DOORSTOP INTERVIEW BRISBANE

RICHARD MARLES MP

JIM CHALMERS MP

SUBJECTS: Wages; Training; Skills; TAFE; Apprenticeships; National Security; Solomon Islands; Defence; Foreign Aid; Climate; Election Integrity; Anthony Albanese Covid Isolation. 

JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER:  G’day everybody. On behalf of myself and Rowan Holzberger, the outstanding candidate that we’re running in Forde, welcome to Munster Services Group here today in Logan. I wanted to especially thank Eric and Laura, and the team here, for welcoming us here back again. This is the reigning Logan Business of the Year that we’re at today.

Now when floods threatened our community, the Munster Services Group was there to fix the pumps. When we had a shortage of AdBlue in our trucking industry, which threatened to stop the wheels of our economy turning, the Munster Services Group was there with storage solutions to help us get through it.

And when our local young people need skills and opportunities in our community, the Munster Services Group is there to provide it at every turn. And we wanted to particularly acknowledge Maisie who we were talking to before, who is a graduate from Mabel Park High around the corner. So businesses like this one are there for our community, and an Albanese Labor Government will be there for them. And the best way to do that is to make sure that we are training local people for local opportunities right around Australia.

A better future under Labor means better skills and more opportunities in more parts of Australia. And that’s what we’re talking about today. Better skills is how we get wages moving in our economy. It’s how we deal with inflation by growing our economy quicker, stronger, without adding to those inflationary pressures which are particularly acute right now.

On Wednesday we will get new inflation numbers, and what they will show is that everything in Australia is going up except people’s wages. And that’s why our economic plan is focused on the cost of living. And it’s focused on growing the economy without adding to those inflationary pressures. And skills are absolutely central to that opportunity. So we’re here talking about skills and opportunities today, and we’ll be talking about that for much of the remaining four weeks. The contrast couldn’t be clearer, the election is a choice between a better future with better skills under Labor and Anthony Albanese, or another three years of waste and rorts and drift, and a budget which has been corrupted by Scott Morrison’s mistakes.

This Morrison Government has undermined our economic security by going after wages. They’ve undermined our national security as well, as we’ve heard in recent days, and both of those things are crucial to the election. Richard Marles is going to say a few words, and then we’re happy to take your questions.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thank you Jim. And it’s great to be here at Munster Services Group. Thank you Eric and Laura for having us here. And it was great to meet Maisie as well. Fantastic to be here with Katie, with Jim, with Rowan in Logan. Wages have been flatlining for 10 years, and that is because under the Morrison Government we have seen productivity go through the floor. And it is falling wages which is fundamentally at the heart of the crunch that people are feeling with the cost of living.

Now an Albanese Labor government will build a better future for Australia, we will deal with questions of cost of living by making childcare more affordable, by strengthening Medicare, by fixing aged care. But fundamentally, what we need to see is wages growing again by getting productivity growing again. And that in turn means we need to deal with the skills crisis in this country.

It doesn’t matter where you go in Australia, big businesses or small, people are crying out for the skilled workers that they need. And the reason we’ve got a skills crisis in this country right now is because over the last decade, under the Morrison Government, we have seen $3 billion cut from the VET and TAFE systems. And what that means is that today there are 60,000 less trainees and apprentices than there were in 2013. Think about that. In that time the economy has grown, the population has grown, the labour force has grown, but traineeships and apprentices have gone backwards.

In the last six years, we have seen half the number of people acquire a traineeship or apprenticeship as occurred during the six years of the Rudd and Gillard governments. And we’re feeling the consequences of that everywhere. We’re feeling the consequences of that right here at Munster where we learnt today that there are 20 or 30 vacancies available here for boilermakers, for fitters and turners, for sparkies.

For people with trades qualifications, that is exactly the story that we’re seeing around the country. Now, an Albanese Labor government will provide free TAFE for people studying in an area of skill shortage. That is a plan for a better future. That is the policy that will make a difference. Because an Albanese Labor government wants to train more people to get the skills that they need, an Albanese Labor government will build an economy which generates the secure, well-paid jobs that we need. An Albanese Labour government will see productivity grow again, so that finally in this country we can see wages grow again. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Why did you show a speech given to a Beijing University to the Chinese Embassy first?

