ABC AFTERNOON BRIEFING
MONDAY, 5 OCTOBER 2020
SUBJECTS: The Morrison Recession; possible tax cuts; Australian Labor Party; people being left behind; Government’s failures on infrastructure; Treasury estimates based on existence of vaccine; Donald Trump; China relations.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Anthony Albanese is the Opposition Leader and my guest this afternoon. Anthony Albanese, welcome.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good afternoon, Patricia.
KARVELAS: You keep referring to this as ‘the Morrison Government's recession’. Is it really the Morrison Government’s recession? Isn't it really a recession based on a global health pandemic?
ALBANESE: So was the global financial crisis was a global issue. You have referred to, I'm sure, the Keating recession a number of times. People refer to who is in government at the time. I don't see it as controversial at all. Scott Morrison not only is the Prime Minister, he was the Treasurer before he was the Prime Minister, before he helped remove Malcolm Turnbull, and he has to accept responsibility for leading the Government.
KARVELAS: OK. But ultimately, do you think we would be having a recession right now if COVID-19 didn't exist?
ALBANESE: Obviously, Patricia, that's, with respect, a rather strange question to ask.
KARVELAS: Not really. No. You do think there would be a recession?
ALBANESE: The pandemic's occurred. Because what I do think is that of course has had a major impact on our economy. It's had a major impact on our health. We, of course, were arguing, Patricia, early on for issues like wage subsidies when the Prime Minister was dismissing them. We were arguing for a cautious approach on borders when the Prime Minister was saying it was OK for people to come into Australia without so much as a temperature test when they arrived at Sydney and Melbourne international airports. The fact is, though, that we entered this period from a position of weakness. Last year wages were stagnant, the growth was below trend, consumer demand was low, productivity was going backwards, business investment was in decline, and that's the context here. We entered it very weak. The Government didn't have a plan and was relying upon the Reserve Bank's multiple decreases in interest rates to stimulate the economy. It is the Government that said, of course, the Budget was back in black. We know that wasn’t the case.
KARVELAS: It's been reported Stage 2 of the tax cuts will be backdated to July 1 this year. Will you back that?
ALBANESE: We, of course, argued last year that Stage 2 of the tax cuts should be brought forward. So, there will be nothing surprising if we took a position consistent with that. But, of course, we will wait until the Budget's actually brought down as opposed to these selective leaks to friendly journalists.
KARVELAS: Until, of course, the Budget comes down tomorrow night, we won't know all of the details. We know some things. The Treasurer has done now a range of interviews where he's outlined some of the directions they're moving in. The Stage 2 and 3 tax cuts were finally supported by the Labor Party last year, after the Government put them into what is an omnibus Bill.
ALBANESE: We opposed Stage 3 of the tax cuts, Patricia.
KARVELAS: You voted for the omnibus bill, and clearly they’re looking to do something similar.
ALBANESE: No, we didn't vote against Stage 1 and 2. But because they came together, let's not reprosecute.
KARVELAS: Will you take the same strategy this time, which is to argue against Stage 3, but to ultimately vote for the omnibus bill?
ALBANESE: Well, what's happening with Stage 3, Patricia? You might have news I don't have.
KARVELAS: If they bring forward Stage 3 as well, is it your instinct to vote, I’m asking about the strategy. Let’s just go to the strategy
ALBANESE: No, you're asking about hypotheticals. Our strategy last time was to make it clear we had a choice of being, what we were in favour of we had to emphasise, or what we were against. We in favour of Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the tax cuts. We were against Stage 3. They were all together. We failed to separate Stage 3. Therefore, that was the choice we made. We chose to be defined by what we were for, rather than what we were against.
KARVELAS: Alright. My question is are you going to take that approach again this time?
ALBANESE: We don't have anything before us, Patricia. I have no intention of foreshadowing a hypothetical that may never happen.
KARVELAS: Philosophically, voting for what you're for rather than what you're against, is that still your position that that's the right thing to do.
