ANTHONY ALBANESE – TRANSCRIPT – TELEVISION INTERVIEW – SKY NEWS WITH ASHLEIGH GILLON – WEDNESDAY, 29 APRIL 2020
ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
SKY NEWS WITH ASHLEIGH GILLON
WEDNESDAY, 29 APRIL 2020
SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; need for accountability and transparency during COVID-19; Australia’s relationship with China; need for an investigation into origins of COVID-19; schools re-opening; bringing forward of funding for independent schools.
ASHLEIGH GILLON, HOST: Appreciate your time, Anthony Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good to be with you, Ash.
GILLON: Did it strike you as odd to see a Chinese Government representative standing alongside Greg Hunt and Andrew Forrest there? That he was given a platform by the Government to essentially spread China’s message? He said, ‘We are all in this together, we need to work together’. He also argued in that news conference that ‘China’s doing everything it can’, that was the quote, to help Australia, whereas we all know that in reality, tensions are running high after China threatened to boycott against Australian products and also leaked a private diplomatic briefing after expressing criticism over Australia’s plan for a probe into the origins of the virus.
ALBANESE: Well, it was probably fair to say it was an unexpected vision at that press conference. But it’s not a bad thing either. I’m not critical at all of Greg Hunt for doing that. What we saw here was a practical difference being made by Twiggy Forrest and to enable an increase in the number of tests that are taking place here in Australia. Australia always has to stand up for our own national interest. And that’s what we’ve done here. Australians, as well as others, it must be said, have an interest in finding out exactly the details of how this crisis came about, the source of the virus, how it happened. Not as an academic exercise, but so that we can avoid it ever happening again.
GILLON: And would you be willing to do that at the risk of our trade balance sheet? Shouldn’t we be trying to de-escalate tensions with China, considering we’ll need that country as we emerge from this terrible economic situation that Australia is facing?
ALBANESE: Well, the relationship with China is an important one for Australia. But I regarded as completely unremarkable the idea that there should be an investigation into this. That is pretty obvious when we have one death in this country from unexplained circumstances, we often have coronial inquiries. We’re talking here about a virus that has had an impact on the entire globe. And therefore, I regard it as completely unremarkable. It certainly isn’t an attack on any nation, China or anyone else. It’s just a simple, going about normal, common sense business. And I think that should be recognised. There’s no need for any tension to increase over that. I regard it as unremarkable. What I’m concerned about more is how we continue to deal with the health issues but reduce the economic impact of this current crisis. We heard yesterday in the Senate Select Committee that 160,000 Australians lost their jobs and went on to the Centrelink queues in between the JobSeeker announcement, and it beginning on the day that Parliament was sitting. And on that very day I said, if we were going to do something in a week’s time, we should do it today. Well, they did that in a week’s time. They changed their mind on wage subsidies and announced JobKeeper. But in the meantime, there were 160,000 people who joined the Centrelink queues that didn’t need to if the Government had made that decision earlier, when it should have, when Labor was arguing for wage subsidies as an essential component of the response to this crisis.
GILLON: You can’t announce a $130 billion scheme that’s been devised on the back of an envelope, though, can you? Reports out of Treasury and other departments were that they were all working around the clock to get that scheme to the point where the Is were dotted, and the T’s were crossed, there was nothing stopping employers who had sacked workers in that week period that you’re talking about to then bring them back into the tent once that JobKeeper scheme was announced?
ALBANESE: Ash, they opposed it. They not only opposed it publicly in the Parliament, in the media, they opposed it when we were raising those issues privately. As you know, there were meetings between senior members of the Government and Opposition prior to Parliament sitting. We were arguing for some time that wage subsidies were important. The Government rejected that concept. Unions were arguing it. Business was arguing it. We had unusual circumstances of joint statements from the Australian Retails Association and the SDA, the shop assistants’ union. We had unions and employers all saying what we needed to do was to keep that relationship between individual employers and individual employees. And JobKeeper was a way to do it through wage subsidies. The Government got there in the end. To their credit, they changed their mind. But there was an impact of that delay.
GILLON: Just on another big issue, we have seen a number of schools around the country opening up today. The Federal Government is offering to bring forward funding for private schools, putting independent schools in Victoria in particular where the government at a state level is being hard line on schools in an awkward position. Do you support that move by the Federal Education Minister? We know that non-government schools are facing falling enrolments. The Government is really just adjusting the timing isn’t it, of one of the regular schedule payments to help improve cash flow issues?
ALBANESE: Look, we will examine any detail that’s put forward. But it seems to us that this isn’t new money. It’s just a slight change in the timing of when money would be forwarded, which of course, will have an impact. No doubt if you bring forward funding to the current financial year, you increase the deficit this year but make the Budget position better in the subsequent year, which is closer to an election.
GILLON: Anthony Albanese, the Opposition Leader, appreciate you joining us live there in Canberra.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Ash.