Deputy Prime Minister
Minister for Defence


FRIDAY, 22 JULY 2022

SUBJECTS: Foot-and-mouth disease; Working from home; Parliament resuming.

ALLISON LANGDON, HOST: Well, Australia is staring down the barrel of a biosecurity crisis, traces of foot-and-mouth disease detected in packaged food in Melbourne and Adelaide as Indonesia battles to contain an outbreak.

Our favourite pollies are back – Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton. Nice to see you both. And nice to see you back in the country, Richard.


LANGDON: Are you well?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Good to be back in the country. Yeah, I am well. Good to speak with you and Peter.

LANGDON: I know you’ve missed each other. It’s very exciting to have you both on for our Friday pollies chat. A lot going on, as you know. Richard, what will happen if foot-and-mouth disease gets into this country?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we are doing everything we can to make sure that that’s not a situation that we face. It’s obviously an extremely serious set of circumstances. But what the government is doing is meeting it with the biggest biosecurity response that a government has engaged in. We’ve got more biosecurity officers. We’re providing more support to countries on the frontline, like Indonesia, where there are outbreaks. We’re putting in place the foot sanitation mats. This is a really significant response because we understand the consequences were it to ever happen. And we’ll be doing everything we can to make sure that it doesn’t.

LANGDON: Peter, I know that some of your colleagues are pushing hard for the border to be closed. Do you support that? Do you think enough is being done to keep the disease out?

DUTTON: Well, Ally, we want to support the government in whatever tough measures they are taking. I had a briefing yesterday with the Chief Vet and with other officials from the Department of Agriculture. And I’ve got to say I was really shocked by what I heard. There’s a herd of about 65 million livestock in Indonesia at the moment. There are about 400,000 cattle that have been identified with the virus. They’ve got 3 million vaccines for the 65 million herd. It’s across 22 provinces, and it’s spreading like wildfire. So it’s quite different than what we’ve seen where, yes, there’s a presence in China or in Thailand, but it’s controlled. It’s not controlled in Indonesia. And given the significant two-way traffic between Bali and Perth and the rest of the country through Jakarta, into Sydney, Melbourne et cetera, this is a very significant issue.

I just want to make this really important point – if it’s detected in one cow or one, you know, one livestock, one sheep, one pig here in Australia, the industry closes down overnight. There are no exports. There’s no processing of beef, and the prices on our shelves will go through the roof. But, more importantly, you would see countless numbers of livestock slaughtered in our country and devastation potentially for years for farmers. So that’s why I think the National Security Committee should be meeting as a matter of urgency. And it’s why we’ve called on the Prime Minister to stand up and say why shouldn’t the borders be closed. I really think we need to hear from the PM today. This is catastrophic potentially, and that’s why we need to, you know, do whatever we can. And I think laying mats out at the airport and, you know, doing a bit of social media into people who are coming back from Indonesia is just not going to cut it.

LANGDON: I think that is a little bit unfair. I think more is being done than that. Richard, but there is a good point to be raised here, that, you know, people aren’t being screened. You still don’t have these sanitation foot baths. So you are relying on travellers to be honest and do the right thing, and it takes just one person who doesn’t with catastrophic consequences.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I mean, we understand the seriousness of this. And it is right to describe it in the way that it has been. But Peter’s now raising the question of whether or not the border should be shut. That does not seem to be the position of the Leader of the National Party let alone the industry bodies, the National Farmers Federation, the Cattlemen’s Association. None of them are calling for that. Were we to close the border it would have a very significant –

LANGDON: Is it also not your position? You’re not considering it?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: That is not where we’re at at the moment, because to close the border would have a very significant impact on our trade. And Peter for one ought to know that. I mean, the former government faced outbreaks of foot-and-mouth in a range of countries where Australia had an open border. They were not recommending that measure then. So it’s all well and good to do that in government but to take another position in opposition, and it now seems from what I’ve just heard that the Leader of the Opposition is at odds with the Leader of the National Party on exactly this question.

What we’re going to do is deal with this in a serious, sober way. What we’ve got in place now is the biggest biosecurity response that any government has ever done. That’s what we are doing. And we’re doing it with more biosecurity officers and more work in Indonesia and countries that are on the frontline here. We get what’s at stake, and we are doing everything we can to make sure that this is not an eventuality.

