May 13, 2020






SUBJECTS: Australia beyond coronavirus; JobSeeker/Newstart payments; Treasurer’s statement to Parliament; economic forecast; easing of restrictions; Nev Power’s $500,000 pay for six months work on commission; National Cabinet processes; Australia’s relationship with China; need for an independent investigation into COVID-19; Scott Morrison’s birthday.


CHRIS KENNY, HOST: Thanks for joining me, Albo. What are the Greens on about? ‘There is a money tree and you water it with more money’.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, the Greens political party have never had to worry about adding up figures or worrying about budgets. And as a Party that is never likely to form Government, they are never likely to be in that position.


KENNY: Well, talking about worrying about budgets, what is your main criticism of Josh Frydenberg’s statement yesterday? Do you think he should have put some estimates out there about where the peak debt might go or where the deficits might be even though you know those things are absolutely certain to change in coming months?


ALBANESE: Well, look, it was a Seinfeld statement. It was a statement about nothing. The fact is that private organisations like Deloitte Access Economics, indeed the Reserve Bank of Australia, the IMF, all of these bodies have been able to produce forecasts. We recognise that forecasts change. They are not set in concrete. But I would have thought yesterday that one; there would have been an idea of where the economy was at right now in terms of more substantial figures. And I have enough experience as a former Cabinet Minister and Deputy Prime Minister to know that in the lead-up to the Budget, the way that Treasury and Finance organise their computer systems and their forecasting is based upon the second Tuesday in May. And that of course was yesterday. And that is why Budget day is held historically at the same time. So, they would have had the information, they are just not telling us. The second issue is that on Monday I presented a vision statement about, ‘Beyond the Coronavirus’ with some ideas about how we not just snap-back but how we grow the economy into the future, how we recover, how we recover while bringing Australians forward, with a particular concentration on job creation. And I would have thought that yesterday I expected some ideas as well from the Treasurer. And we frankly did not get much. It was a statement, I don’t know what the purpose of it was.


KENNY: One of the most important things, if you want to get the economy going, one of the most important things is to open up the economy again. We have got very low levels of infections in this country. We have flattened the curve. Now we need to be careful, of course, but don’t you think some of the state governments, Liberal and Labor, are going too slowly in implementing this three-point plan, in opening up the economy again so that people can get back to work?


ALBANESE: I don’t think anyone wants the restrictions there one day longer than necessary both for reasons of the economy in particular but also, there’s discomfort, at the least, that people feel about not being able to watch the footy and not being able to catch up with friends and family. These restrictions have been frustrating for all of us. But Australians have been magnificent in responding to the challenges and understanding.


KENNY: But have the state governments been good enough?


ALBANESE: Well, it’s not surprising that the state governments that were the first to call, particularly New South Wales and Victoria, were the first to call for increased restrictions in things like schools, have been the slowest in removing those restrictions. Because they’ve been the ones that have been most impacted. So, we do need to make sure that we learn the lessons of places like Singapore that have reduced some of the restrictions and then had to put them back on. We need to get it right. We need to listen to the medical experts. This is essentially a health crisis that has then had economic implications. And we do need to listen to the experts. I’m not privy, obviously, to all of the briefings which are there. But I haven’t been critical in terms of any of the restrictions put in place, whether they’ve been from Gladys Berejiklian in my great state of New South or Daniel Andrews in Victoria.


KENNY: I’m with you. I have supported them too. I just think they’ve really got to hasten opening up the economy again behind our secure borders, because people are suffering greatly. I understood you’re critical of this, and that is the revelation today that Nev Power, the former Fortescue Metals executive, who’s heading up the Government’s Business Advisory Panel on COVID recovery, he’s being paid $500,000 according to reports over six months, is that too much? Is there too much money being spent on this Business Advisory Council?


ALBANESE: Well, that’s a million dollars annual salary. And I think it’s red hot at a time when a whole lot of casuals are missing out on any support. I got a letter today from a mum of three kids who has been in a job for 11 months, who’s had no support. And it was a letter of frustration that so many people out there are feeling. There’s whole sectors of the economy, not the least of which is in the sector you’re involved with, the arts and entertainment sector, the people, not just the people like performers, we’re talking about the people who work on the cameras here, for example, in Parliament House. A whole lot of them have missed out because of the nature of their work. They don’t work for one employer for 12 months. They essentially work in a form of labour hire, they have a number of different jobs. Therefore, they’ve found themselves without support at this time. I just think $500,000 at a time when, and I’m not someone who’s critical of people for the sake of it, but I really would have thought that a time where the main reason why someone takes up that job is because they’ve done pretty well out of life, and they want to make a contribution back to their nation. And I think a million dollars a year annual salary is, I think, it just fails the sniff test. It fails the pub test if it was open.


