The Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese, spoke at the National Press Club in Canberra today, attacking the Morrison government over its handling of aged care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Albanese criticised the government over its handling of aged care deaths in Victoria during the coronavirus crisis. He deplored the government’s hostile attitude to superannuation, especially for young people.
Albanese’s appearance came during a parliamentary sitting week in which some members contributed via video link.
Watch Albanese’s Address to the National Press Club (59m):
Listen to Albanese’s Address to the National Press Club (59m):
Official transcript of speech to the National Press Club by Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese.
AGED CARE IN AUSTRALIA: GOVERNMENT BY NEGLECT
My hope has always been that, as Australians, our guiding spirit during this crisis would be the idea that we are all in this together.
Because we have shown repeatedly through our history that this is when we are at our best.
Through depression and recession.
Through fire and flood and cyclone.
Working together is our finest and strongest reflex.
Overwhelmingly, Australians have made sacrifices in order to help each other get through this period.
And yet, a calamity is unfolding before our eyes. As if that weren’t enough, a future calamity is being created.
Older Australians are dying.
We are losing mums and dads. Grandmas and grandpas. Uncles, aunts, sisters, brothers.
Families have been hurt terribly, denied even that one small comfort that the person that they loved — and who loved them right back — was able to depart life in peace, surrounded by those dearest to them.
I myself know how important it was to me to be able to say goodbye to my mother, Maryanne as she passed in 2002. The pain of families who have lost loved ones in terrible circumstances would have been added to if they had read some commentators suggesting these loved ones are simply dying “a few months earlier”.
And it is certainly of no comfort to hear the Prime Minister boast that 97 per cent of aged care facilities do not have coronavirus infections.
And as coronavirus continues its awful march through our aged care sector, we are seeing many of our fellow Australians — desperate and painted into a corner — succumbing to the costly temptation to raid their own superannuation.
Presiding over it all is a Government that is failing to protect older Australians in the present.
And failing to protect the older Australians of the future.
It’s a Government that saw what was coming and had a chance to make a difference — but didn’t.
A Government that’s always there for the photo op, but never there for the follow up.
How has this happened? At his campaign launch last year, Scott Morrison vowed to “keep the promise of Australia to all Australians”.
But then, this is also the same Scott Morrison who has repeatedly asked the question, “Whose side are you on?”
Which is the real Scott Morrison? This year has answered the question.
He is a man who has climbed to the highest office of the land without even accidentally gaining any of the necessary compassion along the way.
A Prime Minister who doesn’t hold a hose.
It’s a handy metaphor he’s given us. The hose can stand for anything he is shirking responsibility for, anything he’s trying to keep his fingerprints off.
Indeed, the last time Scott Morrison held anything with conviction was a lump of coal he carried into the Parliament.
Time and again, this Government has been warned about the threat the coronavirus posed to aged care. Time and again those warnings have been neglected.
None of what is going wrong just crept up on us. This Government was warned by experts that our already troubled aged care system was vulnerable to the pandemic.
Just as they were warned in the past by experts that a terrible fire season was coming.
Just as they have been warned by experts that the climate is changing, and inaction will cost us more in the long run.
Just as they have been warned by experts that wages are flatlining and working people are being left behind.
Just as they are now being warned by experts that the raids they are encouraging on superannuation will leave people much worse off later in life.
Their response to each warning has been the same: Neglect. And the smirk of someone who is convinced he knows better, and then sits on his hands.
If actions speak louder than words, Scott Morrison is truly the quietest Australian of all.
It is a different sort of quiet falling across our aged care homes.
It is the quiet of anguish. Of despair. Of loneliness.
And it breaks my heart.
It has been a calamity years in the making on the Coalition’s watch. And it has been recognised within their own ranks.
Here’s what Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has had to say:
“…Prime Minister Abbott and those advising him in the Coalition failed in their promise to reform aged care and simply opted for a shift that had no demonstrable positive outcome for the wellbeing of our older Australians.”
She also lays blame at the feet of Scott Morrison, who cut $1.7 billion from the sector when he was Treasurer.
Cuts that divided aged care providers into winners and losers. Cuts that have made the current crisis worse.
And when we asked about these cuts yesterday, Morrison simply denied it. In his world, everything can be spun, anything can be turned upside down.
A forced handshake is consensual. A turned back is a friendly conversation. An incompetent Minister is doing a great job. A Royal Commissioner damning the Federal Government must be talking about someone else.
And cuts that are there in the Budget Papers for all to see never happened.
In a speech to CEDA in 2014, Mitch Fifield — then Assistant Minister for Social Services to Kevin Andrews — characterised a lot of the sector’s built-in protections as cumbersome red tape.
