SUBJECTS: Senate defeat of the Ensuring Integrity Bill; importance of trade unions; Angus Taylor and Scott Morrison misleading the Parliament; Medevac.
ANNIE BUTLER, FEDERAL SECRETARY OF ANMF: My name is Annie Butler. I’m the Federal Secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation. That’s Australia’s largest union. And I’m delighted this morning to be welcoming Anthony Albanese, Leader of the Opposition. And one of the key reasons that the Ensuring Integrity Bill got voted down yesterday. And aren’t we excited about that? I’ve got some of our members here with me to thank Anthony. We want to thank all the politicians who stood up for workers across the country, and most particularly who stood up for nurses and midwives. And what they try and do day-to-day is just protect, care, and stand up for their patients. They want to be able to have the union to be able to make their work safe, their work decent, and their work good for our community. And Anthony’s work and the Labor Party, and what happened in Parliament yesterday is allowing that to happen. So, we just want to say thank you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much. It’s great to be back here. I spoke at the National Conference, just weeks ago. And one of the things about the trade union movement, this is the largest union in Australia. And what they do is not just stand up for their own industrial conditions, wages or occupational safety. If you want to find out what’s happening in a hospital, if you want to find out what’s happening in aged care, if you want to find out what’s happening in home care, talk to these people. They are on the front line. None of the people behind me do their job for the money. They do it because of their commitment to their fellow Australians. And that goes beyond industrial issues. That’s why trade unions are so important. They provide a collective voice. And what the Ensuring Integrity Bill was about was destroying that voice. It was attacking the very right of trade unions to exist. This was Work Choices Lite from a Government that’s obsessed with attacking the rights of unions. The fact is that unions play a critical role in our democracy. They’re an important part of civil society. And this Government’s determination to undermine that has been defeated with the defeat of this bill yesterday.
And there’s some irony that this week Scott Morrison came into Parliament, saying that he would attack unions through the Ensuring Integrity Bill at the very same time as his integrity this week has been left in tatters. It continued to defend a minister who has deliberately misled the Parliament regarding a document that was produced that he says came off the City of Sydney website in order to attack climate change, in order to make a cheap point against a lord mayor. He then deliberately misled Parliament. He repeated that this week, and what’s more than, when there was a police investigation announced, Strike Force Garrad, what we had was a refusal to stand this minister aside. And then we had the Prime Minister pick up the phone, not once, not twice, not three times, because there were three missed calls mobile to mobile, ‘Oh, I’ll just ring the mobile of the New South Wales Police Commissioner and have a chat’ according to the Prime Minister himself, about the substance of the investigation on the very day that it was launched. And at the same time, he then misled Parliament, attacking former Prime Minister Julia Gillard saying the quotes were from a Victorian detective when it was in fact from a 2GB radio host, Ben Fordham. Then had yesterday again, further misleads in Parliament. And the Prime Minister having to correct the record. But in correcting the record, again, further misled the Parliament.
The Prime Minister’s integrity is tatters. And one of the things that happened this week, as well, is the arrogance on full display, assuming that this legislation will be carried. Well, one of the reasons I’m convinced why this legislation was not carried is the people behind me. Ordinary workers, talking to crossbench Senators and Members of Parliament about their experience, about why this was bad legislation. It wasn’t something that was done by politicians, it wasn’t done by the leaders of the trade union movement, even though we’re all united. What it was done by was by working people, expressing their views through social media, getting on campaigning and letting crossbench senators and others know why they oppose this legislation. So this is a victory for working people. And I congratulate all of them on this fantastic victory. Well done.
JOURNALIST: Did you know before last night what One Nation was going to do?
ALBANESE: No, I didn’t. I didn’t. I was continuing to be hopeful. And obviously there were a lot of discussions going on, but they didn’t at any time indicate what they were going to do. And I don’t think anyone knew till the bells rang and the vote happened. But, I pay tribute to them. Those people who were prepared to listen to what the issues were and to make a decision on its merits. And they were prepared to do that. This is bad legislation. That’s why it was defeated.
JOURNALIST: Did you try to personally convince Pauline Hanson to vote against it?
ALBANESE: I try to talk to every crossbencher, every Senator. I did what I could. But, at the end of the day people made their own decisions. I talked to people in the Government about this as well, about why it was wrong. I would talk to anyone who would stop me over many months that I have been, had the honour of leading the Labor Party. I will continue to talk to people as long as I can draw breath about the important role that the trade union movement plays in our country.
JOURNALIST: The Government accepted all the amendments proposed by Pauline Hanson and then she voted it down, do you think that’s a bit dishonest of her?
ALBANESE: No, not at all. Quite frankly, Labor often proposes amendments to legislation to try to improve it on the basis that if it does get up, at least it is being improved. That just shows what senators do all the time is do things like that. So we had our view, we voted for some of the amendments even though we thought it was bad legislation. That’s what we do. That’s the way the Senate works. But I think that the fact that people did not know what would happen is a credit. People made their own decisions. I said yesterday in a press conference in Parliament House, some of the media got ahead of themselves too and perhaps they are on notice now that I’ll remind them of this next time they do it, they were saying, ‘Will you repeal the legislation?’ I was like, ‘Hang on, whoa there, we are trying to defeat this legislation.’ And we did it.
