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The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has labelled criticism of his recent international travel as “beyond contempt”, saying his visit to war-ravaged Ukraine cannot be compared to a holiday.
Since becoming prime minister, Albanese has undertaken a flurry of overseas visits, including a meeting of the quadrilateral security dialogue with Japan, the US and India soon after being elected, a meeting of the G20 in Madrid, and visits to Paris, Jakarta and Ukraine. He will also travel to the Pacific Island Forum in Fiji next week.
In recent days, senior Liberal and National party figures have been critical of Albanese, saying he needed to be focused instead on the NSW floods and comparing his travel blitz to Scott Morrison’s infamous holiday to Hawaii during the black summer bushfires.
But speaking at a press conference alongside the NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, on Wednesday, Albanese defended his response, and the timing of his contact with the premier and ministers in Australia, explaining he had been in Ukraine under strict security controls that banned use of any electronic equipment.
“That was a matter of keeping us safe, but also keeping safe [Ukraine] president Zelenskiy and the Ukrainian people that we were meeting with,” Albanese said.
“There is a war going on, and apparently that should have been dismissed.
“When I returned from there … I immediately spoke to Premier Perrottet, I spoke to Minister Watt, I spoke to the acting prime minister, Richard Marles, and made sure that every support was being offered.
“I was fulfilling a responsibility that I believe that I had, of travelling to Ukraine. And to compare that with a holiday, I just find beyond contempt, frankly.”
Albanese said that it appeared the opposition “did not get the memo about the new politics”, saying Australians wanted to see all sides of politics working together to achieve the best outcomes.
“New politics is about getting things done and achieving outcomes and working together in the interest of the Australian public. That’s my objective.”
Albanese also thanked Perrottet for not buying into the criticism, after the NSW premier said Albanese had been doing “work that’s important for Australia” overseas and praising the new prime minister’s approach as open and positive.
Perrottet said that while he had a “constructive” relationship with the former government, they did not always agree, and he had been happy with the level of engagement with the new federal government.
“I know in some quarters the prime minister has been criticised for being away,” Perrottet said.
“From my perspective, the federal government needs to balance international concerns and domestic concerns, but as soon as he could he picked up the phone to call me.”
“This is not about personalities. I’m not interested in personalities. I’m interested in outcomes. I’m interested in getting support on the ground for the people who need it.”
“I’ll call it as I see it, and I think from where we sit today, the response between the commonwealth government and the state government has been pleasing.”
He also thanked the new minister for emergency management, Murray Watt, for visiting, saying it helped to ensure that the disaster response was directly understood by the minister in charge.
The federal government has announced that disaster payments will be paid to eligible residents in 23 local government areas affected by the severe storms and flooding in NSW, with the money expected to arrive by Thursday.
Karen Andrews, the opposition’s shadow home affairs minister, said on Wednesday that while she made no criticism of Albanese’s recent travel, “now’s the time to be at home”.
“My view is that it was important for Australia’s prime minister to be overseas at a number of events and meetings that he attended [and] I think it was very important for the foreign minister to be in the Pacific region, but now’s the time to be at home,” Andrews told ABC’s Radio National.
“Now, prime minister, you need to be in Australia and you need to demonstrate your support for the Australian people.”
Andrews appeared unaware, however, that the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, was on leave from 3 July to 19 July.
“I’m not aware that he is not here,” she said.
The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, said that Albanese’s overseas travel had not complicated the government’s ability to function.
“I’m in constant contact with Anthony Albanese. The difference between our government and its predecessor is it’s not a one-man show. We work as a team,” Chalmers told the ABC.
“Having to clean up some of these relationships around the world hasn’t prevented us from advancing things like hospital funding for the Covid pressures. It hasn’t prevented us from arguing for a minimum wage rise, it hasn’t prevented us from doing some of the important work in the budget that Katy Gallagher and I have been embarking on.”
“We are capable of doing both things at once.”
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