SUBJECTS: Visas; Morrison Government’s treatment of international students; Same Job, Same Pay; refugees; Labor’s Free TAFE policy.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI, HOST: Richard Marles is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and the Shadow Minister for National Reconstruction, Employment, Skills and Small Business. Richard Marles, good morning.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Morning, Virginia. How are you?
TRIOLI: Will the offered visa fee waivers do the job, do you think?
MARLES: I think this is too little, too late. I mean, it’s fine as it goes but it doesn’t strike me as the kind of incentive which is fundamentally going to change the game in terms of people deciding to come here. And, you know, in your opening I think you’ve hit the nail on the head in terms of the impact of the treatment of international students on Australia’s standing in the global market. Here in Geelong, I talk to Deakin a lot, they have a lot of international students. I mean, I just think they are appalled at what the Government did then, what it has meant for our standing internationally now. And as you rightly say, Deakin had to put up millions of dollars to try and feed their own international students during the course of the pandemic. And the point that Deakin would make, as I’m sure other universities would, is that the decision to come to study in Australia is, for many people, you know, a three or four year decision. And you’re making a decision based on where you want to study, where you’re going to get the best education and how you’re going to be treated over that period of time. So whether or not you get a rebate on your actual visa fee, it’s good, but it’s hardly the main point here. And I think that’s the concern that industry feels right now about what the Government has proposed.
TRIOLI: Is Deakin University, that’s in particular being the institution you’re speaking to a lot of at the moment Richard Marles, is Deakin telling you that they’ve permanently lost students? Can they put a percentage on the ones that have decided to go elsewhere to institutions in Canada and the UK and the like?
MARLES: Well, they certainly can put a monetary figure on it, which I won’t repeat on-air, that’s for them-
TRIOLI: Is it substantial?
MARLES: It’s a huge – oh massive, I mean, it is a massive impact on the university. It’s a massive impact on the Geelong economy, because the university is a critical part of the Geelong economy. The point they would make, and this kind of goes to another area, is that the income they derive from international students, often is used to support research and so it has an impact on their ability to do research. This really is changing our higher education system. And international education is a really good industry for Australia, and particularly, I might say for Victoria.
TRIOLI: It’s a key industry.
MARLES: It is a key industry. It’s one of our major export industries. And what the Prime Minister did two years ago in the comments that you’ve replayed this morning, was damage us enormously in that global market. And again, the point that is made by universities is that this is not how other countries, which are in this space, dealt with their international students. They supported them, they were looking after them in the circumstances that we all found ourselves in with the onset of the pandemic. But we took a different path, and we’re paying the price for that now.
TRIOLI: One key aspect of what a lot of businesses are going through right now, and in particular agricultural businesses, is that there are a number of people who are seeking work, even while they can’t fill the places that they have to try and pick fruit and vegetables and to help them get their crops out of the ground. Doesn’t there need to be – even in the relatively free labour market situation that we have here in Australia, Richard Marles – does there need to be, in your view, some sort of intervention into the way that the labour hire companies construct the work and the salary levels that are being offered to people to pick these fruit and vegetables, because they’re simply too low to attract Australian workers to the jobs?
MARLES: Well, we’ve been making really clear that we should be having same pay for the same job as an underpinning principle of our labour system, in our industrial relations system in Australia. And particularly as we see a growth in atypical employment, in other words, non full-time employment. So as labour hire companies take up more and more of the economy, we’re seeing more casual, part-time workers, more workers in the gig economy, we are seeing a breakdown in the sort of standards that have been built up over a long period of time. And I think one of the really important principles here is that same pay for same job needs to be what is applying here so that there are basic standards which apply across the workforce as we’ve understood it, and that includes in the agricultural sector. But I think the other point I’d want to make, Virginia, about really the experience of the last two years in having the international border shut, if there is a lesson that we learn from that, it’s that we are not training enough of our own people. You know, we’ve got a skills crisis in this country, fundamentally because this Government cut $3 billion out of TAFE over the last eight years-
TRIOLI: Sure, that’s a fair point but it doesn’t really get us to what labour hire companies, in concert with those agricultural businesses and those farmers, are prepared to offer people for this crucial agricultural work. I’m just going to, I guess, get you after a rather long answer that didn’t really answer the question, to go more specifically to whether there needs to be a direct intervention here? Because the money offered is scandalously low, the conditions are appalling, and we hear direct stories from people who have gone out to pick fruit, have left after a week because they’re living in some dreadful donga and paid absolute rubbish. If we’re going to get our fruit and vegetables picked, we need to pay real money, don’t we? And do you think a Labor Government would directly intervene there?
