ABC AFTERNOON BRIEFING WITH PATRICIA KARVELAS
WEDNESDAY, 22 APRIL 2020
SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; Fuel reserves; tax and industrial relations reforms due to COVID-19; Virgin Australia; support for Australian aviation industry during COVID-19; economic implications of COVID-19; World Health Organization; Malcolm Turnbull’s memoir.
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Anthony Albanese is the Federal Opposition Leader and he is my guest on Afternoon Briefing this afternoon. Anthony Albanese, welcome.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good afternoon, Patricia.
KARVELAS: Do you welcome the Government's decision to establish a 90-day strategic fuel reserve in line with our obligations under the International Energy agreement?
ALBANESE: Well, it is not in line with our initial obligations because it is in the United States. The point of the international agreement is Australia should have here 90 days' worth of liquid reserves. For diesel, it is 22, for jet fuel, it is 23 days' supply. So, we are significantly in breach. This has been pointed out. It was an issue at the last election. This has been pointed out to the Government for a long period of time. The Government has dismissed the issue. And what we need to do is to actually build a capacity here for a refining capacity or rebuild. Because the Government, currently, is in breach of its obligations. But most importantly, those obligations are there for a reason. They're there because it is in the national interest. We shouldn't be dependent upon circumstances which may be beyond our control in terms of any particular international incident, be it military conflict or other issues mean we will run out of fuel.
KARVELAS: As you say, initially it will be in the United States and the Government won't say when it will be stored here. Is it much good to us sitting in the United States? Do you see any positive as a way forward, in that?
ALBANESE: Well, look, I guess it's better than when the Government has been. But it's a rather bizarre circumstance to say that. The United States isn't New Zealand. I mean, it's not next-door. If there's the sort of international conflict or issues that provide disruption to sea lanes, that may well occur at some stage in the future, then that is why nation states need to have this fuel capacity. It's an issue of national security. Having something in the United States doesn't provide for our national interest to be protected in the way that it should. The Government needs to emerge with a plan for our refining capacity, for storage here. They've had now, they've been there for seven years. I don't know what this bloke Angus Taylor does but everything he touches, certainly, turns bad. So, I am somewhat concerned that he thinks this is the solution.
KARVELAS: The RBA Governor flagged tax and industrial relations reform to get the economy moving on the other side of this crisis. Would you support further corporate tax cuts for business?
ALBANESE: Well, Patricia, one of the things that concerns me about the messages coming from the Government is that having said that ideology is something that they're prepared to put aside during this crisis, what they're really saying is, ‘Once we get through this crisis, it's back to the old agenda, out of the bottom drawer. The old right-wing agenda. We'll have labour market reform’, which is code for further attacks on unions. ‘We'll have corporate tax cuts.’ What's the plan for them to pay back some of the debt? They doubled the debt prior to the bushfires, prior to COVID-19. And now we've seen an astronomical increase in debt. And now they are talking about revenue reducing it further. We'll look at any proposal on its merits.
KARVELAS: Let me pick you up on that. Are you saying that proposal, a corporate tax cut would reduce revenue? Is that instinctively why you would be opposed to it? Because it would be bring less money into government coffers? So, it is something you would resist?
ALBANESE: I'm not basing policy decisions based on hypotheticals here, Patricia.
KARVELAS: Well, it is not a hypothetical. It is on the table.
ALBANESE: Well, it is a hypothetical. There is no legislation. Parliament is not even sitting. We will work on specific proposals. What I will say is the Government has doubled the debt prior to the current crisis. And now we have substantial levels of death and that that is an issue that the Government has to come to terms with and has to come up with some plans. They went on and on about the issue of debt as if the Global Financial Crisis never happened. And, indeed, they tried to wipe it from history. And the fact is that this Government, prior to last year, had a doubling of the debt, productivity growth going backwards two quarters in a row, consumer demand and confidence really flatlining. We had wages not keeping up with what the Reserve Bank and others said was necessary in terms of pressures on standards of living. We had records household debts. We had interest rates being decreased on multiple occasions because of the softness in the economy. Then we had the bushfires. Then we had COVID-19. This is a Government that has not had an economic plan and it needs a plan beyond just having tax cuts.
KARVELAS: One of the options available to it is about actually allowing business to restart after, obviously, this devastating period for business. Do you think corporate tax cuts could help business in that context?
ALBANESE: I'll give you the big tip, Patricia. There's a whole lot of companies out there that aren't going to be paying a whole lot of corporate tax cut in the coming year. That's the big tip. That's stating the obvious.
KARVELAS: Sure, but I mean in the longer term when the economy restarts.
ALBANESE: That's stating the obvious, Patricia. That's why the Government needs to have thought through proposals. They don't have any. They didn't have any last year. They didn't have any at the beginning of the year. We didn't have any legislation before the Parliament. There's no plan for wages and how we increase wages. And that's what I want to see from the Government. I want to see a plan that helps working people, who've been under absolute pressure during this crisis. What I hear from the Government is just code for ‘we're going to go back into continuing to attack trade unions, to attack wages and conditions for working people’, who are, after all, seeing us through this crisis. It is the nurses, the teachers, the supermarket workers, the transport workers who are continuing to keep this country going and they're deserving of our respect.
