ANTHONY ALBANESE – TRANSCRIPT – RADIO INTERVIEW – SOUNDS OF THE MOUNTAINS WITH DAVID EISENHAUER – WEDNESDAY, 20 MAY 2020
ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
LABOR CANDIDATE FOR EDEN-MONARO
SOUNDS OF THE MOUNTAINS WITH DAVID EISENHAUER
WEDNESDAY, 20 MAY 2020
SUBJECTS: Eden-Monaro by-election; bushfire recovery; Australia beyond the coronavirus.
DAVID EISENHAUER, HOST: Out on the local station from time to time we speak to our politicians, state, federal and local. We do a lot of local. But from time to time we talk federal politics. And of course, the by-election for the electorate of Eden-Monaro is on the way. And we have Anthony Albanese, Leader of the Australian Labor Party, joining us today in the studios. Thank you very much for your time.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning.
EISENHAUER: And of course, we have Kristy McBain joining us in the studios as well. A candidate for the by-election of Eden-Monaro. Thank you for your time today, Kristy.
KRISTY MCBAIN, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR EDEN-MONARO: No worries. Thanks for having me.
EISENHAUER: Now, your pathway through a tour of this side of the Eden-Monaro electorate, this is a big electorate and it is a big territory to cover, and an interesting one, it is the land of tourism and the land of apples and festivals and things. But that has all taken a back seat. And this is something that you would have recognised in your travels, a lot of preparations and plans made for what these few months could have been, a different story.
ALBANESE: Absolutely. And that is the thing about this area. It has been hit firstly by drought and then by the bushfires. When you could have expected it to pick up around March and over Easter, of course, the coronavirus has meant that none of that could happen either. So, today we have been everywhere from Tumbarumba at the timber mill, to looking at an orchard around Batlow. And Ian there is doing it pretty tough. He lost about 20 per cent of his trees. And just talking about how difficult it is to get the support that he needs to get back on his feet. And people are also doing it tough, I think, emotionally. It’s been a very traumatic experience for people to go through.
EISENHAUER: And you mentioned that emotional stress. And Kristy are you finding this down in your part of the electorate? The Bega district, that valley? You were hit by bushfires and in some towns far worse than anywhere else.
MCBAIN: Look, I think we’re seeing that right across the Eden-Monaro electorate. You know, there’s been fires up here, fires at Braidwood, close to Narooma there, and then fires right along the Bega Valley Shire. But I think that the hard part is for people, as I was talking to Ian at the orchard earlier, is, you know, seeing people have to explain and tell their story over and over again, so that people get a sense of understanding and a sense of why they’re doing it tough. Because this is a no ‘click your fingers, we are fixed tomorrow’ thing. Recovery is going to take months and years. And these people are going to need someone with a really strong voice and a really strong understanding of what the bushfires were, how it impacted people, and how the aftermath is going to take place over a number of years to come to really stand up and say, ‘I understand what they need’. And that’s why I want to be in Canberra is because I’ve seen it firsthand. I understand it. And I want to make sure that these people aren’t forgotten.
EISENHAUER: You’ve been through it.
MCBAIN: Been through it. Three bushfires in two years in the Bega Valley. And this one is obviously bigger than what we have ever seen before. And has impacted, I think, probably every industry right across Eden-Monaro in one way or another. So, if we don’t start to work on plans for how we make our economies more resilient into the future, if we don’t start to look at how we can streamline recovery, then this is going to have a huge devastating effect on all of our regional economies.
EISENHAUER: Indeed. And for some time to come from a Federal point of view, which we are talking about today. We throw into that mix, Mr Albanese, COVID-19. And that throws a whole different aspect. We thought we were coming out of the fires and recovery was underway and suddenly we are hit with this.