ALBANESE: Labor should always be defined by what we're for, rather than what we're against. I said when I became the Leader of the Labor Party that we’d be constructive, that we’d be defined by what we were in favour of, not what we were against. And that wasn't just out of the nature of the Labor Party being the party that's in favour of changing society for the better and building a stronger economy. That was also out of a perspective and watching what happened with this current Government, whereby Tony Abbott was defined by what he was against, not what he was for. They achieved government in 2013 and are still wondering what to do with it. Where are the big reforms from this Government now in its eighth year on the labour market? They still don't have an energy policy. They don't have any social policy reforms to point to where they have changed society for the better, like we did with paid parental leave. This is a government in search of a purpose and that's why, if you are just negative and are defined by just what you're opposed to, then I think that helps create a climate whereby you end up like this Government, in its third term, in its eighth year, where, when it's all over, people will wonder what the purpose of this Government was. I want to be the Prime Minister of this country to change the country for the better, not just to oppose the Liberal and National Parties.
KARVELAS: That's an interesting point you make, that you want to be defined by positivity on that one. Someone on the minimum wage will get less, I think, than $100 a year from Stage 2 and nothing from Stage 3. What more would you like to see for low-income earners?
ALBANESE: What I want to see is a program that doesn't leave people behind. So, I want to see JobKeeper, for example, support given to people who currently haven't got support. A whole lot of people, casual, university workers, people in the arts and entertainment sector have missed out under this Government. We have got circumstances whereby I want the Government to say what the rate of JobSeeker will be. It can't go back, surely, to just $40 a day. We know that isn't enough to live on. We will be examining the Budget to see how it deals with the issue of fairness. Women and young people have been particularly adversely affected, disproportionately, by this recession and we want to examine how it has an impact on lifting up and providing opportunity for women and young people.
KARVELAS: Why are you doubting that the Government will deliver on its infrastructure commitments? It's made infrastructure commitments today. It said it wants the states to get on board and fast-track some of this, because it is about job creation. You have been casting doubt on this today. Why aren't you confident that they're going to do it?
ALBANESE: Because their record shows that they don't. The problem with this Government is it all about the announcement, not the delivery. It is all about the photo op, not the follow-up. And what we've had from this Government, when it comes to infrastructure, is, over its first six budgets, $6.8 billion that was promised would be delivered just hasn't been. So that for programs like the Urban Congestion Fund, in New South Wales in the previous financial year, it was supposed to deliver over $200 million of investment. It delivered four. Four. Two per cent of what they said they would do. And that has characterised this Government. They make announcements about projects and then forget about it. ‘That's job done’. It isn't shovels in the ground. You can't drive on a promise. You can't catch a train on a promise. You have actually got to deliver on infrastructure, and this Government has shown it is incapable of doing that.
KARVELAS: Economists say record low interest rates mean the Government should and, in fact, has to spend big to get the economy moving again. Should debt be a consideration?
ALBANESE: Well, debt should always be a consideration, because it's got to be paid back. That is why it's the value of the spend that's important. And my concern with this Government is that they established programs whereby you have ministers making decisions based upon politics, rather than based upon productivity or the benefit for jobs, the benefit for the economy, the benefit for regions. So, that when you have rorted programs, like Sports Rorts, when you have $33 million paid for a block of land for Badgerys Creek Airport in 50 years' time that is only worth three, when you have programs that they say have been established to help women's sport participation that actually don't go into that, go to fix up a pool at North Sydney in the centre of Sydney, then we are concerned about the capacity of this Government to actually deliver on proper programs. I mean, we've had a $4.5 billion announcement that they're going to fix up the NBN by making more fibre part of the system going to homes and businesses. Who knew that fibre was better than copper? Everybody. Everybody. But we had an obsolete system that was already out-of-date before it was built just due to ideology from this Government.
