Aug 25, 2020







SUBJECTS: Federal Government’s response to COVID-19; aged care crisis; National Cabinet; state border closures; Qantas.


LEIGH SALES, HOST: Federal Parliament has returned this week, the first time since June because of coronavirus restrictions. The key focus has been the aged care sector and its failures during the pandemic, resulting in more than 300 deaths. We invited the Aged Care Minister, Richard Colbeck, to join the program tonight, as we’ve done a number of times recently. He declined. But we will continue to ask each day. Instead, the Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, joined me from Parliament House a short time ago. Anthony Albanese, thanks for being with us.




SALES: What should be happened around the country so that if there are more coronavirus spikes we don’t see these aged care deaths and cases replicated?


ALBANESE: Well, it shouldn’t have taken until this week to set up an aged care national advisory body that was established only after the National Cabinet met last Friday. This is a Government playing catch-up. This is a Government that should be listening to the comments of the Aged Care Royal Commission. It should also be listening to the health experts and learning from the experience. The alarm bells have been going off, Leigh, but no-one has been listening.


SALES: I think for Australians around the country, what they want to know right now regardless of where they are is if their mum or dad is in a facility and there is an outbreak in their state, that we will not see the same thing happen. So, again, what do you think should actually happen right now to protect those people?


ALBANESE: There are a range of things necessary. One of the things that is necessary is to make sure that the workforce is fit for purpose. Quite clearly, there have been major problems in aged care for a long period of time that were identified by the interim Royal Commission report last year that was titled ‘Neglect’. That was the hint of how big the problems were. Then, of course, we know from international experience that the alarm bells should have been going off, saying the aged care was a particular issue because it was older people who were vulnerable to this disease. And then we had, of course, Dorothy Henderson Lodge in March, Newmarch House in April, reports there that went to the Government that weren’t made public but that warned very clearly of what was necessary, putting in place workforce numbers, putting in place protective equipment that wasn’t available appropriately for nurses and other carers. We need to make sure that there is transparency in the system, Leigh. And when I’ve met with both workers and relatives of aged care residents, they have been concerned that issues such as when there is an inspection at these facilities, they are often given notice in advance, so they are able to tidy things up.


SALES: You seemed keen in your first answer to blame aged care failures all on Scott Morrison. But aged care deaths wouldn’t have occurred in Victoria without community transmission or quarantine failure, and as the Victorian Premier has himself said, that buck stops with him. Wouldn’t it be more honest of you to direct some of your anger, as well, towards the Victorian Labor Premier?


ALBANESE: Well, let’s be very clear, Leigh, the Prime Minister stood in the courtyard on a Thursday after Parliament got up and waved around the rules for dealing with these issues. And aged care is clearly a Federal responsibility.


SALES: But it is a shared responsibility because, as I pointed out, there is community transmission, there is quarantine failures that allowed coronavirus into aged care facilities?


ALBANESE: Leigh, aged care is both funded and regulated by the Federal Government. If you look at the facilities that are actually run by the Victorian Government, that are run by Daniel Andrews as Premier, they haven’t had any issues.


SALES: On the subject of border closures, what is the logic of states with zero cases having their borders closed to each other, given the social and economic harm that is being done?


ALBANESE: Well, you look at the decision of the Federal Court today, Leigh, which found that the WA Government did do the right thing, basically. It was found that it was effective in them closing the borders. It found, of course, that because the Commonwealth had made a submission in support of Clive Palmer’s challenge to that border closure, that had to be taken into account, that that couldn’t just be erased, and the High Court would determine that. But we know it has been effective. What I haven’t done, Leigh, is second guess state governments, whether they be the Labor Governments of Queensland and Western Australia that have had border closures, or the Liberal Governments of Tasmania, South Australia and, of course, Gladys Berejiklian who changed the borders between New South Wales and Victoria as well.


SALES: But you are an influential politician. You would like to be the Prime Minister if you had the opportunity. So, I’m asking what is the logic and how long should it go on that states with zero cases just keep their borders closed to each other?


ALBANESE: Well, I’m not a member of the National Cabinet, Leigh. And one of the things that is very clear is that the National Cabinet now has been reduced to state premiers and chief ministers telling each other what they are doing. And then going their own way.


SALES: But what’s your opinion? I’m asking you now. What do you think they should do?


ALBANESE: I think they should take the advice of their respective Chief Medical Officers. But I also think that the National Cabinet, if it was something other than a title, should be playing a role in working these issues through. I’m not around that table, Leigh. That is a decision that Scott Morrison made. And that’s up to him.


SALES: Qantas is cutting another 2,500 jobs today. So many Australians have also taken pay cuts during this period as well. Would Australians be mugs to imagine that at the end of this that employers are going to go, ‘Okay, everybody, we are reinstating you on full pay and giving you your old jobs back’?


ALBANESE: Well, it is unfortunate that employers will take opportunities to attack wages and conditions.


SALES: Do you think that is what some people are doing here?


ALBANESE: Well, I’m concerned that that that’s the case. And I know the union movement is concerned as well.


SALES: Is it the case with Qantas?


ALBANESE: Well, I think it is of great concern that Qantas have had the support of JobKeeper for these employees for a considerable period of time, so they’ve had the subsidies for those wages. But today I think it is very regrettable that they’ve announced these changes which amounts to contracting out of work that has been done by a group of workers effectively for a long period of time.


SALES: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much


ALBANESE: Thanks, Leigh.