Oct 28, 2020







SUBJECTS: Labor’s childcare policy; contact tracing; voluntary assisted dying; Rewiring the Nation; Future Made in Australia; wage subsidies; JobSeeker.


AARON STEVENS, HOST: The Labor Leader and Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, joining us this morning. Thanks for your time.




STEVENS: You would have heard much of that conversation and we have been talking about contact tracing and some of the issues around that and how it’s recorded by businesses and how it’s kept this morning. Should there have been a national approach for some of these issues?


ALBANESE: There should have been. It should have been worked through in a more consistent way. And I think it’s unfortunate that the app, frankly, hasn’t worked in a much wider way. That would have been obviously much simpler than people recording their details. But as the owner of the cafe just said, overwhelmingly, people have been prepared to engage, whether it be on their phone or whether it be writing down their details and contacts. And by and large, that’s just one of the ways in which the Australian people have really risen to the challenge. And as that woman said, only one person had refused to give their details. And that’s a pretty common story. By and large, people have realised this is a very real health threat and that we need to work together.


STEVENS: Not just on contact tracing, even public health advice on borders, I mean, it seems like we’re multiple different countries at the moment, we’ve all got very different directions.


ALBANESE: I think the National Cabinet stopped functioning as a national body some months ago. And by and large, these meetings in which the Premiers tell each other what they’re doing and then it’s announced, there’s a press conference by the Prime Minister, and I think it would have been much better if there was more uniformity, obviously, from place to place. There’s been different levels of infections. Victoria particularly has been impacted. So, there was a need for some differences in terms of the restrictions that were placed. But I do think that things could have been simpler if there had been more cooperation and less sniping, I guess, which has occurred over some of the issues like borders. Tasmania made a very early decision, of course, to close the borders until December 1. It’s good that’s been brought forward and that people from my state of New South Wales, I think you’re going to be able to visit Tassie after November 6. And that’s a good thing. I have a long-time booked holiday in Tasmania in December. It has been postponed a couple of times, so I was very much hoping that I would be able to go. And it looks as though that’s the case.


STEVENS: Good to hear. I mean, it’s even confusion, I mentioned this, about restrictions, about public health advice around restrictions. We were discussing this yesterday. In Tasmania currently, you can’t stand up and have a drink. The advice is two square metres. In South Australia, it’s two square metres and you can stand up and drink. I mean, this confusing and conflicting public health advice from state to state, it frustrates people.


ALBANESE: It does. And it’s understandable. I’m obviously in a position whereby I’m very careful to follow instructions. Because I certainly don’t want it to be a political issue. Plus, we should always follow the advice. And it has changed so often that it is difficult for people. But Australians are doing their best. And I think the outcome in Victoria this week has been very good news, not just for Victorians, but for everyone around the nation. Obviously, they are the state that’s closest to Tassie there. And that border being opened would make a big difference. Tasmania relies upon tourism so much from the north island. And the fact that borders have been closed placed real hardship on Tasmanians.


STEVENS: Absolutely. A few things I want to get your thoughts on this morning. First of all, voluntary assisted dying is a big issue at the moment. It’s going through the upper house; a decision is likely to be passed in a positive as of Friday. It was a couple of weeks ago that they held a national referendum on it in New Zealand. Should this be a Federal issue?


ALBANESE: Well, it has been a matter for the states, of course. It was considered by the National Parliament when the Andrews’ Bill, which overturned the Northern Territory legislation, was introduced. It would be better, once again, if we got more uniformity. The concern will be that there’ll be different regimes in different states potentially. And that it will be difficult to understand and navigate for people. This is not a simple issue. I voted against the Andrews’ Bill when it came before the Parliament. I think it’s important that there be a conscience vote on issues like this. I came to the view of support for voluntary euthanasia with very strict controls around it to make sure that people truly were conscious about the decisions that they were making. But it was a very difficult decision that I had to grapple with all those years ago. And I’m sure that the Tasmanian parliamentarians are grappling with their conscience as well.


STEVENS: We have come a long way since though, haven’t we?


ALBANESE: We have. And I think that there is a recognition that in some circumstances, when people are really, really suffering, what occurs, of course, is that in some circumstances they are dealt with in an unregulated way. And dealing with this openly and having these discussions are important discussions for families to have as well.


STEVENS: Absolutely. You’ve sent through some numbers on local childcare fee rises for the 12 months to March 2020 from the Department of Education. So, the CPI increases only 2.2 per cent, but all Tassie figures are above that with a few standing out. Launceston is well above five and Devonport even more so 8.9 per cent. Concerning figures.


ALBANESE: Well, they are. And families are really struggling. So many families, you hear them say, ‘It’s good that we’re better off now because my child has gone to primary school’. And that shouldn’t be the case. There’s no rational reason why a five-year-old gets looked after, but if you have a four or a three-year-old, that’s not the case. It holds back women’s workforce participation. The fact that if women want to work, or need to work, a fourth or fifth day, often 80-90, sometimes more than 100 per cent, sometimes it costs more to work than it does to stay at home. Now that doesn’t make sense when families are really struggling to get by. And we do have one of the highest costs of childcare in the world. We need to have reform. And it was the centrepiece of my Budget Reply was reform to remove the cap, to increase the subsidy to 90 per cent and to phase it out in a straight line so it’s far simpler, the way that applies. This is good policy. It would be for children. We know that the human brain develops 90 per cent of its capacity in the first five years. It will be good for working women and for families in terms of being able to get by. But also good for our national economy. This would have a major impact on lifting productivity. And that’s why our Working Family Childcare Boost, I’m very proud of. It is about putting more money into the pockets of working families.


