Mar 24, 2020







SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; Parliament sitting; coronavirus stimulus packages; confusion around clear messaging during the coronavirus issue; Centrelink queues; sporting codes; lack of Opposition representation in national cabinet.


TOM CONNELL, HOST: Joining us now is the Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese. Thanks for your time.




CONNELL: I might just start on the sporting codes, the NRL, the AFL, all talking about survival. A lot of money is being made available to help all sorts of sectors within the community. Should it be on the table for financial assistance for these leagues?


ALBANESE: Well, I think you would have to look at what elements of it could be on the table. Certainly, in terms of players, I think that would be hard to argue that it is a priority. There are limited funds. But in terms of the games itself, they obviously play an important role in Australian culture. So, I haven’t seen yet any proposal from any of the sporting codes for that support in any detail. But I think at times like this which are extraordinary, nothing is off the table. We need to get through this and we need to get through it in a way that builds confidence and ensures that we look back on this as an extraordinarily difficult time but one that we got through and life returned to normal. And part of life is sport in this great country of ours.


CONNELL: It certainly is. Perhaps the money to help the club survive, if not to the players, it sounds like there. I want to ask you, you had some evocative words.


ALBANESE: Well, I think one of the points I make there, Tom, is that I’m not as concerned about people at the elite, if you like. One of the things that we need to perhaps look at, though, is things like junior sport. I know for example, a local club in my electorate in Newtown, I spoke to their chair, Barry Cotter, this week. They play in the New South Wales comp, the second-tier comp. They survive, basically, on people paying literally $2 to get into Henson Park on a Saturday. They’ve got player fees, they’ve got ongoing costs. They were cancelled well before the NRL. They haven’t started the year. There will be a need to look at, I think, junior and those secondary competitions and how they survive. There is a need to look at all those matters.


CONNELL: As you say, everything is on the table right now. I want to get to the people right now lining up at Centrelink or trying to log online or on the phones. What’s your message to them, Anthony Albanese? This is the first wave of what could be many in what’s been called a possible prelude to a depression in the country.


ALBANESE: Well, my message to them is we are with you. This is about people, Tom, at the end of the day. And we need to provide every support. People are queuing up because they’re anxious. They’re uncertain. They’re queuing up in part because the online system they were told to log on to shut down yesterday. The system didn’t work. And we know that Stuart Robert’s comments this morning dismissing the shutdown as ‘my bad’ in terms of his misrepresentation of what was occurring was not the finest moment for Australian politics. The fact is that people who are vulnerable, who are scared and anxious, we need to provide them with every support. And we need to do it as a matter of urgency.


CONNELL: Obviously, Labor is still wanting to hold the Government to account, and fair enough. But is it the wrong time to call for a minister’s sacking? To come in and get their head across a pretty complicated portfolio? Do we need to keep people in place for now?


ALBANESE: Look, that’s a matter for the Government. It’s up to them to determine the best people in particular.


CONNELL: But Bill has (inaudible).


ALBANESE: Well, I’m not surprised that Bill as our Shadow Minister who was very concerned about the minister, who of course, has presided over the Robodebt debacle, has presided over accident after accident. And yesterday, clearly just said things that were just not true, Tom. And what we need throughout this crisis is certainty. We need clarity. We need clear messages going out to the community that are based upon facts. If we’ve got people just making things up as a matter of convenience, and that’s a very bad thing, indeed, because it breaks down confidence in the system.


CONNELL: We’re anticipating announcements to help people out who might not be able to pay their rent anymore because they’re out of work. What do you think is needed in this area?


ALBANESE: Look, we need to provide assistance for people to get through this crisis. That is the bottom line. And we need to do whatever is necessary. Labor went into this session yesterday and passed a package worth tens of billions of dollars and got improvements to that package. We got improvements threefold. Firstly, we got changes to the tax system and the tapering off system so that changes will mean that many more people, hundreds of thousands more people, will have their income improved. Low and middle-income earners. And particularly by increasing the cut-off rate for the coronavirus payment from $48,000. It should be increased to around about $75,000 with the changes that we made for ministerial discretion. That will provide real assistance for people who need it. Secondly, we got payments for Austudy, Abstudy and Youth Allowance meaning more than a hundred thousand extra people will receive financial support. And thirdly, importantly, we got support to increase the discretion of the Finance Minister to make special payments of up to $40 billion in that fund. With the support of the Finance Minister and the Shadow Finance Minister. What that will enable the Government to be able to do is to provide that support. And I’m very worried about individuals and also organisations like homeless support organisations, women’s shelters, all those organisations that will need support to get through this crisis.


CONNELL: So, you managed to shape that package. Do you have anything in particular around policy to do with those people renting at the moment that might not be able to pay for it that you’d like to shape around the next announcement that you would like to get on the front foot about?


ALBANESE: Well, they should be getting increased support. People who can’t pay their rent need that support. The payments are one thing in terms of the Coronavirus payment. Well, they need income support. One of the things that we haven’t done in this period is to be prescriptive. We have given the space, if you like, for the Government to move. And we’ve done that by putting forward the principles, by entering into negotiations. I had a discussion after five o’clock yesterday with Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg, in the Prime Minister’s Office. That’s where we proposed further changes that we had raised in the Parliament earlier in the day. The Government listened. And Mathias Cormann was also very constructive. That’s the way that this Parliament needs to function at this point in time.


CONNELL: We’re all hoping that. Just finally and briefly, you’ve been pushing to be a part of that national cabinet. I assume you’ve reached out privately to Scott Morrison. What was his response as to why that wasn’t a good idea?


ALBANESE: Well, he’s made his response publicly. It is up to Scott Morrison. I don’t reveal private conversations when I have them. If others do that, that’s up to them. But I don’t. And I think that’s a pretty good principle in life, Tom. And, look, it’s very clear, the Prime Minister says publicly that it’s a matter of Government leaders, but it’s a national cabinet. Common-sense tells you that a national cabinet that excludes the biggest political party in this Parliament is really just COAG is what it is. And that’s a decision for the Government. They won the election. He’s the Prime Minister. But the fact is that, obviously, it would be truly much more of a national cabinet if he involved the Opposition. And I think it would show him to be a bigger person if he was to do that.


CONNELL: So far, the answer is no. This has been a fluid situation, Anthony Albanese. Thanks for your time.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Tom.