Aug 30, 2020







SUBJECTS: Belt & Road Initiative; Australia’s relationship with China; Government’s failure to implement recommendations of the Aged Care Royal Commission; aged care crisis; JobKeeper; JobSeeker; Government’s response to COVID-19; Victorian coronavirus outbreak; Labor policies; energy.


DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Anthony Albanese, welcome to the program.




SPEERS: So, should states have agreements with China under the Belt & Road Initiative?


ALBANESE: Look, we wouldn’t sign up. And I’ve made that clear. But I’ve also made it clear that there’s nothing remarkable, at all, about the idea that it’s the national Government that controls our foreign policy.


SPEERS: Coming back to the question, should states have agreements with China under the Belt & Road Initiative?


ALBANESE: There shouldn’t be agreements that are inconsistent with Australia’s national interest, or our foreign policy.


SPEERS: Does that mean states, just to be clear, should states have these deals or not?


ALBANESE: Well, it’s a matter for the Commonwealth. But I’ve said very clearly, that we wouldn’t have signed up to BRI. But we also will look at this process to look at the 2017 agreement signed by Steven Ciobo as the Trade Minister which talks about cooperation between Australia and China regarding BRI in third countries. We want to see that agreement. It also is beyond my comprehension how you could look at this and not look at the Port of Darwin. That was something that I opposed as the Shadow Infrastructure Minister at the time. I think that it’s hard to think of an Australian infrastructure asset that is more vital to our national interest than the Port of Darwin.


SPEERS: So, you think that should be overturned by the Commonwealth?


ALBANESE: I think it should never have been sold. And it should never have been not in Australian hands.


SPEERS: Should it be overturned now?


ALBANESE: Well, we’ll have that debate, no doubt, as part of this. But the idea that the Commonwealth can pick and choose what it looks at. If we’re going to look at this, and that’s a reasonable thing to do, then let’s have a look it. And I think certainly, in terms of the national interest, the Port of Darwin is critical. But we’ll wait and see, David. This is a classic case of an announcement. We’ll wait and see whether there’s any delivery. This is a Government that’s always there for the photo-op and never there for the follow-up.


SPEERS: When it comes to China, clearly both sides of politics have hardened the positions. You said during the week that China’s stance has changed under Xi Jinping. You said, ‘They are far more interventionist than they were under previous regimes.’ What did you mean by ‘interventionist’?


ALBANESE: I mean more assertive. And we can see that played out in a number of way. And therefore, that requires a response by the Australian Government in the national interest. This isn’t a partisan issue.


SPEERS: Are you saying that they’re more interventionist in Australia? Are they intervening more here?


ALBANESE: Quite clearly, they are. And we’ve seen various examples of that on universities, for example. And we’ve seen that played out. My concern here is to look at what it is that the Government is actually proposing. Because often, we see these announcements. David, it’s now one and a half weeks since the Government announced a so-called deal on a vaccine. One and a half weeks later, we still have no agreement. There are agreements covering four billion vaccinations around the world. Australia has exactly zero. Scott Morrison is a specialist at announcements. There often isn’t any follow-up. We’ll wait and see what happens.


SPEERS: Let’s turn to aged care. A big focus for you this week. Can we start with the immediate situation? I mentioned earlier, more than 100 elderly Australians have died to coronavirus linked to aged care facilities. Is enough being done to protect them?


ALBANESE: No, there’s not. And that’s why I announced at the National Press Club, an eight-point plan that could be implemented, or at least begun immediately, including minimum staffing levels, including looking at the more than 100,000 people who remain on the waiting list for home care packages that have been approved. Including proper training, PPE equipment, including making sure that we follow the recommendations of the Royal Commission about accountability regarding funding.


SPEERS: So, the first of the points in the eight-point plan there is minimum staffing levels. What’s unclear is the sort of staff you’re talking about. Registered nurses? Enrolled nurses? Personal carers. What are you saying in terms of the minimum staff requirement?


