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Thursday, 8th April 2021

Tasmania Talks with Mike O’Loughlin

SUBJECTS: Visit to Tasmania; Tasmanian state election; JobSeeker; JobKeeper; vaccine rollout; Rebecca White and Tasmanian Labor; electric vehicles; National Reconstruction Fund; climate change; net zero by 2050; regional development; manufacturing; aged care; bulk billing; improving experiences for women; wage theft.
 
MIKE O’LOUGHLIN, HOST: Good morning to you.
 
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning, Mike. Good to be with you. 
 
O’LOUGHLIN: Listen, if I can start with, and why not, The Examiner headline this morning reads, 'Labor chaos'. Preselection issues for Kingborough Mayor, Dean Winter, the resigning of Labor's Tasmanian branch President, Ben McGregor, and Franklin candidate, Fabiano Cangelosi, slamming his own Party's policies, he is quite wholly repugnant. So the thing I'm asking you straight up, if you don't mind, are you here to assist with the stabilising of a dysfunctional state Labor Party? Get the campaign back on track, if you will?
 
ALBANESE: No. I'm here to assist Rebecca White become Premier of Tasmania. Because whilst there's been some distractions on both sides of politics, we must remember that the Liberal Party have had a candidate who attended a far-right rally in Melbourne, against the actions of every government, including the Morrison Government, any lockdowns and restrictions. We've had the Liberal Party lose the Speaker of the Tasmanian Parliament who tried to take Eric Abetz out on the way out the door of the Liberal Party and is now running as an independent. I think what people will focus on when it comes to the election is who has a plan for Tasmania and why there's an early election being held, one year earlier than it was due, which to me says that Peter Gutwein doesn't have confidence to be able to serve a full term. And I think it's not surprising given we have seen JobKeeper cuts, we've seen JobSeeker reduced, we've seen a failure to have support such as for travel to Tasmania by ferry that cuts out on June 30. There's a real cliff coming when it comes to support for Tasmanians. And that's going to have a real impact on the economy and jobs. And that's why the Government's going early.
 
O’LOUGHLIN: Well, I just must ask you the question, though. You must surely be concerned by the situation with Labor's campaign in those southern seats of Franklin and Clark?
 
ALBANESE: Look, I think we have strong candidates in both those seats. And in Franklin, the addition of Dean Winter, a very popular local mayor, is just a bit of common sense, really, to run a sixth candidate there. And I, as a member of the National Executive, supported that. And one of the things that people will look for in a leader is whether they have the strength of conviction and whether they're prepared to show leadership during difficult times. Rebecca White has shown that she's prepared to show leadership, that she's prepared to take tough decisions. And that's what you want in a Premier, given the circumstances of the Premier here in Tasmania at the moment who's failed to stand up to Scott Morrison, who has withdrawn support and pulled the rug out from under the Tasmanian economy.
 
O’LOUGHLIN: If I can then ask you, what about the policy for poker machines? There is certainly a change of the direction there completely? A real 180?
 
ALBANESE: It is consistent with the approach that Labor has held in other states and indeed, federally. That these are matters that are best regulated in a common sense way. The fact is that the poker machines can cause real problems for people. We know that gambling can be an issue. But we also know that banning things doesn't necessarily achieve good outcomes. And in terms of the clubs industry and pubs here in Tassie, they are important employers that provide important economic stimulus in local communities. And I think that the policy that's been adopted by the Tasmanian ALP certainly is one that I support.
 
O’LOUGHLIN: Listen, if I can then move on to perhaps more Federal issues. Tasmania, certainly, as you're aware, is the battery of the nation. But does that still apply when it comes to electric vehicles? I am reading that Labor has said it will cut the import tariff on electric vehicles worth less than $77,565 and exempt them from fringe benefits tax. That's in an effort to reduce retail prices and create incentives to drive up fleet purchases. But do you think people will rush out to buy an electric car?
 