MARLES: Yeah well absolutely, and there is a minimum wage in this country. And there are minimum wages for that kind of work. And the point I’m making is that we need to be making sure that there are no other mechanisms, through labour hire or any other means, that can undermine that. So that the same pay for the same work is a principle which underpins our labour market – the minimum standards, which are there, apply to everyone irrespective of the form in which they are employed. Be they a direct employee, or be they employed through a labour hire company, they get the same pay, and that is the minimum wage – or at least the minimum wage – so that we make sure that proper conditions of employment apply across all of those industries. And we’ve made clear that that’s what we will do if we were elected later this year.
TRIOLI: Let me get quickly to a couple of other issues before I let you go. Richard Marles is with you this morning from the Federal Labor Opposition. One high profile and rather influential corporate adviser is today calling for refugees in indefinite detention to be allowed out and used to fill that labour shortage that we’ve been talking about, picking fruit and vegetables. Do you support that idea?
MARLES: Well, I think the situation on people who have come here and their refugee status is a process that needs to play out, and it needs to play out in accordance with our law. So I don’t think that as an idea is going to solve the labour shortages that we’ve got going here. It’s a way of kind of conflating one issue with another. I mean, people who are in indefinite detention, which will be a situation where their refugee status is something that is being determined, I mean, that needs to play out in accordance with our law and I don’t think we should be confusing those issues.
TRIOLI: Well, no, we have people who have been found to be legitimate refugees, and who are now, and will be, in permanent detention. And of course, you and Federal Labor last year supported government legislation that allows the government to indefinitely detain, for the rest of their lives, people who actually have been found to be refugees. So I’m just…I understand that-
MARLES: Well I’m not sure what the…I mean, if we’re talking about people with adverse security assessments, and we’re not talking about many people in that circumstance, so we’re hardly in a situation where that is going to be the kind of number that’s going to remotely come close to dealing with the issue of the permanent labour shortage or the labour shortages that we’re seeing in our labour market right now. So, I mean, that is really about trying to conflate one issue with another. I think we need to deal with that issue on its own terms. If we are talking about how we deal with labour shortages in our economy, well then let’s think about real ways in which we can do that, such as properly funding TAFE, such as making sure that there’s free TAFE for people who are studying in areas of skill shortages, which is, again, a policy that we put forward.
TRIOLI: And just quickly, and finally, the Prime Minister also wants to limit daily workplace testing, again, as a way of trying to free up the workforce that’s being locked out because of testing and the like, and close contact situations. Should we do that?
MARLES: Well, I think, firstly, we shouldn’t forget the fact that one of the key tools in this situation is having adequate levels of rapid antigen tests, and we simply don’t have that in this country. And that is a failure by Scott Morrison to prepare for this moment. But I think what we will see is an evolution in all of these rules, if you like, as we learn to live with the virus. And the only point I would make is that as we go through that process of evolution, we really need to be taking the best medical advice and understanding that there is a balance here. I mean, our health system is under more stress now than it has been at any point during the pandemic, and so we obviously have to bear that in mind as well.
TRIOLI: Good to talk to you, Richard Marles, thanks for taking our call today.
MARLES: Thanks, Virginia.