3.10pm | November 24, 2021


SUBJECTS: Labor’s pledge for a Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence Commissioner; religious freedom; coercive control laws; use of taxpayer money; Labor’s policy agenda; Federal election.
KRISTY MCBAIN, MEMBER FOR EDEN-MONARO: Thank you for joining me here today. I'm Kristy McBain, Member for Eden-Monaro. And it's a pleasure to welcome Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese, and Shadow Assistant Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence, Jenny McAlister, to Karabar here at St Benedict's today. We, in regional communities, do have the same issues that our city counterparts have. We understand that there is a scourge on our community. And that is domestic violence. And we all have a job to play in preventing that and making sure that our communities have access to wonderful centres like this, to professionals in the space. And this announcement will make a huge difference not only to my communities, but to communities across Australia. Anthony?
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much, Kristy. And I do want to thank Elaine and her team for welcoming us here to St Benedict's. Last night in Australia, women and children were forced to sleep in their car, or they were forced to surf on someone's couch who they knew, or in worst-case scenarios, they went back to a violent situation, because they didn't have other options, because they had nowhere to go. The scourge of domestic violence is a stain on our nation. And we need, together, to do more to combat it. This must be a priority for governments of all level. Wonderful workers like Elaine and her team do incredible work, making a difference to people's lives, vulnerable people, people endangered for their safety, women and children in circumstances where they just want to feel safe and to be able to get food in their belly and be able to sleep at night. That's why we need to do more.
I'm committed to this being an absolute priority of a Labor Government that I would lead. And that's why today I'm announcing a Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence Commissioner that would be created under a Labor Government, working with a team to coordinate with states and territories, with non-government organisations, to deal with the myriad of issues which need dealing with and to lift the profile of these issues.
Secondly, as well, and importantly, we will fund 500 community workers to make a difference to people's lives. There are a range of areas where this can be done. Women, of course, need support to find housing. And one of the things that we heard today from Elaine was that when she began in this sector, it used to take just three weeks on average to find a home, a secure home, for someone to stay in. Now, it's more like two years because of the lack of affordable secure housing. Regional communities are particularly hard hit by this lack of housing. And it's a major issue. In addition, women and children need financial advice. They need that support when they're vulnerable, when they are needed, so that they feel secure enough to seek safety. This week, chances are, because on average every week, a woman will die of violence from someone they know. From a husband, or a partner, or a former partner. We need to do much, much better in this area. We've already announced 4,000 social housing units that would be created under a Labor Government under our Housing Future Fund. We've already announced $100 million of additional funding for crisis accommodation, and of course, we have announced 10 days paid domestic and family violence leave. Together, these measures will make a difference. These measures will work with the incredible work that non-government organisations are doing. Just a couple of weeks ago, near my electorate in Sydney, I attended a fundraiser for Bayside Women's Shelter. There talking to the workers, they talked about having to turn people away because they don't have enough space to accommodate them. It is a fact that these organisations are having to raise funds in the community. And that's a good thing. We should encourage that. But governments need to do more as well. They need to step up. And a Labor Government that I lead would do just that.
JENNY MCALLISTER, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNITIES AND THE PREVENTION OF FAMILY VIOLENCE: Thanks, Anthony. Thanks, Kristy, for the welcome. And thanks to the team at St Benedict's for welcoming us here today. Police are called to a domestic violence incident every two minutes. But all around the country, the services that I speak to tell me that they turn away as many as half of the women who come to them looking for assistance. This is not good enough. When a woman reaches out and asks for help, as a Government, we have an obligation to make sure that they do receive assistance at that time. It's why the announcement Anthony has just made is so important. 500 new workers across the country will make a very significant difference. The services I speak to say they could do so much more with an extra pair of hands. These workers could be placed in a specialist domestic violence service, so that there would be a caseworker to stand beside a woman as she made this most difficult journey. A worker could be placed in a generalist service like this one, a financial counsellor to help a woman work through the accumulated debts forced upon her by a financially abusive partner. Or service like this one could employ a children's worker. Someone to sit with a young child and help them sort through and make sense of the trauma and the violence that's been inflicted upon them. These are important announcements. And they come hand in hand with an announcement about accountability. It has been way too hard to find out where the national plan is up to. I have sought to ask questions from the Minister about how many of the measures have been initiated, how many have been completed. It's been very, very difficult to find answers. A commissioner would hold the Government to account, would keep track of progress, would work with the states and territories to make sure that we have the data that we need to invest our time and resources in the places where we know we can make the most difference. A Labor Government will take this seriously. This whole policy area has been characterised by a disturbing neglect over the last eight years. Unlike this Government, we do not see this as merely a political problem to be solved. We see this as an opportunity to do good. And as you heard from Anthony, this is an opportunity that we won't miss should we form a Government. Thank you.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Jenny and Kristy. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: This issue obviously goes beyond and goes deeper inside a broad range of issues across society. How would a Labor Federal Government address the issues to try and drive down these problems?
