SUBJECTS: Visit to South Melbourne Markets; Government having no plan for the economy; bushfires; call for COAG meeting; Wang Liqiang; China; Westpac.
JOSH BURNS, MEMBER FOR MACNAMARA: Well, good morning everyone. We are here at the South Melbourne Market where for 150 years people have been coming; to do their shopping, to buy their food. It is a beautiful part of our local area and we are very proud of it. And we are here today talking to retailers and talking to businesses. Because around the country, retailers are doing it really tough. And unfortunately, the Government doesn’t have a plan for retailers. They don’t have a plan to support struggling businesses. And they don’t have a plan for our economy. So, it’s really important that we are here today. It’s a beautiful day. We have had a great reception. And I am very pleased to be here with the Leader of the Labor Party, Anthony Albanese, who I will hand over to say a few words.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Josh. It is great to be here in South Melbourne with Josh Burns, our Member for Macnamara, the newly named seat here in this part of Melbourne. And it’s been great talking to retailers and talking to shoppers this morning about issues of concern to them. Just last Friday, I released our second vision statement on the economy, a plan to grow the economy as well as to talk about distribution of that wealth. A plan to grow wages. A plan to boost productivity. What we need to do in this country is not be complacent. But ever since the May election, the current Government have been complacent. They are on a victory lap. Well, we only have two weeks of Parliament left. And the test for the Coalition is whether to every answer to every question they just talked about Labor, or whether they actually present a plan going forward for the nation.
The second issue that I want to raise in the lead up to Parliament, is that I wrote on Friday to the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, about convening a special meeting of COAG to deal with the ongoing need to have a national disaster strategy. It is very clear that whilst you can’t say that any individual event is just because of climate change, we know that the scientists told us that the bushfire seasons would be longer and more intense, just like with other natural disasters. What we need to do is to make sure that we have the best coordination in place, that we have appropriate support for our rural fire services, appropriate support for our volunteers. That we make sure that we have appropriate firefighting equipment, including aerial services available at all times. Very clearly, this season means that it’s a huge wake-up call for us to ensure that our preparedness is the best possible. And what that needs is coordination across the different levels of government. And that’s why this is the first year in a decade in which COAG has not met at least twice. Over coming weeks before the end of the year, the Prime Minister should convene such a meeting. It is good that today there’s a joint announcement between the Federal Government and the New South Wales Government about providing additional assistance. But, we should do that in a coordinated way rather than just ad hoc. And Labor stand ready to be constructive and the deal with these issues on a bipartisan basis. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: What do you think of the Chinese spy, Wang Liqiang, wanting asylum? Do you think he deserves our protection?
ALBANESE: Well, certainly he at least has a case. What that case needs to do is to be examined. And I will be asking this week for a full briefing from appropriate authorities. But the prima facie case is there that he certainly has a claim. And that should be considered in a way that takes into account the merits of the case. Quite clearly, he has made a number of statements. That would mean that he was under real pressure to say the least, if he were to return. So, these issues should be examined. Australia is a country that supports human rights. Australia is a country that supports freedom of expression, and one in which we stand up for people who are persecuted, wherever they’re from.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that Australia should be concerned about China’s (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: Well, Australia should make a decision based upon our values and our support for human rights. That’s the basis upon which we determine these matters. And they should be determined on their merits.
ALBANESE: Well, of course there should be tougher corporate law. This Government is obsessed with attacking members of the trade union movement and has forgotten about what is going on in corporate Australia. This is a disgrace. This is a scandal whereby literally millions of breaches of the law have occurred. And as a result of that, what you have is money laundering activities through one of our big banks, whereby it’s connected up with illegal activity. These laws are in place for a reason. And the fact that these revelations come after the Banking Royal Commission, a Banking Royal Commission that Scott Morrison voted against 26 times, shows that there’s a need, actually, for the Government to get its head out of the ideological sand that it is in and actually deal with the issues which Australians are concerned about. And they should be rightly concerned about these breaches. And at the end of the day, as well, that the CEO and the board need to take some responsibility here for what has occurred on their watch.
JOURNALIST: What changes would you like to see made?
ALBANESE: Well, I want to see a Government that is actually prepared to speak up against big business interests when they’re breaching the law as keenly as they are prepared to attack trade unions. The fact is, that they don’t do that. There’s a real hypocrisy in their attitude. They need to not just implement the law but strengthen the law. And this is a huge wake up call. And indeed, the CEO and the board need to accept responsibility for what’s happened on their watch.
JOURNALIST: Just finally, are you surprised that no (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: Well, it’s extraordinary. Can you imagine the response of this Government if there were literally millions of very serious breaches of the law by a trade union? The fact is that the CEO and the board are responsible for this under the law, and they should accept responsibility. There’s been no proper explanation as to how this extraordinary breach of the law has occurred. And they need to fess up. And then they need to take the appropriate action. Thanks.