Jun 26, 2020







SUBJECTS: Eden-Monaro by-election; Barton Highway upgrades; Yass hospital upgrades.


JOEL BAKER, HOST: Anthony, are you there?




BAKER: Thank you for joining us again. I spoke with you about a month ago and I just wanted to know, in that time, both yourself and Kristy McBain have been doing a lot of travelling around throughout the electorate. How has it been with this new era of social distancing? How have you found the travelling going and how has your reception been?


ALBANESE: Look, it has been quite difficult because it has been more talking to people in just groups of one, or two, or three, or using radio to communicate directly to people. We can’t have town hall meetings or candidate forums, the usual activity that would take place during an election campaign. But I must say that people are very engaged, people around Yass are very engaged about the Barton Highway and the need to upgrade it, the need to have support for a maternity wing at the hospital so that women aren’t giving birth by the side of the road. They are concerned about the jobs issues and that people have been left behind, particularly when JobKeeper is due to be withdrawn in now less than 100 days.


BAKER: Well, at least you are getting out there and getting amongst it. It must be a challenge. I wanted to speak briefly about that JobKeeper scheme. As you just mentioned, it is planned to be scrapped by September and will go to the pre-COVID ways. Do you think that move, combined with the latest announcement to raise the cost of some uni degrees, would be incentive for people to re-enter the workforce, or further their education? Do you think it would put them under increased financial pressure?


ALBANESE: Well, look, the truth is the unemployment rate is now 11.3 per cent and is expected to rise. The truth is, there’s a lot more people who are going to be looking for work than work that is available. And the concern here is that the Government has received the report now on the state of the economy, but they are keeping it a secret until after the by-election. And that’s because they plan to decrease the JobSeeker payments back to $40 a day, that they themselves admitted, when they increased it, frankly just isn’t enough for people to live on. They plan to cut JobKeeper which will have a devastating impact on the economy, the idea that we just snap back to what was there before is really short-sighted. We actually need a transition back to employment. And that requires a transition, not this brutal cutting off that the Government’s going to implement. They’ve already cut childcare workers from JobKeeper. So, I’m very concerned about what happens in coming months once we get to September. And that’s a concern that is reflected when I have been talking to people and Kristy’s been talking to people in Eden-Monaro, is that they are concerned about the uncertainty that is there, whether it be small business or whether it be people who have been relying upon JobKeeper to keep their jobs.


BAKER: Post-COVID will be an interesting time. Whether or not it can go back to the way it was remains to be seen.


ALBANESE: It actually is an opportunity, I think, to go forward to something that’s improved. People have had the opportunity to think about the nature of work. Some people will be able to work from home. And I expect many more people than were working from home before COVID-19 hit will stay working from home. But we need also to look at ways in which we can improve the quality of life for people. We’re getting through this pandemic because we are working together. There is that sense of cooperation. That defines, from my perspective, what it means to be Australian. We believe in mateship and the fair go. And I don’t want more people to be left behind. There’s already been too many people left behind in the current circumstances. Casual workers, people in the arts and entertainment sector have been forgotten by this Government.


BAKER: Yes, it certainly impacted quite a lot of people. I know your time is valuable this morning, so I’ll just briefly talk about the Barton Highway again, you mentioned it earlier. I see it’s made the news again this week, possibly not for the best reasons. The Member for Canberra asked the Prime Minister for acknowledgment that the situation of women giving birth on the side of the road was unacceptable. And he replied with the amount of money the Government has committed to be spent on the road. Do you think that was an appropriate response? Or perhaps the point was lost?


ALBANESE: It was an extraordinary response from the Prime Minister that showed that he didn’t get either issue. Either the issue of women giving birth by the side of the road, I mean, the idea of having a birthing lane was really what he was suggesting. It was just a bizarre response. And he was stopped halfway through the answer because people were laughing because they were incredulous at it. He was told by people behind him what the question was and he continued on that course. It was really a conscious decision by him to speak about upgrades for the highway as a solution rather than maternity hospitals, to having a maternity ward at Yass hospital, which Labor has committed to. But then also, with regard to the highway, of course, this Government has been there for seven years and they haven’t done any significant work on the Barton Highway. They’ve now committed less money than Labor has committed at the last general election and we have confirmed in this by-election that there would be $250 million from Labor, if we’re elected, to upgrade the highway. It’s a clear priority. There is something like three and a half thousand people who travel every day from Yass into Canberra for work from the region, and Murrumbateman. And there’s also, of course, it is a major freight route. I’ve travelled that route many times over the years, but particularly in the last period, and it’s not a great experience to be on a highway with a big truck in front of you and a big truck behind you. It does need full duplication and that’s what Kristy McBain is committed to doing.


BAKER: It’s a busy road. I think at its peak about 12 or 13,000 vehicles a day. And I think most people would agree that duplication is the way to go. There might be some that don’t think that, but for the most part, that’s the obvious way to go. But that wasn’t the question, the question was whether or not it’s acceptable for women to give birth on the side of the road. So, I guess they are two separate issues.


ALBANESE: Absolutely. And it is completely unacceptable, which is why we had Chris Bowen in Yass just yesterday, our Health Shadow Minister, with Kristy McBain confirming our position that we took to the last election, that was announced by Mike Kelly, that we support funding and we’ll provide a contribution for a maternity wing at Yass Hospital. One of the women who was at the press conference yesterday, she actually gave birth in the back of her car. That’s unacceptable in 2020. We’re an advanced nation, we can do much better than that. And it’s not the way to begin any life. People deserve to give birth on a bed in a hospital, not in the back of a car.


BAKER: It’s not ideal. I appreciate your time this morning, Mr Albanese. It’s just gone nine o’clock. I mean, there’s a lot of things we could go into. There’s JobKeeper, the response to COVID-19, the bushfire response, there’s many issues on the table. Polling opens in less than two weeks now. Thanks again for your time this morning.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much. Great to talk with you.