Australian Prime Minister Radio interview – 2GB Drive with Chris O’Keefe

Prime Minister

: You know that I’ve been campaigning and a big supporter on upgrading Leichhardt Oval and I’ve been doing stories on it for more than 10 years, I reckon. I’m not a Wests Tigers supporter. I’ve been living in the area, though, in and around Balmain for ages now and I’ve seen firsthand just how many sporting teams use Leichhardt Oval for a whole range of sports. Doesn’t matter what it is, juniors, adult sport, it is always being used and I just want to remind you of something. So, Leichhardt Oval hosts NRL games, NRLW games, Sydney FC Women’s A-League games, Sydney FC and Western United Men’s A-League games, lower grade NRL teams, nine lower grade and country NRLW teams, Shute Shield rugby, schoolboy rugby union, as well as junior rugby league and junior soccer like the APIA club. You’ve got to remember that Leichhardt Oval is a community sporting facility that sometimes hosts NRL, it’s not a stadium. And that’s why I recommend $40 million from the Prime Minister, the Premier and the Inner West Mayor, Darcy Byrne, just to do it up. I think it’s the right thing to do. It’s not some obscene amount of money. $40 million is modest. It refurbishes the current grandstand, builds a new standard, the northern end, upgrades the food and beverage, upgrades the change rooms, so men and women can properly utilise the facility. It is 90 years old. And I reckon this $40 million means it will not die a slow death and it will secure, rightly, its future. Well, I’m pleased to say Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, he’s been behind all this. And he’s on the line. Prime Minister, thanks for your time.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good to be with you, Chris. And congrats to you and everyone else, I’ve got to say, who has campaigned for such a long period of time. I don’t think it was going to die a slow death, I think it was going to die a very quick one unless this upgrade occurred. And it is such an important part of the community. And in Sydney, right across Sydney, we don’t have enough of those local suburban facilities that are places where people just gather, it’s a part of their memory and their identity. And there’s more than 120 sporting fixtures are going to be played this year at Leichhardt Oval. But the truth is that it’s not up to scratch. The facilities just aren’t there particularly for women’s team sports, you need better change rooms, you need better facilities there, so that everyone can really enjoy the experience. And this funding will make sure that Leichhardt Oval’s future is secure.

O’KEEFE: I think you were the last person to give it some money when you were a Minister in the Rudd Government or the Gillard Government was that right?

PRIME MINISTER: I was, a long time ago we we’ve provided some funding to fix up the main grandstand there. But it’s pretty tired. And this new grandstand in the northern end will mean that there’s seating for 3,000 people and it’ll keep the character. Of course, the Wayne Pearce Hill you don’t want to interfere with that. And the thing about Leichhardt Oval is that you’re so close to the action. And I was talking to the Sydney FC women players who were there today and they just love it. They got 7,000 people there to a game recently and that is the sort of community activity. Look, there’s a bit of a debate about social media as you know, Chris, and we need to get our young people off their devices and onto the sporting fields. And this is one way that we’ll do it.

O’KEEFE: I think people don’t quite understand either, if you haven’t been to Leichhardt Oval, just what the ground means to the local community too, in terms of the pubs, in terms of the coffee shops, in terms of the restaurants and just the fabric of the joint.

PRIME MINISTER: Everything. The economy booms whenever there’s a game there because people will have a beer before the game, have another couple afterwards.

O’KEEFE: I was going to say, a beer. It’s Balmain, there’s plenty of pubs.

PRIME MINISTER: Indeed, there are. And they’re full when the Tigers are playing. And the thing about the culture there as well, I’m a South Sydney diehard, as you know, and walking along the hill there in front of the Wayne Pearce stand, it’s not a stand it’s a scoreboard up there, you know they’ll rip into you and you’ll see people who I went to school with, who I grew up with. It’s a really good natured banter. There’s a real community feel there. People outside selling sausages and selling drinks and a Mr Whippy van’s always there. It’s a part of the local community.