And I quote:
“Most agree that the aged care system is over regulated; it can stifle innovation and it can constrain the ability to provide people with the services they want… The Government has also introduced legislation to remove the cumbersome key personnel reporting requirements…”
Just think that through for a moment.
And remind yourself that what he was talking about was the care and dignity of older Australians.
The older Australians of the present, and the older Australians we all hope to be one day.
As a distillation of the Liberal ethos — deregulation to the point it’s almost the law of the jungle — it’s hard to top.
They have churned through seven ministers with responsibility for aged care — one for every year they have been in power.
The incumbent doesn’t even sit in the Cabinet. And this week he was effectively demoted.
He’s lost his responsibility and now he should lose his title.
I’ve had the honour of meeting with aged care workers on the frontline. Likewise, I have had the privilege of sitting with the families of those in aged care. I have listened to their stories.
As one said to me, this pandemic is like an X-ray because it has shown us what is broken.
And so much is broken. It already was before the pandemic, which is why Labor was relentless in calling for the Royal Commission.
In the words of its interim report:
“Many people receiving aged care services have their basic human rights denied. Their dignity is not respected and their identity is ignored… It is a shocking tale of neglect.”
And that is the title of the report: Neglect.
Just one, damning word that sits atop the report into the Morrison Government’s administration of aged care in Australia.
That’s the legacy of the Morrison Government on aged care.
Neglect is people with open sores left unattended.
Neglect is people left hungry, alone in their rooms.
Neglect is a system totally unprepared for the coronavirus.
Older Australians in aged care – and all those who love them – deserve far better than this.
It is a shocking tale. It is a shocking indictment. And the neglect spreads far.
More than 103,000 Australians are waiting for home care packages.
Packages that have already been approved.
Packages that would let them stay in their homes.
Of course, it was Labor that established Home and Community Care in the mid 1980s.
The pandemic has taken a desperately ailing system and pushed it to the brink.
It is a system the Morrison Government is fully responsible for.
But in the stark words of Peter Rozen QC, the senior counsel assisting the Royal Commission into Aged Care:
“…the evidence will reveal that neither the Commonwealth Department of Health nor the aged care regulator developed a COVID-19 plan specifically for the aged care sector.”
This is something we just can’t ignore.
Listen to their stories.
There is the desperate family of Concetta Mineo, who were reduced to calling around the hospitals because Epping Gardens wouldn’t pick up the phone.
In the words of her daughter, Nella: “We were beside ourselves.”
Then there’s Jayne Erdevicki, who learnt in an unspeakable way that her father was dead:
“I started crying and I said: ‘Why didn’t anybody call? Why didn’t anybody call? I’ve been ringing and ringing.
“And [they] go: ‘Oh he was fine this morning, he was fine this afternoon, when I checked on him he’d passed away’.”
Then there’s the family of Epping Gardens’ resident Thelma Hyatt, who were told after her death:
“When are you going to move the body? You need to move her because she’s in a body bag and we don’t have a fridge facility and she’s deteriorating while we speak.”
And part of where it has gone wrong is that we have turned looking after our older Australians into just one more source of profit.
We have let humanity and dignity become subordinate to the bottom line.
Take just two of the big listed for-profit providers.
In 2020, Regis Health Care paid out $35 million in dividends to its shareholders, including its two founders, who are regulars in the BRW rich list.
And BUPA paid nearly $15 million to its executives, while over half of its aged care homes failed basic standards of care, and almost one in three were putting the health and safety of the elderly at “serious risk”.
Staff in the sector are left begging for help. They can’t even get a pair of gloves. Some have had to use just one glove.
Staff beg for COVID-testing teams to be sent.
Staff who are low-paid and undervalued, providing the most intimate care to the most vulnerable people.
When Greg Hunt declared our aged care system was “immensely prepared”, workers on the frontline felt sheer despair.
Because they knew it wasn’t.
Thankfully, unlike the Government, the Royal Commission is not lost in wishful thinking and buck passing.
It sees a sector dangerously unprepared.
It sees the human toll.
It sees the families struggling to get information.
It sees the families who have had to say goodbye on FaceTime.
It sees the families who do not even get to say goodbye at all.
And just as earlier warning from experts hasn’t been enough to jolt the Government into action, neither have these heart-wrenching stories.
I turn again to the words of Peter Rozen, QC:
“…some families have been unable to ascertain even whether their loved ones are alive or dead. That this can happen in Australia in 2020 is unacceptable. That it is happening again so soon after Newmarch House is unforgivable.”
Peter Rozen has also said this:
“…a degree of self-congratulation and even hubris was displayed by the Commonwealth Government.”
Whatever questions are raised by the current circumstances, Richard Colbeck cannot be the answer to any of them.
