Mar 4, 2020






SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison’s lies; Liberal Party’s bushfire advertisement; Defence Force imagery used in political party ads; Government’s dismissal of bushfire crisis; sports rorts saga; Prime Minister’s role in sports grants; coronavirus;


KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Mr Albanese, thanks for your time.




GILBERT: What is your concern around this particular matter? As the Prime Minister has made it clear, it was authorised by him. Criticism there was made by the General. What is your concern about it?


ALBANESE: My concern is the same that I expressed at the time. That what we had was in the midst of the bushfire crisis, the Prime Minister using the imagery of the Defence Force in order to try to shore up what was flailing political support due to his lack of action during the bushfire crisis. And the fact that the head of the CDF has made this statement before Senate Estimates today, making clear that he was discomforted by the abuse that occurred here. Remember this ad had in it the Defence Force imagery, it had Muzak as a soundtrack as if it was some Hollywood movie at a time whereby people were defending their houses, at a time where communities were under siege from the bushfires. And the Prime Minister had, of course, on it an authorisation by the Liberal Party with a Liberal Party donate button attached to this advertisement. So, he could do that. But he couldn’t ring the head of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service to tell him that the circumstances had changed and that now there was going to be the national response.


GILBERT: Yes, but as you pointed out just now, it was funded by the Liberal Party. It wasn’t taxpayer funded. So, the Liberals and as the Prime Minister says, in that Parliament answer today, Mr Albanese, he says that this was essentially a public service message because there had been calls for the Defence Force to be rolled out. He’s saying, well, this is what’s happened.


ALBANESE: Well, the Prime Minister today, once again, committed in Parliament the same error that he has committed over and over again. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the invitation of Pastor Houston to the White House, it doesn’t matter about who the acting Prime Minister was and the circumstances around the Prime Minister’s leave where people weren’t allowed to talk about who the acting Prime Minister was during the bushfire crisis, during the Prime Minister’s absence, whether it’s about the sport rorts saga and the involvement of his office. The pattern is that this Prime Minister says there’s nothing to see here. And he doesn’t give a straight answer to what is a very straight question. Today, he wouldn’t confirm that he had received the phone call from the Head of the Defence Force to make it clear that it was inappropriate, the Defence Force imagery that was in this ad.


GILBERT: The Government has made it clear to us this afternoon, sending us the information that, and I want to get your thoughts on this, because it’s basically a Labor advertisement when Tony Abbott was Prime Minister using troops. And they are saying, well, their argument is both sides have done it. What do you say to that?


ALBANESE: Look, it’s just absurd. This Government when confronted with errors of judgment, which quite clearly was at the minimum, forget about the fact that quite clearly the Prime Minister’s office was involved, and resources were involved in the ad by definition. Where did the Defence Force imagery come from? They didn’t dress up Liberal Party members and create Liberal Party military hardware for this ad. It was Defence Force, it was Government. And if the Government was truly not being partisan at this point in time, then it wouldn’t have had to have been authorised by the Liberal Party. And this was a Government ad. And bear this in mind too, Kieran. That this came after many months of Labor and others, experts, former fire chiefs, all saying that there needed to be a national response. All saying that there needed to be an increase in our aerial firefighting capacity. And the Government, including particularly the Prime Minister, had dismissed it up to that point. They were continuing to say that this was a state’s issue. But they prepared this ad for the very minute that the announcement was made. Clearly didn’t consult with the head of the Defence Force. We know they didn’t consult with the head of the Rural Fire Service. And this was an attempt to use the Defence Force in a way that wasn’t appropriate. And what’s really important isn’t that I or you think that. It’s that the head of the Defence Force thinks that.


GILBERT: Okay. On to the sports grants issue. Now, you obviously believe there are more questions to be asked here. But does it get to a point where you think, look, there are bigger fish to fry in terms of issues right now. We’ve got an international health crisis that we’re grappling with as a nation, the Government’s dealing with in terms of its economic response. Is it time to move on from that as an issue because people are more worried about other matters?


ALBANESE: Well, Kieran, you make a reasonable point. But the Prime Minister’s office last night was meeting with the Sports Minister, two advisors, about the fact that Sport Australia had given evidence before the Senate Estimates that wasn’t correct, that was inaccurate, and they had misled the Senate. The Prime Minister’s office was there last night being involved again. They’ve been involved the whole way through here. And if this Government was ever straight about anything, and just said what was actually occurring with this sports rorts saga, then this wouldn’t be dragging on. If they’d have released the 136 emails, for example, between the Prime Minister’s office and Minister McKenzie, if they’d released the lists, the colour-coded list of all the applications that were in, if they had released the Sport Australia ranking, which was supposed to determine where the funding would go. But at every stage, this Government obfuscates. They sometimes simply don’t tell the truth. Sometimes it’s the exact opposite. And we’ve only learned, for example, through Senate Estimates, that there were these changes to emails. The first one on the 11th of April, where they changed funding as a direct result, the Audit Office have said, of the intervention of the Prime Minister’s office. And then that afternoon an additional nine projects were added, and one removed. We only found that out this week, Kieran. I agree with you that what there should have been is transparency in this. But there hasn’t been.


GILBERT: We’re seeing panic around the country. Shops have been cleared of goods like toilet paper and so on. Is it time for our political leaders to call for calm? Some calm amid what is widespread panic in this nation right now?


ALBANESE: Well, we should keep calm and wash our hands. That is the slogan that I’d be using. Because that is what is appropriate. We have a very good medical system here. We are listening to the Chief Medical Officer and his advice is being followed. There are no politics around the following of that advice. Both the major political parties have said that is what should occur. And people should be going about their business, you know, in terms of making sure that they obviously take some sensible precautions such as washing hands more often than what would normally perhaps be the case. But I agree with you that people certainly should be keeping calm. Because that is the advice of the Chief Medical Officer. I have been briefed by him again this week.


GILBERT: Mr Albanese, I appreciate your time. Thanks very much for that.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Kieran.