KARVELAS: Alright. Just on other issues. Big spending measures targeting job creation, things like a business investment allowance will be temporary, according to the Treasurer, and withdrawn when unemployment falls to pre-COVID levels. They don't want to bake it into the system, right? That's the strategy he's outlined. Do you think that's a good strategy? Is it one that Labor supports?
ALBANESE: Well, it depends on the specifics, Patricia.
KARVELAS: The idea of not baking it in long-term to the budget?
ALBANESE: Well it depends on the specifics. One, if you are about serious reform, then you are about changing things permanently. So, there is an opportunity, I think, from this position that we find ourselves in, the recession, to not just go back to what was there but to think about how we can build a better future for the long term. That means baking things in. Baking in reform. But then you have circumstances whereby a range of expenditures need to be temporary. We haven't said that programs like JobKeeper and others should be permanent. Not at all. They are obviously for a period of time when it's needed.
But one of the concerns I have is the apprenticeship announcement whereby you have 100,000 eligible for this subsidy, joint payment, from government and from the businesses employing the apprenticeships, but it will only last for 11 months. The fact is apprenticeships are four years. How will that actually assist the taking on of new apprentices in a way that is permanent and make sure that they're kept on and receive their qualifications? I'm concerned about that, given that the context here is there are 140,000 less apprentices and trainees today than there were when this Government was elected. And in 2018, Patricia, if you want an example of announcement and no delivery, they announced a program that we’re going to have 300,000 new apprentices. So, this is only 100,000. 200,000 have dropped off in two years. Of that 300,000 announcement, there have only been three or four created. There are less apprenticeship commencements today than there have been any time for two decades, under this Government's watch.
KARVELAS: OK. Look, just on a few other things. Was it the right call for Treasury to assume we will have a vaccine by the end of next year?
ALBANESE: Well, it's bold call, isn't it, Patricia? I understand that that's the call the Government has made. Now, we will examine the detail of the papers, of course. We don't get access to them. I'm always wary of taking the Government's spin as fact. That's what we see at this stage in the cycle. But certainly if it is the case that that's been done in order to make the figures look better in the out years, then that should be called out. But we will examine that detail.
KARVELAS: Just on some foreign affairs issue, if you like, before I do let you go, what did you make of these extraordinary images of Donald Trump in this car ride outside of the hospital waving at patients? Obviously there were others in the car, driving it. Did you find that an extraordinary scene?
ALBANESE: I found it one that is not my job to explain. I don't see what the purpose of that was. I wish the President, and anyone else who's been infected by this virus, all the best for their recovery, in terms of their health. And I think that needs to be the priority, rather than any photo ops or other things should very much come secondary. And certainly that would be my advice, if I was asked, which of course I haven't been.
KARVELAS: You have been asked by me.
ALBANESE: I have been asked to comment, but it isn't my job.
KARVELAS: I'm aware of that.
ALBANESE: You know, it is up to him what he does. That's a decision for him really.
KARVELAS: The question is, given it is a pandemic, it's a very contagious virus, there are other people in the car, does it send a dangerous message about the virus, given we know the virus kills?
ALBANESE: Well, all I can say on that is that I wish the President and anyone else suffering from this virus all the best. It's serious. It should be taken seriously. And people should listen to the advice of health experts and should always be cautious in this.
KARVELAS: One of China's top diplomats has called for an end to confrontation and abusive language in what has been described as these increasingly hostile exchanges between Australia and China, saying the relationship can be salvaged through better communication. Key to this is saying that this can happen by both countries. This is Madame Fu Ying, China's former ambassador to Australia. Do you agree? Should both sides use different language, not just Beijing?
ALBANESE: What I think is Australia, which has of course almost 50 per cent of our exports China-bound. We're tied up with China. That is something that is not going to end any time soon. Obviously it would be better for our economic position if we had more diversification there. But it's important, I think, the Australian Government be more strategic and less political in some of its rhetoric when it comes to China.
KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us, Anthony Albanese.
ALBANESE: Thank you very much, Patricia. All the best.