There are few greater indictments on this Government than Minister Colbeck’s performance last week before the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 led by Katy Gallagher.
As he fumbled about with pieces of paper, it became clear that even the absolute basics of his job were beyond him.
We saw the heights of his ineptitude.
The fact is our aged care sector has one of the highest COVID death rates in the world.
Scott Morrison’s response? “When it rains, everyone gets wet.”
Yes, he really said that. He knew the rain was coming. He never thought to give anyone an umbrella.
In the absence of a Government plan, here are eight points the Government could consider:
- Minimum staffing levels in residential aged care;
- Reduce the home care package waiting list so more people can stay in their homes for longer;
- Ensure transparency and accountability of funding to support high quality care;
- Independent measurement and public reporting as recommended by the Royal Commission this week;
- Ensure every residential aged care facility has adequate personal protective equipment;
- Better training for staff, including on infection control;
- A better surge workforce strategy; and
- Provide additional resources so the Aged Care Royal Commission can inquire specifically into COVID-19 across the sector while not impacting or delaying the handing down of the final report.
As the Royal Commissioners appointed by this Government said on Monday:
“Had the Australian Government acted upon previous reviews of aged care, the persistent problems in aged care would have been known much earlier and the suffering of many people could have been avoided.”
An unequivocal indictment of this Government’s performance.
The pandemic has brought other forms of suffering.
I have walked Centrelink’s queues in my local community. I’ve stopped and talked with people and it often took a while, because the lines were so long and slow.
People have felt lost. Frightened.
Their livelihoods evaporated in the pandemic. Whatever certainties they had are gone.
Ordinary obligations have become daunting challenges. Putting food on the table. Putting clean clothes on the children. Buying medicine. Paying the bills, the rent, the mortgage.
These fears are playing out across Australia: in country towns, in inner cities and outer suburbs.
Many feel like they are out of options. In this atmosphere of uncertainty, the Government has found a receptive audience with its invitation to Australians to raid their own superannuation.
Boil it down to its essence and what the Government has done is ask workers to fund their own stimulus with this Early Release Scheme.
And who has been most receptive to this idea?
Young workers. Women. Those who are already at a disadvantage, and who cannot afford the hit to their savings.
So far, $33 billion has been withdrawn — comparable to and on the same scale as what the Government has paid out on JobKeeper.
More than 600,000 superannuation accounts have been reduced to zero.
This is as sneaky as it is wicked. The Government has shifted the cost of the pandemic from themselves to individuals — making workers and families pay for the pandemic by depleting their retirement incomes.
And they are withdrawing their super at the bottom of the market.
What’s happening right now is casting a shadow so long it will darken future generations.
It will increasingly fall to them to prop up budget spending ever more on aged care and pensions.
This means either that future workers will face higher taxation or that future government services — including the age pension — will come under pressure.
Universal superannuation was built to avoid this problem.
It was never designed to be a mere safety net – a welfare measure.
The Hawke and Keating Governments established superannuation to give working people a fuller and richer retirement.
So they could do better than the limited $24,000 per annum of the full age pension.
But the Liberals have never believed in universal superannuation.
It’s a perverse paradox that this self-professed party of small government prefers Australians to be dependent on bigger government into the future, with more people dependent on the anti-destitution device of the age pension.
And we can see where that takes us. Next month will be the first time the age pension hasn’t risen in nearly a quarter of a century.
As Linda Burney so rightly puts it:
“This is the worst possible time to be putting the squeeze on the household budgets of seniors and the most vulnerable.”
Some have argued that if we cut super then the Coalition might just increase the pension. The evidence is in. They want to cut super and freeze the pension.
Coalition members are opposing even the smallest 0.5 per cent increase in the Superannuation Guarantee – already legislated to come into effect in July next year.
For the average worker, that would cost their employer less than $7 per week.
The opponents would have you believe that this modest increase, after years of flat wages growth, is unaffordable.
They claim that it comes at the cost of wages.
But in 2014 when super was frozen by the Coalition Government, wages did not rise.
Since 2013, there has been around a 10 per cent increase in productivity. This has flowed almost exclusively into company profits, with wages remaining flat and working people being left behind.
Universal superannuation was built to ensure working people got a fair share of their own productivity.
The fact is universal superannuation doesn’t just mean a return for individuals. It’s also good for our economy.
For the first time in our history, we are now a net exporter of capital.
At a time of global uncertainty and disruption, having a strong domestic savings pool is a clear measure of national resilience. It is the ballast our financial system and economy needs.
It provides the capital to invest in needed infrastructure and nation building.
And as our population ages, it will take pressure off future budgets.
