SUBJECTS: Bushfire crisis; Scott Morrison’s return from holidays; climate change.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well thank you for joining me. This morning I’ve been at the Corner Bar in Rozelle to say thank you to the owner Lindsay and his staff, for them putting in to help the victims of the bushfires. One of the things we’ve seen right now around Australia is Australians at their best. People volunteering to fight bushfires.There were three thousand people fighting bushfires in New South Wales yesterday. Today there’s two thousand. These people are making an enormous contribution to their local community, to their friends, to their family’s homes but also to the entire nation. So many of them are travelling, looking after their own community and then travelling to look after someone else’s.
One man I met on Friday has been going since September; he began in Tenterfield in northern New South Wales. And now he’s been there protecting his community around Bilpin. The fact is, as well that Australians who aren’t in bushfire affected areas and don’t have the expertise that our firefighters have, can help as well. And on Wednesday night at the Corner Bar in Rozelle, they raised $3,000 in one night. The staff gave out their time for free. People donated goods to be auctioned for free. People participated and put money in, $3,000 in one night and they’re continuing to raise money on an ongoing basis.
A woman told me in a supermarket yesterday that her school, all the kids decided that they wanted to do something and they all donated a gold coin. Everything makes a difference. It’s about the money but it’s also about the nature of society and our community. People putting in to make a difference to others.
Now I note that today, Scott Morrison has returned from his holiday in Hawaii. It’s a good thing that he is back. But we saw today no change in strategy with regard to the bushfires, a COAG meeting to be held next March.
I wrote to the Prime Minister in November, asking him to convene COAG in November, prior to the emergency levels of the current crisis, and that was dismissed. We see no change to climate change policy. And we’ve seen no commitment to provide compensation to our volunteer firefighters who are giving up working and the wages that comes with that in order to help their communities, but they’ve still got to pay the rent. They’re still got to pay their mortgages. They’ve still got to buy food for their families, and they are really struggling, they’re fatigued. And there’s a need for the Government to look at making sure that they’re properly compensated so they don’t have to choose between whether they continue to help out, orwhether they have money to put food on the table for their families.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: (INAUDIBLE) to address climate change, what is your response to that?
ALBANESE: Well, I just find it staggering that in the current circumstances, whereby he sent Angus Taylor, a discredited minister who has been misleading Parliament since his first speech to represent our nation at Madrid, to try and undermine international action on climate change, including arguing, but accountancy tricks rather than lower emissions. Australians do want action on climate change. The Deputy Prime Minister yesterday, said there was new measures were needed and a new response. And today, going from the Acting Prime Minister to the real Prime Minister, we have a dismissal of the need for any action on climate change. The Government needs to listen to the International Energy Agency head, who has said it is time for Australia to get our act together, is what he has called for. And quite clearly, when it comes to climate change, the Prime Minister’s attitude is there’s nothing to see here. It’s business as usual. Will if he thinks there’s nothing to see here, it’s because he can’t see through the smoke that’s coming from those bushfires.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, what do you make of Scott Morrison’s apology to the public, that he may have made a different decision to go away at this time?
ALBANESE: Well, I wouldn’t have made the decision that he made to go. That’s a matter for him and his family circumstances and it’s difficult that I haven’t sought during this week to, to pass judgment on that, it’s a matter for his judgement. He chose to leave. He chose also to do it in a way that I think created a major issue of secrecy. This Government has a real problem with being accountable, with any scrutiny whatsoever, and the circumstances whereby Michael McCormack wouldn’t say whether he was acting Prime Minister or not, whereby people didn’t know when Scott Morrison was coming back. And even after he said he was coming back, he didn’t come back and wouldn’t tell the media or public when he would be returning. I just think this Government has a problem with scrutiny and openness. And it’s on display all the time, over so many issues. And I’ve raised this for a considerable period of time about, it is part of Mr Morrison’s character, that when asked a question, that’s just a straight question, he dismisses it, or he prevaricates, he speaks about the bubble, or he says it’s just gossip, and he won’t provide answers to simple question whether it’s in Parliament or from the media. And I say to the media that they need to hold him to account, and we’ll do our job of holding him to account in the Parliament over a whole range of issues in which he just won’t provide a straight answer.
JOURNALIST: Are you planning on taking leave over the coming weeks?
ALBANESE: I’ll be, on Christmas day I’ll be at the Exodus Foundation in Ashfield at my electorate. I have announced that already, in terms of what I’ll be doing on Christmas day, I’ll be there. Bill Cruise does an amazing job helping out the homeless at his Loaves and Fishes restaurant. And it is in the true Christian spirit that I and my son will be going there to help out on Christmas Day. We’ll have a look at what I do later on down the track. I am scheduled to speak it Woodford at the end of December. Bob Hawke used to have a spot there every year as part of that activity in Queensland and I am scheduled to speak there, as I spoke last year.
JOURNALIST: Is it fair to say that while this bushfire crisis continues, we won’t see you holidaying overseas?
ALBANESE: I will not be going overseas. And I intend to be around Australia, both in terms of what I’ve been doing with the bushfire crisis, but other work as well, doing my job as Leader of the Opposition. In terms of this crisis, I have tried to visit the Rural Fire Service Headquarters, have spoken to, Minister Littleproud, can I say this, has been exemplary at providing information and briefings to the Opposition. But I have made a request now for days to visit the rural fire service. And that request has not been met up to this point. But I’ve also been in contact today with Susan Templeman in terms of the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury. And of course, with Fiona Phillips on the South Coast and with Mike Kelly as well in Eden-Monaro. But right around New South Wales and indeed the entire country, this crisis, in the briefing that the Opposition had this morning, there are cooler conditions expected as we’re experiencing today over the next few days. But North Western Australia is a real issue. And of course, when you have heat, that’s where the heat begins. And it’s there now and is expected to come across the country to the to the more heavily populated areas over the East Coast next week. Around also, around North Queensland, Mackay, Townsville, Mount Isa and that area is also being looked at very carefully at the moment. And people should bear in mind the warnings that are there. If they’re thinking of going on holidays, driving holidays, for example, down the South Coast, they need to listen to the expert advice which is there and not take any risk. The first priority is keeping people safe. And I thank Minister Littleproud for the ongoing briefings that he’s provided and the personal discussions I’ve had with him as well.