Apr 16, 2020







SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; current restriction measures due to coronavirus; Labor’s concern about broader testing; confusion about schools during coronavirus crisis; Parliament to sit in May; Government’s alterations to their policies.


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




KARVELAS: The Prime Minister says the current restrictions will be in place for at least another four weeks. But we could start thinking about relaxing some measures after that point. Do you welcome that?


ALBANESE: Look, what’s good is to provide some certainty. I think problems have arisen when there’s been a chopping and changing where people have been confused as to what their obligations to their fellow Australians are. So, I think it’s a good thing that we’ve got some certainty for the next four weeks. No-one wants these restrictions to be in place. No-one wants this disease to exist. But we do have to respond to both the health crisis, but also to the economic consequences of that.


KARVELAS: The Prime Minister says we need broader testing and better tracing of cases before we can relax those measures. Do you support the idea of trying to get a handle on those two elements before any of those restrictions can be changed? And this idea of an app to track people’s interactions?


ALBANESE: Well, we have consistently argued the case for greater testing. We were concerned about people arriving at our international airports and ports without so much as temperature testing taking place. We think that was a real weakness in our early response. So, I welcome the fact that the Government is now saying they need to step up the amount of testing that’s available. And there’s no doubt that’s a key element to constraining the spread of this disease which has got to be all of our objectives, not as a Government or as an Opposition, but just as Australians. And Australians are doing their bit certainly during this crisis. And we need to continue to do it into the future. It’s good that we have an increase in testing available. And I’m pleased with that response.


KARVELAS: The Chief Medical Officer says Australia is the most likely country in the world to be detecting our symptomatic cases. In fact, if you look at the information that’s been released this afternoon, Australia is tracking very well. Do you give the Government and all of the health professionals full marks for the way they’ve handled this?


ALBANESE: Well, I think it would be difficult to give full marks to a Government that has presided over an issue like the Ruby Princess. But certainly, in terms of our health professionals, continue to be amongst the best in the world. I’m very proud of our health system. One which has a universality of healthcare. And I think that’s one of the big differences between Australia and a country like the United States that doesn’t have that same universality at the heart of its health system. And it’s one of the reasons why we’ve been served well. And I pay tribute to doctors, but nurses and others who work in the health system. Whether they be orderlies or whether they be the cleaners who are working I’m sure like they’ve never worked before, like everyone else in the health system, making sure that we minimise the impact on Australians and that Australians who do require healthcare are looked after.


KARVELAS: The Queensland Government is considering relaxing lockdown measures in parts of the state where the infection rate is low. Is that a sensible idea?


ALBANESE: Well, you would hope that all levels of government will take the advice of the health professionals. If that’s the advice, and of course we don’t want constraints to be there for the sake of it, they’re not just inconvenient, there’s an economic cost to them. And a social cost. I realise that many people are finding this extremely difficult, whether they be young people who are used to being pretty mobile, or whether they be elderly Australians in particular and those who are vulnerable to this disease, who are forced to live in isolation at the moment, who aren’t getting to cuddle their grandkids. So, I don’t want that to continue beyond the point whereby health professionals say it’s safe to ease the restrictions. But you also want to apply the precautionary principle. What you don’t want is to lift restrictions too early and see an uplift in the spread of this disease.


KARVELAS: National Cabinet has released a set of principles around schools. But they’ve left a lot of those thorny issues up to individual states and clearly all of the states are taking a different approach. The Prime Minister mentioned the Northern Territory’s approach will be different based on their case load than Victoria. Do you think the message on schools now is clearer?


ALBANESE: Well, I think it remains a somewhat confused message. The Prime Minister seems keen to say everyone should go to school, whereas the message from some of the state and territory governments is different. The fact is that the states and territories essentially are pushed back, particularly New South Wales and Victoria, about four weeks ago is when the process of the federal and state governments meeting to come up with uniform directions ended really. Since then there have been different systems operating. That’s the way it is. State and territories do have control over this. It’s a good thing that they’re talking and it’s a good thing there be as much coordination as possible. But I note the reports that in Victoria today many people who saw the Prime Minister’s message yesterday took their kids to school only to be turned away. I think that’s unfortunate that occurs. We need to be much clearer on the messages that are there.


KARVELAS: On that Anthony Albanese, when asked about this in the press conference, the Prime Minister said you should listen to the Premier, Daniel Andrews. Has he been much clearer now because he’s told Victorian parents to listen to the Premier?


ALBANESE: Well, that’s a good thing that he’s recognised that. He perhaps might have said that yesterday. And we could have avoided the confusion that was around schools this morning.


KARVELAS: There’s been criticism that the children who are still going to school aren’t being taught properly because of social distancing. The Prime Minister even talked about his own kids, saying you can’t send them because if you do send them they’ll be in a hall on the internet. Have schools just become a child minding service?