KENNY: If it was open. I tell you what, I didn’t know you knew me so well. I’m in the arts and entertainment game. On this same issue about how the Government’s running the National Cabinet and the national recovery, I want to show you an excerpt from the COVID Committee in Parliament today where your colleague Kristina Keneally was putting a question to the Secretary, the Chief of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Phil Gaetjens. Let’s have a look.



KRISTINA KENEALLY: So, do the decisions of National Cabinet, subsequent to them being taken, need to go back to the full Cabinet of the Commonwealth Government?

PHIL GAETJENS: Can I take that on notice because I would just again like to consider, myself, if you like, where inside the Cabinet territory endorsement of prior decisions comes.


KENNY: Phil Gaetjens there. Now this is all new ground for everyone. But National Cabinet has been going quite a while, we ought to know some of those basics about the process, shouldn’t we?


ALBANESE: Well, it wasn’t a difficult question from Senator Keneally. It was pretty fundamental. Do these decisions have to go to the Cabinet or not? There’s a lot of talk about it being the National Cabinet and about processes. And I would have thought that the head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet should have been in a position to answer such a fundamental question.


KENNY: I want to get your thoughts on the China-Australia trade war, is what I will call it, because that’s what we’re starting to see. I’ll start off by showing you a clip of the Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, earlier today speaking with Kieran Gilbert.

GRAB OF MARISE PAYNE: There should be an appropriate independent investigation. We don’t think that’s a remarkable proposition and we think that is a reasonable statement for Australia to have made. What is important is that we are able to work together as an international community towards an outcome on that investigation.


KENNY: Now, Anthony Albanese, you support the Government’s call for an independent investigation into the origins of this pandemic. Surely it is China that is overreacting here by targeting Australia in response?


ALBANESE: Well, it’s good that Marise Payne is out there making comments. I think part of the problem with this debate has been leaving it to George Christensen on a visit by the Member for Dawson to Australia to comment on these matters. The Foreign Minister should be commenting. I support the Foreign Minister’s comments. This should not be a partisan issue. Nor should it be an issue which is controversial. Look, when someone dies due to unknown circumstances, there’s a coronial inquest, an individual. What we’re talking about here, I think the figure that you used in your introduction to the show, Chris, was 300,000 deaths.


KENNY: That’s right.


ALBANESE: Surely, surely that demands an open transparent inquiry and not having a go at any one or any nation or any political viewpoint, just as a matter of making sure that this doesn’t happen again. It shouldn’t be just an academic exercise and it shouldn’t be controversial.


KENNY: No and I agree with you on that. But in terms of the fallout, I want to show you what the Labor Premier of Queensland, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said today. She said that Queensland desperately relies on a lot of trade with China. I don’t think we’ve got that grab for you. But what she says is she wants this trade war settled as quickly as possible. And she’s going to write to the Federal Government to urge them to solve it. Isn’t this arguing the wrong end of the stick? Isn’t the beef with China? Shouldn’t she be writing to the Chinese Ambassador not implying that Australia has done something wrong?


ALBANESE: No. Well, I don’t think that implications there at all. I’m sure that what she’s saying is, she’s not alone here, that the Australian Government needs to use every diplomatic use, the Department of Foreign Affairs has some brilliant people in it. We need to be using them to advocate, to lay the groundwork, to make sure that we get the support there for an inquiry. But at the same time, we can be, that’s why this shouldn’t be seen as an attack on any country. Our economic relationships in our region are vital. And jobs in southeast Queensland in particular, two of the main abattoirs are based there around the Ipswich region. And they’re important. They’re doing it tough, these people, and the Queensland Premier’s standing up for Queensland jobs as she does. She deserves credit for that. The Australian Government does need to engage with all the nations in our region. But it needs to engage as well, never compromising on what is Australia’s national interests. Australia’s national interests has been, I have no disagreement whatsoever with the statement that Marise Payne gave today.


KENNY: We are over time. Sorry to cut you off, Anthony Albanese. We are over time.


ALBANESE: Good to chat, mate.


KENNY: You don’t want to wish the Prime Minister a Happy Birthday quickly before we go?


ALBANESE: I didn’t know it was his birthday. That’s news to me. If I’d have known I would have wished him personally during Question Time. But it was Bill Shorten’s birthday yesterday and Scott Morrison’s today.


KENNY: Thanks for joining us.


ALBANESE: So, Happy Birthday to Scott.