Press Conference – Sydney – Thursday 21 April 2022


SUBJECTS: Leader’s debate; housing affordability; aged care; NDIS; China Solomon Islands deal; Western Australia; everything is going up except wages; Jenkins report; inflation.
JASON CLARE, LABOR CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON: What we saw last night were real people, with real problems, asking for real help. I think the questions that people asked at the debate last night give us an insight into what Aussies are really worried about. We got questions right off the bat, about housing affordability. It’s harder to buy a house today than ever before, and lots of mums and dads are really worried about whether their kids are ever going to be able to afford to buy a house. There were questions about aged care. Aged care has become a nightmare. Lots of mums and dads are worried about putting their own mums and dads into aged care and you can understand why. There were questions about the NDIS. Lots of mums and dads looking after kids with autism are struggling under the weight of cuts to the NDIS. And there were questions about corruption, shows people care about this issue, shows that people are worried about corruption in Canberra, and they want a Government that’s going to do something about it. These people weren’t saying ‘gotcha’. They were saying ‘help me’. And the Prime Minister had no answers at all. The Prime Minister just had excuses. No solutions. I think the big difference that we saw in the debate last night, is that Albo outlined real plans, practical plans to help people with the real life problems that they have, that they want help with, and that all Aussies care about. The Prime Minister just had excuses. Worse than that, his usual answer was to say everything’s fine. I think it shows that this Prime Minister is out of touch and out of time. After everything we saw last night, I think that most Australians considering what they’re going to do, on election day on May 21, would have to think voting this government back in again would be like staying in a taxi that’s run out of petrol. It’s not going to take you where you need to go. They’ve run out of ideas. They’ve run out of puff. They don’t have the solutions to the real world practical problems that people have that they’re screaming out for the government to fix. This government has now been in power for almost a decade. They’re asking for another decade in power, and they have run out of puff. And they don’t deserve to be rewarded with your vote on May 21. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Just to start, on the debate last night, Anthony Albanese got stuck when it came to the boats question when Scott Morrison asked him directly about why it wasn’t Labor’s policy. Can you just clarify why wasn’t boat turn backs Labor’s policy ahead of the 2013 election? And why did it take the Coalition to come into power for boat turn backs to be implemented?

CLARE: Well, I think the government’s got this one right. They’ve proven that we’re able to do it, that you’re able to do it in a safe way. And when governments come up with solutions that work, you adopt them. You know, not everything that one side does is right and the other side does is wrong. If you can turn back boats safely, and it’s been proven that you can do it, then we should do it. The problem with this government is they’ve got a lot of other things wrong. And it’s not just the bushfires, or the floods, or the vaccine rollout. It’s the sort of things that people were talking about last night.  It’s harder to buy a house than ever before. It’s harder to rent than ever before. There are more homeless Aussies today than ever before. Mums and dads out there thinking about their own parents going into aged care are terrified at the thought of it at the moment. And you can understand why when you hear stories about maggots in wounds, about people being left for days in soiled clothes, when you hear stories about people not being fed properly, effectively being starved in aged care. Or when you hear stories about people having the support that they need to look after their kid with autism being cut to the bone.  Same with corruption, how much evidence do you need before you’re going to get a government to act to set up a National Anti-Corruption Commission? So the point I’d make is, when the government comes up with a good idea, you grab it. You say, yes, we will do that. But where they make mistakes, where there are real and obvious problems, and I think that a light was shone on those last night, then it’s up to politicians to think about what are the solutions that are going to fix this.

JOURNALIST: The government came up with solutions on the issue of border security. Why should Australians trust Labor if they have to wait for the coalition to come up with a policy that works and then adopted?

CLARE: This is good practical policy development. You look at what works and you adopt it. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s Labor or Liberal, if it works, adopt it. That’s what we’ve done.

JOURNALIST: So Albanese won the first debate last night. But there’s still some people who are undecided. What is your message to them? Why should they vote for Labor?

