SUBJECTS: Cyclone Yasa; Ministerial Reshuffle.

RICHARD MARLES, ACTING LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Let me start by saying that today our thoughts are with the people of Fiji, and particularly those who live on the island of the Vanua Levu. This island was struck overnight by a category five cyclone, Cyclone Yasa. There have been reported deaths and I think there’ll be more news to come in relation to Cyclone Yasa over the hours and days ahead. It is really important that Australia stands ready to provide whatever assistance is required to our Pacific neighbour.

Today’s ministerial reshuffle is an opportunity lost. For all the challenges that are faced by our country right now, what is absolutely clear is that business as usual is not good enough and yet that’s all we’ve been given. And after the year that we’ve just had, what we need to see is a Government which provides the Australian people with a sense of hope and optimism. But all we’ve got here is a line-up which is tired and stale. And one matter is completely clear;  for the Prime Minister; if you can’t do your job, then you will definitely keep it. Stuart Robert, who has overseen the robodebt debacle – well he gets to keep his job. Paul Fletcher who three years ago ticked off on the purchase of a $3 million piece of land for $30 million, well he gets to get his old job back. And most amazingly, and perhaps most offensively, Richard Colbeck, who has overseen the catastrophe in our age care sector over the course of this year, remains responsible for aged care services. This is a Government which is weak on national security and nothing here changes that. We’ve got a Government whose diplomacy with China is non-existent. We’ve got a Government who, in managing the key defence procurements right now, including our future submarines, has those procurements hopelessly behind schedule. And yet Marise Payne and Linda Reynolds will keep doing what they’ve been doing, which is essentially nothing. The country has never needed more, a sense of dynamic vision for the future. But what we’ve got today in this line-up is a line-up which is completely stagnant.

JOURNALIST: Just quickly, the changes to aged care, what do you make of that space? Do you welcome elevating that to a senior cabinet role?

MARLES: Well aged care is a fundamentally important part of our society and certainly a spotlight has been shone on it this year with the Coronavirus crisis. It’s a matter which should always have been dealt with at the level of the cabinet. But in the reshuffle that we’ve just seen, Richard Colbeck remains responsible for aged care services and I reckon every person who has a member of their family –  a loved one – in aged care right now will be scratching their heads that this has been allowed to stand.

JOURNALIST: When can we expect a Labor front bench reshuffle in response, will there be one?

MARLES: Anthony Albanese, has made it clear that there will be a reshuffle. But we’re going to take our time here, there’s no pressure in relation to this and we’ll be considering our position over the coming weeks.

JOURNALIST: Just quickly on Cyclone Yasa, what role do Australia have here as a, as a close neighbour? What sort of aid should we be providing?

MARLES:  Well, it’s really important that we stand ready to provide whatever assistance is required and that is what we’ve done in the past and I’ve got no doubt that that’s what will happen going forward. I was at Lavarack Barracks in Townsville yesterday and listening to the Third Brigade talking about their state of readiness in relation to providing assistance during the cyclone season obviously here in Australia but also beyond in the Pacific and they were certainly very well aware of Cyclone Yasa as it then was bearing down upon Fiji. It is really important that we remain the natural partner of choice for the countries of the Pacific and central to that is our standing ready to provide whatever assistance is required as the events of Cyclone Yasa unfold in Fiji.

JOURNALIST: The Fijian Prime Minister has said the general increase in cyclone activities is the result of a climate emergency, would you agree with that position?

MARLES:  Well, we’ve seen a whole lot of cyclones play out in the Pacific in recent years; it doesn’t feel that long ago that we were dealing with Operation Fiji Assist. Fiji particularly has been impacted by a number of major cyclones. That is, of course the prediction which is made as a function of climate change and we, Labor, stand  ready to take meaningful action on climate change, which has been part of our proposition to the Australian people for decades now. And in terms of our relationship with the Pacific, what’s absolutely clear is that the entry ticket is having a strong policy in relation to climate change. Now Labor has got that, the government does not. Great, thank you.



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