Jul 3, 2020







SUBJECTS: Eden-Monaro by-election; bushfire recovery; Hong Kong; cuts to the ABC; John Barilaro; foreign information; freedom of press.


ROD MCCLURE, HOST: Good morning. It’s Rod McClure here on 2BRW, our very own community radio station 88.9 aka the Barbed Wireless. Listen, it’s my great pleasure to introduce to you Anthony Albanese, the Leader of the Opposition, at the Federal level. Anthony how are things going?


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Pretty good. I’m out and about, now currently on the way between Merimbula and Narooma this morning. I’ll be holding a press conference there with Kristy McBain, our candidate. And then heading to Cobargo and Eden, and back to Merimbula today.


MCCLURE: That’s a big day. Well, the first thing I’d like to ask you is Mike Kelly was much admired and liked by many people in Eden-Monaro, and we haven’t heard a great deal since he retired. How’s he going medically, if you’re able to tell us that, and how are things going with him overall?


ALBANESE: Look he’s going well. I speak to him regularly. He still has had, he had one more procedure after he announced his resignation. And his procedures are in double figures now that he’s had to endure. And of course, you’d be aware that relates to his service for his country and uniform. And the dehydration that he suffered has had a real impact on him long-term. And that’s not unfamiliar unfortunately, he tells me, for many of his comrades who he served with in places like the Middle East, Iraq. And he is looking forward to Saturday, cheering Kristy McBain on but he just wasn’t in a position to do the sort of time that you got to do in an electorate like this, largely in a motor vehicle. So, he was very reluctant, of course, to resign. And as a result, we have the by-election. But you’ve always got to put your health first. And his wife, Shelly, has also had some health issues. So, they’ve been doing it tough. But Mike’s a resilient character, and he’s very much missed already in in the caucus and in the Parliament. He was a great contributor. He was very passionate about this region. And I regard him as a very good friend.


MCCLURE: Yes, he is missed. And he was a very, very good local member and we’ve been blessed. Actually, both sides of politics regardless, with one exception I can think of. But at any rate, Kristy McBain what do you think gives her the edge in this upcoming election? What can she offer that nobody else can?


ALBANESE: I just think she is head and shoulders above the other candidates, with due respect to them. Her personal skills are quite extraordinary. She can walk in a room and it lights up. She’s warm, she’s engaging, she listens to people and then she acts based upon the concerns that she hears. So many times, during this election campaign, I’ve heard stories whether it be at the Club Sapphire in Merimbula where a thousand people were sleeping during the bushfires and her and Brad, her husband, they run a plumbing business, came in. They said they were having difficulties with the showers so out they went, no fuss, went out to the ute, got the tools, fixed the showers at the club where people were staying. I was at a chicken farm just outside of Quaama and there I asked the family how they met Kristy and they’d written her an email, this is last year, asking for five minutes on the phone. Kristy sent back a response saying, ‘No I’ll come and visit you and see first-hand what the issues are with access to town water’, and the problems got fixed. She is someone who is about solutions rather than looking for arguments. She’s managed to work with people across the board, state members like John Barilaro and Andrew Constance. She’s worked with the mayors across the region, I’ve met them all. All of them speak so highly of her. And we were at a meeting earlier this year with Mike Kelly in Parliament, with all the demands from the greater Canberra region, that goes from Goulburn right down to Gippsland, and she just stood out as a leader who was respected by everyone in that group. And I think that she will make an outstanding representative. She, of course, is very much a local. She went to Eden High School and Merimbula Public School. She then went to Canberra to university and worked in a law office, which had offices in Yass and in Queanbeyan. So, she’s really well-versed about the diversity that’s there in the electorate, and I think she will go on to make a great contribution as a local member but also I think to the broader Parliament on issues including agriculture, disaster management, all of those issues. She’s really got something to add.


MCCLURE: She comes across as a fascinating person. Very, very committed to, I think, she said she would defend the ABC to her last breath. And that brings me to breaking news today that Dan Oakes has been referred by the AFP to prosecutors as to be possibly charged over revealing the alleged war crimes in Afghanistan raising the whole issue of press freedom. Where do you see that going Mr Albanese? I mean, it’s a difficult situation.


ALBANESE: I don’t think it’s that difficult. I think it is a complete outrage that a journalist could be charged and prosecuted for doing their job. Freedom of the press isn’t something that is a matter of convenience. It’s an essential component of our democracy. This information was clearly in the public interest, it’s still up on the ABC website. There’s no national security implications for it. The ABC was careful about that, this wasn’t reckless and, of course, journalists do have to bear in mind that some reporting could put our men and women in uniform in danger. This isn’t one of those cases. There’s no case for prosecution here. And the Attorney General and the Government need to respond to this. Of course, we had someone else at the ABC and they’ve been told that there won’t be any pursuit of charges against them and we had Annika Smethurst, a News Limited journalist, as well. And this hung over them for a long period of time and must have been incredibly traumatic for them. And I think that we should celebrate journalism that is investigative and that explains to the public what they need to know about events, that after all, were done in our name. And I’m just stunned that this has been allowed to get to where it has.


