E&OE TRANSCRIPT | SUBJECTS: The rate of Jobseeker; the right to feel safe working at Parliament House; Vaccine rollout.
JOURNALIST: Richard, what would be a suitable rate to increase Jobseeker by?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Ultimately, this is a matter for the government. We’ve been saying for some time that Jobseeker- Newstart is too low, that to live on $40 a day is just unacceptable. And so as Jobseeker transitions, this is the moment for government to take the opportunity to put in place a permanent increase. If that is in fact what we are seeing from the government, that’s good news. But ultimately, we need to see what the number is. And we’ll react to that. But as to the specific number that’s ultimately, you know, a matter for government. And it’s not a matter for the next election, because we’re not talking about doing this in May of 2022, this is what is going to take place in the next five weeks. And so it’s important that the government make clear what their intention is. And we will react to that.
JOURNALIST: Social welfare groups say that a higher rate of unemployment benefits actually benefits the economy. Does Labor agree with that?
MARLES: There is an argument in relation to that. Obviously, there is more spending money. But actually, I think the fundamental argument here is about the adequacy for people who are amongst the most vulnerable in our community to be able to survive. $40 a day is just too little to survive upon. And that’s why for, really, since the middle of 2019, we’ve been saying that there needs to be some increase in the rate of Newstart. Now, if that is what we’re about to see, as I say that’s good news. But we need to see what the detail of that is. And we’ll react to that when we do.
JOURNALIST: Some of your own caucus colleagues have accused the leadership of the Labor Party of politicizing the rape of Brittany Higgins. Has the Labor Party been politicizing the rape of a woman?
MARLES: No. But I think we’ve all been really, very clear from the outset that this is not a partisan issue. And it is not a partisan issue. This is an issue about a set of very distressing allegations in respect of an incident but that incident takes place in a workplace that we’re all in, where I think we acknowledge that there is a culture which has problems with it. And that’s not about the Liberal Party. It’s not about the Labor Party, it’s about all of us. And the failings of that culture are indeed on all of us, you know, it’s an indictment on everyone who works here. So this is absolutely not about politics. This is about making sure that the privilege that comes with working in this building is not a license to bad behaviour but is actually a call to action for this workplace to be the model workplace in the nation. That’s what we need to see it become. And we’ve all got to make sure that we’re putting our shoulder to the wheel to see that that occurs. And in doing so that this is a workplace, which is safe for everyone and safe for women to work in.
JOURNALIST: What does it say, though, about the culture at Parliament House that it could get so bad that someone could allegedly be raped inside a Minister’s office?
MARLES: Well, the allegations are appalling, there’s just no two ways about that. And it’s certainly the most shocking allegation that I’ve heard since being in parliament. Whatever it says, it’s, it’s terrible. The starting point here is that, in dealing with the cultural issues that we face in this building, I think this particular case, needs to be looked at, and the Prime Minister and his office need to deal with this in a frank, and in an honest way. It’s really important that we get to the bottom of what occurred here, that we get to the bottom of the failures in the lack of support that was provided to Brittany Higgins so that all of us can learn from this. But it really matters that the Prime Minister’s Office deals with this in an honest and frank way. From there, it’s important that there is a completely independent inquiry into the workplace culture of Parliament House so that we can learn from that as well. And that requires, you know, in my view, an outside set of eyes to look at this place, look at what’s good, but look at what’s bad and look at what we need to change.
JOURNALIST: Two days into the vaccine rollout in this country. What are the areas of concern for you at the moment in terms of getting the rollout right?
MARLES: Well, firstly it’s good that it’s happening. And, you know, there’s another shipment of the Pfizer vaccine that’s come in today, and so we’re pleased to see that. We’re pleased to see that the rollout started yesterday. The Prime Minister has made a commitment that four million Australians will be vaccinated through March. We certainly hope that that is what occurs. And I think what we now need to hear from the Prime Minister is the plan which will outline how that commitment is going to be fulfilled. We should not forget that around the world more than 100 million people have been vaccinated before the first vaccination took place in Australia. Australians, obviously want to see this rollout take place as safely as possible, but Australians also want to see it happen as quickly as possible. And we need to hear from the government about how intends to do that.
JOURNALIST: Aged care, it’s been a long fraught issue for federal governments. Getting the vaccine right, getting it delivered into aged care homes, seems to be some questions over the numbers this morning. How important is that that aspect is right.
MARLES: Making sure that those who are most vulnerable, those who are most at risk get access to the vaccine first, is clearly fundamental. So we do need to have a very clear understanding of how the government intends to roll out the vaccine particularly in respect of aged care.