SUBJECTS: Senate Inquiry into Auspost; Labor; Victorian cases; Scott Morrison’s failures on the vaccine rollout and hotel quarantine; Is parliament a safe place to work?

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: For more on this issue and many other issues, I was joined by the Deputy Labor Leader, Richard Marles. Richard Marles, welcome to the program.


KARVELAS: What do you make of the findings of this Inquiry into Australian Post?

MARLES: Well, it’s a damning report. It calls on the Prime Minister to apologise to Christine Holgate. I think it’s now a matter of the Prime Minister’s character, frankly. What was clear in the Prime Minister’s response to this whole issue was that when the going got tough, he was certainly not there standing behind Christine Holgate. And as she said, he, in discarding her really, made her position completely untenable. And I think what’s clear from this report, is that the Prime Minister should apologise.

KARVELAS: Do you believe that the Australia Post Chair should resign to?

MARLES: Well, again, that forms part of the recommendations of the report, and I think Australia Post now need to take this very seriously, as does the government in terms of the referral of Paul Fletcher to the Auditor-General, in terms of his role in relation to this. I think it’s incumbent on the Board to take recommendations of this deeply seriously.

KARVELAS: Would Labor commit to the other recommendations of the Inquiry, including restructuring the Board to include sitting MPs and Senators?

MARLES: Look, I haven’t seen all the recommendations of the report, so, I’d probably like to take that on notice before answering that. But the key recommendations all represent a damning indictment on the way in which the government has handled this and the key point right now is a test of character for the Prime Minister.

KARVELAS: Yeah, okay. So ultimately, this is a Senate report. The government isn’t obliged to follow its recommendations. It says the issue is now settled. Christine Holgate has gone into another role. There is a new boss of Australia Post. How do you expect the government to respond to this?

MARLES: Well, I expect the Prime Minister to demonstrate whether he has character in this moment and to respond to it accordingly. What is clear is that his treatment of Christine Holgate was appalling. That’s what this report makes clear. That’s what Christine Holgate has made clear. And it’s really a test of character for the Prime Minister as to whether he makes amends for that.

KARVELAS: The committee actually includes members of the government. Does that give it more weight? What does it mean for this report?

MARLES: Well, I think it has weight. I mean, it’s a Senate report. And yes, there are members of both sides who are participating. But these reports and recommendations don’t happen without a great deal of investigation. It’s a very serious set of recommendations that have been made. And it would only add to the indictment on the government, if they pay no attention to this. You know, the right thing to do now is to respond. And as I say, I think there is a fundamental test of character for the Prime Minister about whether he personally responds in the way that’s being required.

KARVELAS: If the federal Labor Party sleepwalking off a cliff, as Meryl Swanson says?

MARLES: Look, Meryl Swanson is a fantastic local MP who speaks passionately about her constituency. I think we are very focused on holding the government to account in terms of its handling of the COVID-19 crisis, its failure to vaccinate Australia properly, its failure to do quarantine- have fit for purpose quarantine facilities in this country. Its failure to have a vision about how the country is going to recover from COVID-19 in a way, which was better than the way we went in. And we are focused on making sure that we present ourselves as an alternative at the next election and an alternative which I think Australians are crying out for, given the eight years of drift that they’ve experienced with this government.

KARVELAS: But you can say that, but that’s not the way the electorate is behaving, is it?

MARLES: I don’t accept that. I mean, as I travel around Australia, what I see is, is a great deal of discontent with the way in which this government has been going about its business over a very long period of time. I mean, you only need to look at the budget itself, which as a report card on the government’s last eight years, is a complete indictment of themselves; I mean, a failure to properly deal with aged care. A failure to properly deal with what is now a skills crisis by virtue of significant funding cuts over eight years, and 150,000 less apprenticeships and traineeships in this country today than when they came to office.

KARVELAS: But do you think there are-

MARLES: And childcare. These are all the issues that people raise with us.

KARVELAS: But do you think there are any lessons from the Upper Hunter by-election for Labor as a whole, for Labor as a brand?

MARLES: I think we need to take every expression of voters seriously. Of course, we need to look at what has happened in that by-election and we need to take everything that we can from it when people have their say. I would make the point; we’re talking about a state by-election, we’re talking about a by-election where there were a number of minor party candidates in a way that you wouldn’t have at a general election- in a way, which necessarily sprays the primary vote. And we’re talking about the party, which has held this seat for decades upon decades, being retained.

KARVELAS: Sure, but we’re talking about the swing against Labor, not whether you won it or not. What do you make of the comments from the candidate in the Upper Hunter that working class communities are turning away from the government, but they don’t see Labor as the answer?

MARLES: Well, again, I mean, I think we need to take all of this as seriously- so you know, we listen to results such as this, and we go through them in detail. I think working people are disillusioned with the government. I think it’s really important that we are making sure, as we have been, that the base that we have represented over many, many decades, is supporting us- and they are. And what we saw in Muswellbrook, which is a coal town, there was a swing to us, and that’s where our candidate was from. In Singleton, where the One Nation candidate was from, there was a swing to One Nation. I mean, they were the kind of variations that you would expect to see in a result of this kind. And of course, there are large parts of this electorate which are outside of seats that we hold. But it is important to take these results seriously. And we certainly are, but I wouldn’t be rushing to conclusions that there are significant federal implications associated with this by-election.

KARVELAS: How concerned are you about the rising coronavirus infections in Melbourne?

