Apr 22, 2020







SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; Virgin Australia; support for Australian aviation industry during COVID-19; economic implications due to COVID-19; Government coronavirus tracing app; World Health Organization; fuel reserves; need for greater transparency during COVID-19 crisis.


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




GILBERT: What do you say to Australians, would you like to see them sign up to the tracing app? Is it something that you would support?


ALBANESE: Look, I would. But I do think that the Government needs to explain more clearly how this app will operate. What protections are there for people’s privacy? I think it’s most unfortunate that we found out about this app when the Chief Medical Officer appeared before the New Zealand Parliamentary Committee into the COVID-19 response. And I found it quite extraordinary that was the first that we were informed of it as the Opposition.


GILBERT: But in terms of the principle, Paul Kelly, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, he’s urged Australians to sign up, you do the same thing.


ALBANESE: I would do that. But the Government needs to be very clear about what protections are in place. Because unless that occurs, unless Australians have the confidence that their privacy will be protected, and that this information will only be used when someone has tested positive, and there’s a need to find out who it is that they’ve come into contact with during the period in which they may well have passed on the infection or indeed been infected themselves, then this is a practical way in which that can be found. And I think on these measures, Australians have shown incredible faith in health experts. And Australians can be very proud of ourselves, I think, as a nation. The fact that, by and large, almost without exception, they’ve followed social restrictions in a way that has hindered the normal way of life that they enjoy. But they’ve done so out of care for each other, both people that they know, but also people that they’ve never met, and they will never know.


GILBERT: Absolutely. And it’s a source of pride, I think, for the entire nation at the moment, the flattening of that curve. Do you think it’s a bit rich for China to criticise Peter Dutton and Marise Payne, for simply saying there needs to be transparency around this?


ALBANESE: Well, there does need to be transparency. And I note that the Prime Minister has proposed that the World Health Organization would have the capacity to go into a country and conduct independent investigations unhindered by that nation state. That to me would be a good thing. We need to find out exactly what occurred here, not as a matter of academic exercise, although the history of this will obviously be important, it’s been a very significant event in all of our lives. But importantly, so that we can prevent this happening ever again.


GILBERT: Absolutely. But I mean, China reacting and saying that the ministers are simply parroting the US, it seems an overreaction from the Chinese Communist Party authorities when you’ve got simply ministers saying there needs to be transparency whether it happened here, South America, Southeast Asia, or China. I mean, this created a pandemic that’s costs nations’ lives and a great deal of treasure as well.


ALBANESE: Indeed, there is a need for transparency in all of these matters. And I think most people see that. We in Australia a democracy. It is one of the distinctions that we have. Something that we should treasure. Something I’m pleased that our democratic system, the Parliament here, where I’m talking to you from will be meeting in May. We need to, I think, continue to cherish democratic institutions and the fact that ministers here, Opposition members, media people, and people in the general community have freedom of expression. And that’s something that isn’t the case in non-democratic regimes.


GILBERT: With the economic impact now, we’ve seen Virgin gone into voluntary administration. You’ve told radio today that you would have acted sooner. But isn’t it actually a better situation to have this voluntary administration then hopefully a private led outcome as opposed to taxpayers stumping up dollars for foreign shareholders?


ALBANESE: No one was asking, Kieran, nobody was asking for taxpayers’ money to go to foreign shareholders. So, let’s get rid of that absolute myth that has been put around. Indeed, the Government has said that they contributed a billion dollars for Qantas and Virgin. And that myth has been perpetuated continually as well over recent weeks. What the Government did was say that they would defer things like Air Services Australia charges for landing, for air traffic control, all of that. The planes aren’t flying, Kieran. So, they’re waiving fees that don’t exist. And indeed $400 million of that has gone back to Air Services Australia, which is a government entity. And so, the Government hasn’t got this right, I don’t believe. And what we have here is the Government says it should be up to the market. But the reason why I disagree with that is that the market isn’t operating. It’s been shut down as a direct result of government policy, which is the right thing to do to protect the health of Australians. But the aviation sector isn’t operating in this country at the moment. And what Virgin were asking for is either a line of credit, a guarantee of credit, or if there was an equity injection. Now, there’s an equity injection of $9 billion into Inland Rail, for example, at the moment. Inland Rail, when you talk about the significance of the relative transport infrastructure significance of our national aviation system or a single rail line, I think the national aviation system is far more significant to the national economic interests.