ALBANESE: That’s right. And you look at the industries that this area depends upon. Tourism is obviously a big industry. So, for mainly around the sort of summer months in the inner areas in the winter months around the snowy, tourism is a year-round industry that has an impact. And, of course, it’s just been devastated. And indeed, in Cooma a couple of weeks ago they were worried about people actually coming in to the area. So, it’s that really difficult position that people are in. The orchard is going to cop the brunt for years to come to recover. Ian was telling us today that if he orders new trees, they come in 2022 and start to bear fruit in 2023/24. So, you’re talking about a considerable period of time where people have lost. At Tumbarumba, at the timber mill there, they are basically using the logs that were burnt and damaged, but they’re doing their best to make sure that they maximise the output from that product. But they’re going to have to, for supply, look at timber that’s a much greater distance away. And that increases costs. And that’s why they are after some practical help for the freight. They employ 230 people. The agriculture sector, Batlow is just known for apples and other fruit. And the impact is enormous. So, whether you look at the sort of primary production manufacturing or you look at tourism, the whole area has been really hit hard. And the coronavirus just has added to on top of the drought firstly and then bushfires.
EISENHAUER: How do you think the current Government has handled this so far? Would the Labor Party have been more prepared? There’s some talk around, particularly as we are going towards an election, we could have been more prepared in some areas.
ALBANESE: Look, there’s no doubt that that’s the case. And the warnings were there, very clearly, about how severe the bushfire season was going to be. And you had the former fire chiefs begging for a meeting with the Government and they couldn’t get one. I wrote to the Prime Minister and suggested a range of practical measures, including increased aerial firefighting capacity, use of the Defence Force, a COAG meeting to get better coordination from the Commonwealth and state and local governments. A range of practical proposals. And they were ignored. On aerial firefighting, we had an announcement last week. But it shouldn’t have taken a by-election to get that announcement. The business case was completed more than 18 months ago. And very clearly, it’s something that should have happened. And there should have been that preparation in place. So, I do think that there was an element of complacency. And then of more concern is that there’s an element to which people have been, and communities, have been forgotten with the coronavirus. The attention has gone away from the bushfire community so that, for example, tourism funding that was allocated for the bushfire communities has been reallocated interstate because the coronavirus hit. Well, surely that should have been additional money, not taken from these communities.
EISENHAUER: How do you think, particularly with the way the Government’s been performing, Mr Albanese, on this instance with JobKeeper, the preservation of peoples’ incomes, that we can put a wrapper around it? We’re coming out of it, and there is talk of it coming to an end, people are starting to be concerned, people have raided their superannuation funds, which has been a real concern. That’s going to cost a lot of money down the track isn’t?
ALBANESE: It will. And my concern is the talk of snap-back, the idea that you have the impact of this crisis, which has been a health crisis, but which has had economic consequences, and that you wake up one morning and it’s all gone. There’s currently more than six million Australians getting their wages subsidised, $1,500 a fortnight and JobKeeper. The idea that you can just take that away without having a massive economic shock is, I think, frankly, just absurd. It fails common sense to suggest. And yet that is precisely what the Government is talking about. They’re talking about winding back JobSeeker payments back to half. So, back to where they were. Now, the reason why they were increased above $40 a day was because the Government acknowledged that it wasn’t enough to live on. If that was the case then, it’s surely the case now.
EISENHAUER: Isn’t that true? And more so in the regional centres we’re seeing that problem, we mentioned the agricultural sector who are a big employer in the region and the tourism sector as well. And Kristy, from where you work on the coastal areas as well. I mean, we’re seeing a lot of vision on the news about the effect this is having, and will have, Mr Albanese, say into the future. And it’s not just in the next few months. This is years.
MCBAIN: And it’s going to be years and years for regional communities like this, for the entire electorate of Eden-Monaro, who have been through disaster after disaster through no making of their own. We’ve had drought, bushfire and now COVID. And the message I get everywhere I go is that this isn’t going to be enough for us, that it’s not just about COVID for us. We still have issues where we have not even started the clean-up in some areas. In other areas, businesses who haven’t had foot traffic since the turn of 2020, not just over the last few weeks when COVID hit. We have still got farmers deeply impacted by drought. So, there are a number of things that are happening right across the Eden-Monaro where the Federal Government, I think, is letting down our regional communities and forgetting about them. I mean, small business is the lifeblood of regional communities. Agriculture is the lifeblood of these regional communities. Forestry workers. And these people are being forgotten in this process. And so, I want to make sure that this election is about these local issues. Because to us, it is local. It’s our everyday lives. It’s the people we work with. Our friends, our family, our schools. We want to make sure that these people are taken care of. And I don’t think that it is happening under the Morrison Government.
EISENHAUER: If the current Government comes in and takes the seat, that’s almost like a tick on a report card of how well things have been handled in this current situation, isn’t it, when you think about it?
