SUBJECTS: Return of Parliament; G20; US and China trade; tax cuts; Leadership spill; penalty rate cuts; Iran; NAPLAN; Australian citizen held in North Korea.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Parliament resumes this week and it’s a big test for Scott Morrison and his Government. He no doubt will have to deal with the fallout from revelations of the role that his supporters played in bringing down Malcolm Turnbull last August. Revelations in Niki Savva’s book indicate that Scott Morrison’s supporters deliberately voted for Peter Dutton, with the intention of removing Malcolm Turnbull, by pumping up Peter Dutton’s vote in the first spill motion. No doubt this week we will return with the turmoil in the Liberal Party still remaining. But the big test that Australians care about this week will be about the national economy. We’ve seen a lot of arrogance from the Morrison Government. They did win a significant victory at the election held on May 18. But that doesn’t mean that the Australian people wanted them to act in the arrogant way in which they have. When it comes to tax cuts, what we know is that the economy is plodding away right now. We have an economy with low growth, we have people concerned about living standards, we have a great deal of job insecurity out there; and tomorrow 700,000 Australians could lose their penalty rates in the hospitality and retail sector, putting further pressure on the economy because of a further decline in wages that will occur as a result of that. At a time when the Reserve Bank is saying that low wage growth is a problem, the Government is presiding over exactly that, for up to 700,000 Australians who work on Sundays and late at night in order to get those extra few dollars to pay for food to go on the table with their families, to pay their mortgages, to pay their school fees for their kids. It’s the wrong time to be doing that. It’s also the wrong time to be having a tax package that delivers nothing, not a dollar, to all those above the low income range. So that’s why what we’re saying is, on the tax package, pass stage one aimed at low income earners, pass as well stage two, due to come in after the next election on 1 July 2022. But bring it forward, so that every Australian worker will receive a tax cut from this year. It is only Labor that is arguing for a tax cut for every worker regardless of their income. So we want more tax cuts sooner because that’s what the economy needs. And yet the Government is refusing to shift its position and to separate out stage three of the tax cuts that don’t come in until 2025. We think this is a critical test for the Government and that is why we will facilitate debate of the Government’s legislation, even on Tuesday night, we’ve been prepared and we’ve indicated we’d be prepared for the Parliament to return after the formal ceremonies at the Governor-General’s residence in order to consider that legislation, as long as there is proper debate and people are allowed to participate in it. This is a critical test for the Government, it needs to actually listen to what economists are saying. If it won’t do that it needs to listen to what its own constituents are saying around the country, which is that we need to act because of the softness in the economy. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, if stage three of the tax plan is passed without Labor’s vote, will you commit to repealing it?
ALBANESE: We will commit to our policies at the next election, sometime down the track. Our whole point here is that we don’t know what the economy will look like in five years’ time. The economy has changed since the May election. We’ve had an interest rate cut from the Reserve Bank. They obviously do that and indicated that they did that in order to increase consumer demand in the economy. So the idea that you make decisions today for years down the track is a triumph of hope over experience and over economic reality.
JOURNALIST: Isn’t someone who is earning $200,000 a year in Australia today can be considered rich?
ALBANESE: The fact is that the average income or the median income in Australia is under $60,000. So these things are all relative. But we don’t criticise anyone who aspires to a higher wage,. What Labor’s about indeed is creating opportunity for people to lift their living standards. I’m an embodiment of aspiration in terms of someone who grew up with a very low income, a single mum on a pension in council housing very close to here. So we understand aspiration for a better life. We want to encourage it and indeed Labor’s proposal would give someone on an income of $200,000 a tax cut. A tax cut of $1,350. What the Government’s proposal would do is give that person zero.
JOURNALIST: You’ve said you weren’t the opposition just for the sake of it. What do you think of Scott Morrison’s performance in the G20 so far?
ALBANESE: We stand with our representatives when they’re overseas. And Scott Morrison has represented our nation at the G20. The issue of trade is very important and it’s critical for Australia and we certainly wished him well prior to those discussions taking place. We think that an outcome, particularly a resolution of the dispute between the US and China on trade, is critical for our national interest.
JOURNALIST: Do you think him securing a working dinner with the US is a sign he can manage the relationship between Australia and the US?
ALBANESE: Australia and the US have a good relationship. That’s regardless of who’s led each country at any particular point in time. I mean the last Labor Prime Ministers all had a good relationship with the United States, including addresses to the Congress, not just dinners.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister said he would consider any US request for support if there’s a conflict with Iran. Should the Prime Minister have flatly ruled that out?
ALBANESE: What we want to do is encourage an outcome that isn’t about conflict. And we would call upon Iran to act responsibly, but we’d also call upon all the parties to ensure that these issues are resolved in a peaceful manner. Because a military conflict is not in the interest of anyone in terms of this dispute.
JOURNALIST: Should Australia consider increasing sanctions to Iran?
ALBANESE: That’s a matter for the Government to consider, if there are any proposals. We have asked for briefings and we will have further briefings next week.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask a couple of questions for Channel 10? Just on NAPLAN, do you think NAPLAN tests as we know it could continue, or are they due for a major overhaul?
ALBANESE: This is a matter for the education ministers in the states, presided over by the national government. Of course it is important that there be consistency in approaches over NAPLAN because of the mobile nature of our population today. And that’s why Labor supported the NAPLAN system having a national approach.
JOURNALIST: So shouldn’t that be ironed out before the online rollout?
ALBANESE: It certainly should be settled and it should be settled in the interests of students at the end of the day. It is students that matter in this and we need to make sure that we identify where extra resources are needed. The whole idea of NAPLAN was to do that and it’s unfortunate that the Government, essentially in the package it took to the election, discriminated against students who go to public schools, which is overwhelmingly the case of the majority of Australian students.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask, do you think the Australian Government is doing enough to locate the Australian missing in North Korea?
ALBANESE: Some of these things are best done quietly rather than loudly. And we stand with the Australian Government in order to secure the safety of this Australian citizen. We have been in touch with the Foreign Minister and we’ll continue to do so. These issues aren’t partisan. They shouldn’t be. They are about defending an Australian citizen. Thanks very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.