Aug 18, 2020







SUBJECTS: Opposition during the coronavirus pandemic; aged care crisis; superannuation; Victorian coronavirus outbreak; paid pandemic leave; corporations paying for Australian news content.


HOST: We start the hour with the Federal Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese. Albo, good morning to you.




HOST: Good to have you back, Albo. It’s been a while. It’s been a crazy five months. What’s life like in opposition during a pandemic?


ALBANESE: Look, it’s tough. It’s tough for all Australians, I think. But it’s not politics as usual, of course. People want the country to succeed because they know that a spread of infection could impact their own health and they want also to minimise the impact on the economy. So, it hasn’t been politics as usual, but we’ve been doing our best to be constructive, by being supportive of the Government where we can, but also pointing out weaknesses in areas like aged care, which has seen some devastating impacts. And we have been pointing out problems that are there with superannuation. There are reports today that 30,000 South Australians have withdrawn all of their super, that will have an impact on their retirement incomes but also weaken the economy.


HOST: Has the Federal Government done enough heavy lifting when it comes to trying to salvage the economy? And I guess I’m thinking in a proportion of GDP way, have they spent enough?


ALBANESE: Well, I don’t think it’s a matter of the amount of the spending, it’s a matter of some of the quality of the spending and the gap that is there between what they say the impact will be and what the impact has actually been. In areas like HomeBuilder, it hasn’t seen a dollar out the door yet. And we saw that more as a photo-op rather than as something that was going to have a big impact. We’ve argued that the easiest way to actually make a difference in terms of jobs and economic activity is to provide support for social housing, for either new housing which is required, or to renovate existing housing. That’s something that we did when we were in Government with 20,000 new social housing units and 80,000 repairs and fixing up what were houses that basically needed some renovation work. That’s a way to create jobs directly. It worked during the Global Financial Crisis. And we still think that that’s something the Government needs to look at.


HOST: Albo, there’s obviously been a lot of criticism directed at the Andrews Government. There’s the inquiry underway into the handling of the private security guards. The Herald Sun is reporting today that 99 per cent of cases of community infection can be traced back to that. But one part of the Victorian landscape is the aged care situation and we’ve seen a much higher number of infections in aged care facilities that are meant to be overseen and operated by the Commonwealth than we have in state aged care. What more should Canberra be doing on the aged care front?


ALBANESE: Look, they should be doing a lot more. They are responsible for it. Inexplicably, it’s the case that there has actually been cuts to nursing and care hours in some nursing homes across a number of states. There aren’t sufficient numbers of nursing staff and other staff with the right skills. We have still got weaknesses in personal protective equipment. The stories of nurses and other carers having to use just one glove at a time because they’re trying to save on the equipment is just quite frankly absurd. The other issue, of course, is paid pandemic leave. We continue to hear reports of people who are going to work who should not be going to work because they don’t feel like they’ve got any other alternative in terms of income support. And that is something that has really got to be looked at as well.


HOST: If we did have paid pandemic leave, how would that be funded? Would that be something where you think the Feds should just dip into their pockets and say, ‘We are going to stump up for that’?


ALBANESE: Look, some private sector organisations are doing that, and all credit to the companies that are. But where there’s a gap, then the Federal Government should have been prepared to step in. A number of state governments are doing that, providing some income support. The ACT Government today has announced that they are joining that group of governments that are stepping in because the Federal Government hasn’t stepped up. Because it’s a threat, of course, not just to the individual worker but that worker then has the potential to spread the infection around and to add to the community transmission.


HOST: Should the Federal Government press on with their promise to increase the super rate to 12 per cent by 2025?


ALBANESE: Absolutely. The Federal Government doesn’t like industry super. They just don’t like it. They never supported it, they undermine it at every opportunity, and it’s been undermined during this pandemic, during this crisis. But the fact is that there is no evidence that superannuation actually leads to lower wages. The opposite is the case. When it was introduced with productivity benefits, what we saw was…


HOST: The basis for that isn’t in the middle of a pandemic, though, is it?


ALBANESE: Well sure. But the fact is that the Federal Government has put off the increase twice. Twice they have gone to elections and said there won’t be any change, and twice they’ve broken that commitment during this term of this Coalition Government, or since they’ve been elected in 2013. Now, they went to the last election saying there’d be no changes. There shouldn’t be. This is about people’s retirement income. It is also about a savings pool that is a ballast for the national economy. Without those funds in superannuation, our economy during this pandemic would have been far worse off.


HOST: But fundamentally you don’t believe that asking employers to contribute more will have an inverse relationship with how much people get paid?


ALBANESE: No, I don’t.


HOST: So, you think people can get paid more and get more super over the next four or five years?


ALBANESE: Well, the fact is that employers have been told this is happening, this is a legislated increase, and it is factored in. Of course, superannuation is treated in terms of tax arrangements. It is something that we all pay for, by the way. So that when all those funds have been withdrawn from superannuation accounts, and there’s $1.6 billion of those 30,000 people in South Australia, for example, some of that we’re all paying for. Because it has got concessional tax treatment. That was the deal that was done way back in the 1980s and 90s by the Hawke and Keating Governments that made such a positive difference to our national economy and a positive difference to people being able to retire with some dignity.


HOST: What’s your message, Albo, to every South Australian today that logs on to Google or YouTube and sees a warning from those internet giants that Australians can expect dramatically worse services if the Federal Government follows through with plans to make them pay for Australian news content?


ALBANESE: That’s self-interest from those corporations.


HOST: Good message. Does the draft code go far enough?


ALBANESE: I think it’s a reasonable proposition. We’ll have a look at all of the detail there. But this is an ongoing issue. And I spoke about this in my, I think it was my third vision statement back in December of last year, about the media and about the landscape that is there. And the fact is that you’re paid for presenting this content on FiveAA, the newspapers that you read, people are paid. There’s no reason why people, major corporations that are globally based that by and large don’t pay a hell of a lot of tax here in Australia, should get free content off the back of content that’s got to be produced. Someone’s going to pay for it somewhere. And the fact is that this is one of the issues that has undermined mainstream media which is so important. We are seeing newspapers disappearing. I’m a bit old-fashioned, I like touching the paper and actually reading it, not just looking at it online. And these issues have to be confronted and have to be dealt with honestly. And the corporations involved in those ads should be honest as well. They’re about defending their own interests, that’s fair enough. That’s what corporations will do.


HOST: Anthony Albanese, great to catch up with you again. Thanks for joining us and we’ll do it again soon.


ALBANESE: Thanks, guys.