May 14, 2020







SUBJECTS: Australia beyond coronavirus; ABS Labour Force data; unemployment/underemployment; people missing out on support from the Government during COVID-19; issues with JobKeeper; Australia’s relationship with China.


LEIGH SALES, HOST: With me live in the Sydney studio and following social distancing and hygiene measures is the Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese. Thank you for coming in.




SALES: I want to come to China shortly but today we learned 600,000 Australians lost their jobs already in this crisis. More than half the remaining workforce is on welfare in some form with JobKeeper or JobSeeker. We currently have 17 people in hospital with COVID-19 and a reproduction rate of less than 1 per cent. Is it time now to treat it as an economic crisis, not as a health one?


ALBANESE: Well, if we don’t continue to listen to the medical advice, it will quickly both become, exacerbated. Throughout the crisis when the governments have got it right is when they listened to the science, not try to second guess it, treat the health crisis first and then deal with the economic consequences of the health crisis.


SALES: Do you think state governments are striking the right pace in lifting restrictions?


ALBANESE: Look, I think they are. It is important, given the structure the way the pandemic is being dealt with that we don’t have mixed messages. The Commonwealth message is pretty simple, which is that it is up to the states. Now, it is not surprising that Victoria and NSW, which have the most number of infections, have been the first for push for larger restrictions. And they have been the slowest at lifting those restrictions. What we can’t afford to do is what has happened in some other jurisdictions of lifting the restrictions and then having to put them back. That would provide a real shock to the economy as well as, of course, endangering people’s health.


SALES: Are you and your talking to people, members of the public, getting any sense from them of urgency that they feel a sense of urgency towards seeing restrictions lifted? What is the mood?


ALBANESE: Of course, no-one wants this not to happen. I’m a bit of a rugby league fan, as you know, Leigh. All my friends want to see Souths running around again and see AFL or netball. People want to catch up with their mates and family and friends. And I think for many people these restrictions have been more difficult than for others. For grandparents who haven’t been able to hug their grandkids for a couple of months, that’s tough. But the restrictions have been necessary. We have flattened the curve. And we’ve been very careful, Leigh, as well, during this, to be constructive and not play politics. I think our actions stand in stark contrast to the actions of, say, the Victorian Liberal Opposition.


SALES: The Government’s saying that it will evaluate the JobKeeper plan at the end of June to see what tweaks are needed. At this point, what do you think should be refined?


ALBANESE: Well, I think quite clearly there are some inequities there. On the one hand, people with a part-time job working their way through uni earning $150 a week and all of a sudden earning $750 a week. And at the same time casual employees just missing out altogether. There are whole sectors that have missed out, the arts and entertainment sector. And dnata workers, they used to be work for a company called Qantas, Qantas Catering, working with airline food and products, and this Government approved the foreign takeover of those companies, they have been doing the same job but suddenly missed out on JobKeeper after being told originally that they would be eligible.


SALES: Do you reckon if you ironed out the situation where people are getting paid more than what a they were previously earning, that would be enough to cover arts workers and casuals, or would you need more money thrown at it?


ALBANESE: When you look at the arts and entertainment sector they deserve a special package of their own. The sort of people, probably some of whom are working in this studio. It is not just people like, people think of yourself and artists, when we talk about the sector, it is the camera operators, the producers, the stage hands. They need some support. Because this is the very sector that saw us through when the bushfire crisis happening, were volunteering their time and talent to help their fellow Australians. Now at the moment, they feel abandoned.


SALES: You’ve described this situation as a once-in-a-lifetime, political opportunity, to reshape Australia. When you look at the economy, specifically when it comes to tax and tax reform, what sort of things should we be looking at?


ALBANESE: What we shouldn’t be doing, Leigh, is just snap-back, which is what the Government is talking about, to what was there before. Insecure work. People living in poverty. The circumstance where we didn’t listen to science when it comes to climate change. During this period, there’s an opportunity, I think, to both create and think about a better Australia, not just to what was there before. And part of that means a tax system will be part of that but an industrial system whereby there’s work being paid equally for work of equal value. At the moment, you’ve got the increased casualisation and insecurity that people feel at work I think has really been exposed during this crisis.


SALES: But then the flip side of that might be that a lot of people were enjoying the flexibility of that kind of work as well?


ALBANESE: Sure, and flexibility is a great thing. What is not good if you have two people working next to each other doing the same work on the same conditions, but one doesn’t have annual leave, doesn’t have any sick leave, isn’t getting paid the same as the person they are working next to just because they’re hired by a labour hire company which is essentially a cost minimisation scheme to get around the awards which are there. Now, we need to think about permanent work. Yes, it needs to be flexible. But it also needs to be fair and we also need to think about the fact that bargaining at the moment isn’t working for employers, because we had productivity going backwards for two quarters before this crisis, last year, in 2019. And at the same time, wages have been stagnant. The figures this week were appalling with regard to wages in the previous quarter, so not related to the coronavirus.


SALES: Just on the situation with China declining to take meat and barley from Australia, what is your suggestion to resolve that ASAP?


ALBANESE: Well, I think we need a mature response to the issues. Australia is right quite to say that, just as if we have a death in this country that is unexplained we have a coronial inquiry. Here we have 300,000 deaths. There is nothing remarkable about saying, ‘Well, we need to know what the cause of that is’. Not as an academic exercise but so that we can ensure it never happens again. It isn’t an attack on China and shouldn’t be seen at that. I think the debate isn’t helped by having some of the Government backbenchers, George Christensen, on the rare visit to Australia, making the comments he had that are deliberately provocative. I want to hear more from the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and senior members. And they should be out there talking about a complex but important relationship for Australia.


SALES: Anthony Albanese, thank you.


ALBANESE: Thanks, Leigh.