ALBANESE: The policy is aimed very deliberately at fleets how we make sure we incentivise fleets to move towards electric vehicles as a way of increasing our uptake. Australia's behind the rest of the world. We saw an absurd campaign from the Federal Coalition during the last federal campaign, a scare campaign saying that we were going to end the weekend somehow if people had electric vehicles. Well, the truth is that every automotive manufacturer in the world is moving towards electric or cleaner vehicles. And that is something that's just a fact. So in time to come, we will see a phasing out of the majority of internal combustion engines. There is not an automotive manufacturer in the world that is currently doing research into a new internal combustion engine. It's all about either electric vehicles or hydrogen or new forms of energy. And we need to move with that otherwise we will be behind the rest of the world and we will be a dumping ground. And that requires positive policies. This is about reducing the cost of electric vehicles. It will still be up to any individual what car they drive. But we know that it's sensible policy. And if you reduce the costs of fleet vehicles by getting rid of fringe benefits tax $8,000-9,000, that will provide a real incentive. Because we know that the cost of maintaining and driving an electric vehicle is so much cheaper. And the convenience as well. I drive a hybrid vehicle myself. And you know, I get over 1,000km before I have to fill up. That's a real positive.
 
LOUGHLIN: If I can ask you then, has the Party, speaking of energy, worked out the energy policy federally, with amendments from the unions? And if so, what does it look like?
 
ALBANESE: Our policy is net zero emissions by 2050. And we'll have policies consistent with that aimed at reducing power prices and reducing emissions but also creating jobs. There are enormous opportunities for us to create jobs through the transformation that will occur in our economy. And I think that the Tasmanian economy, of course, will be one of the beneficiaries of that.
 
O’LOUGHLIN: Labor has suggested also support for new gas projects. If I can ask, do they involve Tasmania, possibly Bell Bay and hydrogen?
 
ALBANESE: They are a matter for the market to determine. One of the things that we've said is that any new project has to stack up environmentally. Those environmental assessments should be rigorous. And if it stacks up, then the market will determine what projects go ahead and whether they're for domestic use or for export. We know that we have an opportunity to be a renewable energy superpower. And that opportunity is not being taken up at the moment. We have opportunity to grow jobs with the transformation that will occur as well. We have every mineral that goes into the new economy, be it nickel, lithium, or copper, everything that goes into making a battery. We should be making them here. We should be creating jobs here. We used to, of course, produce wind turbines in northwest Tasmania. We've lost out. It's quite extraordinary that at a time where the world is being transitioned towards cleaner energy, where every economy has adopted a net zero emissions, just about in the world, by 2050, except for Australia, we actually haven't taken up those opportunities and have indeed lost jobs in a sector that's expanding right around the world.
 
O’LOUGHLIN: You said a Labor Government would back industries of strategic importance, which you nominated is mining and resources, agriculture, forestry and fishing, medical science, renewables and lower emission technologies, defence industries and transportation. So under all of that, what exactly will be Tasmania's share? 
 
ALBANESE: I think it will be substantial, because there's such enormous opportunity here for us to value-add. For example, in agriculture, I know that when I was the Regional Development Minister, we supported, for example, new refrigeration and freezing techniques so that produce could be exported in a way that increased their value substantially. Now, that's an example of whereby a small investment in capital for business was able to produce a substantial increase in their profits and in jobs. And here in Tasmania, there are enormous opportunities. We identified them when I was Regional Development Minister in 2013. And one of the things about Tasmania is that the Tasmanian brand is just so strong, not just in the north island, but right throughout the world.
 
O’LOUGHLIN: Also, Labor has said Australia must be a country that makes things. And you say that's why a Labor Government will establish a new National Reconstruction Fund to reverse the decline in manufacturing, create secure jobs for Australians as we come out of the pandemic. You're saying we need to build back stronger thriving regions, more secure jobs and a better life for Australia. So again, can we drill down the benefits for Tasmanians?
 
