SUBJECTS: Bushfire crisis across Australia; recovery process for the bushfires; Government’s inaction in aged care; Government’s lack of climate change policy; Government’s inaction on climate change; Labor’s principles regarding climate change; mateship during the bushfire crisis; Calls for a Royal Commission into bushfires.
REBECCA WHITE, TASMANIAN LABOR LEADER: Well, it is a great pleasure to be able to support Machine Laundry Café today as they are raising funds and donating all of their earnings to the bushfire relief effort. It is terrific to have Anthony Albanese here, Leader of the Australian Labor Party, supporting their endeavours and making sure that everywhere he goes across the country, he is talking to communities, understanding what the impact of the fires have been, and ensuring that they get the support that they need. Tasmania, like everywhere else, has unfortunately suffered from fires in the past. And we understand how devastating they can be. We want to be able to help communities recover and we understand how long that can take. And it is terrific to have Anthony here supporting this business, supporting this fundraising, and listening to how Tasmania has undertaken to recover in the past and what could be done to support communities across the country now as they are struggling. I’ll hand across now for Anthony to say a few words.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: I am going to make some comments about the response to the bushfire crisis and then Julie Collins will be making some comments about the figures that were released this week about aged care. The fact is that this crisis has now gone on for many months. And today we had the tragic news of Bill Slade, the 28th victim during this bushfire crisis. Bill Slade, a Victorian, was killed yesterday by a falling tree. It’s been one of the big dangers that are out there. A lot of these trees, of course, burn from within and then can just drop without notice and represent a real threat. It’s again a reminder of the incredible bravery and courage which our firefighters are showing each and every day. I do want to congratulate the Machine Laundry Café here, which is raising, it estimates, at least $10,000 by people giving up their time, people coming in and supporting the café to support the firefighting effort. Throughout Australia, what we have seen is Australians putting their own hands into their pockets to help out those who are in need, to help out families who have been displaced, to help out those who have lost their homes or have lost belongings, to help with reconstruction, to help with the ecological disaster that has also been played out as a result of this bushfire crisis. This morning, Scott Morrison gave an interview on the ABC. And again, he was inaccurate. The fact is, that there should have been a national response much earlier. And there is a lot of precedent for our Defence Forces pitching in to help at times of crisis. Whether it be bushfires in the past, whether it be floods, throughout many years, the fact is the ADF reserves and personnel have helped out. That’s why from the beginning, we argued from November, that COAG should meet and there should be a national response to what is a national emergency. Quite clearly now, it is a good thing that has occurred. It is also a good thing that the Government has responded to Labor’s call for increased support for mental health. And they have adopted a number of measures that were suggested by our Shadow Cabinet meeting that myself and Chris Bowen, our Shadow Health Minister, announced after our Adelaide meeting on Thursday. I would say to the Government, there’s a couple of additional things I think that they should give consideration to taking up. One of those is the impact on first responders. We know that there was a Senate Committee Report from last February that the Government hasn’t responded to yet. They need to do so, and they need to respond consistent with those recommendations. Secondly, also, we think that more support could be given in schools. And that we need to keep a close eye on the impact of these fires, particularly on young Australians. I might ask Julie to make some comments.
JULIE COLLINS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGEING AND SENIORS: Thanks, Anthony. It’s great to have Anthony here for his first visit of 2020 to Tasmania. As people would know, Anthony is a regular visitor to our state. And it’s wonderful, with Rebecca White, our state Leader to be able to talk to Anthony about what has been happening here in Tasmania and what has been happening nationally. People would know, of course, that our communities have been impacted by bushfires. And indeed, this time last year, Tasmania had a very serious bushfire and we had support from other states in terms of firefighters, volunteers and donations to help our state. So, it’s wonderful to be able to return some of that here today, and to support those who have been impacted by bushfires in other states with this fundraising effort.
I wanted to make some comments in relation to aged care and the homecare waitlist. People would see today in the media reports that the Government finally released its figure of the number of older Australians that died by waiting for the home care package that they had already been approved for. Over two years that it’s now nearly 30,000 older Australians who have been approved for care who had not been able to receive their package, who have died whilst waiting. This is on top of the thousands, 18,000 in one year of older Australians, that went into residential aged care when they wanted to stay at home and they only went into care because they couldn’t get their home care package. The Government’s own Aged Care Royal Commission’s first recommendation was to fix the homecare waitlists. The fact that we still have well over 100,000 older Australians waiting for home care when the Government says it has responded to that recommendation, is shameful. In a wealthy country like Australia, when you’ve got people dying, waiting for care, thousands, tens of thousands of people waiting, dying for care that the Government has approved for, but the Government doesn’t give them, it is no longer okay. And the Government should respond to its own Royal Commission’s first recommendation. Instead of doing piecemeal stop-gap things, they need to respond holistically. Thank you.
ALBANESE: Happy to take questions.