ALBANESE: Well, part of what we need to address this talking about it, it is bringing it out into the open. A commissioner would do just that. If you look at the work that's been done by Julie Inman Grant, as the eSafety Commissioner, what that has done is lift the profile of issues of safety, particularly of children online. Why is it that domestic violence, where a woman dies once a week, where, as Jenny said, police receive a phone call every two minutes about an incident of domestic violence, and during COVID, during the pandemic, those rates have increased, that we're not talking about this? A commissioner would lift the profile of these issues. And that would be part of what we need to do. But I don't pretend that this is just an issue for governments. This is an issue for all of us. It's an issue for men to talk about as well, to talk about behaviour, to talk about the fact, when you look at the statistics, one of the things that always strikes me when I see these statistics is that people that I know and you know must be engaged in this by definition, given the number of people that we know. And quite often, of course, during my life, I have been shocked by the fact that has occurred, and within families that I know. It's a devastating crisis. It's one that we all have a responsibility to address.
MCALLISTER: The Government is in the process of renegotiating the national plan to reduce violence against women and their children. That's a national plan that Labor established to coordinate across the states and territories and, indeed, across the community to reduce the devastating impacts of violence. That plan was due to be released in draft form this month. Well, the clock's ticking, and we still haven't seen it from Minister Ruston. The big difference between this Government and a Labor Government is that we would take this seriously. Our commissioner would work alongside a Labor Cabinet that is committed to making a difference, that would bring urgency and ambition to this task. And unfortunately, there's been very little evidence of that over the last eight years.
JOURNALIST: Do you have a view on coercive control laws? Do you support the introduction of laws making coercive control illegal?
ALBANESE: We do. Coercive control is a major issue. It's one of the steps and, indeed, in some cases can be seen as violence in itself.
JOURNALIST: On that, obviously, those would need to be introduced by states. What work would your Government do?
ALBANESE: Well, one of the things, as part of the national plan, a range of states are, of course, acting on this. And we applaud them for it. We think that one of the things that the national plan should do, and a commissioner would play a role in, along with a minister, I have someone specifically appointed to deal with these issues in Jenny McAllister, and someone who has been an outstanding advocate in Opposition, but all you can do in Opposition is advocate. In Government, you can do. And that is what we seek to do. And with an appointment of someone with responsibility, as well as with the appointment of a commissioner, we see that would be very important. These issues shouldn't be partisan. These issues should also be an example of how we deal with our Federation to have more uniformity as well, in the way that we deal with some of these issues. In some cases, it's quite complex. And different rules, whether it be in Albury, Wodonga, Queanbeyan, or Canberra, these issues need more consistency. And we need to, as a nation, deal with this.
JOURNALIST: On the religious discrimination bill, will Labor support it passing through the Lower House? And secondly, Labor has been briefed on it, so what are your concerns?
ALBANESE: I haven't seen it.
JOURNALIST: We understand Mark Dreyfus has.
