Deputy Prime Minister
Minister for Defence

MONDAY, 25 JULY 2022

SUBJECTS: ADF support to Aged Care; Monkeypox; Australian Building and Construction Commission; Foot-and-mouth disease; Australian Ambassador to the United States.  

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: MPs are arriving in Canberra this morning, ready to sit for the first time tomorrow. Let’s go straight to the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Richard Marles, in Canberra. Mr Marles, good morning to you.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Good morning Michael, how are you?

ROWLAND: Very well, thank you. So ADF troops, as we’re reporting, extended until at least the end of September. What does that say about the COVID crisis and the aged care sector in Australia?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well there is a significant number of outbreaks as you reported, more than a thousand across the country. And so it’s important that we need to be doing everything we can to meet the challenge of that. It’s not just extending the military support to aged care, it’s actually increasing it up to 250 personnel through until the end of September. And it’s an important step, given what the sector faces. It’s obviously important to note that this is not a long-term solution, it’s not what the Defence Force is for. But in this moment, it’s really important that we do everything we can to provide all the assistance necessary, and so this is the right step to take.

ROWLAND: As your colleague, the Aged Care Minister Anika Wells, says, this is an extreme measure. So what exactly are the ADF personnel doing in the aged care homes?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s a significant contribution, as you say, and it’s a range of personnel who are going to be providing assistance across the medical space within aged care homes. It is an extreme measure and it’s right to describe it as that. We’re doing this now because of the significant number of outbreaks, but as I said, it’s important to understand that we can’t see this as a normal fall back, to go to the Defence Force. We saw the previous government rely, I think, too heavily on this because they didn’t do the work to make sure that there was a surge workforce in place, which we are ensuring happens. But given the number of outbreaks that we’ve got right now, this is the right thing to do, and I’ve got no doubt that those personnel will equip themselves professionally and fantastically in the way they do their work.

ROWLAND: OK, staying on the health front, the World Health Organization has declared Monkeypox a global health emergency, so what is Australia doing to prepare this country for that?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’re making sure that we’re getting all the information out. We’re working with a number of peak bodies to make sure that people are completely aware of what this represents, how the disease spreads, how to best protect yourself against this. There are a few cases in Australia but obviously this is a matter which is very concerning, and the World Health Organization is right to put this in the frame in which it has. And so, as I say, we’ll be working with all the peak groups around to make sure that we are getting all the information out.

ROWLAND: OK, the new government is, as you promised during the election, moving to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Employer groups, construction groups, have hit back this morning, Richard Marles, saying this will simply, in their view, encourage more union militancy on building sites. What do you say to them?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we don’t accept that. This is a body which was very politically driven, which was focused on, you know, whether or not people were wearing particular stickers on their helmets. What there should be is the same laws across the entire industrial relations system, applying to every single worker. It’s not a matter of focusing on a particular segment and singling them out. It’s really important that we have tough laws that are there, which make it clear the circumstances in which people are able to take industrial action and in which they’re not, and make clear the consequences when people don’t take industrial action in an authorised way. But that applies to every worker. And the way in which this particular sector had been singled out under the ABCC was not fair.

ROWLAND: Speaking of emergencies, the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Indonesia is a big potential one for our cattle industry, as you well know. The government has moved to bring in tougher biosecurity measures, like sanitation mats and the like, but travellers coming through Melbourne Airport, Minister, were asking, ‘sanitation mats? What sanitation mats?’ Is the government being a bit too slow in confronting this potential danger to the sector?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: This is the biggest biosecurity response that we have seen in our nation’s history, which is as it should be, given the outbreak that we’ve particularly seen in Indonesia. It’s critically important that everything is done to make sure that foot-and-mouth disease does not come to this country and we’re completely aware of the significance, were that to happen. So, that’s why we have got more biosecurity officers, we do have the foot sanitation mats, we are doing work in the front-line countries – in Indonesia – to bolster their infrastructure around this. We are taking every step that there can be to do in order to make sure that this disease does not come to Australia.

ROWLAND: But the question is just how quickly these are being rolled out. And clearly, as was the case over the weekend in Melbourne, they’re not being rolled out quickly enough?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, all efforts are being taken right now to make sure that the foot sanitation mats are there. I’m sure they will be there soon. And this is being done as part of the single biggest biosecurity response in our nation’s history. I mean, the government could not be more vigilant in the way in which it’s going about addressing this situation.

ROWLAND: OK. On Thursday, the Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, is going to be releasing what he’s describing as a confronting economic statement on the back of what’s expected to be horrible inflation figures on Wednesday. Should Australians brace themselves, Richard Marles, for more bad news from the Treasurer this week?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we have been left with a very difficult set of circumstances from the former government. I mean, the fact of the matter is that we’ve got inflation going up – that’s what the former government left us. We’ve got flatlining wages, and we’re doing a whole lot to try and address that, including obviously making submissions to the national wage case, which saw a very significant wage rise for those who are on minimum wages. But across the economy, wages have not been growing over the course of the last decade. And they’ve left us with a trillion dollars of debt. Now, they’re the circumstances that we inherit, and so it is a very difficult situation to manage, but we are very focused on doing what we need to do to make sure that we get our economy going again, that we get wages going again – and you’ve seen the steps we’ve already taken in relation to that – so that we can address the cost-of-living crisis and make sure that we see rising prosperity in this country. And over the long term and the medium term I’m sure that we will be able to walk the country down that path. But, you know, this is a very difficult set of circumstances that we’ve been handed from the former government and this is not a situation which changes overnight.

ROWLAND: And just before you go, as we all know, the new U.S. Ambassador to Australia, Caroline Kennedy, arrived in the country on Friday. Attention, I guess, is now turning to who the next Australian Ambassador to Washington will be. I keep hearing Kevin Rudd’s name mentioned in dispatches. Is he in the mix?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, right now, Arthur Sinodinos is our Ambassador to Washington, you and I had the pleasure of his company in the last couple of weeks, and he is doing a sterling job.

ROWLAND: OK, but would Kevin Rudd, the former Prime Minister, make potentially a good Ambassador to the United States?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, you know, Kevin is playing a significant part on the global stage right now with the Asia Society. We will look at all of these appointments over the course of the government, based on who’s in the best position to advance Australia’s national interests, and right now in Washington that is Arthur Sinodinos.

ROWLAND: OK, Richard Marles, Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.



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