ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
SUNDAY AGENDA WITH TOM CONNELL
SUNDAY, 12 JULY 2020
SUBJECTS: Returning travellers; universities and international students; university cuts; Don’t Cancel Jobkeeper Too Early website; PM’s secret JobKeeper report; Great Barrier Reef Foundation; marketing over delivery; Victorian Government; various inquiries; border closures; rugby league.
TOM CONNELL, HOST: My first guest on the program is the Labor Leader Anthony Albanese. Thanks very much for your time this morning. I just want to begin with a few announcements we’ve had in recent days, including the one on Friday, this was the restriction on return travellers coming back from Australia. So, capping this number from 8,000 to 4,000. There are people today expressing concerns they’ll face a long delay in coming back to the country. Do you back the National Cabinet’s decision on this?
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: We have chosen very deliberately, as you know, not to play politics with issues for the sake of it, and the National Cabinet has a difficult decision here. We’ve been very concerned that people have been allowed back into Australia, in the early stages, with no restrictions at all. There wasn’t even temperature testing. That was something that we continued to raise with the Government and they said ‘oh, it’s all okay’. The truth is that we need to make sure that we put the health of those people returning, and people do need to return over time, but it’s been a considerable period now since they were given that advice, and we need to keep other Australians safe as well.
CONNELL: No issue with the cost? A family of four, for example, $5,000 they’ll be paying for two weeks of hotel quarantine?
ALBANESE: I do think that the respective state and territory governments need to ensure that no one’s health is put at risk, as in, are kept from returning and being safe here in Australia because of costs. And I’m sure that governments will apply a common sense principle there.
CONNELL: There is a push in universities today for this pilot program to go ahead. This was to bring back international students, we know a huge part of what universities get in terms of their income. At the moment, the issue is Victoria’s borders are up, these internal borders are up, the program won’t go ahead. What do you make of this push whether the rest of the country, not Victoria, but the rest of the country’s universities, could perhaps still go ahead with these pilot programs?
ALBANESE: Well, universities are struggling. They’re struggling because it’s been a billion dollars of cuts. They’re struggling because they’ve been excluded from the JobKeeper programme. So, it’s not surprising that many of them, particularly some of the regional universities, their very existence is in danger. So, they’re looking at ways in which they can come through this crisis.
CONNELL: What do you think of this push though? There’s obviously always a health element to weigh up against the money coming in. That is, you’d need to bring a lot of people in here to be, of course, quarantined. Is it the right time to go ahead with this or should it be delayed?
ALBANESE: We always have to take the medical advice. It’s as simple as that. The medical advice comes first, and then the response consistent with that advice.
CONNELL: So where does that leave us? You’ll just wait to hear what comes out of National Cabinet, for example, whatever path they take?
ALBANESE: Where it leaves us, Tom, is pretty clear. That we need to listen to not yourself as a commentator, or myself as a political decision maker, we need to listen to the medical advice and ensure that any action is consistent with that. No one wants any restrictions, that’s the starting point. But the second point is that we need to listen to the medical experts at all times and have a cautious approach to these issues. I’ve been consistent about that the whole way through, whether it be the opening up of the economy, whether it be the border closures. I have said consistently that state and territory governments are listening to their respective chief medical officers, it’s called different things in different states. Or the Chief Medical Officer is the person who the Government, the Federal Government, should be listening to when it comes to Commonwealth approach to these matters.
CONNELL: All right. Labor’s launched this JobKeeper website. It lists how many people are relying on the Government payments by nearby each suburb. It’s described as “fear mongering” by the PM, what is the point of the site?
ALBANESE: For goodness sake, Tom, this Prime Minister, when he speaks about the quiet Australians wants everyone else but him to be quiet. He wants his voice to be the only voice in the national conversation. And the truth is that this Prime Minister is sitting on a report that was given to him in June, delayed because of the Eden-Monaro by-election, and now he won’t tell all of these businesses, all of these people on JobKeeper, over three million Australians, and he won’t tell them what is going to happen in September. That is providing a risk to the economy. It’s providing a great deal of anxiety out there. And the Prime Minister, if he has another plan, he should say what it is. It’s the Prime Minister who said repeatedly that the economy would just “snap back” in September. That’s why they put those dates in the legislation, whether it be JobKeeper or JobSeeker.