ALBANESE: I haven't seen it. I haven't seen it. And I find it extraordinary that the Prime Minister hasn't had the courtesy to do that. I met with Archbishop Comensoli this week. I've met with religious leaders across the board since I've been Leader of the Labor Party and, indeed, beforehand. And I've met with, because of my own position, I've met with Catholic leaders for 50+ years. I'm of the view that people should be allowed to, of course, practice their faith. That should be respected. That's my starting point. That, of course, shouldn't be at the expense of discriminating on the basis of other people's characteristics. But we'll look at the legislation. But I haven't seen it.
JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to Mark Dreyfus about it?
ALBANESE: Mark Dreyfus isn't here. He's on leave.
JOURNALIST: But he was briefed on it.
ALBANESE: Well, he's had a conversation with the Minister. I have not seen the legislation. You know where my office is. I think the Prime Minister knows where it is too.
JOURNALIST: What protections are you concerned about rights being impinged on? For example, would you be comfortable with the idea of a religious school firing a teacher based on their sexuality?
ALBANESE: Well, the truth is that speaking to the leaders of the largest religious school organisation, in terms of Archbishop Comensoli, he's not seeking to have people sacked. And there's no example that I know of gay or lesbian teacher being sacked for being gay or lesbian in a Catholic school. I went to Catholic schools throughout my schooling. And I received an education. They were quite generous to me because I had a single mum, I didn't pay school fees. And that's the sort of thing that isn't uncommon. But I'll look at the legislation. I'll examine it. This shouldn't be a partisan view. I know that is the view of the Archbishops, the Imams, the other orthodox leaders. I spoke with Archbishop Makarios and all of the bishops of the Greek Orthodox churches around Australia. I was hosted generously by His Eminence last week at the cathedral in Redfern. So, we'll examine this. This shouldn't be a partisan issue. And we will work through any issues which is there.
JOURNALIST: But it is a sensitive issue, isn't it?
ALBANESE: It is sensitive, which is why I would have thought that it was appropriate for the Prime Minister to actually sit down with us, something that was asked for by the religious leaders, not by others, wanted people to sit down and talk any issues through. The Prime Minister has chosen not to do that. I understand that the legislation wasn't even before their Party room yesterday, but a verbal brief was given. People need to see legislation before they comment on the details of that legislation. And I'm disappointed, but I'm not surprised. Because this Prime Minister is never about bringing people together. And one of the things that faith communities do is they bring people together. They bring that sense of belonging and identity through a common shared faith and view of the world. That's why religions can play an important role. And that's why they need to be respected. This Prime Minister is someone who doesn't bring people together, and doesn't try to, and hasn't tried to up to this point. But I'm quite willing, as always, as I've said, to sit down with the Prime Minister and talk these issues through. While we're at it, we can talk about the other legislation that he's promised would be here for the entire term. We can talk about the national integrity commission. I understand why he doesn't want to talk about corruption. We can talk about the Voice to Parliament and constitutional recognition for First Nations people, that was also promised and spoken about in the Governor General's address at the opening of Parliament of this term.
JOURNALIST: Is Labor comfortable with taxpayer money being used to help fund a gas company looking to gas exploration in the NT?
ALBANESE: Look, we've made those comments. That has been before the Parliament.
JOURNALIST: The Greens are bringing a disallowance motion today.
ALBANESE: I don't worry terribly much about what the Greens are doing from time to time.
JOURNALIST: But are you comfortable with your position?
ALBANESE: I worry about what the Labor Party does. And what the Labor Party will do is exactly consistent with what we did the last time this was raised.
JOURNALIST: So, happy for taxpayer money to be used for that?
ALBANESE: We will do exactly what the Labor Party did the last time that was raised if it's the same issue.
JOURNALIST: Before, you suggested that you understood that the Prime Minister wouldn't want to talk about corruption. What do you mean by that? What are you suggesting?
