By Anthony Albanese MP, South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas, Senator Penny Wong & Terri Butler MP

08 April 2022

SUBJECTS: Murray Darling Basin Plan; Labor’s policy agenda; federal election; cost of living; Russia / Ukraine.

PETER MALINAUSKAS, PREMIER OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA: All right, well, good morning, everybody. I'm very glad to be here this morning with Anthony Albanese, the man who I sincerely hope is the next Prime Minister of Australia and, of course, we’re accompanied by a large number of other great leaders within the Labor movement this morning, I want to acknowledge the Deputy Premier of South Australia, Susan Close, who has been a very powerful and passionate advocate of the environment in our state for a sustained period, particularly when it comes to the River Murray. Senator Penny Wong, again, probably one of the most powerful voices on the national stage advocating the cause of South Australians in every area of policy, including the river, and we desperately hope that we can add Louise Miller-Frost to the South Australian contingent of Labor representatives in our federal parliament. Of course, it's great to have Terri Butler here as well, a Queenslander, I should say, utterly committed to the cause of the environment.
Well, today is a really, really important occasion for the people of South Australia, and our obligation to deliver an environment to the next generation of Australians in better hands than the one that we inherited. Because only Federal Labor has a policy to deliver South Australia and the River Murray the water that it desperately needs. For some time now in Australia, we've been having a debate about environmental flows of water coming down the River Murray, but an agreement was ultimately reached to deliver South Australia 450 extra gigalitres of Murray water flowing through in environmental flows. Since that 450 gigalitres was promised, we've seen two gigalitres come. Two gigalitres out of 450 that we were promised, that we know that the federal Coalition and the Liberal Party in South Australia have actively denied the river. Now, when rivers don't have environmental flows, they start to break down. We see the river dying from the bottom up, we cannot allow that to occur, which is why we desperately need in South Australia, a partner in the federal government.

In South Australia, people have spoken, they want a state government that's willing to stand up and ensure the Murray gets the water that it needs, the water that has been promised. But we need a federal partner. And we now have that in federal Labor. It is so critically important that when South Australians cast their votes in only a few weeks time, they think about their obligation to pass on our environment in a better state than the one we inherited. And only federal Labor has a plan to ensure that we not just acknowledge that obligation, but deliver upon it. I want to thank Albo and Terri and Penny for their advocacy to ensure that we now have this policy. In South Australia we've got a state government looking for a partner in the federal government, and I desperately hope that we get one in only a few weeks time. Thanks Albo for your leadership, not just on the River Murray, but more broadly on delivering a fairer Australia in this post pandemic opportunity. It's great to have you here.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much Mali, and to my federal colleagues, to Louise, and to Susan, who I haven't seen since the magnificent victory. Congratulations on your election as well as Deputy Premier, we've been friends for a very long period of time, including going back a long time ago, I was Shadow Minister for the Environment and Water. And guess what the major issue was? Murray Darling. This is the most important announcement that I will make here in South Australia during this campaign, because the Murray Darling system is Australia's most important system in terms of providing support and oxygen and water for South Australia. What we will do is to create a National Water Commission to make sure that we drive this policy through, make sure that we work with stakeholders, but will deliver upholding the Murray Darling plan.

What we've seen from this government is that it's been adopted, but they don't deliver. This is a great example of a government that is all promise and no delivery. A government that is all talk no action, a government that simply is held back by the National Party, by Barnaby Joyce and those forces upstream that don't want the water to flow here to South Australia, and it is so self defeating. Because if you don't have those environmental flows, the system will die. That is why it is so important for South Australia that we deliver on the 450 gigalitres, and that is precisely what federal Labor will do. We have a plan. It's been a plan that's been agreed. The difference is we’ll actually deliver it, we’ll work in partnership with South Australia and with the other states in the system to make sure that we deliver on this commitment, because it's so important for this state of South Australia. I'd ask Terry to make some comments as well.

