May 20, 2020






SUBJECTS: Bushfire recovery; Australia’s relationship with China; China tariffs; childcare; carbon capture and storage.


TOM CONNELL, HOST: Anthony Albanese joins us live now. Thanks very much for your time.




CONNELL: I know you spent some time near some bushfire-affected areas yesterday. What are some of the people there telling you that were affected by the bushfires? A lot of talk about whether they feel forgotten with so much focus on COVID-19 now.


ALBANESE: Well, they certainly do. Whether it is the tourism sector that had money taken away from it and given to interstate money that had been allocated to revive tourism post-bushfires, or whether it be towns like this one in Yass that hasn’t received drought funding that they asked for which, of course, they had the drought, then the bushfires, then the coronavirus. Or whether it be with Ian, an orchardist in Batlow, they are really struggling. He has lost 20 per cent of his trees. He has lost an enormous amount of money in terms of having to fix up his own property. We were there, and he has an excavator there trying to move some of the debris that is there. Or whether it be at Tumbarumba, we were at the timber mill, because of supply issues that they are suffering from, they are going to have to get logs from much further away. And they are after some support in the form of freight subsidies if they are going to keep the mill running. They employ 230 people, alone. It is the major industry in that town. The bushfire, when you go through that area, you see the new green shoots, but you just see the extent of the fire as it raged through those communities. And they are really feeling that. They had the drought, they had the bushfires, and there was a focus on them. When the TV cameras left, so did some of the support. And they are really worried about that. In amongst that, you see some fantastic stories as well. We were in Adelong where volunteers are out there rebuilding and quite an extraordinary program where we met a couple who are from near Nambour in Queensland who have spent three months there. The husband is pretty good at repairing some of the tools, and he spends his day doing that. And his wife spends time cooking for people. So, you see the resilience in the communities. There is a great sense of determination to come through this crisis. But there also is a feeling that they have been forgotten and that they need more support at this time.


CONNELL: I guess as the COVID-19 situation improves, we can hope that more volunteers can get back out there. A lot of different charities involved to try to help people rebuild. I want to ask you about the COVID-19 inquiry. The Australian Government to get support for this. And I just want to take you to the comments from the Shadow Minister, Penny Wong, just after the calls came from Scott Morrison and Marise Payne. She said, ‘If the PM is serious about this, he’s going to work a lot to get international agreement. It means not just talking to our friends like the US but also doing the hard yards’. They’ve done that, and it worked. So, do they get credit from Labor now?


ALBANESE: Well, look, we supported it on day one, Tom. So, I’m not sure what the point is. We supported it. We supported it consistently. In the end, this was a European Union resolution. It’s a good thing. And it was always going to happen, I think. The idea, one of the things that I’ve said is when we have a single death in Australia that’s unexplained, we have a coronial inquiry. We have here more than 300,000 deaths up to now. There’s nothing remarkable about investigating this virus and where it came from, what the circumstances are, so that we can learn from it.


CONNELL: Perhaps nothing remarkable, wasn’t necessarily a fait accompli from Penny Wong’s words that it was hard work to get there. But let me take you to these comments as well on the China tariffs.


ALBANESE: Well, that is not right. Penny Wong supported it on day one.


CONNELL: I am not saying she didn’t support, I’m just saying when you said this was always going to happen, she said this is going to take a lot of work to get international agreement.


ALBANESE: But, of course work on words do need to happen. And that happened. And the world worked towards it. And it’s a very good outcome which Labor welcomes.


CONNELL: Alright, so the outcome has happened but a lot of commentary about the China tariffs since and who’s to blame for them. The Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas says this was because of the way the Federal Government has conducted themselves. He was talking about China being vilified. Do you agree?


ALBANESE: Look, I’m not a commentator, Tom. It’s my job to represent the Australian national interest. I have no disagreement with the way that the Australian Government has acted.


CONNELL: That means you don’t agree with Tim Pallas, then? So, you don’t think there’s been vilification of China, just to clarify?


ALBANESE: I’m commenting on the Australian Government’s position whereby the Coalition and Labor have been at one. We have had the same position on these matters.


CONNELL: And where to from here concerning reports out of Bloomberg that there might be a tariff hitlist being drawn up by China? Whether it’s tariffs or the other sort of methods of extra checking of things such as wine, dairy, whatever it might be. What should the Australian Government’s reaction be to that prospect?


ALBANESE: Well, we clearly need not just to engage with China. We need to engage with the United States as well, given the reports that are there about the deal between the US and China. And the example whereby it may well be that the US is stepping in to fill the gap that will be created by the imposition of tariffs on Australian barley. We need to operate our trade system on the basis of laws. Laws that apply to everyone. Which is why we’ve also supported the Australian Government taking China over this issue to the WTO. Australia doesn’t subsidise our barley. And we need to support our farmers. Clearly, we need to look at diversifying markets as well, as much as possible. But there is no reason why hardworking Australian farmers should suffer during this period as a result of a decision by the Chinese Government.


