SUBJECTS: Skills crisis; Grace Tame; newspoll; NSW State by-election; Senate Estimates; Tax.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Today we’ve learnt that the number of trainees and apprentices which have gone through the TAFE system over the last six years is half of what went through the system during the six years of the Rudd-Gillard Government. During the last Labor government, almost a million people- or more than a million people went through the TAFE system in terms of doing their trainee and apprenticeship. In the last six years, it has been half that number. And that speaks to the fact that the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government have cut $3 billion out of TAFE. We’ve got 70,000 less trainees and apprentices today than we did in 2013. And it’s worth thinking about that. In that period of time the population has grown, the economy has grown and yet the number of trainees and apprentices has gone backwards. You speak to any business in Australia, big or small, and they will speak to the fact that we have a skills crisis in Australia today. It needs to be fixed. It is why Labor has said that if we were to win the next election, we would make TAFE free for people studying in an area of skills shortage. That is the solution to the problem that has been created by the complete dereliction of duty that has been undertaken by the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government in failing to properly fund TAFE.

JOURNALIST: Do you have a response to the Prime Minister’s profile on 60 minutes last night? In particular, his wife Jenny criticizing Grace Tame for not showing manners and respect in her appearance at The Lodge.

MARLES: That’s Jenny Morrison’s view. I think to be focusing on a particular look on the part of Grace Tame misses the point of what Grace Tame is about. I was at the Press Club last week, and what I saw was an incredibly powerful advocate around the whole question of the evils of child abuse in this country. Grace Tame, in her year as the Australian of the Year has completely changed the conversation. She is a remarkable Australian, a person who has clearly found their voice and using their voice, in a way for good for the whole country. And, and it’s really important that we listen to her voice. And I think right now, to be focusing on a single look, completely misses the point of that

JOURNALIST: The polls haven’t moved in the past month, despite the chaos of Parliament last week with MPs crossing the floor and cabinet leaks potentially showing the Prime Minister’s lost authority. Does that show that Australians aren’t really bothered by what goes on in this building?

MARLES: Well, I think this building is a critically important building in terms of the way the country is run, in terms of setting the tone for the nation. And we’ve seen that in a whole lot of ways and that’s obviously going back to the Press Club last week, ways in which the standards of this building need to be lifted. But in terms of the election, we’re really focused on that one day, and we’re not really focused on the question of polls, they are going to come and go. Look, after the 2019 election, I think we live in a post-poll world. We are completely focused on making sure that we put before the Australian people an alternative at the next election. An alternative which we believe Australians are crying out for. We’re very confident that we will put forward that alternative, we’re very confident that we will maximize the Labor vote and in that context, we are  competitive at the next election.

JOURNALIST: Do you take heart from the by-election results?

MARLES: Well, firstly, you know, congratulations to Chris Minns and his team. It’s a fantastic result for New South Wales Labor. But again, we’re not reading too much into that from a federal point of view; it was a set of state by-elections. We’re very focused on the next election and doing our job and making sure that we’re putting forward an alternative when the Australian people next go to the polls.

JOURANLIST: What is Labor’s focus for Senate Estimates this week?

MARLES: Well, we are very keen to make sure that we are holding this completely dysfunctional government to account. We have seen an extraordinary amount of wasted money over the course of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government, particularly in the last three years. And so we are going to be very focused on that question over the course of this week. But so much of this government has been completely inept. We have seen enormous waste, significant rorts, and we will be interrogating all of that during the course of the week.

JOURNALIST: There is a report today that the government might be ditching the $1,080 tax offset. That’s not going to win them many votes, is it?

MARLES: Well, firstly, let’s see what the government actually does, and we’ll have our response when the government does or do whatever it does in the next budget. I mean, our record has been one of being concerned about the tax burden for low income workers. But I think what is critically important here is that we are seeing cost of living pressures being faced by low income workers, and indeed by the whole Australian population, and that’s a function of stagnant wages. The standout stat in the economy over the last nine years is that wages have flatlined. And that’s what we have to change.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Australians should be getting that that tax cut again?

MARLES: Again, let’s see what comes from the budget and we’ll respond to it when that happens. But I think what is being borne out here is the fact that cost of living pressures on Australians are intense right now. We’re seeing a whole lot of prices going up, whilst wages have been stagnant. And that is the fundamental point here, that the standout stat in the economy has been stagnant wages for the last nine years. Record low wage growth- that’s what needs to change and that’s what Labor will act upon if we are elected to government later in the year.


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