ALBANESE: Quite clearly, David, it’s all of the above. Quite clearly, with regard to nurses, if we have a circumstance whereby we have one nurse looking after more than 100 patients, then clearly, that isn’t good enough. And there are circumstances whereby there are no nurses available in a nursing home, as we used to call them.


SPEERS: So, they should all have a minimum number of nurses, is that what you’re saying?


ALBANESE: Nurses and carers. Right around the board, David, we’ve had circumstances whereby we have stories about aged care residents, these people who have helped build this country, who can’t get food for hour after hour because they’re waiting. Who are waiting to get assistance to put them into bed or are waiting for the sort of acute care that only nurses can provide. Right across-the-board, there are issues with regard to staffing. There’s also issues with regard to training. And we simply have to do better.


SPEERS: It all costs money. More staff, more nurses, costs more either for the provider or the Government. Are you clear yet as to who should pay for this?


ALBANESE: Quite clearly, there will be a need for additional expenditure. The Aged Care Royal Commission brought down the interim report on October 31 last year. It was titled ‘Neglect’. That one word says it all about the way that aged care residents are currently being treated. And there are some great facilities, but a whole lot of people simply missing out on the care that they deserve, giving them that dignity and respect that they’re entitled to.


SPEERS: Would you be open to an increase in the Medicare levy to pay for this?


ALBANESE: We’ll examine the Royal Commission when it comes out with regard to structural change that’s required. But I make this point, David, Labor oversaw the creation of Medicare to deal with our health system as a whole. It was Labor that pioneered the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Labor has a fine record, a proud record, of delivering major reform. It’s very clear that the aged care sector is, in the words of the Royal Commission, ‘Subject to neglect at the moment’. And it’s also clear that with the ageing of the population, we need to have a strategy, a long-term view. At the moment, we’re not even able to fix the short-term. And it is, quite frankly, outrageous that in spite of the fact that you had the interim report of the Royal Commission last year, the Government had no plan to deal with the coronavirus outbreak which was inevitably going to particularly affect older Australians and particularly those in aged care facilities.


SPEERS: You have been scathing of the Federal Government when it comes to the failures we’ve seen in aged care. Do you make any criticism of the Andrews Government in Victoria over the way it’s handled this pandemic?


ALBANESE: Well, quite clearly, there were problems with quarantine in the hotels that have been well-documented. And the issue of the use of security guards was a mistake.


SPEERS: And the tracing? And the tracking?


ALBANESE: Well, there are issues. The numbers for Victoria as a proportion to New South Wales are about the same. And certainly, the Commonwealth app has been a failure, frankly. It hasn’t delivered what Scott Morrison, again in a big announcement, the delivery has been lacking.


SPEERS: But has the Victorian effort, when it comes to tracing, matched what New South Wales has done?


ALBANESE: Yes, it has.


SPEERS: So, no problem there?


ALBANESE: Yes, as a proportion.




ALBANESE: Of course, there’s problems. We want to see 100 per cent of the tracing. But we were told that the key was the app. Anyone who saw the ads, the key to tracing was going to be the app, and that hasn’t eventuated.


SPEERS: Do you think that Daniel Andrews needs to give some clarity as to how the current stage four lockdown will end?


ALBANESE: Well, I think the whole of all of the states need to work through those issues. Daniel Andrews is dealing with the immediate. No doubt, what he’s done is give notice each time there’s been a change, and that will happen.


SPEERS: So, you’re not getting any feedback from Victorians, from the business
community, any others, worried about the uncertainty at the moment?


ALBANESE: Everyone wants certainty right around the country. I’m someone who deals, for example with the whole of the tourism sector wants certainty right around the country at the moment. What we’re dealing with, though, is a crisis. And that has meant that there’s been changes as time has gone on. We need as much certainty as possible from all of our state leaders and from the national Government. One of my concerns here is that the so-called National Cabinet isn’t really national and isn’t really acting like a Cabinet.


