Australian Prime Minister Radio interview – ABC Melbourne

Prime Minister

: Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, welcome to ABC Radio Melbourne Drive.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon. Wonderful to be talking with you and I hope you’re enjoying Frankston.

MOORE: Well, it’d probably be better if you were down here, perhaps. But you have been in this electorate, I understand, a bit. How are you feeling about the 2nd of March?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, by-elections are tough for Governments, but we have a fantastic candidate in Jodie Belyea. She’s someone who’s a real fighter, like Peta Murphy was, and she understands the electorate. She’s a mum with a mortgage, I’ve been to her home there. She knows about issues facing locals. Her son goes to, he’s doing his HSC this year at Frankston High. And she’s someone really connected who Peta recruited to the Labor Party. And she’s someone who really cares about people, she’s very compassionate and someone who’s very engaging. When I’ve been down there I’ve been impressed at how quickly, she’s certainly not a career politician, but she’s very warm and just very honest and straightforward. And I think that has, means that she’s able to connect with people.

MOORE: It’s a margin of 6.3 per cent, which we have been discussing, looks really good on paper, but could be really hard. What’s your polling telling you?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, polling shows that it will be close. The average swing in a by-election against the Government, in a Government held seat, is 7 per cent. So, that’s an indication that it’s certainly not a lay down misère. It’s something that we are out there fighting for every single vote. Jodie’s working very hard, the local branch members are working hard. They want to make sure that Peta Murphy’s legacy is upheld. There’s so many things we can point you there. Today’s figures, I’ve got to say, will help as well. They show that real wages are increasing on an annual basis, with that a 4.2 per cent figure, greater than the inflation figure. And that means that we’ve achieved real wage growth much earlier than we anticipated. And that’s a real plus, together with the tax cuts for every single taxpayer in the electorate, and indeed in every electorate right around Australia, I think that shows that our cost of living measures are making a difference.

MOORE: Is there more to come on cost of living? You would have seen the recent surveys by RedBridge, for one, which is actually run by a long serving campaign strategist for the Labor Party, but they say –

PRIME MINISTER: And one for the Liberal Party as well it must be said. It’s a joint operation, that one.

MOORE: But I suppose my point is that they’ve found that in this electorate, people say the tax cuts are nice to have, but they’re not really much of a help. The problems down here are in the hundreds of dollars a week, they’re not in the tens of dollars a week. Is there more help?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, there’s hundreds of dollars a week flowing from the tax cuts, of course. Or if you’re on an average income of $73,000, you’ll get a tax cut of over $1,500 a year. That’s more than double what people were going to get. But on top of that, you have, I’ve been to the Medicare Urgent Care Clinic there in Beach Street, there in Frankston. They’ve treated some 12,000 people through there already to get that health care they need, when they need it, for free. Cheaper child care has led to a reduction in childcare costs of 11 per cent, Fee Free TAFE has made an enormous difference for people, cheaper medicines has made a difference as well, Australians have saved $300 million since that was introduced last year. So, we’ll look at further measures as well. We want to make sure that we address cost of living pressures whilst putting downward pressure on inflation. It’s no good just doing things that will have a negative long term impact. We need to be careful about how we do it and that’s what we’ve been doing. But, the combination of providing support plus the increased wages that we’re seeing, particularly in the care sector, mean that, we understand people are suffering from cost of living pressures, but we’re doing what we can to provide that support.

MOORE: I know that time is of the essence, I’ve got lots of other issues that I want to get to, but just a final question to do with Dunkley, and this is the $900 million that the Liberals have promised for the Frankston to Baxter line upgrade. Previously, the Federal Coalition Government put in a couple of hundred million, that was back in 2018. You were in Opposition, you said you’d support it. In 2019, you called it transformative. Last year, it was scrapped after a review of infrastructure projects. So, is it a good project but the money is the problem, or is it a bad project?

PRIME MINISTER: No, it’s a bad project that doesn’t stack up, which is why when the examination was done, we didn’t commit to it in the last election campaign. And this has been promised 13 times when the Liberals were in government. 13 times, 13 promises.

MOORE: But you too promised it.

MOORE: Well, we weren’t in government. You can’t build things if you’re not in government. We did make a promise prior to the 2019 election, that was more than five years ago. Since then, there was an examination, including by the Victorian State Government. That’s why we did not commit to it during the last election campaign, because it doesn’t stack up. And what’s more, the Victorian Liberals haven’t committed to it either, so it’s an orphan. There’s half the funding available. You can’t build a project with half the funding. So, if they’re betting, they’ve got to stump up at least 1.8 billion, not $900 million.