ALBANESE: We’re not opposed to a Royal Commission. And we’ve said that very early on. Because of the number of deaths now, numbering 28, there will of course be a number of coronial inquiries. But we’d say this about a Royal Commission. What we don’t want to happen is for Scott Morrison to add to the terms he uses to avoid answering questions. He speaks about, ‘in the bubble’. He says it’s just gossip. And what we don’t want is to hear in coming weeks and months, ‘I can’t answer that, because it’s been dealt with by the Royal Commission’. So, we want scrutiny of the Government’s performance, and the inadequacies, and the need to act now. There’s real concern, for example, over some of the support packages which is there for volunteer firefighters, and the fact that some people might miss out. The fact that they are saying that it’s only normal work hours, so that if a volunteer firefighter has helped out from 11pm to 7am in the morning, they’re not less deserving of support than if they were on daytime shifts, which is their normal pattern of work. Because it obviously is impossible for them to work around the clock even though we know, and I’ve met, volunteer firefighters who have literally worked for 24 hours straight, fighting fires. So, there’s a range of issues there. We know, of course, that some communities on the south coast have been denied disaster relief payments because of inaccurate maps from Centrelink. We need to be able to continue to scrutinise those issues. So, that is the first point. The second point is we want to make sure that any inquiry, be it a Royal Commission or otherwise, can look at the impact of climate change, that that can’t be just deferred. So, if there is a comprehensive inquiry going forward, then that’s a positive thing. We want also to have input into who a Commissioner might be. One suggestion that I’ve heard, which I think is a good suggestion, is that the former Chief Justice French could do such a task, someone with the skills and capacity. But we want to make sure that any inquiry is comprehensive. We think at the moment though, there are immediate needs, which are required. And certainly, we will agree with any inquiry, but not on the basis of deferring immediate consideration of what the needs are and what has happened in the meantime.
ALBANESE: This is a national issue. The problem here is that COAG still has never met during this crisis. Hasn’t met at all. And therefore, there’s been no opportunity to sit down and properly coordinate a national response. The fact is, that bushfires don’t recognise state and territory boundaries. And nor should the need for national leadership. So, we argued in November that there should be a national response. Part of that should have been involvement with the assets which are at our disposal. They’ve been used many times before. In Queensland floods, in Wagga Wagga, in the north coast, they have been used in Victoria, after the Victorian bushfires, ADF assets were used. Common-sense tells you that should occur. And when we saw the evacuations from Mallacoota it is somewhat perplexing that one side of the border, where Eden is, there wasn’t Commonwealth involvement and Defence Force involvement, but on the other side there was. We need to take these issues seriously. And it’s a matter of common-sense, in my view, that assets such as the Defence Force should be used.
ALBANESE: Well, the Government should, of course, always, Defence Forces in Australia, in a democracy, don’t act, there’s a word for countries where Defence Forces act independently of Government. And it’s not where we want to go. But the Defence Force in conjunction with the Government should be cooperative. And I note that there’s been an attempt of blame shifting from the Commonwealth to the New South Wales Government. Now, I have no horse in that race. They’re both liberal governments. But I’ll say this, I believe Shane Fitzsimmons, very clearly, when he says that at no stage did the New South Wales RFS say no to any offer of assistance from the Commonwealth.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the Prime Minister (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: Well, the fact is that the Government doesn’t have a climate policy. So, it’s not a matter of tweaking it. There’s a need for them to get one. There’s a need for them to get a policy to reduce emissions. They need an energy policy. At the moment what they have is an accounting policy of having accounting tricks, rather than actually reducing emissions. We don’t have a domestic plan. And we don’t have a plan which would then give us credibility internationally to argue the sort of reforms that are needed. Good policy on climate change will create jobs, will lower emissions, and lower energy prices.
JOURNALIST: It appears that the Prime Minister won’t change the current emissions target in its current form. How else would you want our emissions cut?
ALBANESE: Well, they’re not going to meet the target. That’s the truth. Which is why they went to Madrid and argued for an accounting trick in order to fiddle the numbers. And that’s not good enough. We know that this is a serious issue that requires a Government that takes climate change seriously. And at the moment, the person who was in charge of their energy policy, in terms of their backbenchers, a fellow called Craig Kelly. And Craig Kelly is an international embarrassment. It was bad enough that people in Australia had to listen to his nonsense of dismissing the science. He’s now decided to take that global.
ALBANESE: Well, the fact is that the Tahune Airwalk that will be up and running again on the first of February has got up and running without any support from the Commonwealth. We, at the election campaign, I, as Shadow Tourism Minister, made a commitment to that. Tourism and the natural environment here is so important for Tasmania’s economy. And more assistance should have been given. It’s a bit of a template for how the Commonwealth should do better and must do better arising out of these national bushfires that have affected so many states and territories.
JOURNALIST: Just again on the carbon emission reduction targets. What does Labor believe the targets should be?
ALBANESE: Labor believes that the Government should act. Labor believes the Government should act, even on its own rhetoric. They’re not doing that at the moment.
JOURNALIST: And you’re here at Machine Laundry Cafe. You must be impressed with what you see here?
ALBANESE: Look, this is just awesome. This is Australia at its best. We talk a lot about mateship. This is what mateship looks like. People who might not have met anybody who’s directly affected, but who are putting their hands in their pockets to help out their fellow Australians. And there are so many inspirational stories right around Australia. There are businesses like this one, as well as some large businesses, kicking in and helping out. There are people organising concerts to raise money and artists giving up their time to do that. There are so many good stories arising out of this. I hope that the spirit of mateship that we’re seeing demonstrated here, of care for our fellow Australians, keeps going into the future. Because it is important. And everyone here today that I spoke to was more than pleased to be able to make a small contribution to helping those in need. Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.