E&OE TRANSCRIPT | SUBJECTS: The right to feel safe working at Parliament House; Vaccine rollout; Regional quarantine; Peter Dutton.
FRAN KELLY, HOST: I’m joined now by Deputy Labor Leader Richard Marles in our parliament house studios. Richard Marles welcome back to Breakfast.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Morning Fran, how are you?
KELLY: The alleged rape, it seems will be a police matter. Brittany Higgins intends to revive her police complaint. But from what you’ve read and heard from her, do you believe she received the appropriate care and support that she was entitled to, after making such a serious allegation?
MARLES: Certainly, she’s made clear that that didn’t occur. And I think for all that’s been reported and her interview last night is very hard to read and to listen to. And it’s an indictment on this building. And let me say, you know, this is not a partisan issue. This is actually a workplace issue about Parliament House. And it’s and you know, Parliament House is a fantastic place. It’s an exciting place, people come here to try and make a difference. People love working here but none of that and the privileges that go with that is a licence for bad behaviour, in fact, that ought to be the opposite. This is a building that should be upholding the highest standards of employment. And I do think we need to acknowledge that, you know, as much as all of us love working here, there is an issue here. And, you know, so long as there are women who feel that it’s not safe to work here that is a terrible indictment about this building.
KELLY: And let’s be clear, it’s actually not an indictment about the building, is it? It’s an indictment about the political parties, because Brittany Higgins says that her ordeal was dismissed and played down by the Liberal Party. And she said, there’s – and quoting here – as we heard, ‘there’s a strange culture of silence in the parties. The idea of speaking out on these sorts of issues is just letting the team down’. So she’s talking about political parties. So not just the Liberal Party here.
MARLES: No, it’s not. And as I said, this is not a partisan issue. And you’re right, I mean, a lot of politics plays out in this building and ends up being at the centre of a lot of our activities. But it goes across the whole of political activity in this country. And I think it’s really important that people on this day, who are leaders within our political system, are stating the need for us to change. It’s not a partisan issue but equally the leaders of both parties need to be speaking on this day about this issue. And it’s really important that we hear from everyone in relation to it, because this is something that simply has to change.
KELLY: We’ve heard from the Prime Minister and we heard from Linda Reynolds yesterday, both in the parliament saying, Linda Reynolds said that Brittany Higgins was told that she would be supported if she goes, chose to go to the police. The Minister says she was clear about her right to make a formal complaint to the police. I mean, on the face of it, is there more the Minister could have done, should have done from your reading of this?
MARLES: Well, it’s difficult to answer that question without hearing a more fulsome explanation from the Minister and indeed the Prime Minister. And that’s actually what we should be hearing today. And again, it’s not…
KELLY: What more could they be telling us though?
MARLES: Well I think that they should be making themselves as available as possible. It’s one thing to answer one question in the Parliament, I think it’s actually really important that all of us are speaking as fulsomely as we can today, so that all those questions that you’re asking are able to be answered. And it’s not, it’s not trying to make this a partisan issue, because it’s not, you know, this happens across the political culture. And, you know and women play a critical role and in fact, we need to see women playing a bigger role within our political sphere. But this is a major issue and one which, you know, is ultimately an enormous disincentive for women to be involved.
KELLY: The Liberal Party I understand has released a national Code of Conduct now for managing complaints, was under some pressure this a year ago. Labor has been working on a code. When will we see Labor’s current code? What’s the holdup?
MARLES: Look, my understanding is that that is not far off. I mean, we’ve had a sexual harassment policy in, to be frank, in the aftermath of reporting that occurred last year on Four Corners. We’ve sought to update that to make sure it’s best practice and my understanding is that will come about imminently.
KELLY: Imminently? This week, next week?
MARLES: Well, I think it’s got to go through the appropriate meetings, and that’s the National Executive and so I don’t think it’s this week, but my understanding is that, that is not far off.
