Jun 10, 2020







SUBJECTS: State borders opening; post-COVID economic recovery; JobKeeper; childcare sector; protests during coronavirus; Teddy Sheean; Will Callaghan.


KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Let’s go live to Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese, who joins me now from his office here in Parliament House. Mr Albanese, thanks so much for your time.




GILBERT: I want to start with the Prime Minister, he used his strongest language yet when it comes to the state borders. He says we need to have planes flying around the nation once again. Do you agree with him on that, that urgency?


ALBANESE: Well, I wonder if he talks like that when he is in the meetings with the state premiers and chief ministers. I mean, South Australia and Tasmania have Liberal premiers and have their borders closed. The Prime Minister has established a system whereby it is up to the states and territories to determine these matters. And you can’t say one thing in a closed meeting and a different thing publicly. That is called opportunism. And what we see from this Prime Minister is contradictory messages. On the one hand it is up to the states and territories. On the other, he is being critical. I don’t want to see any restrictions on any economic activity there for one day more than is necessary, that is the first point. And the second point is that we have to follow the advice of the health professionals.


GILBERT: So, when it comes to the post-COVID economic recovery, what is your number one priority?


ALBANESE: Well, not having snap back is the first thing. The idea that you can just cut things off abruptly for everyone, that JobKeeper will disappear for everyone on one particular day in September, would have a severe impact on the economy. I want to see a sensible transition. I want to see as well, people emerge from this crisis with more job security, not less.


GILBERT: When it comes to JobKeeper, why shouldn’t the Government do what it’s done in the childcare sector to listen to the sector and it says now it’s a better tailored response to childcare work is that in fact, more workers are going to receive some job support?


ALBANESE: Except, Kieran, that’s not what they are saying. I was at a childcare centre yesterday and that’s certainly not what they are saying. The largest childcare provider in Australia was on radio yesterday. Well, you know, there’s a number of different peak organisations, Kieran. And the Prime Minister can try and pick and choose. The largest childcare provider in the country, yesterday, was out there saying they were blindsided by this move. The Prime Minister last week gave an absolute guarantee that JobKeeper would be in place until September and then waited until the Monday of a long weekend before he announced it would be cut off next week. This is a reverse Titanic. This is children and women off first and put last by this Government. The fact is that childcare workers, early educators, are essential workers. And we need them because not only are they important and the work that they do for children in our community, they also, of course, are essential to providing childcare for the kids of other essential workers as well. And I would have thought that if this was an announcement that the Government was truly proud of, they wouldn’t have put it out on the Monday of a long weekend, which I guess makes a change from the late Friday afternoon announcements that we’ve seen for the $60 billion accounting error and for the Robodebt debacle and the payment of $721 million in compensation.


GILBERT: Do you think free childcare should continue? At least until the end of the year? What’s your view on the notion of free childcare? Or do you think there’s an argument to make it free on a permanent basis?


ALBANESE: This is the Government’s policy that it implemented, saying that this would be in place until September and JobKeeper would be there until September and now they’ve changed it. It’s the Government’s policy. What I think is that there’s a need for childcare to be affordable and to be accessible for all Australians. And we will release a childcare policy before the election. But I think that affordability is a critical question and accessibility as well for parents to actually participate in the workforce.


GILBERT: At the other end of the education spectrum, we’re getting this warning from the Chinese education ministry to students, potential students, to be cautious, to conduct a good risk assessment, because of recent racism against Chinese Australians and Chinese visitors. Is this posturing for the Chinese Government, or are you concerned for the higher education sector, one of our nation’s largest exports?


ALBANESE: Well, I’m concerned for the sector. They’ve suffered once again. They were also excluded from JobKeeper. Many university workers have really suffered during this pandemic. And we’ve seen considerable job losses. But this is a sector that’s world-class. This is a sector that deliver high quality education for Australians, but also for overseas students. And it is a major export. It is a quality product here in Australia as well. I think that overseas students benefit greatly from coming to this great nation. I think overwhelmingly they are welcomed. Yes, there are incidents in this country, we have to acknowledge that. But overwhelmingly, Australians are welcoming people. And we welcome people from different cultures from all over the world.


GILBERT: So how should the Government respond to the Chinese propaganda on this?


