Mar 4, 2020







SUBJECTS: Government’s plan for stimulus measures; Reserve Bank’s interest rate cuts, coronavirus; Government’s lack of economic plan; biosecurity control orders; sports rorts saga; Brian Houston; Scott Morrison’s lies.


FRAN KELLY, HOST: Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese joins us. Anthony Albanese, welcome back to breakfast.




KELLY: I’ll come to the sports rorts in a moment, which has had Labor very exercised in the Parliament. But the Prime Minister says he won’t repeat quote the mistakes of previous stimulus measures. So, there won’t be school halls built, there won’t be pink bat programs, presumably there won’t be $1,000 cheques mailed out. Is he right to prioritise more direct support in terms of cash flow and investments for small business?


ALBANESE: Well, Fran, what he is wrong on is dismissing the significance of the Global Financial Crisis and the fact that Labor’s response was regarded as the best in the world. We didn’t go into recession. At that time, the Coalition said that we would. It was automatic, they’d written it off. And we didn’t write off people’s jobs. And the fact is that this interest rate cut further to emergency levels of 0.5 is now six times lower than it was that at the peak of the Global Financial Crisis. This is of course, the fourth cut. The first three was before the bushfires, before coronavirus. And we said way back in June that there should be measures put in including bring forward the second stage of the tax cuts, including bringing forward some of the infrastructure investment.


KELLY: You did say that. You did say that back in June. Turns out, doesn’t it, with hindsight, the Government was right not to heed your calls then because if it had spent that money then, there wouldn’t be money in the coffers to pump out now when it’s really needed after bushfires and the coronavirus.


ALBANESE: Well, the Government wasn’t right then, Fran. And that’s why we’ve seen monetary policy do all the heavy lifting. The four interest rate cuts are a sign that the Reserve Bank thinks that the Government isn’t doing what it should do. They should have been listening to the Reserve Bank, listening to economists, listening to business. They haven’t been. They have concentrated on essentially not having an economic plan. And meanwhile, people are hurting out there. Their wages continue to flatline and living standards continue to be under massive pressure. Consumer demand is bad, productivity is going backwards.


KELLY: So, you think the Government was too slow to pump out any stimulus? Now they’re on the verge of it, obviously. We don’t know the detail. But will Labor commit to supporting whatever measures the Government comes up with if it means keeping Australia out of recession?


ALBANESE: Well, we’ll wait and see what they come up with, of course. But we have consistently argued for measures which would assist the economy and for this Government to just have an economic plan. They’ve got plans for politics and throwing money around for political purposes. They don’t have a plan for putting money in the pockets of Australians who are really struggling.


KELLY: Well, it looks like they had a plan for a surplus. That was promised. It looks like it’s probably sunk under the weight of COVID-19.


ALBANESE: Well, it wasn’t promised, of course, Fran. Infamously they said they were there.


KELLY: Well, they did. They did. That’s true.


ALBANESE: They produced the mugs, ‘back in black’. They had all the hubris. They had the ads. And the fact is that this Government hasn’t had a plan since the election. They’ve been on a victory lap around the country. Running around, splashing money around for political purposes.


KELLY: Well, now it’s time to roll up the sleeves, no doubt about it. The Prime Minister points out no one could have predicted the global coronavirus when they were saying they were going to be back in the black. Will you go easy on the Government if it misses the surplus because of a global virus? Or is it payback time?


ALBANESE: Fran, coronavirus is an issue and it’s having an impact on the economy. But there have been four interest rate cuts. Three of them were last year. Wages were flat last year. Consumer demand was flat last year. Productivity was going backwards last year. Unemployment has been rising. There are more than or around about 2 million Australians who can’t get the work that they want. There’s a massive underemployment out there. And this Government hasn’t had a plan for the economy, like they still don’t have an energy policy. They don’t have a plan for climate change. They don’t have a plan to tackle any of the big challenges because they are too busy funnelling out a million dollars, or $2 million, or $5 million dollars on the biases of the electoral map and their colour-coded rort sheet.


KELLY: And I’m going to come to that in a moment. But just before we leave coronavirus as an issue, the Government says it will likely have to use its biosecurity control orders to forcibly quarantine and detain people. That was the Attorney General speaking to us yesterday here. The Law Council points out that the laws do not have the safeguards and independent oversight usually attached to such coercive powers. Are you happy for the Government to wield these powers? Should they only be used as a last resort? What’s Labor’s view on this?


ALBANESE: Labor supported this legislation. Indeed, it was drafted when we’re in Government in 2012. I don’t think it’s at that point now. People need to keep calm and wash their hands, effectively. I had a briefing from the Chief Medical Officer this week, as I have been consistently, and he indeed briefed out entire Labor caucus yesterday. We have a good health system. We are managing this by taking the advice on a bipartisan way from the medical experts. And that’s what we need to do.