CLARE: I think this is going to be a really tight election, I think more and more people are going to focus on who they vote for, as the election gets closer. But what last night showed is that Albo has a real advantage. He’s an honest man with a plan, up against a smug smirk that’s just full of excuses. And ultimately, what it’s going to come down to, is who has a plan for a better future for all Australians, who’s got plans to fix the problems that people really care about. You know, there’s been a lot of talk in the last week about numbers. What we saw last night are the numbers that people really care about. The cost of buying a house has gone up by 25% right across the country in the last 12 months. For a lot of people who’ve been desperately trying to save for a deposit, it means it just gets so far out of reach, they give up. In aged care, you’ve now got something like 50% of people being malnourished in aged care. That’s what people are caring about, they’re worried about. Cuts to the NDIS. Real cuts. In my own community I’ve seen people have their funding cut by 50%, sometimes 60%. They’re the numbers people care about. When it comes to corruption, when you’re buying a block of land worth $3 million for $30 million, they’re numbers people care about. When you’re spending $100 million of taxpayers money on sports rorts, 70% of the of the projects that they funded weren’t approved by the government department. They’re the sort of numbers people worry about. 

JOURNALIST: Something else people worry about is what’s going on in the Pacific Islands. What are your thoughts about China’s security pact with the Solomon Islands? 

CLARE: This is an epic fail on Scott Morrison’s watch. There’s been a lot of talk about Scott Morrison visiting Pacific Islands. I think we know which one in particular.  This is one Pacific Island that Scott Morrison really should have visited. This is an epic fail on his watch. The Chinese now effectively have a foothold in a Pacific Island less than 2000 kilometres from the Australian mainland. And the Prime Minister yesterday said this is not a surprise. If it’s not a surprise, it makes it worse. It means he knew that this was happening, and he didn’t act fast enough to do something about it. Just like bushfires, just like vaccines, just like floods, he is always too slow to act. We’re seeing evidence of that again today. And then that unhinged performance last night where he tries to blame the Labor Party for this, again, is a pattern of behaviour here. Wherever something goes wrong, Scott Morrison tries to blame other people. And that’s what he was trying to do again last night. I urge the Australian people have a look at what Malcolm Turnbull said today, he’s described this as a failure of Australian foreign policy. Have a look at what Julie Bishop has said, that this is a massive failure, that the government should have acted and sent the Foreign Minister a long time ago before this got to this point.

JOURNALIST: Can you just explain why you’ve chosen Perth and you’re the first party to select Western Australia to launch their campaign?

CLARE: We know that the people of WA are often overlooked. They’re not going to be overlooked by the Labor Party. This is an important part of Australia. What happens on election night might be determined by the people of Western Australia and what they decide to do.  And a lot of Western Australians I think are angry with Scott Morrison. They don’t forget what he did with Clive Palmer, effectively trying to rip open their borders. Just think about how many Western Australians are alive today, who might not have been if Scott Morrison had been successful with Clive Palmer in trying to rip down their borders.

JOURNALIST: On inflation figures that are due to come out next week, could those figures, are you worried that those figures could trigger interest rates rising by the RBA as early as May?

CLARE: Well, the RBA acts independently. The RBA have made the point that interest rates won’t stay at those emergency levels forever. I think the key point on inflation to make is that those numbers show that everything is going up except people’s wages. That the inflation rate is here and wage growth rate is here. And what that means is that you’ve got less money in your pocket, less money in your wallet, less money in your purse for the things you want to buy this year, than you did last year. When inflation is going like this, and wages are flat, it means it’s getting harder and harder for Australians to pay for the things that they need and the things that they want. And this goes to this point about Scott Morrison being out of touch. He says unemployment’s at 4%, isn’t everything perfect? When in the real world Aussies know that that’s not true. This bloke is so out of touch, he might as well be on Mars. Because Australians know the cost of petrol has gone up. They know the cost of childcare has gone up. They know the cost of rents gone up. Now it’s getting harder and harder to buy house. You’ve got a Prime Minister who’s saying Aussies have never been better off. And you’ve got Aussies at home, saying really, it’s time for you to get out of The Lodge and get into the real world.