KARVELAS: Let me get through my questions. We have so many topics get through, help me out here, Anthony Albanese. Should franking credits be on the table?
ALBANESE: We've said that we won't go to the election with the same policy we took to the last election. We have not changed that view.
KARVELAS: Okay. Not the same policy. But should franking credits be looked at, a reform to the franking credits policy?
ALBANESE: That would be a matter for the Government. It is not up to me to determine the Government's policy.
KARVELAS: What do you think?
ALBANESE: It is up to me to determine Labor's policy and I've just said we won't be going to the next election with the same policy. One of the things, we'll be looking at a range of policy initiatives in the lead-up to our national conference at the end of this year. But we will also be looking, as we are at the moment, we had a Shadow Cabinet meeting this week, we're meeting weekly, we're having caucus meetings every fortnight. We're going through our proper processes of not just holding the Government to account but developing an alternative policy agenda. When we adopt policies, we'll announce them. I might even announce a few on this program.
KARVELAS: Oh, wonderful. Can't wait. Exclusives please. It's the only way I like to roll. Scott Morrison has tweeted that he has spoken to Donald Trump on the economic ramifications of COVID-19, and generally. Is that something you welcome, this conversation between the United States and our Prime Minister?
ALBANESE: Well, it's not a bad thing that the people talk at any time but I do hope that Scott Morrison doesn't take some of the advice given some of the statements that have been made by the President of the United States, particularly, about the social restrictions that are on in the US. I think that here in Australia we're doing much better than the US, and that's because people are not taking an opportunistic view of this crisis. People are listening to the health experts. I hope that leaders around the world do that.
KARVELAS: Just on a couple of other issues. We know, of course, Virgin is in the spotlight, former Virgin Blue Chairman Chris Corrigan has defended the Government's decision not to bail the airline out.
ALBANESE: Chris Corrigan has defended a Coalition Government. Surprise, surprise.
KARVELAS: Let me finish the question. And said the owners broke with the formula that made it successful. Does the commercial, you know, sector have to sort this out? Why shouldn't the Government step in?
ALBANESE: The reason why Virgin have had a particular difficulty at this time
is because of government policy. That's the first point. It is the Government that have shut down the market and so, therefore, it's pretty hard to see an immediate market-based solution when there's no market. Stating the obvious. The second point is that, is it in Australia's national interest to have two airlines operating domestically? My answer to that is, yes. The Aviation White Paper said the answer to that is yes. Therefore, you have to work through a way to ensure that that happens. We have to remember, this isn't about who the manager or CEO of Virgin is. To me, it is an issue neither here nor there. What I'm concerned about is the 16,000 workers who work directly or depend upon Virgin Australia for their jobs to put food on the family table at night. To pay their mortgage, to pay their rent, to send their kids to school. I'm concerned about the hundreds of thousands of Australia who depend upon a viable domestic aviation system to, in effect, fuel the tourism sector. I'm concerned about those jobs and that economic activity as well. And I'm also concerned about the millions of Australians who want to be able to fly at reasonable prices with a competitive seasonal, be it for work or for recreation. And that's why the Government has a responsibility to do something other than have a hands-off approach here.
KARVELAS: Scott Morrison is going to push the World Health Organization to be allowed to enter a country without invitation to trace the origins of potential pandemic outbreaks. Is that something that you think is a good idea, to try and, well, hopefully, not repeat what we've seen with COVID-19?
ALBANESE: Yes, it is. We need strong, international, global structures.
KARVELAS: So, what do we need here?
ALBANESE: Well, I support what Scott Morrison has said. We need WHO, the World Health Organization, is the only body that you could foresee being in a position to do this, which is the why the decision by the United States, and I wonder whether Scott Morrison raised this with Donald Trump, the decision by the United States to withdraw funding is a very short-sighted decision indeed.
KARVELAS: Sorry, I have to pick you up on this, just briefly. You say you hope it was raised. Do you hope Scott Morrison, just to be clear, raised objections with the US President for that decision?
ALBANESE: Yes, I do.
ALBANESE: Because it isn't in Australia's interest and it's not in the world's interests to undermine the World Health Organization. With all the problems that it's got, it's the only structure that could possibly get to the bottom of what this dilemma has been. That is why I support Scott Morrison's call for the World Health Organization to be able to go in, unfettered. It should have access to any records that it wishes to see. We need to get to the bottom of this because it's not just an academic exercise of history and how this pandemic has come about, it's about making sure that we have structures in place, so it can never, ever happen again.
KARVELAS: Finally, have you read Malcolm Turnbull's book yet?
ALBANESE: No, I haven't. I've been a little bit busy. But I do look forward to reading it. I've read some of the excerpts that have been published and, certainly, much of the character assessments are there from senior members of the Government. I find it particularly interesting that Scott Morrison told Malcolm Turnbull that he was supporting him at the time that his supporters were essential saying they were backing up Tony Abbott. And that is why Malcolm Turnbull thinks that, during the crisis that saw him removed as Prime Minister, Scott Morrison was playing a duplicitous game.
KARVELAS: Anthony Albanese, thank you so much for joining us.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Patricia.