Mar 16, 2020






SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; announcement of second stimulus package for coronavirus.


PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: I’m joined now by the Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese. Anthony Albanese, welcome.




KARVELAS: Excellent. Let’s just start on what the Minister for Trade has confirmed with me, which is the Government now working on a second stimulus package. Clearly, it’s worth a significant sum of money, days after the first stimulus package was announced. Is that something Labor would welcome and support?


ALBANESE: Well, it’s confirmation that they didn’t get it right the first time.


KARVELAS: Is it? I want to interrupt. But the minister said there’s evidence in the last couple of days that things are worsening. Is it confirmation that it was wrong the first time?


ALBANESE: Seriously, Patricia, for example, the airline industry put forward a proposal to the Government at the end of last week. That was about what was happening. They knew very clearly the pressure that they were under. And what we saw, for example, with the tourism package was actually money taken off, money that had been allocated for the bushfire crisis and given to the coronavirus response. So, in a range of ways I think the first response has been inadequate. It hasn’t been legislated, of course, at this point in time. And it hasn’t flowed out the door. We need to recognise here that early action will mean that there’s less action required. The sooner the move the better. And that’s why the Government needs to ensure that they get it right.


KARVELAS: So, are you surprised the Government is working on a second
stimulus this early on?


ALBANESE: Well, it says that they didn’t get it right the first time. It’s just days afterwards. I think they were quite clearly gaps in terms of ensuring that some sectors that would be impacted. We’ve said, repeatedly that casual workers, gig workers in the gig economy, people who are sole traders, are very concerned that there’s a big gap there. They’re going to miss out on income. And many of them are fearful over where they will get the money to survive for them and their families from. There was one fellow who was working on camera duty on my statement to the nation that was broadcast on ABC last night. He essentially is a contract worker, the sole bread-winner in his family a wife and three kids and they are very concerned, people like him, very concerned about the impact that this will have on their capacity to just pay their bills and put food on the table for their families.


KARVELAS: The Reserve Bank this morning signalled it is preparing to move to quantitative easing. Is that something you would welcome? Do you think it’s necessary?


ALBANESE: Well, I think it’s prudent to do so. And that’s why the Reserve Bank have done so. The Reserve Bank, of course, were warning a long time ago, many months before the bushfire crisis and coronavirus that the economy was not doing well. They were calling for stimulus and for stimulus and for fiscal policy to do some of the work that they said monetary policy couldn’t do all the heavy lifting. That’s why this Government needs to make sure, not just in terms of announcements, but the money flows out the door. We know for the bushfires, the notional $2 billion allocation, just $200 million as of a week ago went out the door. That doesn’t make sense. When you have an issue like this, you need to make sure that the money is spent and flowing around the economy, creating that multiplier effect, as a matter of urgency. The Government does need to make sure that they learn some of the lessons from the way they handled the bushfire crisis and ensure that money does flow quickly.


KARVELAS: Just on the health front and what’s now been described increasingly as flattening the curve and for those who don’t know what that means, it’s so we don’t have a big spike in terms of the numbers of coronavirus. What else do you want the Government to do? They’ve made some significant announcements in the last day. What more do you want them to do?


ALBANESE: Well, I think for a start the rollout of pop-up clinics whereby people can get tested needs to be done as a matter of urgency. The talk about that not happening until May is of great concern. The confusing messages which are there. There are still people at hospitals in my area, like Royal Prince Alfred, who were queuing last week for some 5-6 hours only to be told that because they had not been to China, they’d been to the US, they weren’t eligible for testing. That’s really not good enough. It’s quite clear that a number of cases have come from the United States. We need to make sure that we’re on the front foot. We need to make sure that when we’re in Blacktown last week, they were concerned at the clinic there, they had run out of personal protection equipment, gloves, etc within the next 24 hours. We need to make sure that happens. There’s some good things going on. In South Australia, there’s a drive-thru testing facility. There’s no reason why that can’t be rolled out around the country. We need to look at where best practice has occurred and where the outcomes have been better than others, such as South Korea, for example, that has rolled out a massive testing of the population. That seems to have been effective in containing the virus more so than other countries.


