Mar 22, 2020








SUBJECTS: Coronavirus; coronavirus stimulus packages; confusion around clear messaging during the coronavirus issue.


KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: I have got Anthony Albanese, the Labor Leader, here in the studio. Before we get on the Government’s second economic package, let me ask you about the move by Victoria and NSW to a shutdown of non-essential business. Is this the right decision, do you think?


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, I am sure that they are making any decision based upon medical advice. And one of the things that we know, I think, and I have said this throughout this medical emergency, which has obviously had economic consequences, is that if we know we are going to do something next week, we should be doing it today. The sooner we act, all of the evidence is, the sooner we act, whether it is a health impact, restricting the number of people who contract this virus, early action will do that, or in terms of the economy, the economic impact will be mitigated the more and the sooner we act as well.


GILBERT: And that would make sense to go to this latest move by New South Wales and Victoria that you would support that sort of initiative because that is getting in early. The numbers are still concerning though in terms of their trajectory. Would you like to see non-essential business and schools shut down now?


ALBANESE: Well look, I’m not privy to the advice that they are. So, I’m sure that they will make the right decision. But what we do know is that the numbers are really concerning. They’re now more than 1,000, the numbers of daily infections that continue to rise on a trajectory which is of real concern. And we know from overseas and those nations that moved earlier, that shut down social contact across the board that tested more people, we actually know some of the things that work by looking at who’s done what, when, and compare it with nations that weren’t as quick to move like Italy, that last night saw almost 400 people die in one day.


GILBERT: You’re going to be holding a meeting with the Prime Minister this afternoon ahead of Parliament. It looks like you’re only going to be sitting for one day, not the four days that we normally would see Parliament sit. Do you see that as a sign that you’re going to be consulted more by the Prime Minister right now?


ALBANESE: Well, I think it’s unfortunate that there hasn’t been more genuine consultation, for example, about the economic package that was announced today. We’re still waiting for legislation. And of course, the Government hasn’t consulted us on those measures. We’ve been privy and able to get health advice from the authorities. But with regard to Government actions, it’s not consultation to have the meeting after it’s already been announced. So, what this afternoon will primarily be about is consultation about the functioning of the Parliament and that is because it has to happen. Be very clear, for some of these measures, you need 76 votes. So, you’ll need both the Government and the Opposition, voting together.


GILBERT: Is your inclination to support the package, even though you are not happy with the level of consultation, will you back it?


ALBANESE: We have made it very clear that what we’re about here is outcomes. People want to see outcomes, not arguments. And we’ll be working through those issues. We’ll be supportive at the end of the day when it comes to any final votes. We won’t be standing in the way of economic stimulus because the country needs it.


GILBERT: That includes the superannuation access? Because that goes against the grain of what Labor has fought a long time for?


ALBANESE: Well, it is not clear whether that needs to be legislated. One of the things that we’d say though, is that this is not the best time for individuals to be withdrawing money from superannuation, given the impact that the fall in the share market has had. So, it’s not good for individuals. It’s also not good, it can be said, for the superannuation industry and the role that it plays, the trillions of dollars of funds that it holds that are our national assets.


GILBERT: Treasury says it’s only 1 per cent of the entire nest eggs which the superannuation industry controls, 1 per cent. He says it’s the people’s money, they should have it now when they need it.


ALBANESE: Well, they don’t support superannuation. They never supported compulsory superannuation when it came in. They’ve tried to undermine it each and every opportunity. But the fact is that superannuation is one of the things that is a ballast for our economy. It provides us with stability. And what I wouldn’t want to see is either people essentially missing out on a large part of their retirement incomes or for the super industry as well. Now is not a time for the superannuation industry to be selling assets because they’d be fire sales. Because the sort of assets that the superannuation industry own, for example, they’re the major shareholder at Sydney Airport, Brisbane, Perth, the major airports. Now is not the time to be selling those assets.


GILBERT: The coronavirus supplement and the other payment to households of $750. The supplement of $550 a fortnight. Do you welcome those measures? It is basically a doubling of Newstart.


ALBANESE: We think all of that is good. Newstart should have been increased before now, Kiran. It’s very clear that the reason why the Government had to do something for existing recipients is $40 a day simply isn’t enough to survive on. That’s been a fact that has been there for some time and we’ve been calling for it. Our concern is that the Government says that it’s not worried about politics, but it does seem to have one eye on when stimulus measures are made. So, for example, the first $750. Why is that not in people’s pockets right now contributing to the economy? They’ve held it off until the end of next week because they want it to feed into the April to June quarter. And then the next payment they want it to feed into the following quarter.


GILBERT: They did argue that it’s because they needed to sit in Parliament and legislate it.


ALBANESE: They could have sat in Parliament last week, Kieran, and it would have been easier than, indeed I wrote to the Prime Minister, as you know, two weeks ago, saying that Parliament should be recalled, that we needed economic stimulus sooner rather than later.


GILBERT: We’ve only got about a minute left. I do want to get your thoughts before you go on whether you will seek again, face to face with the Prime Minister when you meet him today, a seat at the table of the national cabinet, which includes state leaders. Do you want that? Will you be pushing for that today?


ALBANESE: That’s a decision for him. He’s chosen to not do that. I would have thought that was a common-sense thing to do. And one of the concerns I think that people have is when they hear that there’s a national cabinet, they don’t think it’s what it really is, which is just COAG given a different name. It’s a good thing that that’s happening, Kieran. So, whether I’m there or not, it is not about individuals. But if the Prime Minister genuinely wants to involve the Opposition, he can’t continue to make announcements and then talk to us about it after the fact.


GILBERT: In a few words, a message to the Australian people right now? Because it’s a pretty scary time.


ALBANESE: Look, it is. But they need to stay calm, listen to the authoritative sources and take a listen to that advice. Make sure that they engage in social separation, which is really physical separation. And we’ll come through this and we’ll come through this as a nation.


GILBERT: Mr Albanese, as always, it is a pleasure. Thank you.


ALBANESE: Thanks, Kieran.