E&OE TRANSCRIPT | SUBJECTS: Victoria; the Morrison Government attacking the wages of workers; Canberra sitting weeks

LISA MILLAR, HOST: Let’s take you to Canberra now, where federal politicians will be closely following the latest COVID cases in Melbourne and Perth, and how they might stall plans to reboot the economy. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Richard Marles, joins us now. Good morning. Welcome to Breakfast.


MILLAR: As a Victorian, you would be even more concerned about the seriousness of what we’re seeing here this morning, this breaking news. Have we pushed it to think that we could be hosting international events, like the Australian Open?

MARLES: I think at every step the Victorian Government has taken the best medical advice, and it’s been guiding those decisions. You know, we had the Boxing Day Test, and I think the way in which the Australian Open has been set up has obviously been done with a great deal of care. I mean, I can understand, as a Victorian, the anxiety that people are feeling, but I do take comfort from the fact that, you know, the Premier has stood up straightaway, he is taking responsibility. The response has been swift. And when you look at the way in which the state Premiers have been acting in relation to this – in Queensland, in WA, in New South Wales – I think what we are seeing is that to act quickly and to act hard, as soon as there is the hint of an issue is what the medical advice is saying. But at the end of the day, that’s what we need to follow.

MILLAR: I want to ask you about the IR bill. Labor’s revealed this week that you’re going to oppose the omnibus bill. But this all started with good intent, supposedly, and talk of compromise on all sides. Is there nothing that will convince Labor at this point to support the bill, even if, as small business and the Government have suggested, they’ll remove the changes to the ‘better off overall test’?

MARLES: Well, we bring good intent to all the legislation which is put before the Parliament. And if you look at our record, you see us working with the Government to come up with compromises in lots of areas. But when it comes to the industrial relations reforms, the only intent that was shown by the Government at the outset was to book a room. And what they are now proposing to do is to remove the better-off test, which really starts- well has the potential to start a firing gun on a round of wages bargaining, which will see wages decline. And that’s the concern-

MILLAR: But if they remove the changes, will you support – you know, is there room for compromise from Labor? Or are you saying, “That’s it”? You’re going to go to the election campaign on this?

MARLES: The Government have brought forward a proposition about removing the better-off test. We don’t support that. And so, you know, we are going to oppose that in the Parliament, each and every day, because if it is allowed to go through, it will cut wages. It will start the firing gun on a process of wage bargaining which will see a decline in wage rates. And from our point of view, you can’t think of anything which is worse for the economy and for those workers who have done so much during the pandemic – distribution workers, retail workers, those in health, who have really got us through the pandemic to this point in time- to repay them with the prospect of a wage cut, we think is profoundly unfair, and we’re going to make that point.

MILLAR: Richard Marles, there’s reports this morning of another meeting of a group of Labor MPs who are reportedly unhappy with the leadership of Anthony Albanese from the right faction. Were you aware of this meeting taking place last night over dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Canberra?

MARLES: I knew there was a dinner on last night there, as I knew there were a number of dinners on around Canberra on a sitting Wednesday night-

MILLAR: As many grievances aired at those dinners as there were reportedly at this one?

MARLES: There’s a lot more intent which is being ascribed to this dinner than actually occurred. To me, the idea that-

MILLAR: So, Anthony Albanese’s leadership wasn’t discussed, then, last night?

MARLES: Well, I wasn’t there. But I think that the idea that a group of MPs are having dinner in Canberra on a Wednesday sitting night equals some conspiracy is, at the end of the day, a beat-up.

MILLAR: Alright. Richard Marles, we’ll leave it there. Thanks very much.

MARLES: Thanks Lisa.


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