SUBJECTS: Diwali; minimum wage for farm workers; COVID recovery; Australia’s relationship with France and the United States; lack of trust in Scott Morrison; Australia’s reputation on the world’s stage.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to Blacktown. And very special thanks to the good people here at our temple here in Blacktown, the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, who have been such excellent hosts today and very much appreciate them hosting especially on this most auspicious occasion of Diwali. And I say to one and all, Shubh Diwali'. It is a wonderful time to be in Australia, but an even better time to be here in Western Sydney celebrating with such a diverse community. A very big shout-out in particular to this community and to all of our multicultural communities in Blacktown, who have made the electorate of Greenway, some time ago, the most vaccinated electorate in all of Australia. We didn't have enough vaccines, we didn't have a vaccine hub, but we had good people in Greenway who were willing to put out messages in language in their communities and beyond to make sure the message of vaccination was heard loud and clear. So it's wonderful to see that we're able to gather in some numbers, at least, here today. And hopefully very soon this temple will be filled with the thousands of people who gather here to worship. So thank you so much for hosting us. And thank you, Anthony, for being here today. You are a great friend of Western Sydney. And I know you have a very strong affinity with people from various backgrounds, including the Indian and subcontinent diaspora. So thanks for being here, Anthony.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much, Michelle. And it's great to be back in Blacktown today. And it's fantastic to be here to be able to celebrate with this community their Diwali. Diwali celebrates the victory of lightness over darkness. And the diyas, the lights, are symbolic of that. It's the most important day in the calendar for this community. And I want to thank them not just for the welcome to myself here today, but thank them for the extraordinary work that they've done in the community in what has been a very difficult year. Donating their time, donating goods and services, making sure that people aren't left behind. And it's a tribute to this community, as Michelle has said, that this is the most vaccinated electorate in Australia in spite of the fact that they didn't get a vaccination hub, in spite of the fact that the vaccine supply was botched by the Morrison Government.
I do want to make some comments on the issues of the day, because Mr Morrison is returning today from his trip to Rome and to Glasgow. In Glasgow, we saw an empty speech to an empty room, a Prime Minister that didn't have a lot to say about the future and, therefore, the world wasn't really listening. They were aware that just a week earlier he had said that there were no new policies when he launched, reluctantly and belatedly, Australia's position of net zero by 2050. But in not having anything of substance to say, what the focus was on, of course, was the breakdown in relations that have occurred between Australia and the United States and France. Watching Mr Morrison go through all the exercises, from the handshake taken by his personal photographer and then broadcast out, reminded me of Mr Morrison's trip to Cobargo at the end of the bushfires. We then had a situation whereby not only did the President of the United States say that he was concerned about the way that this issue was handled, we then had the Australian Government release information about the lead-up to that announcement from official sources in the United States, further complicating, putting that relationship back on an even footing. And of course, with the French President, first we had the Prime Minister say that Australian journalists were taking selfies. That wasn't true. We then had the attempt to say that it was an attack on the whole of Australia and Australians. That wasn't true either. It was about the behaviour of the Australian Prime Minister. And it always was. But this Prime Minister always seeks to blame someone else. And there's a pattern of behaviour here. And what we need to do is to make sure that we repair these relationships, whether they be with the United States or with France.
Can I also make some comments about the extraordinary decision today, that is just so welcome, about our farmworkers? This is a great victory for the Australian Workers' Union. We have raised the issue of people being underpaid and exploited who are engaged in fruit picking and other activities. The Federal Government's response is that paying people the minimum wage, which is just $25.41 for a casual, was complicated. Well, the truth is that paying people in Australia the minimum wage isn't complicated, it's just decent. It's the right thing to do. And we need to stop people being exploited. This decision by the Fair Work Commission today is a welcome one. It shows that it is possible. And it's been done out of hard work, it must be said, by the union, but also brave people coming forward, telling their personal stories about exploitation. We are a country that believes in the fair go. And the fair go starts with a decent day's pay for a decent day's work. That is what our country is on about. And this decision today recognises that. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: I’ll start with Diwali. Does this year’s Diwali carry any more significance given it’s against the backdrop of the COVID recovery?
