Latest News

Read all the latest news from Brendan O'Connor MP


January 10, 2022








JOHN RING, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR HERBERT: My name is John Ring. I'm the Labor Candidate for Herbert. We are here at my local practice here, the GP Superclinic at Deeragun to talk to staff about the vaccine shortages and how the local community is concerned about the vaccine shortages, not being able to get in for a vaccine when they need to. Whether it be their second dose, their first dose, their booster, or to get their kids vaccinated before they go back to school. Without further ado, I'd like to introduce the Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, John. And it's great to be here in Townsville with yourself and Labor's Senate Candidate Edwina Andrew. And we are also joined by my Shadow Defence Minister, Brendan O'Connor, and Senator Anthony Chisholm. This morning, I want to begin by thanking our Australian Defence Force personnel, who have welcomed us on a visit, myself and Brendan did, to the Lavarack Barracks here. To give a briefing, as to their activity, to show us the equipment, to go through a range of issues that they are dealing with there. It was an opportunity for me to personally thank those brave men and women of the Australian Defence Force, who work each and every day, put themselves in harm's way in order to defend our country, our democracy, and our way of life. And it was an opportunity to have a very constructive dialogue with them today. And I thank them for it. And I thank Peter Dutton, as the Defence Minister, for helping to facilitate the visit.

Here today at the Medical Centre, we've heard a recurring story. A recurring story of receptionists, under extraordinary pressure taking calls from people looking for appointments, but unable to get them. It's a story that we heard with the original rollout of the vaccine, where Scott Morrison said it wasn't a race. We're now in the third year of this pandemic and Scott Morrison still thinks that isn't a race. He still thinks that you can have a distinction between health outcomes and economic outcomes. What we know is that if you don't get the health outcomes right, the adverse impact on the economy will be stronger. And we're seeing that around the country. We're seeing that with workers unable to attend work, with businesses which are closing, or which are temporarily unable to open in the hours in which they want. We're seeing that right around the country of course, with shortages on our supermarket shelves, people being unable to purchase the essentials of life. And it's extraordinary, that in the third year now of this pandemic, the Prime Minister's rhetoric is still the same. The Prime Minister's rhetoric is about getting the government out of people's lives. But what people expect is for government to play a role in keeping them safe, is for government to provide appropriate support to businesses. And here at this clinic, if you are a local parent wanting to make an appointment for your child to be immunised with this vaccine, then as of now, you won't be able to make an appointment for weeks going forward. A delivery that was supposed to arrive here last Friday of vaccines won't arrive for another week. It is delayed. And that's a consistent story around the country. It's causing so much frustration for parents.

We know that just last Wednesday, the Prime Minister, in yet another bold statement, said schools will be going back on time. Well, they won't be going back on time in Queensland. And there are issues in other states as well, because of the failure to vaccinate people when they were told that would happen. This is causing enormous pressure on families, enormous concern from parents who just want their children to be kept safe and enormous pressure, of course, on our school system. But it's also pressure that's placed on people who just want to get their booster shot. The reason why the Government changed the gap between the second dose and the booster to four months and then to three months is that they couldn't bring it straight down to three months because of capacity constraints in the system. And still we have a Prime Minister who is out of touch with what is going on, who made jokes about the impact of COVID and living with COVID and taking wickets with COVID just in the past few days.

What we need is a Prime Minister who will actually do his job. And a Prime Minister who does his job has two essential foundations before other things come into consideration. One is basic competency. And whether it was the three summers in which I've been Opposition Leader, in the first one, we had the bushfire crisis, where the Prime Minister acted too little and too late and said he didn't hold a hose. The second summer, of course, we had the stroll-out of the vaccine, where the Prime Minister said it wasn't a race. And now the third summer, the Prime Minister still says it isn't a race. Well, that goes to the competency of this Government. It goes to the fact that if we don't get health outcomes right, there is an impact on the economy. And we're seeing it right now. The ANZ survey on expenditure recently this week has indicated that very clearly. And we also see it in terms of the second component which should be essential, which is a Government which is honest, which has integrity. And there's a reason why this Government on the eve of an election still hasn't introduced legislation about a National Anti-corruption Commission, because we can't rely upon that either.