When superannuation was established in the early 1990s, for every Australian aged over 65, we had six people of working age supporting them.
We now have just four supporting them, and by 2050 that dependency will be down to just three.
The coronavirus has punished young Australians enough today, without requiring them to bear the cost of national ageing tomorrow.
The Government is setting us up for a future where millions of Australians are condemned to a very lean retirement.
The Liberal Party’s ideological prejudice means they certainly don’t want workers to have self-sufficiency in capital and have undermined superannuation at every opportunity.
This Coalition Government has now been in office for three terms. In their first two terms they broke their promise not to touch superannuation. If they now break their promise a third time, it should be three strikes and you’re out.
When Harry Truman was President of the US, he had a sign on his desk in the Oval Office that said: “The buck stops here.”
It was an expression of the very core of leadership: the acceptance of the responsibility that comes with it.
Not Scott Morrison.
The buck doesn’t stop with him. And, as the Ruby Princess debacle showed, neither do the boats — no matter what that little trinket in his office says.
It is just one more monument to the emptiness of his promises.
As hollow as his promise to drought victims.
As hollow as his promise to bushfire victims.
And ultimately, as hollow as his campaign launch promise to all Australians.
The Prime Minister can try to sidestep the truth all he wants. He can dismiss valid questions from journalists as “gossip” or “inside the Canberra bubble”.
He can pretend that his Government’s pattern of inaction and its very real consequences is nothing more than the trivial obsession of political insiders. He can try to reframe reality.
But it changes nothing.
Scott Morrison has had to be dragged to nearly every important decision during this pandemic.
In the words of columnist for The Australian, Niki Savva:
“At almost every critical point on almost every contentious issue, he has been forced to shift position. He stopped travel from China but waited too long to block travel from the US. He opposed lockdowns, he opposed school closures, he opposed state border restrictions, he opposed wage subsidies, he opposed pandemic leave and he suspended parliament.”
This records the lack of judgment and a complacency.
Complacency first, demonstrated so tragically during the bushfires.
I can’t help but wonder how much better shape Australia would be in if the Government hadn’t put so much energy into resisting what was obvious and essential.
Labor has made suggestions during this crisis, and we have been constructive. We want to help Australia’s recovery, not hinder it.
We want solutions, not arguments.
But when it’s the Government that is acting as a drag on our recovery, then we have a responsibility to speak up.
The actions taken by the Government to assist people and business during the pandemic, including wage subsidies, have been based on Labor values – the power of government to make a positive difference; the belief that no one should be left behind during the pandemic, and no one held back during the recovery.
The value written in every Australian heart: the fair go.
At every step of the way they have been dragged to these actions because these values go against their deepest instincts of a nation divided into winners and losers.
Likewise, only Labor values will carry us to recovery.
This unnerves the Liberals. Finding themselves in alien territory, they have panicked and run for the comfort of the familiar.
You saw it with Treasurer Frydenberg recently when he announced his inspiration for the recovery was … Margaret Thatcher.
Margaret Thatcher — the Prime Minister who declared there was no such thing as society.
The Prime Minister who let the more vulnerable regions of her country slide into ruin.
Treasurer Frydenberg was admonished by Scott Morrison — not because he had said something wrong, but because he’d said the quiet bit out loud.
Australians are depending on this Government right now. Yes, Australians are resourceful, tough-minded and independent.
But we are in a crisis.
The nation needs leadership.
It’s been a long fall for the Liberal Party: from a founder who spoke about forgotten Australians, to a leader determined to forget them — and a minister who struggles to remember them.
For more than a century, Labor has used our time in power to make Australia a better, fairer nation.
We have worked to sever the old anchor chain of class and destiny.
The pandemic is a challenge, but also an opportunity for a reset, to imagine a better future for all Australians – and set about creating one.
That means looking after the aged care residents and the pensioners of today, and those whose retirement might be decades away but who will depend upon our superannuation system.
A plan for individuals, but also a plan for economic strength.
A government with the vision to deal with the urgent necessities of today, while anticipating the challenges of tomorrow.
Those challenges can be addressed with foresight, commitment and a determination as strong as the Australian people are showing themselves and each other to be during this pandemic.
SABRA LANE: Thank you, Mr Albanese. There is a piece from the Royal Commission last year that I’d like to talk to you about, it’s called ‘The History of Aged Care Reviews’. It was a background paper prepared for the commission. And it found something like 40 reviews over the last 40 years, about half done in the last 20 years. And while the questions haven’t changed about aged care, the underlying concern still is the system hasn’t been performing as it should. It found that it’s often difficult to determine the Australian Government responses to all of these reviews because they come years after the reviews are actually handed down. The responses are often opaque. The changes often too slow to eventuate or actually fall away over time. And that governments, plural, have responded with ad hoc reforms that have not fixed the underlying problems. Isn’t the sad truth that both the major political parties have failed aged care?
