Mar 16, 2020







SUBJECTS: Coronavirus.


KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Anthony Albanese joins us now. Mr Albanese, what do you make of those reports from Andrew and others this afternoon about the second economic package?


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, we expressed our concern last week that the measures that were announced wouldn’t be enough. And it is extraordinary, however, that before the first stimulus package was actually implemented or even legislated, we have another package apparently on the way. Certainly, when you look at an individual industry like the airline industry, they need support. Now, there has been $400 million of dividends from Air Services Australia to prop up the Government’s Budget when they were so focused on the surplus that they said would happen that we know never did. So, one of the things that the airlines are asking for, I think pretty reasonably, is a waiver of some of the fees that are there in terms of the departure taxes, in terms of the air services charges. It would be reasonable given the imposition of sensible moves which will result in a dramatic decline in international travel, but also a less dramatic decline in domestic travel that the airlines be given a support package.


GILBERT: Well, that makes an enormous amount of sense given the hit that they are going to see, particularly Virgin is in difficult times right now. But obviously Qantas are taking a massive hit as well. What other industries would you like to see the Government suggest that they are there to provide the support if necessary, if they’re vulnerable or looking like they’re going to fall over entirely?


ALBANESE: Well, the tourism sector quite clearly needs support. And what also needs support, Kieran, is individual workers. Casual workers have been looked after by some companies to their credit, Coles, Woolworths, Target. But there are many casuals and sole traders, the sort of people who work one-on-one, by themselves effectively, as contract workers. They are going to be severely hit in some circumstances by this downturn. We know that the arts and the creative sector are going to be hit as well. News that Bluesfest, for example, I spoke to Peter Noble yesterday who runs Bluesfest held every year up in Byron Bay, now that company employs many people for one event a year. That event’s gone. And so, clearly, that’s a significant regional employer. It’s the biggest economic boom for the Byron Bay region annually and it’s gone. And that will have a significant impact as well. So, we need to look sector by sector. We also need to make sure that we don’t forget those communities and industries that have been impacted by the bushfire crises, who what the coronavirus issue will do is just prolong any return to economic stability in those communities. I’ll be traveling to Bega tomorrow. And those areas need support ongoing and we need to make sure we don’t have any repeat of the taking of money from the tourism allocation that was made to them and given across to the coronavirus issue. We need additional expenditure, not to forget those communities.


GILBERT: Well, you saw yesterday Peter V’landys out there, the Rugby League Commission President or Chairman calling for support. People were having a go. But the fact is that is another industry that’s going to be hurt in a huge way by the crowds not attending. But is this something you would like to see the Government, the Prime Minister, be open to across every industry affected? Because if there’s going to be a snapback in the economy as the PM says, you need businesses to survive to be there.


ALBANESE: Of course, what needs to happen is that there needs to be plans put in place that don’t favour a particular company. So, for example, the measures that the airline industry are asking for that I am supportive of, and that our Shadow Minister, Catherine King, made that announcement yesterday. That is the sort of measure that could be put in place. The NRL and other sporting organisations are going to be hit substantially by this. There are some industries, ironically, that will benefit perhaps including the pay TV industry. People will be having to watch footy on the TV rather than attend games. But there’s no doubt this will be a significant hit to a whole range of organisations and that the Government needs to make sure that they don’t delay action, so that it ends up costing more. They were very critical of Labor’s approach to the Global Financial Crisis. But quite frankly, we got it right. We made sure we didn’t go into recession. We made sure people stayed in employment. And one of the things I’d recommend to the Government is that they look at local government support as well. If you want to stimulate local economies, ensure that local contractors are given work, there’s no better organisation to go through than local government.


GILBERT: The idea of a quorum in the Parliament to get this legislation through, whether it be the first stimulus or this economic support package, has this been raised with you as a possibility? And do you support the idea of having a much reduced presence in the Parliament to get this stuff through?


ALBANESE: Well, quite frankly, Kieran, no one has contacted, from the Government, has contacted myself, has contacted Tony Burke, has contacted the Senate Leader, Penny Wong, or the Manager of Opposition Business, Katy Gallagher, in the Senate. I find it quite extraordinary that the Government, I wrote to on Friday morning, I wrote to the Government, they haven’t had the courtesy of responding. What I proposed was that Parliament be brought back, that we deal with the legislation from tomorrow. And that was just a common-sense solution. It certainly wasn’t a partisan one. That would have allowed caucuses to meet today to consider the legislation and to deal with it. Surely, it’d be easier for Parliament to meet this week rather than next week, just as next week will be easier than the week after, given what’s happening with this issue. In order to put measures in place, they actually need to get out of the mindset of refusing to engage with the Opposition. We’re open to be cooperative. But at the same time, we do expect to be consulted. We would expect if Parliament is sitting, that there is a Question Time, for example, and that, we’re able to deal with these issues.


