SUBJECTS: Aged care; Royal Commission; economy; trade war; Iran; Budget surplus; Labor Party policies; Newstart; Port of Darwin infrastructure investment; mental health.
GED KEARNEY, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR AGED CARE AND SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR SKILLS: Today we are in Reservoir, in my seat of Cooper. I’m Ged Kearney. We’re really thrilled to have Anthony Albanese here today, the Leader of the Opposition, at Mayflower Residential Aged Care Services in my electorate. Today is a special day that is endorsed by Leading Aged Care Services Australia, or LASA. It’s a day where we commemorate and acknowledge the hard work that is done by aged care workers in Australia. We’re hearing a lot of very distressing things coming out of the Royal Commission, particularly about a system that is in need of reform. But we’ve got to remember that every day there are really hard-working people giving their all to their residents in aged care, caring for our most vulnerable, and the vast majority of whom do a really great job. So I’m thrilled that the Leader of the Opposition is here today to celebrate this day with me and the residents of Cooper and Mayflower, so I’ll hand over to Anthony now.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much. It is indeed fantastic to be here to be here at Reservoir with Ged Kearney who is doing such a fantastic job representing the northern suburbs of Melbourne. And it’s great to be here in particular – an aged care facility on the day that celebrates the contribution of aged care employees. I’m a former Shadow Minister for Aged Care and during that period I really got to know the people who work day in, day out 24 hours in order to provide services for our older Australians and in particular some of our most vulnerable. It is difficult work. It’s very emotional work and I pay tribute to all those who work in aged care. The Aged Care Royal Commission though is hearing some really serious evidence about abuse and it is of real concern that people who are vulnerable, some of them just not getting the care that they need. Just yesterday we had reports of people being slapped, of people being hit in the face with a water bottle, of sexual assault and of the federal department not taking action that is appropriate for those circumstances. What we need out of the Aged Care Royal Commission is a wake-up call, is an end point so that we can move forward and provide much better care for our elderly Australians.
We know that the numbers will increase as a proportion of the population as well as in real numbers in future years to come. And this is a major issue confronting Australia – the ageing of the population. It’s confronting us in terms of service delivery, but it’s also confronting us in terms of our economy. And I want to make a couple of comments about that because we have a vulnerable economy that’s particularly exposed to what’s going on globally at the moment. We saw just yesterday $85 billion being wiped off the stock market for ASX listed companies – a massive decline. We hear reports of the Reserve Bank potentially further lowering interest rates below the already extraordinarily low rate of just 1 per cent as the cash rate. We know that productivity is actually going backwards. We know that consumer demand is really vulnerable as well, with the retail trading figures that were released last week being the lowest since the 1990s.
And we have a Government that’s in drift, a Government that doesn’t have a plan to grow the economy, a Government that seems obsessed by continuing to act like an opposition in exile, talking about Labor constantly, rather than actually acting on the needs of the national economy.
So today is an opportunity. We’ll be going inside as well with Ged to talk to the people who work at this facility and importantly the people who are cared for at this facility as well. I think that all Australians need to take into account the fact that we do have an ageing population. And I think that the Government has been in drift on this issue but on so many. They’re now in their third term. It’s about time that when Scott Morrison next gets to Parliament he actually outlines what his plan for this third term is other than opposing the Labor Party.
JOURNALIST: On aged care, should the Government wait for the recommendations of the Royal Commission before taking action, or do you think these things can be done right now?
ALBANESE: There are some things that can be done right now. We know that Scott Morrison ripped over a billion dollars out of aged care as the Treasurer, so he could start by increasing funding, he could start by listening to the service providers, he could start by having proper regulation. We saw the circumstances with the Gold Coast nursing home, whereby the Government has had really not much to say about that at all. So the Government doesn’t have to wait for the Royal Commission to act. And certainly people who are vulnerable and their families want to know that the appropriate regulations are in place.
The danger here is that this Government is so obsessed by trickle-down economics and by leaving things up to the market that we don’t actually have proper regulations in place to ensure that people are getting the care that they need.
JOURNALIST: On the economic situation and that escalating trade war, Josh Frydenberg has said that cool heads should prevail in the escalating trade war between the US and China. Is that a message that you would support?
ALBANESE: Cool heads should prevail and certainly Australia has an interest in ensuring that there are rules-based trading systems. And that includes between the United States and China. The danger for Australia is an escalation in the conflict over trade between the US and China sees us as collateral damage. China is our major trading partner. And first we’re very good friends with the United States.
And certainly when I and other members of my Leadership team met with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defence this week, we certainly conveyed that – that Australia has a direct interest here in ensuring that there are rules-based trading systems.
We understand the US is concerned about some of the actions of China with regard to intellectual property and some of these issues and Australia has our own interests to protect there as well. But what we want to see is an orderly trading system both in terms of the global system but also on a regional basis.
JOURNALIST: On the Iran situation, the US have asked us to put ships in that strait. Do you think we should send ships over there and what do you think the Government is going to take this time on our request?
ALBANESE: We met with the US secretaries as well as the Government and those issues are still being worked out on both sides. It is appropriate that Australia take its time. Australia historically has been prepared to play a role in ensuring that trade routes are left open according to ITLOS – the law of the sea. And Australia has also played a role, I know when I was the Transport Minister, we played a role in the anti-piracy measures that were overseen by the International Maritime Organisation off the African coast in that broad region of the world. So it is appropriate. We’ll continue to work through these issues. It’s important to note that the request is about peaceful resolution, not about conflict. And so it is appropriate that people calm down, that cooler heads prevail because it’s in the interests of all I think that there not be an escalation of any conflict with Iran.
JOURNALIST: What impact do you think that the economic battle will have on the Government’s forecast budget surplus?
