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Sunday, 15th May 2022

ABC Insiders

Discussing the federal election, cost of living and more.

SUBJECTS: Federal election; wages; cost of living; housing affordability; fiscal policy; government waste; COVID-19; climate change; Quad leaders meeting; Indonesia; Pacific Island Forum.
 
DAVID SPEERS, HOST: Anthony Albanese, welcome to the program. 

ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning, David. Thanks for having me on the program. It’s good to have a political leader appearing on the ABC. 

SPEERS: Indeed, it is. I won't disagree! I want to start on this wages debate. You said you “absolutely” support a 5.1 per cent increase in the minimum wage. Clear this up for us: Will you put a submission to the Fair Work Commission asking for a 5.1 per cent increase? 

ALBANESE: We will put a submission to the Fair Work Commission. They will take submissions until 7 June, and that submission will say that people who are on the minimum wage can't afford to go backwards. Let's see what we are talking about here, David. We are talking about a $1 a week increase for people who earn $20.33 an hour. And they’re the heroes of the pandemic: they’re cleaners, they’re people who kept the economy going. We can't just say ‘thank you - and take a real wage cut, take a real wage cut’. So, there is a very clear divide here: a government that says that low wage growth was a key feature of their economic architecture and Labor that says that we want an economy that works for people, not the other way around, and that people who are on minimum wages are doing it tough. The cost of everything is going up, but their wages aren't. We have had real wage cuts across the economy over the last year. We've had wage stagnation for a decade under this government and any productivity growth, as low as it has been, has gone to the profit share, not to wages. 

SPEERS: Okay, and just to clear up, I think you said $1 a week, it’s $1 an hour. 

ALBANESE: $1 an hour. 

SPEERS: Just to be clear on your submission, you won't actually have a specific figure for the sort of minimum wage rise you want to see? 

ALBANESE: Now well, the Fair Work Commission will make a decision independent of government, but what we've clearly said is that people who are on the minimum wage can't afford to go backwards and if the Fair Work Commission make a decision in line with that rate, then that is something that we would welcome. 

SPEERS: Do you think small business can afford it, a 5.1 per cent increase? 

ALBANESE: Do you think that people who are struggling to get by on $20.33 an hour can afford to have their real wages cut? That's the issue here, David. That's the issue, and a government that is so out of touch, so out of touch – this is a government that poured $70 billion of additional spending into the economy between the December Mid Year Economic Forecast and the Budget in March, and then poured additional money in as well. Why did we support that $250 payment? Why did we support the changes to petrol excise and to the Low and Middle Income Tax Offset? Because people are doing it really tough. But people who are on the minimum wage are doing it so tough. During this campaign, David, one of the doorstops that I did was the Addi Road Community Centre where food hampers were being prepared. They used to be prepared for people who were homeless, people who are really doing it tough. Now they are being prepared for the working poor. We need to recognise that people are doing it tough, we need to acknowledge it, and we need to not leave people behind. 

SPEERS: As you mentioned, it is up to the Fair Work Commission to make a decision here. Something you can directly control is public service pay. Do public servants also deserve a real wage increase? 

ALBANESE: Well, we will negotiate in the usual way, public service awards, but one of the things that we will do, David, we've made very clear, is that we need to revitalise the public service. We need to stop the contracting out that’s occurred, the use of labour hire, the gutting of the capacity of the public service, and that includes making sure that we can attract the best and brightest to the public service and we will…

SPEERS: With a real wage rise? 

ALBANESE: We are not arguing for a real wage rise for people on minimum wage rates, what we’re arguing for is that they shouldn't go backwards, David. So we’ll negotiate in good faith at the appropriate time as part of the award bargaining process. 

SPEERS: Okay, so no commitment there to give the public service a real wage rise to stop them going backwards. 

