Aug 27, 2020








SUBJECTS: Aged care crisis; Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic; Belt and Road Initiative; foreign policy; Victorian coronavirus outbreak.


BRIAN CARLTON, HOST: The Labor Leader joins me now. Good morning. How are you?




CARLTON: That’s good. You’re doing a bit of a Press Club speech today where you’re going to outline, I understand, an eight-point plan into aged care. You got a bit of a hard act to follow after yesterday, don’t you, with China’s Deputy Ambassador Wang Xining?


ALBANESE: I didn’t watch the Chinese Deputy Ambassador, I’ve got to say.


CARLTON: Okay. It was worth having a look at if you get a chance to. So, you will be revealing what Labor’s ultimate eight-point plan for aged care today? Is my understanding correct?


ALBANESE: I will be raising three issues. And one of them is the issue of aged care throughout this crisis. One of the things that I’ve sought to do as Labor Leader is to be constructive, to put forward practical proposals. And today I will be proposing an eight-point plan that the Government could implement. Things such as minimum staffing requirements, something that is essential, something that has been identified as an issue already by the interim report of the Royal Commission that came down last October, Brian. And it’s no wonder you’ve been talking about it for months, because this has been an issue for some time. That’s why we’re having a Royal Commission.


CARLTON: It just seems specifically that our coronavirus response in the aged care sector, and I’ve used this term a few times recently, is a little bit undercooked.


ALBANESE: Absolutely. Look, they were always going to be identified. And the Royal Commission pointed out that in January and February when we saw the outbreak, particularly in Europe, we saw the fact that it was older people who were particularly vulnerable, and the aged care facilities were vulnerable. We should have learned some of the lessons that were going on there. And, of course, we then had Dorothy Henderson Lodge in New South Wales in March and then Newmarch House in April. Now, both of those produced reports, which not only weren’t released at the time, but weren’t acted upon. So, we have the Royal Commissioners themselves saying that many of these issues could have been avoided had the Government and the regulatory authorities and, of course, they were all federal, be acted sooner. And one of the other recommendations that I’m proposing today is that we give increased resources to the Royal Commission, so they can look at what happened with COVID-19 in the aged care response. I think that we need to look at a whole range of measures including the inspection regime. I’ve been meeting with aged care workers but also families of residents in Sydney. And one of the things that I find just beyond belief is that when you have an inspection of these facilities, quite often, the facility gets a call, ‘G’day, Brian, I’ll be there next Tuesday. Guess what? You’ve got six days to get your act together’.


CARLTON: Except here in Tasmania, where oddly, and for reasons of apparently reducing the capacity for spreading the infection, there have not been any inspections of aged care facilities here in Tasmania for months.


ALBANESE: Well, I find that astonishing as well.


CARLTON: Actual physical inspections. I mean, there have been phone calls and the self-assess and sending of a report. That’s been going on. But no physical upfront on-the-spot checks. None.


ALBANESE: Look, there certainly is an issue re people going from facility to facility. But surely, there needs to be.


CARLTON: But isn’t that part of the problem? Anthony Albanese, one of the problems identified with the aged care sector in terms of transmission spread is the notion that many aged care sector workers work in multiple facilities. So, they work for a company that is providing services to a range of different actual physical locations. And they’re operating often between them. Any plan that doesn’t involve locking-in staff, and I don’t mean actually in a cell, but locking their employment to that one location only for the duration of this, anything that doesn’t include it, that’s going to fail, isn’t it?


ALBANESE: The whole workforce issue is fundamental to this. What you have is people doing difficult tasks, being paid, some of them, $19 an hour, having to work in multiple jobs. And, of course, therefore, if they pick up an infection in one place, they take it to place number two or workplace number three.


CARLTON: They’re not just aged care facilities either, Anthony Albanese. They are, in many cases, public hospitals, private hospitals, where they are doing rosters as well, if they are specialist staff. So, the potential there for any infection inside an aged care centre seems to not only run rampant through it, but to come back out into the community is very high. I just wonder why we’ve sort of collectively gone, ‘Well, this is sort of okay’, because it isn’t clearly.


ALBANESE: It’s not okay. And one of the things that we need to do, arising out of this pandemic, as we look towards the recovery, is look at things that have crept up over a period of time that simply aren’t working. And one of the issues is the over-casualisation of the workforce, insecurity at work. That is something that has really been exposed. One of the families of the residents said to me last week in Richmond in the Hawkesbury in New South Wales, ‘One of the things about a pandemic is that it is like an X-ray. It shows what’s broken’. And clearly, parts of our labour market and insecure work mean that’s just not working. It’s creating real issues for individual workers. But what has happened here is that it’s exposed some of the other risks that have happened due to that insecure work pattern.


CARLTON: Okay. Do you mind if we just segue off onto one other issue? There is a fairly significant announcement today, as you’d be very aware, by the Federal Government, that Federal oversight will, if these new laws get through the House, which we’ll get to in a second, which will enable the Federal Government to cast their eye over, and presumably reject, deals done between states such as the Victorian sign-up, or at least the memorandum of understanding on the Belt and Road Initiative, right down to city deals at council level. Will you support that push?


