Aug 19, 2020







SUBJECTS: Aged care crisis; casualisation of the workforce; elderly Australians; young Australians; university fee hikes; Parliament; bushfire recovery; Government spending; Teddy Sheean; icare NSW.


ROD MCCLURE, HOST: Welcome to the show. And thank you so much for taking the time out for our community radio station. it’s much appreciated. The COVID-19 virus has devastated aged care homes, especially in the private sector. What policies could you put in place, do you think, to make sure this just doesn’t happen again?


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, what you could put in place is proper workforce planning so that the aged care facilities have the proper number of staff that they need, that those staff have the proper training that they deserve, and the older Australians get the respect and dignity that I think they’re entitled to, having contributed to the nation. You also need to ensure that checks, when they’re made on facilities, are done without notice. And you need to make sure that we have an approach to aged care which says, ‘These people have built the nation, they are deserving of our respect and they’re entitled to have dignity in their later years’.


MCCLURE: Do you think, Mr Albanese, that aged care should have ever been privatised?


ALBANESE: That’s a decision that was made, of course, by the Coalition Government. Certainly, when you look at where the problems have been during the pandemic, they have been in private facilities rather than state-run facilities. The Government has responsibility for regulation of both. So, given that the privatisation has occurred, what we need to make sure is that the Government steps up and regulates it properly. They do have clear responsibility for this sector. And at the moment, they simply haven’t been delivering an appropriate level of support. The fact is that it is tragic our elderly Australians, many of them are saying their final goodbyes to their loved ones over the phone and they are having their hands held by aged care workers as they pass.


MCCLURE: One of the issues that you raised in your first response was the issue of casualisation of the workforce. That appears to have been a major issue in terms of the spread of the virus, particularly in Victoria.


ALBANESE: It’s been a huge issue. So, for example, in aged care, there are people who don’t work at one facility, they work at two or three. And they need to do that in order to get enough money, given that some of them are earning around $19 an hour, to put food on the family table. So, it’s a real tragedy that these pressures have been placed on our older Australians. And that’s one of the issues that needs to be looked at.


MCCLURE: On a different issue, giving something away here, Mr Albanese, I am a Whitlam-era graduate. And how did we move from teaching Commonwealth Scholarships to HECS from the nation that invests in you to ‘user pays’?


ALBANESE: Well, the problem now that we see from this proposal from the Federal Government is they are toying with doubling fees for humanities subjects, for courses like social work. Now, social workers don’t earn a lot of money. The idea that they’ll have their debt doubled, is, in my view, just outrageous. And I hope it’s something that’s opposed in the Senate.


MCCLURE: There’s been a claim by Minister Tehan that one student has racked up a bill of $660,000. Surely that wouldn’t be typical of most students?


ALBANESE: No, of course it’s not. And this is typical of a Government that wants to privatise everything. It sees education as just a commodity. And it’s one of the big divides in Australian politics. Labor sees education as something that benefits not just an individual, but our society as a whole. Dan Tehan is using these one-off examples in order to just exploit young people, in particular, more to justify this doubling of fees for some courses. And it’s the exception rather than the rule.


MCCLURE: So, in a thumbnail sketch, what would Labor be looking to do to support and invest in what I believe is our best asset, our young people?


ALBANESE: Well, we need to stop the cuts to universities and stop the cuts to TAFE. We need to properly value the educational sector from early education right through school and tertiary education. And we need to recognise that education is something that benefits all of us, not just the person undertaking the task. But it is something that we need to invest in. Because we need to compete in this century as the smart country, not with a race to the bottom on wages and conditions.


MCCLURE: Parliament will resume, finally. How do you feel it will go with the whole issue of the virus, of course, but then you’ve got the issue of people coming in by video virtually, what issues will Labor be pursuing? What are the really important issues that you want to get up there on the national stage?


