ABC AFTERNOON BRIEFING WITH PATRICIA KARVELAS
WEDNESDAY, 1 JULY 2020
SUBJECTS: 2020 Defence Strategic Update; Eden-Monaro by-election; Labor’s commitment to reversing ABC cuts; post-COVID Australia; bushfire recovery; Victorian coronavirus outbreak; state border closures; Black Lives Matter protests.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Anthony Albanese is the Federal Opposition Leader and he is my first guest on Afternoon Briefing. Anthony Albanese, welcome.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: G'day, Patricia.
KARVELAS: Let's start on coronavirus. Victoria has recorded its single biggest increase in coronavirus community transmissions to date. How concerned are you? Are we losing the battle in Melbourne?
ALBANESE: Well, it is, of course, of concern. And what it requires is vigilance and a steady response. And that's what we are seeing from Daniel Andrews and the Government. We were warned that there will be upswings in the number of transmissions that occur. And unfortunately, we are seeing that playing out. It is a reminder for the rest of Australia, as well as Victorians, that we need to be vigilant, that we need to respond to the advice about washing our hands, about social distancing, about making sure that we comply with the guidelines that are out there from the respective medical officers.
KARVELAS: New South Wales will fine people from Melbourne's coronavirus hot spots. But Queensland and South Australia is banning all Victorians, not just the people from the hot spots. Isn't it more useful to do what New South Wales is doing and actually target the areas rather than a whole state?
ALBANESE: Look, well, the fact is, Patricia, that Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and Queensland, as we speak, have closed borders to everyone. So, they are very clear guidelines. They are based upon their respective advice from state medical officers. Queensland, of course, is lifting those restrictions, I think, reasonably soon, except for visitors from Victoria. And they are following the advice of their state medical officers. I have made it a principle during this period, as someone with responsibility to provide leadership, of not trying to play off one state against each other, or the Commonwealth for that matter, and to just say that we need to respect the advice and respect the decisions which are being made.
KARVELAS: Queensland Labor has put out an online ad accusing the LNP Leader of wanting to flood Queensland with Victorians. Is that an appropriate language use?
ALBANESE: Well, of course, the Queensland Opposition, a bit like the Victorian Opposition, have continued to try to play politics with this issue.
KARVELAS: No, no, hang on a minute. I've got to stop you here. This is Labor playing politics. ‘Flooding Victorians’ in Queensland, that's not appropriate language, is it, about your fellow Australians?
ALBANESE: No, the Queensland LNP have throughout this period attacked the Palaszczuk Government, have continued to insist, for example, that the border measures that have been supported by the National Cabinet, have made a decision that it is up to the states, that's something that is presided over and chaired by Scott Morrison. Deb Frecklington has played politics the whole way through.
KARVELAS: Okay. Does that mean Labor should play politics, too, Anthony Albanese? I'm asking you if it is an appropriate use of language?
ALBANESE: Well, I'm answerable for my own actions.
KARVELAS: No, it is the Labor Party. It is your brand and you are the Federal Labor Leader.
ALBANESE: Well, I haven't seen it, Patricia. And with respect, if you are going to raise something with me, I expect to be given some notice and to be able to check from it.
KARVELAS: Follow my Twitter feed. I think you do follow me. I've certainly been pretty outspoken about it. I'm a Victorian, I don't know about ‘flooding’ Queensland. I think it was pretty strong language.
ALBANESE: Queenslanders making parochial statements. If you actually, and you were, Patricia, I know, not always a Victorian, and I know that anyone from New South Wales at Origin time knows that parochialism from time to time from our states occurs, and that's nothing new for someone from New South Wales to recognise parochialism from Queensland when you see it.
KARVELAS: Alright. Let's park that there. I don't know. It is about coronavirus, not sport. But we will park it. On defence, what do you make of this announcement today? Is this the right investment to boost our strike capabilities?
ALBANESE: Look we'll examine all of the detail, of course. And we haven't seen yet any outline of Budget proposals. I would assume that's coming in the October Budget. But certainly, it is right. And Labor has been calling for a greater focus on regional engagement, particularly in the Indo-Pacific. That's one of the reasons why Labor when we were in Government started the process of commissioning the submarines for the same principle of self-reliance and engagement in our region. And today's announcements, or really it was just a follow-on from the 2016 White Paper, and it was consistent with those proposals.
KARVELAS: This is $75 billion more than the Government had planned to spend. It is expected to take defence spending to more than two per cent of GDP. Will you commit to do the same, to spend the same?
ALBANESE: Well, we haven't seen the proposals yet, Patricia, with respect. We will await the Budget and we will examine any proposals on their merits. But we don't seek to make these issues, of national defence, partisan issues. They should be in the national interest. Labor will always stand up for the national interest. We are concerned with the actual rollout of the submarines program. And we will certainly be holding the Government to account on that. We are concerned that, consistent with a range of other Government announcements, there is a big gap between what they say will happen and what's actually happening on the ground.
KARVELAS: In his speech, the Prime Minister referenced the pre-war 1930s when we saw the global economy deteriorate and security threats increase, too. Is that a valid comparison in time?
ALBANESE: Well, that's one that he has made. It is not one that I would make in terms of the rise of fascism, in the 1930s, was a different period. And I'm not sure that the two issues of a pandemic are similar to raise. But that's really a matter for him.
