May 27, 2020






SUBJECTS: Four-day working week; Eden-Monaro by-election; industrial relations; bushfire recovery; climate change; importance of the ABC.


SOPHIE LONGDEN, HOST: Let’s put that four-day working week question right now to Anthony Albanese, who’s the Federal Leader of the Opposition, of course. And he’s visiting our region heading to Narooma today. Anthony Albanese, good morning.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning, Sophie. Great to be in this beautiful region again.


LONGDEN: Now, always great to hear the news from our politicians of all persuasions. Particularly during a Federal by-election of Eden-Monaro. I am imagining that putting the carrot out there of a four-day working week would probably be quite an incentive for a lot of people to listen to what you have to say today.


ALBANESE: I’m sure it would be. Of course, what we do need is flexibility when it comes to industrial relations. It’s interesting that Jacinda Ardern has promoted this in New Zealand just as an idea, it’s not legislated, as an idea which would give people more flexibility in terms of being able to organise family time, being able to organise as well, a bonus potentially for the economy in terms of people having essentially a long weekend, every weekend, if they’re only working four days. And that could be achieved, of course, through working perhaps longer days or just through productivity benefits in other areas.


LONGDEN: Is it doable in the Australian economy right now?


ALBANESE: Well, I think in the Australian economy, one of the things that we do need to do, and it’s good that the Prime Minister’s now acknowledging that they have to actually talk to unions, that workers matter, not just the employers. But there is common interest between business in unions, and if there can be of flexibility got through the industrial relations systems, then that’s a good thing as long as there’s a common interest. I am somewhat concerned that the Prime Minister this morning has refused to say that no worker would be worse off by any reform and that’s certainly has to be starting point.


LONGDEN: Let’s look at that, because obviously Scott Morrison has this week called for a bit of a union and business mediation if you like. And even this morning, he’s suggesting that we all need to put down weapons, and that includes the media and politicians as part of that mix to try and create a different playing field for the future. But if you say no worker will be worse off, or that’s your hope, I mean, is that really, potentially, is that a reality that we can ever strive to get 100 per cent people being completely satisfied in the workplace 100 per cent of the time?


ALBANESE: What we can hope for is that we have a gradual improvement in living standards and that no one is sliding backwards. The last time we had Coalition industrial relations reform, but it was Work Choices, which would have resulted in a substantial decrease. The last time of course, the impact of penalty rate changes, as well, under this Government has been the only change that really could have any substance. And part of the problem in the economy is that wages haven’t been keeping up with the cost of living. That’s been identified by the Reserve Bank as a real handbrake, and that’s why we need to make sure that we’re continually striving for the principle that really has been out there during this pandemic, which is looking after each other as a community. It is something that this community in the south east of New South Wales is very familiar with, because that’s how this community got through the bushfires. And that’s how they are continuing to get through the current issues.


LONGDEN: So, in that sense, do you welcome the call by Scott Morrison for everybody to lay down their arms, for everybody to renegotiate, and possibly to a lot of the representatives of the Business Council and businesses in Australia suggesting that we go back to the drawing board when it comes to enterprise agreements and really start again?


ALBANESE: Well, it’s Scott Morrison, of course, who has had to lay down his arms. The Ensuring Integrity Bill has now been withdrawn. It was shoved through the Parliament with no debate whatsoever last year. The business community have been saying for some time that enterprise bargaining wasn’t working. And we know that productivity actually went backwards last year, so we know that productivity for employers wasn’t going in the right direction. Wages weren’t going in the right direction. And this Government’s been there for seven long years. What it’s been doing has not been working up to this point. It’s good that the Government has pressed the pause button on its ideological crusade against unions and that it’s now acknowledging that it’s prepared to talk with them. That’s a good thing. When I became Labor Leader, I said that Australians had conflict fatigue. That they’re looking for solutions, not arguments. It’s something that I have said from the very day, which actually is one year ago today, I was elected unopposed, as the Leader of the Australian Labor Party and it is something that has characterised my leadership looking for solutions, trying to be constructive wherever possible. And I’ll continue to do that because that is what the national interest demands.


LONGDEN: And if we are looking for solutions, not arguments, do you think that this very important by-election for Eden-Monaro may even be a bit of a litmus test for your leadership? Because it is the first election on your watch. This is really a chance for people to say we agree or we disagree with what’s happening at a Federal level at the moment.