ALBANESE: I think that is something that people need to think about when they cast their vote. If you think the Government is perfect and has done everything perfectly right, and was ready and prepared for the bushfires, and for the impact on this community, then sure, if that is your view. But I think quite clearly that that’s not the case. And that’s why I think it is really important that people take the opportunity that they have to send a message that it’s not good enough just to be complacent when we approach a bushfire season like we did that had an impact on Eden-Monaro that was more than any electorate in Australia, but of course also impacted Queensland, north coast New South Wales, Blue Mountains, Victoria, Kangaroo Island, the Adelaide Hills. I worked every day over the Christmas and New Year period, just traveling around trying to do my bit in terms of those communities, or regional communities, just talking to people, providing practical assistance where we could. There were communities who needed, one place I went to, they had lots of people volunteering and giving them things, but they had nowhere to store it and it was hot. So, they needed fridges. And we got some fridges donated from Woolworths just with a couple of calls because governments weren’t doing it.
EISENHAUER: Little stuff like that is easy to achieve.
ALBANESE: Little stuff that, you know, makes an enormous difference. And I think that ongoing to, the mental health impacts, as well, for people who’ve been through this trauma, really need that ongoing support.
EISENHAUER: In a big way. You’re on a fairly strict time schedule. You’re due to be traveling to the other media outlets in the region very shortly. But Kristy, before we go, some closing comments from you, and you and I are going to be talking quite often during this by-election.
MCBAIN: Look, for us, regional communities, we don’t actually ask for a lot. A $30,000 upgrade to our sports fields and we’re happy. A $10,000 assistance with getting the P&C getting some new equipment at the school. It’s never a lot for regional communities. And we’re always grateful for whatever we receive. Right now, we need to send a message loud and clear that we need more. We can’t just accept the little bits and pieces that get doled out to us every now and then. We’ve been through a lot over these last few months. Our regional communities need help at the moment. And if we don’t provide lifelines and assistance into regional areas like Tumut, Tumba, to Adelong, to Batlow, then we’re going to see regional economy start to fail. And we can’t have that. Because we know once you’re in a regional community, you get that sense of community and you don’t want to leave it. Or if you do leave it, you want to come back to it. Because once you are here, you are here for life. So, we can’t let our regional economies fail. And I want to make sure that I’m seeing that loud and clear in Canberra that we need money here to support our industries, to support our residents to stay in the places they want to stay and be here for life. So, I want to be that voice to make sure that regional Australia and the Eden-Monaro in particular does not miss it.
EISENHAUER: A big journey, Kristy. An exciting journey ahead.
MCBAIN: A big and exciting journey. I’ve travelled around, and I’ve spoken to residents and local businesses, and I think people are really keen on seeing politics done a little bit differently. I’ve done that since I’ve been the Mayor of Bega Valley. I have been a little bit different in how I approach things. So, I want to bring that, I think, that renewed sense of being truly local to your electorate back.
EISENHAUER: Indeed. And we look forward to that too, Kristy. Mr Albanese?
ALBANESE: It’s always great to talk with you. I look forward to having discussions not just during the by-election. campaign but beyond. It’s a critical time. I gave a speech in Canberra on Monday before Parliament came back about how we need to not just have an idea that we’ll go back to what is there, but we have an opportunity to hit the reset button and to have an Australia that is more secure. That really takes the spirit of ‘we’re all in this together’ that we’ve seen during the coronavirus. And indeed, we saw during the bushfires in terms of that spirit of looking after neighbours and each other. That needs to be reinforced and it is something that I admire about regional communities is that they do that each and every day. Perhaps in the capital cities, we don’t do that enough. So, I want that to be the spirit. And we’re getting through the coronavirus because we’re listening to the science and the experts. We should do that every day and on issues like climate change and other issues as well.
EISENHAUER: Very, very important. And we’ll come out of this with a ski season, hopefully, for our operators in the mountains as well. And also, of course, with a bright future. Thank you both very much for your time on the station today. Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese, thank you for your time. And, of course, the Mayor Bega, candidate for the by-election, which isn’t that far away, Kristy, thank you very much for your time as well.
MCBAIN: Thank you.
ALBANESE: Thanks for having us on.