SUBJECTS: Ukraine; Scott Morrison’s desperation; national security; Strengthening the Character Test.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: The Prime Minister is accusing Anthony Albanese of appeasing China, while on another front is preparing to ram new laws through Parliament, making it easier to deport foreign born criminals. Richard Marles is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, he joins us from parliament. Good morning. The Ukraine border has become a global flashpoint. Does Labor agree with the Prime Minister that China should be called out for what he says is its chilling silence on Russian aggression?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: China should speak out in opposition to what Russia is doing, and it should join the rest of the world in adding its voice to supporting Ukraine sovereignty and it’s territorial integrity. It’s really important in this moment that the world stands together in support of Ukraine. And you know, I agree with your assessment upfront, I think this is a very concerning moment in time. And it matters that the global community is standing with Ukraine.

KARVELAS: Why is the Prime Minister picking a fight with China over Russia’s stance now? What’s the broader game going on here?

MARLES: Well, I think there’s a number of games going on here. I mean, I think we need to separate proper positions in relation to national security, and it’s obviously right that it’s not just a matter of being strong on national security now, people need to be strong on national security the whole time. And it is really important that we are joining the international community’s stance in relation to Ukraine. And I think it is fair to ask China to do the same thing and to acknowledge that it’s a problem that they haven’t. Having said all of that, it’s really clear that at a domestic level, the Prime Minister is clearly trying to create a political issue in the context of the upcoming election around national security which I think shows a level of desperation in terms of trying to find an issue for the election. but in walking down that that really desperate path of politicising something which has never been politicised really before, I mean, there’s been strong bipartisanship between the parties of government in relation to national security which has served our country well, and it’s certainly in the national interest, and by the way, it’s actually the truth. I mean, the reality is that both parties occupy the same space in relation to what Australia fundamentally needs to do with its position in the world and in respect of national security. But as a range of defence experts have noted today in the press, the attempt by Scott Morrison to politicise this is not only desperate, but it’s certainly not in the national interest.

KARVELAS: Well, the Prime Minister says that when it comes to Australia’s national interest, Labor is weak and soft. Voters will soon have a choice to make. How will they know that an Albanese Government will stand up to China and Chinese coercion?

MARLES: Oh, well, because you can, you can look at what we’ve made clear. I mean, in respect of China, China is seeking to shape the world around us in a way that it never has before, and that does present challenges for Australia that in turn we haven’t had before. It’s why it is right to assess that the strategic circumstances that we face today are the most complex that we have faced since the Second World War. And so, it’s really important that Australia has the courage to articulate our national interests, and particularly when it differs from Chinese action. And you can see that in relation to the South China Sea, and in respect of that Labor has been very strong. It’s really important that we add our voice to those of the global community in relation to human rights, and that means speaking out about human rights issues in China and we have done that-

KARVELAS: So are you saying there’s no difference in your position on China to the position that the Morrison Government has on China?

MARLES: There is not. And when you look at the assessments that have been made by Defence experts in the papers today, that’s exactly the point that they make.

KARVELAS: Okay, well, let me put this to you- if I can get in- we have the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, ‘The Global Times’, backing Anthony Albanese as Prime Minister, saying he is the safe leader who positively shines compared to Scott Morrison. Isn’t that akin to being endorsed by Beijing? When you heard about this, were you concerned?

MARLES: Well I mean, there’s obviously no control that any of us have over that or for that matter, the commentary that emanates from anywhere in the world-

KARVELAS: Sure, there is no doubt about that but were you concerned when you heard that ‘The Global Times’ had backed Anthony Albanese?

MARLES: Well, I think the honest answer to that is I’m indifferent to it because it’s not something that we can control and ultimately, you know, what we’re focused on is the position that we have in relation to national security and in respect of this conversation, the position that we have in relation to China, and that we focus on articulating that. Now what people abroad, or for that matter commentators here, say in respect of who they do or don’t want to see win the election is ultimately a matter for them, that’s not something we can control. But if we, kind of get away from the politics of this and think about the seriousness of the national security situation that we face, if we do assess that we have the most complex set of strategic circumstances since the end of the Second World War, which we do, what that actually then demands is that in terms of the management of our hard power, by which we mean the capability of the Australian Defence Force, that we are doing, we are managing that excellently. Now, in that sense, the Morrison Government has been a complete failure. The single most important platform we have within our defence force is our submarines, and it could not have been botched more significantly. And you can end up in the weeds here in terms of trying to describe that, but I think the simple point to make is that when this government came to office, that the success of the Collins Class was expected to be in place by the mid-2020s, in just a few years’ time. Now, the government are saying we’re not going to get the next generation of submarines until the 2040s. In nine years, they’ve opened up a capability gap of 20 years. And that is in the face of the strategic circumstances that we have. So, you know, rhetoric is one thing, chest beating is one thing, the desperate attempt to try and create an election issue out of nothing is one thing.

KARVELAS: Okay. Do you think it might work? Is that resonating? Is it resonating? It may work that people are concerned, that you, that what the government is saying is correct.

MARLES: I’ll kind of leave the commentary on that to-

KARVELAS: It’s not commentary. I mean, you’re the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party. You know, you’d hope you’d have a sort of ear to what people are feeling, do you feel like it’s cutting through?

MARLES: I don’t. But ultimately, you know, I understand that people will vote the way they do on election day, and others can commentate on how they think this is resonating. At the end of the day, what I do think is a pathetically desperate scare campaign on the part of the government who is desperately searching for an issue to run on in this election, in terms of all the other issues that they have failed in managing, you know, around COVID, around having rapid antigen tests, the vaccines and the like. That’s why they are trying to beat the drum of national security. But in respect of national security, what we will focus on is the policy itself and being very clear on how we articulate that.

KARVELAS: Okay, the government wants to fight the election on national security, it is becoming quite clear. The bill to make it easier to deport foreign born criminals plays into that strategy. Caucus has authorised the leadership to try and water down the provisions. If that doesn’t happen, what will you do?

MARLES: I don’t accept the characterization of watering down. The character test is really important. It’s an important tool in terms of how we manage our immigration system, how we manage our borders, and we did support a strengthening of the character test back in 2013 and 14, indeed, when I was the Shadow Immigration Minister- and it has been used extensively since then by the government and its use is something that we’ve fundamentally supported. If there is an issue that the government has around the character test, that they feel that in some respect it is not fit for purpose going forward, we’re really happy to sit down with the government, understand from them what is the problem they’re trying to solve, and we’ll solve it with them. I mean, we’ve made that clear, and it’s not me saying it just now; Kristina Keneally, as our Shadow Minister has written to the government offering that-

KARVELAS: And if they don’t provide conversation, will you block it? Will you vote it down?

MARLES: Well, you know, we’re not about trying to stop the facilitation of all this, what we are about is trying to sincerely come to the parliament and solve a problem if there is a problem there to solve. But I’d also make this point; I don’t- the reason the government have not responded to our offers to try and resolve this is because they’re not interested in fixing a problem. What they’re interested in is having a fight. And that is, they’re bringing that same attitude to this question as they are to the question of national security. And again, that is not in our national interest. What is in our national interest, is if there is a problem with the character test, let’s fix it. And we’re really happy to sit down with the government and fix it. And we can do that quite urgently if the government needs it.

KARVELAS: Richard Marles, thanks for your time. We’re out of time.

MARLES: Thanks, Patricia.


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