SUBJECTS: Ukraine, Skills crisis; Anthony Albanese; Grace Tame.

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: There are concerns a possible Russian incursion or invasion of Ukraine could have significant implications for the Indo-Pacific region. Let’s bring in now the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Richard Marles. He’s in Canberra for us. Good morning to you.


ROWLAND: Very well. Richard Marles, what are your latest briefings telling you about what may or may not be about to happen regarding Russia and Ukraine?

MARLES: Well look, I don’t substantially know more than what is in the public domain. But obviously we’re very concerned for Ukraine. We very much respect its territorial integrity, its sovereignty. Russia should do the same. And we’re particularly mindful of the Ukrainian-Australian community, who are feeling it particularly tough at the moment. Obviously they would be feeling that in relation to Ukraine, but they’ve got a lot of family there. And Anthony Albanese met with them on the weekend. But this is certainly a very tense moment, and I think the world is holding its breath.

ROWLAND: Are you worried that if Russia does go into Ukraine that could embolden China, regarding its ambitions towards Taiwan and the greater Asia-Pacific region?

MARLES: Look, I think it’s important not to make connections right now in relation to those sorts of events. I think it’s important to take each event on its own terms. I think Taiwan really is a separate question and we should be treating it as such. Right now the focus is on Ukraine and the world should be maintaining its focus there.

ROWLAND: Okay. To domestic politics now. You’re renewing your criticism this morning of the Federal Government for what you describe as a crisis in skilled workers in Australia, claiming the Morrison Government has presided over this. I guess, won’t that situation change, potentially change quite quickly, once the international borders start reopening next week?

MARLES: Well, I think the international borders being closed has illuminated the issue that we’ve had in the country over the last couple of years, but what it’s actually doing is teaching us the lesson of the failure of the last nine years. I mean, we’ve had a government which has taken $3 billion out of TAFE over that period of time. We’ve got something like 70,000 less trainees and apprentices today than we did back in 2013. The point that we were making in today’s media is that if you look at the last six years, the Government has put about 500,000 people through trainees and apprentices, if you compare that to the six years of the Rudd-Gillard Government, almost a million people went through the system. And so, really, we’re seeing a massive shortfall, and the international border being closed has highlighted that. So, the lesson that we have to learn from this as a nation is that we must be training our own people. We’ve got a skills crisis in this country and it’s fundamentally because this Government has failed to invest in our TAFE system, and it’s why Labor has made clear that if we were elected at the next election, we would put in place a system of free TAFE for people studying in areas of skills shortage.

ROWLAND: A couple of quick ones before go. We have been showing clips this morning, Richard Marles, of tonight’s Four Corners. It’s a profile on your leader, Anthony Albanese. Reactions to him in that program range from “a nice guy, a bit vanilla, and unknown, untested, and untried”. Does Labor still have a fairly big challenge in, I guess, defining Anthony Albanese to the Australian electorate?

MARLES: Well, firstly, Anthony Albanese is a fantastic human being, and one of my great joys, actually, in being his Deputy over the last three years has been to work so closely with him. He’s led our party through a pretty challenging period, getting over the, well, frankly, the grief of the 2019 election, but also leading an Opposition through the pandemic, which has been pretty difficult. And we now find ourselves in a situation, because of his leadership, where we are competitive going into the next election. Anthony Albanese will make a fantastic Prime Minister of this country, given the opportunity. He is deeply experienced in public office and certainly in government. You know, for us, he is very much the person who has the answers to all the questions. And I think, as a nation, we’re going through a period of enormous uncertainty with the pandemic, where we actually need leadership which we have not had over the last nine years, certainly during the pandemic itself. And we need someone with experience who can take us out of the pandemic, and Anthony Albanese is absolutely that person.

ROWLAND: And before we go, just finishing with another TV program – 60 Minutes. Do you have any thoughts on Jenny Morrison, the Prime Minister’s wife last night criticising Grace Tame for, in Jenny Morrison’s words, “showing a lack of manners and respect,” in that appearance with both her and Scott Morrison at the Lodge just before Australia Day?

MARLES: Well, look, that’s obviously Jenny Morrison’s opinion, and she’s entitled to that. But I feel like the focus on all of this is missing the point, somewhat, of what Grace Tame has been about. You know, I was at the Press Club last week, and what I heard was an incredibly powerful advocate, a person who absolutely has found their voice, who was speaking out about the evil of child abuse within our society, and what we need to do to fix it. I think Grace Tame has been a completely remarkable Australian of the Year during the year she held that position and has really changed the conversation, unlike almost any other Australian of the Year has done. Grace Tame is an incredible human being, and I think to be focusing on a look is kind of missing the point of what Grace Tame is all about.

ROWLAND: Richard Marles, thank you for joining us this morning.

MARLES: Thanks, Michael.


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