SUBJECTS: Bushfire crisis across Australia; climate change; Sydney fireworks display; New Year’s resolutions; Bob Hawke’s legacy.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: I did want to make some comments about the unfolding national emergency that is represented by this bushfire crisis. Firstly, can I say to the family and friends of Samuel McPaul, this is tragic news yesterday, a 28-year-old man with a wife expecting in May. This is an enormous tragedy. Every loss of life is one too many. And we’ve seen far too many during this bushfire crisis. Today, we know that there are, as of the current time, and it’s moving pretty quickly, at least seven people unaccounted for. We are seeing at, in the very least, dozens but perhaps hundreds of homes lost. We see crisis such as at Mallacoota unfolding, whereby we have hundreds of people on the beach, they’re being told to enter the water, because that is the safest place for them to be.
This national crisis is just a shocking event for the entire nation. To those people who are out there fighting those bushfires, we have seen now three volunteer bush firefighters lose their lives. We see the enormous commitment that they have to their local community and to their nation, and we can’t express enough gratitude to them. I do want to say that in the briefing that I’ve been sent, people should continue to listen to all of the advice that is coming from the experts. It is a reminder of how important the ABC is, and the role that it plays in keeping Australians safe at times of national crisis. And it’s a reminder that we need to respect that, once again. I certainly, at this time, sincerely hope that we have no more terrible news. But we do have a range of fires that are burning at emergency levels and a range of other fires that are at the point of being, essentially, at watch levels. This is a tragic crisis whereby we see in New South Wales the fires burning essentially right down the coast from Nowra, where I visited just a few days ago, down to the Victorian border and beyond, into the Gippsland region.
This fire does not respect state boundaries. And I again say this is a national issue. This is a national emergency. And it requires a national response from the Government. I conclude by just once again reiterating my thanks to all those, whether they be professional firefighters and management at the state level, whether that be members of the Defence Force, or whether it be our courageous volunteers, for what they are doing at this extraordinarily difficult time.
JOURNALIST: Do you support Mike Kelly’s call for the ADF to be more fully mobilised to deal with these fires?
ALBANESE: Well, Mike Kelly understands the ADF and he understands what they have at their disposal. But I certainly have said in the past, and I continue to reiterate, that we should be using all the resources at our disposal, and one of those is the ADF. They need to be deployed in a way which assists the process. And of course, the ADF aren’t the firefighting experts, but they do have skills. I’ve seen people from the ADF as well as reservists on the ground in the Hawkesbury and in the Blue Mountains, and indeed they were also present on the south coast. So, there is a presence there, but we need to use every resource at our disposal at this time.
JOURNALIST: And do you support Clover Moore’s decision to allow the New Year’s fireworks to continue?
ALBANESE: I understand how important the fireworks are for our economy. But I just think that at a time like this, I’m not in a position to judge but I think that it’s really problematic that it is going ahead. That’s a decision for others. And I have throughout this crisis tried not to play politics with this issue. I have tried to be constructive. I’ll continue to do so. That’s why way back in the middle of November, I called the COAG to meet to get a national coordinated response to what we saw was coming. And unfortunately, the predictions have been proven quite right.
I again say to the Prime Minister that it isn’t acceptable, in my view, to say COAG doesn’t need to meet until March. We saw what happened on the weekend whereby you had the Government come to an arrangement with New South Wales, without talking to the other states. Even though, quite clearly, Queensland here has been affected for some time. The first time I heard about the need to respond to volunteer bush firefighters and give them support was here in Queensland with the fires that occurred around Central Queensland. Victoria is impacted. South Australia has been devastated by these fires. And there’s been fires in North Western Australia. And there are fires now in Tasmania. This is a national emergency that requires a national response.
JOURNALIST: Given that we have unprecedented bushfires raging around Australia, you call this a national emergency. Is it time to recede Labor’s position on coal?
ALBANESE: Now is not the time to answer questions like that. When we’re talking about a national emergency and a national crisis, frankly.
JOURNALIST: When is the time to talk about climate change and coal then?
