SUBJECTS: Australia’s Olympic Games diplomatic boycott; cryptocurrency regulation; Free TAFE; Australia’s skills shortages; Labor’s skills announcement; George Christensen; vaccine protests; federal election.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Richard Marles is the Deputy Opposition Leader and Shadow Employment Minister, and he joined me a little earlier. Richard Marles, welcome.


KARVELAS: The Chinese Embassy in Australia has this afternoon criticised the decision of Australia following the U.S, saying it runs counter to Australia’s wish to improve relations, does it?

MARLES: Look, I think the Government’s made the right decision here to engage in a diplomatic boycott of the Games in support of the U.S position. I think that’s the right thing to do, given the human rights situation in China, and so we support the Government in this position. I mean, I think it’s also right that the athletes who have been preparing for the Games should be able to go and compete on our behalf, and we’ll certainly be supporting them.

KARVELAS: OK. Do you agree, though, that given Australia has been talking, in fact, Labor has been pushing the Government to improve its relationship with China, that this doesn’t do that?

MARLES: It’s important that we are making decisions in the national interest, but it’s also important that we are using our voice in the international field around human rights. And that’s what I think we’re appropriately doing in the circumstance.

KARVELAS: Do you expect China to retaliate further, for instance with tariffs?

MARLES: I don’t know, but I mean, at the end of the day, I think it’s important that we’re exercising our voice in the international domain and in respect of human rights. I think this is an appropriately calibrated way to do it.

KARVELAS: OK, so we just have to wear that if that is the consequence?

MARLES: Well, it’s critically important that as a country, we do exercise our voice on behalf of human rights internationally, we’ve always said that, we’ve always said that in the context of managing our relationship with China. It’s obviously important that we exercise our voice in our own national interest as well, so that absolutely comes first and we manage events from there.

KARVELAS: As a U.S ally, this decision comes pretty much straightaway after the U.S has made the similar decision. Does it look like we’re just sort of following, should we have- does foreign policy look like it’s just following the U.S?

MARLES: Look the U.S have obviously made their decision. I think it’s reasonable to act in this way in this circumstance. I mean, we do need to make our own decision, I think that’s what’s occurred here. I don’t think it’s unreasonable that we’re making this decision in the wake of the decision the U.S has made.

KARVELAS: Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says the Government is consulting with industry about establishing a licensing arrangement for digital currency exchange. What’s Labor’s position on more regulation for that industry?

MARLES: Well this is a new area, it’s really important that the Government keeps up to speed with where we’re at with issues like cryptocurrency. It’s really important that there is regulation which protects consumers, that eases the pressure on small business, that promotes innovation, all of that matters. Really, at the end of the day, all the Government’s promising to do here is to have a chat with people, which is really what they’ve done in the past. There’s no promise of any action on the part of the Government before the next election, so other than marking the spot, it’s not really obvious what the Government’s doing here. But look, you know, we think it’s really- this is an important area in which to engage in dialogue and we’ll be certainly interested in what the Reserve Bank has to say on this question.

KARVELAS: Do you agree, though, that services such as Google and Apple Pay should be subject to more oversight?

MARLES: Well, it’s important that there is proper regulation here which makes sure that there is protection for consumers, that is really important. And it’s important that this can happen in a way, which eases the burden on small business, so we get the need for action here. As I say, it’s not obvious to us that the Government’s saying anything of any particular substance today, but we certainly support action in this space. And as I say, we’ll be keen to hear what the Reserve Bank particularly has to say about all this.

KARVELAS: The Federal Government has promised to shoulder the university debts of doctors and nurse practitioners who work in regional, remote and rural areas from January next year. How far will this go in addressing skill shortages?

MARLES: Well we do have a skills crisis in Australia. It’s important that we are looking at that, we’ve obviously made our own announcements in the last few days in relation to that, both in terms of TAFE and university. But it is fundamentally the cuts that this Government has engaged in, in both TAFE and university over the last eight years which have left us in the position that we’re currently in. And whilst it’s true that, you know, during the pandemic, with the experience of the international border being closed, that’s certainly put a spotlight on this, the lesson that we must learn coming out of the pandemic is that we need to be training people in this country. And that includes doctors and nurses and includes people throughout the trade spectrum as well. And it’s really important that there is action here. And I mean, it’s fine to see the Government acting right now, it’s pretty difficult to repair eight years of damage in a few months. But what you know with Labor is that we are completely committed to repairing the situation that the country finds itself in, where in respect of trades, for example, we’ve got 85,000 less apprenticeships and trainees than we had in 2013.

KARVELAS: I want to talk about the criticism of George Christensen, which has been really across the political spectrum there’s been criticism. The Prime Minister has voiced his criticism of George Christensen’s appearance on this right-wing conspiracy show, but at the same time, he took aim at the media reporting of the comments. What do you make of that?

MARLES: Well, I think really, the story here is a failure of leadership on the part of Scott Morrison. I mean, George Christensen is a repeat offender in respect of this. And he’s a repeat offender because the Prime Minister doesn’t pull him into line. I mean, what George Christensen has done here causes enormous offence particularly within the Jewish community but more broadly throughout the country. As I say he is a repeat offender. I mean, he made a pretty inflammatory statement in Parliament in the last fortnight. Scott Morrison’s leadership here is the question and it’s the failure of it, which is put into stark relief by what we’ve seen George Christensen do. I don’t think it’s a question of the media coverage, this is a question of Scott Morrison’s own leadership.

KARVELAS: OK, it’s an interesting one, the idea though of media coverage on these sorts of things, whether there’s sort of platforming or giving too much attention to those issues. Do you think that is an issue?