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: The truth is that we need to do better. That’s the truth. The entire political system. But it’s also the truth that the interim report came down on 31 October last year. I responded with my fourth vision statement, which was on respecting and valuing older Australians, given in Brisbane, before the pandemic, before this issue. I was talking about workforce issues. I was talking about what we needed to do to address this issue. The Government says that it responded to the interim report, tick done. Quite clearly, if this is post-response to the interim report, it’s simply not good enough.
LANE: Reminder to everyone; your name, the organisation you work with, one question per person and we’re going to wrap it hard on 1:30. Thank you. Katharine Murphy?
KATHARINE MURPHY: I’m afraid of Sabra, so I’ll be very good. Katharine Murphy from The Guardian Australia. You were critical in your speech about for-profit aged care. The Victorian Liberal MP Russell Broadbent, in a critique this week, said for-profit aged care had basically turned the Australian system into a disaster waiting to happen. So, my question to you is would Labor, post-Royal Commission, contemplate a restructuring of the Australian aged care system that would end for-profit aged care?
ALBANESE: What we will do is wait for the final report of the Royal Commission. But what’s very clear is that once you moved from, essentially, a public system into the privatisation of a whole section of the sector, that needed to be accompanied by very strong regulation. By strong inspection processes. By making sure that there was transparency, the sort of transparency that I have spoken about today that the Royal Commissioners have spoken about. So, we will come up with a more comprehensive long-term plan for aged care after the Royal Commission finalises its report at the beginning of next year. But what is very clear is that the problems that have arisen, if you look at where they are, they are almost exclusively in the for-profit system at the moment. And that should tell the story about a failure to properly regulate the system, which is the Commonwealth’s responsibility.
LANE: Tamsin Rose.
TAMSIN ROSE: Thanks. Tamsin Rose from The Herald Sun. Thanks for the speech. I was just wondering, you’ve previously stated that you wouldn’t support a Belt and Road Initiative if you led the country. With the announcement made today about this new legislation, does that mean you’d be supportive of this scheme? And have you expressed your views on Belt and Road to the Victorian Premier?
ALBANESE: I have expressed it publicly that the Government I lead would not participate in the scheme. And we haven’t seen the legislation yet at all. We’ll examine the legislation. But the idea that the national interests should be looked after by the Federal Government when it comes to foreign policy is something that we’re very supportive of. I would regard it as completely unremarkable. What I do find remarkable for the Government to answer is why Simon Birmingham indeed welcomed the Victorian decision over BRI and why it is that the Federal Government sat by and allowed the Port of Darwin to be sold off to a company that is connected with a non-Australian government. And at the time, not in retrospect, at the time, as the infrastructure spokesperson, I was very critical of that decision.
LANE: Tom McIlroy.
TOM MCILROY: Thanks, Albo. Tom McIlroy from the Financial Review. The Royal Commission released research today that said as much as $3.2 billion would be needed to bring all of Australia’s aged care sector up to the best practice, best standard of care. Is that about the right price? And will Labor be looking at that kind of funding if you win next year?
ALBANESE: I have Jim Chalmers here, Katy Gallagher is our Finance spokesperson. But I’m not about to put dollar attachments. We’ll do that in the lead-up to the election of any commitments we make. But the Royal Commission has clearly identified the shortfall that’s there. It’s a shortfall of money. But it’s also a shortfall of structure.
Some of these problems aren’t just about dollars, some of the problems I have identified and solutions. I sat down with Susan Templeman and relatives last Thursday in Richmond in the Hawkesbury. They told stories about a nursing home that’s failed accreditation where the relatives of many of these residents were, and notice being given. They still failed, but notice of a week being given, ‘We’re going to come and do an inspection in a week’s time’. Bit like me giving a week’s notice about what questions are coming at 2 o’clock in the Parliament. It’s bad practice. And a whole range of these things, some of them, will be about dollars, but many of them aren’t.
LANE: Is there a danger in promising more money? Given I have spoken to experts this week. They say about one in four homes, aged care homes, is actually doing quite well and if the Government funds more, there’s a risk of that going to shareholders.
ALBANESE: That’s one of the things that we need to look at. The examples that I gave of, at the same time as you have these massive problems some of the very companies that are failing accreditation are doing very well, doing very well. What I want to see is the residents doing well. What we have at the moment is some of the investors doing very well and appearing on the BRW Rich List. I think we’ve got our priorities wrong as a nation when that’s the case. And we need to address it.
LANE: David Crowe.
