Labor is the party of jobs and better wages - Transcript, 2SM Mornings

TUESDAY, 18 MAY 2021

SUBJECTS: Indigenous Marathon Foundation; Government’s vaccine rollout failure; climate change and jobs policy; National Volunteer Week; funding for National Archives.

MARCUS PAUL, HOST: Welcome to the program, If you're just tuning in on this very chilly Tuesday morning. Let's go to Canberra, Andrew Leigh is there. Andrew, good morning.


PAUL: Thank you, mate. I think it's cold here in Sydney Town, but I've lived in Canberra. Tell me, brass monkey stuff, we had a -3 degree morning the other morning. How is it today? 

LEIGH: Well, it's great if you've got the right clothes, Marcus. The key to Canberra winter is to have a good lot of jumpers. If you're running, make sure you’ve got the leggings and the hats and the gloves, and then it's beautiful. 

PAUL: Speaking of running, am I right in saying you took part in a pollie run the other day? I think I saw a photo of you.

LEIGH: Yeah, we had a terrific run with Rob De Castella's Indigenous Marathon Project squad, 16 amazing young men and women who are going to be leaders in their local communities. They told us their stories, what Rob De Castella calls their ‘why’, what got them into running, and it's amazing to see what they're doing and how they'll go back and change their communities.

PAUL: Because you're a part of the Parliamentary Friends of Running, aren’t you?

LEIGH: Indeed, along with my friend Zali Steggall, who just ran 100kms in the Blue Mountains, and Darren Chester, who has notched up over ten Melbourne marathons. There's plenty of happy runners in the parliament.

PAUL: Except for, it would appear, our friend Tim Wilson. There was a story that Tim turned up for the photo opportunity, there he is, I can see in the photograph here. He's at the front there. He’s got his black little tight shorts on, he's got his blue for Liberal top. He's right at the front of all of you, you're there chatting away with a number of other runners, and here’s this bloke right at the front, Tim. He starts the run, and then what does he do? He does an about turn and runs straight back into Parliament House, so he wasn't there for the run, he was there for the photo opportunity.

LEIGH: Well, Tim’s a busy man, so I was grateful to him for coming out with us, Marcus. I won’t begrudge anyone who was out with us. I thought it was good of him to make the time to be there. 

PAUL: I was hoping for a bit more of a bite than that.

LEIGH: [LAUGHS] I know you were, Marcus! 

PAUL: Alright, OK, we'll leave it there at that. More COVID-19 vaccinations and less stunts: I refer to a photograph that you put up on your social media. If you're not gonna have a crack at Tim, you want to have a crack at Scott instead? More of the vaccinations, less of the red carpet treatment. What on earth - this photograph, when I first saw this last week I thought the thing was from Betoota Advocate or something. I thought it was doctored, but no. Recently, when he arrived at RAAF Williamtown in the Hunter, the Prime Minister had the red carpet rolled out for him, complete with a salute and a couple of Australian flags as he got off, you know, Air Force One or whatever the hell he wants to call it, he got the red carpet treatment. Quite bizarre.

LEIGH: Very bizarre, Marcus, particularly given one of the main reasons for the trip was a fundraiser. The fact is that Scott Morrison is always about the photo op, never about the follow up. We’ve now heard, yesterday, that in disability care there are 26,000 people and less than 1,000 of them have received the vaccine. We know the Prime Minister said that there'd be four million Australians vaccinated by the end of March. Well, it's the middle of May and we’re still only at three million.

PAUL: Just back to the disability sector, only 1,000 vaccinated so far out of 13,000-odd, is that right? 

LEIGH: Yes, it's just shocking and they're running behind in aged care as well. Now, the fact is that while we've got the virus mutating, we know that we've got to get ahead and vaccinate people because there's a risk that if it gets into Australia we won't be able to contain it. We need to get vaccinated because we need to open up. You’ve got the business community now, through Innes Willox and the head of Virgin Jayne Hrdlicka, speaking about the need to open up the country, but there's no sense of a plan. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer are at odds as to when Australia will be vaccinated, even around the year in which it'll happen.

PAUL: Apparently the Prime Minister will push for vaccinated Australians to be able to avoid domestic restrictions such as snap lock downs and border closures. He says that if there is a consensus among the states it could form the plan for reopening, but some say it would effectively create two classes of Australians.

LEIGH: It’s a hard one, isn’t it? You want to make sure that we have incentives for people to get vaccinated. You see in the United States all kinds of incentives, from free doughnuts in one state to a lottery for $1 million in another, and the need to ensure that people have good reasons to be vaccinated for themselves and for their community. We also want to make sure that those who are further down the queue don't miss out on those opportunities that come. I can respect the conversation that's happening, but it ought to be happening behind a basis of us having a fast vaccine rollout, being at the front of the queue. Wouldn't that be nice? But we're trailing at the back of the queue. Many other countries are rolling out the vaccine faster, and that's because of predictable failures last year, when Labor was saying Australia needed to sign up to more vaccine deals, and we needed our own domestic manufacturing capability, not just for AstraZeneca, but also the mRNA vaccines. That failure will cost Australia billions of dollars.