We in the Labor Party want to hold the Government to account. We're also on the Better Future for Queensland visit, talking about how we build back stronger, how we build a future made in Australia, how we support more secure work, and how we ensure that we lift living standards of people, lifting living standards of people, when it comes to healthcare starts with Medicare. Medicare, the universal supply of support for people when they need it, not on the basis of income, but on the basis of need. And that comes down to the Prime Minister's rhetoric and stubborn refusal to support free rapid antigen tests, as well as issues with supply, there is the ongoing issue of cost. And the truth is, the truth is that the cost of not having free rapid antigen tests being available is that workers - if you're a worker who has to have a test to go to work on a regular basis, then you're forking out perhaps up to $50 a test. And that makes your already low income under this low wage economy, that this Government's presiding over where real wages aren't keeping up, places even more pressure on the family budget.

It's very clear that this Government is complacent when it comes to the crisis which is going on at the moment. And Australians deserve better. They deserve a Government that deals with that but also which has that vision for the future. One of the issues are we are interested in very much, and the Defence Force Posture Review and I'll ask Brendan to make some comments about that, but also about how our plan for a future made in Australia will support Australian manufacturing and Australian procurement, particularly in the defence industry. That was one of the things that we're examining today. Brendan?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Well, thanks very much, Anthony. It's really great to be in Townsville. And it was really important for us to be visiting Lavarack Barracks, a crucial base for the Defence personnel and long history and has a really important future. And as Anthony has said, if there's an election of an Albanese Labor Government, we will embark upon a Defence Posture Review, which will coincide with the review that was undertaken by the Biden Administration. It's important that we coincide these decisions about where our assets and personnel go, in conjunction with, of course, what's happening with our major ally. And of course, we do know that there's been an increase in tension in the region and we want to do everything we can so that we are preparing this nation to protect its interests and a Defence Posture Review is important. It will be the first review undertaken by a Federal Government for over 11 years, the last undertaken by a Labor Government and the one previously under the Hawke Government. So, it's fitting that an incoming Labor Government if elected would be undertaking such a review, such an important thing. And whatever that review does, you can be assured of this, the future of the Defence Force is very much in Townsville, Central and Northern Queensland. Our assets will have to be deployed and enhanced, frankly, in Northern Australia, and certainly Northwest in Australia.

And I think that's very likely, if you speak to any defence analysts, you talk to the Australian Defence Force, and other experts in the field. And so, Townsville’s future, insofar as defence is concerned, is a very bright one, a very important part of this community, and has played such an important role looking after our defence personnel. And just a couple other points, as Anthony made clear, we want to make sure that we invest in jobs and infrastructure, and leverage defence expenditure when we can. Now of course, first and foremost, it is important that we make decisions to protect the interests of the nation and our citizens. But we should also be ensuring that we invest so that we can increase employment and increase skills in this vital sector. That's why, if elected, a Labor Government will ensure that one in ten workers from future defence investment will be an apprentice. And that is under the Future Made in Australia policy that's been announced by Anthony, and by Labor. And that is really important in terms of providing opportunities and career paths for young people in Townsville and across the country. And the other point I wanted to make, and Anthony's made this point, time and time again, and that is we need to do better in terms of local content. The current Government talks about local content, but every time they make statements about providing opportunities for businesses and defence industry in this nation we find that they do not follow through. They make an announcement, but they do not follow through when it comes to ensuring that our very capable defence industry is provided those opportunities. Under Labor you will see contracts that will have enforceable local content provisions, not rhetoric, not announcements by media release. We will engage with defence industry and the ADF and the National Security Committee of Cabinet. But of course, in the end, if you're going to make commitments about the defence industry, and you can be assured of this under Anthony Albanese, we will be investing in our industry, then you need to have enforceable provisions of such contracts. And the Government currently has failed to do that. That's why so many of our very expensive, large defence contracts have been failures, insofar as increased expenditure, well beyond budget, delayed infrastructure delivered to the ADF. We need to do better. We can do better. And the visit today at Lavarack Barracks really did underline that for us. And I can assure you, in the coming months, I'll be back here with the local candidate, John Ring, talking to the defence community and indeed, revisiting that barracks. Thanks very much.

ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Brendan. Happy to take questions,

JOURNALIST: Just on vaccine supply. The COVID national taskforce on vaccinations has insisted there's no supply issues for children's vaccinations at the moment. What's your response?

ALBANESE: Well, I think the best response is actually from someone who's a practitioner, the manager of the facility here, and then I'll make comments.

KEVIN GILLESPIE, DIRECTOR OF THE NORTHERN BEACHES SUPERCLINIC: So, that's clearly, for us, not true. We had a delivery due last Friday delayed for a week. We have had bookings not available. I can’t make bookings for at least two weeks. We can’t offer boosters at the moment. And if we had sufficient supply, we could.

JOURNALIST: And just your full name and title?

GILLESPIE: I'm Kevin Gillespie, I'm the Director of the Medical Centre.

ALBANESE: Thank you. There's a real gap between what Canberra’s saying and what people know is the case on the ground. The concern here will be that those parents who hear that message, that it’s all ready to go, who've been struggling to find an appointment for their children will know that that's not the case. Just like people who've been struggling to get an appointment to get their booster will know that's not the case. Here in Townsville, and I’m told that this is replicated in other medical centres right around Townsville, and it's a message which local members are getting right around the country.

JOURNALIST: This morning, Mr Morrison encouraged people who can’t get a vaccine at one clinic to shop around and find another place. Is that possible in parts of the country that are regional and remote?

ALBANESE: It just shows again how out of touch this Prime Minister is with the reality in regional Australia. Regional Australia is suffering from a lack of GP services, GP shortages in places here like Townsville. But in smaller cities that shortage can be even more acute, of course. And in many regional centres there simply isn't other places to shop around, so to speak. The point is that the receptionists I spoke to here today at this medical centre say that the phones are just ringing off the hook and have been for people trying to get appointments. The point is that you can't put a square peg into a round hole. And you can't change the reality on the ground which is there with spin. And the fact is, that there are shortages, people are struggling to get appointments, and no amount of spin from a Prime Minister who's addicted to marketing, who changes the messages all the time, will change that fact.

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister this morning rejected your suggestion he is pursuing a ‘let it rip’ strategy and is urging you to seek a briefing with health officials. Do you stand by that statement? And do you take his advice too?

ALBANESE: Well, I spoke with John Frewen in recent days, for example. I spoke to him last week. He's the guy in charge of the rollout. I had two conversations with him last week. I speak to people in the health sector, including all the health officials, on a regular basis. The truth is that my advice to Scott Morrison is actually speak to people here at the centre. Come and talk to the receptionists. Speak to the person who runs the medical centre, speak to those people who are desperate, who are in every newspaper in the country, saying that they're trying to get appointments. He needs to get out more, this Prime Minister, because he lives in a place whereby everything's fine, and everything's hunky dory, where there are no food shortages on shelves, where people can just get about their everyday life. What is happening on the ground is that businesses are struggling, is that people can't get people to go to work, is that people can't get, it's like the rapid antigen tests, ‘just go shop around’. You can't get rapid antigen tests in so many places. And the idea that this Prime Minister just says just go and queue, there are people who've been queuing, for example, to get their PCR tests only to be told, after a long time of waiting, people who queuing because they're sick forced to queue and then unable to get a test, then being told to go and get a rapid engine test which isn't available and they can't find, shopping around from centre to pharmacy to pharmacy while potentially being infectious. This Prime Minister needs to stop pretending that there aren't issues here. He did that last time around with the rollout. He needs to deal with the fact that he might want to talk to those people with loved ones in aged care facilities that can't visit their loved ones because they’re locked down at the moment, because people in aged care haven't been given their booster shots just like they weren't given their full vaccinations that we were told would be completed as part of the priority category by last March. And we know the significant time delay in the gap that's there, between what this Prime Minister says will happen and what actually does happen is something that is a cause of much frustration.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe children should be headed back to school as usual, or do you agree with the approach that Queensland’s taken?