ALBANESE: Well, I’ve been talking about climate change. I’ve been talking about climate change. The truth is that simplistic slogans won’t solve this. What will require it in terms of climate change, and I say that we need to respond to climate change with serious policy. Not with slogans. Serious policy which drives down our domestic emissions. Serious policy that sees Australia take a positive role internationally, in terms of contrary to what we did at Madrid, where we were one of the recalcitrant nations arguing for accountancy tricks rather than arguing to actually reduce our emissions.
JOURNALIST: Does Adani fit in with reducing your emissions?
ALBANESE: Well, I’m not here to do a press conference about that. I’m sorry.
JOURNALIST: Could you give us some comments on Bob Hawke’s legacy?
ALBANESE: I’ll be speaking. I’ve been invited to speak here. Blanche was looking to launching her biography, the updated biography, of Bob Hawke. Bob Hawke, of course, was an institution at Woodford. And last year I was honoured to take his speaking spot last year to be invited by Bob and Blanche and Bill Hauritz who runs the festival. Today, we’ll be speaking about Bob Hawke’s legacy. Bob Hawke is, in my view, Australia’s greatest Prime Minister. He was in Government for four terms. And during that Government, he transformed Australia into the modern nation that we are today. The economic reforms lead to 28 years of consecutive economic growth. He had social reforms such as the introduction of Medicare, the introduction of compulsory superannuation, and of course on the environment, he saved the Daintree, he saved Kakadu, he saved Antarctica from mining. His legacy is quite extraordinary. And it is appropriate that a tribute to be paid to him today, which I will be doing. And Kevin Rudd will also be speaking today.
JOURNALIST: Just on other matters. It’s that time of year again. Any new year’s resolutions?
ALBANESE: Look, my new year’s resolution is always to, appropriate here I guess, to see a bit more live music. To play a bit more sport including tennis which is my chosen pretend sport, I do try. And to try to get to be fitter during the year. Of course, it’s difficult in the job that we have to get that work-life balance, I think. I’ve done a media conference now every day including Christmas day for some period of time. But to do my best in that sphere and to do my best, as well, this is the first new year I’m going into as Leader of the Labor Party. We suffered a significant defeat in May. And we, in terms of going into the new year, I think we go into it revitalised and refreshed. We have got the review behind us. And looking forward to continuing to present not just a holding of the Government to account, but a positive alternative for the nation across the range of economic, social and environmental policies.
JOURNALIST: Recently a lot of politicians have been criticised for not doing enough on bushfires or for going on holidays. What is your opinion on doing enough for bushfires as a politician? And what would you say to people who perhaps criticise you for being here today?
ALBANESE: I’m here to pay tribute to Bob Hawke’s legacy. That’s an entirely appropriate thing for the Leader of the Labor Party to do.
JOURNALIST: What about the first part? What is enough for a politician to do on the bushfires?
ALBANESE: It is not up for me to judge others.
JOURNALIST: You were giving things to fireys. I think personally that is doing enough. You are doing your part, but some politicians aren’t?
ALBANESE: My job is to do my job as best as I can. I do that. My job is not to conduct opinions about the actions of others That’s frankly your job. And the job of the media and the job of others in the community. My job is to do the best that I can. And I’ve tried to do that. I’ve been constructive. I haven’t engaged in, I have been criticised for not engaging in some of the attacks about Scott Morrison going to Hawaii on a holiday. It’s up for others to judge those things. I’m happy to be judged on my actions and on what I do. And here today, I am here talking about the bushfire crisis once again. And this is a national issue. It’s not one that affects just one area.
JOURNALIST: You are here today to talk about Bob Hawke’s legacy. What do you think he would have to say about the current situation and about climate change?
ALBANESE: Well, he’d recognise as he did. Australia, of course, the origins of the Kyoto Protocol and the first UN Framework Convention on Climate Change saw the Hawke Government sign up to the UN Framework. What occurred was that we then lost office in 1996. And the Howard Government refused to ratify. And it took the election of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister in 2007 for that to happen. As our first act, on the very first day that the Government was sworn in. Labor Governments will always take a strong action on the environment. And the most significant environmental challenge facing this country is climate change. It’s a challenge that affects not just the environment, obviously, but as we’re seeing it, it impacts on our economy and on social policy as well. Thanks very much.