TERRI BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Thanks, Anthony. And thanks everyone for being here. I particularly want to add my congratulations to Peter and Susan on leading this amazing new government right here in South Australia. The Murray Darling Basin Plan must be upheld, Labor will deliver on upholding the Murray Darling Basin Plan. The 450 gigalitres, as Peter, as the Premier has said, was part of the reason why South Australia agreed to this plan. It's fundamental to South Australia's participation in this plan and it should be delivered. But the fact is, is as the Premier said, only two gigalitres out of 450 gigalitres has been delivered so far. So after a near decade of delay, of heel dragging from the Morison Joyce government, we need a renewed commitment to upholding the plan on its terms. Labor has that commitment. An Albanese Labor Government will make sure that the 450 gigalitres is delivered and we'll have policies in place to deliver on the full Murray Darling Basin Plan. 

We will also demonstrate leadership in water policy for the entire nation. It's getting harder and harder to make sure that we have the water resources that we need with all of the new challenges and some of the existing ones in relation to water. We believe there must be national leadership in relation to water policy. And that's why we'll establish a National Water Commission to drive national water policy. Because it's very clear that we need national leadership in this country on water. We'll also make sure that we do things like upholding the science of the plan, updating the science of the plan, engaging First Nations participation in water markets, increasing transparency, increasing compliance, making sure that compliance bodies have the tools they need to crack down on water theft. There's a lot to be done. And frankly, any government that's beholden to Barnaby Joyce, like the Morrison Joyce government is, is not the government to deliver on this. Any government that has Barnaby Joyce in it cannot be trusted to deliver the 450 gigalitres or to deliver the appropriate upholding of the Murray Darling Basin Plan. We need a new government, we need an Albanese Labor Government.

ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Terri. We’re happy to take questions now.

JOURNALIST: How will you deliver 450 gigalitres?

BUTLER: This is a really good question, because we need all of the basin jurisdictions to work together in goodwill to uphold the spirit of the plan. The 450 gigalitres is not a surprise, it has been in the plan all along. It's part of the basis under which the states and other governments entered into this plan. So we need all stakeholders to work together in good faith to deliver on the 450 gigalitres, and we expect that to be upheld.

JOURNALIST: Will you be pursuing buybacks or more aggressive sustainable diversionary schemes?

BUTLER: We do not have a policy of compulsory acquisition of water. But I want to make very clear that we are not ruling out any tools to uphold the Murray Darling Basin Plan. We will do what is needed to uphold the Murray Darling Basin Plan. All we're asking is that other stakeholders and other jurisdictions do what they committed to do 10 years ago, and that's to deliver on the plan.

JOURNALIST: New South Wales has indefinitely shelved community lakes water saving project that would deliver pretty much all of South Australia's environmental water. So how can a federal government promise to deliver environmental water when it's so dependent on states achieving their obligations?

BUTLER: Well, this is exactly the point what we need for the Murray Darling Basin Plan, because it is a trans boundary plan, because it engages multiple jurisdictions, there's clearly a need for national leadership. And the vacation of the field for national leadership by this government that's held hostile to Barnaby Joyce and his fellow interests has been the problem. That's why we've seen this delay. I think there are so many stakeholders who will rightly be looking to the current national government to say well, why did you take your foot off the accelerator when it comes to delivering the projects to deliver environmental outcomes equivalent of 605 gigalitres, when it comes to delivering the 450 gigalitres, of course they're going to be asking why there was a vacation of the field in national leadership. This government took its foot off the accelerator, we'll put our foot on the accelerator and insist on the delivery of these targets. 

JOURNALIST: How do you actually apply pressure to state governments to achieve things they’ve been working through, like coming into like since 2018?

BUTLER: Yeah, the government, the current government took the pressure off the state governments, when they ruled out buybacks altogether, that immediately eroded their bargaining power to deliver this. I said at the time, the current government under Keith Pitt has not even been able to use traditional levers like funding to insist on the state's delivering on the plan. And they've been giving a bit of a wink and a nod to some of the other jurisdictions to say, don't worry about it. They've effectively been walking away from these targets, we will do the opposite. We will insist on these targets. We believe that upholding the plan is not an unreasonable request. This is a plan that's been around for a long time. It's a 2012 plan, everyone is very clear on what's in it. We will uphold the spirit and the letter of this plan and insist on those water targets being delivered. 

JOURNALIST: So where would the buybacks come from? 