ALBANESE: I believe we should be taking the health advice of people. But we should be getting it right. I know that no one wants, let's be very clear - I heard about the Prime Minister's statements this morning - no one wants any restrictions to be in place for one day more than necessary. No one wants COVID to exist. Everyone wants life to go back to normal. But what keeps happening is that reality catches up with rhetoric. That's why Dominic Perrottet in New South Wales has had to backtrack on previous statements. And that's why we keep having these circumstances arise. We need to deal with the health issues first, and that will lead to a better economy, more jobs being able to be undertaken, a more normal way of life, including children being back at school is what everyone wants. My son is at university. He has not been onto campus since 2019, since they had classes on campus. That whole experience is very difficult for young people. But for parents as well, they're anxious because they were told that they could get appointments, and they're finding difficulty doing that.

JOURNALIST: Just on the electorate of Herbert, you spoke there about defence, what are the other priorities in this seat, Townsville more specifically, that the Government's currently failing in?

ALBANESE: Jobs and actually delivering on what it said it would do. So, for example, this town, I funded as a minister, the Townsville Ring Road, all of those commencements, the major infrastructure upgrades, the upgrades to the Bruce Highway, to the north and south, the Port Access Road. We funded the revitalisation of the CBD, which involved opening up the CBD. When we said we would do something, we deliver it. And what this Government does is make promises and then there, you find out that they're actually way, way, way down the track. So, we need continued infrastructure investment. But we also need to support jobs here. And the way that you support jobs, we have our National Reconstruction Fund. One of the lessons of the pandemic is that we need to make more things here. We need a future made in Australia, whether that be defence procurement, whether that be in health, whether that be in the advantages that we have in renewable energy. Why is it that one of the major imports into Townsville Port in the last 12 months has been wind turbines when just about everything that went into that wind turbine, chances are, was Australian resources that went into it? We need to be making more things here. And that is part of the lesson of the pandemic is that we're vulnerable with regard to supply chains and that we need to be more resilient as a national economy. And I think Townsville has a major role to play in that. Townsville has a major role to play if we reduce energy costs as well. And we can do that. Our plan would reduce energy costs for average families of $275 a week by 2025. It will create $52 billion of private sector investment, most of which will be in regional Australia. And here in Townsville and other major parts of Queensland, it's Australia's most regional state, it will stand to benefit the most. And I want to work in partnership with the Palaszczuk Government. We know the difference that it's made, for example, bringing rail manufacturing back to Queensland rather than just buying things off the shelf overseas. And that's what the LNP always does. They're not interested in a future made in Australia. I am. And I see that very much as a part of Townsville's future. And I want to work with John Ring to make sure that happens.

JOURNALIST: Can you explain how (inaudible) since the last election?

ALBANESE: Because there's so much more opportunity that you could have here in Townsville in terms of jobs growth. This is a great regional city. It's the capital of the north. And it has enormous potential to grow further. So many of the infrastructure projects that have been spoken about by the Government over many years now haven't actually commenced. And that would create jobs and create opportunities. I turned on the National Broadband Network here in Townsville, when it was being rolled out, fibre to the home and fibre to the premise. What that did was give Townsville a comparative advantage if you can locate a business in Townsville, as opposed to the CBD of Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne, because you have lower overheads, then you have an enormous opportunity. And during the COVID crisis, we've seen that the National Broadband Network hasn't been, as Tony Abbott when he cut the fibre to the home and business, said it's not about downloading videos, it's actually about upskilling and creating opportunities.

