Apr 23, 2020







SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; economic implications of COVID-19; Parliament sittings; business tax cuts; industrial relations changes due to COVID-19; Newstart allowance.


AMANDA COPP, HOST: Mr Albanese, thank you for joining us. Do you think the Government is doing a good job on their response to the Coronavirus?


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, the Government was slow out of the blocks at the beginning. We were concerned about the lack of health checks that Sydney Airport and other airport gateways. We were concerned also, of course, what has become the debacle of the Ruby Princess. But it is good that the Government is coordinating with state and territory governments. That’s a positive thing. And it’s good that we’re listening to the medical experts.


COPP: What do you think Labor would have done differently if you were the ones leading the government in this crisis?


ALBANESE: Well, one of the things that we said early on was that if you think you’re going to do something next week, you’ve got to have a good reason to not do it today. Social distancing does work, and we would have undertaken some of those measures earlier. We are also concerned about some of the economic impact. So, we, for example, we’re calling for wage subsidies much earlier. Had that occurred, I believe you wouldn’t have seen those very long queues outside of Centrelink.


COPP: Do you sense any dangers to democracy in some of the measures that are being taken by the Government with Parliament not sitting as usual and that mobile app which is about to come out that will essentially sign Australians up to unprecedented levels of surveillance on their movements and interactions? Do you see a problem with those measures?


ALBANESE: Well, we have said the Parliament should be meeting. Parliaments around the world meeting. Democracy requires scrutiny at any time, but particularly given the record amount of government spending that’s occurring during this crisis there should be more scrutiny, not less. And if you compare it with other countries where parliament is sitting, committees such as the parliamentary committee in New Zealand that has been established, that’s very strong, that is chaired by the Leader of the Opposition, then the Australian parliamentary oversight has been very weak indeed. It’s good that Katy Gallagher is chairing a Senate Select Committee. And she will do a good job there. But that hasn’t begun meeting yet. It’s also important that we avoid any attacks on civil liberties, which are not necessary. What we saw was the Prime Minister giving consideration at the end of last week to making the use of this app mandatory, which would monitor who people have come into contact with. Now, that was something that I believe has no justification. There needs to be voluntary participation in any such scheme. And we need to make sure that in terms of the information that’s collected and that data, that they predicted very strongly indeed and that there is no abuse of it.


COPP: Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, has flagged that big business tax cuts could be back on the agenda to stimulate the economy after this crisis is over. Is that something that Labor would support?


ALBANESE: Well, I am somewhat concerned that the Government having pronounced ideology as something of the past and indeed adopted a range of policies that, contrary to its general free market, let the market rip approach, seems to be saying, ‘As soon as this crisis is over, we’ll go back to letting the market rip’. And certainly, in terms of labour market deregulation, in terms of removal of environmental protections, the tax cuts for the wealthiest people and company tax cuts, what they’re talking about, and we’ve seen before what the consequences are. For example, labour market deregulation, when they got their preferred position of Work Choices through. And I just caution the Government to not retreat back into its hard-right ideological position. If that occurs, then not only will Labor be concerned about that, I think that the Australian public will as well.


COPP: I mean, the Government would argue that those sorts of economic stimulus measures are critical to getting the economy back on its feet. You don’t see it that way?


ALBANESE: The Government will always argue for benefit for the top end of town. What we’re concerned about is if you reduce revenue, where is the debt going to be paid back? So, we have a considerable economic challenge ahead. If they think the solution is just to withdraw government activity again, I think they will be unsuccessful, and the economic damage that is being done at the moment, will take longer to recover from if they simply remove government support wherever possible.


COPP: There’s also been talk of a shake-up of the industrial relations system. Is that something that concerns you?


ALBANESE: I’m very concerned that this Government has gone out there and said that they have a good relationship with the trade union movement in recent times, in spite of the fact of the last sitting day of Parliament last year, they ran through anti-union legislation with not a single word of debate being allowed in the House of Representatives. The most unionised of industries, teachers, nurses, supermarket workers, childcare workers, public transport workers, some of the sectors that have helped get us through this crisis. And it’s not good enough for the Government to praise the trade union movement, the sacrifices which have been made, and as soon as this crisis is over, already foreshadow that they will be coming after trade unions and coming after the wages and conditions of the working people.


COPP: Just on welfare, for years the Government has resisted calls to raise Newstart. This crisis has led to JobSeeker effectively being doubled. Do you support that payment remaining at that level after the Coronavirus passes?


ALBANESE: Well, one of the things about this crisis is that the Government has been hit by a reality check in so many areas and one of those is on Newstart, having said that there was no problem with Newstart, they had to acknowledge that it wasn’t enough to live on at $40 a day. So, I don’t want to see Newstart return to that level. I also want the Government to look at other areas where their rhetoric has changed. During this crisis they have said, ‘We need to listen to the science and we need to listen to the health experts’. Well, I want the Government to listen to the science on other issues as well, including on climate change. It is about time the Government stopped its ideological crusade whereby it rejects expert evidence across the board in a range of scientific areas, the most important of which is climate change.


COPP: So, would you like to see the Australian Government act on climate change with the same sort of rigor as we have on COVID-19 on the other side of this?


ALBANESE: Look, absolutely. And the thing about climate change is that it is not only a threat to our natural environment, it’s a threat to our economy. It is also a threat to our health. So, there are a range of advantages that getting clean energy and getting an approach to climate change presents for our health future. And Government need to prioritise this. Just because it’s not immediate doesn’t mean that we should ignore it. Indeed, we have a responsibility to future generations, as well as the current one, to act.


COPP: Mr Albanese, thank you very much.


ALBANESE: Thank you. Thanks for having me on the program.