CONNELL: So, just on the trade deal with the US and China, should it be Australia reaching out to the US as well and saying, ‘Hey, make sure you don’t do deals that make us worse off?’


ALBANESE: Well, clearly, we should. We are good friends with the United States. And clearly the Government should be in a position to pick up the phone and to at least explore what the facts are here about the US China deal and on agricultural and whether it has any implications for Australia.


CONNELL: On a separate matter, the Government is set to change the Climate Solutions Fund, possibly as well the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, rules around those to be able to invest in carbon capture and storage, which could include on fossil fuel projects. What’s your view on that?


ALBANESE: Angus Taylor, I’ll wait for the next policy that will be around in a few weeks’ time. I’ve lost count of the number of policies that he comes up with. Let’s be very clear, the former Labor Government that I was a minister in put substantial funds into, we had a separate CCS fund for carbon capture and storage. And that was abolished by this Government, by the Coalition Government. That was abolished. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation was a separate fund to promote clean energy and renewables. That expressly excluded CCS, because there was that separate fund. And it shouldn’t be raided. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation has a charter, it’s been very effective. This Government tried to abolish it at the beginning. Remember that, Tom. And was unsuccessful in getting rid of it. And it’s a good thing that it was.


CONNELL: So, just on carbon capture and storage, would you support perhaps a separate amount of money to fund those sorts of projects? You do support that the technology, it’s just where the money might be coming from that is your issue here?


ALBANESE: Well, I do note, Tom, two points here. One, that the minister says that they don’t want to use taxation. If it looks like taxation being used, and it’s using taxation, it’s called a tax. That’s what the minister is proposing. And he needs to explain that contradiction. The other thing that’s interesting about this paper and one of the recommendations that the Government has said it’s adopted is it has emissions trading attached to it so that if a polluter reduces their emissions by more than they were expected to, then they’re able to trade that in the carbon market. That looks like emissions trading to me. And the Government has to explain the change in its policy there as well.


CONNELL: You’d welcome that wouldn’t you?


ALBANESE: Well, yes, there’s nothing wrong with that in principle. But the Government needs to explain why it is that there’s this enormous contradiction between what it says about emissions trading and then adopting it, what it says about taxation and then advocating taxation and taxpayers paying for those measures when it said that it’s against that. And the backdrop of all this, Tom, is that the Reserve Bank have confirmed that there was a 50 per cent reduction in renewables investment during 2019. So, before the bushfires, before coronavirus, the new investment coming in for new projects has really dropped off a cliff because of the policy uncertainty that is there from this minister.


CONNELL: Well, we are going to talk to the minister about the policy. An interesting paper that was released this week. Couple of more quick issues. Child care, free child care. Australia’s had a taste of it. Some people are saying it should remain. What’s your view?


ALBANESE: We think that the Government needs certainty here. And it needs to work with the industry to make sure that it’s viable into the future. This is a part of their snap-back policy. The idea that we’ll wake up one morning and everything will change back to the way that it was. And whether it’s JobKeeper, JobSeeker, or the childcare policy, the childcare policy is due to change, I think, from memory on June 30. I’m sure you’ll correct me if that’s wrong, and go back to just the way that it was. The Government needs to recognise that childcare is an essential service and put in place an appropriate policy to provide support to make sure that childcare providers continue to be viable.


CONNELL: But what’s your view on that prospect, free childcare. It is in existence in some places in the world. Are you open to that?


ALBANESE: Look, we’ll make our own policies, Tom, with due respect to Sky on a, I think it’s Wednesday today.


CONNELL: It is Wednesday.


ALBANESE: In Yass at 10 o’clock on a Wednesday morning isn’t the place where we will announce our major childcare policy.


CONNELL: But this is a big discussion now and there is a push for it. Is it something you’re mulling over, maybe? It’d be a big attention-grabbing issue, it would be a huge boom for a lot of people as well. Free childcare, are you open to it?


ALBANESE: Which is why I probably shouldn’t do it on Sky, in Yass, on Wednesday at 10am. What we’ll do, we’ll come out with the comprehensive plan. Amanda Rishworth is doing a fantastic job of holding the Government to account, pointing out, for example, that the Government budgeted $2 billion for childcare, and the current measures are $1.6 billion. So, they’re actually spending less than they committed to spend in the Budget last year on childcare.


CONNELL: Maybe we’ll try Sky News on a Sunday morning to see if we have better luck. Anthony Albanese, thanks for your time this morning.


ALBANESE: Maybe. Thanks very much, Tom.