SUBJECTS: Australia-France relationship; Reserve Bank. 

ALLISON LANGDON: Well, the Prime Minister flies to Europe this weekend where he’ll meet on the sidelines of the NATO summit with the French President, after that relationship soured over the failed submarine deal. To discuss, we’re joined by Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles, who is joining us in Rwanda, and Opposition Leader, Peter Dutton, in Canberra. Nice to see you both this morning. So, Richard, you’re in Africa, I know Albo is jetting off to Europe, and Penny Wong to Asia. Does your government not like being at home?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: We love being at home but there is work to be done overseas and certainly, there’s work to be done, with fixing the relationship with France, with so many things that we’ve seen over the last month where the Liberals have stuffed it, we’re busily fixing it. And that goes to our relationship with France, which is a critically important relationship for the country. It’s going to be really important that Anthony is going to have the opportunity of meeting with President Macron to put a relationship with a country who is actually one of our nearest neighbours, they are a Pacific country in terms of their Pacific territories, to get that back on track, and he’s looking forward to the opportunity to do that.

LANGDON: Peter, what do you reckon about that? Albo off to break a baguette with the French President, of course, because you broke the relationship, didn’t you?

PETER DUTTON, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well, we took a decision that was in our country’s best interest, Ali, and we won’t apologise for that. The AUKUS deal with the United States and the United Kingdom meant that we got a security underpinning for our country for the next four or five decades, and it meant a tough decision in terms of terminating the contract with the French. They took offence to that, understandably, it was a big contract, but in the end we acted in our country’s best interests, and that’s what you would expect us to do. I’d certainly expect Richard to do the same in relation to any decisions he’s got to make. I’m employed by the Australian people and my job is to keep our country safe and to make sure that we make the right decisions that are going to protect us into the future.

LANGDON: All right, well, I want to talk now about what’s happening back at home, because the head of the ACTU, Sally McManus, she’s bagged the Reserve Bank. She says that the rising cost of living has nothing to do with wage rises, that it’s all about profits. And she says that the board of the RBA has “very little idea how things work”. Richard, is she right?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, the Board of the RBA is independent, is the first point to make. But the wage rise that we saw for the lowest paid in our country was a critically important step. I mean, this represented about one dollar extra an hour for people who were, before the wage increase, on $20.33. Now I’d be really interested to hear Peter as to whether or not he felt that wage rise was the right thing to happen in this country. I’ve got no doubt those on the minimum wage absolutely needed every cent that came with that wage rise and that’s critically important. And we don’t resile from the submissions that we put forward to the Fair Work Commission to see that pay rise occur —

LANGDON: What do you think of what Sally has come out and said though?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I think it’s been a very important step —

LANGDON: What do you reckon of what Sally has come out to say, that the cost‑of‑living rises have nothing to do with wages, but it’s all about businesses and making profits?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don’t think giving a wage rise to those who are on the minimum wage, those who are the lowest paid, is at the heart of what we’re seeing with the rise in the cost of living. Fundamentally, that relates to the fact that we saw wages flat line over the last 10 years. We saw productivity and growth being completely insipid and that’s really what’s at the heart of the crunch and the cost of living that we’ve experienced, as, effectively, what we’ve seen is prosperity in our country go backwards. That wage rise was critically important, and it is not a factor in terms of cost of living; indeed, it helps cost of living for those who have that increase in their pockets.

LANGDON: Pete, what do you think on this one, because, I mean, you’ve got the unions wanting wage rises to match inflation—so potentially seven per cent? The RBA reckons anything over 3.5’s going to put pressure on inflation. There is a proper fight brewing here.

DUTTON: Ali, I think if you then have the overlay of what’s happening with inflation in the United States, potentially in our country as well, I think those workers are very worried, like most Australians, about increases in interest rates. And if interest rates go up higher than they otherwise need to, then families are going to be really struggling with their mortgages and those businesses struggling to service their overdraft and their business loans, which means that they won’t be employing more people, they’ll cut back hours. So, it’s a very finely balanced response here required by the Government. But, look, Sally McManus is really pitching for a job. She wants a job on the Reserve Bank board. She’s been clear about that. And the unions have enormous influence over the Federal Government; we know that. I just don’t think we need a union leader without the requisite skills sitting on the Reserve Bank Board. As Richard points out, it’s independent, and we want to keep the independence because we don’t want political interference in decisions made by the RBA. They look at all the fact, the prevailing economic conditions, and they make decisions based on that, and that’s a system that’s served us well and we shouldn’t try and disrupt that.

LANGDON: Richard, you realise you have the opportunity to appoint two new board members to the RBA over the next year. Is Sally in the running there, or someone from the unions?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, we will be looking very carefully at who is in the best position to serve on the Reserve Bank Board. But to hear that from Peter whose government essentially ran an employment program for their mates over the last nine years is genuinely astounding. We saw more political appointments under the former government than we have ever seen. So, we’re going to be about getting the very best people for that board and for all government appointments. And I think the jibe that we’ve just seen from Peter is irony in the extreme.

LANGDON: Well, there you go. Hey, look I know you’re in Rwanda, Richard. Please pass on our love, won’t you, to Prince Charles and Camilla when you see them.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I’ll be doing that.

LANGDON: All right, right before you tell him you don’t want him to be the King anymore. All right, we’ll talk to you guys next week.



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