LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
TUESDAY, 18 FEBRUARY 2020
SUBJECTS: Respecting our older Australians; state of the economy; coronavirus; wage theft; coal; climate change; Government’s 2050 technology targets; Holden decision to close down.
MILTON DICK, MEMBER FOR OXLEY: Thanks very much, everyone. Welcome to the electorate of Oxley. I am Milton Dick, the local Federal Member. And I am absolutely thrilled that Anthony Albanese and our Shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, have joined us here in Inala which is the centre of the Oxley electorate. We have had some great conversations with Vietnamese seniors today, hearing their stories about battling the aged care system. And I know Anthony’s speech tomorrow, his fourth vision statement, about respecting older Australians, will be very, very important and particularly well received in Queensland. So, thanks Albo for coming to Inala. And I will hand over to him now.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Milton. And it is great to be back in Queensland with yourself and Jim Chalmers, my Shadow Treasurer. Tomorrow will be an important speech. The fourth vision statement on respecting and valuing older Australians. And one of the things I think we value very much is ensuring that when people get to their later years, we ensure that they get looked after, that they are treated with respect and dignity, and that they have the retirement that they deserve. Older Australians have built this country. They have built our economy. They have created jobs. They have created a lifestyle and the wonderful culture that we can all enjoy. We also all have an interest in it. Because if we are not older Australians, we have mums and dads, we have grandparents, we have brothers and sisters. And one day, we have ourselves, we hope, to get to those later years in life. So, it is important that we have an ageing of the population that Government policy respond to it. And what is clear at the moment is that we are not doing well enough. We have attacks on the superannuation guarantee from this Government, attempting to undermine the increase from 9.5 to up to 12 per cent that is actually legislated. We have, through the Aged Care Royal Commission, stories that are quite horrific. Last week on Thursday, the last sitting day, we asked the first six questions during Question Time about the aged care crisis. One of those was about the fact that half of those people in aged care facilities are currently malnourished. That is simply not good enough in a country as wealthy as ours in 2020. How would we think if that was one of our loved ones? We have circumstances whereby there simply isn’t enough home care packages being actually implemented. We know that 30,000 people after they have had their home care package approved, have died waiting to actually access that package, in just the last two years. And when we raised this in Parliament, Josh Frydenberg interjected across the Chamber that we were creating a distraction. Well, I say this.
Looking after our older Australians is not a distraction. It’s core business for the sort of country that I want Australia to be. The sort of country whereby the concerns that were just raised with us by these wonderful Australians of Vietnamese heritage have had to put up with. We met women waiting for packages. Waiting for month after month and not being able to receive them even though they’ve been approved. The sort of contribution that’s been made to this country by Mrs Ng, who helped me cut the cake there 103 years young, and still make a contribution to this local community-based organisation that meets regularly here in this hall. So, we have, I think, a lot to talk about and a big challenge as a nation. Our vision statements are designed to outline the principles in which a Labor Government in the future would operate. One of those principles is the principle of fairness. And being fair to our older Australians is something that I think we should do regardless of the background of those Australians, regardless of where they live, whether it’s in our capital cities, whether it be in our outer suburbs, whether it be in our regional towns. We know in particular, that regional communities are having real difficulty accessing aged care facilities. At the moment, here in Brisbane, there’s not a Vietnamese speaking aged care facility. One of the issues confronting our population as it grows older is that as people get older, they tend to lose their second languages. So, go back on the language of the birth. This is why aged care facilities that are ethno-specific are so important in terms of ensuring that people can get the care that they need. And that was a major issue raised by doctors who came along to the meeting with us this morning. Before I take questions, I’m going to ask Jim Chalmers to make some comments about the economy and in particular the impact of the Coronavirus here in Queensland.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Well, thanks very much, Anthony. And thanks Milton for having us here at Inala to talk with some of the local seniors about Anthony’s vision statement tomorrow on older Australians. Josh Frydenberg sees our seniors and sees the ageing of our population. He describes it as a time bomb. Labor under Anthony’s leadership sees the ageing of our population and sees it as an opportunity to better value, and respect, and look out for, and look after older Australians who have done so much in this country for so long. And who deserve, frankly, a fairer go than they’re getting right now from this Morrison Government. And the Morrison Government doesn’t have a plan for aged care just like they don’t have a plan for the economy, for wages, for climate change. And they certainly don’t have a plan to deal with, or at least to help businesses deal with, the impacts of this coronavirus, which is creating so much uncertainty in communities, but especially in business communities right around Australia. Obviously, coronavirus is going to have a substantial impact on the economy. We don’t know yet how big that impact on the economy will be, or impact on the Budget will be. But we do know that the economy was already weak going into this summer of fire and coronavirus. Josh Frydenberg wants people to forget that economic growth was already slow, and wages were already stagnant. Household debt was already at record highs. Business investment, the lowest in 30 years, before the fires hit. And before anyone had even heard of the coronavirus. And so, we don’t want to see the Government use what are substantial difficulties in our economy as an excuse for what has been a far longer period of underperformance in the economy under Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg, on their watch.
