SUBJECTS: Anti-Poverty Week; abuse and slaughter of horses in horse-racing industry; Turkey’s agreement on brief cease-fire; national security; senate crossbenchers; Indonesian Free Trade Agreement; Scott Morrison’s lack of plan for the current state of the economy.
KATE THWAITES, MEMBER FOR JAGAJAGA: Hello and welcome. I’d like to say a big thank you to Banyule Community Health for welcoming us here today. I’m with Anthony Carbines, the State Member for Ivanhoe and of course, Anthony Albanese, the Leader of the Labor Party. And we’re here because it’s Anti-Poverty Week and this service is so important in our community. It brings together mental health services, health services, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, a number of things that just keep our community ticking over. But they’re under pressure. Every service they have is facing increased clients and less funding. And what we see is a Government who doesn’t want to support these people. But what they want to do is stigmatise them. Drug testing, putting them on cards, they’re not interested in helping, they’re interested in cutting. So it’s really good to have Anthony here to see how important this is. Anthony?
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well thanks very much Kate. It’s great to be here with you and with Anthony to make sure that we talk about poverty. One of the issues that we have is that a lot of what comes from disadvantage, under-privilege and poverty is hidden. Here at this centre, it does an amazing job. I can’t think of another service anywhere in the country that is so comprehensive as what we’ve seen here this morning, whether it be drug and alcohol counselling, whether it be mental health issues, dentistry, other health issues, Indigenous-specific services, legal advice, whether it be adult education. Across the board, this is a place where local members of the community can come and know that they will get support from the incredibly dedicated staff who work here. But these staff are under pressure. These staff work long hours for little reward. They do it out of their commitment to humanity and to making a difference to people’s lives.
Anti-Poverty Week is a time for us to recognise that one in eight Australians lives below the poverty line. One in six children live below the poverty line. What we have is a Government that, for Prime Ministerial level, speaks about “unfunded empathy.” If we talk about people trying to struggle to get by on $40 a day on Newstart, we had a Social Services Minister just weeks ago, Anne Ruston, say that an increase in Newstart wouldn’t actually do anything to assist those people – that would just go to drug dealers and to gambling. The truth is that we can do much better than to denigrate people who don’t have all the things in life that others of us get to enjoy. What we need is a Government that is committed to ensuring that no one is left behind. We’re a wealthy country. We can afford to make sure that we look after people. And you judge a society by how it looks after its most vulnerable rather than how it looks after its most wealthy.
Here in this community health centre, we see in practical terms disadvantaged, but we also see the best of humanity. Workers are doing their best to assist people in need. But people also coming to places like the drug and alcohol service here, are really doing their best to turn their lives around to make a difference, in partnership with each other but with the support of the community health centre here. It’s been a great privilege to be here this morning. We need, as a nation, to dedicate ourselves to doing whatever we can to make sure that no Australian is left behind. We speak about ‘the fair go’. This is the country of ‘the fair go’. We need to make sure that everyone gets that fair go. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Abuse and slaughter of horses has been exposed in the racing industry. Do you see a role for a federally co-ordinated national tracking scheme on horse sales?
ALBANESE: Well, certainly the responsibility for this, of course, relies with state governments. My understanding is there is a report that was given last night in New South Wales. This is a real concern. Australians quite rightly care about the welfare of animals and any abuse needs to be properly investigated and action taken by the New South Wales Government.
JOURNALIST: Is Kristina Keneally making unilateral decisions on national security after she backed a Centre Alliance amendment on sun-setting police airport towers?
ALBANESE: No. The fact is that there were two amendments from Centre Alliance. One of them was supported by the Government and adopted as part of the legislation. Labor supported the legislation.
JOURNALIST: Some members of your caucus dismayed at her tactics though are backgrounding against Senator Keneally. What’s your advice to them?
ALBANESE: Well, Labor supported the legislation. I don’t see there’s anything to see here. What we’re talking about here is an amendment that was moved on the floor of the Senate to grandfather clauses, which are there. There’s nothing that unusual about that. And the Government itself supported an amendment that was moved by Centre Alliance on the floor of the Senate.
JOURNALIST: Turkey’s agreed to a brief cease-fire near the Syrian border. Should this be used to remove detained Australian women and children in the camps there, as other countries seem to be doing?
ALBANESE: What should happen is that there should be a permanent cease-fire. Turkey should stop this aggressive action, which is having devastating consequences in the region.
JOURNALIST: But should the Government be getting the people out of the camps?