JOURNALIST: The Jenkins report [inaudible]…a report that found 26% of workers in Commonwealth Parliamentary workplaces who’ve experienced sexual harassment disclose that their most recent experience of harassment was by parliamentarians. So some of these MPs you imagine are running for your own party. What steps has Labor taken to ensure its candidates are not amongst these groups? And what steps should the Coalition or should the government take to ensure that this doesn’t?

CLARE: Two points. One, we’ve made a commitment to implement the recommendations of that report, in full, the Jenkins report, but also the email/Respect)(Work report. And Labor has taken steps over a significant period of time now over three or four years to implement its code of conduct and behaviour, and to update it as appropriate. That shouldn’t be seen as a static document, though. We’ve got to continue to do better here. We have never said that this is something isolated to one side of politics, we’ve got to work harder and better here to make sure that Parliament House and the work that people do for politicians is a safe place. And that we’ve got the highest standards of behaviour, not the worst.

JOURNALIST: Allegations haven’t been levelled against a sitting MP that’s currently going through the election?

CLARE: Well, the way that that code of conduct works is that people can make complaints to the party themselves, or they can make it to the Department of Finance, or they can make it through other parliamentary processes as well. I think that’s the appropriate way for the for these complaints to be addressed.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, can I just jump back to the Solomons? You mentioned that the Prime Minister should he knew about it, he should have acted sooner, the Liberals have come out saying that you can’t impose your will on sovereign nations like the Solomons. If the Solomons were set on this China pact where there are allegations of China’s throwing money into the country, how could Australia reasonably have prevented this even if we were aware of it?

CLARE: I’m not saying that Australia can or should impose its will. What I’m saying is Scott Morrison shouldn’t have sat back on a deck chair and done nothing. And that’s effectively what happened. The Prime Minister should have engaged directly, the Foreign Minister should have gone to the Solomon Islands. Australia should have acted like the US has acted. Joe Biden is sending Kurt Campbell, his most senior diplomat in the Pacific. We sent Zed Seselja, you know, who the hell is Zed Seselja? We didn’t take this issue seriously. And if we had, the outcome might have been different.

JOURNALIST: But you talk about timeliness and knowing well ahead of time. Okay, well, Kurt Campbell is heading to the Solomon Islands, but the pact has been signed, Kurt Campbell went after Zed Seselja was sent to the Pacific [inaudible]…in caretaker mode. So you tell the Morison government to act like the United States, but the United States is actually acting after [inaudible]?

CLARE: I’m saying send a person of seniority. What I’m also saying is we knew about this in August, right? If you knew about it in August, why are you sending Zed Seselja now, in April, it was too little, too late. Just like the bushfires, just like the vaccine, just like the floods, this Prime Minister always acts too late. And this is just another example of it. And he can’t blame anybody else for this but himself.

JOURNALIST: Peter Dutton just picking up from what he said about acting too late, Peter Dutton says that national security can be [inaudible] by saying that they should send Zed Seselja, as opposed to the foreign minister, that was a strategic choice by the government. Has Labor sort a briefing about why that decision was made or a briefing about certain intelligence coming in?

CLARE: We seek regular security briefings. I just make that general point. I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t make a specific point about this issue. But what I would say is listen to Julie Bishop, there isn’t a Liberal politician that I know that has spent more time in the National Security Committee or gets this issue better than Julie Bishop. She’s not my side of politics. But I’ve got to tell you, she knows what she’s talking about. And what did Julie say overnight? They should have sent the Foreign Minister.

JOURNALIST: Julie isn’t with respect, Julie isn’t subject to the same national intelligence that national security procedures that…

CLARE: And she’s also not subject to Cabinet solidarity. So she’s more likely to tell you the truth. 

JOURNALIST: Given that the government is relying on security briefings to back up their point. You mentioned generally you receive security briefings, has Labor requested a specific security briefing once the pact got locked and in light of Zed Seselja going?