STEVENS: Most people would agree that it’s a good scheme, but how do you pay for something of that size?


ALBANESE: Well, one of the things that all of the studies have shown, including since the policy that we announced, you’ve had independent bodies like the Grattan Institute, examine it. Every study shows that for every dollar spent on childcare, there is a growth contribution of more than double that, of more than $2. And that’s because of the impact on productivity on the workforce and on the national economy. And that, of course, feeds back into revenue and growth in the future. We need to look at the pandemic and the recovery, and not just in my view for how we return to how things were, but how do we improve? How do we become a stronger, more resilient economy in the future? And that’s why the two things I had as my centrepieces were childcare and a Future Made in Australia, really building up manufacturing, having the national energy grid actually function for the 21st century rather than the way that it is essentially built for the last century, so that things like the interconnector there across Bass Strait is part of what we need to do. We know the impact that it had when there was a disruption there with a massive increase in wholesale prices there in Tasmania. We need to do much better.


STEVENS: So, what else makes up your Rewiring the Nation plan?


ALBANESE: Well, what we’ve done is look at the Australian Energy Market Operator. They’ve done a considerable study looking at what they call their Integrated System Plan. And it essentially is how do you have a truly national energy grid that allows renewables, including hydro, to feed into the grid and power it? They have the blueprints there that includes the Basslink and includes Snowy Hydro connection, New South Wales-Queensland connections. And what it would do is to, essentially, for a small investment relative to the benefit, enable the full integration of the full capacity of the growing renewables sector. It would unlock its potential and lead to a lowering of energy prices that would assist our manufacturing, would assist households also to lower their prices. If you look at when Basslink went down in December 2015, for that six months, we had an extraordinary increase. Tasmania wholesale power prices went up to $250 per megawatt, and compared with $37, which is what it is or what it was last month. And that just shows that we actually need a proper system. The Energy Market Operator is saying this. This isn’t something that’s been done, it shouldn’t be party-political, in my view, we should just get it done.


STEVENS: There hasn’t been enough action on power prices.


ALBANESE: Absolutely. And our power prices have an impact on households. But they also have an impact on our competitiveness. Yesterday, there was another discussion paper released about making sure that Australians had fair access to the gas, which, of course, is ours. Why is it that you can buy Australian gas cheaper overseas than you can buy it here? It makes no sense at all.


STEVENS: No, crazy. Just while I have got you this morning, the Reserve Bank is saying that we’re out of recession through the growth we’ve seen in the last quarter. What are your thoughts on that?


ALBANESE: It’s not surprising given the extent to which the economy dropped was substantial, the largest quarterly drop we have seen for a long period of time. But many Australians still will feel like they are recession. Sometimes these technical figures don’t tell the real story, which is unemployment, we’re still expecting, according to the Budget figures, to rise by another 160,000 people between now and Christmas. We need to not be complacent. We need to look at immediate job creation. We have proposed, for example, improving the funding for maintenance of social housing. This is an immediate way to give jobs to tradies and to support the economy. But also measures like Rewiring the Nation, like childcare reform, in order to get that long-term economic growth that we need.


STEVENS: What are you saying to the Government about what should happen with JobSeeker when it ends in March?


ALBANESE: JobKeeper ends in March. We are saying that it shouldn’t have been cut at the moment. We think that in terms of while unemployment has continued to rise and the rationale for supporting businesses with wage subsidies is still very much there. We argued, of course, very early on for wage subsidies before the Government adopted it. And we then welcomed it when they changed their position. We say with JobSeeker, in terms of unemployment benefits, that it shouldn’t be allowed to go back to $40 a day. Quite clearly, the Government acknowledged that wasn’t enough to live on. And we’re a country that’s strong enough to not have people living in poverty.


STEVENS: Isn’t it a shame when we receive phone calls through this program from people who say, ‘Right now I can actually afford to eat’?


ALBANESE: We need to do better than that as a country. And the fact that I have charities in my electorate, one run by Reverend Bill Crews, he is a bit of a national figure. And the queues there have been growing. Over the years I’ve volunteered there. And one of the things that I’ve seen there is the change whereby it used to be the homeless and the destitute, what we have increasingly, and Bill tells me this, is families who are just doing it tough on unemployment, queuing to get a meal because they can’t afford an essential of life of three meals a day. And that’s really not good enough.


STEVENS: It’s not. And that’s why we need a decision on what’s going to happen with JobSeeker going forward as soon as possible to give these people some hope.


ALBANESE: That’s right. And some comfort. I think it is very cruel. The Prime Minister was asked a question yesterday about this in the Parliament. I think it is very cruel to say, ‘We’re going to tell you in December what the rate will be at the end of December’. That’s not giving people any comfort in the lead-up to Christmas.


STEVENS: Not at all. Appreciate your time this morning. Thank you very much.


ALBANESE: Thank you very much, Aaron.


STEVENS: Federal Labor Leader and Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, joining us on Tasmania Talks.