SUBJECTS: Chaos within the Coalition; coal; climate change.
MARILYN FLETCH, HOST: Well, good morning. My guest this morning is Mr Anthony Albanese. He’s the Labor Leader. And he’s been down in our area, looking at the recovery. He had his entire Shadow Cabinet there on Friday in Batemans Bay. Good morning Mr Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning. Thanks for having me on the program.
FLETCH: That’s great. And thanks for coming down to our area.
ALBANESE: Look, it is a beautiful area. It’s just tragic what the area has been through, both in terms of, of course, the devastating impact on people, but the impact as well on the animals in the area and of course on the wonderful vegetation that makes it so beautiful. It was quite devastating driving from Canberra down to Batemans Bay and then going to Mogo and around the area. Just getting some ideas, just a little insight into how frightening it must have been.
FLETCH: Yes. So, you were down on the recovery and also you took the entire Shadow Cabinet down there, but that is the part that helps bring money into the area, isn’t it?
ALBANESE: That’s right. We did two things. Firstly, just being there as part of what, of course, the area wants. People staying in motels, we had a very good meal at Stingrays in Batemans Bay and on the Thursday night, we stopped off at the Nelligen Pub on the way and went to Braidwood, had a pie on the way back on the Friday afternoon. But also, just talking to people one-on-one. We went to Mogo in the morning and had brekkie there and talked to people in all of the shops. We went to the nursery and the fudge shop and the Indonesian shop interestingly, Indo Direct where we bought something that I gave to President Widodo of Indonesia as a gift yesterday during his address to the Parliament. I thought that was very appropriate to do so.
FLETCH: So, this is recovery will take a long time, but we’ve just had the fires out and then we’ve had the rains. But, you can really see the growth of the vegetation coming back, but now we have got to look at the people and how they are going to come back?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. And one of the problems that people have got, small business, we raised this in Parliament today, the fact that they can get loans, but what they really need is some cash injection to get them through without increasing their debt. And that is something that was raised with me. You had people who I met, one gentleman who filled in a form of 17 pages, and then he had been told that the program has now changed, you’ve got to fill in more forms. Now, what we need to do at a time like this really is to cut through the red tape. Because people can’t afford to wait for months. They are struggling to pay their rent now. They’re struggling to get through this immediate crisis. Because for so many businesses on the south coast, they rely upon, of course, December and January are their best two months, and that helps subsidise the business for the rest of the year. If those months have been effectively wiped out, then it’s really tough. And that’s where Government needs to be more flexible. And with regard to individuals, I really think that what people need is an individual case manager, someone who looks after them who can help them navigate their way through the bureaucracy. And we had someone come and present to the Shadow Cabinet from the local council who went through all the difficulties that people are going through. And of course, Fiona Philips has been absolutely magnificent in putting forward individual claims and support and just being right throughout her community from Nowra all the way down has been affected, of course, Sussex Inlet and Batemans Bay and the Jervis Bay area and the whole area. When you drive into Mogo, you can see the devastation on the entry into the town. And it’s, quite frankly, a bit of a miracle that the town was saved. And a great credit, as well, to our extraordinary firefighters and their bravery and their commitment.
FLETCH: They are amazing. It’s not just the firefighters, everyone else who has volunteered too.
FLETCH: And some people just don’t know what to do to volunteer, but there’s so many different areas out there. But if they contact the council, or even Fiona, she can help them. And you’re saying about the forms, have you ever tried to fill in a Centrelink form? It’s just too much for people.
ALBANESE: Absolutely. And when people are traumatised, as well, they’ve lost a lot of their documentation, of course, if your house is burnt down. Another issue that we’ve raised, as well, is that those people who’ve been indirectly affected, they haven’t lost their house, they haven’t lost the business, but they’ve lost their income. Because they’ve lost all of their work. At a time like this, a whole lot of people get put on for casual work over the summer season that helps them get by. These people who have really lost out, I raised in Parliament yesterday, a truck driver I met in Nelligen, who’s lost a lot of these business, who was telling me about other truck drivers who essentially have been just waiting around because they’re not able to go into areas around the Snowy area. As well, he was telling me about how it is not safe. And they are just losing massive amounts of their income. And we need to, I think, prioritise these issues at this difficult time.
FLETCH: So, they are not compensated at all, are they?
ALBANESE: That’s right. And that is where you need some flexibility with regard to cutting through the bureaucracy, really cutting through the red tape. And the other issue is people’s mental health. We must get the best possible support. And one of the issues we have raised is access for GPs and for that assistance in the areas. We need to make sure that financial cost isn’t a barrier to people getting the help and treatment that they need.
FLETCH: What is your plan as the Labor Leader? Have you got plans for these conditions, fires, rain, earthquakes, catastrophic conditions?
ALBANESE: In the long run, the first thing we’ve got to acknowledge is that this is not business-as-usual. This is climate change. We can see it. We can touch it. We can smell it in all its devastation. And yes, we’ve always had fires in Australia. But what we haven’t had is so many fires burning so intensely at one time. And that’s what we’re seeing here. The impact of the drought, of course, meant that you had incredibly dry undergrowth. You had all the conditions that led to the devastating period that we are seeing. We need to take climate change seriously in this country. It is as simple as that. And we also need, of course, to make sure that we get the best possible management of our national parks. We need to make sure that we deal with all of those issues. I think we can learn a lot from Indigenous people about the way that they manage land as well.
FLETCH: I think this is a big call for all of us, because we’ve all been affected in some way from this. Anthony, it’s been great speaking with you today. But before you go, we want to find out who Anthony Albanese is. So, what book are you currently reading?
ALBANESE: What book am I currently reading? I’m currently reading a novel by Tim Winton. And in terms of, I always try and have a fiction and a nonfiction book. I like Tim Winton’s books because they are about the Australian landscape a lot and they’re also about Western Australia which, of course, as someone who grew up and lives in Sydney, I find particularly interesting. And most of them are set in the west, so I find that fascinating. And the other book I’m reading is a book one of my colleagues, Andrew Leigh, gave to me. And it’s called Rockonomics. And it’s about the economics of the rock music industry. Which sounds kind of a strange thing to write a book about, but it’s actually very interesting.
FLETCH: Later on today, I’ll be speaking with Jade Hurley. He’s one of our old rockers.
ALBANESE: He is indeed. You might like to ask him if he heard of this book?
FLETCH: Yes, I will actually. And let’s talk about your puppy dog.
ALBANESE: I spoil my dog hopelessly. Poor Toto. I was worried about her on the weekend. Dogs, as you know, many of them will eat anything at all. And it was, of course, pouring on the weekend. And my son came down, he was about to go out into the rain. And he had this old umbrella that was one of those fold-up umbrellas that costs $2 from one of those cheap shops that always fall apart. And because it fell apart, bits of metal went everywhere. And I’m convinced that the dog ate a bit of the metal off the umbrella.
FLETCH: Well, I think we’ve just lost Mr Albanese. So, let’s continue now. We we’re having a great chat with him. But let’s keep going with the song Hotel California.