GILBERT: What about the quorum issue?


ALBANESE: Well, what does that mean, Kieran? The quorum is in the constitution.


GILBERT: A reduced number of people in the Parliament, is that a viable option?


ALBANESE: Well, you can always have pairing. And if people are sick or can’t come, the Opposition is very open to allowing pairs. We haven’t done what the Coalition did when we were in Government. And we haven’t behaved like that. And we won’t behave like that. We will be constructive. So, if there’s people who can’t come, or what have you, we’re not going to be asking for medical certificates or what have you. Common-sense should apply here. And the Parliament, in my view, should have been meeting this week. We still haven’t seen any legislation. If it’s the case that they’re meeting today for a further stimulus before we’ve even seen legislation for the first stimulus sets required, then I just say to the Government that they need to actually engage. This isn’t a one-party state as much as Scott Morrison would like it to be from time to time.


GILBERT: Although, with the National Cabinet, he’s been reaching across the political divide with Premiers Andrews, Palaszczuk, he’s been showing bipartisanship with the use of that National Cabinet, do you welcome that?


ALBANESE: Kieran, that is called COAG. That’s what that is. COAG are having phone hook-ups once a week. A National Cabinet would involve representation from the Opposition. Anytime there’s been that form of National Cabinet or War Cabinet, that’s the way that it has operated. That’s not what’s happening here. COAG is meeting by phone at least once a week. That’s a very good thing. There needs to be a seamless coordination between the Commonwealth and the states. But it isn’t under any definition the sort of bipartisan body. Scott Morrison can’t control the fact that there are Labor Premiers of Victoria and Queensland, two of the three biggest states, and of course, WA, the ACT, and the Northern Territory means that there’s actually a majority of Labor Governments across the states and territories. And for an issue like this, given our federated structure, it’s important that the Commonwealth and states and territories all cooperate and have a seamless response to the current issues.


GILBERT: What’s your view on where the schools situation is at? Do you want to see the Government, not just Federal but state governments to get on the front foot and close schools? Or do you think there is a case for keeping them open as some have suggested?


ALBANESE: Well, some schools are operating by themselves and are leading, if you like, by announcing closures. Some of the private and independent schools are doing that. What I don’t want is for the Government to be too far behind here. In a range of areas, the response to the coronavirus crisis has been led by the corporate sector, led by community organisations. Sporting organisations were having spectator-free events well before or announced before the Government had it. I think that we need to be very clear about the messages which are out there. I was concerned about the confusion that was there by allowing spectators at sporting events yesterday, but not today. That defies common-sense, really, that it was okay yesterday but not today. And that was announced on Friday. So, I think we need clear messages. That’s what the community want. I said in my statement to the nation last night, that was the first point that I made. We need to make sure that there’s more testing, that people have access to it. We need to make sure that these pop-up clinics are made available not in May but made available as soon as possible as a matter of urgency. I think a timely response is critical.


GILBERT: Do you see the school closures as inevitable?


ALBANESE: I can’t see how it won’t happen at some stage, Kieran. So, what we need though is for those decisions, essentially, to be recommended by the medical officers. If they say that is where it’s going to go, then we need transparency. What we need here is for the people to trust the Government and the response. But we also need the Government to trust the people with information, with transparency. That’s how we’ll build confidence. And that is how we will avoid the sort of circumstances that we’re seeing whereby, the toilet paper issue and other issues, people are responding emotionally rather than rationally because they’re not sure what’s coming. And that’s why those messages need to be really, really clear. I think it’s a good thing, for example, that people have spoken about flattening out the curve of this coronavirus issue. And that’s a clear explanation, for example, that people can understand. And we need to be much more trusting about the information. And I’d say to the Government that they need to trust people. And that is a way in which we’ll get a much better response that has less impact on the economy than if people aren’t sure how this health crisis, and that’s what it is, will play out.


GILBERT: Mr Albanese as always, I appreciate your time. Thanks.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Kieran.