Apr 3, 2020






SUBJECTS: Parliament sitting for wage subsidy legislation; coronavirus; impact of coronavirus; transparency from authorities during the coronavirus; cruise ships amid coronavirus crisis; Scott Morrison’s decision of National Cabinet to exclude the Opposition.


CHRIS KENNY, HOST: Thanks for joining us again, Anthony. You would have seen those comments from Scott Morrison today talking about the family pressures, getting a little teary about his grandparents and the Great Depression. You must feel for him at a time like this? A hell of a job, you wouldn’t want it for quids, would you?


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, I do want that job, Chris, as you know. But it is a difficult job, as is my job, balancing up being the Labor Leader at a difficult time like this. But whether you’re the Prime Minister, the Health Minister, all of the ministers have a great responsibility. Because at the end of the day, they’re the ones in a position to make decisions. We’re very conscious of that. I am trying to be as constructive as possible. We have put forward ideas that are about looking for solutions rather than arguments. And later after I conclude this interview, we’ll be having a discussion again with Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg and his leadership team and my equivalent team by tele-presence. So, we’ll be having the social distancing apply there.


KENNY: Look, it’s really hard to keep up with the developments in this story and the policy initiatives. They roll-out day after day. But when you look at the highlights, the main elements, I suppose, we’ve seen in the past couple of weeks, we’ve had industries that are susceptible to spreading the virus. The hospitality industry in particular shut down. We have had workers encouraged to work from home, $130 billion wage subsidy program, we have had free childcare and a childcare support package roll-out today. You’ve got the National Cabinet making decisions. You’ve got quarantine now compulsory for everybody coming into this country. Social distancing and travel restraints. There’s testing being expanded around the country while we also expand more than double the critical beds available in our hospitals. Drugs and equipment being sourced domestically and from overseas. When you look at all those policy initiatives being put in place through the National Cabinet by Scott Morrison and the states, you’d have to give him a big tick for the work so far, wouldn’t you?


ALBANESE: Look, we’re all in this together, Chris. And we of course argued for the wage subsidy when Parliament last sat. At the time, the Government dismissed it and said that it wasn’t practical. What you’ve had is Labor together with the unions and business continuing to advocate for it. And to the Government’s credit, they changed their position. And that’s a good thing. A wonderful thing is that in spite of the fact that Australians are now 1.5 metres apart, in so many ways, we’ve never been as together as we are right now. Australians have put aside partisan differences and arguments and are all working to try and achieve outcomes. It’s a good thing if we prioritise the health outcomes. But also, that’s the way to minimise the economic impact of what is, of course, a health crisis that has transformed itself into a crisis for our economy and jobs as well.


KENNY: You haven’t always been bipartisan. You’ve been critical at times. And you’ve constantly called for tougher measures, quicker measures of more spending. And that’s a pretty easy role to play, isn’t it? For any critic, because then whenever things do get worse, and they’re bound to get worse in this situation, you can pretty much say I told you so?


ALBANESE: Well, that’s not right, Chris. What we’ve done is make the point that if we were going to do something in a week, you’ve got to have a very good reason to not get there and to not make that announcement and bring it forward. And what we’ve seen on issues like social distancing is really working now. And it is starting to flatten the curve. It’s early days. So, we shouldn’t assume that we are there yet. This will be a long battle. But we’ve been constructive. We’ve raised issues, Chris. And we make no apologies for raising issues.


KENNY: And you made your point. And certainly, especially, when you talk about wage subsidies, you’re talking about that early. And you give the Government credit for passing them. And you’ll go back to Parliament next week to help get them through Parliament. But can you then say, can you tell us now, that you believe the Government, through the National Cabinet, has been doing a good job in this crisis?


ALBANESE: Well, look, the fact is that everyone is putting their shoulder to the wheel, Chris. And when the Government has got things right, we’ve given it credit.


KENNY: Have they got their response right overall at this stage of the pandemic? Has the Australian Government got the response about right?


ALBANESE: Well, we have raised issues about the economy. But also, of health. Chris, before last Thursday, before the New South Wales Government made a decision to do temperature testing at our airports, people were still coming in with no temperature checks, no health checks and then dispersing around the country. That’s a major problem. And of course, we’ve seen the disastrous consequences of the Ruby Princess.


KENNY: I’ll come to the Ruby Princess and the cruise ships in a moment. But you’re making criticism there again. And of course, you’ve got every right to do that. But we know how complex this challenge is. We know what a devil of a diabolical dilemma it is, globally. Are you prepared to look at what the Morrison Government has done in Australia so far, what it’s put in place, and what the outcomes have been so far, and say that they’ve done a good job?


ALBANESE: Chris, what we did was go into Parliament and vote through the largest stimulus package in Australia’s history. And that was before that got bedded with the one we’ll deal with next week, in a day. That couldn’t have happened, Parliament couldn’t have even sat, without Labor’s support. So, we have been supportive wherever possible. We’ve continued to raise issues with regard to the wage subsidy. We’ll be raising issues about casuals, about teachers, about a range of people who might miss out and trying to plug those holes. That’s the job of not just of the Opposition, but it’s the job of the media and others to scrutinise and to get improvements in the system. So, we clearly supported the package. That’s why we voted for it. But we also said there were elements of it we thought there was a problem with like superannuation. But we voted for the package. We didn’t want to stand in the way of being blockers. We’ve been constructive. And one of the things that I seek, Chris, I think one of the first interviews I gave as Labor Leader was with you. And I said I wanted to be known as the Labor Leader and not the Opposition Leader, and to be constructive, and to put forward ideas, and to work with the Government wherever possible. We’ve done that. I’ve had constructive discussions with Scott Morrison. And yesterday, we had another one. We had one the day before as well. And that’s a good thing. Because I think Australians want solutions to this. And the fact is that all of society, what we’re seeing here is that governments, political parties, people in the media, people in the private sector, all coming together to do their bit. And particular shout-out to those people who are really on the front line. Because it is not politicians. It’s our doctors, our nurses, our social workers. They deserve incredible credit. Our childcare workers do brilliant work as well.