O’KEEFE: I’m talking to the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese. Just on some other topics, the Electoral Commission has just released its draft boundaries for New South Wales. Ironically, Leichhardt Oval and Balmain will no longer be in your electorate of Grayndler. But Kylea Tink looks to have lost out with North Sydney abolished. Your thoughts on that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is, of course, the draft boundaries. And sometimes there can be a bit of a shift between the draft boundaries and the final ones. We have a system of one vote, one value. And that’s really important that everyone’s vote counts for the same in the House of Representatives. So, North Sydney has been abolished. Of course, it doesn’t just disappear. It goes into, some will move into Warringah, some of it into Bradfield, some of it into Bennelong. But it will be, I think, a disappointing outcome for Kylea Tink. But we’ll wait and see what happens there. There’s been some significant changes in in boundaries. The draft takes the Balmain Peninsular away from me, that I’m sad about. I was very proud to represent the area where the first ALP branch met, there at Unity Hall there in Balmain. But these are things that happen. And that’s an important part of our democratic process.

O’KEEFE: Now, over the last, over the course of the last couple of weeks, we’ve been talking to people who are just, they just can’t get through to Services Australia at the moment, be it Centrelink, or whatever it may be. There are 601,000 Australians who tried calling Centrelink, get this, between the 1st of January 2024 and the 1st of May and they were kept on hold for longer than 60 minutes. Now, Bill Shorten is quick to tell everyone that things are under control, but surely this isn’t good enough.

PRIME MINISTER: We always need to do better. And people when they need that those services need to be able to get on to people, whether in person or on the phone. We have invested in some 3,000 additional staff to process claims and take calls. And we think that is important. Clearly, that’s not good enough, and we need to continue to work to do better.

O’KEEFE: Well, if you’re ringing the employment services line at Centrelink you’re looking at an average of a 50 minute wait, disability, sickness and carers 50 minute wait. families and parenting 52 minute wait. Older Australians 47 minute wait. That’s a really long time if you get onto somebody.

PRIME MINISTER: It is. We need to do better. One of the things that we had to do though was to, you’d be aware of the Robodebt scandal. We had to employ people, we’d stopped doing that, and you need to have proper training. There’s 3,000 staff that have now finished training, as a result average call wait times are being reduced. But we clearly need to do better.

O’KEEFE: Have you spoken to Bill Shorten about this? He’s on every single media outlet saying, ‘oh, it’s all under control.’ It’s clearly not.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, Bill Shorten is very conscious about this. And he is someone who’s driven the change to make sure that people get better services. They manage around a million phone contacts a week, and so we do need to do better.

O’KEEFE: Under the Morrison Government it was around 20 minutes, now it’s an hour.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that’s not right. That’s not right. Under the Morrison Government you had Robodebt where people couldn’t get onto anyone, where people got the automated bills basically for things that they didn’t owe.

O’KEEFE: Yes, but I’m talking about picking up the phone to Centrelink. I’m just looking at the stats here. So the disability, sickness and carers 2021-2022, you were there for 21 minutes under the Morrison Government. Under yours, 47.

PRIME MINISTER: No, well what we’re doing is working to address these issues and we’ll continue to do it. I accept, Chris, that we need to do better, and I’m certain that we will. And Bill Shorten is doing a good job of addressing what essentially was a bit of a mess that he inherited as Government Services Minister.

O’KEEFE: Anthony Albanese, before I let you go, I know that you haven’t been a great fan of John Setka for many, many years.

PRIME MINISTER: Certainly not.

O’KEEFE: But his carry on with the AFL umpire boss, is he a union boss or a bully? And is this not proof positive of why we need the Building and Construction Commission?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what we don’t need is John Setka playing any role. And the job of union officials is to look after their members, it’s not to engage in this sort of nonsense of targeting a bloke who’s the head of umpires for the AFL, that’s a matter for the AFL. It has nothing to do with John Setka. And, you know, this guy I think, rather likes attention, I try not to give him any. One of the first things that I did as Leader of the Labor Party was to expel John Setka from the Party. He took me to court and the entire National Executive over that. But I stand by the fact that that was the right decision.

O’KEEFE: Anthony Albanese, I really appreciate your time. And I know that the Tigers are playing at Leichhardt tomorrow, so hopefully it’s not raining and it’s a packed house.

PRIME MINISTER: I’m sure. Well, the thing about Leichhardt is, one of the things that confirms that this is the right decision is it doesn’t matter how much rain there is, the diehards will still be there and cheering on their team.

O’KEEFE: Or how few games they’ve won.

PRIME MINISTER: Well indeed, they are very loyal. But as a Souths supporter, we went 43 years between drinks.

O’KEEFE: As a Dragons supporter, I know all about it.

PRIME MINISTER: I’ll be there at Accor tonight cheering on Souths versus the Broncos. So, we’ll see how we go.

O’KEEFE: Prime Minister, thanks so much.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Chris.

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