SUBJECTS: Bushfire crisis across Australia; Labor’s consistent calls for a COAG meeting; Labor’s commitment to strong action on climate change.
KIM LANDERS, HOST: AM requested an interview with the Prime Minister but he was unavailable. The Opposition Leader is Anthony Albanese. He joined me earlier. Anthony Albanese, do you think the PM is doing a good job?
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, that’s for other people to judge. I don’t think this is a time for pointing fingers. My concern today is very simple, which is there’s been too much loss of life. The first priority has to be to ensure that fatality figure doesn’t rise further. It’s also about keeping people safe from injury, about doing what can be done to protect property. Obviously, that is becoming diabolical. The fact that Victoria last night declared a state of disaster in those six local government areas. We’ve had circumstances whereby we’ve had roads melting. These are extraordinary circumstances. The Government does need to do whatever is necessary across all levels of government. I believe that there needs to be a national approach because this is a national crisis.
LANDERS: Just before I ask you a little bit more about that, if I could just stick with that reaction to the PM just for a minute. What we saw there and heard, do you think it was just exhaustion and emotion from people? Or do you think anger from Australians is running deeper towards the PM?
ALBANESE: I think people are very frustrated with the situation. I wrote to the Prime Minister, back in November, calling for a national strategy for disaster preparedness, asking him to convene COAG in November to make sure that everything was in place to maximise the coordination of things like assets, the defence assets we’ve seen deployed in recent days.
LANDERS: Well, let’s talk a little bit about that. Because the National Security Committee of Cabinet is meeting on Monday. And the Prime Minister says it will address the contingencies that are required as well as the long-term response. After the Queensland floods in 2010/2011, the Federal Government introduced a flood levy. Do you think the same sort of thing should be done here because of these bushfires?
ALBANESE: I think the Government is obviously going to have to meet some of the costs. There’s an economic impact. I think the most important thing today though; all Australians’ thoughts will be on the human impact. The tragedy that we see unfolding, the loss of life, the loss of property, the loss of assets. It is a tragedy that many people have lost everything that they had. But yesterday I think the funeral of Geoffrey Keaton reminds us of the ultimate sacrifice that has been made including by those brave volunteer firefighters. And I think today the emphasis is on one, keeping people safe. But two also, our thoughts go to those people who are literally putting their lives on the line to protect their fellow Australians.
LANDERS: Sorry to interrupt but if we look at some of the efforts that are being made, for example, the Defence Force is now involved. What about an idea about making sure in the future that more of the Defence Force’s Hercules aircrafts are converted into water bombers, for example?
ALBANESE: Well, I think all of those measures need to be looked at. One of the things I wrote to the Prime Minister about in November, there were a range of points, constructive suggestions, they included our national aerial firefighting capacity, and to ensure that we use all of our assets. Common sense tells you that just as our Defence Forces are employed in international disasters and rescues in the region, there is scope for it, I believe, to do more to ensure that we maximise the support that can be given to people at a time like this. We quite clearly need to be much better at preparing. We need to consider the fact that whilst this is something that hasn’t occurred in my lifetime, unfortunately, it could be due to the impact of climate change that this is not abnormal.
LANDERS: Well, let me ask you about climate change. Let me ask you very quickly about that. Labor is still working on your climate policies post the election. Isn’t there some urgency now to getting that sorted and deciding whether or not you’re going to keep that target of a 45 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030?
ALBANESE: No. Because guess what? The next election is in 2022. We’re committed to strong action on climate change, full stop, exclamation mark. For those people who question the science of climate change, I say have a look at what the predictions were from the science. They told us that the disasters, including the bushfire seasons, would be longer and they’d be more intense. And tragically, we’re seeing that played out.
LANDERS: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for joining AM this morning.
ALBANESE: Thanks Kim.