SUBJECTS: CFMEU Annual Memorial Day service; cashless welfare card; mandatory drug testing for social security recipients; Government without an economic plan.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: It’s been a tremendous honour today to speak at the memorial service for the more than 1800 Australian workers who have lost their lives in the Northern District of the coal mines. Today was a very sombre ceremony where families and friends of people who have lost their lives, going to work but not coming home, have been able to remember them. The Jim Comerford Memorial Wall that was opened by Paul Keating in 1996 here is a very practical way of ensuring that the lives of those miners who’ve been killed at work are not forgotten.
JOURNALIST: Why is it important to acknowledge this?
ALBANESE: Well, it’s important for the families we saw today, Quinton’s family. Tragically lost his life at just 38 years of age in the last year. Industrial accidents are not just a tragedy for the individual, but for the family and for the community. And it’s important that we acknowledge that as a way of remembering those people who have lost their lives, but as a way of also reminding us of the need to recommit to safe workplaces. To make sure that people who go to work, particularly those in the mining industry, are able to go home. It’s a reminder of the importance of the union movement in ensuring that workplace health and safety is improved. If you look at the wall over the years, the lower numbers reflect the improvements that have been made. But when there’s one death, that’s one too many.
JOURNALIST: There’s quite a lot of people here today, what does that say about the support?
ALBANESE: It says that this is a community that’s very proud of its history in the coal mining industry, that wants to remember fathers, sons, brothers, community members who have lost their lives, and it was a very dignified service today. I was very proud to be asked to participate in it. And it says, importantly, the role that the Northern District of the miners union has played over such a long period of time in being a body that brings together the community. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: I’ve just got some questions from Channel Nine, if that’s okay. Will you support legislation to expand the cashless welfare card?
ALBANESE: Well, look, there’s no evidence that the cashless welfare card has made any significant improvements, importantly, in jobs. And that’s the key issue, that we will examine any proposal that comes forward from the Government. But this is a government that’s really looking for distractions, and the fact that this question was the one that was asked. The question for the Government this week is where’s its wages policy? Where’s its policy to grow the economy? Where’s its policy to grow employment? And we’ve seen this weekend, the Governor of the Reserve Bank reiterating the need to bring forward infrastructure investment. Now there’s some infrastructure right here in the Hunter region that could be built today. The sort of promises that have been made by the Government, of on the never never, including fixing up, for example, the M1 is one that could be brought forward.
JOURNALIST: Will you support legislation to drug test Newstart recipients?
ALBANESE: Once again, this is another distraction for a government that doesn’t have an agenda on the big issues in terms of the economy. We’ve got the economy with economic growth being reduced. We’ve got consumer demand that is very weak. We’ve got interest rates at one per cent. We’ve got wage stagnation. We’ve got living standards, not keeping up with the cost of living. And what we have from the Government, that is always prepared to have a look and point at people over there and say there’s something wrong with them. Where is this going to stop? What we saw as well today is new figures that show a significant increase in number of over 55 year-olds who are on Newstart. That’s where the big increase is. Are we really going to start drug testing those people over the age of 55 who are on Newstart? I mean, this is a government that has not got it’s eye on the main game. It’s out of touch. It’s not dealing with the economic challenges that Australia is facing.
JOURNALIST: And just one more, will you support legislation for mandatory sentencing for child sex offenders.
ALBANESE: Well, look, we haven’t even seen the legislation yet. We will examine it. But my concern is that this parliamentary week, there is no strategy that the Government seems to have to deal with the significant economic challenges and headwinds which it’s facing. A government that’s very complacent about managing the economy, that the Reserve Bank Governor is saying yet again, that investment needs to be brought forward in order to stimulate the economy. And what I want to see from the Government this week is a plan for economic growth and a plan for jobs, because that’s the main game that is facing Australia at the moment. The fact is, it’s out of touch. Australians are struggling to put food on the table, to look after their families, to pay their mortgages. And the Government is complacent when it comes to economic management. And there isn’t one of the economic indicators that is positive for the Government. Thanks very much.
JOURNALIST: Just a couple of questions from ABC Canberra. You’ve spoken about-
ALBANESE: Are they the same ones? If they’re the same ones you can take the answer.
JOURNALIST: Do you absolutely rule out supporting the extension of the cashless welfare card?
ALBANESE: What I absolutely rule out is not focusing on the big issues that Australia is facing. The big issues is getting people into jobs. That should be the issue and the Government is complacent about that. The Government doesn’t have a plan for that. What is the plan for job creation and for economic growth to stimulate the economy? Because we know that the only thing that is keeping the Australian economy growing at the moment is population growth. So that’s the big challenge that the Government needs to be focused on.
JOURNALIST: So you (inaudible) rule it out?
ALBANESE: I’ve answered the question. The Government should be focusing on the real economic challenges that are facing Australia.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the Morrison Government saying that their plan to roll out the cashless debit card is ‘compassionate conservatism’?
ALBANESE: Well, Scott Morrison at one stage used the term unfunded empathy to describe people struggling to get by on $40 a day. This is a government that’s struggling to have an agenda. And this weekend is, they’re now into their seventh year of government, they’re onto their third Prime Minister, but this Government doesn’t have an economic plan for the nation. They have political tactics, but what they need is an economic strategy and plan for the nation. A plan for jobs, plan for economic growth, a plan to deal with the cost of living. And at the moment they don’t have that. Thanks.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.