ALBANESE: No. I don’t think that’s right. And I don’t think it’s right to characterise any school in that way. I know the teachers are dedicated and are professional. And my son is through school now. But I know that the teachers in the public system that he went through were very dedicated professionals. And they’re deserving of our respect. We’re expecting teachers to turn up to work, like we are nurses, like we are cleaners, like we are childcare workers. And they’re all deserving of our respect at this time.


KARVELAS: So, would you like to see children return to school in term two?


ALBANESE: I want to see people listen to the health professionals and to take their advice, rather than. And I’m sure that that’s what Daniel Andrews and others are doing. And I think that is the right thing to do.


KARVELAS: The Prime Minister talked about post-restriction Australia, if you can kind of call it that. Post-Corona Australia, the recovery. Some interesting comments by the Prime Minister on this, saying we won’t have the same economic settings or election promises. What did you make of what the Prime Minister said around that?


ALBANESE: That’s above my pay grade, Patricia, to try to interpret Scott Morrison’s comments on matters like that. My job is to work out proposals that we’ll take to an election.


KARVELAS: Do you accept the Government will have to make massive alterations to its election platform now because of coronavirus?


ALBANESE: The fact is, Patricia, the Government has already destroyed its own narrative. They spent years denigrating the response to the Global Financial Crisis. And as soon as there was a crisis it had to deal with, guess what? It called for greater government intervention because that was what was required. It was required during the Global Financial Crisis, it was required during this crisis. The difference is that they had an Opposition that was constructive during this crisis, unlike the behaviour of the Coalition during the Global Financial Crisis, and indeed since, which has dismissed its significance and pretended that it didn’t happen. So, the Government’s narrative will have to change. It’s hard for them to talk about debt when they’ve presided over a doubling of the debt last year, even before the bushfires and the coronavirus. And now will be presiding perhaps a trillion dollars in debt. So of course, the Government’s narrative is going to have to change because frankly it was a nonsense towards the end of last year and this was a Government that didn’t have an agenda and was really just engaged in a victory lap since the May 2019 election.


KARVELAS: Do you think it’s fair enough and inevitable that the Government will have to alter its policies?


ALBANESE: The Government has, Patricia.


KARVELAS: They’ll need to further do it?


ALBANESE: There’s not much left. They didn’t have much. I don’t know what their policies were that you’re talking about.


KARVELAS: They haven’t identified the changes but there’s tax cuts for instance. They previously said they’re sticking to that. If there’s a change on that do you think it might be necessary?


ALBANESE: They legislated that, Patricia. Last year following the May election, and the April Budget. And what’s extraordinary about that is that at the time we said it was a triumph of hope over experience to say that in 2019 you could say what the economy needed in 2023-2024. We argued that at the time. That is looking absolutely on the money, if you’ll excuse the pun, that we made that judgement that we made. Last year a judgement that was dismissed by this Government, a Government that was engaged in just ideology, frankly, rather than a common sense approach to economic management. And a prudent approach which would have said we need to actually see what the economy will look like at that time before we pass these tax cuts.


KARVELAS: Anthony Albanese, before I let you go, I know you’ve got a meeting with the Prime Minister and his team this evening.


ALBANESE: In a short while, Patricia.


KARVELAS: Basically, you have to leave this interview to go have this meeting.


ALBANESE: Correct.


KARVELAS: The Prime Minister has raised a May sitting of Parliament that will deal with non-COVID-19 related issues. I imagine you welcome that given Labor has been agitating for Parliament to sit?


ALBANESE: Well, why hasn’t Parliament sat? We expect other workers to do their job. We should be sitting. We’ve argued that consistently. It’s beyond my comprehension why the Government passed a change to the sitting schedule when we sat two goes ago to not have the Parliament sit till August.


KARVELAS: You will be sitting now in May. And that’s what the Prime Minister will raise with you. Do you welcome that?


ALBANESE: Well, that’s a good thing. It should never have been abandoned. And we should have regular sitting schedules between now and the schedule that’s been adopted in August. There are other business to do, Patricia. I’ve made this point. We need to deal with the coronavirus. We need to have scrutiny of the massive government expenditure which is going out the door. There will need to be adjustments to the legislation, I predict, that has been carried inevitability. That will occur. But the job of economic, social and environmental policy reform doesn’t end. There are other issues as well. And I made the point that when Parliament sat for the first four weeks of this year, it didn’t have much business on the agenda. And we need to actually have an agenda that readies us for the challenges that are ahead and they’re not just dealing with the coronavirus issue. Before these very serious issues the Government has had to confront, we had productivity going backwards two quarters in a row. We had consumer demand falling. We had three or four interest rate cuts already by the Reserve Bank because the economy was very weak. So, we need to examine the whole range of issues that were there beforehand, as well as, of course, new issues that have arisen from the current crisis.


KARVELAS: Anthony Albanese, thank you so much for your time.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Patricia.