ALBANESE: Well, that he doesn't want a national integrity commission. He doesn't want a body. If there was a national integrity commission, it would be looking at why taxpayers paid $30 million for land that was valued at $3 million. It would be looking at the allocation of taxpayers' money for commuter car parks, as former auditors and experts have said, where no train station exists, and where the allocation was done on a colour-coded sheet, and where only members of the Government or candidates who aren't Members of Parliament could advocate to get funding. It would talk about funding for women's sports that was supposed to be funded, where there are no women's sporting teams. It would talk about funding for regional communities that was given to North Sydney Pool. If there was an anti-corruption commission, it would also likely have a look at, potentially, how it is that a million dollars, up to a million dollars, was donated for a private legal matter for a Member of Parliament and those circumstances. There's a range of issues where this Government refused to have accountability. And what we've seen, can I say this with Dominic Perrottet in New South Wales, I note that he's made some very interesting comments as the incoming Premier about the allocation of funds and grant funding as a result of the scandal surrounding his predecessor.
JOURNALIST: Following on from that, heading into the last parliamentary sitting week of the year and an election due next year, you have consistently targeted the Prime Minister over trust. Are you concerned about if you will cut through, that if this is a race between you and him on a policy level, you can't win?
ALBANESE: I believe that Labor will be successful at the next election. And we'll be successful on the basis of two things. Firstly, that this is a Government seeking a second decade in office, led by a man who can't be trusted, led by a man who himself has no regard for what he said yesterday. If you have no regard for what you say yesterday, why should Australians listen to what Scott Morrison says today? And on issues like electric vehicles where he denies what he said on the record. And on Monday, we saw another example whereby he stood up in Parliament, he said that he told me by text message, very clearly, he said he told me he was going to Hawaii, and then had to two hours later go into Parliament after doubling down initially and say that wasn't true. And say, 'Well, of course, it's not true. Because why would I tell him that?' Well, why would he say that? This is a Prime Minister who has a problem with just being straight with people and telling the truth. So, that's the first thing. And this Government's record, or lack of record, of making a difference, having no legacy on economic, social or environmental policy. We still don't even have a climate policy. We just have a vibe.
JOURNALIST: But what about your policies?
ALBANESE: We're not in an election campaign yet. And we will have a whole suite of policies out there. And I'm announcing one here today, again.
JOURNALIST: There is still the issue, Anthony, that at the moment, Australians don't quite know what Labor under Anthony Albanese stands for or what a Labor Government would do for the country.
ALBANESE: What they know is that we would rebuild the country back stronger. They know that we've announced a National Reconstruction Fund of $15 billion to support new industries. They know we believe that action on climate change will drive down energy prices, will allow us to rebuild manufacturing. They know that we support a Future Made in Australia, right here. They know that when it comes to equity issues, including gender equity and women's safety, that we've got a range of measures, including the last one that we announced here. They know that we want to use the power of government to assist in shaping the future. So, that on the National Broadband Network, for example, we think that fibre is better than copper. This Government stopped the rollout of fibre and rolled out copper. And we're going to fix the problem that they created. So, they know that across the board on economic issues, on social issues and environmental issues, and we'll have much more to say, we have in the last week, and made announcement, this is the fourth policy announcements that we've made in a week. And we do that in the context, as we come up to the election, there'll be more and more policy announcements, but they also know about my character compared with Scott Morrison's character. They know that I'm someone who, when I stood next to a Prime Minister, be it Prime Minister Rudd or Prime Minister Gillard, and did my best to support them. They knew that I didn't stand next to Prime Minister Turnbull and say, 'I'm ambitious for him', while my numbers people were out there spearing him. And that's what happened to Malcolm Turnbull. They know that Scott Morrison isn't trusted by his own Caucus. They know that the Government is unravelling. This week, they can't get anything through the Parliament. They're in a state of chaos. Five senators crossing the floor on Monday. If you can't govern yourselves, how can you govern the country? And this Government has always been about the 24-hour media cycle. Our vision for Australia is that we want to build back stronger, not just go back to what was there before. We want to be straight with the Australian people as well. We know that it always was a race when it came to the rollout of vaccines. And Scott Morrison failed when it came to securing enough vaccines and having purpose-built quarantine. And that's one reason why restrictions are in place today and the lockdowns were there for longer than they needed to be. Because Scott Morrison failed in the big tasks that he had this year. Thanks very much.