SUBJECTS: Budget in Reply 2021; Budget; Vaccine rollout; Returning Australians.
ALLISON LANGDON, HOST: After the Coalition promised to splash big cash across the country, Labor has delivered its official Budget reply. Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese promising an ambitious public housing project, cash in hand for new energy apprentices and the criminalisation of wage theft. To discuss, we are joined by Foreign Minister (Defence Minister) Peter Dutton in Brisbane and Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles in Canberra. Nice to talk to you both this morning. Richard, it felt a little more like an election pitch than a Budget reply last night.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, I think what we see is that coming out of COVID there is an opportunity that is presented to the country. An opportunity that – really to reimagine the country that we haven’t had since the end of the Second World War and what it requires is people of vision to take that. We need to be doing much better at turning science into jobs. We need to be doing much better around issues such as the skills crisis and dealing with the challenge of renewable energy and the opportunity of renewable energy. What we saw on Tuesday night from the government was really a government which has been around for a long time now, that’s got a lot of barnacles on its hull and spent the entire night trying to solve its own political problems. It spent $100 billion and in the process it’s own Budget demonstrates that after four years – in four years from now -wages will be going backwards. I mean, that- it begs the question for every Australian; after eight year of this government, are you really better off? And that’s what we saw on Tuesday night. We saw politics on Tuesday night. We saw vision last night. I think that is the choice which is going to face the Australian people when we next go to the polls.
LANGDON: Come on don’t tell me we saw politics in a Budget being handed down. Peter, your response to what Richard just said?
PETER DUTTON, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Well, Ally, obviously the Budget this week was about making sure that we can recover from COVID. We have a strong economy. And we want to make sure that that continues. We want people in jobs. We want there to be a very bright future for our country, and there is. Anthony last night spent half of it bagging the Prime Minister and it was a political pitch. I think as much as anything it was a pitch to his backbench because his leadership is still not certain. And he complained in the Budget that there was too much spending, the debt is too high and then he turned around and spent most of his speech talking about how he was going to spend more money. I think people understand the hypocrisy when it comes to Labor and management of the budget or the economy. We have put in place and we have demonstrated through JobKeeper and JobSeeker all of the support we have provided to underpin the strength of the economy. There are 350,000 people being employed at the moment through the money that we’ve put into first HomeBuilder and that has really kick-started many outer metropolitan areas right across the country- a huge multiplier. And I think we have the runs on the board, and we have demonstrated that.
LANGDON: Richard, do you think people sat back last night and watched Anthony Albanese and were inspired and thought, yep, we want this bloke to be our next Prime Minister?
MARLES: Anthony is somebody who is thoughtful, who is sincere- what you see is what you get. We didn’t actually splash a whole lot of money around last night. The totality of what we were putting forward amounted to about $50 million over the forward estimates. That compares to a government which, at the end of the forward estimates, is going to take gross national debt to $1.3 trillion. It is the single largest debt our nation has ever had. And so, to hear the government kind of spruik its credentials on fiscal prudency and economic management, I mean, none of that cuts the grass anymore when you see the deficits they’re running.
LANGDON: I am not sure you answered the question as to whether or not you thought it was inspiring last night- but just talking about the government’s big spending Budget; the problem is no-one is really criticising it. If anything, they should have spent more on child care- four times the amount they are, that is according to Westpac’s economic guru, Bill Evans. And there is no real plan for wage growth. But other than that, are you really philosophically opposed to what they put forward on Tuesday?
MARLES: Well, we are certainly philosophically opposed to a budget which doesn’t improve wages.
LANGDON: How would you do that?
MARLES: Well, firstly, what we made clear last night is that we would criminalise wage theft. What we would absolutely not do is cut penalty rates. What we would do is seek to deal with the challenge of insecure employment in this country, which is why we want to make sure that there are minimum standards for people who are gig workers. There is a range of measures that we articulated last night, as I say, in a deeply thoughtful speech, which goes to the question of improving people’s wages, which to be honest has been the core mission of Labor since we were founded. The idea that you spend $100 billion on Tuesday night and wages go backwards over the next four years is breath taking. And it says everything about the failure of this mob to manage the economy properly.
