Radio Interview - ABC AM with Sabra Lane

27 Jun 2022
Prime Minister
NATO Summit; visit to Europe; staffing allocations; Ukraine; Afghanistan earthquake; Roe vs Wade

SABRA LANE, HOST: As you just heard, the Prime Minister is on his way to those NATO talks. In his third overseas trip since winning office just over a month ago, Anthony Albanese is also going to Paris to meet the French President and possibly to Ukraine. But he's left behind a domestic political headache with some crossbench MPs and senators threatening to block legislation because the Government's cut their parliamentary staff from four advisors to one. Before Anthony Albanese flew out last night, I asked him whether he was prepared to reconsider.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Well, independents will have more staff than major party representatives. And the additional staff will have travel rights that major party backbenchers won't have. They'll be on higher salaries. And we had a circumstance whereby I didn't know, and I can't find any great record of any publicity, for the fact that some crossbenchers had double the staff that other backbenchers had.

LANE: That sounds like you're not for moving. Zali Steggall says that Scott Morrison showed more respect and that this decision is dismissive of their communities and it's arrogant.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, what is not fair is the idea that Zali Steggall's electorate should have double the representation in terms of staff of electorates in the same region. And the fact is that the eight staff that were allocated to the crossbenchers were more than senior frontbenchers had in opposition. Up until 2017, the crossbenchers had one additional staffer for House of Representatives staff members. This is something that was increased to three in 2017, and then was further increased in 2019 at the same time as there were changes in the composition of the Parliament, with some defections from the Liberal Party.

LANE: Comparing the independents, though, to backbenchers from the Liberal or Labor parties, those backbenchers can call upon the party machinery, if they can, or even ministerial offices or shadows if they need extra help. But independents are totally on their own. Isn't this a terrible own goal, given what you said about being more respectful in this Parliament?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they're not totally on their own. The fact is that they have access to the Parliamentary Library that we will be increasing support for. They have access to clerks that draft legislation, in addition to personal staff. I've had discussions with crossbenchers. I've rung all of them after the election. And I have rung everyone back who wanted to discuss these issues. There are some misconceptions there. For example, some have said that we don't want our electorate officers to have to do parliamentary work. Well, the fact is that people who work as electorate officers often do parliamentary work. That's how every single backbencher operates and indeed, frontbenchers, as well. This is a very recent phenomenon of an upping of parliamentary staff. And what concerns me is that the Morrison Government, at the same time as our cutting Centerlink staff, people can't get passports, visas can't get processed. The only area of public service that saw an increase in staffing levels appears to have been parliamentary staff.

LANE: You're about to take off to Europe. Ukraine's the big decision. What more is Australia prepared to give to help Ukraine?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we'll have discussions with our friends at the NATO Summit. It is significant that Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Australia are being invited to the Summit. This is an important time in international politics. We have Russia's invasion of Ukraine. This brutal invasion is against the rule of law, is an attack on the sovereignty of the people of Ukraine. It's important that democratic nations stand side by side with the Government and the people of Ukraine.

LANE: I'm not expecting you to reveal if you're going to visit Kyiv or not. But what are the implications for Australia if President Putin prevails here?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the implications are not just for Australia, but for all of those who cherish democracy, who cherish the rule of law, and who cherish the rights of nations to be sovereign, are extreme. We know that there is an alliance that has been reached as well between Russia and China. There are implications for our region, given the strategic competition that is in our region, which is why this NATO Summit comes at such a critical time and why I look forward to the discussions that I'll have both in the formal proceedings at the NATO Summit, but also in the bilateral meetings I'll have with our democratic friends, including Prime Minister Johnson, but also Justin Trudeau and other democratic leaders.

LANE: Fresh in the minds of many Australians is one of the last conflicts we were involved with, Afghanistan. The Government's given a million dollars to help with earthquake relief. Why that amount, given how desperate this nation is?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we've provided support that we see as being appropriate. And we certainly feel for the people of Afghanistan who are going through this difficult time at the same time as, of course, with the change that has occurred in regimes there has caused further hardship.

LANE: America's Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe vs. Wade has sparked protests and celebration in the United States. What do you make of that decision?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, people are entitled to their own views, but not to impose their views on women for whom this is a deeply personal decision. That is, in my view, one for an individual woman to make based upon their own circumstances, including the health implications. This decision has caused enormous distress. And it is a setback for women and their right to control their own bodies and their lives in the United States. It is a good thing that in Australia, this is not a matter for partisan political debate.

LANE: Prime Minister, thanks for your time.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, Sabra.

LANE: The Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese.