SUBJECTS: Foodbank Victoria; Bushfire crisis across Australia; recovery process for the bushfires; Government’s lack of climate change policy; Government’s inaction on climate change; Labor’s principles regarding climate change.
DAVE MCNAMARA, FOODBANK VICTORIA CEO: Thanks everyone. We are very pleased to have Anthony here to come and thank the hundreds of volunteers who have donated their time, and the community that have donated food, to help those victims experiencing the catastrophe down in East Gippsland. What a way for Foodbank Victoria to commemorate its 90th year. I just will reiterate what our Premier, Daniel Andrews, has said. At this stage we have sufficient food to respond to the immediate need of those communities. It now moves to that financial assistance to help us build those communities, and that is going to take years to happen. I will just reinforce that. I spoke to an orchardist earlier today who just let me know that he lost his orchard. And in terms of him and his staff getting back on their feet, five and a half years to grow those trees again to a fruit-bearing capacity. So, this is an event which has not only the immediate impacts being felt, but for years to come.
TIM WATTS, MEMBER FOR GELLIBRAND: My name is Tim Watts and I am the Federal Member for Gellibrand, the local member for this area. I just want to do two things this morning. I thank my local community for the incredible response that they have shown to the crisis in East Gippsland. In Melbourne’s west here, we are lucky enough not to have been directly impacted by the bushfires. But I don’t reckon it is possible to be any prouder of Australia and this community than seeing the reaction that we are seeing here in the Foodbank. We have seen queues for one and a half kilometres, of cars with people filling their boots of the cars with everything from the pantry, everything that they think could help people in needs, really taking that extra mile. We had another legend down the road, Oscar, a 10-year-old boy who saw all those cars queueing up, decided he was going to have a car wash, and he has raised $2,500 for bushfire relief. What a legend Oscar, well done. Just further up the road from that, in Newport, we had the Australian Islamic Centre fundraise and collect 5 truckloads worth of donations. And then they went to Bairnsdale and cooked a barbeque for the local firefighters. It is just everything that you are proud about the Australian community. And it is fantastic. The second thing I want to do is very proudly welcome the Leader of the Opposition, the Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese, to Foodbank here today. I’m really proud to show off something that in our community, we’re really proud to host in Foodbank, 90 years old, a real institution of an Australian community. So, I’ll hand over to Albo now.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Tim. And it’s good to be here also with the Deputy Labor Leader, Richard Marles, here at Foodbank Victoria. I’ve been a regular visitor to Foodbank in Sydney, in Western Sydney, which is run in part by my old mate, John Robertson. It does an amazing job. It’s an organisation that relies upon volunteers, relies upon goodwill from the community, and goodwill from business. I’ve got to say going into Foodbank, when you realise that if a banana is too straight, or a carrot is not straight enough, it can be discarded except for where it finds a home is right here at Foodbank. Making sure that we value every one of our food products and that we supply fresh food in particular, and other food products to people in need. It is a good thing that Foodbank exists. And I think that the people who are here volunteering today are all legends. They are great examples of mateship at its best. We talk a lot of about it. This is what it looks like. People putting their hands into their pockets. People giving up their time and their commitment to help their fellow Australians at this time of need. And in particular, of course, with the bushfire recovery. Foodbank does an incredible job. There are thousands of food hampers that have been prepared here. It’s very labour intensive. And people who I spoke to this morning have themselves got a great deal of satisfaction about being able to assist their fellow Australians at this time of need. People really are doing it tough. And it’s important to recognise that this period will continue for some time. Victoria, and indeed South Australia, are yet to hit what would normally be the peak bushfire season. So, this time, it’s critical that the community continue to rally. It’s critical, as well, that Government continues to do what it can.
I do want to make one further comment today which is about tourism. To encourage people, just as I encourage people to help out here, people to buy products or to make a contribution to those communities that are really suffering, whether it be the Blue Mountains where there’s a festival on the weekend, whether it be the south coast of New South Wales, whether it be the Gippsland region, whether it be South Australia in the Adelaide Hills buying products from there as something that Rebekha Sharkie particularly asked me to say when I visited South Australia. Kangaroo Island, of course, continues to do it really, really tough. And we’re going to have to bear that in mind. I do think that the Australian Government should talk to our friends in the US about the travel warnings that have been issued. The travel warning to Australia, to put it on the same level as countries that are very dangerous to travel to, is in my view, very inappropriate indeed. We need those US tourists who contributed some $4 billion to the Australian economy in recent times. We need people to keep coming to Australia, just as we need Australians to travel domestically, particularly to areas that have missed out on a peak season which would normally be over the Christmas/New Year period. So, I do say though that the Australian Government should contact our counterparts in the US and ask for a revision of those assessments. Because quite frankly, they are inaccurate. Australia still is open for business. And that’s critical in terms of minimising what will be a devastating economic impact on top of the quite catastrophic human impact that we’ve seen from these bushfires. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Anthony, what sort of inquiry do you think you should be held?
ALBANESE: Well, look, obviously we’re going to have to look at all of the issues around the bushfires. I must say, though, that any inquiry should come with it a commitment to actually follow up on the inquiry. Because we have known for some time. The warnings have been there. You look at the Garnaut Report of 2008. It indicated that the bushfire season would look something like this in 2020. We need to respond. There was a Senate Committee Report that came down last February. It needs to be responded to by the Government. So, it’s no good just having inquiries in order to produce information that isn’t acted upon. So, I think there should be a substantial inquiry. It doesn’t have to be the very nature of a Royal Commission if that is what is determined is appropriate, by definition takes a long time. The Coronial inquiries will occur as a matter of course and they, of course, are always very detailed indeed. We need to take any recommendations and act on them. I think that’s a critical thing. COAG, of course, in my view, should have met last November, when it was clear how catastrophic this season would be.
JOURNALIST: What do you think? Is it a state-based inquiry or federal overarching inquiry to go over those state boundaries?
ALBANESE: Well, look, I’ll listen to the experts and take into account their views. I know Shane Fitzsimmons, who I have the utmost respect for, has stated his view this morning. I think that we need to take all of that into account. But we know some of the issues we’ve known for some time about the impact of climate change. It clearly is having an impact on the intensity as well as the length of these bushfires. We need to look at issues like resources for our national parks. We need to look at the preparedness which is there. We had a policy about the aerial firefighting fleet that needed to be upgraded. We need to look at how our Defence Force relates to the civil activity. We need to look at the issue of our volunteer firefighting force that we very much rely upon. Are they properly resourced? Is it sustainable for people to volunteer, not for days or weeks, but for months? And we have had, of course, that’s an issue that I raised for many months before the Government made a decision to provide some economic compensation for our volunteer firefighters. But we need also, when it comes to that, to examine how that’s being rolled out. I’m somewhat concerned at reports that people will only be eligible for payments based upon the normal hours of work. That is, if people have been working on an 11pm to 11am shift, which is what our firefighters were working 24 hours around the clock, that needs to be taken to account as well. So, we need to examine the detail. The Government needs to get the detail of this right. In part, it will be our job to make sure that occurs. We want to be constructive in how we relate to all of these issues. But we’re determined to make sure that at the end of the day, we have one concern, which is for the people impacted by these fires. And then also, of course, I’ve said that their needs to be an ecological audit. When I got the briefing on Sunday with Richard one of the things that we’re told here in Victoria is that the extent of the fires in Gippsland mean that the nature of that local ecology, when it grows back, will be changed. What’s the impact of that on our native animals? What’s the impact of that on the nature of the ecology, both in terms of plants, but also in terms of animals, birds? We need to examine all of those issues.
JOURNALIST: Alright, so let’s talk about climate. The debate is well and truly back on. You still don’t have a policy? When can we see something in relation to targets? In relation to national action on emissions?
ALBANESE: Well, what we’re not going to do is to say to the Government, ‘Don’t bother doing anything, because this is what we’re going to do in 2022 after the election, if we’re successful’. That, quite frankly, would be irresponsible. We want the Government to act immediately. And the idea, at this stage in the cycle, that the Labor Party’s policy today will have an impact in 2022 is quite frankly an immature question. What we need is the Government to act. We take climate change seriously. We will act on the science. We will have strong policies. But they’ll be off the basis of what the starting point is. We don’t want the starting point to, frankly, be the pathetic response with no climate change policy and no energy policy that we have from this Government at the moment.
