LES WALKER QUEENSLAND MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT FOR MUNDINGBURRA: Hi, yeah Les Walker, Member for Mundingburra, I used to be the Deputy Mayor Townsville City Council. Look it’s fantastic to have the Shadow Minister here, Richard Marles, the Federal Shadow Minister Richard Marles here today after touring Lavarack Barracks and looking at some of the amazing things they do out there, especially leading into the wet season. So welcome Richard to Townsville.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, it’s great to be here with Les and great to be here in Townsville, which is really one of the great garrison towns of the country. Les and I were out at Lavarack this morning or this afternoon and we were seeing the fantastic work that our men and women of Third Brigade have been doing during COVID-19, there was significant deploymentsaround the country from the Third Brigade. And they were doing all sorts of work in support of civilian response to COVID-19 and coming from Victoria, there are a number of people from Third Brigade who went down to Victoria, I know firsthand how important their work was. Now, there is no rest we’re entering that part of the year where there are the most significant weather events and we learned today about what they’re doing gearing up for preparation, if anything is to happen in Australia, but not just Australia. Right now we’ve got Cyclone Yasa, bearing down on Fiji, category five cyclone, which is expected to make landfall in Fiji tomorrow. You know, there’s all sorts of possibilities that may come as a result of that and they’re working through all of that making sure that they are ready if they need to be called to give assistance there or in Australia over the coming months. I’ve been to Lavarack Barracks and seen Third Brigade a number of times now and you know, I think Les and I would both feel you can’t help but be impressed by the dedication and expertise of our men and women who serve in the Third Brigade and who serve in all the units at Lavarack Barracks, we really are incredibly well served by the men and women of our defence force and that is felt as much here in Townsville as anywhere around Australia.
JOURNALIST: I wanted to get your thoughts just on the trade tensions that we’re seeing with China, was that part of any of your discussions this morning with Lavarack?
MARLES: No, but you know what we’re seeing with the trade tensions with China is obviously of enormous concern. We need to be hearing from the government about how they’re going to get the relationship with China back on track. This is our largest trading partner, there are hundreds of thousands of jobs around the country, which are dependent on this relationship, and indeed a whole lot of jobs, coal jobs here in Central Queensland, it’s really important that we understand what is the plan from this government to get this relationship back on track. And when you look at comments, like those that were made by Senator Canavan, who is meant to represent this region, suggesting that there be a levy put on, iron ore, this is a ridiculous proposition, which is a direct attack on those who work in the iron ore industry. But it’s a direct attack on every coal miner in this part of the world who works on metallurgical coal, which sees a significant amount of that exported to China. And it’s an indulgent comment, which is an attack on the jobs of coal miners here in North Queensland and Central Queensland, we need to understand what is the government’s plan to get this relationship back on track.
JOURNALIST: Reports today that they’re already laying off workers in the coal industry? What would be Labor’s plan?
MARLES: Well, we need to get this relationship back on track. And, you know, it’s important that the government is holding China to account in terms of its obligations under the China Free Trade Agreement and through the WTO. But it’s also important that the government does everything it can to restore a critically important relationship for the country because hundreds of thousands of jobs depend upon it. And ultimately, people whose livelihoods are at stake here, are looking to our government for answers about what its plan is in the here and now to try and get this relationship to a better place.
JOURNALIST: Is it a failure then of our Foreign Minister and the Trade Minister?
MARLES: The relationship with China is a deeply complex relationship. It’s a point we’ve made on many occasions. For those reasons, it’s really important that we have a set of guiding principles which determine the way in which we, as a country deal with China, we never hear that from our government about what are its guiding principles in the way in which it engages with China. Diplomacy also needs to be done well. There isn’t a single relationship of substance that this government can point to, between a senior member of the Australian Government and a senior member of the Chinese government, I mean, those personal relationships matter to provide ballast when times are difficult, such as they are right now. You know, all of that points to a failure of diplomacy. It’s of course, critically important that Australia stands up for its interests, and that can never be compromised. But it is also possible to do that, whilst also maintaining an important trade relationship. We see other countries do that with China and it’s critical that the government gives an explanation as to what its plan is to get this relationship back on track, because there are hundreds of thousands of jobs in this country, which are dependent upon it.
JOURNALIST: I understand you’re going to a prawnerlater today, what are you hearing on the ground from them?
MARLES: This is a really important industry, regionally, but for the country. They have a number of challenges, white spot being one of them and we want to hear about what those challenges are, and how the industry is seeking to meet them. But it’s an example of a critical aquaculture industry, which is very important for this part of the world and for the country.
JOURNALIST: I’m not sure if you’re across this, but in the Torres Strait, going back to trade, PNG and China have signed an MOU agreement to start a fisheries, I guess, facility around $200 million worth. The Torres Strait government has reached out to the federal government, but has had calls unanswered, what is Labor’s position on this?
MARLES: Well, it’s very important that the interests of those in the Torres Strait are represented by our government in terms of the very important relationship that we have with Papua New Guinea. Ultimately, this is an investment which is happening on PNG soil, and is a matter for the government of PNG as to how it manages that. But, you know, we share a very close and proximate border with Papa New Guinea and the Torres Strait. There are Australians there who have deep interest with how that relationship is managed and with what goes on in the most southern parts of Papua New Guinea and it’s important that in our diplomacy with PNG, those interests are being represented. The broader point here though is that it’s also very important that we continue as a nation to place a focus on our relationship with Papa New Guinea and with the countries of the Pacific. That can’t be done by reference to any other third country, it’s got to be about our relationship with PNG on its own terms and our relationship with the nations of the Pacific on their own terms. So that we are doing everything we can to make us as a country, the natural partner of choice for PNG and for the countries in the Pacific. And it’s important that the government actually puts action behind the words of the Pacific Step Up and that we see meaningful engagement with the nations of the Pacific including Papua New Guinea.
JOURNALIST: So I guess then what really would Laborbe doing, or the opposition be doing differently than what the government is doing now?
MARLES: The interests of those in the Torres Strait are fundamental in terms of the way in which we engage in our bilateral relationship with Papa New Guinea. It’s a very special relationship, but it’s a special set of circumstances for those in the Torres Strait with the treaty in respect to customary movement applying that’s important that all the obligations and rights which existsin that treaty are maintained. I mean ultimately this is an investment which is happening on PNG soil, PNG has sovereignty in respect to this. What matters as I said in a broader sense, is that we are doing everything we can as a nation, to put a focus on our relationship with PNG, and we’re doing that in a way which continues to see Australia as PNG’s natural partner of choice.