May 3, 2020






SUNDAY, 3 MAY 2020


SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; Eden-Monaro byelection, China.


KIERAN GILBERT, HOST OF SUNDAY AGENDA: It is going to be a challenge for Labor to hold this seat of Eden Monaro even though it’s been 100 years since a government has won a seat off an opposition at a byelection.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, it is a challenge. If you look at the figures that were published by Peter Brent yesterday, they show that on the current boundaries, Labor would never have held Eden Monaro during the Hawke and Keating Governments. It is Mike Kelly’s personal vote of 3 to 4%, is what has got Labor across the line in 2007, 2010. Mike didn’t win in 2013, but came back in 2016 into the Federal Parliament. He leaves a big legacy. But there’s a big difference here, Kieran, just listening to yourself and Andrew Clennell there. Kristy McBain is running for her community. What is going on on the other side of politics with the Coalition is they’re concerned about themselves and their own careers. And we have an unseemly situation whereby I think Gladys Berejiklian wants John Barilaro to go to federal Parliament. The federal Nats don’t want John Barilaro there. Certainly Michael McCormick wouldn’t want him there. And you have the Liberals, not quite knowing who they’re going to run or what the motivation is. I think I just heard Andrew say that the State Nationals and the Federal Nationals have done separate polling, like really? That just shows an extraordinary level of dispute that’s there in the Coalition. There’s only one candidate who’s running to represent the people of Eden-Monaro, not running for herself, and that’s Kristy McBain.


GILBERT: Okay. Do you feel that the region, obviously it was the subject of great torment in the fires during summer, has the Coronavirus basically meant that a lot of that has been overwhelmed given the focus on the pandemic?


ALBANESE: No it’s added to it Kieran. This is a region that was suffering from drought. They had in the Bega region of course three significant bushfires over two years, but particularly the one that really devastated the region from New Year’s Eve, and swept of course around the Snowy Valley, the entire region, Batlow, Tumbarumba. All of these regions were massively affected by the bushfires. Indeed, just in the electorate of Eden-Monaro, more hectares lost than were lost during the devastating Victorian bushfires of a few years ago. So this has had a devastating impact. And then on top of that, a community where people were living in tents, and still are, and caravans on properties where they’ve lost their homes. On top of that, you’ve then had the Coronavirus, which has added to the economic trauma but also, of course, the social distancing measures have applied there just like everywhere else. So at a time where they were hopeful, and indeed, campaigning to get people to visit the area and put money in of course, that’s been impossible as well. So this is a community that have been really hit by the triple whammy, and they’re concerned that during the Coronavirus, the Government took its eye off the ball. Indeed they took money that had been allocated for the bushfire regions for tourism and gave it to areas that were impacted by the Coronavirus.


GILBERT: Let’s look at a few of the broader issues on the Coronavirus now. On the China relationship, obviously tensions have been rising on that front. Particularly over Australia’s call for an international investigation. Would you have done anything differently if you were in office?


ALBANESE: Look what Australia needs to do is to stand up for our national interest. We are allies with the United States, but we’re friends with China and other countries in our region. And Australia though can’t allow those economic relationships that are so important for us, to stop us being prepared to say what needs to be said. And there’s nothing remarkable about saying that the world has been impacted by the Coronavirus. It’s had a devastating impact with lives lost, communities in lockdown, a devastating economic impact on the global economy. And we do need to know exactly what the origins were, not as an academic exercise, but so that we can ensure that it never happens again. And I regard the Government’s call as completely unremarkable. And just as a matter of course, I would expect that that would occur.


GILBERT: Would you like some of the broader rhetoric on both sides to calm down a bit?


ALBANESE: Oh look of course. What we need here is just a bit of common sense to apply and some discussion in non-emotional terms if that’s possible. This is an emotional issue. But for us to have normal discourse, and certainly I think at senior levels that has occurred on Australia’s side. Penny Wong from our side has spoken in very similar terms, I think, to the way that Scott Morrison and others in the Government have [like] Marise Payne. And one of the things that Australia does need to do is to make sure that the diplomatic liaison occurs, I think, at the same time before we make statements and that’s been a bit of an issue. But Australia needs to stand up for Australian interests, and that’s not an issue of partisan politics. That’s an issue of common sense.


GILBERT: The medical advice says it’s safe for kids to be at school. Should they be back in the classroom around this nation?