JOURNALIST: Okay, but you don’t have a climate or an energy policy either?
ALBANESE: I refer to the previous 3,224 times that I have answered that question and say to you that the next election is in 2022. Our principles are very clear. We want a strong domestic policy that drives down our emissions. We want that to give us credibility to take action in terms of internationally. What we won’t do is let the Government off the hook. And our supporters don’t want us to do that. Our supporters want us to hold the Government to account. The last time we were in Government, we took strong action. I must say that the 2006 policy was written by my self, as the environment and climate change spokesperson for the Labor Party in the Beazley Opposition. It was a comprehensive plan. It led to us ratifying Kyoto. Us taking action to set in place mechanisms to drive down emissions. Us taking action in terms of the renewable energy target that has made such a difference. Now, the Government, in my view, it is unsustainable for the Government to not have a policy between now and 2022. If they bring back the National Energy Guarantee that went through the Party systems, then that of course will change what our policy is. Because that will come through.
JOURNALIST: Would you would you support the NEG if it came through?
ALBANESE: We will support strong action on climate change by the Government.
JOURNALIST: Does that include the NEG?
ALBANESE: Well, we’ve got to see it. We’re not granting a theoretical position here. We want to see action from the Government. We would have supported the NEG as it was introduced last time around. We want this Government to take action.
JOURNALIST: Going back to your policy. Will you have one this year? Will you have one next year? Will you have one the year after?
ALBANESE: We’ll have one when we announced it, well before the election.
JOURNALIST: And when will that be?
ALBANESE: Well, the next election, what we do in Australia is we have three-year cycles. I suggest that you probably knew that. But if not, this informs the public that that’s the case. We have very short cycles in this country. You have, through the last question, explained better than I have, perhaps, why it would be inappropriate to announce all of our policies now. Because you’ve suggested that the Government will move, and they might come up with policy, which would by definition, have an impact. I’ll do it in Victorian terms. An AFL grand final, you don’t know how you’re going to go in the third quarter in the fourth quarter, which is the winning quarter, where you want to be kicking with the wind, unless you know what the score is at half-time. That will dictate what you’re able to do, whether you’ve got people going back, whether you got people going forward into the Premiership quarter. Those things are all important, and quite frankly, we, one of the things that I have tried to do during the last election, the media forgot there was a Government during the election campaign. They did not hold Scott Morrison to account. They are still not holding Scott Morrison to account. The only political Party that can make an immediate difference to emissions in this country is the LNP Government who have a majority in the House of Representatives and just about a majority in the Senate. They need to be held to account.
JOURNALIST: But the states are taking action.
ALBANESE: State governments are.
JOURNALIST: They have zero carbon by 2050 pretty much right across the board. And Victoria is going to have some interim targets coming in quite soon.
ALBANESE: And the Andrews Government is a good government.
JOURNALIST: So, would you support those targets? At least 20 per cent on 2005 levels by 2025. That’s going to be the Victorian target.
ALBANESE: Well, for Victoria, I support the Victorian Government taking action.
JOURNALIST: What about nationally?
ALBANESE: I support the Victorian Government taking action in Victoria.
JOURNALIST: What sort of levels of emission cuts would you like to see nationally?
ALBANESE: Look, I have stated our position. Our position is that we want strong action on climate change. We will announce our proposals based upon where we’re at closer to the election. We won’t let the Government off the hook. We won’t let the Government off the hook. And I’m not going to, quite frankly, be in a circumstance whereby a Government is allowed to sail through without taking action, just as a Prime Minister was allowed in the lead-up to this bushfire crisis, allowed to sail through without having a plan, even though we were raising in letters that COAG should meet, there should be a national approach, there should be national aerial firefighting facilities, there should be greater use of the Defence Force. We needed economic compensation for volunteer firefighters. We did all of that. It was all out there. Some of those proposals have now being taken up. That was an immediate proposal that we had. Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.