JOURNALIST: Just on Novak Djokovic, has the Government failed at the back-handling of his visa? And would you be comfortable with him playing any time in the Australian Open?

ALBANESE: Well, that matter is, of course, before the courts. I think what the Government is yet to explain is how he got a visa in the first place and why it wasn't examined in the first place. I have no sympathy with people who promote a lack of vaccination. None whatsoever. And I think that the provisions that Australia had were clear. And I don't understand how it is, and I'm yet to see a viable explanation for how it is, that visa was granted by the Australian Government. It was not granted by anyone else. Sporting teams don't grant visas to this country. The Australian Government does.

JOURNALIST: Households are about four years ahead on their mortgage repayments. Is this good news for the economy that people are ahead on those repayments? And can the Government take credit for people saving more?

ALBANESE: Well, people haven't been able to go out and spend. That's what happens when you have a lockdown in terms of expenditure. That is one of the consequences of people not being able to expend money, people haven't been traveling overseas, they haven't been engaged in a way in which they normally would. It's a good thing that people are ahead on their mortgages and are making savings. Of course, for many people, those mortgages are still substantial. And the issue of housing affordability is certainly one that remains an issue, particularly for our younger generations.

JOURNALIST: Many industries have been affected by worker shortages due to COVID isolation. What would you do to keep the workers on?

ALBANESE: Well, what I would have done was make sure that we got the rollout of booster shots and the rollout of the vaccine originally right. If we had have been up with the rest of the world rather than down the bottom with the rollout of the vaccine, with the Prime Minister who said it wasn't a race, then people would have been eligible for boosters much earlier and would have been safer as a direct result. We've seen Australia now way down the list of booster shot rollouts. And that would have made a significant difference which is there. It's an example of whereby if you don't get the health outcomes right, there will be a consequence. And people are, of course, having to isolate. The principles of testing, tracing, isolation and quarantine were very much part of the national plan from the beginning. With regard to access to testing as well, it is causing a great deal of frustration and will leave many people, if they're unsure about their status, to stay at home. The fact is that rapid antigen tests were approved in September. Greg Hunt said that testing at home was going to be an important component. They became online on the 1st of November. And the Government did not put in place a national scheme that was appropriate.

JOURNALIST: Unions are criticising the decision to slash isolation requirements for close contacts who work in food supply industries in Queensland and New South Wales. Are unions right to be concerned for their workers?

ALBANESE: Well, unions, of course, will always stand up for the interests of their members. And they're always right to advocate on behalf of their members. What we should be doing is making sure, with all of these issues, that we follow their health advice, that we follow the advice of experts.

JOURNALIST: The COVID restrictions are more relaxed in Queensland than New South Wales and Victoria. There are no density limits in hospitality venues, people can still dance. Isn't Queensland letting it rip?

ALBANESE: Queensland have done a fantastic job of keeping Queenslanders safe. And that's one of the reasons why Queensland is in a better position than my home state of New South Wales. The fact is that throughout this pandemic, Australians have been magnificent. They've made sacrifices, followed the advice. They got immunised when the supply was made available. And they have been forced to suffer restrictions on them, including the Queensland border closures. You will well recall, Scott Morrison, the last time he visited Queensland for any length of time, and I'm on day five of this visit to Queensland, came during the Queensland State election campaign. He told Queensland to open up its borders. He campaigned with the then Opposition Leader and did campaigning every day next to her and fundraisers every night around this state and told Queensland and the Queensland Government that they've got it wrong. I believe Annastacia Palaszczuk got it right. Annastacia got it right by prioritising the health of Queenslanders. And as a result, the Queensland economy and Queenslanders' way of life has been better. Notwithstanding, of course, including the fact that if you go back, Queensland was hosting the NRL Grand Final at a time when New South Wales people still had very significant restrictions on them.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible). Do you think that will help fix the shortages and it should apply to the aviation industry?

ALBANESE: I think, with all of these issues, we should follow the advice of the health experts. Thank you.