ALBANESE: One of the things that we need to do here Kieran, is to have clarity. And my concern here is that the Prime Minister one day is saying it’s up to the states and territories and the next day offering advice and making suggestions to the contrary to the advice of the states and territories. I think what parents want, and what they tell me, is they want clarity. They want clear advice about when schools will go back so they can plan their own lives.  No one wants any of these restrictions to be on longer than necessary. I think we should listen to the medical advice. I don’t think what we should do is have political leaders giving different advice, different days. I think what that does is create confusion and makes it impossible for parents to plan in terms of their own work patterns. My view is that the states and territories, the Prime Minister has said they’re responsible. And that’s exactly right. Of course they are. They run the school system. But I think there has been a great deal of confusion even though we live in different states and territories people watch often the same comments made on news and on programs like this one, and the idea of rostering and the idea of different times, what parents tell me is that they want certainty. And that certainly should obviously be based upon the medical advice.


GILBERT: The medical advice has while there’s been confusion, admittedly across the jurisdictions and across the systems, public [versus] private, the medical advice has been consistent. And I’m reading Dr. Nick Coatsworth today, he’s coming on the program a bit later. But he says, “as an infectious disease specialist, I’ve examined all the available evidence from Australia and around the world and it does not support avoiding classroom learning.” It couldn’t be more unequivocal about it. It’s time for kids to get back to class, isn’t it?


ALBANESE: He couldn’t be, but then the Victorian advice has been different. In New Zealand, of course, there is an outbreak associated with one of the schools in New Zealand. So we need to just – is it the Commonwealth responsibility? Or is it up to the states and territories? And the Prime Minister needs to make that clear as well. I don’t want people to not be in school. It’s obviously the case as well, that the truth is Kieran that some kids, particularly young people from disadvantaged areas don’t have the same access to the internet and to technology to be able to study at home as others. That’s an issue. And so I want children to be at school learning, but I also want them to be safe and I want there to be a message, which is that it’s up to the states and territories. And I haven’t been critical of the Berejiklian Government on this. What I have been concerned about though, is the mixed messages which are out there which I think are confusing parents.


GILBERT: Parliament’s back next week, do you get the sense Australians want a spirit of bipartisanship to continue, that they want this sense of national purpose to continue? They don’t want politics right now. Is that your sense of things?


ALBANESE: Well they always do Kieran, and I’m someone who has said for some time, as you know, on issues like industrial relations, that trade unions and employers have common interests and have an interest in companies being successful. But they also have an interest in workers being looked after, occupational health and safety. The whole economy has suffered because wages haven’t kept up with the standard of living that’s required. So there is, I believe has been for some time, a yearning for more cooperation in politics. I said when I became the Labor leader, that I was the Labor leader, not the opposition leader. And that I’d be constructive wherever possible. I’ve done that in the national parliament. But I also will hold the government to account. And we’ll be putting forward our alternative views where we think the government has got it wrong. And we believe very clearly the government was getting it wrong on the economy well before this crisis and the bushfires. They had already doubled the debt, of course. They had productivity going backwards. Consumer demand going in the wrong direction. We had wages not keeping up with the cost of living. We had household debt at record levels. And all of the economic indicators were bad. That’s why the Reserve Bank kept cutting interest rates last year. So we went into this crisis, with the economy already suffering and with no plan. They have no energy policy in this country since 2013. There’s no plan to deal with climate change. And one of the things that I hope happens arising out of this, just as we were just talking about listening to the medical experts, I think we should listen to science much more on issues like climate change. And I hope that the Government takes its newfound respect for science and expert advice and puts that into practice in other policy areas.


GILBERT: We’ve only got about a minute left but do both sides need to give a little in terms of the reform agenda because the RBA, the Treasury, they’re saying business as usual won’t work. Do both sides need to compromise there and give a little in terms of that reform agenda?


ALBANESE: We’ve been a supporter of reform and part of our criticism has been that there is no economic plan. But let’s be clear about what led to the three decades of consistent economic growth. It was the Hawke Keating Government reforms. And Kieran, some people are trying to rewrite history. The Coalition opposed that the whole way through. They wanted to get rid of Medicare, but they didn’t support capital gains tax. Fringe benefits tax was going to ruin the entertainment industry. They were opposed to compulsory superannuation, and are still trying to undermine it, and have undermined it during this crisis. The range of measures that Labor put in place in government that led to that positive three decades of growth were opposed by the Coalition, just as the Coalition opposed Labor’s efforts during the Global Financial Crisis of intervening in the economy to save jobs. That’s what we did. And during this crisis, we supported wage subsidies, again opposed originally by the Coalition in government, before they turned around and introduced Job Keeper. But we have been supportive of those measures. We’ll be supportive of constructive policies going forward because Australia can’t afford to just stand still. If we stand still, we’re in the fastest growing region of the world, it’ll just go past us. And that’s been what has been happening over the last few years as they’ve been treading water, and since May have just been on a victory lap around the Parliament House building, rather than actually putting forward a positive agenda for Australia’s future.


GILBERT: Mr. Albanese, as always thanks for your time. Appreciate it.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Kieran.