ALBANESE: Well the concern for the Government here is that it has a bit of a wishing and a hoping attitude towards economic growth. What’s their plan for jobs growth? What’s their plan in terms of industry policy? What’s their plan for skills growth? What’s their plan for matching up what the future jobs will look like and the training that’s required to have Australian citizens fill those jobs?
My concern with this Government is that it’s so obsessed with playing politics it has forgotten good policy development. And they need to get their act together pretty quickly. Because the idea that a third-term Government doesn’t have a plan for the economy, which is pretty obvious I think from the answers that we’ve been seeking in Question Time. What’s their plan to deal with wage stagnation? What’s the plan to deal with the low economic growth? What’s their plan to deal with the fact that interest rates are at one percent which has an impact of course in terms of the elderly Australians, people who rely upon their retirement savings. Every time interest rates fall they get a fall in their income. They waited for five falls in interest rates before they changed the deeming rates.
What’s their plan for underemployment in the economy – for casualisation that’s occurring? Families are under pressure. And when we had the HILDA survey last week about looking at what the economy looked like and what the impact was on people, the government was dismissive of that. They say that Australians are better off now than they were when they came to office and that’s just not true.
JOURNALIST: Do you share Nick Champion’s concerns about the Port of Darwin? Would you like to see Government buy it back?
ALBANESE: The Port of Darwin – when it was sold I was the Shadow Transport Minister. I think that was a very bad decision that the Government made. But it’s a decision that has been made. We do care in this country about issues of sovereign risk and the Government at a time where they talk about protection of our, our borders and a whole range of issues – the fact they sold off our northern most port which is a very strategic asset – I believe that should have been maintained in public hands let alone, as well as obviously kept in Australian hands.
JOURNALIST: On policies, can you rule out any changes to your franking credits policy or you think it’s still a live option for Labor going forward?
ALBANESE: I’ve said very clearly that we’ll examine all of our policies going forward. We’ll do that in an orderly way. The next election is 2022. It’s not this year. And we’ll examine all of those policies. We’ve got a review into the election campaign that is taking place under the stewardship of Jay Weatherill and Craig Emerson. And we’ll examine all of those policies but we’ll also do it in a way that takes into account the respect that we have for processes of our caucus, of our party membership, and our organisational wing as well. And we’ll announce policies well in advance of the next election.
The concern here is there’s something called a government – that doesn’t have any policies. And I think the focus should be on what are the Government’s policies over the next three years. I mean does the Government think for example, that franking credits, in terms of the impact on the budget going forward, rising as it is from five to six to eight billion dollars, does the Government think that’s sustainable? We’ll wait and see. Can the Government rule out any changes to franking credits? That’s the question that should be asked.
JOURNALIST: On the Government then, we get to have a bit of a winter break. We won’t see any changes to Newstart over that time but it looks like the economic data is trending downwards. Do you think the Government needs to raise Newstart as a matter of urgency to pump some more money into the economy?
ALBANESE: I think the Government needs to raise Newstart. Full stop. Forty dollars a day is not enough for people to survive on without being subject to poverty. There are other reasons as well. If you’re on $40 a day it actually limits your capacity to get a job, to get to job interviews, to dress appropriately, to engage in, have a sense of confidence – that’s important, in terms of when you are applying to get into work.
The other thing is, is that if you raise Newstart every dollar of it will be spent. It won’t be put into savings. There aren’t people on Newstart who are building up their savings. They’ll spend it. That will create economic activity. That will create jobs. And the fact that the Business Council of Australia, the trade union movement, economists, are all saying that this should happen.
The fact is also that the Reserve Bank is now looking at a further decrease in interest rates from one per cent. And what they have said when the last time they decreased, and they’ve decreased twice, interest rates, since the May 18, election economic circumstances have changed. They’ve said that monetary policy can’t do all the heavy lifting. They’ve called for the Government to engage in stimulus, to bring forward infrastructure projects. And we’ve seen no sign that the Government is going to do that.
They went to an election promising projects. And when you look at the dates they are off in the middle of the next decade – let alone during this term. Well we passed just here, at Reservoir, a level crossing. A major project that’s taking place to decrease urban congestion – it’ll boost productivity in the economy – being funded solely by the Andrews’ Labor Government. There are a range of projects like that that are important projects that the Government could bring forward funding, offer money to Victoria. It starved Victoria of infrastructure investment. It went down to as low as 7.9 per cent of the national share of the infrastructure budget. They could give Victoria some money. They could put investment into the Melbourne Metro. Put back some of the $3 billion dollars that they ripped out in their 2014 budget and that could be used to fast track the Melbourne Metro. So there is a range of projects they could do in this area. Tram 86 they could do. That we committed to during the election campaign. Eleven. Eleven. Tram 11. Spot the bloke from Sydney. They could bring forward the funding on light rail, on that project, it is ready to go. Thank you guys.
JOURNALIST: Just one more question. There has been some talk about a Royal Commission into veteran suicide and mental health. Is that something that Labor would support?
ALBANESE: Oh look, we will examine any proposal. An issue like this should not be politicised in my view. And I don’t intend to politicise. We will examine any proposal. We want to work with the Government and with the veteran’s community. There are different views on that issue from the veteran’s community itself. And I don’t seek to make that a political issue. I seek to work with the Government. I think Darren Chester is an honourable man. And Darren Chester and Shayne Neumann, I want to see them work together in the interests of our veteran’s community because those who have served the nation deserve our respect and deserve care. I certainly am very concerned at the number of fatalities that occur and people who self-harm harm. Quite clearly we need to make sure that people in that circumstance get very assistance that they need and that they deserve. Thanks very much. Thanks.