Labor government gets down to business with national security and finances at top of agenda

By Melissa Coade

May 24, 2022

Anthony Albanese board plane to Quad
Prime minister Anthony Albanese boards the plane to Japan to attend the QUAD leaders’ meeting in Tokyo. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Prime minister Anthony Albanese used his first day in office to outline the next week of work for his new government just before jetting off to Japan with foreign minister Penny Wong on Monday.

The new Labor government will convene ministry meetings for the National Security Committee (NSC) and Expenditure Review Committee (ERC) on Wednesday. But not before Albanese and Wong meet with their international peers at the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue in Tokyo. The pair departed Canberra for the overseas trip just after midday on Monday after they were sworn in by the governor-general

“We will return on Wednesday and set about implementing our agenda,” Albanese said.

“Our agenda that’s received the endorsement of the Australian people: our national reconstruction fund; our ‘powering Australia plan’ that deals with the opportunities that come with dealing with climate change; our full implementation of the Respect@Work Report recommendations; affordable childcare; fixing the aged care crisis; strengthening Medicare.”

Addressing a press conference before he left Australia, Albanese said work was already underway to establish a federal ICAC. The government is aiming to see its proposed model for the anti-corruption body, which has broad powers to investigate serious and systemic corruption by commonwealth ministers, public servants, ministerial advisers, statutory office holders, government agencies and MPs, be legislated by the end of the year.

“I said on Saturday that the ‘how’ was just as important as the ‘what’ and indeed it is,” Albanese said.

“I want to bring people together and I want to change the way that politics is conducted in this country.”

Albanese took a call from US President Joe Biden, who reaffirmed America’s alliance with Australia and his intent to work closely with the new government to make that relationship stronger. Biden also thanked Albanese for his early commitment to travel to the Quad Summit.

“President Biden looks forward to a close partnership between our administrations that will benefit the American people, the Australian people, and the world, starting with consequential meetings in Japan this week,” a readout from the president said. 

The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, also passed on his congratulations to Albanese.

Penny Wong posted a two-minute video to her Twitter account shortly after her swearing-in. In the video message to the Pacific family, the new foreign minister said she looked forward to visiting the region soon and underscored the government’s commitment to taking climate action. 

“We will face [unprecedented] challenges together and we will achieve our shared aspirations together,” Wong said.

“We will listen because we care what the Pacific has to say. The Australian government knows that nothing is more central to the security of the Pacific than climate change — we’ve heard the Pacific and we will act, standing shoulder to shoulder with you as we address the climate crisis.” 

Senator Wong added Australia would boost its pandemic recovery aid to the Pacific, as well as deepen maritime and defence cooperation. She also committed to Australia being a generous, respectful and reliable partner in the Pacific. 

“We will work with the Pacific family to expand opportunities for Pacific workers in Australia and improve their working conditions. Currently, over 24,000 Pacific workers are here contributing to vital Australian industries and sending money home to support their families, whilst gaining skills they can use when they return,” Wong said. 

“We know that together we can build a stronger future.”

On Tuesday it was confirmed that Australia would join its Quad partners the US, India, Japan and other regional allies in a 13-member economic bloc aimed at countering Beijing’s regional dominance. The bloc will create preferential trading rules outside of China’s influence as part of a joint effort to take a tougher stance on Beijing.

The PM said he had been briefed by top mandarins from the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet (DPM&C) as part of the government-transition process. Albanese also praised the professionalism of the public servants and stressed that the government he led would respect and value their work. 

“The fact that we’re able to have discussions, and put measures in place to allow whatever the outcome of the result on Saturday for those arrangements to be put in place says a lot about how professional our public service are. We should not take it for granted,” he said. 

Albanese noted DPM&C head Phil Gaetjens had departed and that Stephanie Foster would act as secretary of the department until the government announced a permanent replacement. He did not respond to questions from reports about whether he had a replacement for Gaetjens in mind. 

“I will be making an announcement at an appropriate time after we go through the formal procedures which are in place,” the PM said of the DPM&C secretary’s appointment. 

Albanese also confirmed the next parliament would sit before the end of July.


READ MORE:

What has Labor promised on an integrity commission and can it deliver a federal ICAC by Christmas?

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