MOORE: We also, of course, mentioned at the start, the reason this whole by-election is being held is because of the death of Peta Murphy, who you were very close to. Peta Murphy was absolutely key to pushing a ban on online gambling ads. She chaired the Parliamentary Inquiry which made that recommendation for a ban to be phased in over three years. Wouldn’t doing that, wouldn’t accepting those recommendations, be the best way of cementing her legacy?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’re consulting at the moment about those recommendations in order to ensure that there’s an appropriate response. We know that the status quo is untenable. We’ve already delivered more in our 18 months plus in government than the previous Government did in ten years. We’ve launched BetStop, which is the national self exclusion register. We’ve mandated customer pre-verification to stop kids opening betting accounts, that was happening. We’ve banned the use of credit cards for online wagering. We’ve replaced the ads of gamble responsibly, that didn’t really say anything, with much stronger messages. And we’ve introduced monthly activity statements and compulsory training for wagering staff. Now we’ll look at more things that we can do, including the report that was done by Peta Murphy. We are committed to minimising harms from online wagering and we’re engaging with stakeholders at the moment.

MOORE: A couple of other issues away from this electorate, Prime Minister. The first one is the news overnight that the Australian pro-democracy writer Yang Hengjun is not going to appeal against his suspended death sentence in China. Not because he’s not innocent, the family says, but because he doesn’t believe the system will deliver justice. What next? Do you now advocate for his return to Australia for medical treatment, which the way is now open for if there’s no ongoing court case?

PRIME MINISTER: We will certainly be advocating on behalf of Dr. Yang. That is something that we do, and we’ve been successful in some cases in advocating for Cheng Lei from China, Sean Turnell, of course, from Myanmar, people who’ve been able to return from Vietnam. We, of course, are also advocating a very public case at the moment, of course, is Julian Assange. We believe that he should be returned home. Enough is enough in his case. And with Dr. Yang, we will continue to make representations to China that are in his interests. The Australian Government will always stand up for the rights of Australian citizens, and we object in the strongest possible terms to the sentence that was handed out to him.

MOORE: Prime Minister, Brad Banducci’s announced that he’s leaving Woolworths. There are currently six inquiries into the supermarkets and supermarket pricing. Do you think that his departure is going to lead to better outcomes?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, I don’t want to get into individuals. This is about the need for customers to be looked after at the checkout, and that’s what I’m determined to do. We do have the ACCC and Dr. Emerson’s inquiry, as well as the Senate inquiry, looking at whether the current voluntary code of conduct should be turned into something that is more mandatory. Quite clearly, there’s a great deal of frustration out there from Australians who hear from farmers that they’re getting less for their products, but don’t see that evidence when they get to the checkout. Now, if farmers are getting less, and I’m not necessarily arguing for farmers to get less for their products, I think that’s another issue of market power as well. Farmers need to be looked after, but people at the checkout need to be looked after as well, and we shouldn’t have any abuse of power occurring. And that’s why you’ve had such concern from the public, and I certainly understand that concern.

MOORE: Prime Minister, there has, of course, been a leaked staff message talking about an election year, which has raised some eyebrows about just when the next election might be. Your preference is next year. Is that a sort of guaranteed next year, or could things change?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s due in May 2025. Quite frankly, it’s a bit of clickbait, is what’s occurred here. If you actually look at what the message says, it says someone’s starting in a month’s time, and by then we might be a year off from an election. Well, guess what, if there’s an election in May, it’s likely to be called in March, which is when the last one was called for May. So, you know, a bit of clickbait, the ABC should desert, it’s better than responding to clickbait, you’re in the real news. The election will be called when it’s called, but I, of course, have said very clearly, I think three year terms are too short frankly. Our State Governments are all there for four years and that’s something I’d like to see happen, but you need a referendum to do it. We know that referendums are pretty tough in Australia. We’ve tried a couple of times to have four year terms and people, as soon as anyone out there, one of the political parties, usually the Liberal Party, I’ve got to say, say no, people respond and it’s hard to get that change.

MOORE: And Prime Minister, we’ve only got a minute left. I did neglect to say congratulations to you belatedly for your engagement.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much.

MOORE: Of course a wedding could get in the way of an election, I guess, but you could always come down and get married on the Frankston foreshore. What do you reckon?

PRIME MINISTER: March the 2nd is my birthday, so maybe we could combine a whole range of things, a by-election, a birthday, a wedding, who knows?

MOORE: If you can organise a wedding in the next ten days, you’re a better man than most, I’d suggest.

PRIME MINISTER: I think that’s highly unlikely, since I proposed to Jodie last Wednesday, I’ve been in Perth for three days in Newcastle, on the Central Coast, and I look forward to actually having a conversation with her at some time stage when we have time and looking for some gaps in the diary.

MOORE: Prime Minister, thank you so much for joining us.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks so much and g’day to everyone down there.

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