LANGDON: All right. I mean, it’s a scary time at the moment, what’s going on.

Another issue I want to talk to you about, Richard, should employees have the right to work from home? The union believes so.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, well, I think there’s an understandable conversation that we’re all having in the aftermath of the pandemic about the way in which we work, particularly given that so many people have worked from home over the last few years. I think that’s a reasonable conversation to have. We’re not looking at changing the system now, but I think what we do need to do, is in a way see where the new normal rests as we emerge from the pandemic. And I think questions about how we work and whether we work at home are going to be ones that end up being threshed out. But it’s an important conversation to be had. You know, right now we don’t have plans for that.

LANGDON: Peter, quickly, your thoughts on that one?

DUTTON: Well, Ally, you know a Labor government’s in power when you see the unions exerting the sort of influence they are now. They’re trying to muscle their way onto the board of the RBA and insert themselves into every public discussion, which never ends well and it always ends in a disaster for the budget. But ultimately this should be a discussion between employers and employees. But the employers are the ones who are paying the wages and if they don’t believe that it’s possible within their business for that person to work from home then that’s the decision that should be made. I understand people want flexibility and nobody wants to get on a train in the morning and go to work and it’s easier to work at home and people want that flexibility. I get that, and if it’s possible, that’s great. But ultimately the employer is the one that has to make the call there.

LANGDON: And, look, Parliament’s back next week. Can I ask, are you excited to be seeing each other again in person?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Of course. Although we actually did see each other in America. I found myself going on my morning run and running into Peter on the Mall.

LANGDON: You jetsetters, you two.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: So we’ve been seeing a bit of each other.

LANGDON: So, actually, what happens next week?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: He’s got a selfie that I’m not going to show you.


LANGDON: You swap sides next week, don’t you? You switch sides in Parliament?

DUTTON: We do. He’ll be there. Hey, Ally, he’s not telling you that he celebrated his birthday while he was in Washington as well. It was a gathering of about 900 people and he was centre stage. Too many birthday candles for me to report back to you. But wit was a nice occasion.

LANGDON: But he invited you? That’s nice, see. Oops, he disappeared.

DUTTON: It was really nice. I was really touched to be there.

LANGDON: All right. Well, you said that and Richard disappeared from our screens. So there you go. Anyway, you can talk about it when you’re in Canberra next week. Nice to talk to you both this morning. Thank you.


Deputy Prime Minister
Minister for Defence



SUBJECTS: Resignation of U.K. Prime Minister; Prime Minister representing Australia overseas; Australia-China relationship.

SARAH ABO, HOST: Well, just a week after being gifted a Bunnies jersey from our own Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s time is up, resigning overnight. Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles and Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Birmingham join me now to discuss. Richard, is Mr Albanese going to ask for his Rabbitohs jersey back? I mean, that’s what we all want to know?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I mean, you look at what’s playing out with Boris Johnson and you obviously see the brutality of politics. But this is the democratic process that’s going on in a country which is obviously a very close friend and partner. And it doesn’t change our relationship with the United Kingdom. And, you know, to that end we thank Boris Johnson for his service. We obviously wish him well in the future, but we also know we’ll be getting another PM from Britain who we will work closely with.

ABO: He’s already suffered tumultuous times. Simon, Boris Johnson clung on to this job for dear life. But in the end, he just couldn’t dodge those controversies any longer. How do you feel about him stepping down given the era we’re currently in?

SIMON BIRMINGHAM, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Look, the reasons for Boris Johnson stepping down are overwhelmingly domestic political factors in the United Kingdom. Boris Johnson will be remembered in part for his eccentricities, but also from an Australian perspective, we should remember him for the fact that he was the UK leader who sealed the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement, who brought us the AUKUS security pact providing access to much deeper defence cooperation and technologies in the future, and who helped Australia out with Pfizer vaccines in the middle of the pandemic when we needed them.

So he’s been a great friend to Australia. But no doubt the next UK Prime Minister will also be a great friend, as we’ve seen throughout the years. And that relationship is so important. It survives changes of government, changes of Prime Ministers, and I’m sure it will again.

