Labor leader Anthony Albanese (Image: AAP/Bianca De Marchi)

Labor leader Anthony Albanese has offered the party’s most unequivocal condemnation of the ongoing Witness K and Bernard Collaery scandal, speaking in a live interview on Thursday evening for Crikey subscribers with editor-in-chief Peter Fray and politics editor Bernard Keane.

Responding to a question submitted by a Crikey reader, he said was “very concerned about transparency in this case — the idea that there should be a prosecution of a whistle-blower, for what’s a shameful part of Australia’s history, is simply wrong”.

“What happened in East Timor was wrong. It should never have happened.”

We’ve reported before that Queensland MP Graham Perrett has consistently spoken out, while NSW state Labor MP Paul Lynch and Canberra MP Alicia Payne have also voiced their protest. But this is the first time the Labor leader has directly addressed the issue.

Elsewhere, the wide-ranging discussion dug into the role of opposition in times of crisis, the decades long crisis in aged care — Albanese quoted a relative of a facility resident who said the “pandemic is like an X-Ray: it shows what’s broken” — and the ALP’s plan for a post COVID-19 future.

Asked about the tension Labor faces between producing an effective climate change policy and holding onto seats that are heavily resource-reliant — like, say, perennial malcontent Joel Fitzgibbon’s seat of Hunter — he said reports of a Labor party split were “massively exaggerated”.

Albanese said he didn’t believe that climate change was the defining issue of the last election, noting the false dichotomy that had taken hold of the climate change debate.

“It’s absolutely possible to have an effective climate change policy that supports jobs,” he said.

He cited the Boyne smelter in Gladstone in Queensland, the Rio Tinto smelter moving toward renewables.

“I firmly believe that action on climate change is good for jobs and is good for lowering energy prices and is particularly good for regional communities,” he said.

Still on jobs, the ALP leader identified security of work as a key area of reform, noting the role insecure work and “fake casualisation” had played in various flare ups of the COVID-19 crisis.

“A big issue of this pandemic has been labour hire, casualisation and insecurity of work. I think that’s been exposed. The first people to lose their jobs were people in less secure work.”

Later he honed in on aged care, saying, “Owing to a combination of labour hire and casualistation, many in aged care were required to work at multiple facilities, so that aids the spread of the disease.”

And while he didn’t single out the example of Victoria’s disastrous hotel quarantine, he also identified more general long-term problems with labour hire companies undermining conditions, failing to provide sick leave and providing insecure work.

“I think there needs to action taken to stop what is a manipulation of the labour market, that just isn’t fair dinkum.”

On Indigenous affairs, Albanese said a key aim for Labor was that by 2030, Australia “not only recognises First Nations people in the constitution but has a voice to parliament and that we are actually closing the gap”.

He said the decade of failures and disappointments on closing the gap measures showed the need for the “structural reform” of a committed Indigenous voice to the parliament.

“It will be a constant reminder, so we can’t do a big day with all our closing the gap statement and then it disappears,” he said.

“The expectations that were raised at that Garma festival in 2019 were great — if you listened to Ken Wyatt’s speech you would have thought there would be this real progress, and it lasted about two days before pressure was put on for a retraction and a dampening down of expectations.”

For exclusive live access to this and other Crikey Talks events, become a Crikey Inside Access member today.

Peter Fray

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