PAUL: All right, page two of the Telegraph today. One of your colleagues, Joel Fitzgibbon, has had a good crack. He says that Labor is bleeding votes over smug elitism. Outspoken Labor backbencher Joel Fitzgibbon says that his party is, quote, “bleeding votes to the left and the right due to institutionalized elitism.” He's reinforced the need for the party to reconnect with its working class base ahead of the federal election due to be called within the next 12 months. Many people believe that, probably, we might be looking at a ballot on December 9. I guess my question to you is: are you a smug elitist, Andrew?

LEIGH: [LAUGHS] I certainly hope not, Marcus. I'm always interested in reading what Joel has to say. I think he's right that these are challenging times for social democrats. You’ve got the German Social Democrats now trailing the Greens in the polls, the British Labour Party is struggling, in France the Socialists have been all but wiped out, and we know that this is a challenge in the United States as well. I don't think it's right that we need to have some dichotomy between climate change and jobs. Good climate change policy is good jobs policy. There are thousands of jobs to be had in the renewable energy sector, and if Australia moves quickly we can capture an even larger share of those jobs globally.

PAUL: But Andrew, how do you convince the blue collar base, that was once so strong for Labor, how do you convince the blue collar base that this is the way to go?

LEIGH: Australians look at the PV solar panels that are going up on their roofs, and they see that that's doesn't just mean cheaper power bills but it the means more jobs for people putting them in. People look at the shift to electric vehicles and see the opportunities that that will deliver in terms of employment. Chris Bowen has been touring the regions speaking about all the opportunities to create jobs, and indeed holding a recent summit in Parliament House with a range of clean energy providers, talking about the great jobs opportunity that exists there. In the United States, Joe Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure plan is creating jobs while tackling climate change. This is a great opportunity for Australia. We shouldn't see it as a threat. We should see it as the best job creator to come along in our lifetime.

PAUL: You’re going to be up against it, because obviously your opposites, the Liberal National Coalition, will say that Labor has deserted its blue collar base who are worried about paying mortgages, bills, and getting their kids to school. These are the things the Labor Party needs to spend more time talking about. I mean, that's according to Joel Fitzgibbon, who yesterday, again, had another bit of a backhander at the policy of climate change, renewable energy, being a focus. Look, I don't know. I really don't know. It's getting lost somewhere, Andrew, it really is. 

LEIGH: Think of it this way: Labor is the party of work. That's in our name, and that was central to Anthony Albanese's terrific budget reply last Thursday. He was talking about the fact that for all of its $100 billion in new spending the budget still has wage growth going backwards. That is a central concern for Labor. We will always be the party of full employment. We will always be the party of higher wages. That's why we're talking about criminalizing wage theft. That’s why we’re talking about making sure that unions have a fair say. Meanwhile, you've got the Government who pretends that they’re for wage growth, but if you go back to April they were urging the Fair Work Commission to take it easy on raising the minimum wage. The Liberals will always be campaigning for keeping downward pressure on wages. As Mathias Cormann says, it's a ‘deliberate design feature’ of their economic architecture.

PAUL: Volunteers Week - it's been a tough year for volunteer organizations, mate.

LEIGH: Sure has, Marcus. We've seen a big drop in volunteering since 2010, and then when the pandemic hit we saw an even more substantial decline. A quarter of voluntary organizations say that their volunteer numbers haven't recovered, and while, in Volunteer Week, we need to really celebrate those millions of Australians who are out there volunteering, the Government also needs to step up and provide more assistance to the voluntary sector. Charities feel like they've been at the receiving end of a war from the Government for the last eight years, attacks on advocacy, attacks on their ability to do their job to help the local community. If you've got a bit of spare time, get out there or get involved with your local community groups, whether that's Scouts, Guides, Rotary, Lions, and make sure that you're part of giving back to the local community sports teams, the social infrastructure, all those organizations that are so fundamental to a great society.

PAUL: The National Archives have been forced to pass around the begging bowl. They are going to the public for donations because they've been let down by the Federal Government. We do need to ensure that the archives are well supported financially. 

LEIGH: Absolutely, Marcus. Once those documents are gone, there's no other organisation that’s going to have them. They’re talking about the risk of damage to recordings of John Curtin’s Second World War speeches, personnel records from World War One and World War Two, films of Aboriginal culture, some old ASIO surveillance footage which I think we want to make sure we can always see, footage from the Republican National Convention, and some of the recordings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Now, these are vital documents that ought to form part of our nation's story, but unless the Government makes sure that we preserve them they could just be destroyed.

PAUL: Alright, mate. Great to have you on. We'll chat again next week. Appreciate it. 

LEIGH: Terrific. Thank you, Marcus. 

PAUL: Alright, there he is, Andrew Leigh MP.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.