MCCLURE: It’s an adage which has a lot of truth to it, that a cornerstone of democracy is a free press. All right, we’ll move on a little bit. Hong Kong. The Government has said that we’re open to the idea of taking people who are wishing to leave Hong Kong because of the increased authoritarianism, for one of a better word, within the island. How do you feel about that issue? Is that a good response? And a good response in terms of Australia and its standing in the area?


ALBANESE: Well, I think Australia does have obligations, not the same as the United Kingdom that of course has said that they’ll accept three million people from Hong Kong as a result of the quite authoritarian changes that have been brought in, in contravention to the agreement that occurred when Hong Kong was handed over to the People’s Republic of China from the United Kingdom. Part of that was One Country-Two Systems. The second system was democracy and there was a need for autonomy in Hong Kong that is being encroached upon. People are rightly concerned. There are, of course, many people in Hong Kong who are also Australian citizens. A fact that you might not be conscious of is that it’s the second largest polling booth in an Australian federal election after London because there are so many Australian citizens there. So, I think we need to, as part of the international community, do our bit if people are concerned about their safety and security because of their commitment to democracy. Then they are the sort of people who will make good citizens here.


MCCLURE: Okay, we’re seeing a period where we’ve been told that the ABC hasn’t been subject to funding cuts, rather they’re just not being indexed. That’s having quite an impact. And during the fires, there’s no question that the ABC reporting was incredibly important. And that brings me to a second point, which is, in our area around Braidwood, there’s places that the ABC just doesn’t reach. And during that period, our little station was going hammer and tongs, as they were at Mallacoota and other places. Would you restore the funding to the ABC were you to be the next Prime Minister of the country? And what sort of commitment would you make to community radio across the country?


ALBANESE: Yes, absolutely we would restore the funding. This is a cut. It’s as simple as that. It’s a cut from money that was budgeted for the ABC, it’s there in black and white in the Budget papers whilst Scott Morrison was Treasurer. And we know that the ABC did literally save lives during the bushfire crisis. And we also know that 250 people are losing their jobs. Tell them it’s not a cut. They’re losing their income. I think it’s extraordinary that in the first recession in three decades, we are seeing government job loss at the ABC, at the CSIRO, and in other essential services. This is the last time that people should be losing their jobs and joining the unemployment queue and journalism is something that is so important, particularly in the regions. And that’s why the ABC needs its proper funding, and proper respect. And I do think the lack of respect is shown by the last question that we were talking about with the prosecution of an ABC journalist, but also in terms of funding. And when it comes to community radio, I’m proud that when I was the Minister for Communications for a brief period, I was very supportive of community radio. I know the role that it can play. I used to do the odd stint at Radio Skid Row in my electorate in Sydney. It’s vital as a service there in Braidwood and I have no doubt that during the fires you were absolutely relied upon, because it’s local, committed people, largely volunteers. And the Government needs to provide, I think, more support for community radio.


MCCLURE: And one of the things that has been mentioned to me quite a bit as I’ve spoken to local people, is the sort of lack of information about what’s going to happen with JobKeeper. It’s really important to people who’ve gone through the fires, who’ve gone through so much. Do you feel that information really should have been released as to whether it would be kept or not kept?


ALBANESE: Well, that’s right. They’ve made their decision. They’ve received the report from Treasury and the Government no doubt has made a decision about what will happen with JobKeeper and whether they will continue to pursue what Scott Morrison has called ‘snapback’ in September, which is all of the support just withdrawn. That will have a devastating impact on the economy. But this Government, having put ideology aside during the coronavirus crisis, has gone back to ideology and has gone back to shrinking government as soon as it can. And the truth is that we need a transition, not a snapback. And the problem with this Government though is that the by-election being held tomorrow, and many people will be voting today, of course. And they have a view that it’s legitimate to keep it silent before the by-election.  Well people should have a right to know what will happen to JobKeeper. What will happen to JobSeeker, will they just bring it back down to $40 a day? What will happen to the GST? We had the Liberal Treasurer from New South Wales at the National Press Club, just this week, talking about increasing the GST to 15 per cent and then applying on all food, everything else, everything that we buy. Now if that’s the Government’s plan as well, they need to tell people before they vote tomorrow so that they can cast their vote in that knowledge.


MCCLURE: And something that might be a bit out of left field but something that again, local people comment on a lot actually. And that is the quality of the performance of the Parliament. There’s been a committee I know looking into particularly Question Time. And in the circle that I move in, people just shake their heads in disbelief at the Dorothy Dixer questions, at the refusal to answer questions, quite often. And how can that be fixed or returned to where Question Time, for example, was a genuine examination, an opportunity to examine the Government policy and get answers on issues?