ALBANESE: No, a real wage rise means they are going forwards. Over a period of time, David, do we want to lift living standards in Australia for working people? Yes, we do, David. Yes, we do. This Government has had a conscious effort to put downward pressure on wages. They say it’s a key feature of their economic architecture and, to be fair to them, they have delivered just that – real wage cuts. We say that people should be lifted up, that everyone should have a stake in the economy. And one of the things I said in my speech to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is that I want to bring unions and employers together around the bargaining table, including small business and their employees, to work in their common interest. I want to stop the division and the conflict fatigue that Australians have out there from a government that is always looking to divide. I want to bring people together. 

SPEERS: The Prime Minister is today promising to extend incentives for empty nesters to downsize their home and put more money into super. Will you back this policy? 

ALBANESE: We will. This is a modest announcement to extend a downsizing program. We've supported that program up to now, but we support a comprehensive plan on housing. We need more investment in public and social housing through our Housing Australia Future Fund. We need to do more about emergency housing. Last night and tonight, like every night, women and children escaping domestic violence will be turned away from shelters because there is no space, and they will sleep in their car or couch-surf or, worse still, go back to an unsafe situation. We need to do more in that area. We also have our Help to Buy Scheme, which is about low- and middle-income earners getting a foot in the door of housing. I know through my own personal experience how important a secure roof over your head is. We want to make sure that Australians have every opportunity to do that. This suggestion by the Government is a practical one. We’ll support it, but we will have much more in our offer to the Australian people next Saturday. 

SPEERS: Alright, well, we haven't seen the details of what the Prime Minister is announcing, certainly the costings of it yet, but you’ve backed it in, and I know that the Government’s been arguing we're yet to see the costings of your policies. Can I ask you in a general sense: we do have a lot of debt, it's heading past $1 trillion, do you think we can handle more debt? Would you be okay… will we see more debt under Labor or not?

ALBANESE: We need to be fiscally responsible, which is why we've been very careful about our commitments. And I’ll make two comments about that. One is, we're prioritising investment in areas that grow productivity, that grow the economy. So, areas like cheaper childcare, for example, for every dollar invested, produces $2 return to the national economy, at least. Every economist argues that's the case. Productivity boosting infrastructure. The Prime Minister says he's a bulldozer, well, that's a wrecker. I'm a builder. I want to build infrastructure, including making sure the National Broadband Network works effectively. I want to build the skills base of the country as well.

SPEERS: But more debt or not?

ALBANESE: Well that's the way that you deal with growth by boosting productivity. That's our priority, but the second thing we've done as well is to make...

SPEERS: …The question was debt, sorry, Mr Albanese. The question was about debt?

ALBANESE: Yes, and debt’s a product of inputs and outputs, David. What we're saying is that our, our investments are boosting the inputs, making sure that we put downward pressure on debt, making sure that we’re fiscally responsible. But the other thing we've done is clearly indicate that the Departments of Treasury and Finance will be tasked this year to go through line-by-line and to get rid of the waste and rorts that are riddled through this Budget. This Government has created multiple slush funds whereby it's using expenditure to boost its own political standing. We don't know even how much is in all of those funds, because there's no transparency under this Government. And we believe that does have to be gotten under control. We will have more to say about that this week, but we recognise that these issues are important… so it's that two-pronged strategy: one, get rid of waste and rorts, reduce the impact of the Budget by doing that, but secondly as well, prioritise our investments to areas that grow the economy through productivity growth.

SPEERS: A few other issues just quickly, you promised to make a referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament a priority if you're elected. Referenda typically need bipartisan support in Australia to succeed. Many of those who want a voice, they don't want to wait any longer. What would be your approach: wait for bipartisanship or just proceed regardless?

ALBANESE: I don't want to wait, David. This is a change that has been a long time coming. We've been talking about it since at least the end of last century. I’ll consult with First Nations people about the timetable. I’ll reach out across the Parliament if I am elected as Prime Minister next Saturday, to try to secure support as much as possible. This is a nation changing moment. Just as the Apology to the Stolen Generations made our country stronger, this is a generous offer from First Nations people. All they're asking for is a bit of politeness, basically, good manners… says that if you have an issue, that affects directly the health, the education, the housing, the lives of First Nations people, you should consult them. That’s what a Voice to Parliament is. It's not a third chamber. It's not anything else. And we should recognise that in our Australian Constitution because our history didn't begin in 1788, nor, of course, did it end then. But the problem with this Prime Minister is he said he would act on this term. He doesn't want a Voice to Parliament. The only voice Scott Morrison ever wants to hear is his own.

