Apr 8, 2020






SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; Parliament sitting to pass JobKeeper legislation; issues with JobKeeper payment; constructive role of Labor during coronavirus; Senate Select Committee to provide oversight during the coronavirus.


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




KELLY: Labor has already pledged to pass the JobKeeper legislation. But are you still going to seek some improvements to the scheme and will you try to amend this bill today? And is that likely given you said that you already said that you will pass it?


ALBANESE: We are, Fran. What we will be doing is putting forward improvements to the bill. We will be moving second reading amendments in both the House and the Senate. And in the House of Representatives, once we have dealt with the second reading, we will have in-detail amendments about our major concerns. We do have concerns about casuals, about a million Australians missing out on the JobKeeper package. We have concerns about temporary visa holders. We have concerns about leave entitlements being used up during this period. We have concerns about NDIS workers, about local government eligibility. We have concerns about charity and their eligibility. We have concern that the arts and entertainment sector have missed out almost completely from any support during this period. And they are one area, as you’d be aware, Fran, have been particularly affected. So, we’ll raise those issues in both second reading amendments and we will have in-detail amendments. We’ll see whether they’re passed in the House of Representatives. If they’re not, we won’t be pursuing in-detail amendments in the Senate because we don’t want any delay to this legislation. After all, it’s Labor that has argued, along with unions and the business community, for wage subsidies to be an essential component of protecting workers at this time, protecting businesses at this time, and making sure that we emerge out of this crisis stronger than we would have otherwise.


KELLY: So, you’re going to raise all these issues and you’re raising concerns with these issues and you’ll have amendments, but the Government knows you’ll pass the bill. And just speaking to Mathias Cormann earlier, it’s clear the Government’s not in a mood for any amendments. It’s not going to make any changes, is it? That’s clear, isn’t it?


ALBANESE: Well, that’s a decision for them, Fran. Who knows? Last time Parliament sat, we did secure support for an increase in the JobSeeker payment to 230,000 additional recipients of Austudy, Abstudy and Youth Allowance. We secured support for the measures that have changed the threshold for income support that have lifted that level from $48,000 up to $79,000. So, we convinced the Government both on the floor of the Parliament and in meetings to change their position. But the Government does have a majority on the floor of the House of Representatives. There can’t be any change to legislation without Government support, and we’re not going to get into a circumstance whereby you have a standoff, potentially between the Senate and the House and the JobKeeper payments not take place. Because workers need those payments. Businesses need those payments. Our economy demands it. And what’s more, I think the Australian public would look very unkindly if this Parliament couldn’t get business done today.


KELLY: Sure. Okay. But do you accept then that you’re unlikely to get any of these changes through? I mean, given yes, you did by talking with the Government and the crossbench last time, but the Government these days seems to be preferring to talk to Sally McManus and the ACTU rather than the Opposition. Is the Government consulting you about JobKeeper or any other emergency measures?


ALBANESE: Well, we have raised our concerns. We raised them in the meeting that took place last Thursday, convened by Scott Morrison and myself with our respective leadership teams. We’ve continued to pursue those issues. You’ve seen, for example, the changes that have happened to the Fair Work Act, provisions are ones that we certainly support and argued that there was a need for protection for workers there. Our concern is here that we must remember that both the health and the economic impact of this health crisis are all about people. And that’s what we’re concerned about that people will be left behind by the package as it currently stands. We won’t stand in the way of that package. We said that from day one, like we didn’t stand in the way of the first package, even though we didn’t support the superannuation arrangements, for example. But our job is to argue for improvements. But it’s not to be blockers. I’ve said that I am the Labor Leader, not the Opposition Leader. I’ll be constructive. We’re being constructive because that is what this virus and the crisis that we’re going through demands of every one of our parliamentarians.


KELLY: You are listening to RN Breakfast. Our guest is Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese. There’s going to be changes to the Fair Work Act today, which will allow bosses to reduce workers hours and redeploy them in different roles and in different locations. So, it shifts the dial in the employer-worker relationship for six months only. Is that fair enough? And do you have any sympathy for the BCA, which is demanding that some larger businesses that don’t meet the threshold for the JobKeeper payment should also be allowed to amend enterprise agreements to varied conditions, if that will keep them going in this climate?


ALBANESE: Look, I do have some sympathy for the business community here. And I want to make sure that workers’ rights, of course, are protected. But one of the issues because of the structure of the JobKeeper payment, it looks at the state of the business and the way that they’ve organised, for example, how many BAS statements, they have, their structure. It doesn’t look at the needs of the workers so that you can have individual workers who are in exactly the same circumstance, but because of the nature of their employer, one worker will get the JobKeeper payment whilst others won’t. Now, there is an inequity there. And I think that’s the structure that the Government’s come up with. But I do think there are weaknesses there. And it may well be that we’re back here in Parliament, which is one of the reasons why we’re raising these issues. We’re raising them constructively. But the Government needs to get this right. And if we have people who are being left behind, if we have businesses who are being disadvantaged whilst just because of their structure, then that’s not a good thing. We need every business and every worker to be looked after during this period.


KELLY: And just very briefly, we are out of time, but you have an, I understand, an agreement with the Government to establish a cross-party Senate Select Committee to oversee this response, ongoing response, to the virus. But it has until June 2022 to table its report, it has to be by that date. So far away. How will that provide any real-time scrutiny of Government decisions?


ALBANESE: I’ll give you the big tip, Fran. They’ll have interim reports in the meantime, between now and June 2022. The fact is that these measures will last for some time in terms of their impact. And there will be scrutiny. It’ll be chaired by Katy Gallagher. It’ll also have Kristina Keneally and Murray Watt from the Labor Party, a Greens political party representative, Jacqui Lambie, and two Government members.


KELLY: Okay.


ALBANESE: And certainly, I’m very confident that will provide some scrutiny and oversight. Because that’s what’s necessary. We believe Parliament should continue to sit, Fran, by the way. And we maintain that is our position. And there’s no reason why when you look at Parliament functioning today, I think we will show that the Parliament is able to function and is able to be effective. And that’s one of the reasons why we should be sitting on an ongoing basis having that scrutiny.


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


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Fran.