BUTLER: Well, we're not going to pursue, actively, unless we have to, a policy of voluntary buybacks. But I will say this, we're certainly not going to rule it out. But we will certainly, and we will certainly engage with communities in relation to that if it comes to it. But I don't think it needs to come to it. I think that we can all agree that if the jurisdictions work together, then they can avoid the need for any further discussion of this issue. They can avoid it, by working together in good faith to deliver on the water that was promised a decade ago. So I don't want to see buybacks. Let's be clear. I don't want to see them. But I'm certainly not going to rule out a mechanism because I actually want the other jurisdictions to come to the table, and to deliver on the promises that they made a decade ago.

JOURNALIST: New South Wales has already said it cannot meet its environmental obligations by 2024. So does that not mean that neither can a Labor federal government?

BUTLER: The jurisdictions who are claiming they can't meet obligations have had a free pass from the current national government. And it's not a surprise, because any government with Barnaby Joyce in it is not going to deliver on the on the Murray Darling Basin Plan. He is going to prevent that from happening. Now, we are going to take a different approach, we will expect jurisdictions to redouble their efforts to deliver on the things that they voluntarily agreed to a decade ago. I don't think it's too much to ask. And I say to those jurisdictions, we're not going to be entertaining the idea that you're not going to deliver on the promises that you made. It's too important to the Murray Darling Basin system, and to the people of South Australia, to make sure that this is delivered. And that's what we're going to do.

ALBANESE: Can I just make this point about that series of questions as well. This goes to one of the fundamental differences that are at stake in this election, a prime minister and a government that never accepts responsibility. What we're talking here is about an agreement that was established between all of the jurisdictions along the Murray Darling Basin, all of the jurisdictions signed off. What we're asking for here is that they fulfil the obligations that they signed up to. And that shouldn't be beyond their capacity to do so. But the difference in the reason why you need a national government to be involved is there is a national interest here. The nature of the Murray Darling Basin, begins in Queensland, flows down, South Australia's at the end of the system. So if you don't have cooperation, South Australia misses out. There is a national interest here. All of the states and territories came together to sign off. They haven't walked away from the plan, they've just walked away from enacting the plan. And that's something that really characterises Scott Morrison, he consistently will say, ‘it's not my responsibility, it's not my job’. Well, it will be my job to see that national plans, cooperatively with the state and territories, when they're established, actually deliver what those plans say they will. And the fact that we've got two out of 450 have been delivered, says it all. Happy to take other questions.

JOURNALIST: On immigration, your foreign affairs spokesperson has flagged significant changes to reduce temporary visa holders and increase permanent migration, why is that important?

ALBANESE: We'll continue to have temporary migration where it's necessary. What we're simply saying is that we need to make sure that we're not just solely relying upon temporary migration because we're seeing the consequences during the pandemic, so that when the borders shut, we had massive skill shortages. So in areas where skills are needed, temporary migration has an important role to play. And particularly at the moment coming out of the pandemic, it will have a role to play in the areas in which there are skill shortages. But with Jobs and Skills Australia, we will establish a body that will involve business, farmers, different groups from different sectors that will have proper planning for the labour market. What are the jobs that we will need in one year, five years, 10 years time? This was my first announcement I made as leader of the Labor Party in 2019. Get that proper planning for the labour market there, and in areas where we have consistently skill shortages, cooks have never been off the list. How about we don't have the absurdity whereby we pretend that cooks are going to come here for six months, or 12 months or for a short period of time, but attract people to this country as part of our permanent migration program.

JOURNALIST: Would you be looking to triple the refugee intake as Peter Malinauskas suggested?

ALBANESE: We'll have our policies announced on that at an appropriate time. I do welcome the fact that there has been a release from the hotel in Melbourne, of people who've been kept there, some for nine years. I do question what the cost of that has been, not that just the economic costs, which goes into the hundreds of millions of dollars, it goes to the human cost as well. Because quite clearly, if they could be released today, why couldn't that have occurred last week, last month, last year, or some years ago?

JOURNALIST: You're in unison with Mr. Malinauskas on water policy, but you’re at odds on how the GST is going to be carved up. So the South Australian premier was fairly strident on that the other day. What's your view, is he wrong, and are you right?