CONNELL: I’m just going to say on the “snap back”. That was the initial hope. That hope obviously was not something the Government has been speaking about in recent times. In the past week, the PM has said there will be a further phase of support. He said, on Victoria, where there is a need for support, there will be support. So, there is going to be more support. It’s important to emphasise that to voters and not alarm them.
ALBANESE: What is it Tom? Tom, it’s July. We’re talking about a circumstance whereby businesses have been told under the legislation, that support will be ripped out from them in September, in a matter of weeks. The Prime Minister has had the report since June. What’s he waiting for? This is a Prime Minister that has been big on announcements and marketing of those announcements. We have slogans like, HomeBuilder, Tom, was announced, you might recall more, than a month ago now, during the Eden-Monaro by-election, in Jerrabomberra, the famous “get off my lawn” scene that we saw from a constituent, you know how much money’s gone out in terms of HomeBuilder, or applications have been approved? Zero. Not $1 from that programme. This is the Government that had the Great Barrier Reef Foundation money, almost half a billion dollars, when Scott Morrison was Treasurer. He said at that time, they said they anticipated more than $350 million would be raised through this foundation from a private contribution. You know how much has been raised? $20 million, and in kind. Not a single dollar of actual funds has gone into that foundation. This is a grant of taxpayers’ money in which there wasn’t any tender process. Nothing at all. It was just “Yeah, here’s half a billion dollars in a closed door meeting”. They walked in expecting to get a few dollars, they walked out with almost half a billion.
CONNELL: Just focussing on the JobKeeper, because this is an important message Anthony Albanese. That people out there the same businesses and workers you’re talking about, they’re being assured by the Prime Minister there will be more support beyond September. It’s a it takes a while, we’re talking about multibillion dollar schemes.
ALBANESE: No, they’re not.
CONNELL: Well that’s what the Prime Minister said, there will be a further phase of support.
ALBANESE: But they’re not, Tom. For who? For all of them, is that what he’s saying Tom? I must have missed that announcement.
CONNELL: Well it’s people that need support, because there will be businesses that have recovered.
ALBANESE: Tom, there are businesses out there who are not being told what is happening, and there are workers out there like the ones at Bankstown RSL where we made the announcement, where every single one of their employees is on JobSeeker (sic), every single one. Now, they’re relying upon that. This is a place that used to serve over 1,000 meals a day, is currently serving under 50. The traffic isn’t about to go back to business as usual anytime soon, and they’re not being told what will happen in a matter of weeks. It’s no accident.
CONNELL: Do you welcome this, though, that I mentioned from Scott Morrison on Victoria, where there is a need for support. There will be support. Do you welcome that?
ALBANESE: Well, of course. We’re calling for support. So, it’s a rather strange question, Tom. We’re the ones calling for support. We’re the ones who called for a wide subsidy. Bear this in mind, when we called for a wide subsidy, the Government dismissed it. They dismissed it in the parliament. They dismissed it publicly. They dismissed it in the private meetings that we had to talk about how to get through this crisis. And it was only when we saw the biggest unemployment queues outside Centrelink that the Government recognised there was a need for wage subsidies because unions, businesses and the community pushed for it. Now what we’re saying now is that businesses need certainty. It’s not us, this is what we’re hearing. Get out there, Tom, and knock on, go to your local small business who’s getting JobKeeper, and they will tell you, they want to know what is going to happen in a matter of weeks. And what is the delay of the announcement? Is it because the Prime Minister is doing some marketing on a new slogan, you know, HomeBuilder, JobKeeper, JobSeeker. If they spent as much time and effort on the detail of delivery as they do on slogans and marketing, Australia will be better off.