MARLES: I made a speech in China, where I criticized China. And I wanted to make sure that the Chinese Government were not at all surprised by the fact of what I was going to say. In China, I made a speech where I criticized the Chinese in terms of their handling of Hong Kong, in terms of their human rights records with the Uyghurs. Now how many government ministers have gone to China, and in China publicly criticised the Chinese Government? But that’s actually what I did. Under this Government, we’ve got Scott Morrison standing here at home, beating his chest while he leaves the field vacant in the Pacific. And we are now seeing the arrangement between Solomon Islands and China, which is unbelievable, and which absolutely undermines our national security. I could not have imagined that our relationships with the Pacific could have been stuffed up so badly by this Government. But what it indicates is that you’ve got a Prime Minister who’s willing to talk a big game, beat his chest here, but when it comes to actually going out and doing the real work, once again, he turns up late, does not accept responsibility and blames everyone else.

JOURNALIST: Did you make any changes to that speech after you gave it to them?

JOURNALIST: Can I ask a question to the Shadow Treasurer?

MARLES: Sure.

JOURNALIST: Jim Chalmers, do you think that foreign aid needs to be increased, and if you become Treasurer in four weeks time, will Labor be increasing foreign aid and if so by how much?

CHALMERS: Foreign aid is an important part of the story but it’s not the whole story. Our relationships with our Pacific Island friends are crucial, and they are broader than the aid relationship. It is a fact that the government has cut aid. And it is a common view across the national security establishment, that that has been detrimental to our interests in the Pacific. Penny Wong has said and others have said that we will have a policy on the Pacific. And we will say more about it during the course of this election campaign. Foreign Aid is part of the story but it’s not the whole story. Climate change matters to our Pacific Island friends. The way that we manage our defence investments matters to our Pacific Island friends, and so does our aid relationship. And we’ll have more to say about it.

JOURNALIST: Labor’s national policy platform is for funding it at least 0.5 per cent of Gross National Income. But you guys haven’t specifically stated that during the election. Is that the policy that you’re taking to this election?

CHALMERS: We’ll have more to say about foreign aid as part of a broader strategy for the Pacific during the course of this election campaign. Penny Wong has said that as recently as yesterday.

JOURNALIST: Mr Marles did you make any changes to that speech after you gave it to the Chinese?

MARLES: Absolutely not. And the assertion that’s being made by the government is just another desperate attempt to divert from their failings in the Pacific.

JOURNALIST: Doesn’t it make it look like you’re in their pocket though?

MARLES: I let the people know what I was going to say, so there were no surprises. But there were no changes whatsoever made to a speech that I made in China criticising China in public. Now what government minister has done that? And what we see here is a Government desperately trying to divert attention from its failings here. Let’s be really clear: under their watch, they have let the Pacific go. Under their watch, they have made it so that Australia is not the partner of choice for Solomon Islands. And by virtue of that our security is much worse than it would otherwise have been. I mean, this is a watershed moment in terms of Australia’s national security, in terms of our place in the region. And it is a watershed moment which is very negative. And it definitely raises the increased prospect of a Chinese military presence in the Pacific and that makes Australia less safe. And that’s because Scott Morrison wasn’t doing his job; beats his chest here, does none of the hard work outside, and does not turn up on time. And as a result, we see the situation that we’ve got. And he’s desperately trying to divert attention and desperately trying to blame everyone else.

JOURNALIST: On Solomon Islands, Labor has heavily criticized the Government for not sending Marise Payne to try and salvage that deal. But we now know that our intelligence agencies were involved in the leaking of the deal, that it was more or less a done deal by that point. Why would we send our Foreign Minister to go and salvage something that was already stitched up? Isn’t that a failed mission?

MARLES: The failed mission here is the last nine years of this Government in terms of its place in the Pacific. The failed mission here is in terms of this Government’s ability to build relationships in the Pacific, and the chief person responsible for doing that ought to be the Foreign Minister. I mean, the idea that we’re having this conversation now just speaks to the degree to which under this Government, they are constantly playing catch-up footy. I mean, they really are, and Marise Payne should have had the relationship with Solomon Islands Government. My question here is, which ministers were there over the last year, over the last two years, building relationships? Which minister in our Government has Manasseh Sogavare’s phone number in their phone? And why did it take so long to send anyone to actually go and see those in Solomons when it became clear that this agreement was on the table? You know, we’ve seen more action from the United States who were there overnight, and we very much welcome the mission of Kurt Campbell, and we very much welcome the announcement that the United States is going to look to opening an embassy in Honiara. We will work if we are elected with the United States, as we have in the past in terms of our engagement in the Pacific. But what is manifest here is that this Government has dropped the ball and they have not built any relationships. And Scott Morrison is responsible for that, Marise Payne is responsible for that.

JOURNALIST: Mr Marles, Anthony Albanese is in isolation and we’re all pretending this is a normal campaign, but it’s quite unusual.

MARLES: It is an unusual campaign.