LANGDON: I mean, it has been one of the few criticisms that we saw come out from Tuesday. But I want to talk about Moderna now, because it has thrown our vaccine rollout a bit of a lifeline. 25 million doses heading our way. Peter, do you honestly think we’re going to get everyone vaccinated, two shots, two jabs, by the end of the year?
DUTTON: I do, Ally, when you look at the way in which the rollup has stepped up. Now, some people will make a decision that they don’t want the vaccine and the government is not going to force them to have the vaccine. So, let’s be realistic in terms of some parts of society, people don’t want the vaccine. And we’ve spent a lot of time on this program making sure that we reinforce the positive message, the benefit of getting the vaccine. Moderna, we have secured 25 million doses. When you look at the efficacy, particularly against the most virulent strain and the most severe cases of COVID, this is a very effective vaccine but it builds on what we’ve done with Pfizer. It means that we have arrangements in place for five vaccines. So, we’re I think providing for every outcome and people should be reassured by that. But there is a lot of money that we spent in the Budget on vaccines, on making sure that we continue to grow the economy, as I say, and- just going back to Richard’s point, I mean, if Labor was really serious, Richard wouldn’t have been arguing every week on this program for extra spending over the last 12 months and Anthony Albanese would have detailed last night where he was going to cut money. So, honestly-
LANGDON: But if he shared all of that last night, you have an election coming up, maybe you would have stolen his ideas. So you know, he has to keep it close to his chest.
DUTTON: What idea would you steal, Ally? Not even Richard Marles was inspired. He couldn’t even pretend he was inspired. Tanya Plibersek is doing numbers in the background while Anthony Albanese is delivering his speech.
DUTTON: Let’s be realistic.
MARLES: It’s a tired refrain.
LANGDON: There is the Peter we know and love, hey Richard.
MARLES: It is the Peter we know and love, so I am glad we’ve got back to the normal riff. In terms of stealing ideas, having a wage subsidy was an idea we were pushing this time last year while the government was saying it would be dangerous. It took us to actually put it out there before we see something like JobKeeper. But in respect of the vaccines, I mean, the measures that the government’s got in place now in terms of the range of vaccines that they’re procuring should have been done last year. That’s the bottom line here. The reason why we are now near the back of the queue is because the work they’re doing now they didn’t do last year, when it mattered. This time last year, we knew that vaccines were in the pipeline. It was then that the government should have been actually spreading the country’s risk. Instead, they bet the house on the idea that AstraZeneca being manufactured in Australia would be able to do the whole job. You’ve got complete confusion, even with Peter today, as to whether or not there’s going to be two jabs by the end of the year or one. They can’t give you a straight answer in relation to that question. And we all know that properly vaccinating the country is how we actually move forward and move past this in an economic sense.
LANGDON: Well, let’s hope it does happen by Christmas. Just before you go, Peter, the first plane load of stranded Aussies are going to land in Darwin from India tomorrow morning, that is when the travel ban lifts. We need to expect a high number of those on board will have COVID. Can our quarantine system cope?
DUTTON: Yes, it can. And, Ally, as we have pointed out before, the states have done a great job with quarantine. They have signed up to it. The doctors recommended it. And the hotel quarantine process has worked well. Howard Springs has worked well. We have provided a lot of support to the Northern Territory government but when you see the tragedy that is unfolding in India, we need to get the balance right. We are bringing people home. There are now over half a million people that have come back home and we issued a warning, now about 15 months ago for Australians not to travel and to come back home. So, we will continue to work particularly with vulnerable groups to help them back into our country as quickly as possible. And, yes, quarantine can work and we have put in place other measures around pre-flight testing and making sure that if we’re bringing people out of a zone like India at the moment, then we can do it safely, so that we don’t undo what’s a pretty amazing story here in Australia.
LANGDON: Yep, we have got to get them home safely, we’ve also got to keep all of us safe here in Australia. Gentleman thanks for joining us this morning, it’s been a big week- appreciate it.
DUTTON: Thanks, Ally.
MARLES: Thanks, Ally.