ALBANESE: Well, the Government at the moment seems to be in a state of drift. We have ministers who can’t say that they have any contact with their counterparts. And one of the issues, I think, is that this Government is so much in internal turmoil that ministers are a bit of a revolving door under this Government as well as Prime Ministers and Deputy Prime Ministers. It’s important that we have relationships with our trading partners. This Government proudly says that it signed the China Free Trade Agreement. But it’s very clear that there are real issues with the relationship. We need a mature approach. We need one that always puts Australia’s national interest first and doesn’t compromise on our sovereignty. But one also that recognises that many Australian jobs are dependent upon international engagement, not just with China, of course, but with other nations, particularly in our region.


GILBERT: Mathias Cormann said at the weekend that the protesters were self-indulgent and selfish with those large protests on the Black Lives Matter issue. My colleague Andrew Clennell said that you told the Caucus that Mathias Cormann was obnoxious in those particular statements. But don’t you think many Australians would empathise with that position given the sort of sacrifices that have been made during the shutdown, like people not being able to go to loved ones’ funerals and so on?


ALBANESE: Look, I made it very clear, Kieran, before, during, and after. Including consistently whenever I’ve been asked publicly and privately that people should follow the health advice. And therefore, I didn’t attend the demonstrations because the health advice is that such large gatherings are a risk. But I think you can take that view and still not regard someone as being selfish who might be an Indigenous person who has lost family members. We know that there’s been more than 400 deaths in custody of First Nations people since the Royal Commission, and I don’t think it adds to the debate to use the sort of language which Mathias Cormann used on Sunday. I don’t think it’s becoming. And I note that today in Parliament, certainly that’s not the language that was used by Minister Wyatt or by anyone else in the Parliament today.


GILBERT: Your MPs, or four of them at least, are being tested and self-isolating. The question is, why did it take them so long to do that? Don’t you think MPs should be held to a higher standard and given the message to Australians has been you’ve got to do the right thing? Four of your MPs attended. Wouldn’t it have been better if they had acted sooner in terms of their own testing and self-isolation?


ALBANESE: Well, they followed the health advice. And the health advice is very clear for everyone, which is that unless you were showing symptoms, then the advice hasn’t been for people to be tested and to self-isolate. They’ve done that out of an abundance of caution. And that’s a reasonable thing.


GILBERT: Should Teddy Sheean be awarded a posthumous VC, Victoria Cross?


ALBANESE: Absolutely, he should be. This is an 18-year-old Tasmanian, who tied himself after he himself had been injured on his ship which had been hit and torpedoed by Japanese fighter planes and continued to fire at the planes that were coming in and downed at least one plane in order to save his comrades who were in the water and being shot at by the planes which we’re going overhead and into the water, knowing that would cost him his life as a certainty. This was an incredible act of heroism by this young Tasmanian. And there was an independent tribunal established. It reviewed the recommendation. They made a unanimous recommendation. I think there were 11 members on the panel unanimously determined, former veterans, academics, people who looked at the detail and the new information and records. And quite frankly, the reason why you have an independent process is to support it. Not have political intervention by the Prime Minister or anyone else to stop it. And it would be a good thing if Teddy Sheean received a posthumous VC.


GILBERT: You’ve provided the account as well today what he did back in 1942. He died on that day, December 1st, at the age of 18, extraordinary. And many survivors say they only survived because of him.


ALBANESE: That’s exactly right. This is just quite incredible. He wasn’t a gunner, by the way. His title was ‘Ordinary Seaman’. And Teddy Sheean was anything but ordinary. He was quite extraordinary. And indeed, there’s a pictorial painting depicting this act at the Australian War Memorial. So, many Australians are familiar with it at what is, I think, a sacred site for Australians, the War Memorial. And this young Tasmanian to have that level of bravery literally the first-hand accounts indicate as he was literally disappearing beneath the water on the bower of that ship, he was still firing. That’s an act of incredible bravery. And if that isn’t deserving of a VC, I don’t know what is.


GILBERT: Absolutely incredible. And speaking of incredible, before I let you go, nice to have some good news today. Will Callaghan, the 14-year-old child with autism after two nights, life-threatening nights, in the bushland in Melbourne, he was found alive. Thank goodness.


ALBANESE: This is such a great story. And I think one of the things about this that shows a lot about the Australian character is that we had the search and rescue and emergency service workers all doing what they do and do so magnificently. But we also had a call-out to the community. And you had him found by Ben Gibbs, who is someone who’s very familiar, a bushie, who is familiar with the area in which this young 14-year-old was missing, went missing, went on a walk with his parents and got lost and he survived since Monday. So, this is a great news story. And I think one in which we can all rejoice. We need a bit more good news at the moment. And this is certainly it.


GILBERT: It certainly is one of the best stories of the year. I appreciate your time, Mr Albanese. Thanks.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Kieran.