Press Conference – Sydney – Friday 22 April 2022

SUBJECTS: Anthony Albanese’s COVID diagnosis; Federal election; Labor’s policy agenda; Labor’s plan for a Better Future for Australia; Solomon Islands; national security; Australia’s relationship with China; Australia’s relationship with the Pacific; Labor Party campaigning; aged care crisis in Australia; corruption; need for a National Anti-Corruption Commission; Labor candidate for Parramatta; NDIS; Labor will defend the NDIS; Scott Morrison always being too little, too late; cost of living; COVID; polling.
JASON CLARE, LABOR CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON: All right. Well, the boss has got the bug, so you got me. I just spoke to Albo. And he’s doing okay. He’s got a bit of a croaky throat, as you’d expect. But he’s doing pretty well. And he wanted me to say thank you, not just to the people in this room, but to people around Australia. He’s got lots of messages, lots of well wishes overnight and through the morning. As you know, he tested positive to a PCR test yesterday afternoon, as part of a regular PCR test ahead of flying to WA. I got COVID a couple of weeks ago. I guess there’s a lot of people in this room that had COVID as well. Millions of Aussies have had COVID over the course of the last few years. And it’s not fun. So, it means that Albo will be in isolation for the next week. And it means some changes to the campaign. It means that you’re going to see more of Albo’s team right across the country, talking about our positive plans for a Better Future for all Australians. Talking about cheaper child care, how we’re going to fix aged care, how we are going to strengthen Medicare, how we make it easier for people to see a doctor, how we make it easier to buy a home, how we make sure that we just make more things here in Australia, how we make sure that corrupt politicians don’t get away scot-free, how we make sure that we make Australia a renewable energy superpower. We can do that. How we are going to establish a National Anti-Corruption Commission. How we are going to establish an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. How we can do all of those things and more. How we can build a stronger economy, a fairer country and a Better Future for all Australians. And we can do that. We’re ready to do that. We’ve got a better plan for Australia. And we’ve got a better team to do it. And you’ll see that over the course of the next week. Happy to take some questions.
JOURNALIST: Can I start on Richard Marles? There’s been some reporting about some comments he made in a book only recently, that nations like the Solomon Islands should be able to deal with whatever countries they want. China included. Is that a concern? Is that something that undermines Labor’s message on national security? This is coming from someone very senior in your team.
CLARE: Let me give you another quote. ‘China provides a real stability to the region and, frankly, the world economy, and stable growth from China is good news for Australia and the global economy’. Who said that? Scott Morrison. This has happened on Scott Morrison’s watch. This is an epic fail when it comes to foreign policy. Scott Morrison will do everything he can today, and I expect for the next few weeks, to try to blame someone else for this. Because that is what he does. Whether it’s the Premier, or the Opposition, or whether it’s the president of another country, he’ll always try to blame someone else. But the fact is, they had the intel, and they didn’t act. They had the intel, and they didn’t act. What Richard said quite plainly here is there’s a competition happening. China’s changed. They have become more assertive. There’s a competition here in the Pacific. The challenge for us is, we’ve got to win this competition. We’ve got to make sure we’re the partner of choice for Pacific island countries when they need help. Now, they were under us. And it’s pretty obvious from what’s happened in the other week, we no longer are.
JOURNALIST: Would you deal exclusively with the Deputy’s comments? He said the Federal Government had no right to expect a set of exclusive relationships. Your opposition has basically criticised the Government for what’s happened in the Solomon Islands. Isn’t there a bit of hypocrisy there, even though it may seem like a failure? Isn’t it not Labor’s position?
CLARE: I take the opposite view. I think this is hard-headed. Understand what China is up to. Expect they’re going to be in there trying to assert influence. And make sure that we respond. We knew about this in August. And what did we do? It seems two-thirds of bugger all. As a result, this security agreement has now been signed between China and the Solomon Islands. There’s a pattern.
JOURNALIST: It seems like he’s okay with that.
