Mar 12, 2020







SUBJECTS: Government’s announcement of economic stimulus for COVID-19; coronavirus; impact of coronavirus on casual employees; mass gatherings.


DAVID SPEERS, HOST: I want to bring in the Opposition Leader now, Anthony Albanese, joining us from Brisbane. Thanks for your time this evening. Firstly, will you support the stimulus package announced today?


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Look, we’re supportive of the broad direction. We want to be constructive. We, of course, haven’t seen the legislation yet. And we think that there are a couple of issues that could be examined further. The issue of casual workers being in a position where they might just not be able to not go to work because of the pressure that’s on there. So, we’re somewhat concerned that perhaps there isn’t enough support there. We want to see the framework around the billion-dollar regional and community package given this Government’s record on sports rorts and other activities whereby funds have been distorted and made politically. We want to make sure that any spending on stimulus in terms of community infrastructure and regional support goes to those most in need on that basis, not on the basis of the electoral map.


SPEERS: Alright. So, you’re worried they could use part of this money to pork-barrel. But let me come back to the main elements of this package. It’s fair to say there’s nothing, aside from that $1 billion component you mentioned there, nothing you oppose. It’s just a question of whether the Government needs to go further in this first stimulus package?


ALBANESE: That’s right. And that remains to be seen, whether it’s large enough and whether it’s been timely enough. But we’ve been saying for some time, David, as you know, since last year, that the economy was soft, that all of the key economic indicators, the growth, the productivity, the fact that interest rates were decreased three times, the Reserve Bank was speaking about the need for fiscal policy, that you couldn’t allow monetary policy to do all the heavy lifting.


SPEERS: If there’s a potential case for more to be done, can I just tease that out? Do you think the $750 payments should go to some of those low-income earners as well as those on welfare benefits?


ALBANESE: Well, certainly I think there’s a case for that. We don’t want to be difficult. We want to be constructive. But we’ll examine the full package. Certainly, it’s a good thing that cash payments are being made. We, of course, I was somewhat bemused, perhaps, at the change in rhetoric from the Government on that issue. The truth is that if you want to stimulate economic activity quickly, then the best way to do it is to give money to people to be able to spend. We know that people on Newstart, people who are pensioners, are more likely, obviously, to spend money, because they simply can’t afford to put money away in the form of savings. I think there’s a case that some low-income earners, as well, could be provided with some assistance.


SPEERS: OK. It doesn’t mean you’ll vote down these measures?




SPEERS: What about casuals? Sorry, you mentioned casuals. There may not be enough there for them. The Government says there’s this sickness allowance they can apply for. It takes about five days to process the payment. They’re going to waive the waiting period that normally applies. Is that enough for the casuals which make up a third or a quarter of the workforce? What should they get?


ALBANESE: Well, look, I think there’s a real case, David, for them to receive, essentially, 14 days’ leave equivalent.


SPEERS: From the Government? From the taxpayer?


ALBANESE: Well, it has to come from somewhere, David. And the problem here is, one of the things that’s identified is the weakness in the growth in casualisation of the workforce. People who don’t have entitlements like annual leave and sick leave. People who are relying upon their existing wage to get by from week to week. And for many of those people, they need that same wage because that’s what they budget on. That’s how they pay their rent. It’s how they put food on the table for themselves and their families. And for them to have a reduction in income at this point in time, whereas if they were permanent employees, they would miss out, I got contacted today by a casual teacher at one of the schools in my electorate, and they look after kids before and after school. That’s their job. And for many of the people there, they were saying that, if they get sick, they simply can’t afford to miss out on having an income. So, it is good that the Government has made some measures available.


SPEERS: But more needed, from your perspective?


ALBANESE: We think it should look at going further.


SPEERS: Let me ask you about mass gatherings. You’re going to the footy, you said, this weekend. The PM’s going to, as well, the same match. Is that a wise idea right now? Do you accept that there is a heightened risk of spreading the virus when thousands of people come together?


ALBANESE: Look, what I accept, David, is that we need to listen to the Chief Medical Officer. And we need to listen to the medical advice. If there is a decision made to avoid such activity, then it should be complied with. It’s as simple as that. One of the things that we need to not do is second-guess, and for all of us to become amateur medical experts.


SPEERS: But you can understand some people not wanting to go along to big events right now?


ALBANESE: Of course. Of course. And it’s not compulsory. But, similarly, some people are not going to work. Some people are not going to school. And it may well be that it reaches a point whereby medical officers make that decision and that advice is given and, if it is given, I certainly, along with others, should follow it.


SPEERS: Well, I mean, one of your MPs, Josh Burns, is saying that the Grand Prix, well, that people shouldn’t be turning up to the Grand Prix. Bill Shorten’s calling for greater social isolation measures as well. There are a few voices in your ranks who think we need to go further.


ALBANESE: Sure. And people will have views of those issues. And people in the community will have views as well. If you ask around the ABC studios there, they’ll have views. But you’re still doing your job. I was in Mackay today. I’ve now landed in Brisbane, doing my job. I’ve continued to do it. And I will continue to act as a parliamentarian, but also as a South Sydney fan until I’m told otherwise. And I’ll follow that advice. I’ve been very consistent, David, in not wanting to politicise and not trying to play partisan politics with the coronavirus issue. Yes, I’ve been critical of the fact that the Government was ignoring the economic weakness that was there for all to see if they just looked at it. I’ve been critical of some of the rollout of the bushfire measures. And one of my concerns about these measures is to make sure that the Government actually delivers. Because there has been a big gap between the rhetoric and the actual rollout of income.


SPEERS: Indeed. But just finally on this, the thinking on this has evolved for you as well. A couple of weeks ago, you were playing down the need for any sort of mass stimulus, and tonight you’re suggesting maybe this isn’t go far enough.


ALBANESE: Well, no. Well, that’s not right, David. What I was doing weeks ago was continuing to say that there needed to be a government response. And, indeed, last June, David, I was arguing for a bring-forward of Stage 2 of the tax cuts. I was arguing last year for a bring-forward of infrastructure investment and for support for business investment. And we’ve been arguing for a long period of time that this economy is really struggling. We’ve been raising issues about support for bushfire communities. And we still think the fact that only 10 per cent of the notional figure of $2 billion has been rolled out at a time when a majority of that should have been rolled out because that was when it was needed reflects poorly on the Government. And it needs to do much better with this economic stimulus that was announced today.


SPEERS: Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, thanks for joining us this evening.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, David.