Feb 17, 2021






SUBJECTS: Alleged assault at Parliament House; industrial relations; enterprise bargaining; insecure work; quarantine; Scott Morrison handing off responsibility to the states; state borders; coronavirus response; hotel quarantine.


LAURA JAYES, HOST: The Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, joins me now. Thanks so much for your time.




JAYES: Can I first ask about Brittany Higgins? Are you satisfied with the response so far from the Prime Minister and Linda Reynolds?




JAYES: What should they have done?


ALBANESE: Well, the discrepancies that are there in the timelines are very clear. One of the issues that women say prevents them from coming forward with courage, like Brittany Higgins has done, is whether they’ll be believed. Now, Ms Higgins says that she was contacted by a senior person in the Prime Minister’s office just after the reported sexual assault, that she was contacted again by the same person towards the end of last year. And the Prime Minister yesterday said in Parliament that his office only knew last week. Well, the Defence Minister’s Chief of Staff at the time was a former staff member as well to the Prime Minister before they went across to Minister Reynolds’ office and then went back to the Prime Minister’s office. So he has been working in the Prime Minister’s Office. The idea that a sexual assault occurs 50 metres from the Prime Minister’s office in the office of the Defence Minister of our country two years ago, and no one in the Prime Minister’s office knows, I think that former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has made clear his view of whether that’s credible or not.


JAYES: What is your view? Do you think it is credible?


ALBANESE: I believe Brittany Higgins.


JAYES: Would the Prime Minister have known? Do you expect that he only found out 24 hours before?


ALBANESE: I asked very clear questions on the floor of the Parliament yesterday about that and about whether it was acceptable that the Defence Minister knew, obviously, about this for two years. This is prior to the last election. Bear in mind the context here, there’s an election coming up. After the election, as well, Ms Higgins gets transferred to another minister’s office and that no one raises this at any time. I asked if the Prime Minister had confidence in the Defence Minister. Seems to me pretty clear that if I was the Prime Minister and these events had occurred and a minister in my Cabinet had kept any information from me or my office, then they wouldn’t be still maintaining that position. So there are a lot of contradictions here. The Prime Minister, I note, has apparently put out that he won’t be holding any media events today or basically be able to be scrutinised by the media. But this is a very serious issue. And it needs to be taken seriously. And we need just some straight answers about what occurred and when.


JAYES: What have you done to satisfy yourself that this type of thing, not just rape but harassment, hasn’t occurred in your ranks?


ALBANESE: Well, we’ve had in place measures since 2018. When I became the Leader, I asked that those processes be updated. Those processes have been completed. I pay tribute to Sharon Claydon, the Chair of our caucus, and a range of other Party members in the organisational wing.


JAYES: Are you saying this is a Liberal Party problem then?


ALBANESE: No. I’m not suggesting that at all. There is a cultural problem that needs to be dealt with across the board. And what I’m saying is, as far as Labor is concerned, what I’ve done is ensure that processes are put in place, that after extensive consultation with former and current staff members, that process has been concluded. It goes to the ALP National Executive next Friday where it will be adopted. And that goes to, by the way, not just the Parliament, but processes within the organisation as a whole. This is a problem that exists in society.


JAYES: You know what it is like in that place. Exactly. It’s not just Parliament House. But I think people expect more of Parliament House. You know what that place is like. There’s rumour and innuendo all the time, much of it untrue. So if someone had departed an office of a senior minister, whichever side of politics it would be. Let’s talk about your Party. If, you know, for example, a staffer was just moved on quietly because their behaviour was questionable, is that acceptable? And do you think you would know about it?


ALBANESE: Well, my Chief of Staff certainly would know about it in terms of shadow ministerial staff are all part of that process. But I don’t suggest here that this is just a problem for the Liberal Party. This is a problem for our society. That’s why we need to talk about these issues. I note Grace Tame, the courageous Australian of the Year, received that accolade, that high honour, because of her courage in speaking out. This is a problem throughout society. We need to talk about it. We need to also, in Ms Higgins’ case, I think she’s entitled to be believed. She showed incredible courage, I think, in speaking out here. It shouldn’t have taken her decision to be public about that. There’s a range of questions.


JAYES: But why not? If it was her decision to make public. Again, it comes back to that stigma. And she said in the interview that they were going into an election and she just felt like that she wanted to be a team player. I don’t wish to verbal her here. But if she didn’t want it made public, in many ways, wasn’t Linda Reynolds and others hamstrung? Because you’ve got to respect the privacy of a victim?


ALBANESE: You do absolutely have to respect the wishes of the victim. But there are a whole range of questions here that go beyond privacy, that go to, for example, whether it’s appropriate for the Prime Minister and his office to know.