ALBANESE: I think it's particularly significant this year because of the nature of this celebration of victory of lightness over darkness. As we emerge from COVID, we are emerging into the light. The fact that activity is happening here today, with social distancing, with all the protections in place, is a good thing. In recent times, people have been separated from each other, separated from their families, and it's a good thing that change has happened. This morning, I flew up from Melbourne. It was my first visit to Victoria for many months. But we need to return to normal. The key to that was always getting people vaccinated. It always was a race. And people have been extraordinary during this period. But I think today, the Diwali is particularly appropriate.
JOURNALIST: Do you think we will return to some sort of normalcy by the time the new year comes?
ALBANESE: Well, I hope so. I certainly hope that people continue to get vaccinated. Booster shots are now available for people in New South Wales. And I encourage people to get their booster shot. I'm trying to organise mine at the moment. I'm eligible. And people should be doing it. Everyone who's eligible across the board should get their booster. We need to make sure that we're not complacent and that we can emerge stronger from this pandemic.
JOURNALIST: You volunteer some comment on the Fair Work Commission ruling(inaudible). But on that topic, nationally there are some farmers saying they’re going to go out of business because of this wage increase. What do you make of those comments?
ALBANESE: We in Australia believe the pretty simple policy that people should be paid the minimum wage. If people aren't paid the minimum wage, then there isn't one. And here in Australia, that is the Australian way. That is what we do. And certainly, I have every respect for farmers, who work hard, but we need to make sure that people aren't exploited. And I think that Australians, when they eat their berries, eat their fruit, they want to know that the person who has played a role in picking that fruit, in working hard in what is hard physical work, has been paid at least the minimum wage.
JOURNALIST: A few days ago, the President of France implied Prime Minister Scott Morrison was a liar. Do you agree with the characterisation?
ALBANESE: Well, the only thing that the Prime Minister has accomplished on this trip is proving that he can't be trusted. Scott Morrison's activity and conscious decisions will draw into question whether he can be trusted on the global stage. What world leader would send the Prime Minister a private text message if he thought that private text message was going to be released at a time of convenience to the Prime Minister and in a way which was used for political spin? Trust is something that needs to be earned. But once it's lost, it's very hard to get it back. And if people think about this, if a journalist thinks about it, that if a politician sends a journalist a private text, journalists understand that they don't release it. If people who are friends send each other text messages, they don't expect to read about that in the paper. What we're talking about here is world leaders. Everyone understands, in today's generation, from the youngest kid at school right through, understands that private text messages are meant to be just that. They're meant to be private, not to be used selectively to spin. My concern here is that the trust has been broken down, not just between, of course, President Macron, but also the comments of President Biden that went to whether he was properly briefed. And we need to repair that. It will be difficult, but it needs to be done because it's in Australia's national interest for us to have good relations with the United States of America and also France, as well as our other neighbours.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned a couple. Do you think international leaders across the globe will begin to question whether they can engage in confidential way with our Prime Minister, given what’s happened?
ALBANESE: Well, I think people will think that through themselves. And they'll think through that if they had engaged in a private text message to anybody that was then released without authorisation and with political spin put on it, then, of course, you will draw into question whether you can have those private conversations that are so important for our diplomacy, so important in terms of trust between national leaders. What we've seen is a breakdown of that trust between national leaders.
JOURNALIST: Marise Payne is about to go on a trip through Asia. Do you think it's enough to repair Australia's international standing?
ALBANESE: Well, it's a good thing that Marise Payne is travelling in the region. But part of the problem here is that Marise Payne, as the Foreign Minister and our Defence Minister, met with the Foreign Minister and Defence Minister of France at the end of August. And if you look at the communique that came from that meeting, there was no indication that the contract was about to be removed. Now, given Australia knew at that time what was being considered, perhaps it would have been wise for those meetings to not go ahead and for those communiques to not be released. This needed to be thought through. President Biden has used the term 'clumsy'. What is clear is that Australia, which, traditionally, we punch above our weight on the international stage, and we punch above our weight because we have been a trusted ally to other nations, because we are a multicultural nation, because the Australian way is to engage in direct language and the Australian way is to be honest and straight talking. That is what we do. My biography, the title of it is, 'Albanese: Telling it Straight'. I doubt whether Scott Morrison will ever have a book written about him that's titled, 'Telling it Straight'. Thanks very much.