KARVELAS: So, you don't have criticism of the comparison, you just don't want to use it yourself? I'm just trying to see whether you think it is appropriate?
ALBANESE: Well, others will judge. I myself have a view that has been commonly said that the person who raises Nazis loses the debate. I think that quite often that is the case.
KARVELAS: Is that what the Prime Minister has done here, Anthony Albanese?
ALBANESE: Well, I'm not saying that. It's up to him to explain. I'm not his speech-writer, nor did I give the speech.
KARVELAS: No, but you listen to what he has to say. You are the Opposition Leader. Is that what you think he has done?
ALBANESE: No, I didn't, actually, I didn't listen to his speech, Patricia.
KARVELAS: Well, you are across the detail of it
ALBANESE: Indeed. And I'm not his speech-writer and nor am I a commentator. I will leave that to the commentators. What I will say is that the Prime Minister is right in saying that there is far more uncertainty in global politics and indeed defence issues today than there was, say, a decade ago. In the period in which the Cold War ended and the wall came down in 1989, we've seen relative stability before recent years. And in recent years tensions have been rising. We've seen that reflected in terms of economic issues of trade, we've also seen rising tension in particular areas like the South China Sea. And so I think the Prime Minister is right that we do live in more uncertain times today than perhaps four or five years ago.
KARVELAS: If the Coalition wins Eden-Monaro, it will be the first time a Government has taken a seat off the Opposition at a by-election in 100 years. Will you take responsibility?
ALBANESE: Since there was a pandemic.
KARVELAS: Will you take responsibility for that if that happens?
ALBANESE: Well, I don't know what that means, Patricia.
KARVELAS: Will you take responsibility if there is a loss?
ALBANESE: Well, I'm not sure what that means, Patricia. It's up to the voters. We live in a democracy and they will cast their votes. What we know is that historically that's right. The last time there was a pandemic is when it occurred. The pandemic provides for particular circumstances which are unusual, to say the least. Even in the way that the election is being held, Patricia, there has been no candidate forums. There has been no debates. And Kristy McBain has been pretty keen to have a debate, for example, so this is very unusual circumstances.
ALBANESE: More than half the voters will cast their vote before Saturday, so that is a change as well.
KARVELAS: Will the outcome, though, be a reflection on your leadership?
ALBANESE: The outcome will be a reflection on a democratic ballot on Saturday, Patricia.
KARVELAS: But you are the leader?
ALBANESE: Scott Morrison is the other leader, Patricia. So, what I will interpret it as, I will wait for others to interpret it. You will be doing that, the commentators. What I'm determined to do is to remain focused on chasing every vote that we can between now and Saturday at 6 o’clock. We are determined to ensure that voters know they should be looking at things like the ABC cuts that are taking place. If they are concerned about them, then vote for Kristy McBain. If they are concerned about people missing out on JobKeeper, or the Government's secret plan, they should vote for Kristy McBain. If they have problems with the bushfires, then they should vote for Kristy McBain.
KARVELAS: I got it. I got it. We got it. Let me interrupt your pitch. The ABC, you have made the announcement today that if you were to win Government, you would restore the funding. The cuts that the Coalition has implemented, they contest that they are cuts, but the Budget papers show that the funding isn't rising like it is meant to, so let's call them cuts for this purpose. You say you want to restore the funding. Why have you made this an issue so close to the by-election date? Is the ABC a huge issue in the electorate?
ALBANESE: It is a huge issue. Because the ABC saved lives during the bushfires, that's why it is an election issue. Literally the ABC for many people was the only reliable source that could tell them whether they should stay at home and fight or leave their homes for safety. And the ABC, for so many people who didn't have mobile phone coverage, who were cut off from all other forms of communication played a critical role. The ABC historically has done that, whether it be during floods or cyclones. The ABC is a national asset, and Labor took to the last election a commitment to restore this funding. We know that 250 people lost their jobs last week with the announcement that was made by the ABC. And so it is having a real impact. The last thing that should be happening, given we are in the first recession in three decades, is people losing their jobs because of government cuts. It makes no sense. It is not in the national interest to further undermine what is a great national asset, our ABC.
KARVELAS: Just returning to COVID before I let you go, which has, of course, in the last couple of days been the biggest story because of the Melbourne outbreaks. Paul Kelly has briefed the media and has taken questions on a range of issues. He says there is no evidence that the Melbourne outbreaks are linked to the Black Lives Matter protests. I spoke with Bill Shorten who told me that he thought it really cheesed people off. What is your assessment of the role that those protests had?
ALBANESE: Well, there is no direct link. I take the advice of the medical officers.
KARVELAS: Did it cheese people off, though?
ALBANESE: Well, certainly. It was the case that many people felt that at a time when social distancing was being promoted as being necessary, and that's one of the reasons why, certainly, I as the Labor Leader said that while people should express their concern about the Black Lives Matter issue, which is absolutely critical, that they shouldn't attend rallies. And we made that position very clear because that was what the advice was. And you can't pick and choose when you will obey that advice. I have been consistent the whole way through, Patricia.
KARVELAS: Okay. Anthony Albanese, thanks for joining me. I would say good luck, but it is completely inappropriate. But I say that to everyone. Let's see how it goes for you. I will be watching very closely.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Patricia.