We need a plan for the economy. And we need a plan for businesses to understand the impacts and make good decisions after the impacts of the coronavirus. I wrote to Josh Frydenberg a couple of times over the last two or three weeks, asking for advice on behalf of the business community which has relayed their concerns to me about coronavirus, asking him to provide some advice to business so that they can make good decisions to deal with what’s going on here. We’ve got a very disappointing but not especially surprising response, which talked up the potential impact of coronavirus, but had absolutely nothing to say about how they intend to advise business on the impacts of coronavirus and what businesses could do in the coming weeks and months to best deal with it. So, I’ll be going to regional Queensland, to Townsville and Cairns this week to speak with businesses, particularly tourism businesses, but others as well, about the impacts of coronavirus so that we can advocate for them to try and get the Government to come up with a plan to deal with the aftermath of what’s going on here. The state government, there are reports that the state government is doing something to support Queensland’s businesses. It is long past time for the Federal Government under Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg to come up with a plan to deal with what’s going on here. To come up with a plan for the economy more broadly. For aged care, climate change, all of the challenges which have been left unattended for too long.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Jim. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: What’s your reaction to news that Coles has set aside $20 million to reimburse underpaid workers?
ALBANESE: Look, wage theft is an enormous issue. And it’s an issue in which, essentially, people who go along and contribute to businesses, making profit for them, helping the economy function, simply aren’t getting the wages that they’re entitled to. Now, we already know that wage rises simply aren’t happening, that this Government doesn’t have a plan for wage rises. And that is an issue that’s been identified by the Reserve Bank as being a major constraint on economic growth and on employment. But at the same time, you have people essentially not being paid what their entitlements are. And that shows that there’s been a fair bit of complacency there. Now, my understanding is that Coles are negotiating with the union, the SDA, to make sure that they can identify who’s missed out and to pay them their entitlements. That’s a good thing that’s happening in a cooperative way. But it shouldn’t come to this. People should be paid their entitlements. It’s not like people who are shop assistants are remunerated with huge salaries. They rely upon it, to get by day to day, to spend their wages, sometimes in the various shops in which they work in order to put food on the table for their families. And this is all too prevalent. This Government attacks unions day-in, day-out. They prepared to defend the sort of behaviour that we have seen become all too prevalent. They have very little to say about this exploitation, which is what it is. When people aren’t paid the wages that they’re entitled to.
JOURNALIST: This legislation meant to be introduced in the next couple of weeks increasing the penalty on people involved in the worst cases of wage theft. Do you think bosses and managers should go to jail over this?
ALBANESE: Well, I’ll make this point. The Government could introduce legislation not once but twice attacking unions with the so-called integrity legislation, but it can’t introduce legislation about a National Integrity Commission. And it can’t introduce legislation yet about wage theft. They’re in their seventh year. They’re in their seventh year. What are they doing? We’ve had virtually no legislation in the last couple of weeks. We have a Government, it’s not like it is over-burdened with parliamentary sittings. Why don’t they just do their day job? They are too interested in playing politics with everything to worry about the issues that are of real concern to Australians. And wage theft is a major concern.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the discussion papers today suggesting underpaying companies be prevented from hiring workers on certain visas or force to name and shame themselves? Do you think the Government is doing enough on this?
ALBANESE: It would be handy if we trained Australians for jobs here in Australia. It would be handy if we had the sort of position that I outlined in my first vision statement in Perth, creation of Jobs and Skills Australia to make sure we identify where the jobs of the future are and make sure that we train Australians for them. It’s very clear that this is a lazy Government. It’s a lazy Government when it comes to dealing with the big challenges. And one of the implications of that is that whilst you have youth unemployment on rates above 20 per cent in many parts of Australia, we import labour temporarily, we at times underpay them and exploit them and then send them off again. Which means that Australia has missed out on the training opportunities, on the income generated around the economy, which happens when Australians are in employment and spend money where they live in their local communities. I think this Government doesn’t have a plan to deal with the challenges that Australia faces. And that’s a common theme of the economy, of wages, of climate change, of aged care. All of those issues, they don’t have a plan. What they have is just political spin and marketing strategies. You know, ‘We’re going to introduce legislation down the track that will look after these issues’. When they’re in the seventh year, their third term, their third Prime Minister, their third Deputy Prime Minister, although it might be a fourth pretty soon.