ALBANESE: I expect the South Australian Premier to stand up for South Australia each and every day. That's what I expect. I expect all of the state premiers to stand up for their interests each and every day. That's what they'll do. That's what they'll do. And I expect that to continue in the future. But I'll have a constructive relationship with Peter. And we'll get a lot done for this state. Because we'll have a cooperative relationship. And unlike his predecessor, I won't be referring to Mr. Malinauskas as any marsupial or mammal or other pet. He'll be tough. He'll stand up each and every day for South Australia. I expect nothing less. 

JOURNALIST: The Australian College of Nurses wants 5000 specialist scholarships, will you deliver on that?

ALBANESE: Oh, look, we will sit down and we will work to really increase the nursing force in every way possible. This will be a job in which we will put our shoulder to the wheel on day one. So whether it is through mechanisms like that, the 20,000 additional university places we've said, whether it be attracting temporary or permanent nurses to come to this country to assist, whether it be reattracting people who've left the workforce in their thousands, thousands of nurses have left the aged care sector. Why? Because of the pressure that's on people there. It's not sustainable at the moment. The system is in crisis, the government called a Royal Commission. We're saying nothing more and nothing less than we will implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission, a nurse in every nursing home, 215 minutes of care, increasing the wages of the aged care workforce, making sure we have better transparency, and in a short period of time, we'll be giving you more detail in a media conference we'll be having with Maggie Beer, about better food. Better food, imagine that in 2022, you've got to have a policy to give our older Australians, who built this country, decent food and decent nutrition. But we do have to have it. We've got it. Like we have policies across the board to fix this crisis.

JOURNALIST: Will you be heading up to the Barossa Valley next time you’re here?

ALBANESE: I have been to the Barossa Valley as a tourist on a couple of occasions. Today we're going somewhere a little bit closer, where you can get all the gems of South Australia, the central markets, which is a favourite place to visit, I've got to say.

JOURNALIST: The big four lenders are saying that interest rates will rise at least four times after the election, what will your government do to ease the cost of living pressures?

ALBANESE: Well, the lenders have all said that. So regardless of the outcome of the election, what they're saying is that they're anticipating and foreshadowing, those interest rate increases. What it does is emphasise the need for a plan to take pressure off the cost of living, not for the period of the election campaign, which is what this government's got, but permanently. So some of those measures that we have in place, our childcare policy is a key one to take pressure off working families, our energy policy and climate policy that will reduce power prices by $275, on average, for every household by 2025. The other measures that we're putting in place, it's one of the reasons why we're being modest at this election, we're not promising to change the world, we've been very careful with our spending commitments, because we do not want to place any inflationary pressure on the economy. But we have a plan for growth as well. A plan for growth, which will grow the economy and take some of that pressure off.

JOURNALIST: When interest rates do rise, will you extend the current fuel excise?

ALBANESE: Oh, it's this government that has put in place the timeframe for the fuel excise, it's one of their longer timeframes, I've got to say, it actually goes for months rather than weeks. Their one-off payments end when people cast their ballot paper. Their payments for aged care workers end when people cast their ballot paper, there's a theme here, you might have noticed, even though we're not in the election campaign, which is rather bizarre in itself, I've got to say, I feel like putting in a phone call to the Prime Minister, if he doesn't know where the Governor-General lives, and offer him a lift to (from) the Lodge to call this election, because this absurdity of not having the election called so that he can continue to spend taxpayer funds on election ads in the in the name of the Government, but they're really about promoting the Liberal-National parties, and so that he can continue to make these extraordinary appointments to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, to the Productivity Commission, to the Arts Council. I mean, surely there are now no more Liberal former state MPs, federal MPs, local councillors or mayors to appoint to these bodies, like enough, call the election, let the Australian people decide.

JOURNALIST: Speaking of  that, are you concerned about Clive Palmer vowing to spend $40 million on election advertising when it could have similar effects as in the last federal election?

ALBANESE: Well, I think that there is a need to look at processes of our elections and how they conducted. The fact that an individual can spend $70 million on an election campaign is a distortion of our democracy. Under the current system, that's allowed, various state governments have introduced measures to make sure that that sort of abuse can’t occur. It of course, is a matter for him. But I think people will look at the ads and look at what is being said with some scepticism. Because there's an interest here. People will recall that at last election campaign, a similar amount was expended without electing anyone, a single person to the parliament. And Clive Palmer declared that a success. If that's a success, I'm not sure what failure looks like. But his objective was to stop Labor getting elected at that time is what he said himself after the election. So people will draw their own conclusions, there.