GILBERT: In terms of the approach here, there are more than ten entities expressing interests to some degree, that is what the Deloitte administrators said yesterday. So, why not let the private led response happen?


ALBANESE: And some of those no doubt will express an interest as some equity companies tend to do of coming in, stripping the assets, sacking the workers and then on-selling what’s left of what remains of the capital infrastructure. What I’m concerned about here, Kieran, is the 16,000 workers who directly depend upon Virgin Australia, is the hundreds of thousands of Australian workers who depend upon an effective tourism sector. And the millions of Australians who depend upon a competitive aviation sector to be able to afford to fly around the country, whether it be for commercial or for recreational reasons.


GILBERT: Let’s talk about the petroleum reserve announced by the Energy Minister today, $94 million to start building that. Do you welcome this given the historically low oil price right now?


ALBANESE: Well, Kieran, what I welcome is Angus Taylor waking up from the slumber and acknowledging that there is problem. Under the International Energy Agency, Australia is obligated to have 90 days of liquid fuel reserves. We have 18 in terms of petrol. We have 22 in terms of diesel. And we have 23 in terms of aviation fuel. We’re in breach of our obligations. But more importantly, we’re in breach of our national interests. We’re very vulnerable to the circumstances, just like COVID-19 isn’t something that was anticipated. But when we were in Government, we actually, by the way, had had Cabinet War-gaming, if you like, processes involving the authorities, and involving ministers and departments to deal with this. The last time that happened was under Nicola Roxon when she was Health Minister. Now, with this issue, we can’t foresee what might happen in terms of international conflict, a closing of sea lanes being constraining the capacity of fuel to find its way to Australia. And 18 days is certainly not in our national interest. And that’s why it’s an issue of national security. And I note that Angus Taylor’s plan though is for fuel reserves to be stored in the United States. What we need is an increase in refining capacity right here. And we need to deal with this issue. It’s one of the reasons why, by the way, we when we announced our shipping policy, in the lead-up to the last election, and indeed, the election before that, we raised the issue of fuel security. And it’s been an issue that we’ve been talking about for a long period of time. But the Government hasn’t acted on at all.


GILBERT: Will you look to take a bipartisan approach to the post-crisis reform that the Government’s taking fresh eyes to, it seems all policy and potential reform ahead of the Budget in October. Will you also give some ground when needed in terms of getting a unity of purpose? Because it’s not a normal time for politics, surely?


ALBANESE: Kieran, what I look forward to, and here’s the test for the Government. Will they talk about the important role of union as they have in recent times? Will they talk about the respect for workers and the work that they do rather than attack their wages and conditions? Will they talk about the need to listen to the science and to the experts when it comes to other issues, like climate change, just as we’re listening to the science when it comes to COVID-19. Will they talk about the need for a coherent approach in terms of looking at society, as a group that we all are interdependent, helping each other? Or will it return to rugged individualism, with market-based approaches, letting the market rip, decreasing the power and influence of working people compared with employers? Because that is what the Government is foreshadowing at the moment, just returning to dragging the old right-wing playbook from below the desk and putting it back on top of the desk. It’s been put away in recent times and the Government has been prepared to change its rhetoric. I said in Parliament when we last sat, that Australians should feel some comfort that the Government’s been prepared to do things that it is uncomfortable with, such as wage subsidies that it rejected at the beginning. We’ll wait and see whether the Government recognises that there is indeed a role for government in shaping and improving people’s lives or whether they just got back to the, ‘let the market rip’ approach that we’ve seen from the Coalition since 2013 without a real economic plan.


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


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Kieran.