SUBJECTS: Bushfire crisis across Australia; comment on Craig Kelly.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: We welcome the initiative. But we will need more. When cyclone Yasi and the Queensland floods hit, that had a cost of over $5 billion. So, this is a massive economic reconstruction that will be required. In addition to that, of course, there will be increased health expenditure, particularly looking at not just physical health in the short-term for the people recovering from injuries, but the mental health aspects will be around for a very long time to come.
JOURNALIST: How should the money be prioritised and where should it go first?
ALBANESE: Look, we have to get that money on the ground. The big thing we need to ensure is that it’s not caught up in bureaucracy, that it’s delivered. Delivering through local government can be very effective at maximising the local input, but ensuring as well, that it’s delivered quickly.
JOURNALIST: A lot of the times insurance companies and filling out these claims when you have got somebody in distress can be quite difficult. Does there need to be some streamlining?
ALBANESE: Well, there needs to be a system established so that people who are distressed who are not in a position to actually engage in days of wrangling over bureaucracy, get assistance to get them through the system. People have suffered during this period. They need every assistance.
JOURNALIST: So, do we need counsellors on the ground?
ALBANESE: We need counsellors on the ground. We need financial experts on the ground. We need people who can provide that direct advice and assistance to people who will be traumatised, understandably. This has been a national crisis. We have not seen before the sort of scenes whereby we’ve had people evacuated in wartime like conditions with fires closing in. It’s extremely distressing. We will also need an aspect of how we deal with the destruction of flora and fauna. We have seen something like half a billion native animals potentially be killed during this crisis. It’s going to need a whole-of-government response around the human aspect, around our flora and fauna, around our infrastructure. This will be a massive undertaking.
JOURNALIST: Are you surprised that it has taken the Government so long to shift focus from a budget surplus to go, ‘ok we have lots of money there?’
ALBANESE: Well, the Government spent a long time telling us that this was just another natural disaster. I wrote to the Government in November, asking for a national approach, asking for the sort of measures that have now been put in place. Increasing aerial firefighting, support for volunteer firefighters, involvement of the ADF, the national approach. We need to ensure that the Government continues to step up during this crisis. This needs a response from the Commonwealth, from state governments, from local government, but also from the private sector as well, and the whole of society. We need to come together as a nation at a time of crisis like this and provide every assistance to those individuals and those communities that have suffered in what is a horrific disaster.
JOURNALIST: Do you think more should have been done to prevent a disaster like this rather than now throwing $2 billion in funding to try and fix it?
ALBANESE: Well, I think what we’ve seen is that complacency is not the answer. We know that the advice was that these catastrophic conditions were coming, and indeed commenced for some many weeks, and indeed, months ago. What we have seen, as well, is the fact that the advice is that it is not over yet. We are not out of danger. So, we need to make sure that we concentrate continuing on protecting lives, protecting property, and doing what we can to mitigate the impact of this disaster.
JOURNALIST: Obviously, you’re seeing celebrities talking about climate change, that kind of thing. The Treasurer this morning was on television (inaudible), does Australia now potentially look like we’re just not doing enough and that we’re letting everybody down?
ALBANESE: Well, quite clearly, Australia doesn’t have a climate change policy or an energy policy. And we are arguing internationally for less action rather than more. I really think that this requires a common-sense approach. Australia is particularly vulnerable to disasters, as a result of the effect of the warming of the planet. And that’s why we have a responsibility, not just to do what we can regarding our domestic emissions, but it is right to say that won’t make change by itself. We need strong international action. But in order to argue for strong international action, we need domestic credibility. We need to be seen to be doing what we can, not arguing, as we continue to do today, through Craig Kelly, having Government members arguing on the international stage that there’s nothing to see here, that this is business-as-usual, and that climate change is not real. I think people internationally will look at that and just shake their head.
JOURNALIST: Turning to Craig Kelly, what was your reaction to watching that?
ALBANESE: My reaction is one of despair. Despair not just that Craig Kelly has those views and continues to advocate them, not just here in Australia, but globally, and be seen to be representing the Australian Government’s position. But the knowledge that he’s one of the people who has held back action. He’s one of the people who has stopped action on climate change domestically, which has led us to be in a position whereby we’re actually, as well, arguing for less action internationally, rather than more.
JOURNALIST: And what does it say when you have got a conservative like Piers Morgan attacking?
ALBANESE: Margaret Thatcher was one of the first world leaders to argue for action on climate change. Boris Johnson got elected recently arguing for zero net emissions by 2050. This should not be an ideological issue. This is an issue of the science telling us what would happen if we didn’t act. And we’re seeing that played out before our very eyes. We can see it. We can feel it. We can look at the devastating impact of what has happened here in recent months. The tragedy isn’t that Craig Kelly has these views. The tragedy is that he’s imposed those views along with a few others to ensure that Australia isn’t taking action.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible). What do you think that says?
ALBANESE: Well, Scott Morrison can defend himself. But the truth is that a small group of people stopped the Turnbull Government making what was a very modest policy proposal, the National Energy Guarantee. That would have provided investment certainty. That would have led to lower emissions, but also lower energy prices. And the fact that even though it had been through the Party room and the Cabinet, it was never put to the Parliament. That says it all about a small band of people, climate sceptics, essentially stopping the entire Australian nation taking action. Thank you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.