ALBANESE: Well, I’m not privy to the national security briefings; obviously, I’ve been here this morning. And so, I’m not in a position to say that people can be removed safely. It’s up to the Government to explain the position. Certainly, with regard to the children who are Australian citizens, who are there, have done nothing wrong.
JOURNALIST: The Medevac Senate reports are due out today. What’s your message to Jacqui Lambie on these laws?
ALBANESE: That they’re working.
JOURNALIST: Are you working directly with Jacqui Lambie? Have you spoken to her about this?
ALBANESE: No, I don’t work with Jacqui Lambie on each and every issue. But our respective Shadow Ministers will be doing that.
JOURNALIST: She seems to be more and more important in the Senate. Are Labor reaching out to her?
ALBANESE: I have a good relationship with Jacqui Lambie. That doesn’t mean we agree on everything all of the time. But Jacqui Lambie and I talk all the time. I think she’s a fundamentally decent person who will try to do her best in the Senate. The truth is though that the Government is in a very strong position in the Senate, in terms of the Crossbenchers. There are far fewer of them and they tend to, in terms of One Nation and the Centre Alliance, tend to support the Government most of the time.
JOURNALIST: Simon Birmingham does not agree to the implementation changes you agreed to in the Indonesian Free Trade Agreement. Will Labor go ahead and support the deal anyway?
ALBANESE: Our priority is jobs. I’m very confident that Simon Birmingham will understand that that’s the case. We are insisting that a range of changes be made to prioritise Australian jobs. Let’s be very clear here. With regard to the Indonesian Agreement, what is happening is that in return for 2 per cent of goods and services coming to Australia being made free of tariffs, 25 per cent going the other way will be made free of tariffs. In addition to that, though, we have sought assurances about Australian jobs, about making sure that in terms of labour market testing, that that occurs in an appropriate way. We’ve also sought assurances that privatisation will not be affected in any way in terms of being made necessary, or required, or indeed even encouraged as a result of these agreements. We’re confident that those changes can be made. I’ve written, or we have written, to Simon Birmingham, that’s appropriate. And we expect to hear a response from the Government either over the weekend or early next week.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of concerns that charges haven’t been ruled out against journalist Annika Smethurst?
ALBANESE: Well, I think this is an outrage. And the Government needs to make its position clear that journalism is not a crime. The idea that a journalist can be charged with offences for doing their job. Let’s have a look at what Annika Smethurst reported. She reported on discussions between two government agencies about giving those agencies the right, essentially to spy on Australian citizens without their knowledge. Australians have a right to know that that occurred. Annika Smethurst was right to report it. News Limited was right to publish it. It’s not a crime. It’s part of a democracy. It’s about time the Government respected that.
JOURNALIST: Is Labor prepared to legislate for greater media freedom?
JOURNALIST: With interest rates failing to be passed on by the banks, does Labor support interest rates being cut further or should be Government be looking somewhere else to stimulate the economy?
ALBANESE: Well, the Reserve Bank themselves, and indeed the IMF this week, have said that monetary policy can’t do all the heavy lifting. Interest rates are at 0.75 per cent. It’s pretty obvious there’s not much further they can go. So, the truth is that the Government is complacent. The Government on Thursday, following on from Wednesday, refused to have a debate about the national economy and the state of the economy. What we’re seeing here, at this service, in Anti-Poverty Week, is the impact of failings in our economy. People are being left behind. People who are in work are struggling to put food on the table, to pay their electricity bills, because of wage stagnation, because of a decline in real living standards.
So, the fact is that the Government needs to stop being complacent. The Prime Minister yesterday, during Question Time, in response to one of the answers when he refused to have a debate about the economy, said that Labor, when we were last in office, acted like there was a crisis. There was a Global Financial Crisis. It happened. The Prime Minister seems oblivious to that. Because of Labor and the actions that we took under Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan, we saw Australia through that Global Financial Crisis. At the time we were either first or second in terms of economic growth in the OECD. Today we’re 20th. We’re falling behind. The two highest unemployment rates, in terms of, compared with the growth rates that have occurred, have occurred under Treasurer Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
This is a Government that’s complacent. We need to bring forward infrastructure investment in order to stimulate the economy. Here in Melbourne they ripped $3 billion out of the Melbourne Metro Project. How about they put some of that funding back in order to speed up the project to create jobs? These are all important issues. We argued, during the debate about tax, that stage two of the tax cuts should be brought forward. If they’re a good idea in a few years’ time, they’re an absolutely good idea right now because the economy clearly needs that stimulus. Thank you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.