ALBANESE: Well, I think you can have rules changes and many of them were made when I led the House of Representatives. For example, I moved changes to standing orders that limited answers to three minutes and questions to 30 seconds. That was an attempt to try to get more serious engagement and to make Question Time more effective. You can do various measures that look at that, you have to have direct relevance. I think, personally, that the idea of asking about ‘are there any alternatives to the policy’ as the tag at the end, is problematic. Because it just allows, people who listen to Question Time will hear that Government ministers within the first 15 seconds speak about well ‘Labor, Labor, Labor’ rather than talking about what they’re doing. I think in part that’s because this Government doesn’t have a real agenda. It’s like they were more surprised than anyone they got re-elected last May. So, they were in a state of drift in terms of any economic, social or environmental reform. But it also requires, I think, a change in mindset. Scott Morrison is less prepared than any leader that I’ve seen in the parliament, I’ve seen everyone from John Howard on, to allow any debate in the Parliament. We’ve actually had bills passed without a single word of debate, by the Government moving that the motion be put all the way through all stages of legislation. And that, I’ve never seen before. And Scott Morrison, anytime people want to debate significant issues, like the bushfire crisis, he just shuts it down and moves that member be no longer heard. And that’s a real pity. We’re not getting real debate and engagement in the national Parliament. I know that it’s a source of frustration for the Speaker, Tony Smith, who I think is a very good Speaker. Of course, he’s not from my political party but he, I believe, does his best to try to encourage serious debate in the Parliament. And I think the Government could do worse than actually ask him for ways in which the Parliament could be improved. It is a real concern. You can have differences of views as well without resorting into just nasty sledges. When I was Leader of the House of Representatives and Christopher Pyne was Manager of Opposition Business, I think that we had a reasonable relationship and hopefully a bit of humour about the way that we dealt with things. But at the moment, I think the state of debate in the Parliament is very poor indeed.


MCCLURE: Yes, it’s unfortunate that it’s reached that point. And it’s led to some interesting situations such as you being asked a question by a member of your own Party, that took everyone by surprise.


ALBANESE: That’s right. Well we don’t get any answers from the other side, so I think the way things are going we might have to do more of that. So, we’ll wait and see. But that in part was an attempt to just give the place a bit of a shake. That’s allowed for under standing orders. And we need to do something so that there are actually answers. And that was a critical issue. We just haven’t been able to get answers about issues like Robodebt. They just refuse to say anything. And the issue that I got asked the question about was about postal services that are going to be impacted in places like Braidwood. Whereby it will be only two deliveries a week, which is just appalling. This is an essential service that so many people rely upon. And particularly not everyone is internet savvy and conducts their business by email. All those kids out there that get the birthday card from grandma or grandpa with $5 or $10 in it every birthday and every Christmas. The idea that might arrive seven days late is, I think, appalling in a country with as much capacity as we have.


MCCLURE: You’re certainly on record as a Leader offering bipartisanship on a number of issues, or at least to sit down and work with the Government on a number of issues. And some people have seen that as just a strategy. Is it just a strategy or is that the essential Albanese?


ALBANESE: Well, I believe in solutions not arguments. And when I became the Leader of the Labor Party, I said that I wanted to be known as the Leader of the Labor Party, not Leader of the Opposition. Leader of the Opposition implies that you’re just against everything. And with something like COVID-19, for example, we have pointed out the weaknesses in the Government’s strategy, we said that the superannuation changes would be left open to fraud and rorting. And they have been. We argued for wage subsidies earlier than they were put on through the JobKeeper program and the Government eventually listened to that. We engaged in, I think, constructive dialogue. There were people on family payments who were going to miss out and we made changes to that legislation in the Senate. But we’ve also pointed out that whole sections were missing out, in the arts and entertainment sector, casuals were missing out. And we’ve pointed out the inadequacies as we saw them. But what we didn’t do was allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. We simply won’t stand in the way of the packages, but we will attempt to amend them. And I think that’s what people want. Our previous discussion about the quality of debate in the Parliament. I think if people just oppose for opposition’s sake, I well recall the Global Financial Crisis that Australia got through that better than other nations in the OECD, they all went into recession, millions of people unemployed. The Liberal Party said that it was inevitable we’d be in recession. Well, we didn’t take that, and we got through it. We got through it while creating jobs, through stimulus programs, roads, through housing, through a range of measures. And the Government of the day, the Labor Party, we looked for bipartisanship and it just wasn’t there. They just opposed everything, and I think that was a wrong decision. And I’ve been determined to, throughout public life, to make a difference. And you make a difference by being constructive. And I make no apologies for that. From time to time, people would rather we just say no. But think about the consequences if we’d have said no to the JobKeeper program and to the economic stimulus measures this year, even though I think they’ve been inadequate. We would have seen far more people unemployed and a far more negative impact on the economy because none of it could have been carried without our support. It’s as simple as that. Because of COVID-19, and the measures that had to be put in place to manage the Parliament. Nothing could have happened without our support.


MCCLURE: Mr Albanese, you’ve given us plenty of time and been very, very receptive to our questions. We appreciate that very, very much. Hopefully, you might come back to us at some point and share with us your views on the Government and where we’re headed.


ALBANESE: I would be very pleased to do so. I actually really enjoy radio communication and particularly community radio. It’s a real opportunity to talk to the electorate about issues that matter to them.


MCCLURE: Well, we certainly appreciate your time. So, thank you and just watch those freezing roads out there.


ALBANESE: Thank you very much.


MCCLURE: Take care.


ALBANESE: Go Kristy McBain tomorrow.