JOURNALIST: But are you worried it could influence results in key seats?

ALBANESE: Well, I’m not distracted. I'm focused on the shortcomings of a government that is asking for a second decade in office that don't have a plan for today, let alone a plan for tomorrow. A government that's delivered two gigalitres instead of 450 for South Australia for the Murray is just one example. But if you look across the board, at this government's performance, there's a trillion dollars of debt and no legacy to show for it. They haven't used the opportunity of everyone agreeing we needed to stimulate the economy to leave a lasting legacy. During the global financial crisis, Labor introduced paid parental leave. The National Broadband Network fibre was to be rolled out to every home and business. We had a massive investment, in the interstate rail freight network was built, we rebuilt 1/3 of it. We invested in schools in hospitals. This government have a trillion dollars of debt, they have very little to show for it. They have no social policy legacy, and on the environment and climate change, having spent the last election campaign saying that electric vehicles would end the weekend, that a 50% renewable energy target was, to quote Scott Morrison “nuts,” was his view, being dismissive of all of the action, the sort of nonsense, about when, remember that their comments on the battery here in South Australia during the last election campaign. They still don't have an energy policy, they've been in government for almost a decade, they floated 22, they don't have one. We have one, it'll create 604,000 new jobs, it'll result in 43% reduction in emissions by 2030. 82% of the national grid will be renewables, five out of every six of those jobs will be created in regional Australia will use that cheaper, cleaner energy to drive manufacturing in this country, and in particular in this state. And I say to South Australians never forget, never forget, that this government told the car industry to leave. Dared them to leave. They encouraged them to go and those jobs to go as well. Australians deserve better and South Australians deserve better. They've got a better premier now, and Peter Malinauskas, they deserve a better Federal Government that will work with South Australia.

JOURNALIST: And what’s your next move here?

ALBANESE: You can come, you can come it's not far off, we’ll be with Maggie Beer. And we'll be putting more detail on our policy, which is about better nutrition for our older Australians, who are in aged care. The aged care Royal Commission, which was titled with one word, “Neglect,” found in its interim report, that over half of aged care residents weren't getting the nutrition that they need. They are literally starving. We need to do much better than that. And we have worked on this policy. We're worked and consulted experts across the board. This government, I'm quite stunned that it is now more than a week. Since my budget reply, where fixing the aged care crisis was the centrepiece. And all we've had from this government is sniping, but they're sniping at the recommendations from their own Royal Commission. Today's announcement with Maggie Beer is about the detail of making sure that we work to ensure that aged care residents get the nutrition they need. And often that's not just about, it's not even about necessarily more money. It's about getting it right. And what we shouldn't have, is the stories we heard in the Royal Commission, to name one of people getting the leftovers of aged care residence being scraped off plates, put in a blender, and served as puree the next day. In 2022, I reckon that we can do better than that. The Morrison Government says that's good enough.

JOURNALIST: As part of the review into migration will there be a crackdown on exploitation on the part of Labor? And what changes will there be to the parent and partner visas? 

ALBANESE: So what we'll have, we'll have more to say about the detail. But of course, we've been very concerned about exploitation of labour and there's been cases taken, and congratulations to the AWU for standing up. I've met people who have worked on farms, overseas labour, who've been exploited, who've been paid very little amount of money, who've been forced to live in conditions, which are crowded, have been docked their pay for the privilege of being able to sleep somewhere at night on those properties. Overwhelmingly, farmers do the right thing. I spoke to the National Farmers Federation this week. overwhelmingly, our farmers and our agricultural sector look after their workers, they regard them as part of their family. That's a great thing, whether they be people, seasonal workers who will come back year after year. And it does no one any good, not the least of which the farming and agricultural sectors for these stories to come out about exploitation, we can do better than that. We’re a a relatively wealthy country, and we shouldn't allow for exploitation of any worker in any workplace. 

JOURNALIST: Do you expect the real wages of Australians will rise under a Labor elected government?