JAYES: But the Prime Minister didn’t know.


ALBANESE: Ms Higgins has said very clearly that the Prime Minister’s key adviser, in her term, not mine, his fixer, was in contact with her after the event and re-contacted her last year after the Four Corners program.


JAYES: Okay, one last question on this independent review. We’ve had reviews of this type in Defence. Elizabeth Broderick was one of those that looked into ADFA. We all know Natasha Stott Despoja, she is the UN representative for women at the moment. Perhaps it’s those two women that should be, or women like them, that should be looking into this review?


ALBANESE: Absolutely.


JAYES: Do you have anyone else in mind?


ALBANESE: Either of those women would be outstanding to look at this review. It needs to be someone who’s clearly independent. Someone who isn’t dependent upon the system for future promotion. It needs to be a serious review. Processes need to be put in place, in my view, independent processes that people can go to is absolutely critical. I have, of course, I put out a statement yesterday morning with Tanya Plibersek, my Shadow Minister for the Status of Women. And it was the first question I asked the Prime Minister in Question Time yesterday. He responded positively. And that’s a good thing. I hope to sit down with the Prime Minister and with whoever he wishes and work this through in a bipartisan way. It’s important that the public have confidence in whatever process is established. And a good start is who to head that process. And either Natasha Stott Despoja or Elizabeth Broderick would be outstanding appointments.


JAYES: Let’s talk about IR. The Government has dropped the more contentious part of its package. What’s wrong with the package as it stands now?


ALBANESE: Well, the first thing is, of course, they’ve dropped the bit that they said didn’t do anything, didn’t cause any problems. They’ve dropped the changes to the Better Off Overall Test because that shows the motives behind this legislation, they don’t want people to be better off overall. There’s a range of problems.


JAYES: Is the problem that the Fair Work Commission just doesn’t have enough power?


ALBANESE: Well, take just one element of the legislation, which is if you’re a casual and your status should be actually as a permanent employee. Under the proposal that’s before the Parliament, the Fair Work Commission can’t determine that. You’ve got to go to the Federal Court. Now, think about your person who’s defined as a casual employee heading off, lawyering up to take the Federal Government to the Federal Court in order to be made permanent. It’s absurd.


JAYES: These problems don’t seem insurmountable though, Anthony Albanese. The Government has demonstrated it is willing to negotiate here. So are you willing to do the same?


ALBANESE: Well, they’ve demonstrated they were talking nonsense last week and the week before and the week before that right back to December. Let’s be very clear here. They set up a process of consultation with unions and employers. And then they produced legislation that didn’t reflect that consultation, that reflected a return to their old ideological position of undermining wages. We’ve had wage stagnation since 2013. The lowest wages growth on record. That’s a problem not just for individuals struggling to pay their rent, struggling to get by, put food on the table for their families. That’s a problem for our national economy as well. And the Reserve Bank Governor has made that clear. There’s nothing in this legislation that will deal with those issues. There’s nothing in this legislation to deal with insecure work. There’s nothing in this legislation to deal with the fact, as I said when I released our Secure Jobs Plan, or the first elements of it last week, there’s nothing there to deal with the fact that there’s a whole range of people who aren’t even paid the minimum wage at the moment. There’s nothing to stop that happening.


JAYES: Who aren’t getting paid the minimum wage? How many people and where do they work?


ALBANESE: The person delivering your food through one of the apps has no bottom level of wage, no conditions whatsoever. And we know, for example, that just at the end of last year, over a period of just three months, five riders lost their lives. Five. That’s the cost of a failure in the system.


JAYES: You have spoken about how you used penalty rates as a young man and how important they are. But can you see that people are frustrated? Because over the years, the unions have used the framework that’s in place now to trade some of those benefits away.


ALBANESE: Well, enterprise bargaining has to mean that workers are better off at the end of that process. So they’ve traded it away but for higher wages.


JAYES: Do you accept that that hasn’t been the lived experience?


ALBANESE: I accept that enterprise bargaining is a system, when working properly, benefits both workers and employees.


JAYES: That is the key, isn’t it? When working properly. It doesn’t work properly all the time, does it?


ALBANESE: Well, no, it doesn’t. And that’s why we need a system that works in the interests, the common interests, I believe. Good employers have an interest in their workers being properly paid and feeling secure and a sense of ownership that they have. Pride in their job and pride in their outcomes. And workers have an interest in employers being successful, making a profit, making a return, because that’s what keeps them in their job. There is that common interest there. And you see it operating. Last week, can I say this? Last week I was at Maryborough in Queensland, Downer EDI, a fully unionised shop doing rail manufacturing in the regions of Queensland, employing 400 people directly, 42 apprentices on the job, people who’ve worked at that company for generations, a real pride there from management and workers showing exactly how the system, when it operates properly, can operate.