DAVID CROWE: Thanks. David Crowe from the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age. Thanks for your speech. In recent days you seem a bit reluctant to criticise any of the state premiers for their border controls. Yet we’ve seen that people can’t get across the border to go to hospital, can’t get across a border to go to work. We have seen Nationals speak up about this. We saw the Business Council of Australia and 28 groups say that there needs to be an end to this patch work and national principles. Do you fault any of the premiers for the way they’re using these or imposing these state border controls? Do you support a stronger national regime for how these border closures are actually managed?
ALBANESE: Well, I make two points and you quite rightly identified that I haven’t singled out premiers. I’ve been consistent. And I have said that two issues apply here. One is that the state leaders, in the absence of national leadership, need to listen to their respective state medical advisors, the Chief Medical Officer, they have different titles in different states. I certainly think that when you look at Western Australia, for example, I’ve been very critical of the Federal Government joining in with Clive Palmer on an appeal. I was with Mark McGowan. I was against Clive Palmer and Scott Morrison on that issue. In Queensland, they were singled out by the Government as well, Annastacia Palaszczuk. I think people look back at when that criticism was made and probably think that it served Queensland well. So, that’s the first point. And the same as Tasmania and South Australia have, of course, had closed borders. But the Federal Government has ignored them. I think that in terms of the National Cabinet, what is very obvious now is that it isn’t a National Cabinet. I call it the ‘so-called National Cabinet’ because that was always the case. From the Sunday when Gladys Berejiklian and Daniel Andrews essentially stood Scott Morrison up on school closures, what happens now at so-called National Cabinet is state premiers all tell each other what they’re doing, and Scott Morrison goes out and announces it and pretends it is a national decision and then spends the time in between the National Cabinet meetings criticising the decision that he’s been a part of. That’s not a cabinet. And I do think that it’s up to Scott Morrison to explain why it is that there isn’t a national approach to these issues including borders. It’s up to him to explain. He made the decision to have a so-called National Cabinet that excluded the Federal Opposition. And I haven’t complained about that, that’s a decision for him. But he has a responsibility for it. It’s up to him to explain the contradiction that’s there between pretending there’s a cabinet when there’s clearly nothing like cabinet-based decision making.
LANE: Greg Brown.
GREG BROWN: Greg Brown from The Australian. Mr Albanese, since you became Labor Leader you said you want to hasten slowly in announcing policies, but you have made some commitments. Before COVID you committed to increasing Newstart, the welfare measure, and also to net zero emissions. And post-COVID, during the by-election, you committed to more money for the ABC. But we’ve heard no policies about the biggest cohort that turned its back on Labor, aspirational workers and small business owners. So, what is the evidence that you’ve shifted the Party’s focus and appeal away from a narrow progressive base to a broader constituency with a message that can win over the middle?
ALBANESE: Greg, you’ve got to go back and have a look at the speeches that we have laid out.
BROWN: No, policy commitments. So, you’ve made policy commitments in the areas.
ALBANESE: What’s our commitment on Newstart?
BROWN: You’ve committed to increase Newstart.
ALBANESE: Yes, we’ve said it should be higher, something that the Government’s conceded. We’re saying $40 a day isn’t enough and something in terms of when they’ve got the supplement through JobSeeker, something that they have conceded. The fact is that we will outline all of our policies. But we have also put in place a range of measures including saying that we should be concerned about jobs and the future of work. We have created Jobs and Skills Australia, is what we have committed to. That was the first commitment that we have made. A core commitment about assisting small business to grow into medium-sized businesses. And medium-sized businesses to grow into large business. A core commitment that’s about aspiration. That’s about identifying what Australia’s future work patterns look like and giving Australians the skills and the training to deliver it. Good for them. But also good for the business community. That was the first commitment that I made as Labor Leader. Something that’s fundamental to our economy. Something that’s been ignored by the current Government. Something that’s about aspiration. Something that’s about creating opportunity.
I see myself as the embodiment of aspiration. You know, a kid who grew up in a council house with a single mum, and who has risen to be Leader of the Labor Party, the first person in my family to finish school but who got the opportunity to go to university because we believed in the power of education to change people’s lives. I want to translate that into support, in terms of growth in the economy, about aspiration, not just for individuals, but aspiration for the sort of country we can be. A fairer country. A country that grows. But a country that recognises that growing the economy isn’t the end in itself. I want an economy that works for people not the other way around.
LANE: Michelle Grattan.