CLARE: The reverse. The reverse. He’s making the point, China is in there, taking action, so do we. You can’t sit back on the deck chair in the Pacific and assume it’s going to be okay. If China is in there helping with aid, so do we. You can’t pull billions of dollars of aid out. If China is there trying to set up a security agreement, you expect Canberra will do something about it. Jono, we get told they had the intel on this since August. The Prime Minister said to journalists only two days ago that this wasn’t a surprise. Now, if this wasn’t a surprise, it just makes it worse. It means he knew about it. And he didn’t do anything about it. It’s a pattern of behaviour here. On bushfires. He was too slow to act. On vaccines, when we were locked down, waiting for a vaccine, he was too slow to act. When it came to the floods, when people were on their roofs having to hire their own helicopters, he was too slow to act. Here again, it looks obvious the Prime Minister was too slow to act.
JOURNALIST: Isn’t the salient point that Richard Marles directly dismissed any concerns about China establishing military bases in the Solomons or anything else in the Pacific, and now, Labor says the Government should have been alive to that? He said it wasn’t a concern and that the focus should be elsewhere.
CLARE: Have a look at what Scott Morrison said only two days ago. He said there won’t be any military bases here. On the other side, you’ve got Barnaby Joyce saying this is the Cuban missile crisis mark II. This Government is a binfire on this. You have one position from Scott Morrison, a totally different position from the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia here. You have the former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, saying this is the failure of foreign policy. You have the former CDF, Chris Barrie, saying it’s a failure. Julie Bishop, I can’t think of anybody on the other side of politics who has spent more time in the National Security Cabinet than Julie, she said the Foreign Minister should’ve been sent there. They’re the facts. There’s a competition here. You got to get on the field. You can’t sit in the sheds. That’s what this Prime Minister has done here.
JOURNALIST: Is there a real concern in Labor’s view of China establishing military bases in Solomons or anywhere else in the Pacific?
CLARE: It’s a risk. Peter Hartcher made the point in The Herald that they have a foot hold in the Pacific, less than 2,000KM from the Australian mainland. Why has this happened? China has been active, setting up this agreement with the Solomon Islands, while we’ve been sitting on our hands. That is why Penny said the other day that this is the biggest failure of foreign policy in the Pacific since World War Two.
JOURNALIST: With Albo getting COVID, do you think the timing seems to work out he was at the Bluesfest. Do you think that was a mistake going to the huge tents, high-fiving people, especially when there’s a lot of anti-vaxxers in there and no masks?
CLARE: It is hard to tell where you get it. With Bluesfest, people came from everywhere. Don’t assume for a second people just came from Byron. People came from all across the country. I just make the point that at a time when you have 40- or 50,000 people getting COVID every day, it’s almost inevitable you’re going to get COVID. I caught it the other day. I missed out on the last week of Parliament because I had COVID. It’s going to happen. You need to prepare for it. And that is what we have done. It means the campaign will be a bit different over the course of the next few days. Elections are usually pretty presidential. You see one candidate against the other. Over the course of the next week, you’ll see something different. You’ll see our team.
JOURNALIST: Just in terms of the Opposition Leader getting COVID, what specifically do you guys mean when you say you will see more of the team? What will it look like? Will we see Albo pop up on an iPad somewhere, Daniel Repacholi style in the Hunter?
CLARE: You saw that?
JOURNALIST: Was it a good idea to have Mr Albanese going to aged care homes, not because he personally would have given them COVID, but because of the travelling press pack? Was it the best strategy?
CLARE: On visiting an aged care centre, I’m pretty sure that Scott Morrison has visited aged care centres over the last few months. I know that Scott has previously had COVID, but not sure if all the team that were with him had it. The best of my knowledge, all the precautions necessary were taken from that visit. The advice from the centre was that masks were optional, but Albo wore a mask. How does the campaign change? We live in the age of the iPad and more. It really depends on Albo’s health. When I got COVID, I felt pretty good for the first couple of days, then I felt pretty awful for the next couple of days, I couldn’t speak for a couple of days. Burkey got COVID recently and he lost his voice for a bunch of days as well. Health comes first. I told him, ‘Rest up, mate’. This is a long campaign, remember. The Prime Minister deliberately set this as a long campaign, six weeks. Albo is out for one of those weeks. He’ll be back at the halfway mark. He’ll be back when the second half starts in a week’s time. Just on that point, the launch of that campaign will still be in Perth. And Albo will be back for that.
JOURNALIST: Are you going to have a leading point person over the course of this next week? I know you said you’ll see more of the team, but one person that is effectively the de facto Opposition Leader? And would that person be Richard Marles, given that he’s Deputy Leader and would be Acting Prime Minister in a Labor Government?