JOURNALIST: There was a report today that one of your frontbenchers was hearing that people are still saying that Labor is hostile to coal. Can you outline your position as simply as possible for the people in Queensland, inner-city Melbourne, what your view on coal is and whether you think more environmental hurdles should be put in front of future projects?
ALBANESE: I have the same position everywhere. We have an environmental approval process for any new projects. But the truth is as well, that markets make decisions based upon economics. And the cheapest form of new energy in Australia is wind, is solar. There are new technologies which are coming on, as well. And there’s nothing to stop, nothing to have stopped this Government in its seventh term, having built, having approved a new coal-fired power plant. Nothing to have stopped it at all. The only thing that stopped it is common-sense and economics. Because it simply, in terms of new coal-fired power, the fact that the Government has given $4 million of taxpayers’ money, so they are raising taxes that comes from somewhere, to give to a small company that doesn’t have a track record of having built anything in terms of any new manufacturing plant anywhere, any new power plant anywhere. They’ve given them that money without a tender process. And essentially, it’s hush money for the climate change sceptics and those people on the backbench now. People like Matt Canavan, who essentially is trying to con people. Saying for years and years and years, they’ve been saying, ‘We’re going to have a new coal-fired power plant’. But it hasn’t happened. There’s nothing to stop it happening. They are the Government. Nothing to stop it happening. So, I think Australians deserve some straight talking, rather than just some politics around these issues.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the 2050 technology targets (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: The Government doesn’t have a plan for anything. They have a plan for spin and a plan for marketing. And that’s what this is.
JOURNALIST: Speaking about that technology investment target. What does this actually mean?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s a good point. That’s a very good point. The answer is in the question in that it’s just more marketing and spin from a Government that’s out of touch and doesn’t have a plan. They had a plan. The NEG went through their Party room and they walked away from it.
JOURNALIST: Should Labor be pressuring Dan Andrews to end the gas exploration (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: I am the Federal Labor Leader. And I’m concerned about the Federal Labor’s position on issues. My understanding is that Victoria has a review that will report sometime this year.
JOURNALIST: Did you take any comfort from Ford’s comments that it could hire some of the sacked Holden workers? And how many people would you expect Ford to take?
ALBANESE: Look, I hope that’s the case. But let’s be clear here. The Government, this Coalition Government, told car companies to leave Australia. That’s what they did. They told GMH to leave. Joe Hockey, when he was the Treasurer, cheered on by Scott Morrison and the whole team. So, when they take that up, when they destroyed the car industry plan that was in place, they withdrew all of the funding, they ripped up the agreement. And guess what? When they told them, dared them, to leave. They’ve now left. This is on the Government’s watch. They talk about blue-collar jobs, they talk about manufacturing. I tell you what, there are tens of thousands of jobs that have been lost directly as a result of the Coalition’s policy, which was that we should not have a car industry in Australia. That was their policy.
JOURNALIST: The Adani project is one that has stacked up and could lead to the Galilee basin getting opened up. Do you think that coal would be better burnt here or overseas?
ALBANESE: Well, that is not a decision made by me or you.
JOURNALIST: Are you surprised by the ANU study that found a third of people are less confident in the Government since the bushfire crisis?
ALBANESE: Well, it’s not surprising. Because the Government had there what they have done consistently, which is to not accept responsibility. It’s a bit like Jim Chalmers just spoke about, the letter to Josh Frydenberg, that we haven’t received a response to. This Government, throughout the bushfire crisis. said it was a states’ issue, said there was nothing more it could do, said it didn’t need a national plan, said that it didn’t need the Defence Forces to be involved. It said that we didn’t need to provide economic compensation for volunteer firefighters, before they changed their position on those various measures. People will make their own judgment and have made their own judgment about the Government’s performance or non-performance during this crisis.
JOURNALIST: How do you think Holden could have been saved?
ALBANESE: Well, there was a car industry plan in place. It was in place. It’s the Government as a conscious policy decision. Front page of the Financial Review. ‘We dare you to go’. That was what the message that the Government sent. Thanks.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.