Radio Interview – Five AA Breakfast
WILL GOODINGS, HOST: We are joined live in the studio by the Prime Minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese. Prime Minister, good morning to you.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good morning. Great to be in the studio here.
DAVID PENBERTHY, HOST: Great to have you here, PM. We always like to take a fair degree of credit for your meteoric rise.
PRIME MINISTER: Oh there’s no doubt it wouldn’t have happened without the ‘Albo and Pyne: Two Tribes’ segment on Five AA.
PENBERTHY: Christopher claims all of the credit.
PRIME MINISTER: Well he’s like that. He did kind of help us get elected. Not in a way that he was anticipating.
PENBERTHY: We always say the path to the Lodge comes through the Five AA Breakfast Show studios. But yesterday, PM, you were hoping, I guess, that the path to victory for the Voice is going to make its way along The Parade in Norwood. Now we started the show jokingly saying we don’t know if the Five AA Breakfast Show has many listeners in Norwood, because to put it in a Sydney context, Norwood’s sort of like a bit like the Balmain of Adelaide. What do you say to our listeners in the outer suburbs who are sort of rolling their eyes a bit, or worse are annoyed by the amount of time and attention the Voice has consumed? Because it has felt like an all consuming thing.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’re a government that can walk and chew gum at the same time. Last week, we passed our Housing Australia Future Fund. On Tuesday, I was in Melbourne announcing the first of our social housing accelerator, $2 billion that we’re doing. Today, we’re announcing here in Adelaide our inquiry into COVID. Yesterday, I was in Newcastle speaking about our National Reconstruction Fund at Varley, a manufacturing facility there that builds trains. So we can do lots of things at once. I do note that the Coalition have tried to run that argument. But in question time, the Treasurer has not had a single question from the Opposition in recent weeks. It’s been months since they bothered to ask him a question about the national economy. At the same time, here’s a little stat for you, there have been 18 times where unemployment has had a three in front of it, 15 of them have been during the period we’ve been in government. So, we’re creating jobs, over half a million. We’re dealing with cost of living challenges. Five and a half million Australians received an increase in their payments yesterday. Yesterday 65,000 additional single parents were eligible for the single parenting payment as a result of the changes that we put in the budget. So we’re getting on with a whole range of work and activity out there right across the spectrum. But at the same time, we’re giving Australians the chance to do something that is unfinished business, as John Howard called it in 2007, which is to recognise our first Australians in our Constitution.
PENBERTHY: All the polls suggest that’s not going to happen, though, and right across the board, even the Guardian a couple of weeks ago had a poll analysis saying that they think it’s going to go down. One of the things that drives a lot of our listeners around the twist is the sort of corporate preachiness that has accompanied some of this. None bigger example, I guess, than the press conference you held with Alan Joyce with the three painted planes. Do you think that, in hindsight, progressive causes need to rethink their strategy in terms of winning hearts and minds? Because that doesn’t seem to have worked.
PRIME MINISTER: We’ve been out there talking with whoever. Yesterday in Norwood, I likened it to Leichardt, a place familiar with your good self, Pembo, and the Italian community. It was a really warm reception. We went to a shopping centre. It wasn’t controlled. We just walked down the street and talked to whoever wanted to engage with us. And we had with us, Sean Gordon from Liberals for Yes. Dean Parkin, Senator Marielle Smith. So, we had a broad range of people showing the breadth of support for the Yes campaign. Look, I’m confident that when people focus on what the question is, and this is about two simple things, it’s just about recognising Indigenous Australians in our Constitution, essentially saying in our nation’s founding document, we didn’t begin in 1788, we have this long history going back, the oldest continuous culture on earth. And secondly, they want recognition through an advisory committee, which is all the Voice is. An advisory committee, because we know that when you listen to people, you get better outcomes. There’s been a lot of waste over the years in Indigenous Affairs. A lot of money with the best intentions have been thrown at this. But it’s not achieving the results that it should. And we’ll get better results when we actually talk to people directly and have that consultation mechanism. But it won’t change the way that government functions. It won’t impact on most of your listeners lives directly, it won’t impact at all, but it just might make the lives of some of the most disadvantaged people that much better.
PENBERTHY: We’ll ask you about Qantas in a second, but I just want to take you back to something you said a moment ago. You tied together unemployment and cost of living. Can you continue to drive down inflation whilst unemployment has a three in front of it?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’re defying what some would see as orthodoxy. We want to continue to put that downward pressure on inflation and inflation is heading in the right direction, but we don’t want to see people out of work. We regard that as an essential job of government, is to try and secure jobs. And more than half a million jobs have been created since we came into office. We see that as a very good thing. We don’t want people to be left behind and that’s why the measures that we have on inflation to deal with it are all ones designed not to put more pressure on people. So, put downward pressure on inflation without putting pressure on people. The way that you do that is by having targeted cost of living relief. So, cheaper childcare fee free TAFE, the measures that we’ve introduced, our power price relief plan, as well as dealing with supply chain issues. So, fee free TAFE leads to dealing with the challenges that are there in the labour market and skills shortages. For example, our National Reconstruction fund supporting industry. And the third, we’ve turned a $78 billion deficit that was projected under the former government into a $20 billion surplus. So, having that responsible economic management is making a big difference.