CLARE: The short answer is no. You’re going to see a lot of our team.
JOURNALIST: Back to the Solomon Islands, you talk about being proactive against China and they were aware of the threats. How are you able to counter Chinese influence, given the practice of them bribing some politicians? There have been suggestions this is what happened in the Solomon Islands. And then just if I might, on aged care, the Government has said that they will adopt the Royal Commission’s recommendations and they will implement 24/7 nurses. Are you guys trying to factor a difference in policy on aged care just as they say they’re trying to do with national security?
CLARE: I like to go back and see the evidence they’re committed to that. The Royal Commission said it needed to be done by 2024. Scott, at the debate the other day, said he will do it by 2025. Anne Ruston said they were committed to it by 2024. We’ve said, ‘Do it as fast as you can’. Aged care is a nightmare. You saw it in the debate up in Brisbane. People are asking questions about this. There’s a reason why. Aged care is a nightmare at the moment. Lots of mums and dads are worried about putting their mums and dads into aged care. I see the nods in the room. You know it’s true. If you’ve got people that have maggots in their wounds, left to sit in their own soiled clothes, not fed properly, we’ve got a problem here. And we’ve got to do something to fix it.
The other question you raised was about corruption, right? What we’re saying here is, you got to take action. You can’t just sit back and let things happen to you. Albo talked the other day about shaping the future. Not just here in our own country, not just making sure that people get paid more and that people have better services, it’s about shaping our region too, to keep Aussies secure here. Now, it doesn’t guarantee you can fix everything. But it means you shouldn’t sit back and let it happen. And that’s what has happened here. We should have sent the Foreign Minister. It’s a pretty straightforward thing to do.
JOURNALIST: Sorry, how does the Foreign Minister counter corruption? You said we couldn’t sit back and that we need to take a more proactive role. What proactive role counters corruption?
CLARE: What I’m saying is you can’t guarantee every outcome. But you can try. But by sitting back and doing nothing, you’re just going to let this happen to you.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask about Andrew Charlton, the Labor candidate in Parramatta, his comments about the National Disability Insurance Scheme? Anthony Albanese said it was a great Labor reform. He wrote in an op-ed that Labor has implemented design flaws, this is the quote, ‘This design flaw is becoming most of the serious government failures in Australian politics’. He’s been recruited for his economic expertise. How do you respond to that?
CLARE: Andrew is a good bloke. I agree with him on a lot of things, but not on that. This is a great Labor legacy. I know the Prime Minister got criticised for some things he said about the NDIS. I think more problematic are the things he’s done to the NDIS. Let’s be real about this. There are two types of people on the NDIS at the moment. There are people who had their funding cut. And there are people who are terrified about getting their funding cut. I will just give you one example. His name is Jacob. He lives in my electorate. He’s a teenager now. He has autism and has Angelman Syndrome. And he’s looked after by his dad. His mum is not there because she died of a brain tumour three years ago. There is Jacob and his two older brothers. Jacob is a big lump of a lad. He needs a lot of care. His dad has been to my office three times because the funding has been cut three times. Every time we’ve had to go back in and try to get more funding for him. The last time, all his dad wanted was a carer so he can get respite on the weekend. You can’t understand how hard it is for Jacob’s dad until you spend time in his house. Let me give you one more. This is important, you raised it. I met Stella at Bankstown Hospital about four or five years ago. Stella was in the hospital for three years. Why? Because the NDIS hadn’t got around to putting the changes into her house so she could get out. That’s the reality. That’s the real world. That’s what is happening here. And there’s thousands of stories like that. The NDIS – your question in essence is about can you make it better? You bet we can.
JOURNALIST: It’s about the design and the problem of sustainability, given the huge trajectory of the cost. No-one is saying it’s not important. It’s so important.
CLARE: My answer to you is the NDIS is a great Labor legacy. But we need to continue to make it better. Have a look at what Bill said the other day, talking about the sort of fundamental reforms needed to it. One of them is more staff. One of the problems Jacob’s dad has is getting to even talk to anyone.
JOURNALIST: There’s a situation where you could have the smartest economic mind in the Labor Caucus seeing fundamental flaws in this policy, the NDIS. How is that not problematic? And secondly, just on the implications of Mr Albanese having COVID, one of the challenges he faces in and you face is he’s largely unknown with voters. We see that in poll after poll. How damaging is it therefore he’s going to spend the next week in his home in Sydney and unable to crisscross the country interacting with voters?