KENNY: Also, what about police? Do you think our state police forces, whether it’s the drones in Perth, or the partners being kept apart in Victoria, or people moved on from the park benches in New South Wales? Do you think as a country, we’ve been too heavy handed in the social distancing rules, the implementation?


ALBANESE: Look, the police’s job is to implement the rules that are set by governments. So, they’ve been doing their job and they’ve been doing it extremely well. I think that when there’s been an overstepping of the mark, I noticed that the Victorian Government withdrew the idea that partners who happen to not live in the same house couldn’t get together. They changed that. And a bit of common sense applied. And look, it’s understandable that at times like this, that mistakes will be made, and that people might be overcautious, if you like, with some of these measures. And when people see how they’re applying in practice, common sense has kicked in. And that’s a good thing. In a democracy, I think it is really important that we are still able to, with the restrictions that are there, we’re still a free society. And that’s important that we don’t lose that. That we don’t become the sort of state that we see in one party states whereby government tells you absolutely everything to do, what you can do beyond common-sense. Common sense should apply here.


KENNY: Absolutely. Now I wanted to mention the cruise ships. I know you’re pressed for time. But look, this has been a monumental stuff-up with the Ruby Princess, but there’s a bigger challenge now to work out what to do with other crew and passengers on the ships now. It seems to have been primarily a New South Wales State Government’s stuff-up so far. But your colleague Kristina Keneally has been saying this today.


AUDIO OF KRISTINA KENEALLY: Why has there been deafening silence from Peter Dutton? I mean, for heaven’s sakes, where is Peter Dutton? We have a border security crisis on our hands. And we have heard nothing from the Home Affairs Minister.


KENNY: Well, we know Peter Dutton is waiting to see whether or not he gets clearance on his Coronavirus infection. But is she breaking out in the non-bipartisan way here? Or is she holding the Government to account with your blessing?


ALBANESE: Well, she is certainly holding the Government to account. And Kristina has been doing a very good job pointing out these issues as it’s become apparent now with over 400 infections directly traced to the debacle that is the Ruby Princess. Similarly, in terms of our borders, it is the Federal Government that controls our borders. And whether it was people going through Sydney Airport, I raised this very directly with the Government when I was concerned, on the last time I took a flight, it was a couple of weeks ago, sitting in a regional airline waiting to go. And people from the Philippines and the US had flown in, were expressing their concern that there had been no checks at all. They filled out a form and that was it. They were told they had to go and self-isolate. In the meantime, they were flying to different parts of Australia. They were getting in taxis, getting in trains.


KENNY: It is now compulsory quarantine.


ALBANESE: And that was fixed. And that’s a good thing. And it is good that Labor was calling for that. That’s an example of us being constructive and putting forward ideas to fill the gaps which have been there. No one, no political party, I’ll say it, no political party, whoever was in Government, at this point in time, was never going to get it perfectly right because of the nature of this crisis. So, we have put forward ideas constructively. And we’ll continue to do so. But we’ll also continue to have a fundamental principle which is this; we want bipartisanship, that’s not the same as silence. What bipartisanship represents is making sure that we get outcomes that are in the national interest. That we always look for solutions, rather than look for arguments. And that’s what I’ll continue to do. That’s what we’ll be doing when Parliament sits next week as well.


KENNY: Anthony Albanese, I just wanted to finish on that. Because the day that Scott Morrison announced the National Cabinet, I suggested straight away that it would have been wise to invite you to join that for that bipartisanship. But do you think perhaps, in a way, he’s done you a favour by not including you because you are able to stand outside and offer your criticisms?


ALBANESE: Well, that’s a decision for him, of course. But cabinet principles don’t really apply. There’s no constitutional basis for this. This is operating under the COAG principles. It’s a good thing that we’re getting cooperation from the Commonwealth Government and our states and territories. It’s a difficulty that we have in our Federation, often. And we’ve seen arguments over, for example, the Ruby Princess, over who was responsible, which level of government. We need to recognise that state and territory boundaries aren’t recognised by this virus. And that’s why we need a national response that is consistent as much as absolutely possible. One of the things that’s happened, of course, in practice, the states have, with everyone’s agreement, have gotten their own way on some measures, the school closures and other measures, of course. And that’s just the way that it is. That’s the way that our Federation is structured. But that was a decision for Scott Morrison. It is his decision. It is his judgment that he made. And the consequences are there. I didn’t complain. I’ve only ever raised the issue when it’s been raised with me publicly. But I’m getting on with my job. And it doesn’t stop me, of course, from either picking up the phone privately or sending messages or having meetings. And the meeting that I had during the sitting, with Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg, where I raised the need to look after students and young people and 230,000 people got extra support as a result of that. And we raised the issue of the two-income families where someone loses their job and the threshold needed to be increased. That’s been done as well. That’s an example, frankly, of me putting forward an idea, which is good, but them saying, ‘We’ve listened. We can do that’. That’s good too. That’s the way the Parliament should actually work. And it worked, I think, quite well.


KENNY: Well, let’s hope it works that way next week as well.


ALBANESE: I hope it does.


KENNY: Thanks so much for joining us, Anthony.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Chris.