ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
ABC NEWS BREAKFAST
FRIDAY, 24 APRIL 2020
SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; economic impact of COVID-19; rebuilding the Australian economy; listening to the science; climate change; company tax; industrial relations.
MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: With the coronavirus curve continuing to flatten in Australia debate is now squarely focused on how to rebuild the shattered economy. But how long where the newly-fostered relationship between the Government and unions last? Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, joins us now from Canberra. Good morning to you?
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning, Michael.
ROWLAND: It is not life as normal, obviously, at the moment and should it not be politics as normal after this end. Should the normal political fault lines disappear as we try to rebuild the Australian economy?
ALBANESE: Well, I would hope that some of the Government’s rhetorical changes last beyond the current crisis. They’ve acknowledged that unions play a constructive role in society rather than their previous concentration on attacking the rights of working people and the trade union movement. They have acknowledged that we need to listen to the science and I hope that that translates into other issues beyond medical science, into environmental science, into listening to what the scientists are telling us about the need to act on climate change. And they have acknowledged there is a role for Government in providing support for the private sector to operate. We certainly will need a strengthening of the private sector coming out of this crisis, but we will also need to acknowledge the vital role the Government plays. The contracting out, for example, of Centrelink services meant that we weren’t in a position to actually look after people when it was needed during this crisis.
ROWLAND: Let’s go back to your reference there to climate change. Would Labor support a carbon price being put back on the reform agenda table?
ALBANESE: No, well, one of the things that has happened over recent times of course is that the cost of energy, the cheapest form, is now renewables. What it needs is a Government that is prepared to provide certainty in terms of the energy market and providing a policy framework that will drive that investment. We’ve seen investment in 2019 fall off the cliff for renewables but we also need to look at the way that renewables and clean energy can drive advance manufacturing, can add to our industrial growth with new industries and new energy sources such as hydrogen as well can play an important role.
ROWLAND: So, you are saying a carbon price is redundant now?
ALBANESE: What I’m saying is that you did need a price signal a decade ago. There has been a change now so that renewables are not just competitive, they are, in fact, the cheapest form of new energy production. And in terms of what you have seen is a bizarre circumstance where by the Government have been talking about subsidising a new coal-fired power station in North Queensland and indeed have made a substantial contribution for a company to study themselves whether their project is viable or not. That shows the way that the market itself has changed. The Government hasn’t changed its rhetoric and they need to do so. They need to listen to the science and acknowledge that we do need to act on climate change. We need to drive down our emissions and that there are, indeed, advantages for employment in doing that. It is good environmental policy, but it is also good economic policy.
ROWLAND: Looking at ways of reviving businesses, big and small, would you support moves to further lower the company tax rate in Australia?
ALBANESE: Well, I think it’s rather strange at a time when you have a substantial increase in Australia’s debt. Of course, this Government had already doubled the debt before the bushfire and coronavirus crisis. And now we’ve seen debt that may well reach a trillion dollars. I think the first step that we should be looking at is what the implications are of any proposals for decreases in taxation and revenue and how that will impact on that debt.
ROWLAND: In principle, is a further reduction in company tax to make Australian business more competitive with those around the world a good thing in your view?
ALBANESE: Look, we will look at any proposals that are there but we will look at it in the balance of you need revenue but you also need to make investments in education, for example, in skilling up our Australian workforce for those jobs of the future and at this time the fact is, Michael, common sense tells you that given the current economic downturn that we’re experiencing, company tax receipts won’t be up in the current period, they’ll be substantially reduced.
ROWLAND: Looking forward to what could be a very brave new world, we have business leaders like Tony Shepherd, the former head of the Brisbane Council saying all industrial awards should be scrapped, is that a good move?
ALBANESE: Well, you know, it is the old playbook. It is working people who have got us through this crisis. It is our nurses, our teachers, our supermarket
worker, our childcare workers our transport workers who have put the national interest first and who have put their own health at risk by looking after people who have needed assistance, whether they have been in an aged care home or serving people at the local supermarket. And as soon as we get through the crisis, what we shouldn’t do is attack their wages and conditions. Part of the problem in the economy last year was that wages weren’t keeping up with the cost of living. That was identified by the Reserve Bank of Australia. And what we shouldn’t do is use this crisis, and the goodwill that working people have shown, to turn it against them and say, ‘Righto, thanks very much, we will now go after our existing wages and conditions that are there in the awards’, that are there, of course, to keep that balance between employers and employees.
ROWLAND: In the interests of compromise though would you come at any flexibility in terms of changes to the industrial relations system to make Australia more competitive?
ALBANESE: There is flexibility there now.
ROWLAND: So, that’s a no?
ALBANESE: One of the things about the industrial relations system is enterprise bargaining wasn’t working in the interests of working people because wages weren’t going up and they weren’t working in the interests of business either. The Business Council of Australia have said that. So, we need to look at industrial relations, any changes, in terms of how they will benefit working people and how they will benefit the national economy, not just how they will transfer the wages portion to the profit section. We need to actually look at who benefits from any changes and manage those issues carefully. We saw what happened with WorkChoices and when the Government, the Coalition Government, do what they want, what we end up with is that rebalancing which was rejected by the Australian people in the past, and I think it would be rejected in the future.
ROWLAND: We will leave it there. Anthony Albanese, Opposition Leader. Thank you for joining us.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Michael.