SUBJECTS: NSW Floods; Prime Minister’s visit to Ukraine.
KARL STEFANOVIC: The ADF is now being called upon to assist rescue teams in northwestern and southwestern Sydney as floodwaters rise around Liverpool and Milperra.
SARAH ABO: Acting Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles joins us now from Richmond. Good morning to you. Now we know it has been a wild and woolly past 24 hours in Sydney. You experienced some of that landing yesterday.
ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, well as we came in here last night, Sarah, at Airbase Richmond, it was pretty rough and ready as we came into land. The crew did an amazing job, but there has just been continual rain here. We’re right in the middle of the Hawkesbury, but it’s the same obviously across Sydney. And I think one of the really devastating things is that for the communities around Richmond, some of the people here have been experiencing literally their fourth flood event within the last  months. And the irony for me is I remember coming to this base just a couple of years ago when it was really ground zero for the bushfires. And so these communities just seem to be experiencing one disaster after another.
STEFANOVIC: I can’t remember weather like it in New South Wales, you experienced this sort of thing, these cyclonic conditions in Far North Queensland, but it was sustained, it has been for a couple of days. I guess you’re learning some lessons from the previous government. How many personnel have you got out and about ready to go and muscle in here to help people out?
ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, so there are right now 100 ADF personnel who are involved in things like sandbagging, knocking on doors in respect to evacuation orders. We’ve got a couple of helicopters which are standing ready to do, particularly, night search and rescue. As of yesterday, another 100 ADF personnel came online taking the total to 200, and there are further requests that we are looking at right now. So it’s an evolving situation. That’s just the ADF. There are obviously other agencies which will be coming online as well to provide support. But we’ve been very mindful, firstly of the need to coordinate with New South Wales, I spoke with Dom Perrottet last night and they’re very pleased with the degree of coordination, but it’s really important that we’re on the front foot doing everything we can to support these communities, and that’s happening.ABO: And as you point out, this is the first time it’s happening – fourth time it’s happening – to these communities who are absolutely devastated. There’s fatigue. But essentially there is this idea of going through the motions. Resilience New South Wales has come under fire for its handling of the Lismore disaster. This time round, are people getting the help they need?
ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’ve been trying to be on the front foot as much as possible and making sure that the coordination is happening with New South Wales from the get go. So I really believe that is happening. Last night the New South Wales government declared this as a situation of a natural disaster. And so on the basis of that, that triggers a range of payments and loans which are now available for small businesses, for primary producers, for people in situations of hardship. So that process is now underway as well. All of this is happening very quickly. I guess you’re right, sadly, because of the frequency of this, we are learning the lessons and it does mean that we are in a position where we’re getting this assistance out the door much quicker, which is obviously appreciated.
STEFANOVIC: I noticed yesterday, Albo – sorry, the Prime Minister rather, more respectfully – was leaving Ukraine –
ACTING PRIME MINISTER: You can call him Albo.
STEFANOVIC: – as soon as he got across the border to Poland and he was tweeting about the flood emergency in New South Wales. Are you conscious, are you concerned about the optics of him not being here while there’s a flood?
ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, I mean obviously, this hadn’t happened before he left, and the Prime Minister has been in a war zone in an area which is of enormous importance to Australia, we’re a very big supporter of Ukraine. We’re one of the largest non-NATO supporters of Ukraine in the context of that conflict. And the issues at stake in Ukraine, albeit a long way from Australia, are very important to us here around supporting the global rules-based order. But I also know that as soon as Anthony was in a position to make contact, he did. He’s spoken with the New South Wales Premier, he’s spoken with Murray Watt, our Minister for Emergency Management, and he’ll be on the ground here later in the week.
STEFANOVIC: All right, good. Deputy PM Richard Marles, appreciate it. See you Friday.
SUBJECTS: Industrial action in NSW; Australia-China relationship; Australia-EU Free Trade Agreement.
KARL STEFANOVIC: Well, we’ve seen nurses, teachers and train drivers all striking this week. That is a huge amount of disruption. Let’s bring in Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles, and Leader of the Liberal Party in the Senate, Simon Birmingham, for their take on this.
Good morning, guys. Nice to see you this morning. To you, Deputy PM, first up, what’s going on with the unions? Have you got control of them?
ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, I mean, they’ve got issues, and this is a matter that’s going to be worked through between the unions in New South Wales and the state government. But what people can be pleased about today is that we’ve seen the minimum wage go up, and that comes into effect as of today. And that’s going to make a real difference for our lowest paid workers. And that’s something that is going to provide people with the better part of $2,000 every year for those on the minimum wage. And that’s something that the Liberals were not there supporting. So we’re doing everything we can to get wages going as a government.