MARLES: Well, I think it is important that there’s the right balance here. I actually think the media is doing the right thing in highlighting it. I mean, the issue that we’ve got now is you’ve got so many differing ways in which this information can get out. But I don’t think we can ignore what George Christensen has done, it’s important, I think, to call it out. But the most important voice in this should be the Prime Minister’s. It’s actually important that Scott Morrison calls George Christensen out, and in a way which takes some responsibility for the fact that he is a Member of Scott Morrison’s Government. I mean, Scott Morrison governs because George Christensen’s vote is there on his side, he needs to take responsibility for the voice of George Christensen and he should be pulling him into line.

KARVELAS: I want to take you to the broader movement we’re seeing against vaccine mandates, COVID-19 policies. And if you look at the sort of the numbers of people demonstrating consistently on the streets, particularly in Melbourne, it looks like a sort of pretty strong movement of disgruntled people. How does Labor engage with those people? They’re very upset about vaccine mandates, do you have any sympathy for that view?

MARLES: Well, I think people have a right to express their view in a free society, we obviously acknowledge that. And I do think it’s important that within politics, we engage with views. Having said that, a lot- at least some of the demonstrations have occurred in a way which certainly causes me anxiety. The exercising of free speech needs to be done in a way which is peaceful and which is civil, and obviously when you’re walking down Spring Street with gallows that doesn’t meet that criteria, and there is absolutely no place for that. And that kind of protest should be called out. I mean, in terms of the substance of the issue, vaccines is what gets us to the other side of the pandemic. Vaccines are the pathway to getting back to reality-

KARVELAS: And we know that based on the science, but then there’s the right, people’s right, to stay in jobs if they don’t want to get vaccinated, for instance. Do they have that right?

MARLES: I think these are difficult questions where balances come into play. And we all have a right to be as safe as we possibly can in the context of the virus. And one of the things that the virus does is it connects us all, you know, the virus is spread from one human to another. And so, inevitably, there is a balancing of rights here. But where I get to in my head with all of that is given the complexity of that it’s really important that government leads. Now to be honest, I think the Federal Government should have done more leadership here but in the absence of that, state governments around the country have provided leadership-

KARVELAS: When you say the Federal Government should have done more, what should have they done?

MARLES: I think from the beginning of the pandemic, you know, we’ve seen a federal government who has written its role very small-

KARVELAS: But on vaccines, which it was responsible for the rollout, should it have been more- pursuing mandates more?

MARLES: Well, the point that we’ve made in relation to the Federal Government is that when you think about vaccine policy in the workplace, if I can put it in those terms, the industrial relations, the workplace is in large measure a federal responsibility. The Federal Government has essentially said that they don’t, you know, they’ve not sought to go into that space. I think that has been a failure of leadership. But the point Patricia, I really want to make is that the states have, and government needs to, and so the thing I really support the end of the day, is the right for governments – in this case, state governments – to make orders in respect of public health. And that’s what they’ve done. I think they have struck the balance in the right way here in Victoria, in respect of vaccine mandates, but actually around the country. And so I very much support what they do, what the state governments have done, and in that sense, you know, I do not agree with those who have been protesting against it.

KARVELAS: Do you think it’ll swing votes in some very tight marginal seats?

MARLES: Look, you know, there’s a long way to go between now and the election. But at the end of the day, what matters here is getting the question right. I mean, we can’t be analysing the question of vaccine mandates or vaccine policy in respect of votes, we actually need to be analysing it in terms of how we get the country to the other side of the pandemic, how we keep people safe, but how we get back to a place of normality. And the right of, in this case the Victorian Government, or any state government to put in place a public health order in respect of vaccine mandates is really important, and I support what they’ve done.

KARVELAS: Does Labor want the election to be about the Government’s management of the pandemic?

MARLES: I think, inevitably, you know, how the Government has performed over the last three years will form part of the landscape in which the election is held. I actually think that the election is going to be much more about the future, about who has a plan for what the country looks like coming out of the pandemic, about who actually sees a vision for an economy and grabs the moment that I think this is of reimagining the country, and perhaps the single biggest moment that we’ve had since the end of the Second World War. I also think at the end of the day, it’s going to be a question of, you know, which leader is best placed to bring to bear that person’s experience with integrity and with honesty to bring the country back together?

KARVELAS: Does it worry you that Anthony Albanese doesn’t have strong name recognition, and just recognition across the country?

MARLES: Anthony Albanese is the most experienced person in Australian politics-

KARVELAS: But he’s not well-known, is he?

MARLES: Well the end of the day, he brings to bear an enormous amount of experience, I think he is uniquely placed to bring the country back together again, in the aftermath of this Government and coming out of the pandemic. And we will certainly be making that case. I mean, one thing which is really clear, Anthony Albanese is a man of integrity, and he tells the truth. And that’s a real difference with the person who’s the Prime Minister right now. And I think people look to the Prime Minister of this country particularly in a moment like this, to speak with truth, to act with integrity, to give us guidance through a very difficult moment in our history. Now, Scott Morrison doesn’t tell the truth. That’s just a fact now. And we actually need a voice of honesty and integrity in the top job. Anthony Albanese will be that.

KARVELAS: Well he contests that he doesn’t tell the truth-

MARLES: Well it’s not a matter of contest-

KARVELAS: Well there are some cases, absolutely, on the record-

MARLES: -on the record!

KARVELAS: But he does contest it, but that is his view. That is your view and this is the end of the interview, thanks for coming on.

MARLES: Thanks, Patricia.


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