MICHELLE GRATTAN: Michelle Grattan from the Conversation. Mr Albanese, can I take you back to Katharine Murphy’s question where I think you were fairly generalised, but you’ve been around these issues a long time in Government and in Opposition and obviously delved greatly into them in the current situation. In general, do you believe that reform of the aged care sector is basically a matter of changing and improving regulation of the present structure or do you think there needs to be some shift in the funding model which moves it somewhat away from the for-profit sector towards the not-for-profit sector/government funding/government-run homes and so on, which on the evidence out this week seemed to perform better?
ALBANESE: I think, undoubtedly, and I was a former Shadow Minister for Aged Care, I was Shadow Minister for Ageing and Seniors under Simon Crean’s leadership, and I believe that the changes that will be required will include structural changes, to the structure of the industry. Quite clearly, we have to be very open to that. And I think that will be undoubtedly a part of the Royal Commission’s recommendations and something that should be a part of the Royal Commission’s recommendations.
GRATTAN: Thank you.
LANE: Andrew Clennell.
ANDREW CLENNELL: Mr Albanese, Andrew Clennell, Sky News. Do you expect the next election to be next year? And do you accept it will be difficult to win because Scott Morrison’s happy to go to the centre, and even the left, in terms of things like the $200 billion stimulus, any ground you can campaign on he seems to take.
ALBANESE: I expect the election will be sometime between August 2021 and May 2022. And I’ll be ready each and every one of those days, as will my entire team. One of the things that we’ve done during this period is develop a draft platform for the party, is to develop a whole range of policies that we’ve used the time that we have through a range of Shadow Cabinet subcommittees that we have to be able to go forward whenever the button is pressed. We will have a smaller agenda than Labor took to the last election. That doesn’t mean it’s a less ambitious agenda. It just means that when you’ve got 284 things to talk about, that’s a very long doorknock if you want to go through the list. And what I want as Labor Leader is to have a series of commitments that are clearly understood, that are able to be articulated in a clear way. And I believe we’re well-positioned. I think that by the time we get to the next election, the Government will be shooting for more than a decade in office, longer than the Howard Government is what they’ll be asking for. Say what you like about John Howard, I was critical of a range of measures that he had, but you knew what he stood for. Speak about Scott Morrison, you know, shifting to the centre, I don’t think it’s a matter of that. I think it’s just a matter of Scott Morrison being shifty.
And the fact is that at the time of the next election, people will be asking themselves, ‘Am I better off than I was in 2013? What are the economic, social or environmental reforms that the Coalition Government of eight or nine years standing, shooting for more than a decade, will be remembered for?’ I know what our legacy is from our short time in office. In terms of the Rudd and Gillard Governments. And it’s Labor Governments that change things. It’s Labor Governments that do the big reforms. It’s Labor Governments that will be required, the values that will be required to take us into the economic recovery. And I believe we will be successful at the next election. But that will be a matter for the Australian people. But we will have a strong, coherent narrative about growing the economy, about supporting jobs as the core principle but also about good social policy including looking after vulnerable Australians, not leaving people behind, as well as acting on environmental challenges such as climate change.
LANE: Andrew Probyn.
ANDREW PROBYN: Mr Albanese, Andrew Probyn from the ABC. The Labor Party’s been on a bit of a journey when it comes to the Belt and Road Initiative. Back in September 2017, Chris Bowen said that Labor would have an open-mind on collaborating with China on BRI. And Penny Wong said that Labor wouldn’t be reflexively negative to the BRI. At what point of time and why did you have a rethink about the Belt and Road Initiative?
LANE: No, sorry, mate, no second questions.
PROBYN: Port of Darwin, should that be reconsidered?
ALBANESE: Well, it would be interesting to see the legislation, won’t it, to see how fair dinkum the Government is. Whether it’s about a headline today or whether it’s about actually changes. That’ll be interesting for the Government to determine. With regard to BRI, in terms of the response, without going into a long answer about the changes that have occurred in international politics, I think it’s fair to say that the stance of the People’s Republic of China has changed under Xi in recent times. They are far
more interventionist than was the case under previous regimes. And that, of course, has to be taken into account when we’re talking about Australia’s national interests.
LANE: Tegan George.
TEGAN GEORGE: Mr Albanese, Tegan George from Network 10. Earlier today we heard Minister Colbeck talking about the aged care COVID response in the Senate. He conceded there have been missteps. In your opinion what was the first misstep, the first crucial thing the Government missed specifically during this pandemic and when do you believe it happened?