KARVELAS: Another 37 people in New South Wales have tested positive to COVID-19. The Health Minister, Brad Hazzard, says it’s likely there will be an exponential increase in coronavirus cases in the next few weeks. Given that, and given the fact that most people concede that school closures are inevitable, why not close them now?


ALBANESE: That’s a very good point you make, Patricia. I think we need to have an abundance of caution here. Part of my concern with the mixed messages that have been out there is, you know, on Friday, saying, that from Monday, people couldn’t go to sporting events, but go for your life on Saturday and Sunday. It just fails the common-sense test.


KARVELAS: Do you think schools should be closed now? I know many independent schools are doing it. But it seems that that is not the plan. They say that they’re waiting for a bigger spike.


ALBANESE: Well, I think that in all areas, health. The lesson is that prevention is better than cure. I think the medical experts, I’m sure are providing advice to the Government. The Government should be acting on that. I think it’s important that that occur, rather than it be political decisions. We need to make decisions based upon health outcomes. And certainly, people like Norman Swan have been very vocal about what is required.


KARVELAS: I want to nail this down, if I can. You think schools should be shut down?


ALBANESE: No, I think doctors should be, medical experts, should be making the advice to Government.


KARVELAS: They’re already saying, the Government would say, I mean, they would say they’re taking the advice and the advice is not to close. You’re saying you want to err on the side of caution. You mentioned Dr Norman Swan. You’re right. He’s been arguing you need to shut schools down now.


ALBANESE: Well, if they’re saying, and I’m not privy to the latest medical advice that has happened today, to the Government, if they’re saying that schools are going to shut in a week or two weeks, or not come back after the next holiday period, then surely one of the things that has to occur here is that just as people have to trust the authorities, authorities have to trust the people as well. And bring them into their confidence. Let them know what’s going on. I think the flattening the curve, for example, has been a significant breakthrough, telling people what the objective is there makes sense. It will build confidence. Because if you don’t have that, if there’s not a trust in people, then people will clearly respond in ways that we’ve seen in supermarkets, etc, whereby the buying of toilet paper and other products doesn’t make a great deal of rational sense and indeed has consequences for people who actually need a smaller supply, poorer people basically can’t afford to keep weeks or let alone months, of supplies. So, we need to be rational about this. The Government needs to be very transparent about where this is headed. I would err on the side of caution here. In terms of the advice that the Government is getting, and they need to act sooner rather than later. Whether it’s on the health issues or whether it be on the economic issues, we still haven’t had Parliament sit. And that’s one of the reasons why I asked for the Parliament to come back this week rather than next week.


KARVELAS: The Government says there’s no necessity, because of the start times of its stimulus. And clearly it is working on more stimulus measures, they may not even be ready next week.


ALBANESE: That’s the point, Patricia. Why is the start point of the stimulus based upon essentially spin of whether April is slower than March? If stimulus is required, it’s required now, to get out the door and surely if we can get some of that out the door, that would make absolute sense. Because what’s happening right now is that the economy is slowing. So, activities such as the airlines, the arts industry, a range of businesses, are suffering now. The Government, as of mid-March, are saying don’t worry, we’ve got this, we will wait until March 31.


KARVELAS: Briefly, before I let you go, do you think there should be a ban on people coming from the United States?


ALBANESE: Well, I think the Government has got it right in terms of the announcement that was made to, for people to self-isolate, regardless of where they’re coming from over a 14-day period. I think that’s got it right. There’s an issue, of course, of Australian citizens having a right to return to Australia, which is a pretty fundamental right. And I should imagine that an overwhelming majority, I spoke to Alan Joyce today, and certainly the airlines are under enormous pressure. They’ve seen an enormous drop-off in international travel. And most people coming to Australia conducting international travel will be people coming home rather than people coming here as a tourist destination.


KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Patricia.