ABO: I mean, Richard, obviously with the change of government here in Australia there is some adjusting, but we specifically need stability in Europe right now. With Boris leaving what kind of repercussions, what kind of impact will this have globally?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Look, I think that stability will be maintained in Europe. I mean, the point here is that this is the democratic process playing out. And it’s all happening in accordance with that. And Britain will maintain its governance structure as we go through all this. It will obviously continue to participate in all the international fora. So, I don’t think really this has much impact in terms of those issues of stability. Simon’s right – it’s really the domestic issues which have given rise to what’s playing out with Boris Johnson. So, you know, in terms of our relationship with the United Kingdom, it won’t be changed, and I don’t think it really changes the UK’s relationship with Europe, its place in NATO, and all of that will continue.

ABO: Would you have liked, though, to have seen a new PM sooner than in a month’s time?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s just how it is in Britain. And, again, I don’t think it will matter that much. They’ll have caretaker arrangements in place in terms of who’s in that chair. The Cabinet processes will continue. So, I don’t think it really will change the way in which Britain engages with the world and the way in which it engages in Europe. Obviously, the war in Ukraine is a critical issue which is facing the world but is facing Europe. Britain is deeply engaged and supportive of Ukraine in that. And all of that’s going to continue. So, I actually don’t think it will make that much difference.

ABO: Okay. Well, back home now, and our Prime Minister is on home soil checking in on the flood communities. But he’s soon to take off to Fiji, and that’s next week. It’s a busy schedule, Richard. Should he be staying down under?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Look, it’s really important that we are engaging with the Pacific. You know, we’ve seen the consequences under the former government of not paying enough attention to the Pacific and our close region. And so, you know, we have put an emphasis on that from the very beginning. And the Prime Minister’s participation in the Pacific Islands Forum is really critical.

Anthony has been deeply engaged in the question of the floods. As soon as he was able to make contact with the New South Wales Premier he did. As a government, we have been working really closely with New South Wales, been on the front foot, made sure that there is the support through the Australian Defence Force and the like for the communities in New South Wales. And, of course, the Prime Minister has been to those communities over the last few days. So, all of that work will continue. The Prime Minister is very focused on it. But it’s important that we are taking our part in the Pacific as well.

ABO: Simon, we’d love to ask Peter Dutton what he thinks about Airbus Albo, but he’s on holidays.

BIRMINGHAM: Well, Peter is taking a break post the election. And look, Anthony Albanese should put a priority on the Pacific Islands Forum, just as Scott Morrison put a priority on attending and participating in the Pacific Islands Forum. However, you’ve got to recognise that also the Labor Party tore down Scott Morrison through relentless cheap shots that they made against him. So, it’s unsurprising that some are making similar types of shots back against Anthony Albanese. But I recognise these are bigger issues in the national interest. And so, despite Labor’s hypocrisy, I expect them to get on with the job, and that means, of course, dealing with those international relations, meeting with other leaders in the Pacific, but also delivering the support to flood-affected communities. And earlier his year we got record numbers of payments out to record numbers of households affected by floods in those circumstances. And so, I trust that the current system will see now payments made swiftly and effectively to those people who need them and the support they require.

ABO: Yeah, and of course, we saw the PM touring some of those flood-ravaged areas, and everyone was sort of watching this space. There was a lot of finger-pointing happening when the last government was in power. So we’ll see if there is more swift action taken.

But, Richard, just to move on to Penny Wong quickly now, and she will, of course, be meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister in Bali today. There is a lot of bad blood. Is it realistic to think that this is a relationship that can be repaired?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, there are going to be a lot of challenges which continue in our relationship with China. And we’ve made that clear. And we will continue to advocate very strongly for Australia’s national interest. And there’s no backward steps in relation to any of that. But we are going to go about our business in the world in a way which is professional, which is sober, and which understands the power of diplomacy. And that’s what this meeting is about today. And what you won’t see from this government is the kind of chest-beating that we saw from the former Coalition government, which actually did nothing to advance our national interest at all. Now, diplomacy we think, is important and we’ll see how far it takes us. But it’s really important obviously that we continue to advocate our national interest, which we will do. And we’ll see what comes from the meeting today.

ABO: Indeed, we will. We’ll be watching closely. Especially with Russia being there. That will be an interesting time. Thank you both for your time today.


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