MARLES: Well obviously, I’m concerned. And I think everyone in Victoria is. I think, today you know, Victorians are feeling all the anxieties of 2020. And, you know, I think all of our hearts are in our mouth about, you know, the next result that comes, out how many new cases there will be and what that means. The one point in relation to the Victorian authorities that I would make is that, you know, they are the most practiced agencies and departments now in the country in terms of dealing with this. And I have faith in their expertise, that the case tracing that now is in place and that they will make the right decisions in terms of whatever restrictions which need to be in place. But I make this point, Patricia; none of this would be happening but for the fact that we don’t have purpose built hotel- or purpose built quarantine facilities in this country, but rather, we are relying on hotel quarantine. Now, hotels are not fit for purpose. And what is clear is that this is a failure of hotel quarantine, because somebody who’s gone into hotel quarantine, who didn’t have the disease as apparently caught it there-

KARVELAS: Okay, and that happened in South Australia-

MARLES: But that’s a failure of the federal government, because that is their responsibility.

KARVELAS: Well, quarantine might be, but the South Australian government is running quarantine. But do you think it’s safe for AFL games to go ahead and for there to be crowds this weekend?

MARLES: Well again, I think we need to be listening to our medical experts and given all that’s played out over the last year, I have complete confidence that their recommendations about exactly what measures should be put in place will be the right ones. And obviously I have complete confidence that, you know, the Victorian community will abide by all of them in the way that the Victorians have been a magnificent way really, over the over the last 12 months. So, you know, I have confidence in whatever the advice is going to be, in relation to all of that.

KARVELAS: Would a federal Labor Government commit to the proposals to build and pay for dedicated quarantine sites in Victoria and Queensland?

MARLES: Well we’ve been calling for dedicated quarantine facilities now for-

KARVELAS: Yeah, but do you think that the Commonwealth should foot the whole bill?

MARLES: It’s the Commonwealths responsibility. I mean, the-

KARVELAS: Does that mean, yes?

MARLES: It absolutely means that the Commonwealth needs to stump up and build these facilities.

KARVELAS: And pay for it all? I am asking about the financing of this.

MARLES: I think the Commonwealth has to take responsibility which includes financial responsibility, to make sure that these quarantine facilities are built. The Commonwealth’s own advisor was making the point in the middle of last year that there needed to be purpose built quarantine facilities in this country, that we didn’t have those. And hotel quarantine is not a fit for purpose solution. And this latest outbreak, which is a total failure of hotel quarantine is exactly the example of why we need to do that. And it is the Commonwealth’s responsibility. It is right there in the Constitution. And the anxieties that are being felt by every Victorian on this day is a direct result of the Prime Minister’s failure to take responsibility in relation to quarantine.

KARVELAS: But just to be clear, whenever we bring people from overseas, and we do that, still, whether it’s in a different sort of quarantine facility or not, you take the risk, don’t you, that the virus can break out of those facilities? That’s a constant risk, is it not?

MARLES: That is exactly why you need fit for purpose built facilities. That’s exactly why-

KARVELAS: But even if built for purpose- built facilities is not full proof, is it? Because the virus is super contagious. If we’re bringing people in, we run the risk that the virus can get into the community.

MARLES: The one facility, which is more fit for purpose than any other in this country is Howard Springs in the Northern Territory, and unsurprisingly, it’s had the best result, in terms of not letting the virus get beyond its gates. Unsurprisingly. And, you know, to put people in hotels, where, you know, you have single ventilation systems, where those hotels are in the middle of our major population centres, doesn’t make sense. And you only need one person to escape the net and we’ve seen it happen time and again, over the last six months to create really serious situations, which is what Victoria is now facing. And so, you know, this is a matter of doing everything we can to minimise risk. But a failure to build the fit for purpose and build facilities in respect of quarantine is not doing what needs to be done in terms of minimising that risk, and that’s on Scott Morrison and on the Commonwealth Government, because quarantine is their job.

KARVELAS: Richard Marles, is federal parliament a safer place for women since the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins?

MARLES: Well, I think what’s clear is since the alleged rape of Britney Higgins two years ago, it’s not. I mean that’s the only conclusion-

KARVELAS: Since her revelations, since she went public, not since the awful, alleged event, but since she went public. Is it safer?

MARLES: Well, I’m not sure that it is safer in the last few months. And I think we can completely say that it’s not safer over the last couple of years. The number of reports that have been made, that’s been revealed today, you know, I think is very sad.

KARVELAS: I want to take you to that. What do you make of these 19 allegations of sexual misconduct involving parliamentarians, their staff and official establishments reported to the AFP, since she went public?

MARLES: I mean, I’m appalled. And it does make me ultimately feel really sad. It’s a larger number than I would have expected, that’s the honest answer to the question. I do think there is a problem, a cultural problem which exists in this building. And the answer to your question is that that cultural problem has not got any better in the last two years. I don’t know whether it’s got any better in the last couple of months. But what’s clear is there’s a long way to go. And it is an enormous privilege to work here. And you know, it is a fantastic place to work. But none of that is a license for bad behaviour. And yet, that seems to be where matters have gone. In fact, it needs to be the opposite. The privilege of working in this building means that for all of us, there’s a responsibility to make this the exemplar of safe employment, of respect for women in the country. And that’s where we’ve got to get to, and clearly we’re a long way from that.

KARVELAS: Richard Marles, thanks for joining me.

MARLES: Thanks, Patricia.


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