Doorstop Interview – Melbourne – Tuesday 18 May 2021







TUESDAY, 18 MAY 2021

SUBJECTS: Federal Budget 2021; Housing Australia Future Fund; social housing; quarantine; vaccine rollout; India repatriation flights.

JOSH BURNS, MEMBER FOR MACNAMARA: We are here at Launch Housing. And we’re here with the incredible staff and some of the participants and former people who have stayed here in this crisis accommodation place. This place literally saves lives. It is a place for women to find refuge, a small part away from the chaos before. This place literally turns lives around. And we are so proud to be here. And so proud to be here with staff. And we say thank you very much. I’m joined by some of my Labor colleagues. And I’m really pleased that they could all join me here today. But I’m going to hand over to Anthony Albanese to say a few words.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Josh. The gentleman sitting just here is a saint. His name is Robin Friday. He bought his home in 1973. He paid $28,000 for it. He sold his home for 150 times that amount. And instead of banking that windfall gain, he discussed with his family how he could make a contribution back to the community, back to improving people’s lives. And under construction and open very soon is new housing built by Launch Housing for emergency accommodation that will assist 60 women and 140 children. An incredible difference to people’s lives. And I want to say thank you to Robin. You are an inspiration to all of us about making a difference to people’s lives. But whilst that’s very welcomed, and there should be more of it, how is it that the Federal Government, in spite of $100 billion of new spending last week, trillion dollars of debt, haven’t found a single dollar for social housing in their last two budgets? Not a cent. The fact is that each and every night, women and children get turned away from emergency accommodation. They have to make a choice of sleeping in their car, sleeping on the street or in a park, or going back to dangerous circumstances. It’s not good enough. We need to do better. Which is why the Housing Australia Future Fund that we announced last week is so important. The Housing Australia Future Fund will build 20,000 new social housing units. It will build 10,000 affordable housing units. Importantly, we’ll set aside 4000 of those new dwellings for women and children escaping domestic violence. People come here for a short period of time before they go and settle in more secure housing. We’ve met Amanda today, who has turned her life around with her young daughter, who is now studying to put back into the community. Another inspiration. But at the moment, the services here simply don’t have enough places to place women in. We must do better. This will make an enormous difference whilst, of course, creating jobs in construction.

I do want to comment on one further thing today, which is a theme that is coming through with this Government. The fact that they’re all promise and no delivery. Scott Morrison, we know, made a whole lot of promises in last week’s Budget that will never be delivered. Just like 449,000 of the 450,000 JobMaker jobs that he promised in last year’s Budget haven’t been delivered. But here in Victoria, in particular, of course, he promised a range of new commuter carparks. Today, we learned that five of those he’s abandoned that commitment for, including one here in this electorate at Balaclava. If he’d bothered to ask the local council or bother to ask the state government, he would know that that land had been set aside for social housing. So immune he is to even thinking about social housing, that didn’t come into the picture. There have been only two of the commuter carparks that were promised at the last election built. So when people look at what Scott Morrison says, they’ve got to look at what he actually does. No wonder he can’t build quarantine centres if he can’t even build a commuter carpark that he’s promised. And that’s the case right around the country with his Urban Congestion Fund. Just a series of promises in order to get him through an election. Promises which he either had no intention of keeping or couldn’t possibly keep because they just didn’t stack up. 

Australia needs a Government that’s as good and brave and resilient as Australian people have shown themselves to be during COVID. We’re not getting that at the moment. What we’re getting is a Government focused on the 24-hour political cycle, not worried about producing outcomes. And what today is about is reinforcing, and it has really reminded me of how important our commitment to social housing is.

