Feb 28, 2020





SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; sports rorts saga; impact of Coronavirus on the economy.


PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Anthony Albanese, welcome.




KARVELAS: The Prime Minister says Labor refused to grant them and other members of the National Security Committee pairs so they could attend today’s meeting uninterrupted on coronavirus and National Security Committee. Is that true?


ALBANESE: Let’s be very clear here, Patricia. What happened this morning was that there were divisions called by the Government because they were shutting down a debate. Moving that members be no longer heard. Catherine King moved a motion before the Parliament to suspend standing orders. As you know, in order to suspend standing orders, you need 76 votes. Labor’s only got 68 when everyone’s here and everyone isn’t here. And they chose, rather than actually listen to Catherine King give a ten minute speech about some rorts that have occurred in infrastructure and a seconder to speak and a 25 minute debate, they were the ones who initiated votes this morning because they’re addicted to shutting down debate in the Parliament.


KARVELAS: They say it was actually Labor that chose politics over coronavirus. That’s what the Prime Minister has just accused you of and he specifically said last night, Greg Hunt said you were offered a briefing but you didn’t turn up to the briefing.


ALBANESE: Hang on. Let’s be very clear, Patricia. I was with the Prime Minister at that time last night. With the Prime Minister. So who is playing politics here? There were three events in Parliament which were bipartisan events. The Prime Minister and I went from event to event speaking. That’s what occurred. Our Health Shadow Minister and my office were there. And today it is once again the Government that shut down debate and therefore what that does is that triggers the bells ringing and the votes being held.

What they need to do is to actually be prepared to allow for debate in this Parliament. I’ve been here for two decades. John Howard allowed debate. Tony Abbott allowed debate. Malcolm Turnbull allowed debate. So did all the Labor Prime Ministers, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. The only one who won’t is Scott Morrison.


KARVELAS: Your chief of staff went to the briefing, is that right?


ALBANESE: My office. The people responsible for that area.



KARVELAS: And central to the Government’s accusation is that you’re choosing politics. I want to get the timeframe here.  Before Catherine King’s motion that you talk about, in the parliament, had the Government asked for pairs to try and deal with this coronavirus issue?


ALBANESE: What the Government does, Patricia, is they consistently just shut down debate in the Parliament. They’re the ones, they engage in extraordinarily childish tactics. Today in Parliament, once again, after Question Time, they shut down debate over the sports rorts fiasco. We had serious questions to ask. We attempted to move a motion. They wouldn’t grant leave. We then suspended standing orders. They shut people down again. This is their tactic. They are responsible for the way that this Parliament is not functioning because they don’t want to hear any voice other than themselves. And when Scott Morrison spoke about quiet Australians, what he really was saying was everyone else should just shut up and listen to him. Well, that’s not the way that the Parliament should function.


KARVELAS: Just on what the Government has actually announced, the substantive part, not the politics. The Government is activating its pandemic plan because of the coronavirus. The World Health Organization is yet to declare a global pandemic but it’s likely to soon. Is the Government right to be getting out in front of this?


ALBANESE: Well, certainly we have not sought to play politics with this. That’s why the Prime Minister’s statement is so extraordinary. After the decision was made, he hasn’t sought to offer a briefing. He stood up after he shut down parliamentary Question Time and just said this was going to occur. The Opposition will receive a briefing but it seems to us the initial statements that Chris Bowen has had inquiries is that this is pretty similar essentially to the announcement that was made, or maybe even identical to the announcement that was made on the 18th.


KARVELAS: You’re saying there’s nothing new in this?


ALBANESE: On the 18th, what they did was outline the plan. This is triggering it. I think it is right to be very cautious about the health of Australians. And we have said that we will support the advice of the chief medical officer. I personally have received briefings. Chris Bowen receives briefings regularly as the Shadow Health Minister. And we have supported each and every action that has been recommended by the Chief Medical Officer.


KARVELAS: The Government is keeping the China travel ban in place but the Prime Minister says we’ll have to be realistic about efforts to stop the spread of the virus. Border Force will be doing patrols as well. Are you comfortable with this decision to maintain the ban?


ALBANESE: Yes.  If it is correct and there’s no reason for me to suggest it isn’t, that we need to follow the advice.


KARVELAS: Last year Labor was calling on the Government to stimulate the economy. Do you think we need economic stimulus right now in the wake of the coronavirus?


ALBANESE: Well, what we said in June of last year was that stage two of the tax cuts should be brought forward. We said it then. We still think it now. We think that in terms of some of the infrastructure measures – it would be nice if this Government stopped pork barrelling and actually did infrastructure projects that will boost productivity and boost the economy. We have maintained that position.


KARVELAS: Is it more urgent now given the economic ramifications of the coronavirus?


ALBANESE: Well, the truth is that well before the bushfires, or this virus, we had an economy whereby wages were flat, where economic growth was downgraded three times in terms of its predictions. Productivity was going backwards. Consumer demand was very flat. There’s nothing new about the fact that this Government has presided over a lack of, having an economic plan for jobs and an economic plan for growth. They had cuts in terms of skills. We have seen figures released yesterday about a massive decline in the number of apprenticeships. There’s no doubt that that’s linked to the cuts that have been made to TAFE in particular. So we think that, as we have been saying for a long period of time, since June, that the Government needs to actually have less focus on itself and on politics and more plans for what the economy actually needs.


KARVELAS: Let’s talk about the sports rorts saga. Sport Australia Chief Operating Officer Luke McCann told the inquiry the Prime Minister’s office had no direct role in the assessment or deliberations in grant decisions before they were handed to Senator Bridget McKenzie’s office. Do you accept the evidence of Sport Australia?


ALBANESE: Hang on. What you’ve just said is Sport Australia, the Prime Minister didn’t have any input into what Sport Australia gave to Bridget McKenzie’s office. That’s not the problem. The issue here is that Bridget McKenzie’s office and the Minister in consultation with the Prime Minister’s office, didn’t follow those guidelines. In more than 70 per cent of occasions for Stage Three, we had decisions made which weren’t recommended by Sport Australia. Let’s be clear, what the evidence today is, is that Sport Australia made a series of recommendations at the beginning of that month. They weren’t followed.

Bridget McKenzie’s office wrote to the Prime Minister’s office on the 10th, the day before the election was called. Included in that was the colour coded sheet with political parties and with margins, all the politics around the decisions being made. The party representation. And then on the 11th, after the election had been called, Bridget McKenzie’s office then forwarded it to Sport Australia. Now very clearly that funding occurred in direct defiance of the caretaker conventions. And why is it that…


KARVELAS: So are the grants illegal?


ALBANESE: Why is it the PM was consulted on the 10th of April before the announcements on the 11th of April, the letter from Senator McKenzie to Sport Australia, if they weren’t having input? And we know that there are over 130 emails between the Prime Minister’s office and Bridget McKenzie’s office. This is a red hot rort.

And today we raised the issue of a football club in Scott Morrison’s own electorate that received a $50,000 grant for a project that had already been built, had already been opened. What was the money for here? On their own Facebook site, they thanked the St George Football Association and the local council for receiving the money for the upgrade in their facilities. This whole program goes right to the Prime Minister’s office and is all about politics and treating taxpayers’ funds as if they were Liberal-National Party funds.


KARVELAS: Anthony Albanese, we’re out of time. Thank you for coming on the show.


ALBANESE: Thank you.