Dec 21, 2019


SUBJECTS: Bushfire crisis; climate change; climate protests; medevac; vehicle emissions.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Firstly, can I offer my sympathy to the families of Geoffrey Keaton and Andrew O’Dwyer and also the family of the South Australian who lost his life yesterday. What we have with these catastrophic fires is a danger to people’s health, is firefighters putting themselves at risk each and every day for their community, and indeed for the nation. And Australia needs to be very grateful as a nation to those brave firefighters who will be out there again today fighting fires, saving lives, saving homes.

We received a briefing yesterday afternoon from the Federal Department and they said to particularly, if they could, give a warning to those people who may will be holiday makers going to places like the Shoalhaven Coast, because it will be a circumstance whereby we don’t want people driving into dangerous areas. So another reminder to listen to the ABC, to ensure that you listen to those alerts that are going out, and to respond to the advice of the experts. The fact is that this is a very dangerous time. These bushfires are unprecedented. This season began earlier and it is so intense. There have been a record number of homes lost, as well of course, the tragedy of lives being lost. We think of those people, the families of those who will have a very difficult Christmas coming up. And we say that people should listen to all of the advice that is coming out.  Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Given that they do have a very difficult fire season ahead of them and we have had two firefighters die, do you think it is time for the professionalisation of the fire brigade? More measures to help compensate them [inaudible]

ALBANESE: Look, it is certainly the case that we need to do much, much better for firefighters, whether they be the permanent firefighters, or whether they be our volunteers. I’ve seen the comments by Scott Morrison saying that they want to be there, offended many of the volunteer firefighters who’ve raised it directly with me. The fact is that they don’t want to be there. They’d rather be at home, safe with their families. They’re doing this out of their commitment to their community and the nation. They’re putting in and the nation should put in back. They should be treated with respect.

And that’s why I’ve called upon the Government when I wrote to the Prime Minister now more than four weeks ago asking him to convene a COAG Summit of the Premiers, other leaders to discuss the preparation that was going, on to discuss the ongoing challenge that this bushfire season has been. And included in that was how we deal with compensation for those people who might be tradies, run small businesses, people who’ve taken leave from their work. They can’t do that indefinitely. And they’ve been doing it, not for days or weeks, but for months. I met one person yesterday at Bilpin, who’s worked every single day since September. He began fighting the fires at Tenterfield. He’s now fighting to defend his local community. The fact is, these people have provided support for the community and the nation. They deserve respect and they deserve support back.

The problem with this Government is that it doesn’t seem to be prepared to acknowledge that this is not business as usual, and today’s report on the front page of The Herald, the comments by the head of the International Energy Agency, saying Australia needs to get our act together on climate change and energy. The fact is that this Government is complacent when it comes to climate change and energy. They don’t have an energy policy and dismissed the comments by former Fire Chiefs, who they refused to meet during this difficult time.

JOURNALIST: Would you be prepared to put more Federal funding towards making firefighters jobs more professional?

ALBANESE: What we’d be prepared to do is certainly provide additional funding. And we’d sit down with the States and Territories and come up with practical plans going forward. The fact is this Government hasn’t been prepared to do that. They have been missing when it comes to the national leadership and the coordination that is required.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of Michael McCormack’s performance as the Prime Minister while Scott Morrison’s been on leave?

ALBANESE: Well, of course, these whole circumstances are a problem of their own making. Michael McCormack, for a while there his office wouldn’t even confirm that he was Acting Prime Minister. I find it quite extraordinary that the usual protocols, of the Prime Minister saying he was going on leave, how long he’d be going for and who’d be acting in his absence, haven’t been followed. And indeed, media enquiries were met with misinformation at best and misinformation, prevarication. This is a Government that doesn’t like scrutiny. It hides from it, it hides from transparency and it’s not good enough.

JOURNALIST: He had a go at a lot of the climate protestors in the last few days. Do you endorse a lot of those climate protests that are happening, particularly in Sydney?

ALBANESE: Well, look, there should be, peaceful protests are a legitimate way for people to express their views in a democratic nation. The fact is people are worried about climate change and they’re right to be. And the fact is also this Government is complacent about climate change. They don’t have an energy policy, and they sent Angus Taylor overseas to help to undermine international action on climate change, by arguing for accountancy tricks rather than actually lowering emissions. This is the first time that Australia has played such a negative role at those international conferences. The fact is that we do need international action. Australia alone can’t deal with this challenge, but we need to have credibility on the domestic level in order to then argue for strong action globally.

JOURNALIST: Scott Morrison is supposed to be coming home today from Hawaii. Do you welcome that?

ALBANESE: Well, look, these things are a matter for him and they’ve always been a matter for his judgment. And people will make their own decisions about how he’s handled this week, about the secrecy around this, and about the way that now, I frankly thought from the indications that he’d be back in Australia by now, given the statements that were made yesterday morning. So I’m not aware fully of the circumstances of when he’s coming back. The problem is no one is and that really isn’t good enough. And people will also make their own judgment; they’ll compare what he says about himself and what he said about Christine Nixon. People will be making those judgments. And the Prime Minister is responsible for when he takes leave. He’s entitled to take leave of course, but it’s a matter for his judgment when he’s done that.

JOURNALIST: Would it make you think twice about taking a holiday at a time like this?
Well, I’m not the Prime Minister. I’m trying to be in a position to be able to be in that in that position at some time in the future after the next election. But it is a matter for his judgment. I certainly, in terms of the circumstances, I’m not aware of all his family circumstances with his daughters and those issues. So that’s why I think it’s very difficult to judge other people. He will make his, well he has made his own decision, and people will have a look at it and make their own judgments. But I think the problem here has been as well, the issue of a lack of transparency and also what would appear to be a very different statement that Scott Morrison made about Christine Nixon when she had dinner. She didn’t go away, she just had dinner.

JOURNALIST: There’s about 50 refugees holed up in a hotel in Melbourne. What should the Government do about that?

ALBANESE: Well, quite clearly, I’m not sure how being put in a hotel in Melbourne is appropriately looking after people. If they need medical assistance, they should be getting it. But the Government has to again explain why it is that there’s a hotel full of people who are refugees. These circumstances again, this Government is characterised by a lack of scrutiny. They need to explain what those circumstances are, what the cost is, and whether people who need treatment are getting the treatment that they need.

JOURNALIST: There’s been some reports in The Australian this morning about proposals to introduce 30 kilometre per hour speed limits as a potential tactic to lower carbon emissions. Do you have any thoughts on that?

ALBANESE: Look, I think there are a range of ways that you can lower carbon emissions, including by changing the makeup of the vehicle fleet. The truth is that technology is coming. The Government might pretend that it’s not, but there isn’t a car manufacturer in the world that is currently undertaking research into a new internal combustion engine. All of the research is into lower emissions vehicles, that is the future. They’ll be a transition. But the Government, of course Josh Frydenberg, used to talk about that at great length and wrote a very good opinion piece in The Australian in fact, about that very thing. Thank you.