CONNELL: The other thing businesses out there in Victoria want to know is when this all might end. I want to I focus on performance of Daniel Andrews. Did you agree with his focus this week when he said to the latest outbreak “well look, everyone knows someone who is broken the rules”, seemingly there he was, at least in part, blaming Victorians for what has happened. Did you agree with that focus?
ALBANESE: Come on, Daniel Andrews has had a difficult job as have all the state leaders. And the fact is we had a breakout in New South Wales after the Ruby Princess and that spread throughout the nation. We’ve had issues here, but overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly Australians have done the right thing during this crisis. I see it each and every day. I’m seeing it here in terms of the park where I am by my local pack here in Marrickville, people keeping their social distancing. There’s sanitiser available in so many places where you go, and I think Australians deserve a great deal of credit for seeing us through this crisis better than comparative nations. But we were told there would be some…
CONNELL: No, we weren’t told that. We weren’t told that. I just want to go to this, we’re running a little short on time, but a huge factor in the outbreak was a government decision in Victoria to use unsupervised private security guards in hotel quarantine. If this was the Morison Government, you’d be calling for someone to be held accountable.
ALBANESE: Well, we’ve seen the Ruby Princess, Tom, and there’ll be inquiries taking place on that, and we’ll wait and see what comes out of those inquiries. And we’ve also seen an inquiry that’s been initiated from the Victorian Government on these issues. Quite clearly, there were breaches and they not acceptable. And we’ll see what the inquiry comes up with about how that occurred.
CONNELL: Do we need an inquiry now to just find out who made the call? Why were ADF personnel refused?
ALBANESE: Of course we do. We need to get to the bottom in terms of the information. That’s why there’s inquiries going on to the Ruby Princess.
CONNELL: But can’t that be answered in a news conference, is my point, from Daniel Andrews?
ALBANESE: They have an inquiry in place. And no doubt, I would be very surprised when all of this is over, and life is returned to normal, if we don’t have a very comprehensive inquiry into the handling of this, not just as a matter of academic exercise, but so that we learn lessons and to ensure that mistakes won’t happen again. We know the expectations from the World Health Organisation that this might not even be the biggest pandemic in our lifetime.
CONNELL: Yeah, look, and of course, the mistakes we made along the way. But do you understand why Victorians right now are angry at Daniel Andrews for seemingly, this news conference, blaming them and not answering basic questions about how the decision was made for private security guards to be used rather than defence personnel?
ALBANESE: Daniel Andrews has been totally accountable during this whole process. And what I haven’t done, Tom, which is not everyone in the Federal sphere has done this, with their criticism of Annastacia Palaszczuk over border closures. That decision looks pretty good today, doesn’t it?
CONNELL: Well, yeah, and those questions have been asked to the Government and we’ll keep doing that. That was the one element on borders they did seem outspoken about. Can I ask you finally we’ve seen Scott Morrison back at the football…
ALBANESE: Only against the Queensland Labor Government, Tom. No one else. Everyone else was fine. South Australia, NT, WA, Tasmania were all having border closures. But there’s an election in Queensland.
CONNELL: I did mention Queensland. We’re nearly out of time. Let me ask you about Scott Morrison back at the rugby league over the weekend. The Sharks were thrashed, despite his presence. Are you taking the opportunity to go and see the Rabbitohs again?
ALBANESE: I’ll go see the Rabbitohs from time to time whenever I can. And I have no objection to Scott Morrison having a bit of time off at the footy. I think we need a bit of common sense here. And if he wants to go and cheer the Sharks, then that’s a matter for him. And if they’re playing Souths, I hope they lose as they did in Round One.
CONNELL: Well, no judgement for me. I made it to the football as well, just in case there’s any evidence out there. Labor Leader Anthony Albanese, thanks for your time.
ALBANESE: Come on. Get on board, Tom. We’ve got more members than anyone else. It’s a bandwagon. There’s always room for one more.
CONNELL: All right. Anthony Albanese. We’ll leave it there. Thank you.