SUBJECTS: National Mosque Open Day; Angus Taylor; Clover Moore; skilled migrants; regions; drought; Islamic State; climate change; Scott Morrison citizenship; skills and training.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: It’s been a pleasure to be here today in Lakemba, for the National Mosque Open Day. It’s very important that in our multicultural society, we’re inclusive. And the fact that the community have opened up their mosque to anyone who wants to come and have a chat about what they do here – about the Islamic faith – is a fantastic thing. And I give credit to the Lebanese Muslim Association, and to all who participated in today’s activities. I note that the Minister for Multicultural Affairs was here earlier today, and I’ve been here with my colleagues, Tony Burke and Jason Clare, participating in today’s activities. Can I say, also, that I’m astounded by Angus Taylor’s lack of accountability, and his lack of self-awareness about what he has done in Parliament yesterday; arising from the forgery that was given from his office to The Daily Telegraph about the issue of Clover Moore’s travel. It’s very clear that the document that was given to The Daily Telegraph was doctored. It’s very clear also, that Angus Taylor needs to explain where that document came from. Because in Parliament yesterday he said he downloaded it from the website. It’s very clear that the website had just one version, in terms of numbers on it, and that those numbers simply don’t match up with either Angus Taylor’s statement in the Parliament or his rhetoric. Angus Taylor needs to explain where this document came from that he forwarded to The Daily Telegraph because this document was a forgery. And that’s why the New South Wales Police should investigate this. But also, why Angus Taylor needs to be held to account by Scott Morrison as the Prime Minister, needs to direct Angus Taylor to say where this document came from; was it done in his office? Did someone pass on a forged document that was then forwarded to The Daily Telegraph? What are the facts surrounding this issue? Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: The Government says it’s listened to those who lobby for the Gold Coast and Perth to be included in the list of regional areas skilled migrants can go. Surely they deserve to be commended for responding to the community?
ALBANESE: Where’s the evidence that the community are lobbying to call Perth a regional town?
Perth, where I’ll be travelling to tomorrow, is a capital city. In the past, the Government has excluded Perth from regional development funding. And, indeed, excluded even the outskirts of Perth, which are in regional areas such as the Peel Region, were excluded from even applying for regional funding. So, I find it difficult to reconcile those two statements from the Government.
JOURNALIST: Demographers have concerns the policy pushes migrants to regional places where they can’t economically support themselves. Do you think that these extra options will help address those concerns of these towns being able to cope?
ALBANESE: The fact that migrants go to regional areas, not just to Sydney and Melbourne, is a good thing. And in terms of it’s a matter of matching up, though, where the job opportunities are. Making sure that there appropriate settlement services available. The Government needs to ensure that all of that occurs if this is to be a success.
JOURNALIST: Australia is going through one of the worst droughts it’s ever seen. Do you think that communities that are really struggling at the moment, as it is, do think that this will help them?
ALBANESE: The communities will respond themselves. What I know is the Government doesn’t have a national drought strategy. The Government hasn’t responded to the Drought Coordinator’s report and the Government has been found wanting. And that’s just not my view, it’s clearly that the view of the National Party backbenchers who put forward their own policy; separate from the Government. It is the view of the National Farmers Federation, that’s also put forward its own policy. I proposed last week that there’d be a National Drought Cabinet; comprised of a majority of Government members chaired by the Prime Minister; Joint Deputy Chairs myself and the Leader of the National Party and the respective shadow ministers, as well as members represented from electorates that are particularly being impacted by this devastating drought. The Government rejected that, rejected that bipartisan approach, and it’s clear from this week in Parliament that they don’t even have a bipartisan approach between the Liberal Party and the National Party when it comes to drought.
JOURNALIST: Albo, do you think that the Australian wives of Islamic State fighters should be brought back to Australia?
ALBANESE: Well, I think that’s a matter for the Government to reconcile whether that can be done safely, whether in terms of entering into the areas that can be done without putting lives in danger of Australians who might go into those areas. I’m not in a position to have received the national security briefings on those issues, and that’s why we’ve said that is a matter for the Government.
JOURNALIST: They have made an extraordinary claim or offer to the Government, saying that they would be placed under the strictest curfew and control orders if they were allowed to be brought back home. Do you think that’s a good idea?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s a matter for the Government. The reason why those policies and orders are in place is so that they can be used. They shouldn’t be voluntary. The Government should make assessments and if people are a threat to Australia’s security, then those measures that have been supported by both sides of politics, passed through the Parliament, should be used. That’s why they are in place.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask on climate change. Zali Steggall is pushing for climate change to be recognised as a health emergency, what do you think of that, do you see it as a health emergency?
ALBANESE: Climate change is clearly a health issue, we can’t of course put down any specific environmental event to just climate change, there have been droughts before, for example. But what we know is that the number of extreme weather events and the intensity of them is growing greater. And there’s a direct linkage between that and climate change. And those extreme weather events have an impact on people’s health, on their physical health, but as well on their mental health. In terms of I know, for example, that many communities when I visited them in western New South Wales and the Southern Downs region of Queensland. One of the things that people talk to me about was the mental health issues being created through the drought.
JOURNALIST: Questions have been raised about the Prime Minister’s citizenship and the potential he could be a New Zealand dual citizen. His office denies it, but do you think that this requires further investigation?
ALBANESE: Well, that’s a matter for Mr Morrison to respond to. I’m not aware of what the basis of that would be, but it’s a matter for him to respond.
JOURNALIST: And back on the issue of the original migration. Do you think that we will be seeing an influx of international students heading to the Gold Coast? Do you see that that’s a potential positive of this announcement?
ALBANESE: Well, my concern is that the Government isn’t dealing with the bigger challenge which is there. Which is, how do we train and give Australians the skills that are needed to fill employment opportunities which are there. And my concern is the overuse of visas – more than 200,000 – In terms of, on this Government’s watch, in terms of annual temporary migration. We’ve had more than 500,000 temporary work visas issued under this Government, at the same time as we have significant youth unemployment rates and significant skills shortages. We need to match up the jobs that are available and will be available in coming years; with giving Australians – whether it be young Australians taking their first job or whether they be older Australians being reskilled for those jobs – I want to see that as a priority for the National Government. Because at the moment, quite frankly, they’re failing that mismatch between putting people together with employment, particularly in regional areas is a real issue.
JOURNALIST: Just on the Jihadi Brides, can I please clarify with you – if it is safe to retribute these women from these camps in Syria; you would be open to them returning to Australia?
ALBANESE: That’s up to the Government. I’m not the government, so I won’t make that decision.
JOURNALIST: What’s Labor’s position?
ALBANESE: What the Government needs to do is to make an assessment based upon national security issues being considered. I’ll say this about the children that are impacted here. These children didn’t make choices. Children who are Australian citizens, who have made no choices about where they are and the circumstances in which they find themselves, are deserving of Australia’s protection. And that’s an issue that we have raised. Thanks very much.