ALBANESE: Well, there’s two things. One is people being left behind during the pandemic. So, issues like aged care. Issues like the Ruby Princess debacle. Issues such as those people who’ve been excluded from JobKeeper. The failure to support whole sectors like the arts sector. So, we’ll be pursuing those issues. But also, not just people being left behind during the pandemic, but how do we make sure that people can get ahead during the recovery? The failure of the Government to produce a jobs plan. We actually need a plan to grow the economy. And we need a plan to ensure that we create jobs. One of the things that this Government hasn’t done with all of its slogans is have a ‘JobCreator’ plan. And if they had a JobCreator plan, it would work in terms of identifying where industries of the future can be, how we expand Australian manufacturing to make sure that the weaknesses in the economy aren’t allowed to remain and those gaps to remain and that we have a plan to make sure that people are looked after. ‘We’re all in this together’ needs to be more than just a slogan. But this Government has tried to dodge accountability a bit like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. It’s something that they do. Scott Morrison cancelled Parliament, of course. We should have been sitting last week and the week before. We need to make sure that accountability is there, and we intend to ensure that it happens next week and the week after.


MCCLURE: An interesting issue that’s just cropped up, it’s a Federal and a state issue, 25 per cent of people who have applied to have the debris cleared from their properties after the fires that ravaged the south coast area and up this way have not been supported. They’re not receiving any help in actually clearing that debris.


ALBANESE: Well, it’s just appalling. I’ve visited facilities in the region including in Bumbalong there where there hasn’t been a single property cleared there. That community was devastated during the bushfires. There are other areas as well around Cobargo where I visited that haven’t had their property cleared. And the outrageous thing is, the Federal Government had $200 million allocated in the last financial year, $150 million for cleaning up the aftermath of the bushfires, $50 million for building resilience. And they didn’t spend a cent of that $200 million allocation. So, it’s gone. It didn’t roll over, it is gone. And it’s just incredible that after the bushfires, with the need so obviously there, that those funds have not been committed.


MCCLURE: That brings up an issue that I’d like your opinion on. Quite often we hear that so many million will be given to this, so many million will be given to that. And then you learn a little later that they have underspent or that it didn’t go to the right places. Does there need to be a little bit more care taken with that sort of thing?


ALBANESE: Well, this is a Government that talks a lot. They’re always there for the announcement. But they’re not there for the delivery. And they’ll never miss a media opportunity. But they’re not there for the follow-up. They just go missing. And that’s something that characterises this Government.


MCCLURE: A different issue again, I heard your comments on the VC for Teddy Sheean. I think we share a common admiration for that young man. Why was it so hard for the current and previous governments to do the bleeding obvious where that young fellow was concerned?


ALBANESE: Well, it is incredible. You had an independent tribunal that came up with a unanimous recommendation. It is their job, that is what they are there for, to review these very issues. They reviewed it and came up with a unanimous recommendation. And Scott Morrison, for reasons beyond my comprehension, rejected that, as did the Defence Minister. And then they had to create this whole process so as to justify their backflipping on the awarding of a VC to this brave 18-year-old Tasmanian, who anyone who has any knowledge of what he did in losing his own life, his mates and comrades in the water while they were being shot at by the Japanese, putting their interests and their safety before his own. You have the famous painting at the Australian War Memorial there of Teddy Sheean strapped to the gun on the HMAS Armidale as it disappeared below the waters. And so, the case is very well-known. It took a concerted campaign by Teddy Sheean’s relatives and by the Tasmanian people in particular, which the Labor Party proudly called for recognition, before Scott Morrison backflipped with another inquiry that costs tens of thousands of dollars that wasn’t necessary.


MCCLURE: Well, justice has finally been done. And I think the family, they were obviously just really, really thrilled. And that’s been a good outcome. But anyway, out of left field, last question, because I know we’re on limited time, what do you make of the icare situation in New South Wales?


ALBANESE: This is red hot. And it requires a proper investigation. You have clear conflicts of interest here. You have the Treasurer of New South Wales and the staff in the middle of all this. And I think it will require not just a proper investigation, but real action. There’s a real stink about this. And there are real consequences for it.


MCCLURE: Okay. Well look, thank you so much for your time. It’s very much appreciated. And at some point, down the track, I’d love you to actually, if you were able to, make the time to visit us, because I’d like to explore what made Albo, Albo.


ALBANESE: Certainly, happy to do so. Good to talk with you again.