SPEERS: On climate change, you’ve said you’ll listen to the science. If the scientists tell you, you need to go further than your 2030 target of 43 per cent, will you?

ALBANESE: What we haven't done is come up with a figure and work out how to get there. What we've come up with is good policy, using a range of measures: supporting renewables, supporting the safeguard mechanism established by Tony Abbott, supporting incentives for electric vehicles by reducing taxes, community batteries, working with industry. We have an opportunity to end the climate wars. Our policy will result in a 43 per cent reduction by 2030, but on the way through we will create 604,000 jobs. Five out of every six of them will be in regional Australia. The renewables will be 82 per cent of the National Energy Market by 2030 under our plan. We will see growth in new industries, so clean and cheaper energy, driving new industries through our National Reconstruction Fund and then skilling up Australians for those jobs through fee-free TAFE and additional university places. That's the vision I have: a clean energy economy, that is growing, that sees Australia become a renewable energy superpower for the world.

SPEERS: And a couple just quickly here on COVID: The pandemic is still very much with us. In fact, about thirty-eight people a day on average are dying in Australia from COVID. We have one of the highest infection rates in the world right now. Only 70 per cent of eligible adults have had their third dose vaccine, in some parts of the country it's less than 50 per cent. Would you do any more about that?

ALBANESE: What I would do, David, is to really ramp up the education campaign in order to encourage people to get their booster shots, to get that third dose and to - we're not getting the publicity that we used to get…

SPEERS: …but no mandates?

ALBANESE: …We are not getting the publicity we used to get. The fact people have been vaccinated means the impact on many people… I’ve had COVID in this campaign as you know, David and you had it at the beginning of the campaign. More than half my Shadow Cabinet have caught COVID since the Budget, so we know the infection is out there. We know that the more people vaccinated, the better the health outcomes will be. But this government could stop using… they've used $1 billion on political advertising essentially spruiking their credentials, including pretending that their record on climate is anything other than abominable. What they should be doing is channelling funds into making sure that we promote those vaccination rates.

SPEERS: Final question, Anthony Albanese, if you win on Saturday, you’ll have to go within days to Tokyo for a meeting of the Quad leaders. Beyond that trip, what would you like to make your first official visit? Which country?

ALBANESE: Well, I would have prioritised… I’ve said this in the past, my first visit as Opposition Leader was to Indonesia. It was my intention that that would be my first visit, if I had the great honour of being elected Prime Minister. As it is, if we form government, I will have to travel to Tokyo to the Quad leaders meeting. It will be a great honour to meet with Narendra Modi, Prime Minister Kishida and President Biden, to renew my friendship with him, at the Quad leaders' meeting. It’s meeting next Tuesday. And that will be important that Australia be represented there, but I would visit Indonesia as soon as possible. Also, the Pacific Island Forum is being held very early in June, so that will be an opportunity to meet the Pacific leaders.

SPEERS: Anthony Albanese, appreciate you joining us in this final week of the campaign. Thank you.

ALBANESE: Thanks very much, David.

ENDS

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Electorate Office

334a Marrickville Road
MARRICKVILLE NSW 2204

Phone: (02) 9564 3588
Fax: (02) 9564 1734
Email: A.Albanese.MP@aph.gov.au

Parliament House Office

PO Box 6022
CANBERRA ACT 2600

Phone: (02) 6277 4022
Fax: (02) 6277 8562

Phone: (02) 9564 3588
Fax: (02) 9564 1734
Email: A.Albanese.MP@aph.gov.au

We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which our offices stand and we pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging. We acknowledge the sorrow of the Stolen Generations and the impacts of colonisation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We also recognise the resilience, strength and pride of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

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