CLARE: I think real problem is the Australians know Scott Morrison too well. They know he abandoned them during the bushfires. They know he failed them by not buying enough vaccines when we were stuck at home, when half the country was stuck at home last year. They know he failed them during the floods when people were stuck on their own roofs waiting for helicopters. They know this Government has deliberately kept their wages low for a decade. They know this Government has rorted taxpayers’ money for their own benefit. They know that Scott Morrison’s own Party call him a liar. And they know this Government has no real plans for the future other than trying to drag themselves across the line on May 21. That is Scott Morrison’s problem.
JOURNALIST: Are you trying to get Australians to elect Anthony Albanese as opposed to kick out Scott Morrison?
CLARE: Well, we’re saying two things. One, this Government doesn’t deserve to be re-elected. They don’t deserve to be rewarded with your vote, after all of the failures of the last decade. As Albo said the other day, Australia is the best country in the world, but we deserve a better Government. Australians don’t kick out governments lightly or often. But they kick them out when they fail them, when they’re incompetent, when they have no plan for the future, they’ve run out of puff, or when, instead of focusing on you, they’re just fighting among themselves. I have got to tell you. This Government is the trifecta. It ticks all three of those boxes.
JOURNALIST: One of the arguments is when it comes to Labor’s attack over what happens in the Solomon Islands, Mr Albanese said that Labor would engage better in the region. There’s no substantive policy about what you would do differently. What would Labor do? Do we need better fuel reserves? Do we need increased funding to the region? What would you do differently, other than saying you wouldn’t have this problem?
CLARE: We’ll talk more about that during the campaign. I hear your question.
JOURNALIST: It’s the big issue.
CLARE: And where does it start? Picking up the phone. Talking to people. The Prime Minister makes a lot about his relationships with the Pacific. And talks a step-up. As Albo said the other night, it’s a stuff-up. It starts with engagement. It’s people-to-people, talking to people. It’s on the phone and also face-to-face. That’s where this Government stuffed this up. Everyone has said the Foreign Minister should’ve been there. We’ve got Marise Payne even refusing to have a debate about Penny Wong. She won’t debate Penny Wong in Australia and she won’t go to the Solomon Islands. If you’re serious about Australia’s national security, and being serious about national security means making sure we have good relationships with countries in the Pacific, and talking to people that are thinking of engaging with the security pact with China, then get on the plane. And that is what failed to happen here. What happened instead? The Foreign Minister went to a business function and some bloke called Zed got sent there.
JOURNALIST: Australians are going to see a lot more of Scott Morrison on the stump in marginal seats, making announcements over the next seven days, and very little of Anthony Albanese outside of isolation when he’s well. Does the Labor campaign consider that a positive or a negative?
CLARE: It’s just the reality. It’s the reality. You get COVID, you’re in iso. There’s no alternative to that. We planned for this for weeks, for months, actually. It’s inevitable that people will get COVID if they’re out and about. We expected that Albo would likely get COVID. I see this an opportunity, I got to say. Not only do we have a better plan, we have a better team. And you will see more of them over the course of the next week.
JOURNALIST: Australians will be seeing more of the Prime Minister. Is that a positive or a negative for your campaign?
CLARE: Well, I think it’s a positive for our campaign. The more they see of Scott Morrison, the more they will realise this Government has run out of puff. Let me take you back, Mark, to the debate again. Think about the questions that were asked at that debate. Right off the bat, the first question was about housing affordability. People were saying, ‘We’re finding it harder for our kids to be able to buy a home’. Next question was about aged care. People are terrified about putting their parents into aged care. Then there was a question about the NDIS. People are worried about the cuts to funding for their autistic child. And then there was a question about corruption. It shows people care about corruption. Scott Morrison didn’t have any answers to any of that. Just excuses. Albo had real practical plans to help all of those people. What those people were saying at that debate wasn’t, ‘Gotcha’. It was, ‘Help me’. And Labor’s got plans to help them. Scott Morrison didn’t have anything there other than excuses. That’s why I said yesterday voting for this Government again, after they’ve been in power now for almost a decade, would be like staying in a taxi that’s run out of petrol. It won’t take you where you need to go. They have run out ideas, run out of things they want to do. It’s all short-term fixes, no long-term plans. I think Australians are looking at this Government, and they’ll look harder at Scott Morrison over the course of the next weeks and the weeks after that, they will say to themselves, ‘This Government doesn’t deserve to be rewarded with your vote’. And after all of the fighting that’s going on inside the Liberal Party, fighting amongst themselves, attacking the Prime Minister, this Government needs time in opposition to fix themselves.