PENBERTHY: Commodities help on that.
PRIME MINISTER: It is, but that’s a minor part of it. That is very much a minor part of what has been achieved. It’s important, but it’s not the only factor. What we’ve done as well, unlike previous governments, is where there have been an increase in prices for commodities and increased revenue, we’ve put it to the bottom line to pay off debt. Previous governments spent it. We’ve made sure that that hasn’t happened.
PENBERTHY: Qantas hasn’t flown internationally out of South Australia for a decade. Yet at the same time, during the COVID period, Qatar Airways flew and repatriated South Australians back home and did so often at great expense. How do you explain to South Australians the decision to deny Qatar Airways more flights into the country at the same time as making life easier for Qantas to operate?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, Qatar, of course, can fly as many flights as they want into Adelaide. Qatar also haven’t brought back all the flights that they used to have. They used to have a direct flight into Canberra. They haven’t brought that back. I would like to see Qantas fly from Adelaide as well. We need to make sure though, that we have a system as the flights are coming back to Australia. And the last fortnight when I was up in Indonesia, Garuda have started flying back to Australia. We’ve got an increased number of flights announced last week from Emirates. Qatar, of course, can choose to increase their capacity into the gateway airports by just changing the aircraft from triple sevens up to A380s. So, there’s plenty of scope there.
PENBERTHY: But feathering the nest for Qantas does nothing for South Australians, does it?
PRIME MINISTER: But no one’s doing that. My government has stood up to Qantas. We made a submission, for example, in the case that they lost last week about sacking workers. When those workers were sacked and replaced, no one in the Coalition was critical. They all said that’s just a business decision. We made a submission to the Fair Work Commission backing up the workforce and the claim that was there from the TWU. We have supported a competitive aviation industry. Qatar last applied for an increase in 2018. It took four years for the former Coalition government to grant just an additional seven flights going from 21 being allowed into those gateway airports, up to 28. I’ll tell you, one of the reasons why you have the gateway airport system, which applies to Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, is because if you didn’t, all of the airlines would want to fly just to those places and not to Adelaide, Gold Coast, Hobart, Newcastle, all of the other airports that are available around the country. So, I support very much a competitive aviation system and that’s why we produced an aviation paper just a week ago that’s been in the works for a long period of time.
HOST: PM just finally, you’re here in town today to announce, aside from the campaigning you did yesterday, but you’re also going to be teaming up with the Health Minister, Mark Butler, for this COVID inquiry announcement. Why has it fallen short of being a Royal Commission? And what do you make of the criticism that’s aimed at sort of giving a bit of cover to Labor Premiers who might not like to take the stand?
PRIME MINISTER: It’s pretty absurd. And one of the things about what happened during the pandemic is that Australians worked for each other. They all made sacrifices and it was a really tough period. And from time to time, there were attempts to have division, and there was division between the Commonwealth, for example, backing up Clive Palmer above Mark McGowan in Western Australia over the changes that were brought in. What we’re interested in with this inquiry, and there’s been more than 20 inquiries already, is bringing together all of the work that’s been done by people like Dr Peter Shergold and the various inquiries that have taken place. There was a commission inquiry into the Ruby Princess events in Sydney, for example. It’s been a range of inquiries, bringing all that together. What are the lessons going forward that Australia needs to learn? What worked, what didn’t work? How do we get better preparedness for the future? That’s the objective here.
HOST: Why not give it the authority of a Royal Commission?
PRIME MINISTER: Because, quite frankly, a Royal Commission can take more time and is normally headed by a judge. What we’ve appointed is three experts that you’ll see, including an expert in epidemiology, an expert in public service and an expert economist. We have a panel of three. I said during the election campaign there’d be some form of inquiry. The advice that we’ve received is that this is the best form of inquiry. It’s correct to say it needs to be forward looking, but of course, you examine the past to see what lessons are there. But there have already been so many inquiries. I think that one of the lessons is that the country needs to work together and the Coalition’s criticism of this inquiry, before they’ve even seen the terms of reference. There’s a pattern here. They’re against it, no matter what it is. They’re against the Housing Australia Future Fund. They’re against childcare support. They’re against everything that the government does. They’ve really turned the Coalition into the no coalition. And you can’t be an alternative government by just saying no to everything. And, of course, at the time, here in South Australia, there were Liberal Governments in South Australia and NSW as well as, of course, Tasmania. So half of the States had Liberal governments, half of them had Labor governments. So, the idea that it is somehow inadequate is, in my view, absurd.
GOODINGS: I think here in South Australia, we just still want to know if you can catch COVID off a pizza box. That’s the number one question.
PRIME MINISTER: That’s the number one.
GOODINGS: Or touching the footy.
PENBERTHY: Hey, PM, great to have you in town. Enjoy the rest of your stay here in SA and hopefully we can catch up with you again soon, Anthony Albanese.
PRIME MINISTER: Always good to be in the studio.