Achieving better government cooperation, an inquiry into the pandemic’s impact on students with disability and free rapid antigen tests are among policies that would involve public servants if Labor wins the next federal election, the opposition leader has indicated.
Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese told the National Press Club this week that he wanted Australia to “learn the lessons of this pandemic” and emerge stronger.
He framed the public service as having been “gutted over the last nine years” and portrayed rebuilding it as a challenge alongside achieving better government planning and delivery.
Albanese also reiterated Labor’s alternative vision for delivering a national anti-corruption commission “with teeth”, emphasising the agency needed “to restore faith in government and trust in our public officials”.
Proposing to address frustration at governments not cooperating during the pandemic and the “shun[ning]” of federal responsibilities was a key theme for Albanese, yet he offered light details on reforms.
“One of the reasons why there’s less specifics there … you can’t say you want to work with the states and territories and then impose things from the commonwealth,” he said when pressed for further information.
“What you can do is engage in a spirit of goodwill.”
A duplication of government roles is also contributing to challenges for the economy, according to Albanese.
“We need to get back to the growth agenda and the micro economic reform and productivity agenda. And part of the way that you do that is through federation reform,” he said.
Coinciding with the speech, the opposition launched a $440 million grants-based election pitch to help schools manage the pandemic through ventilation and building upgrades, and mental health support.
Albanese said he would also direct an “urgent review” at the Department of Education Skills and Employment into the pandemic’s impact on students with disability.
“These children have been amongst the most vulnerable during this pandemic and they deserve a government that prioritises their protection along with their education,” he said.
The opposition leader supported calls for free rapid antigen tests earlier in the year, with federal health minister Greg Hunt later criticising the policy as “dangerous” due to its impact on the supply chain.
At the press club address, Albanese conceded the test supply would not be unlimited and be rationed “appropriately based upon health advice”.
“If you’re working in a medical center, you need access to testing each and every day,” he said.
“It’s not beyond the width of the government … the Medicare schedule provides a record that’s the whole that’s the whole reason why you would do it through the Medicare system.”
He foreshadowed that lessons from the pandemic would lead to healthcare reform, while doubling down on praise for Medicare and promises to safeguard it.
“Our health workers are paying the price for some of the most serious public policy failures that our country has ever seen. They are overworked. They are exhausted,” Albanese said.
“We owe it to them to study what the pandemic has revealed about the vulnerabilities of our public health system and strengthen it for the future.”