KELLY: You are listening to RN Breakfast. It’s 19 minutes to eight. Our guest is Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese. Anthony Albanese, you’ve really escalated the attacks on Scott Morrison over the sports rorts scandal, accusing him of repeatedly misleading Parliament about the involvement of his office in the grants program. You told caucus quote, ‘You can’t spin this, Morrison just lies’. Where’s the hard evidence that the Prime Minister’s Office actually dictated which projects were funded and which ones missed out? Because that’s not what the Auditor General found was it?


ALBANESE: It is exactly what the Audit Office told Senate Estimates, Fran. They said that it was on the basis of the changes that were made to the list in order to get funds that went to the Prime Minister’s office on the 10th of April. On the 11th of April, changes were made as a result of the intervention of the Prime Minister’s office.


KELLY: But the Auditor General, in that first audit report, it said clearly, that they couldn’t say that the interventions from the Prime Minister’s office, you know, that all the recommended projects from the Prime Minister’s office were in fact approved. In fact, some weren’t approved by the Minister.


ALBANESE: Fran, the Audit Office said to Senate Estimates this week, gave evidence on oath, Brian Boyd said that it was the Prime Minister’s office was the reason why a project was removed and another one added after the Parliament had been prorogued. This was on the morning of the 11th of April. And then after that there were further lists go to the Prime Minister’s office from Bridget McKenzie’s office. Bridget McKenzie’s office then sent, that afternoon, another list that added nine projects and took one out. The fact is that what we have seen here is 136 emails from the Prime Minister’s office and from Bridget McKenzie’s office to each other. And the Prime Minister won’t release those emails, won’t release that information. The Prime Minister’s office has been in this up to the neck. And that is obvious for all to see. And the real problem here is, Fran, that this is a pattern. We can’t find out when the Prime Minister went to Hawaii, the issue there was that they couldn’t even say who the acting Prime Minister was. It was that lack of scrutiny. We had the Brian Houston incident whereby for reasons beyond my comprehension, the Prime Minister said that was just gossip. And now a month later has confirmed that it’s a fact. And on sports rorts, we have seen an attempt to cover this up, an inquiry by the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff examining the independent Audit Office’s findings, which didn’t even get access to the emails, which didn’t interview any of the Prime Minister’s staff, and which was designed to come up with a reason to throw Bridget McKenzie under the bus and protect the Prime Minister.


KELLY: That is Labor’s case. The Prime Minister’s response to those allegations is consistent as it has been. Let’s hear him again on 7.30 last night.


SCOTT MORRISON GRAB: And the Minister was the decision-maker here, Leigh. The Prime Minister’s office was not. The Minister made decisions and the National Audit Office found that all the representations that were made by my office were no more effective than anyone else’s. So, if anything, I was accused of not being a particularly good advocate.


KELLY: So, that was the Prime Minister’s line last night, as he repeatedly also said that all the office did, the Prime Minister’s office did, was pass information based on the representation from other MPs.


ALBANESE: And that is not the evidence that Brian Boyd gave before the Senate Committee from the Auditor General’s office. He very explicitly called it out. And we only found out about the emails and the changes of lists, we only found that out this week. This is a saga that has gone on for months in which they have hid information. Sport Australia are up again before Senate Estimates this morning. No doubt there will be more information. This is like pulling teeth. This is a Government that has secrecy as its heart, a Prime Minister who thinks that he is above the Australian people and doesn’t have to answer questions honestly. And in the Parliament, he continued to say a number of times that these lists were finalised by Bridget McKenzie on the 4th of April. The fact is that is not the case. It was changed even after the election was called on the 11th of April.


KELLY: Anthony Albanese, misleading Parliament, that’s the charge you’re making against the Prime Minister. It is a really serious offence. What do you want the Prime Minister to do? Do you want him to apologise? Do you want him to resign?


ALBANESE: I want him to tell the truth. I want him to actually treat the Parliament seriously and to tell the truth and to say what the involvement of his office was, to acknowledge that list wasn’t finalised on the 4th of April, to acknowledge the role that his office played. To release the emails so that Australians can see what happened here. He hasn’t even released, the Government is holding back from releasing those hundreds of applications from clubs that were mums and dads spent hundreds of hours trying to help little Johnny or little Mary get a grant for their club, not for themselves, because chances are when infrastructures improved that their kids have moved on, but for others in their local communities. I was in Perth the other day down at Shoalwater. The 13-year-old girls cricket team has to walk past the boys urinal in order to access bathroom facilities during a cricket game at the same time as money’s being funnelled into North Sydney pool right next to the Harbour Bridge from funds that were meant to go to people in regional communities.


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


ALBANESE: Thanks, Fran.