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28 November 2021

SUBJECTS: Omicron variant; Federal Government excuses on national anti-corruption commission; social media trolls and Government announcement; borders; lack of purpose-built quarantine facilities; Australian Centre for Disease Control; Prime Minister’s promise Australians would be home by Christmas 2020; Government propensity for announcements with no delivery; Prime Minister’s refusal to call out Government members spreading dangerous misinformation while taking action in regards to the Member for Bass.

BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: Good morning, everybody and welcome to the Flemington Farmers Market in the electorate of Maribyrnong. We're very pleased to be welcoming our leader, Labor Leader and Future Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, to the Farmers Market to see how Melbourne and Victoria are dusting themselves off after Covid and getting back on their feet. Accompanying me today to welcome Anthony is Daniel Mulino from the neighbouring electorate of Fraser, and, of course, two very hardworking state Members of Parliament, Minister Danny Pearson, and Minister Ben Carroll who represent this area in Spring Street. I'd now like to hand over to Anthony and just say to him that he is very welcome in what happens here, and he's seen that in the warm welcome he’s received.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much, Bill. It's great to be in your electorate, and here with Daniel, your neighbour, and with the Victorian State representatives as well. And it's been great to be out and about today with Melburnians, who are enjoying the sunshine on this beautiful day, but also a chance to talk with them directly about issues. We have the last week of Parliament coming up. And of course, all Australians will be concerned at the news about the Omicron strain that is out there. This strain could cause a real problem, and we need to make sure that the precautionary principle applies here. We know that with Delta it spread very quickly, and we need to take whatever measures are necessary. And I congratulate the Victorian Government and New South Wales Government for taking actions very quickly on this matter. And I know I've had discussions and contact with the Premier Palaszczuk as well, who's very concerned about the potential of this outbreak.
Secondly, can I say that I was somewhat stunned watching the TV this morning on the Insiders program where Anne Ruston concluded, essentially, that the reason why the Government hasn't advanced a national integrity commission is because Labor hasn’t agreed to support some exposure draft that the Government circulated a year ago that isn't even in the Parliament. Now, even for a government that always finds excuses, that never accept responsibility, that's a very big call. We now have a circumstance whereby, according to the Morrison Government, the only way that something can be introduced into Parliament is if Labor supports it. Well, if they want to take that attitude towards its logical conclusion, then they don't deserve to be in government this week, let alone into a second decade, which is what they'll be seeking going forward.
I do want to make just some final comments as well, about the announcement about a potential crackdown on inappropriate behavior on social media and hiding behind anonymous Twitter trolls that is having a real impact on people. Now, I know that some of the hate that we see on social media can have a devastating impact on people's mental health. It’s a major problem and can also just undermine public discourse and civil debate. And we see too much hiding behind anonymous designations, saying things that people would never say if they came up to you at a market like this face to face. So, this is a problem. But this Government’s announcement, we want to see it’s just not another announcement without an actual delivery, because the Government needs to explain how it can deal with the fact that domestic controls have limitations for what is a global industry. We want to see the same things that the Government says it wants, that is, to have more safety online for young people, but indeed for everyone. The Government at the same time, though, and I'll conclude with this, if it wants to stop misinformation on social media it could start with some of its own members that have been out there spreading misinformation about Covid, about vaccinations and undermining the public health response.
JOURNALIST: On the Omicron variant, do you think the Government needs to go further, or what would you like to have seen?
ALBANESE: I called yesterday morning for the border to the south African nations to be closed as a result of the Omicron variant. We need to make sure as well that people coming into Australia who potentially have had contact with that variant are quarantined properly. This is one of the reasons why we've said, from the very beginning of this crisis, we've said you needed to do two things – we need to get people vaccinated, and that is still required. People should be booking in their booster shots. I'll be getting mine next week. And we need to have purpose-built quarantine to make sure that we're actually prepared for what might happen in the future. The other thing that we've said, and I said this in my first Budget Reply after the outbreak, is we need an Australian Centre for Disease Control. Other countries have that. We don't have a purpose-built facility that investigates future potential health outbreaks and that gets ahead of the curve rather than always following.
JOURNALIST: And do you think it'd be opening up the borders to skilled migrants and international students should be pushed back on from December 1?