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS: Thanks, Albo. It’s great to be here with Penny, Jenny and Josh. There’s not many politicians who understand the scale of the housing crisis we’ve got at the moment as Josh does. Josh has written about it. He’s helped me to understand it. And he’s brought me here to see it a couple of weeks ago, sitting down with Clara and with Bevan and the team to understand the serious crisis that we’ve got our hands right now. This place is an oasis in the desert. It provides crisis accommodation for women often fleeing domestic violence. One of the big problems, though, is that places like this are full right across the country. That means that people have to stay longer, largely because there isn’t enough long-term accommodation for people to move into. Albo, you made the point last Thursday night. Last year, 10,000 mums and kids fleeing domestic violence got turned away from crisis accommodation because there wasn’t a bed. That means that you have to sleep in the car with the kids, sleep on a friend’s couch, or go back to the violence that you’re trying to flee. What the team here told me a couple of weeks ago is we need not just crisis accommodation, you need more long-term accommodation. Now, that’s what they’re building out a Dandenong. They’re building long-term accommodation for mums and kids to get them back together. They’re doing that with funding from the state government, funding from the Nurses and Midwifery Federation. They’re doing it with the help of money from this saint, Mr Friday. The Friday family are giving mums and kids a Saturday and a Sunday, giving them hope. But without a cent from the Federal Government. That’s why when we announced the Housing Australia Future Fund last week, we said of up to 20,000 social housing homes, we’re going to dedicate 4000 of them for mums and kids fleeing domestic violence. You know, there aren’t many policies when you announce them that get the support of everybody from the Master Builders Association and the Real Estate Institute of Australia right through the Vinnies and Homelessness Australia. But this is one of them, because it creates thousands of jobs when you’re building them. And it changes thousands and thousands of lives forever, people like Amanda that we met today. The only people opposed to this are the Liberal Party and the National Party. The Homelessness Minister has now been in the job for 147 days. He’s only said the word homelessness twice. It’s like Fonzie from Happy Days who couldn’t say ‘wrong’. He can’t even say ‘homelessness’. Well, we need this Federal Government to listen and act. Not just say the word but invest real money, like this man and his family are, to reduce homelessness here in Victoria, right across the country.

ALBANESE: We’re happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that only a handful of residents in disability accommodation have received the COVID-19 vaccine? And what are your concerns about this slow rollout?

ALBANESE: Well, this is a national disgrace. The fact that less than a thousand people who have disabilities of the around about 26,000 who are provided with support, so an immunisation rate of under four per cent, have received support. People with disabilities were supposed to be at the front of the queue. And what’s clear is that they’re not getting the support that they need. And what’s more, workers who work with people with disabilities aren’t getting any support at all. And that makes a big difference. I visited here with Josh just a while ago, Sacred Heart here in St Kilda, aged care residents who also haven’t been vaccinated. Not a single one of the workers there were vaccinated. The Government needs to get vaccination and quarantine right. And I might ask Penny to make some comments about the quarantine issue. 

PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY IN THE SENATE & SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: You’ve seen quite a lot of media, a lot of reports about what’s happening in India and what’s happening with quarantine. And I just want to say this. Mr Morrison has had over a year to get this right. He said over a year since the borders were closed. He said people would be home by last Christmas. But we still have Australians in perilous situations. And we have Australians in situations which are getting even more dangerous. Meanwhile, we see Mr Morrison still refusing to step up and take responsibility for a safe national quarantine system, which is fundamental, which is critical to making sure Australians get home safely. We’ve seen what’s happening with those who were supposed to come back on the repatriation flight from India. People who were not allowed to board. Questions raised about whether the tests were accurate. I mean, what a shambles. What a shambles. Australian citizens should be looked after better than this. So what I would say to Mr Morrison is this really is a time you have to stop trying to wash your hands of this. These are Australian citizens and their families who are stranded overseas. And it’s up to you to do the right thing.

JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, many have said aged care residents should have priority with their vaccinations over disability residents. Do you think that is right?

ALBANESE: Look, aged care residents and people with disabilities were people who were supposed to both be in the front of the queue. They were in the first stage. We were told that four million Australians would be vaccinated by the end of March. This Government’s been complacent. And the consequences of that have been very concerning for some of the most vulnerable people in our community. The Government had two jobs this year. To get the vaccination rollout right and to fix quarantine. It’s done neither. And they’ve been complacent in both areas. Whether it’s vaccinating older Australians, whether it’s vaccinating people with disabilities, or whether it’s the establishment of appropriate quarantine facilities, they just haven’t delivered. And Mr Morrison, who’s visiting Queensland today, yesterday was talking about his opposition to the Wellcamp proposal promoted by Premier Palaszczuk last October, forwarded to the Government, because people would have to drive from Brisbane Airport to Toowoomba. Wellcamp is an airport. It was a proposal for quarantine facilities right at the airport site and close to the Toowoomba health facilities that could have been used. Mr Morrison dismissed that. He’s certainly been more positive about Victoria. But he needs to explain to Queenslanders why it is that he simply has rejected their proposal which is practical.