SPEERS: Let’s turn to JobKeeper. Last month, you said that JobKeeper needed to taper. In four weeks, the rate will be cut by $300 a fortnight. When do you think it should start to taper?


ALBANESE: When circumstances permit. Quite clearly, now, the Treasurer himself this morning has said that he expects there will be an additional 400,000 people to be unemployed between now and Christmas. There are real circumstances there. The economy is really struggling. The idea that you withdraw support in the current circumstances is, in my view, premature, and will lead to a deeper and longer recession than is necessary.


SPEERS: So, JobKeeper, you think, should stay at its existing rate. What about JobSeeker for those unemployed? Should that stay at the existing rate?


ALBANESE: Well, while the circumstances are there, JobSeeker, one of the things that it is doing that the Government has said, is that if you give income to people who are on low incomes and they spend that money, it circulates around the economy. It helps to create employment. So, an early withdrawal of JobKeeper and JobSeeker is of concern.


SPEERS: Okay, just to be clear here, you’re saying that JobSeeker should stay at the existing rate beyond the end of September?


ALBANESE: Yes. But we’re also saying in terms of JobSeeker that the Government needs to provide, you talk about certainty, is JobSeeker, which is the old Newstart, going to really to $40 a day? Which the Government acknowledged isn’t enough to live on, but people will be kept in poverty.


SPEERS: I’m not sure that Labor has said this until now. During the week, Labor voted against a green policy to keep JobSeeker at the existing rate.


ALBANESE: Motions in the Senate. There’s always ten clauses in there.


SPEERS: Any idea what it would cost to keep both payments, JobSeeker and JobKeeper, at the existing rates?


ALBANESE: What we know, David, is that the cost of higher unemployment is a human cost. It’s also an economic cost. It’s a cost in terms of making sure if that occurs, if there’s a premature withdrawal, the whole logic of having the support is to prop up the economy and to make sure that the recession isn’t worse than it needs to be.


SPEERS: Sure, but it all costs the Budget ultimately?


ALBANESE: Indeed. And there’s a cost of inaction or premature action as well, which is a deeper and longer recession.


SPEERS: Speaking of which, the debate about how to reform the economy gathering momentum, how to get us out of this recession. You’ve previously said that voters were confused, even frightened, about policies that Labor took to the last election. It’s now time for a new policy agenda, a pro-growth agenda. Can you confirm today that you will not be touching negative gearing, franking credits, some of those areas?


ALBANESE: David, we’ll announce all of our policies before the election. But I’ve made it very clear that we won’t be taking the same franking credits policy to the election, for example. I’ve made that announcement already. But all of our promises will be fully costed. But we won’t have the same level of change promoting that we had at the last election. We’ll have a narrower focus. That doesn’t mean that it is a less ambitious focus. It just means that it is more targeted. One of the things that we will need is a job creation program. We’ve said already there should be spending on public and social housing as an obvious place for us to invest. There’s obvious need there. There’s obviously jobs that could be created through such a program.


SPEERS: Finally, there’s been a bit of debate in your ranks about gas. Can you just clear this up and your position? Would you like more gas or less gas in the Australian energy mix?


ALBANESE: Well, David, it’s a matter of where the growth will be. And we know that the growth will primarily be in renewables. If you look at IEMO, their predictions going forward, and all of the scenarios don’t see a significant increase in gas as a proportion of the electricity market. We know that what we need to do is to have, as I wrote to the Prime Minister, what we need is a policy framework that drives that change through the economy. We’ve said we’ll be flexible about it. Whether it’s a NEG or whether it’s a Clean Energy Target. There’s a range of mechanisms. The Government needs to have an energy policy. They’ve had 19. 19 announcements. None of them actually acted on.


SPEERS: Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese. We’ll have to leave it there. Thank you for joining us.


ALBANESE: Thank you, David.