Jul 1, 2020







SUBJECTS: 2020 Defence Strategic Update; GST and tax reform; Eden-Monaro by-election; Labor’s commitment to reversing ABC cuts; post-COVID Australia; bushfire recovery; Victorian coronavirus outbreak; state border closures.


KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Thanks so much for your time. Let’s start with that Defence review. Do you share the Government’s approach in terms of this strategic shift of the Defence update?


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, we certainly have been pursuing for some time the fact that Australia’s defence priorities have to be in our region, in the Indo-Pacific region. And that is a good thing. Today’s announcement really just builds on the Defence White Paper and is consistent, if you look at the detail of that 2016 document, it outlined all of the directions that are there today. So, I see that as a continuum. That is one of the reasons why Labor began the process of increasing our submarine capability. We certainly want answers from the Government about how that is rolling out. Because we remain concerned about that program.


GILBERT: Do you share the Prime Minister’s view about the world being more dangerous in a post-COVID environment? And even he was making comparisons to the instability of the 1930s.


ALBANESE: Well, I’m not sure that it’s post-COVID. I think prior to that, we could see a more unstable global environment that has emerged after, I guess, over the last few years in particular. And that process has accelerated the issues that have been evident to all between the US and China. China is more forward, engaging relationships in the region. It’s been more engaged in terms of the sort of projects and stance that it’s taken. The issues of the South China Sea, and a range of other issues that are brought into difficulties, far more than we saw years ago, including the trade relationships that have been of some conflict. So, I think that has been evident. I’m not sure exactly what the impact of COVID has been. I think that has some way to go. We’re still in the midst of this pandemic. But certainly, I see the so-called differences relating to COVID, including the need for an international examination as really being a symptom of the issues that were there beforehand.


GILBERT: And you don’t have any problem with the overall Defence approach? The acquisition of long-range missiles, that sort of thing? Overall, there’s bipartisanship on that front?


ALBANESE: Well, that is right. In terms of, let’s be clear here, the range of these missiles is under 400 kilometres that have been proposed. It is consistent with what was there in the 2016 paper. We need to make sure that our defence is up to scratch. And we need to make sure that wherever possible that not be the subject of partisan debate. And we don’t intend to look for difference. We intend to engage constructively. We’ll look at the detail, of course, of what the Prime Minister’s had to say today and then any documentation that’s available. My Defence Shadow and Deputy, Richard Marles, has already been briefed on those details.


GILBERT: Now, let’s look at a few other issues. GST and broader reform, 20 years this week that the consumption tax was introduced. John Anderson at the Press Club just a little while ago saying we need to have the stomach for reform now, as we embrace this COVID recovery. Why is Labor so opposed to a broadening of the base of the GST if it is accompanied with appropriate compensation?


ALBANESE: Because, Kieran, we want to ensure that people who can afford to pay more are the people who are affected by any tax changes, not those who can’t afford to pay. The problem, of course, with consumption taxes is that they levy the same amount in terms of a percentage regardless of how wealthy people are. And I guess the question here is if Scott Morrison is up for a broadening or an increase in the rate of the GST, then he should tell people. And he should tell people today before the Eden-Monaro by-election this Saturday. He won’t tell people what he’s going to do with JobKeeper. He won’t tell people what he’s going to do with JobSeeker. He won’t give an economic update. And now we have a Liberal Party Treasurer from his own state proposing changes to the GST. We need to know what he thinks about this.


GILBERT: Are you confident heading into the Eden-Monaro by-election you just touched on there, you’ll be spending a lot of time there over the next few days? How are you feeling?


ALBANESE: Look, it’s up to the voters, of course, of Eden-Monaro. And I don’t take them for granted. I’m confident that we have the best candidate in Kristy McBain. I’m confident that we’ve put forward a strong argument that this is an opportunity to send a message to the Government that their preparations for the bushfires weren’t good enough, that their response and the recovery period isn’t good enough. We still have debris in so many people’s houses. We saw people, the young woman, Zoey from Cobargo, who’s living in a van with a new son and family. That’s really not good enough, six months on. And we know also that so many people in Eden-Monaro were left behind by the Government’s JobKeeper package. It didn’t apply to small businesses there. Many of them missed out, many casuals missed out, people in the arts and entertainment sector have still missed out. We notice also that part of the feedback I’ve had, and Kristy has had, is the cynicism that’s there from the fact that it took a by-election for the Prime Minister to offer any support to industries like orchardists and forestry. This is six months after the event. And just earlier this week, for the Prime Minister to appear again, in Eden, really, I think, has been met negatively by many of the people in the area.


GILBERT: But you know as well as I do with your political history, you know better than I do in the Labor political history, and let’s look at the last Labor Leader who lost a by-election in Opposition, Simon Crean, lost Cunningham. He was knocked off before the next election. Do you concede that some of your critics will be saying, ‘If Albanese loses here, he’s not cutting through as Opposition Leader’?


ALBANESE: Not at all, Kieran. The fact is that my approval ratings are in positive territory. This is about the people of Eden-Monaro. It’s a tough circumstance. We have the first pandemic in 100 years. And due to that, it’s unknown territory. Eden-Monaro is the seat, it’s not Cunningham. It’s a seat, that unlike Cunningham that’s traditionally always been held by Labor, this is a seat that on the current boundaries would have been held by the Coalition since the Whitlam Government every time except for when Mike Kelly’s been the candidate in 2016 and 2019.


GILBERT: And finally, on the Victoria outbreak, quite a worry. Can you understand why the other states are reacting so strongly to shut down on travel from not just those hotspots, but Victoria broadly?


ALBANESE: Well, let’s be clear, Kieran, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia, and Queensland, four of the six states have had closed boundaries. And they’ve had them continually for a long period of time. So, I don’t see a big change there. The only change really is New South Wales, which is saying people shouldn’t visit Victoria, and that Victorians should be cautious about visiting New South Wales. I can certainly understand, as I’ve said consistently, the Commonwealth needs to listen to the Chief Medical Officer and the state governments need to listen to their Chief Medical Officers in their respective states and take that advice and take it seriously. And it’s better to be cautious at all times like this. That’s one of the reasons why we have seen Australia come through this better than most of our comparative nations.


GILBERT: Mr Albanese, a big few days coming up with Eden-Monaro. We hope to speak to you after that. Thanks so much. Talk to you soon.


ALBANESE: Indeed, Kieran. Good to chat.