JOURNALIST: On the vaccination rollout, are you worried about reports that older Australians are putting off getting their AstraZeneca shot in the hope that they will be able to get Pfizer or Moderna later in the year?

ALBANESE: Well, I’m very concerned about the mixed messages that have come from the Government. I have a very clear message, which is people should get vaccinated. We need to get people vaccinated to keep them safe. But for this Government, which has a different message every day, last week we had the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, Simon Birmingham, anyone who was asked a question about the rollout of the vaccine gave a different answer. I think Australians are entitled to a Government that gives them certainty, a Government that gives them a timetable. And that uncertainty is undermining the rollout of the vaccine. There’s no question about that. 

JOURNALIST: On borders, what should the threshold be on opening up international borders?

ALBANESE: Well, we should be keeping people safe, taking the health advice. We should fix quarantine and fix the rollout of the vaccine. But what this Government has done is made a political decision. That’s what’s in the Budget. What’s in the Budget is the borders will be open after the next election. Everything that this Government does is about politics first, second and third. And in this case, what they’ve said is, ‘We’ll open up after the election. Before then, we’ll give a different answer every day’. But we know that fixing quarantine and fixing the rollout of the vaccine will allow the economy to be opened up, jobs to be created. The big danger for Australia is, if we don’t get that right, the rest of the world will open up before us. We’re a globalised economy. That will have an impact on jobs and the economy here. But everything with this Government, every timetable, there’s only one thing they look at, which is the date of next election, which is why so many of their promises of funding too run out after the election. What we know is that real wages will continue to decline over the next four years. People will continue to struggle. And this Government doesn’t have a plan to address the big challenges that Australia is facing.

JOURNALIST: So just pinning down a timeframe on borders. The CEO of Virgin is calling for international borders to be opened before the middle of next year. Do you think that is possible?

ALBANESE: We need to fix the rollout of the vaccine. And we need to fix quarantine. That’s what we need to do as taking the health advice. No one supports just opening borders without concern about the health consequences. But what we do need to do is to get that right. The Government’s had more than a year to get it right. And they haven’t up to this point. 

JOURNALIST: Just in terms of the situation with India, with the people that are stuck over there, does Labor believe that Australians who tested positive but then got a negative result afterwards should be able to fly home this week?

WONG: As always, we listen to the health advice on that particular issue. We would listen to the health advice on that particular issue. But I would say again what I said earlier. This is a shambles. This is a shambles. I can remember Labor, I and other people, including I think Jason and others, saying we have got people stranded in India last year. They need to be helped to get home. You might recall India had a domestic lockdown, which meant many Australians, thousands of Australians, couldn’t even get to the airports to get any flights. And we were urging the Government for repatriation flights and quarantine. And I said at the time, and I regret that it has proved true, the longer people stay there, the more dangerous and the more perilous it will get. And that is about their safety being compromised and Australian safety, the broader Australian community safety, being compromised. So the Government should be fixing this up. So on the testing regime, I don’t think the Government should simply be leaving it to Qantas. The Government should be taking responsibility to ensure the testing regime is robust so we don’t see this happening again. But more importantly, for the longer term, the Government should be doing what it should have done last year, which is to have quarantine.

JOURNALIST: But should they be able to board the next flight?

WONG: I’ve just said to you, I think, I would take, if I were the Foreign Minister, I would take public health advice on that point. But it should never have got to this. And that is the key issue. It has only got to this situation because the Federal Government has refused to take responsibility. 

JOURNALIST: But it has gotten to that situation.

WONG: Yes. And I’ve answered your question. 

JOURNALIST: So Mr Albanese, should they come home this week? 

ALBANESE: I will tell you one of the things we wouldn’t do, which is to privatise health services to Qantas. It’s actually not their job. And when Prime Minister Morrison was asked yesterday, he set a new bar for handing over responsibility to someone else. Everything is someone else’s fault with this Government. And on this, he said it was Qantas’ responsibility, the testing of people for COVID. How is that right? It is the Australian Government’s responsibility to get this right. We have a responsibility to our citizens that is not being fulfilled by this Government. And we need to make sure that we do get it right. Thanks.