KELLY: You’re listening to RN Breakfast, our guest is Deputy Labor Leader Richard Marles. Richard Marles, if I can move to the vaccine rollout now. Right from the start Labor has been complaining that Australia’s been at the back of the queue when it came to getting our hands on the vaccines. Now the first batch of the Pfizer vaccine has arrived. The rollout will start on Monday, as Michael Kidd was just telling us. Do you give the government credit for securing a vaccine now?
MARLES: Well, we want the government to succeed obviously. We want to see Australians vaccinated. The Prime Minister has said that there’ll be four million Australians who are vaccinated in March. And we absolutely hope that that’s what occurs. And we’ve had questions about the place that Australia has been in the queues of the various vaccines around the world. And we’ve had questions about the speed with which we’ve been getting into those queues. And, you know, the Pfizer vaccine coming and the amount of doses is good, but, you know, we need to see very clearly what the plan is to actually get the millions of Australians vaccinated as necessary. And that’s really the challenge that awaits the government right now. Like around the world, we’ve seen north of 100 million people who have been vaccinated. In Israel, we are seeing, for the first time in a country the disease starting to decline, not by virtue of isolation or hiding from the virus, but because of the medicine, because of the vaccine. But it’s really important that Australians, obviously safely, but that we get on with the business of getting this roll out as quickly as possible.
KELLY: Some of the first to receive the vaccine will be hotel quarantine workers.
MARLES: Makes sense.
KELLY: Speaking of hotel quarantine, Lindsay Fox, the trucking magnate has come up with a plan to turn Avalon Airport to build basically a large scale quarantine camp there, at the airport, which is in – within your electorate, of Corio I think-
KELLY: Do you think this is a good idea?
MARLES: Look, I think it’s certainly an idea which is worth a lot of thought. I mean, I know Avalon well. There’s a lot of land there, there would be an ability to isolate people, literally people coming directly off a plane and going into a facility. So I hope this is an idea which is given due consideration by the federal government. It’s ultimately their responsibility to manage the quarantine arrangements of our nation, and to do that in consultation with the Victorian Government. But I think it is an idea which is – which is absolutely worthy of consideration.
KELLY: Does Labor want to see the hotel quarantine system moved out of hotels in the CBD and moved out into special quarantine facilities that would be built, presumably, and some of them paid for – I think this one paid for by the, by the government? Is that a better idea?
MARLES: The hotel quarantining is the capacity that the country has right now. We accept that. So no one is talking about bringing something to an end tomorrow. I mean, this is a situation which needs to evolve. But we have been making the point for some time now, Fran, that quarantine is the responsibility of the federal government, that they commissioned Jane Halton to look at this and to look at the role that they could play in the middle of last year. You know, back in August, Jane Halton was saying that the federal government should play a bigger role and that they should be looking at facilities outside of our major population centres. That makes sense and it’s exactly what the government needs to be pursuing now.
MARLES: I mean we’ve got a lot of Australians overseas, who are seeking to come home. Tens of thousands. That has to be managed and really what we’ve seen with the federal government is an attempt to duck-shove all of this to the states and pretend that quarantine isn’t their concern. Well the fact of the matter is that under the Constitution quarantining is their responsibility and they need to act.
KELLY: Can I just ask you finally and briefly, if you will, on Peter Dutton’s handling of $180 million Safer Communities Program. The Prime Minister told the Parliament: ‘All grants were allocated consistent with the relevant rules and guidelines. I think that settles the issue’. Do you believe the rules and regulations and guidelines should be changed? If Labor was in government, would you take these decisions out of the hands of ministers?
MARLES: It is one thing to have ministers ultimately making the decision which they need to do and to, you know, see around the edges of the recommendations that come from the bureaucracy, some changes. But what we’ve been seeing with this government is wholesale disregard for the advice that’s come through from the bureaucracy in relation to this program, in relation to what we saw with sports rorts. And instead in that case, decisions being made based on spreadsheets that are colour-coded according to the marginality of seats. Now that – that is fundamentally inappropriate and what it speaks to Fran is that, you know, after eight years this is a government for whom the lines have become quite blurred about, you know, Liberal Party money and public money and that’s what – that’s what needs to change here.
KELLY: Richard Marles, thank you very much for joining us.