STEFANOVIC: Simon, you weren’t anywhere near as generous.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: It’s a – well, what we backed was an independent process, and that’s what the independent process came out with. So, that’s great. I look forward to seeing hard-working Australians receive that. But, you know, on your first question, Karl, there are so many Sydneysiders facing disruption today, and what we’re seeing is really obvious game playing in the year leading up to the New South Wales state election by Labor-affiliated unions. The New South Wales government has increased its public sector wage offers and it’s time for the unions to stop hurting the average person across New South Wales and sit down and negotiate in good faith.
STEFANOVIC: Yeah, look, the railway one’s a little bit strange, isn’t it. Look, anyway, let’s move on. The Prime Minister is making his presence felt on his whirlwind trip to Europe issuing a strong warning to Beijing to learn the lessons from Russia’s failed invasion of Ukraine and don’t even think about touching Taiwan. Richard, predictably China’s not happy. They’re calling our Prime Minister ignorant and ill informed. You said you want to fix relationships. This is not a great start, is it?
ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, Anthony’s been really clear from day one that we’re going to speak up for Australia’s national interest. And in talking about what’s happening in Eastern Europe, the point there is that while Ukraine’s a long way from Australia there are matters of principle at stake in Eastern Europe which apply right around the world. And that’s basically making sure that we are a country which stands up for the global rules of the road. They matter. And it’s really important that countries abide by those rules. I mean, the UN Charter doesn’t allow a big country to just invade a small one because they’re unhappy. And that’s what Russia has done, and Anthony’s making that point and making the point that those rules not only apply in Eastern Europe but they apply in the Indo-Pacific. So we’re going to keep speaking up for our national interest.
STEFANOVIC: Well, the issue for you is, I mean, just a couple of weeks ago – and well done to you and you received congratulations from everyone about meeting with your Beijing counterpart – and then, what, a couple of weeks later we have Beijing calling our Prime Minister ill-informed and ignorant.
ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s – we’re going to speak up for our national interest. I mean, there is going to be a different tone from the former government, which was big on beating its chest. It wasn’t particularly big on doing anything which actually advanced the national interest, which advanced Australia’s national security. But we will be engaging with the world in a professional, sober, diplomatic way. And that will take us as far as it takes us. But we’re not about to compromise what is Australia’s national interests. And Anthony was speaking up for that.
STEFANOVIC: Simon, free trade negotiations will resume with the EU in a matter of months. The PM is repairing those relationships that you let go by the wayside. Well, I guess we’ll be exposed to sanctions, though, because we missed those climate change targets that you missed. You really did mess a bunch of things up, didn’t you?
BIRMINGHAM: No, Karl. And, indeed, Australia’s always exceeded its climate change targets. So we’re certainly not going to face sanctions for missing targets that, in fact, we have exceeded and most other countries didn’t even necessarily meet those targets, and certainly didn’t meet the type of reductions that we achieved. Look, I welcome the resumption of EU free trade agreement negotiations and Anthony Albanese being in France. It’s the right thing. It was the right thing to do last year to step away from the diesel-powered submarine contract and to go for the nuclear-powered submarine contract. That was about making a decision in Australia’s long-term national interest knowing it would hurt some feelings and cause some disruption at the time but doing something that was right for decades to come into the future. It’s time, now that the commercial settlement around that change of contract has been reached, for France to move on, for everyone to get on with the job of working together on our shared values between Australia and France and Australia and the EU, and that’s exactly what I look forward to seeing happen.
STEFANOVIC: All right. Richard, there’s a bit to work out there with the EU, isn’t there? It doesn’t mesh together that easily. How are we going to go with quotas for beef, lamb and dairy?
ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, it is really good that we are seeing these negotiations get back on foot. I mean, those points that you raise are really important and we’ve got to work through those issues so that we ultimately get a deal with the European Union that works for Europe but obviously works for Australia. And we’ve got to make sure that those agricultural products are front and centre because that’s a big part of Australia’s exports. But what you’re seeing now is us working with the European Union to get those negotiations going again. And this is the Albanese government fixing the mess that had been left by the former government where our relationship with Europe as a result of a whole lot of actions, including the way in which the former government dealt with France, had put ourselves in a position where we couldn’t even have these conversations.
STEFANOVIC: I don’t know – the European Union, I mean, give or take. I mean, when was the last time they made a decent decision? I don’t know.
ACTING PRIME MINISTER: They’re a big market, Karl. That’s a big call, though.
BIRMINGHAM: Karl, your question there is the key test.
STEFANOVIC: I’m only half joking. We just want to know when Australia parmesan cheese can use the name parmesan cheese again, Richard, come on.
ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, well, you know, I put parmesan cheese on my pasta.
STEFANOVIC: Well, there you go. He’s got himself in trouble with the EU. Good on you guys. Thank you so much. Appreciate your time today as always.