JOURNALIST: Hanson said Labor had no idea what was going on, what do you say to that?
ALBANESE: It is correct. We didn’t know what she was going to do. We put our argument, as we put our arguments to everybody. She wouldn’t tell anybody what she was doing. That is fair enough. It is fair enough that people listen to arguments and then make up their own decision. I’ve got massive differences with Pauline Hanson, let’s be very clear, but on this, I congratulate her on listening to the arguments and I have no doubt that the people who are more persuasive, I believe, in this, I have said that, I talked to people. But it was rank and file nurses and many others who are up in Canberra this week and who have been travelling and campaigning on this. I think they made the difference; I really do, when it comes to this. Because it’s pretty hard to not listen to someone. The passion of the people who are here, who care about their job, who care about the people they look after. I’m someone, I gave a speech about some of my personal experience, and health is what politicised me. What happened, I had a mum who was an invalid pensioner. I have so much respect for anyone in this profession and when they speak I will always listen. Certainly that is one of the things that happened in this campaign. And the idea, you know, I have a look behind me and what I see is nurses who are committed to making a difference. What the Government said was that they’re thugs. That’s what they said other and over again. They are over-reached, they’re arrogant, they’re out of touch and the ad man who we have as Prime Minister of this country needs to take a bit of a step back, realise that he has to stop the victory lap. He has to stop the arrogance and hubris that characterises this Government in saying that Angus Taylor is a good bloke has done nothing wrong, but these people here should have their rights taken away.
JOURNALIST: Is this your biggest win as Leader of the Labor Party?
ALBANESE: Look, this is not my win. This is these people’s win of which I am part of. I’m a member of a trade union and I’m proud to be so and have been since I started working at a very young age as a member of the shoppies when I worked at Grace Brothers and I’ve always been a member of trade unions. This is a win for rank-and-file trade unionists. This, what’s more, is a win for the country. Australia is a country that values the fair go. And without trade unions, you can’t get the fair go. Without trade unions, you’ll have more wage theft. You have more occupational health and safety issues, including more fatalities on work sites. You’ll have lower wages. You’ll have less conditions and less quality of life. You’ll have more issues in areas like mental health. We need trade unions to be respected as playing an important role in civil society.
JOURNALIST: Just on Angus Taylor, why won’t Labor grant Angus Taylor a pair for a significant overseas summit?
ALBANESE: Well, Angus Taylor shouldn’t be a minister. He’s deliberately misled Parliament. That’s very clear. And he continues to do so. He has a very serious investigation underway against him with three issues being examined, two of which are punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment. The idea that he jets of to Spain saying, ‘Nothing to see here.’ And what’s more, the Government could pick at random any Australian of the street that would have more credibility than this bloke at negotiating Australia’s national interests at a climate change conference. He is an Energy Minister where the Government doesn’t have an energy policy. He’s the Emissions Reduction Minister where emissions are rising. He’s in charge of those range of issues like fuel security. Australia doesn’t have the International Energy Agency recommendations for fuel reserves in this country. This bloke is in his third scandal in six months. I reckon they could pick anyone; any of their backbenches at random could do this job better than this bloke. And in the past, indeed, it was the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, used to represent Australia at these conferences, as well.
JOURNALIST: Just a question on Medevac. Do you know what Jacqui Lambie’s condition is about national security?
ALBANESE: No, I don’t. But I say that the Medevac Legislation is about people who need health care being given it. It’s pretty simple.
JOURNALIST: What chance do you think the Government has the full bill passed by the crossbenchers next week?
ALBANESE: I don’t know. Once again, they’re not telling us what way they will vote. What I do know is that common decency means, I think most Australians think, if someone needs health care, they should get it. There are strong provisions and, indeed, a capacity for the minister to intervene on these issues at any time. And in terms of the legislation as well, one of the things that I’ve said to the crossbenchers when I have spoken to them, and I did speak to crossbenchers this week about a whole range of issues that were before the Parliament. That’s my job as Leader of Opposition. To put Labor’s view, and to do it directly and respectfully to the crossbenchers, and indeed, to try and convince the Government of the error of its ways as well. But, on this legislation, what I’d say to crossbenchers is to compare what the Government said would happen, an end to borders, martyrs flooding down from all over the world to Australia, an absolute crisis in our system. And I say to them, none of that. None of that. This is a common sense legislation that has worked. But I also believe it shouldn’t be necessary, because people should not be allowed to languish in indefinite detention for ever. They have to be settled in third countries. There’s offers on the table like New Zealand that could resolve this immediately. And that’s what the Government should be prioritising. Instead of that, they are intent on playing political games. Thanks very much.