JAYES: And they haven’t used the Fair Work Commission, have they?


ALBANESE: Well, of course, they have, to go through the enterprise bargaining and to get those agreements in place. They have. But what they’re doing is they’re going to plan for even more apprentices in the future. And it was a very good visit. I’ve been to that site before. And when you look at when industrial relations is operating properly, then what we see is Australia works well. At the moment, this Government, every chance they get, they just look towards, ‘How do we lower wages? How do we give unions less rights?’


JAYES: Food prices won’t go up under your plan and there won’t be an added impost on small businesses that can’t afford it at the moment?


ALBANESE: Our plan is for secure work. And one of the things that is holding back businesses right now, according to the Reserve Bank, according to anyone who has a look at it, is the constraint on wages. Because what that does, if people aren’t in secure work, they’re not putting down their roots and having a mortgage because they can’t get one because they don’t have a secure job. They’re not spending money in the local economy creating work, particularly in small business. The problem is, at the moment, that wage stagnation is actually holding back our economy and holding back businesses because it reduces the size of the economy because it reduces economic activity.


JAYES: Okay, one final question, Anthony Albanese. We are right out of time. Have you spoken to Dan Andrews? Have you got on the phone to him? What is going on in Victoria? There keep on being stuff-ups out of hotel quarantine. Do you think finally now they’ve fixed it?


ALBANESE: Well, the Federal Government is responsible for quarantine in Australia. That’s the first point.


JAYES: Well, it’s not at all. Because the states are running it.


ALBANESE: But it should be. Because we have a Prime Minister who doesn’t ‘hold a hose, mate’, to quote him.


JAYES: How would the Federal Government run hotel quarantine if it can’t control the borders?


ALBANESE: Laura, the Federal Government controls who comes into Australia and the numbers. If they don’t control that, what are they in charge of?


JAYES: Does one state have to take all the international arrivals? Do New South Wales take them all if all the other state borders are shut? How does it work?


ALBANESE: I’m sorry, Laura, but who controls who comes into Australia is a Federal Government responsibility.


JAYES: But Dan Andrews is not taking any international arrivals at the moment. Who picks up the slack?


ALBANESE: That is not the responsibility of the states.


JAYES: Dan Andrews is not taking any international arrivals. Who has to pick up the slack there?


ALBANESE: That’s a decision of Scott Morrison.


JAYES: No, it is not. It is a decision of Daniel Andrews.


ALBANESE: That’s not right. Scott Morrison has chosen to hand over things that are clearly his responsibility under the Constitution to the states.


JAYES: Daniel Andrews is not taking any overseas arrivals into hotel quarantine during this snap lockdown.


ALBANESE: Because Scott Morrison has handed off his responsibility. His responsibility. And I’ll say this, Laura, that just before we were on air, the report that there is zero cases in Victoria is a great tribute to Victorians. It is a great outcome. No one wants to see closures that aren’t absolutely necessary. No one wants to see that. But the Prime Minister has handed off this responsibility.


JAYES: Where’s the evidence that this lockdown was absolutely necessary? Seventeen active cases and 3,000 calls a day to Lifeline.


ALBANESE: Laura, for the same reasons that the lockdowns on the Northern Beaches of Sydney.


JAYES: It wasn’t the whole state.


ALBANESE: For the lockdowns in Adelaide, the lockdowns in Brisbane, the lockdowns in Western Australia, the closure of the borders in Tasmania. What I haven’t done, and what the Coalition does from time to time, is selectively be critical of state premiers. I have been supportive of all of them.


JAYES: I can’t believe that we are in a situation where premiers are above criticism though. No one wants to criticise. These lockdowns are in many ways unjustified. I mean 3,000 calls a day to Lifeline just on Saturday. It was the third highest in Lifeline’s history. Are you worried about that?


ALBANESE: Of course I’m worried about any impact in terms of mental health and the difficulty that people have gone through throughout Australia. But what I won’t do is join a pile-on selectively, which is what the Coalition selectively have tried to do. Scott Morrison says nice things and then sends other people out to say different things. I haven’t been critical of the lockdowns that have occurred in each and every state and territory. A little while ago, Laura, I was in Sydney and not allowed to go to any state or territory, including here in Canberra. They were the circumstances that were there imposed by Coalition and Labor premiers and chief ministers around the country. Imposed because Scott Morrison has handed over responsibility for issues like quarantine to the states and territories.


JAYES: Anthony Albanese, we are well over time. Always good to chat. Appreciate it.


ALBANESE: Thanks Laura.