Anthony Albanese hasn’t suggested a figure for the ongoing rate of the JobSeeker welfare payment because, he says, Labor wants to give the government “space” to lock in a long-term increase on its own.
“We want the government to actually move on this,” the Opposition Leader told The New Daily.
“On a range of policy issues, us announcing something that we can’t implement before the election doesn’t advance the change.”
Mr Albanese sat down with TND for a wide-ranging interview at the end of a frenetic month in Parliament, following the delayed federal budget, his first budget reply speech as Opposition Leader, and an exhausting fortnight of budget estimates hearings.
Sitting in a deep armchair in his sprawling parliamentary office suite, flanked by wall hangings of a signed Socceroos jersey and Indigenous art, Mr Albanese spoke freely of why he isn’t backing Kevin Rudd’s calls for a royal commission into media bias, why he is backing Mathias Cormann’s OECD election bid, the latest “untenable” government scandals, and his thoughts on the possible re-election of Donald Trump.
‘Space’ for JobSeeker change
“We have wanted to advance the government fixing JobSeeker, and to give them that space to do so,” Mr Albanese said.
It’s Thursday afternoon and he’s fresh off the Parliament floor after a 90-minute question time, which was followed by a brief verbal spar with Liberal MP Craig Kelly over hydroxychloroquine.
Just prior, the House of Representatives had considered a social services bill, with Labor and crossbench MPs using their speeches to call for a rise to the JobSeeker payment.
The government has all but confirmed that the temporary coronavirus supplement to the standard payment will continue past its scheduled December cut-off, but has not flagged a long-term increase to the base rate.
But while Labor has consistently called for an increase to the benefit once the coronavirus supplement runs out so that JobSeeker won’t return to its measly $40-a-day payment, Mr Albanese has resisted putting a concrete number on what that rise should be.
When asked why, he gave a blunt answer.
“Because we want it to happen,” Mr Albanese said.
“Coming out with a rate might make people feel good, but we want the government to actually move on this. So we’ve tried to give them the space to do so.”
He said it was another example where Labor was “not going to be the government”.
As reported last week, Mr Albanese believes Labor went wrong in the 2019 election by having too many policies, that it “looked as though we were the government”, and needed “a clearer agenda that more people can relate to”.
The past month threw up multiple scandals over government decision making, questionable spending and accountability.
Labor has called for a national integrity commission for some time, and this Senate estimates period only saw that drumbeat grow louder.
Asked about Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate, under investigation for gifting Cartier watches to senior employees, Mr Albanese said “her position is untenable”.
Asked about James Shipton, the chair of ASIC and under investigation over a $118,000 tax advice bill, Mr Albanese said “his position is untenable”.
But one area he hasn’t opposed the government is the push for former senator Mathias Cormann to lead the OECD.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison endorsed the multi-lingual Liberal to lead the international economic group, but questions lingered over whether Labor would give bipartisan support.
Some thought back to then-PM Malcolm Turnbull rejecting former Labor PM Kevin Rudd’s campaign for United Nations secretary-general, and wondered if the ALP would knock back Mr Cormann’s bid in return.
“When an Australian is a candidate for a position, we support the Australian candidate,” he said.
“I think that the behaviour of the current Coalition, in not supporting Kevin Rudd, was outrageous. So if you have that position, you can’t then behave in the same way.”
Despite the qualified support, Mr Albanese claimed the government’s position on climate change “has been so weak that it will undermine his candidacy”.
‘Bias’ in media, but no royal commission
But on the topic of Mr Rudd, the current leader said he didn’t back the calls for a royal commission into media bias and News Corp.
Mr Rudd’s online petition for such an inquiry is now the biggest in the history of the Parliament’s website, attracting 445,000 signatures.
Mr Albanese is not among them.
“Is there bias in some elements of the media? Yes there is. Sky after dark doesn’t give Labor a fair go, for example. But Sky during the day is a very different thing, with journalists who take their job seriously,” he said.
“There are many good journalists in News Limited.
“There are many whose political position is very clear. I think what’s very important, is news outlets draw a clear distinction for readers or listeners about what is news and what is opinion.”
‘An alliance between nations’
Federal Parliament in Canberra takes a brief respite this week, a non-sitting week before returning for three of the next five.
It means all political eyes will be on the United States, where Americans will decide is Joe Biden or Donald Trump is their next president.
Unsurprisingly, Mr Albanese wouldn’t be drawn on any criticism of Mr Trump, saying “we work with outcomes of any democratic process”, but flagged a “concern” about how the election has unfolded.
“The alliance with the United States is not an alliance between individuals, it’s between nations,” he said.
“My concern is that it’s unfortunate that anyone in public life questions the outcomes of democratic processes.”