JOURNALIST: 25 per cent of people in the crowd remain undecided about either leader. Doesn’t that show that Anthony Albanese cannot afford to lose any time away from the public view?
CLARE: I think of what it shows is that the election will be tight. It will be a nail-biter. It will go down to the wire. Every vote will count. We have to fight for every vote, convince people that we have the plan to build a better country. Strengthen the economy, make Australia a fairer, better place. And we can do that. We are not a one-man band. We are a strong, united team. And we will show that over the course of the next few days.
JOURNALIST: Obviously, Anthony Albanese spent some time in Brisbane and was preparing for the debate. Members of the Labor inner sanctum and senior frontbenchers, are they considered close contacts?
CLARE: The best of my understanding is they are not classified as close contacts. Nor do I think anybody in this room is, is that right? They’re doing the normal things that you have been doing, the daily RAT tests to make sure that they are monitoring the systems and checking themselves to make sure they are okay. I will take one or two more questions.
JOURNALIST: I appreciate it depends on how Anthony Albanese is feeling. Are there plans for him to have a photographer or a camera person isolating with him? We saw that with the Prime Minster when he came back from overseas and was forced to isolate.
CLARE: There are two parts to that. One, it depends on how Albo is feeling. And as I said earlier, I felt okay at the start and then crook afterwards. I see some nods. People have gone through the same thing. It also depends on the new rules that the New South Wales Government have put in place and making sure that we comply with those health rules.
JOURNALIST: Back to the testing regime and so on prior to the diagnosis. Are you saying Mr Albanese was doing daily RAT testing?
CLARE: I think you were too, weren’t you?
JOURNALIST: One every three days.
CLARE: He was doing daily RATs, as well as when he left New South Wales, doing a PCR.
JOURNALIST: COVID has probably swept through a majority of your team by now. Do you take extra precautions now to make sure that those senior members of the Shadow Cabinet that haven’t got COVID yet are protected?
CLARE: I think it’ll be the same with the Liberals. You take every practical precaution you can, wear a mask when appropriate. All practical precautions. But let’s not live in fairy land here and think that you can stop COVID from coming to you. 40- or 50,000 Australians a day are getting it, almost inevitable that it will happen. It is about how we respond to it. We have a bit of an unfair advantage in this campaign, because we don’t just have Albo, we have a strong and united team. And we will showcase that over the next few days. I will go back to Jono and we will wrap it up.
JOURNALIST: The latest polling is showing that Scott Morrison is unpopular, and Anthony Albanese is equally unpopular. You come in today and have been comfortable, nuanced and on message. Are you not the Labor Leader that many will be looking for?
CLARE: A few laughs in the room there. The short is Albanese is the Leader this country desperately needs. And hang on a second, I got asked a question, I have got to answer it.
JOURNALIST: Seriously though.
CLARE: The answer is clear. And I think Australians will see that over the course of the last four weeks of the campaign. It is Albo. It is time to give Albo a go. They have a choice here, between honest Albo and smirking Scott. Australians will make that choice very clear. Australians will vote for hope, change, a better future. It Scott Morrison is saying that this is as good as it gets, I reckon Aussies will be saying, ‘No way, mate, you are so out of touch’. It is time to get up to Lodge and into the real world. Our real plans are here, Jono. They can build a better future for Australia. There are mums and dads out there that would work more if they could get cheaper child care. There are mums and dads out there who are terrified about their parents going into aged care. And who can blame them? We can fix that. There are people out there that can’t find a doctor in the bush or can’t afford one in the city. We can fix that. There are too many young people, let alone older people, who can’t afford to buy a home. We need to make it easier for them. And even though the Liberal Party doesn’t think this is true, there are a lot of Australians that have had a gutful of the rorts, that have had a gutful of the lies, that have had a gutful of the corruption, and they want a Government that will do something about it. And that’s what we’ll do if we’re honoured to be elected on May 21st. Thanks very much.