JOURNALIST: You’re getting smashed up every day on the front page of the newspaper, Labor’s not putting up a single point person in Mr Albanese’s absence. Are you a liability to the Labor campaign at this point?

MARLES: You’re right that it’s an unusual campaign. But we were really aware about the prospect of one of our people coming down with Covid during the campaign, and obviously, particularly Anthony coming down with Covid. It was something that we had thought about a lot. And there was contingencies in place. And what those contingencies will do is allow people to see the strong team that stands behind Anthony Albanese, here today with both Katy and Jim, and you’ll see others over the coming days, which will demonstrate there is a strong team behind Anthony. And, you know, based on Anthony’s health day to day, you’ll see Anthony’s voice as well appear over the course of the next week. But I mean, it is a very unusual circumstance, that said, we were aware of it. And it’s going to be business as usual as much as we can achieve that over the course of the next week.

JOURNALIST: Scott Morrison is a noted campaigner. It’s going to be a tough week for Labor isn’t it.

MARLES: We will be making the case over the course of this week, as Anthony was making the case until the point that he contracted Covid, that what we have is a Prime Minister who never takes responsibility. But what we have is a Prime Minister who always points the finger somewhere else and blames someone else. What we have is a Prime Minister who is always seeking to divide, always interested in the wedge, and is not about bringing people together. But that’s what we are about. That’s what Anthony Albanese’s whole career has been about. And that’s what he would look like if he’s given the opportunity to be the Prime Minister of this country.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned a strong team. The common understanding of a campaign is that when a party starts reeling out the term strong team it’s an admission that their leader is weak. Have you chosen the wrong leader – and if not, why not?

MARLES: Anthony Albanese is going to be a fantastic Prime Minister of this country, given the opportunity. We are in a position now during a pretty difficult three years in which it’s been to lead the Labor Party after the grief of the 2019 election, and then during the pandemic. We’re in the position now to be competitive in this election, because of the leadership of Anthony Albanese, and he leads a strong and united team. Now the fact that we are talking about a strong team now is because Anthony is in bed with Covid. That’s why we’re making the comment, evidently, and we were aware that there was this possibility and so we had a contingency in place to put that team on more display in the event that Anthony contracted the disease, which is now what’s occurred. But let’s not overreact to all of this. Albo’s voice is going to be in the media over the next few days. Albo is going to do his seven days of isolation. I spoke with Albo today and he’s pretty chipper. And he’s going to be back on the campaign trail for the concluding weeks of this campaign, making the case about why an Albanese Labor Government is going to provide for a better future for this country.

JOURNALIST: Just on skills, we’ve been joining Albanese across many different places, a lot of people are talking about, business owners, how hard it is to get workers right now.

MARLES: Here too.

JOURNALIST: Totally right, so you know, having to advertise since January, February, haven’t found anyone. Cafes, construction sites, whatever. What are you guys gonna do? I know the apprentice thing is great. But it’s gonna take years. What are you gonna do now? Like, would you consider increasing the skilled immigration cap?

MARLES: Well, in terms of immigration, we don’t seek to create any difference with what has been the bipartisan position in relation to government around the migration intake, both in terms of family intake and the skills intake. We genuinely believe that by dealing with the question of TAFE, having a plan to put more funding into the training of people, making sure that we are addressing and focusing on those areas of skill shortage, that we can get skilled people into the workforce quickly. But having said all that, the reason we’re in the situation that we are in right now is because Scott Morrison went missing, Scott Morrison and his Government went missing for the last nine years. And they went missing by cutting $3 billion of funding out of our VET system, which means that we have less trainees and apprentices today than we did in 2013. So yeah, the international border being closed has illuminated the issue. But the reason why we have a skills crisis right now is because we’re not training enough Australians. And that’s because Scott Morrison and his Government dropped the ball once again.

JOURNALIST: What about businesses now, who are struggling right now, what are you going to do if you get into government in four weeks? The plans are going to take a while. What’s going to happen right now?

MARLES: Well, we will work on our training, we will work on our package in terms of free TAFE. We will also be talking about issues around micro credentialing. And coming up with a framework there, we’ve made an announcement about that. And that does enable us to get people with specific skills into jobs in a quicker timeframe. Because you’re right to point out that it does take time to give rise to a trade qualification. I think what we also need to be doing, and here at Munster the story in relation to Maisie was a really good story about getting businesses into schools, so that you get that flow of people from schools, I think that it has been a missing ingredient actually around the country to get the flow of people from schools into TAFE, but into apprentices. We’re very keen to work on that as well. So we will be acting immediately. But let’s be clear. The reason we’ve got an issue right now is because of the degree to which Scott Morrison and his government have dropped the ball over the last nine years. That is why we have less trainees and apprentices today than we did in 2013.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask you a question about one of your signature policies on carbon emissions? You have a market mechanism and effectively a baseline which the nation’s biggest emitters effectively can emit so much carbon up to a certain threshold. Can I ask you about coal mines? Will coal mines be forced to buy carbon credits if they go beyond that threshold? And what do you estimate the cost of a carbon credit would be if they have to buy?