ALBANESE: Well, look, I think when it comes to foreign policy, it is the responsibility of the Federal Government. And I hope that the Federal Government, as part of this process, releases the signed document that Steve Ciobo signed with China relating to those issues as well. Because up to this point, we haven’t been able to get access to it.


CARLTON: That was part of a bilateral trade deal, wasn’t it?


ALBANESE: It was related specifically to very similar issues to BRI, which is the issues that the Government’s raising. And I’m also concerned that the Federal Government, and this isn’t in retrospect, at the time, I was Infrastructure Shadow Minister, the idea that we sold the Port of Darwin with a 99-year lease to any foreign government, I believe that it should have been kept in government hands.


CARLTON: No argument. In fact, I’ve linked the two things together earlier this morning. No seriously, did you ever back Daniel Andrews’ decision to get aboard the Belt and Road Initiative?


ALBANESE: Look, we have said that we would not sign up to that initiative.


CARLTON: Okay, so you believe the Victorian Premier has made an error here in doing this, in pursuing it?


ALBANESE: Well, it’s a decision for him. But as far as I’m concerned, I’ve said very clearly that we wouldn’t sign up to that initiative. I’ve said it explicitly, clearly. Can’t be clearer than that.


CARLTON: Okay. So, you will, in principle, support legislation that will hit the House in this area to give the Federal Government, so if you become Government, you then get that power to oversight some of these state and local government deals?


ALBANESE: Well, Brian, one of the things that I’ve learned is to have a look at legislation before I say I support it or I oppose it.




ALBANESE: We will have a look at the legislation, but I haven’t seen it yet, Brian, and nor have you.


CARLTON: That’s very true. That’s very true.


ALBANESE: No one has said anything about it in the Parliament. What we’ve got is a drop to the media, I suspect, because the Government wants to talk about something other than aged care. So, the drop to Parliament, normally you would have had a ministerial statement to the Parliament is how this should have occurred. It hasn’t occurred that way. So, we’ll seek an appropriate briefing. But in principle, the National Government should be in charge of our foreign policy. And one of the things that it should seek to do at all times is to protect Australia’s national interest.


CARLTON: Okay. One more. Just on Victoria for a second. The Victorian AMA, Australian Medical Association, is calling for a Royal Commission into what they described as a slow-motion car wreck in Victoria. Would you back that?


ALBANESE: I think we’re going to have substantial inquiries into the whole handling of the coronavirus, including what’s happening in Victoria. There’ll be inquiries of inquiries further into the Ruby Princess, because federal officials weren’t allowed to appear before that inquiry. I think that will happen as a matter of course. What I’m concerned about at this point, though, is how we put in place mechanisms that help us get through this crisis. And with the eight-point plan I’m proposing today for aged care, as well as raising issues such as, I’m very concerned about the Government’s proposal to freeze pensions and to have no increase for the first time in 23 years. I’m concerned that 600,000 people have had their superannuation accounts reduced to zero and about the impact that will have on our future economy.


CARLTON: They’ve chosen. They’ve chosen to do that, to be fair.


ALBANESE: And what they’ve done is stimulate the economy in the absence of support from the Government.


CARLTON: I understand. But it is a personal choice. One more quick one. The Victorian Premier’s attempt to have the state of emergency extended for another 12 months taking it to 18 months, massive pushback from all sorts of politics. Has he made a strategic error there, and perhaps a public error, just as Victoria appears to be emerging from the very worst of the second wave, he slaps that kind of downer on the population. People are literally freaking out by it, even though I know that it doesn’t lock it in for another year. Was he wrong in making that claim? Is he right to sort of pull back and get a more reasonable outcome?


ALBANESE: Well, I think that there will be a negotiated outcome there. Daniel Andrews made it clear. He saw it as an insurance policy, nothing more, nothing less. It drew it into line with some other states who had the capacity to do that.


CARLTON: The business community went into a flat panic.


ALBANESE: This did not mean any further restrictions at all. What it simply did was allow, as Daniel Andrews put it, an insurance policy so that you wouldn’t have to extend every month-by-month. Tasmania, for example, I know this because I intended to be in Tasmania in December, you closed the borders.


CARLTON: After the first, I take it.


ALBANESE: Until December the first. Yes, that’s right. Not that long after. And I had my air tickets booked, the private trip. And when I heard December, I did check that it was December One.


CARLTON: Subject to change, of course. I know we have a rolling arrangement here, but to flag a full 12 months, I just think it was just a PR disaster. It sends exactly the wrong message at exactly the wrong time. So, watering down something that was actually essential. It was either really important that he go through with it or he not water it down and wind it back which is what’s happening now.


ALBANESE: Well, it is not my decision.


CARLTON: No, I know. He’s from your side of the fence, though. Appreciate your time, Anthony. Thank you. Good luck today.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much.