SUBJECTS: Hotel quarantine; Foreign Relations bill; Labor.
MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Federal Parliament’s final sitting week for the year begins today and there is plenty on the agenda. The Deputy Opposition Leader, Richard Marles joins us now from Parliament House. Richard Marles, good morning to you.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning, Michael. How are you?
ROWLAND: Very well, thank you. I want to start with this breach over the weekend of the Sydney quarantine system that saw those two Germans hopping on that domestic flight to Melbourne. New South Wales- long hailed by the Prime Minister as having the gold standard coronavirus response. What do you make of what happened?
MARLES: Well, I actually think that was a pretty good answer that we just heard there. Mistakes are going to happen. What’s really important is that when they do, we’ve got the systems in place which can act immediately. And I think right now, that’s all about contact tracing and it is all about knowing who people have been in contact with. That’s what has occurred here. And where we have seen over the last few weeks, you know, little outbreaks as it were, but that feels like too strong a word, the system has been able to cope with it. So, hopefully we’ve got the systems in place which can deal with breaches, if I can put it that way, of this kind. Having said all that, you know, you can’t have spent this year in Victoria and be under any illusion about how easily this can get out of control and how vigilant we need to be.
ROWLAND: Indeed, we need to be forever vigilant. Let’s go to the agenda at Parliament this week; the Foreign Relations bill very much front and centre. This is the bill that would allow the Commonwealth- if this legislation was passed- to come in over to top of states, like Victoria. That state has struck its own trade deal with China and potentially tear those deals up. Is Labor going to support this Bill?
MARLES: Well, we’ve made it clear that we support the objective of this bill. It stands to reason that our national government should be in charge of our foreign relations and there is an appropriateness about ensuring that all the agreements that are reached by sub-national bodies, so states, universities, local councils that they are consistent with whatever is the national policy in respect of those foreign relations. Having said all of that, this bill from the outset was half-baked. It was rushed into the parliament. It’s full of flaws. We have been very concerned about it. We’re supporting it, reluctantly, but we have moved a lot of amendments in relation to it. And what we are really asking for is that the government sit down with us and talk this through so that we can actually see the reasonable objective that is contained in this bill, ultimately realised through good legislation. But what we have got at the moment is something which is really half-baked.
ROWLAND: Your frontbench colleague, Penny Wong seemed to suggest on Insiders yesterday, that she for one would like to see the deal between Victoria and China, in the end, torn up. Do you agree?
MARLES: Ultimately, I think this is the point that Penny made; it is going to be a matter for, a conversation between the federal government and the state government- and lets see where that goes. One thing we have made clear is; as Labor we wouldn’t be signing a BRI at a federal level. In that sense, we differ from where the Victorian Labor Government is at. I might say, we differ from where the Federal Government is at because they themselves signed a BRI agreement with China back in 2017. We wouldn’t have done that one either. I think what matters here is, given it is in place, there are going to be issues of sovereign risk, there are going to be unintended consequences. There just needs to be a very sober conversation between the federal and state governments now, to work out what is the best path forward.
ROWLAND: Okay. Just before we let you go, as you know, there have been mutterings in recent weeks, if not months, about Anthony Albanese’s leadership, do you have confidence in him?
MARLES: Completely. I mean Anthony’s been doing a fantastic job, in really difficult circumstances. He has had to manage the crushing let-down really of losing the 2019 election- steering us through the aftermath of that. And leading an Opposition during the coronavirus crisis has not been easy either. If you look at Oppositions around the country, none of them are doing particularly well because understandably during a crisis, people look to governments for authoritative information and there is not a lot of bandwidth for Opposition. We understand that. But we have been very busy thinking through what alternative we will be presenting to the Australian people at the next election. I think Australians are going to be hungry for a vision about how we can come out of this crisis much better than we went in. And I think Anthony has been doing a fantastic job in leading that process and is going to make a wonderful Prime Minister of this country.
ROWLAND: Okay, so come election time, Anthony Albanese will be the alternative Prime Minister?
MARLES: He definitely will be.
ROWLAND: Richard Marles, thanks for your time.
MARLES: Thanks Michael.