidates as well.


KELLY: Anthony Albanese, thanks for joining us.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Fran.