ALBANESE: I think we need to take health advice on those measures. I've said for some time that we needed to get Australian citizens back first, as the first priority. And the Prime Minister promised that Australian citizens would be home by last Christmas. Well, it's now November 2021, and too many Australian citizens still haven't been able to get home. We do need to get international students here. That's important for our economy and for our engagement with the world. And we do need to open up but we need to do so safely. So, I think the precautionary principle must apply here. The Government needs to get the best health advice and act cautiously on all of these measures, because what we know from this virus and its variants is that it is a lot harder to put back in the bottle once it's out. So, we need to be very cautious.
JOURNALIST: Just on those precautionary measures, given we’ve closed the borders to the southern African states, the virus has been detected in places like Israel, UK as well as Belgium. Do you think the borders to those countries also need to be shut?
ALBANESE: We need to take the right advice from the health authorities. As I said, we need to be cautious. No one wants borders to be closed for the sake of, but we need to make sure that we keep Australians safe as our first priority. And that might mean, as well, making sure that people undertake quarantine coming from other nations. But we need to be very cautious about this. And I'd encourage the Prime Minister to do that. I have had discussions with premiers, I was with Daniel Andrews yesterday. And I certainly think that we need to be very cautious because the potential here is that this variant is even more contagious and less able to be controlled than the Delta variant. And we know the Delta variant had a massive impact. We know that if the New South Wales Government had have taken action earlier, and not listened to Scott Morrison's advice to then-Premier Berejiklian, then the variant wouldn't have come to Victoria. And Victoria wouldn't have had the last shutdown. That was a direct result of a single person driving a foreign air crew, unvaccinated, in Sydney, the fact that there wasn't purpose built quarantine, and the fact that it's always been a race. It's always been a race to get vaccinated. And it's been a race to make sure we have purpose-built quarantine.
JOURNALIST: Just going back to social media. So, in regards to the new laws coming in for social media, are you prepared to back the laws forcing social media giants to reveal the identity of anonymous users?
ALBANESE: Well, we haven't seen them. But I think that it shouldn't be beyond the capacity of social media to be able to identify people who are engaged in inappropriate activity online. Just like if someone here comes up and says something that's defamatory or inappropriate or hurtful, they're doing it face to face, you can identify them. People shouldn't be able to hide behind anonymous Twitter accounts online and engage in inappropriate activity. What I want to do, though, I do note that the contradiction between the Government saying that they want support for this but they won't introduce the national integrity commission unless Labor supports it. Look, we will examine legislation on its merits. That's what we do. And we think that there is a need to act in this area. But the Government needs to explain how this would work given what we don't want is someone shutting down an account in Australia and opening one internationally with a global ISP address that isn't available here in Australia. So, we need to make sure that this isn't just an announcement. The Government's had announcements in this area before, but we haven't seen any delivery. And that's the weakness with this Government. It’s all announcement, no delivery. All photo op, no follow up. What we need is a government in Australia that actually makes a difference. And that's one I'm determined to lead.
JOURNALIST: And if the Bill is introduced, does it have any prospect of making it through Parliament?
ALBANESE: Well, we haven't seen it. This is a government, frankly, that struggled to introduce legislation from the exposure draft level to actually introduce it. Last week we saw in Parliament the Prime Minister didn't control the House of Representatives, didn't control the Senate and didn't control the Government. What we have is a government that's at the end of its third term that is failing because it doesn't have an agenda for today, let alone an agenda for the future. And that is why it's struggling. That's why its own members are not having confidence in its capacity to govern in the future. We'll wait and see what happens this week. It can't be as bad for the Government as last week was.
JOURNALIST: And I appreciate we haven't seen a lot of details of the legislation. But in the reports that have come out today, there's no reference to combating misinformation or disinformation through this legislation, only inappropriate behavior, bullying, defamatory actions, is that enough? Misinformation and disinformation, that causes, you know, the mass protests for example. Coalition MPs sprouting this information regarding the vaccine. Does the Bill need to be strengthened to address mis and disinformation?
ALBANESE: Well, we'll examine that but it's not surprising that a government that has George Christensen and other members, Gerard Rennick, as members of the Government spreading misinformation about Covid, spreading misinformation about vaccines, isn't interested in shutting down misinformation. They could start with shutting down some of their own caucus members. It's interesting that Scott Morrison, we gave him the capacity twice last week to call out George Christensen by name, he failed to do so. He then subsequently called the Member for Bass into his office with others about the issues that she had on a national integrity commission, but wasn't prepared to even call out George Christiansen and his behavior, and his entirely inappropriate comments on the floor of the House of Representatives. This is a weak Prime Minister. This is a weak Prime Minister leading a government that has no direction for today, let alone a plan for tomorrow.