Apr 11, 2020








SUBJECTS: Easter Weekend; Lifting Social Restrictions; Rugby League


TIM GILBERT, HOST OF WEEKEND EDITION: This week saw the government pass what it called the “biggest economic lifeline in Australia’s history”, a 130 billion dollar package to steer Australia through the Coronavirus crisis, but several amendments from Labor including support for casuals and temporary visa holders dismissed. Joining me live now is Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese. Mr. Albanese, good morning. Happy Easter. Welcome to the show.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Morning Tim, hope the Easter Bunny comes to you tomorrow.


GILBERT: Yeah, I don’t need too much of that but I’m sure I’m sure he’ll duck in at some point. Look, how encouraged are you by the bending of the curve that we’re seeing going on at the moment?


ALBANESE: Look, Tim, I’m encouraged but not complacent. What it shows is that social isolation, this difficult period we’re going through, works and we need to take that and protect the lead if you like, in sporting terms, for how we’re going. And all Australians this Easter are certainly doing their bit by staying at home. It’s a difficult period for people. This is a period where many people would have been at church yesterday and again tomorrow. It is an important period for Christians in which they celebrate, and recommit to, their faith. And we recognize that that’s a difficult thing. But for others, of course, people of different faiths or no faith, it’s an important time when people gather with large groups of family and friends. Now, that’s not possible this weekend but it is possible, of course, to still talk to people on the phone, to still engage with those that we live with.


GILBERT: When should we start seeing social restrictions lifted do you think?


ALBANESE: Look, I think the important thing is that political leaders continue to send the message that this needs to continue for for some time yet. We know there’s a lag with this disease as well of at least a fortnight, which is why people are being held up in hotels who arrived from overseas for those 14 days. So we need to apply the precautionary principle, if you like, whereby we are cautious about lifting of the restrictions which are there. No one wants this to have happened. No one wants this disease to have happened. But we have to deal with it. We have to deal with it together. And all of us have a responsibility to our fellow Australians to do the right thing.


GILBERT: Now, you mentioned the Easter Bunny at the start of our discussion. It is a weekend and you are a massive sporting fan, the Rabbitohs your team of course in the Rugby League. Peter V’landys has done an extraordinary job with Racing New South Wales to be one of the most powerful jurisdictions in the world. The NRL ARL Commission on track for this May 28. Do you think it’s the right move?


ALBANESE: I’m a sporting fanatic as you know, and I used to spend, historically Good Friday was a day whereby Souths played Canterbury of course, every Good Friday at ANZ at Homebush there. And that didn’t happen this year. And I hope that it can occur but to be very clear, the priority has to be health. And it would be bad if we sent the wrong messages by trying to have rugby league games played at a time whereby we’re still telling people to isolate. So there’s nothing wrong with people putting in place preparations. But the final go ahead and the consideration of it has to be health. Health of the players, the health of the coach and other support staff. The health also of other Australians who might get the wrong message, if people are running around the football field as they were in the first round with fans there, that I think was an error. But we need to make sure that we get it right. Rugby League is important, but the most important thing at the moment is saving lives.


GILBERT: Absolutely. But we also need to be pragmatic about the situation, don’t we? And governments have done a great job and social distancing and all the things that are in place need to continue. But we are very lucky where we live. There are some disadvantages with being on the other side of the world. But there’s some real advantages. We’ve been self isolating for 40 million years give or take 250.


ALBANESE: That’s a fair point. There’s a big advantage in being an island continent. And one of the things that we need to learn out of this, to use just one example, of shipping and what occurs around our coast. I want to see the Australian flag on cruise ships, on freighters around our coasts. We need to have that national sovereignty over the way that we run our economy. And that is, I think one of the reminders that we’ve had during this period.


GILBERT: If we take the Ruby Princess, what we could only call a disaster now, out of it, it leaves a real hole. That has been amazing and a devastating impact on the Australian community. How should it play out from here do you think?


ALBANESE: It’s been quite diabolical. One of the things that I think Australians want out of the Ruby Princess debacle is just for authorities to fess up and say what happened. It’s been dragged out bit by bit. And I think transparency is important here. The truth will come out about the circumstances and the approvals. If mistakes were made, then they should just be acknowledged, importantly, not so you can have retribution, so that, unless of course there’s any criminal conduct found, but so that we can learn those lessons and make sure that something like that doesn’t happen again.


GILBERT: There are provisions in the $130 billion Job Keeper scheme for casuals to be looked at probably in a more friendly manner. What are your thoughts there?