MARLES: Well, let’s be clear on this. We have the (interruption).

JOURNALIST: Because they’re confused. That’s what we’re hearing.

MARLES: Well, we have the most detailed modelling around the proposals that we have put in place that an opposition has ever produced, the most detailed modelling, to make sure that we have a realistic pathway to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. But getting to that target of a 43 per cent reduction. We are really clear about where we need to go, and we have been completely transparent more than any opposition has ever been in terms of the information that is put forward.

JOURNALIST: Being transparent, will they have, no you’re the deputy leader, will they have to buy carbon credits? (Interruption) no, you’re the deputy leader. You don’t need the Shadow Treasurer, surely you will know. No Mr Marles, can you please come back.

CHALMERS: Let me answer Jono and then you’re happy to (interruption).

JOURNALIST: I’m asking the Deputy Leader because Mr Albanese isn’t here. Does the Deputy Leader know if they will have to buy carbon credits? It’s a simple question. He’s behind you. Can we not ask him?

CHALMERS: The point that we have made repeatedly, and the point that Pat Conroy and Meryl and others were making during the course of the week, is that our policy is designed not to disadvantage our exporters against the countries and the companies with which they compete around the world. And that goes to the core of your question. What Richard is saying is that we have put out a detailed policy, the safeguard mechanism, which we have adapted and adopted from the government itself, means that 215 of the biggest emitters will reduce their emissions in line with the safeguard mechanism. Now the best outcome from our point of view is that businesses reduce their emissions in line with that timetable, and that timeframe, and that safeguard mechanism. Ideally, businesses would do that. Now I spend a lot of time with miners around Australia, I had a hook up with the mining industry yesterday. I think I’ve been through regional Queensland 60 visits to 29 different towns this term alone. And what we have said to coal communities and to coal miners, and people who work in this industry, is that our climate change policy is designed to leverage and maximize our traditional strengths, not abandon them. And that’s what our policy is about. And that’s why the modelling that Richard referred to, more than 600,000 jobs created by our climate change policy, five out of every six of those are in the regions. And that goes to the question that you’re asking.

JOURNALIST: I’m going to ask the Deputy Leader again, will they have to buy carbon credits if they go beyond their baseline? And what would those carbon credits cost?

MARLES: Well the question has been, the question has been answered.

JOURNALIST: No it hasn’t because you didn’t give me an answer (interruption).

MARLES: The question has been answered (interruption).

JOURNALIST: If you can answer it again, will they have to buy carbon credits if they go beyond their baseline?

MARLES: The question has been answered. Can I say that the coal industry is going to play a really important part in our country for a long time to come (interruption). Well we’ve given you the answers that we’ve given you.

JOURNALIST: Mr Chalmers, just because we’re in Queensland I’ll be parochial wherever I can. I have a bit of a hyperlocal question with a national implication though. There was a story yesterday, in today’s newspapers as well, about 500 LNP branded postal vote applications being dumped in a wheelie bin. With this speculation in the coalition camp that perhaps the postie was union aligned, was this some kind of union campaign to do this kind of thing? Do you have any knowledge of that? And have you guys written to Auspost as well, seeking clarification on this issue?

MARLES: No, there’s no evidence that that’s the case. I’m not aware of that allegation that you’ve just raised. But I will say this, what happened there was completely unacceptable, completely and utterly unacceptable. We need to know what’s happened here, we need to know that it won’t happen again. And we need to know that Australia Post is adequately resourced to deal with the extra pressure that comes at election time. I’ve spoken to Michelle Rowland about it this morning. We haven’t yet spoken to Australia Post itself. We consider it to be deeply concerning, completely and utterly unacceptable. It can’t happen again. And we need to make sure that the resources are there so that it doesn’t happen again.

JOURNALIST: The Australian Electoral Commission has raised concerns about the political parties using these how to vote cards, they send them to voters, they harvest the information for the party’s purposes and then they forward it on. Will Labor move first and say that you won’t use this practice in the future?

MARLES: Look, this is a long standing practice, which is consistent with electoral law. If the electoral law changes then we’ll change how we go about it. Thanks very much.

CHALMERS: Thank you.

MARLES: Thank you.

ENDS

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