SUBJECTS: Work of the Exodus Foundation; Christmas; bushfires; compensation for volunteer firefighters.
NATALIE PETERS, HOST: As I mentioned, Anthony Albanese is here in Ashfield at the Exodus Foundation. He is our local Federal Member. And I want to welcome him on air. Merry Christmas.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Great to be here. There’s just an amazing feeling here. This is the spirit of Christmas, writ large.
PETERS: It is incredible. This, I am guessing, is not your first year down here at the Exodus Foundation?
ALBANESE: No, I am a regular visitor. I was here a few weeks ago with Bill for a service he had for refugees and for people in the Middle East. He is an amazing human being. And the team here at Exodus do an incredible job; whether it is feeding the homeless, or whether it is getting kids who are really troubled through education, getting them back in the mainstream. I love the way that he says, the last sermon I heard from him, was about the outsiders and people who are marginalised from society. Everyone is welcome here at Exodus. And today, I do not know how many people are here.
PETERS: It’s amazing isn’t it? They are saying it is about 2,700 Is that about right Reverend? About that? 2,700 maybe 2,800. It’s incredible isn’t it?
ALBANESE: It is incredible. But it’s what Christmas should be about, helping those less fortunate. And just people who haven’t got anywhere else to go, this is home for them. I just sat with Santa.
PETERS: Lucky you.
ALBANESE: I did with Lyndon. Lyndon comes here every single day. He relies upon this place for his food but more importantly as well the mental health component of just being with people, that sense of belonging and being respected. And that’s a great thing about here. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been involved in drugs or involved in all sorts of issues, if you’ve got all sorts of health problems, disabilities, it literally doesn’t matter. Every individual counts at this place. And I love Bill Crews. And it’s here in my electorate, I’m really proud to represent here. And I don’t think that there’s a better place in the world to ever be then at a graduation ceremony here, seeing people who’ve been kicked out of homes, who have been on the streets, and suddenly they are graduating, and they are learning. it’s quite remarkable.
PETERS: They do a great job in schools as well with reading programs. I mean, in a way the Exodus Foundation is filling a bit of a gap in the community here when it comes to providing those sorts of services. I guess it’s not the role of Government to really provide the connection, but on those education things as well. This is filling an important gap.
ALBANESE: Absolutely. And it’s the fact of no judgment here as well I think is what makes the difference. And no red tape. Everyone’s just walking in here and they are welcome. If it was run by a big bureaucracy public or private sector be it would be very different, I think.
PETERS: I am sure he wouldn’t complain if you were to fling him a few dollars, though.
ALBANESE: I’m quite proud of last time we were in Government, we fixed up the school just up the road here. And certainly, this is a very worthy cause and I’m very supportive of them in every way.
PETERS: Indeed. And just being here today, it’s great for everyone to see you here as well. And I know the state member was here as well. I played your Christmas message a bit earlier on the show and I think both yourself and Scott Morrison recognise just how tough it’s been towards the end of the year, especially for our volunteer firefighters. And of course, we lost Geoffrey and Andrew to that fire on the outskirts of Sydney. It really is a tough end to the year. And while we are celebrating here, there are many people who are on the fire fields and missing loved ones.
ALBANESE: Absolutely. I was yesterday up in the Blue Mountains, so I visited Blaxland, Katoomba, Wentworth Falls, Mount Victoria. And at the Blaxland RFS and Katoomba RFS, they were all, every one of them, was working today. Everyone. Some of them were saying, ‘I’m having breakfast with the family’ or ‘I’m hoping to stop later in the day’. But I’ve met some remarkable people. I met one person who finished a 12-hour shift and they were needed to go out again. So, they went out again. They worked 24 hours straight in circumstances whereby their lives are threatened. We’ve seen that. We’ve seen lives lost on the north coast. We have seen lives lost of the firefighters in south west Sydney. And you know, they’re showing courage, they’re showing resilience, they are showing commitment to their communities. And I lost count of the number of people who I’ve met, who’ve been fighting fires in other areas while someone else has been fighting to protect their own homes.
PETERS: Isn’t is amazing? Or they are fighting the same fire that claimed their own home and then they get back out there. It really is incredible. I don’t want to get political because it is Christmas day but on the issue of firefighters, because we all care about how they’re going, we saw Federal Government employees are going to get a bit more leave. I’m guessing you’re supporting that. Do you think we need to go even further?
ALBANESE: We do need to go even further. The fact is that I’ve met people, small businesses, who haven’t been able to run their business, contractors, people who literally have had no income for months. I met one fellow who started fighting fires in Tenterfield. I met him at Bilpin on last Friday. And he’s worked every day since September. People shouldn’t be forced into poverty because they’re protecting their communities and their fellow Australians. And I think I’ve been flexible about a way forward there. But, the Keating Government, in 1994, gave an ex-gratia payment to everyone who’d been fighting fires for seven days or more. I would have thought that it is appropriate, it was in the award anyway, the federal public servant thing, what the Prime Minister did, and it’s a good thing, and it will be automatic, whereas it was at the discretion of whoever the departmental head was. So, that’s a very good thing. It is welcomed.
PETERS: It sets a standard for state governments as well.
ALBANESE: Most state governments have done it, to be fair. I met, for example, in New South Wales, I met the deputy principal of Windsor High School out there and other teachers, a lot of teachers I’ve met, in the Hawkesbury and in the Blue Mountains. So, the state government obviously allow that to happen. That’s a great thing. It’s good that the Federal Government is doing that. But we do need something so that people are looked after. I think they’re making an incredible sacrifice and I hope that happens.
PETERS: They are. Well thank you so much for popping in here to the broadcast studio in the middle of Exodus Foundation and Merry Christmas to you and your family.
ALBANESE: Thank you for being here on your Christmas as well.
PETERS: It’s fantastic. And I’m going to get a feed as well. It’s an absolute bonus.
ALBANESE: It looks fantastic, I’ve got to say. And people are really enjoying it. And this is food, not just for the stomach, this is food for the heart.
PETERS: Indeed. And so many wonderful volunteers here as well who are enjoying their day just as much as the guests.
ALBANESE: Yes, it is great being here.
PETERS: Well, Mr Albanese, thank you so much. Merry Christmas to you.
ALBANESE: Merry Christmas.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.