ALBANESE: We’ve raised in the Parliament, we tried to amend the legislation. We then had a meeting on Thursday night with the Prime Minister and his team, and myself and the Labor leadership team. And we raised again the need to make sure that Australians don’t miss out. There’s 1.1 million casuals, they’ve missed out, there’s temporary visa holders who’ve missed out. There are categories of people who’ve been left behind. And what we need to make sure here is that we recognise that because of the way Job Keeper is framed, which is it looks at the company in the corporate structure. It doesn’t look at the needs of the individual worker. What we shouldn’t have is individual workers missing out, joining the unemployment queue because of the nature of the structure of the companies. And that’s the concern that we have. We will continue to raise it. There are provisions in the legislation to allow Josh Frydenberg to pick up categories that aren’t currently eligible. And I believe the Treasurer should use that. It’s important we get it right, that we really minimise the economic impact of what is, of course, a health crisis, but with economic consequences. And that way, we’ll emerge out of this crisis stronger, and it will enable us to emerge into a positive growth sense much quicker if we get this current period right.


GILBERT: They say that a crisis is a perfect opportunity for reform. We’re going to come out the other side, what would you like to see us doing better?


ALBANESE: I want to see revitalisation of Australian manufacturing and industry. I want to see a recognition in other areas – just as the principle that acting now in order to avert the costs of inaction is sensible, that principle applies to climate change and to a range of other issues as well. It applies in my view to the way that we invest in infrastructure. Recognition that an investment isn’t just a cost. It’s something that contributes to economic growth in the medium and long term. And we need to have that approach. We need to recognise, on issues like fuel security, is one of the reasons why we need to deal with having an energy policy. Up to this point we haven’t had one. And the truth is Tim, that the economy in the country was drifting before the bushfire crisis and before this crisis. We’ve had very little legislation before the Parliament. We don’t have an energy policy, a climate change policy. There’s no serious agenda in terms of tax reform and other economic reform issues to drive productivity. And at the end of last year, we’d had two quarters in a row of going backwards on productivity. We’d hoped consumer demand [which] was low. We’d had interest rates cut down to 0.5%. It’s now of course half that. But that cut to record levels. The economy was really just drifting along. And we need to have a reform agenda. There’s also been a positive out of this Tim, if anything can be seen as being a positive. And that is that we’ve been reminded that we all rely upon each other. That there is indeed such a thing as society and whilst we might be forced to be 1.5 meters apart, in so many ways, our country has never been more together than it is now. And we need to harness that spirit in other areas as well.


GILBERT: Yeah definitely a humanistic side. Just finally. and I’ll let you enjoy what is a beautiful Sydney day today in isolation, of course, but the Parliament not set to resume until August. Do you think it’s going to need to happen earlier than that?


ALBANESE: Of course it will. Tim, we said that the last time that it met and they adjourned to August. We were back, of course this week, and we’ll need to be back and we should be back, Tim. Why is it that nurses are working today? Teachers are continuing to do work, I’m sure, at home assisting students, where we have our essential workers, police and emergency service workers working this weekend. But we’re saying that politicians can’t gather, even in a modified form, until August. We need to monitor the rollout of this massive scheme that will increase debt substantially. Debt has already doubled under this government, it’s now going to increase up to a trillion dollars. We need to be having a look at those issues. Other issues haven’t gone away. It’s not like there was a blank page or should have been before this crisis emerged. And I believed the Parliament should be meeting at regular intervals. So we should be meeting in the modified form that was so successful. Last week, it was Parliament at its best. We got things done. We work constructively, and I’m sure that the parliament would do it again when we next meet.


GILBERT: Minister, we began the conversation with you asking the Easter Bunny to come to my place. I hope he travels to yours and my personal view, all the safety in place, I hope to see your Bunnies playing at the end of May.


ALBANESE: I think all of us would want them playing this weekend. I always thought it was a bit of an omen, the Bunnies playing over the Easter weekend, but unfortunately it is what it is. But I look forward to whenever they resume. And one of the things about this pause in our life is I think it might cause us to value some things that we take for granted as we reemerge back with society operating normally. Whether it be Rugby League, AFL, netball, or whether it be just our relationships with each other, with our family and friends. It’s a reminder of what really matters to our quality of life and, and that is activity, cultural activity. A shout out to one of the groups that have missed out, the arts and entertainment sector really need looking after. They’re doing it really tough at the moment. And I think that as we emerge though, it’s our relationships with each other that are so important.


GILBERT: Yeah, and we’re seeing a lot of people say hello to each other where in the past they never would. Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese. Thanks for coming on Weekend Edition.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much Tim.