ALBANESE: You take a town like Burnie that has been a strong industrial heartland in the past in areas like the maritime sector, there's enormous opportunity for us to potentially create manufacturing there. There's no reason why we can't be constructing ships. There's no reason why we can't be constructing things that will expand in the new economy, such as batteries. There's no reason why we can't expand on value-adding in food and other areas. What we're doing is creating a $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund that will work on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation model, whereby funds have been made available to improve investment from businesses, to create jobs, particularly in transforming existing industries, but also creating new ones that will boost employment. And regions are particularly well-suited. And Tasmania, of course, has such strong regions, whether it be in the northwest, in northern Tasmania, or southern Tasmania. And there is an enormous opportunity that we have to grow jobs here, including in manufacturing. We need to make sure that we don't just try to go back to what was there before the pandemic but that we recognise that whilst it shows the strength of Australian society, the fact that people were prepared to make sacrifices and look out for each other, it also shows some of the weaknesses in our economy and our lack of resilience, the fact that we didn't have enough ventilators, we didn't even have enough personal protective equipment. There's no reason why we can't be producing more here. And Tasmania has to be a part of that.
 
O’LOUGHLIN: You are listening to Tasmania Talks, speaking with Anthony Albanese, Leader of the Federal Labor Party. If I can, your thoughts on the vaccine rollout? Is it a supply issue?
 
ALBANESE: Well, it's a Government failure issue. The Government itself said it wasn't subject to international issues when it made the commitment very clearly last year and then repeated and firmed up on January 7 that we'd have four million Australians vaccinated by the end of March. Now, here we are, we are nearing to mid-April and we are yet to hit the million mark. It has been one in which the Government said they would under-promise and over-deliver. Well in fact, the opposite has occurred. And when they ran out of state governments to blame, they tried to blame the European Union. And that proved not to be correct. And they had to walk that back 24 hours later. I think what people want from Scott Morrison is certainty. Is to know when they are going to be vaccinated. Not just themselves, but their loved ones. The fact that people in aged care facilities are being told that they are going to be vaccinated, their loved ones have gone to be with them on that day, and nothing happened on multiple occasions. The fact that GPs aren't able to get access to the vaccines that they want for their clients and patients. It is not good enough. People need certainty. And this Government consistently over-promises and under-delivers.
 
O’LOUGHLIN: On your Facebook page, you've got some stories there. One is a Jude, who tells it like it is, you say. She's proud of her job. She's proud to take care of older Australians. And she knows aged care has been neglected by the Morrison Government on your Facebook page. Labor has a plan to fix aged care because older Australians and their families who love them deserve better than what they're getting from the current mob. And the dedicated people who take care of them deserve so much better. So the question is, tell us how you will fix aged care?
 
ALBANESE: Well, I rolled out an eight-point plan at the National Press Club last year. The first thing is that it needs increased funding. Quite clearly, the $1.7 billion that was cut by Scott Morrison when he was in charge of the Budget has had an ongoing impact on the sector. Secondly, we need proper workforce training and proper workforce delivery. That means having more nurses, but also more carers across the board. I've met with so many people like Jude, who attended our national conference just last week. She works in Perth. She's worked in the sector for decades. She's dedicated to helping her fellow Australians. And it's so frustrating for them that they don't have enough time to spend with people who they develop a friendship within aged care facilities. We also need, of course, to reduce the waiting list. It is extraordinary that more than 10,000 people died last year who had been approved for an aged care package in their home before they actually received it. And it's not good enough that there's still 100,000 people waiting for their aged care packages that have been approved to actually be delivered. We need to value and respect our older Australians and make sure they get the care they need. And I know here in Tasmania, one of the things that's impacting them, is before they need those packages, the fact that last night I was talking to a nurse here in Launceston who told me that you can't get a bulk billing doctor here in the north. That is a real problem, particularly for other Australians having to pay out of their own pocket just to get those basic medical needs.
 
O’LOUGHLIN: Bulk billing is something. You've answered a question there. So Labor will obviously increase the situation of bulk billing GPs?
 
ALBANESE: Absolutely. It absolutely critical. And there's no reason why, I, as someone in the inner west of Sydney, can have access, I can walk to at least half a dozen facilities where I can be bulk billed, and here in the north, there's no bulk billing here in Tasmania. It's not fair, it's not equitable. And it's facing real hardship and real pressure. And you don't want to have the circumstance whereby people don't go to see a doctor therefore they get more ill or their illness becomes more acute because they're not getting that basic care. In the end, that ends up costing the system more money. Just like the hospital waiting lists that have blown out. under the state Liberal Government here.
 