ALBANESE: Well, this is about the people of Eden-Monaro. And my concern, if Kristy McBain, who clearly is the outstanding candidate for this seat, is not successful the Government will take the message that they did everything right in the lead-up to the bushfires, all the preparation was all there, there was no complacency and that during the bushfires it was all okay and the recovery has been okay as well. Now, I don’t think that’s the case. I think this is an opportunity, which by-elections are, to send a message to the Government that they need to do better. They know that if they vote for Kristy McBain they’ll have the first choice Labor candidate. We weren’t in any doubt over who our candidate would be to represent the people of Eden-Monaro and to take their concerns to Canberra and take the sort of commitment and compassion and caring for her local community that she’s exhibited as the mayor and a councillor for a long period of time.


LONGDEN: Anthony Albanese, a lot of people in our region particularly are concerned with the bushfire Royal Commission happening this week that so many of these investigations into what occurred over summer and in late 2019 will basically end up in yet another document on a shelf, a bit like the 2003 bushfire inquiry into the Canberra fires and that really no great change is going to come of it. How confident are you that this bushfire Royal Commission inquiry will work and that we will actually see a productive change and a good discussion coming from it?


ALBANESE: Well, we will pursue any recommendation either coming from the Royal Commission or from the Parliamentary inquiry into the bushfires. One of the tragedies of last year is that the predictions were there. The former fire chiefs, the Bureau of Meteorology, the warnings were all there about the extent of the fire season and what was happening. You had a business case, for example, about the need for increased aerials firefighting capacity, and that was ignored. And it took a by-election being called for funding to be announced just a couple of weeks ago by the Government. We need to acknowledge that we need a whole range of measures. But with the changing climate, it is an impact on the bushfires, and that needs to be acknowledged. So, we need to have specific policies aimed at firefighting and bushfires and making sure that we look after the country in a way that is appropriate that minimises the impact of fires. But also, we need to engage in a long-term principle of dealing with climate change. I mean, we’ve listened to the science during the pandemic and it’s serving Australia well compared with other comparative nations by listening to what the medical science is telling us. We need to listen to the science when it comes to climate change as well and make sure that we transform the economy in a way that actually strengthens it, as well as looking after the environment.


LONGDEN: And on that note, off the back of the bushfires, as you travel through our region today, you’re probably noticing some patchy mobile coverage in certain areas. Brian has texted in this morning asking what the Labor Party would do to fix the communication shortfalls, particularly during emergencies but generally in our region with support, internet, mobiles, radios going out during bushfires, it really was just an added tragedy on top of what was already a catastrophic event.


ALBANESE: Well, it is. And of course, unfortunately, I was the Communications Minister when Government changed in 2013. And we were committed, of course, to a fibre-based NBN which would have been 21st century. And that was stopped, that rollout, by the incoming Coalition Government. I think that was a mistake. We’ve been reminded during the bushfires and again during the pandemic of how important 21st century technology is. And we need also, of course, to deal with mobile black spots and to deal with these issues by making sure there’s first class infrastructure. And the other issue, of course, is not just because I’m on the ABC, I say this wherever I am, that the ABC funding cuts need to be reversed. The ABC, for many people, was the lifeline literally saving lives during the bushfires, because when other things weren’t working, the radio still was. And the amount of effort done by the ABC to step up during that crisis was quite extraordinary. And I would have thought that at a time whereby the Government has rolled out a $300 billion plus program and last week, of course, we saw a $60 billion error in its costings, providing the sort of money to the ABC that would enable it to continue to deliver that service to the Australian people, particularly in our regions, should be a priority of the national Government.


LONGDEN: Well, Anthony Albanese, we do appreciate you being so generous with your time here on ABC South East this morning. Before I let you go, what are your plans for today apart from obviously enjoying the glorious day that South East New South Wales has presented you with?


ALBANESE: I tell you what, it is a lot nicer than it was very early in Sydney this morning. So, I’m in Narooma now and we have a range of activities for today. We will be in Narooma where I’ll be doing a doorstop with Kristy McBain and with Jim Chalmers who is travelling with us. We’re visiting a local business here this morning talking about JobKeeper and those issues, how they are dealing with the ongoing economic downturn. Then we go to Cobargo where we’re visiting a beef farm. We’ll visit Epic Chicken Company in Quaama and then we are meeting with Bega Cheese later this afternoon, before we finish up in beautiful Merimbula later tonight. So, it’s a wonderful part of Australia. I think it’s just stunning. But its people, your local community here has shown such courage and resilience that it’s a real pleasure to be here. I was here, of course, during the bushfires. I was on the ground throughout bushfire-affected areas each and every day, and how people have come through droughts and then bushfires, then the pandemic just is quite remarkable the resilience of this community. And I’ll be looking forward to meeting and chatting with them today with Kristy McBain.


LONGDEN: Anthony Albanese, Federal Leader of the Opposition. We do appreciate you being so generous with your time today during your visit. And now that we have that set by-election day to the Fourth of July, no doubt we’ll see you again before then.


ALBANESE: Absolutely. Great to talk with you.