ALBANESE: It happened when Scott Morrison went to the courtyard on the Thursday afternoon after Question Time had finished. He went there and stood up with a document and said, ‘Here is the outline of our plan to deal with COVID’. And in it, it said, ‘We’re responsible for aged care’, and there was no plan. No specific aged care plan from the Government in spite of the fact that they had the interim report in October, they had the overseas experience in January and February that showed in places like Italy and Spain and others that had major outbreaks during this pandemic first. They failed to learn any of the experience which had already taken place overseas, the older people were particularly vulnerable and the aged care sector. So, for example, overseas one of the things that they did was very quickly move people into hospitals. And to separate out, once there was an infection. That was something they learnt. We didn’t learn from anything. What we had, and Minister Colbeck today in Parliament, I forget the exact term that he used, but I’m sure it will appear on 2, 7, 9, 10 and SBS tonight saying, ‘Everything’s hunky dory and we did well’. The boast that I quoted from Greg Hunt in the speech, I think it traces back to then, to that document. Again, they had the marketing document done, they just didn’t do the follow-up.
LANE: Pablo Vinales.
PABLO VINALES: Pablo Vinales, SBS news. Mr Albanese, since the last election we have seen a lot of anxiety from some in the party about winning back the more conservative regional voters. And there are some parallels with that when you look at multicultural voters, the same-sex marriage plebiscite, Labor electorates had a very high ‘No’ turn-out in Sydney. And even the vaccine that’s come out, some religious leaders are expressing concerns about that. How is Labor going to balance its more progressive views and try and win over multicultural voters towards the next election?
ALBANESE: We had a test recently in a regional seat. Whether you go north, south, east or west from here, Kristy McBain is the local member. From Yass to Batlow, across to the coast, down to Cooma, Kristy McBain is the local member. A real test, not a fantasy, a real test whereby for those of you who live in Canberra you will know that the Liberal Party outspent us massively during that by-election campaign. Because you couldn’t turn on a TV without getting book-ended ads during every ad break. So, we’ve had a test. The fact is that there’s nothing new about Labor as a party of government which seeks to represent all Australians but seeks to get the support of a majority of Australians. And that means that we have to appeal very broadly. I see my own seat as a bit of a microcosm of that. A seat that, yes, has some wealthier people with gentrification, but also has the highest number of boarding houses of any electorate in Australia, that also has a significant multicultural population. Whether it’s the Portuguese in Petersham, the Chinese in Ashfield, the Greeks in Marrickville, the Lebanese in the southern part of the electorate, the Italians in Leichardt and Haberfield. I’ve been forced each and every day that I’ve been in Parliament, and I wouldn’t have got here were I not able to appeal to people of different backgrounds, different faiths, and to give respect to those views. I’m working very strongly with multicultural communities. I’ll continue to do so. And what we’ve seen this week from the Liberal Party is Michael Sukkar, the Assistant Treasurer, involved with people in Victoria who used a derogatory term to people of background from, not Mr Sukkar, but the group involved, of people from subcontinent backgrounds using people in a way that is entirely inappropriate. Michael Sukkar’s still sitting in the Parliament as the Assistant Treasurer in spite of the fact that each day Nine newspapers have had new revelations. Compare that with the action that I took when I saw inappropriate behaviour in my Party.
LANE: Chris Uhlmann.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Mr Albanese, Chris Uhlmann, Nine News. You said that JobKeeper should taper but not at the end of the September, you said the borders should open but not now. So, if not a date then a marker as to when JobKeeper should start to taper and what would you be looking for, for borders to reopen?
ALBANESE: Well, JobKeeper, we’re concerned at the moment, for example, we’re concerned with the legislation that’s before the Parliament. And we moved amendments yesterday that were defeated. Under JobKeeper at the moment, the way that it’s designed, this legislation, a company that has lost 10 per cent of its revenue can remove 40 per cent of the work available to an individual worker. So, essentially move from five days to three days’ work. That worker, if you’re a retail worker, unless changes are made, could be earning less money than someone working for a less successful company who’s eligible for the entire JobKeeper payment. So, that’s the concern that we had with the design of the system. We are concerned also that an early removal will result in a longer and a deeper recession. And indeed, changed the legislation last time Parliament sat to give Minister Frydenberg the opportunity to change without going back to Parliament. We gave them that flexibility because we were concerned that people were missing out. So, it needs to be based upon the circumstances at the time. We know now that we certainly aren’t through this. And the Government, bear in mind, with its snap-back policy, the reason why we’ve got to have legislation at all is that it was all going to end in September. It was all going to be back to normal and all government support withdrawn. That clearly was premature. Our call was right. The Government was wrong. We’ll continue to push the Government to make sure that we’re defended. On borders, I don’t want restrictions of any sort to be there for one day more than is necessary, be very clear. That’s my position. But at the same time, I do think that we need to listen to the medical advice. And we do need, I think, for the Government, when it comes to the so-called National Cabinet, to actually have something that looks like a national process coming out of it.
LANE: We are close to time. Mr Albanese, thank you very much. Everybody, please join me in thanking Anthony Albanese.