ALBANESE: Well, we have a plan to do it. We have a plan to put secure work in the objectives of the Fair Work Act, we have a plan for same job, same pay, to properly define casualisation, to make sure we close the gender pay gap. We have a range of policies aimed towards that, and in addition, on the aged care workforce, we'll make a submission to the Fair Work Commission. We know that aged care workers being paid $22 An hour isn't good enough, that it will result in people leaving the industry. And then what happens to the system. What happens? So we've been warned, by the Royal Commission that we need to do something about it, the Fair Work Commission is looking at it. When we were last in government in 2012, there was a social and community services award case, the government made a submission saying that they were deserving of a wage increase. And that then happened, and I'll make this point. If you look at the areas where you have really poorly paid, they have two things in common. One is that they're feminized industries, our cleaners, childcare workers, aged care workers, people in previously that were in the community sector. The second thing they have in common is all of us as a society, during the pandemic, and every politician in this country said, Aren't we grateful for those workers who are getting us through the pandemic, who are continuing to turn up for work to look after their fellow Australians who are doing the hard jobs that are necessary? Well, they do deserve our thanks. But they deserve more than that, they deserve proper pay and respect after as well. 

JOURNALIST: In regard to the pandemic, will you be calling a Royal Commission into the government's response within a first term?

ALBANESE: I would have thought that we'll consider that, of course, and have more to say. But I would have thought that was pretty obvious that you need to look at in some form, how things occurred, whether things can be done better. In the future, we have a range of policies as well, including the creation of an Australian Centre for Disease Control, which other countries in the OECD have to make sure you get that constant advice and best practice through, that you're constantly working with the science. And quite clearly, we haven't gone out there and said. We have said there'll be a Royal Commission into Robodebt. And the scandal that was there. You want to talk about waste, the government's wasted half, half of what our aged care commitments have, have cost $2.5 billion was wasted on compensation, other payments to do with Robodebt over a billion dollars as a result. 

JOURNALIST: So if elected, you would call a Royal Commission? 

ALBANESE: Well, we'll have more to say on that.

JOURNALIST: In terms of Russia, are you suggesting the government's gone soft by not expelling Russian diplomats?

ALBANESE: No, no, we're not saying that at all. What we are doing is putting forward constructive suggestions. And what has occurred, overseas, I'll ask Penny to add to this answer. But what has occurred overseas as that countries like Italy and France have done that, and we need to send the strongest possible message that the atrocities that Russia is committing in this illegal war in Ukraine are unacceptable, and that Australia will be a part of putting maximum pressure on Russia, to stop this illegal war, in which war crimes are being committed, in which innocent civilians are being murdered in which destruction has been wrought on a country that has done nothing wrong, a sovereign country whose borders are deserving of respect, like other sovereign countries, what we're seeing is a breakdown in the international rule of law. It's unacceptable and Australia needs to use every avenue at its disposal to send that message. We've supported every one of the government's measures that they have come up with, whether it be providing financial or other support to Ukraine or whether it be the sanctions that have been implemented against the Putin regime.

PENNY WONG, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Well, I'm not sure I need to take that much further. I think Albo’s answer was absolutely right. We have supported this government in every measure they've taken to put pressure on Russia. What I would say is that the images out of Bucha, and other parts of Ukraine, which demonstrate credible evidence of war crimes, horrific images, it's time for us to do more. And what we are suggesting to the government is that we should act in lockstep with the many other nations who have also expelled Russian diplomats, including France and Germany. We think a line has been crossed. We understand the government has had a different view. But really, if you look at what the world has seen, in these this last week, the evidence, prima facie evidence of war crimes, it's time for stronger action to be taken.

JOURNALIST: With Russia sanctioning some Australian politicians, does that have any impact on our ability to negotiate?

WONG: Obviously, when you put pressure on a country, they may react, but you've just got to do the right thing. And we have a man, Mr. Putin and a nation which is acting in Ukraine illegally and immorally, it is a good thing that Russia has been suspended from the Human Rights Council that is a good thing. And the world has to act to put as much pressure as possible. The whole of the international community has to put as much pressure as possible on Russia. Their actions undermine global security. And they are also against the principles that humanity has collectively agreed about how we deal with each other.

ALBANESE: Thanks folks.