O’LOUGHLIN: So you would increase bulk billing?
 
ALBANESE: Absolutely. We need a strategy to deal with increased bulk billing. And we need to make sure that people get essential health and education services. And here in Tasmania as well, the Government looking at privatising TAFE, I just find extraordinary that any government would look at privatising what is an essential service. We know that will result in not just young people missing out, but people who need retraining for jobs as the economy changes missing out as well.
 
O’LOUGHLIN: You've actually said Australia is in need of a seismic cultural shift to improve experiences for women. What is Labor's answer to this shift?
 
ALBANESE: What we need to do is to make sure we look across the board. First thing, making sure that every woman is safe, not just in the workplace, but also at home. We need to make sure that domestic violence is seen to be the crime that it is. And we need to look at laws that are seeing an under-reporting and then a failure to take appropriate action on those issues. But we also need to look across the board. Women now earn 13 per cent less than men in our economy. We need to look at ways in which we can increase women's workforce participation, which is what our childcare boost that would help 97 per cent of families is aimed at. How is it that a woman who chooses to work a fourth or fifth day can actually lose money rather than gain money for making that contribution to the economy? It's a real disincentive for them to contribute to the economy and contribute to productivity. It's holding back our economy. So I think that a fairer society, one that values women, one that gives more equality, will be good not just for women, but good for our society and our economy as a whole. We need every person, male and female, to be able to contribute to society in a fair way. And that means valuing them.
 
O’LOUGHLIN: Just a couple more questions. I know we are running out of time here. Brian Mitchell, your Member for Lyons, said an Albanese Government would make tackling wage theft a top priority. How would you do that?
 
ALBANESE: By criminalising it. What's extraordinary is that the Government had legislation before the Parliament about wage theft as part of its industrial relations changes. Now, many of those changes were terrible and deserved to be knocked off, like getting rid of the Better Off Overall Test. But the Government did an immature dummy spit and took their bat and ball and went home and got rid of the wage theft provisions in an act of vindictiveness that I just don't understand. I've never seen anything quite like that before, even though the entire Parliament was saying that we need to take up the issue of wage theft and we need to criminalise it. We need to make sure that it's stamped out. Too many people are being exploited. Some of them are being paid $2 an hour, not being given their superannuation, not being given their entitlements. And it needs to be stamped out. And we will take strong action to do just that. And Brian Mitchell has been very strong on it in the Federal Parliament. 
 
O’LOUGHLIN: Listen, finally, you mentioned briefly, are you concerned about the impact the end of JobKeeper and JobSeeker is having on Australians?
 
ALBANESE: I think it will have a devastating impact. We're not through the pandemic yet, as you know. The idea was that, from the Government, they said they would be withdrawing support for JobKeeper and JobSeeker as the vaccine had ramped up. Well, we know that the vaccine hasn't ramped up. We know the vaccine hasn't hit a million people yet. And they're way behind. But the support in the economy has been withdrawn. And I think that's one of the reasons why the Gutwein Government is go into an early election. Because they know that's going to have a devastating impact on the Tasmanian economy and on jobs.
 
O’LOUGHLIN: Have you been able to see much of our beautiful island while you're breezed in and had a good look? And if you have, what is a highlight?
 
ALBANESE: Over the years, I certainly have. But on this visit, I've been in Launceston yesterday. It was a beautiful day, and it is again today. But last December, I travelled as a tourist here and did Three Capes down in the south. And that was an absolutely spectacular trip. It's something I funded when I was a minister as part of the economic stimulus during the Global Financial Crisis. And so, it's been on my bucket list. And I was able to do it and to contribute to the Tasmanian economy while I was doing it. And I got in just before the lockdown from the Northern Beaches in Sydney. I was lucky, I was just at the right time. This is a beautiful, beautiful island. And it's such a great asset. And I always love coming to Tasmania. I'll be back in the northwest and then in the south at the end of next week and next weekend. And I look forward to that too. 
 
O’LOUGHLIN: Well, we'll catch up then, I hope. Anthony Albanese, Leader of the Federal Labor Party. Thank you for having a chat with us.
 
ALBANESE: Thanks very much.
 
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

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