CLARE: We regularly seek security briefings, I’d expect we will seek a briefing on this as well. I just make the general point that I would expect that we seek a briefing on this, particularly given this is during the caretaker period. But again, just ask yourself, what’s the motivation here for the government to say that, all well, you know, we got advised that the Foreign Minister shouldn’t go. We found out yesterday, the Foreign Minister was at a business event as part of the election campaign, and the same day that Zed Seselja was heading off to the Solomon Islands. And you’ve got to ask yourself, given how serious this is, right, the Prime Minister is playing this down, saying this is not a big deal. You had Barnaby Joyce yesterday saying that this is effectively Cuba mark two, a Cuban missile crisis on our doorstep. So you’ve got the Prime Minister saying no big deal, you got his Deputy, saying that it’s a crisis. This government is a bin fire on this issue. It’s their problem that they’re trying to fix by making up excuses, but the Australian people aren’t fools. They see through this. They realise that this is a mistake on Scott Morrison’s watch, and of all the Pacific islands that Scott Morrison should have visited, I think we all know it’s the Solomon Islands.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned that the problem with the government is that it didn’t act fast enough, if Labor was an alternative government, Zed Seselja said last week the pact was made public in March, even if you just account for the caretaking period, where you are the alternative, can be the alternative government, why not seek a briefing as soon as Zed Seselja or as soon as the pact got initialed, which was during the caretaker mode, you talked about acting fast enough? Why not seek it immediately?

CLARE: Just remember who the government is here, okay. We’re seeking a mandate from the Australian people on the 21st of May. The government is in power. It’s happened in August, they have let this linger. And the results of this are now clear today. And for the government to try and blame somebody else, just goes to show how desperate they are. 

Can I just flick topics for a second, because, one of the other issues that came out last night was the NDIS and there’s been some criticism of what Scott Morrison had to say there. And I’d expect that for mums and dads that have got kids with autism it’s pretty hurtful comments. Every kid’s a blessing. I know that. But I kind of think the bigger problem is not what he said, it’s what he’s done. There are two types of people on the NDIS at the moment. There’s people who’ve had their funding cut, and there are people who are terrified of getting it cut. Jacob is just one example. Jacob lives in Yagoona in my electorate. He’s got autism. And he’s got Angelman syndrome. His dad looks after him as long as as well as his two older brothers. Jacob is a teenager now, a big lump of a kid. And his Dad looks after him on his own. Because his Mum died a couple of years ago from a brain tumour. I’ve been helping Jacob now for a while, he’s had his funding cut three times in a row. And every time we have to go back and fight to get more funding for him, all his Dad wants his a bit more money for respite, someone to come in and look after him so he can get a break. Stella is another story. She lives around the corner in Bass Hill. I met Stella at Bankstown Hospital. She’d been there for three years because the NDIS hadn’t put into place the changes to a house so she could go home. There’s thousands of stories like this right around the country. The NDIS is a great program. It’s a proud Labor achievement. It’s about helping people who need it. But it’s being strangled by this government at the moment. And Scott Morrison didn’t have any answers to help people in this situation, didn’t have any answers last night doesn’t have any answers for people like Jacob or Stella.

JOURNALIST: On the NDIS. What can you do [inaudible] you mentioned that you will launch review and you’re trying to trip some of the fat from the lawyers and put that back into the system. You mentioned these people suffering now they’ve had their funding cut three times. Before that review takes place, and while you’re setting up government, what can you do to ensure that they get help immediately?

CLARE: A big part of it is more staff. You know, one of the complaints that Jacob’s dad told me is that you never get to meet with anybody face to face. It’s all over the phone. Uncapping the staffing, funding 380 extra permanent staff is a real practical way to make a difference here. So you’ve got people with a bit of expertise, talking to people like, like Jacob’s dad, to better understand what’s happening in the house and help that they really need. So that’s, that’s a real, practical example of what we can do to help people like Jacob and Stella.

JOURNALIST: And you can find the staff? 

CLARE: Of course we can. But what, what what’s missing here is political will. What’s missing here is political will.  If you’ve got a government that’s committed to helping people rather than just cutting, and that’s what’s happening here. Let’s be frank about it. If you’ve got the political will, you can make this happen. And that’s what Labor will do if we’re honoured and privileged enough to win the next election. Thanks very much.