E&OE TRANSCRIPT | SUBJECTS: Labour workforce figures; Jobkeeper; Jobseeker; The right to feel safe at parliament.
JIM WILSON, HOST: It’s been a big week in federal parliament, allegations of rape rocking the Prime Minister’s Office. Facebook taking out innocent Australians and the first COVID vaccines touch down on our very shores ahead of a historic rollout on Monday. Joining me now is Richard Marles, the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, and the man Anthony Albanese has tasked with rebuilding the Australian way of life in a post-COVID world. Albo has handed Richard the super portfolio of National Reconstruction, Employment, Skills and Small Business. It is a big job. I am happy to say he joins me on the show. Richard, welcome back to Drive.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good afternoon, Jim. How are you?
WILSON: Good thank you. Thank you for your time as always. Lets start with your super portfolio, the latest employment figures were pretty positive, almost 30,000 jobs were created in January, driving the unemployment rate down to 6.4 per cent. This falls into your new role, what was your reaction to the numbers?
MARLES: Well, everyone who is getting a new job is obviously good news, and so we welcome the fact that it came down. But at the same time, I think we’ve got to acknowledge that it’s incremental, there’s still 880,000 Australians who are unemployed, another 1.1 million Australians who are underemployed. And that means that there’s the better part of two million Australians on this day who are looking for a job. And really, the elephant in the room here is, you know, given that, what happens to the 1.3 million working people who are going to have the rug pulled from out beneath them when Jobkeeper ends in six weeks time? And I think what we need to be hearing from the government is what is its plan in relation to them? I mean, if you’re in areas like tourism, aviation, I mean, the world is not back to normal. And if Jobkeeper does come to an end, on that day, we’re going to see, you know, thousands of businesses put in a really difficult situation and tens of thousands of Australians losing their job.
WILSON: If you’re in Government, Richard, would you continue Jobkeeper beyond the end of March?
MARLES: I think it’s a matter of making sure that JobKeeper is transitioned in a way which is realistic with what’s going on out there. I mean, JobKeeper is fundamentally important. And, you know, we need to remember that a wage subsidy, the government originally opposed, it was you know, Labor was the one out there making this argument and that’s why we have Jobkeeper now, it’s critically important. And it can’t be there forever, we acknowledge that. But the transition from it needs to be done with a sense of reality about what’s happening out there. Now, in some places, things are back to some normality. But, in other, in particular parts of Australia, in particular sectors within the economy, it’s just not. I mean, small businesses in tourism, facing the necessary close of our international border, I mean, lots of them, simply don’t have a situation where, you know, their business model is going to be up and running at the end of March. So, what’s going to happen for them? And I think, that’s why we need to make sure that the measures that are in place, that no one imagines is going to be there forever, but needs to transition, that that transition happens in a way which is realistic with what’s actually going on out in the economy.
WILSON: News this morning, Richard, that the government is set to increase the dole payment before the coronavirus supplement was introduced, the payment was $565 a fortnight for a single, non-renter who had no dependents. What do you think it should be increased to?
MARLES: Well, we think it should be more. I mean, the point that we’ve been making since 2019, is that $40 a day is just too little to live on, and that’s where Newstart was at, at that point. And, you know, it’s got to be more than that, and that’s the principal call that we’ve been making. And really the other, I suppose other point that we’ve made is that; given COVID and given that through Jobseeker, the effective rate of Newstart has been increased for that period of time, as things are reduced, they don’t go back to where it was. Now, if the government is serious about that, that’s good news. I mean, we need to actually see what is being proposed in terms of the consolidation, I think of these measures that they’re talking about. So we want to have a better sense of what the government is actually proposing. But at the end of the day, something needs to be done more for those who were on Newstart, those who are on Jobseeker now, when Jobseeker is phased out. And that’s not a matter for, in a sense, the next election I mean, that can’t wait until May of next year. That’s going to happen at the end of March this year. And we really need to hear from the government pretty quickly about what their plan is in relation to that.
WILSON: Okay. Let’s go to these shocking allegations of rape in the office of Defence Minister Linda Reynolds back in March 2019. Today the Prime Minister has asked his most senior bureaucrat to test whether members of his staff new about the alleged rape before last Friday, following the publication of an explosive new text message. It cast doubt on the timeline of events. What’s your reaction to this?
MARLES: Well, I think it- look it beggars belief that the Prime Minister’s Office were not aware of this until last Friday. And that’s the position that the Prime Minister has unequivocally put in front of the Parliament, repeatedly. This is a really disturbing event. I mean, we’re talking about a very serious crime that was committed- that was alleged to have been committed in the Parliament. And, and as disturbing is the lack of support that Brittany Higgins says she received, or didn’t receive in the aftermath of the alleged incident. I do want to say this, Jim, that to just see this incident in isolation, I think is to miss the point. There is a cultural problem, in my view, within Parliament House and within politics generally, and that’s not a partisan comment, that’s across the field. It’s really important that all of us who are involved in politics, look at this, you know, it’s an exciting world to be in. I love working in it, people do love working in it and we love working in it from the sense of seeking to make a difference. It is a place of privilege, but that doesn’t give a leave pass for bad behaviour. In fact, that ought to be the exact opposite. It ought to mean that Parliament House is a model in terms of the way people are employed and the safety that they enjoy, in particular, the safety that women should enjoy in working in Parliament House. We’ve all got to be a part of that.
WILSON: How long has the culture been bad for?
MARLES: I think it’s been bad for a long time. And you know, this is not the first time people have called it out. But clearly, there’s a lot of work to be done. And I think this is a moment where it’s really important for those of us in politics, in a sense to grab the moment. And that’s why Anthony Albanese put to the Prime Minister during the week that there should be an independent review of the culture to make sure that Parliament House and politics generally, is a place where women feel safe to work. I mean, there are – I mean, obviously, there are lots of women who work in politics and as politicians and on staff, and obviously, they make a fantastic contribution. It’s also true that for a long time, we made the point; there’s not enough. I mean, there isn’t an even gender split in terms of those working in Parliament. Our Parliament doesn’t reflect our population in that sense. Well, how are we going to change that if women look at an incident such as this and feel that Parliament is not a place which is safe for them to work in? And that’s why, you know, this needs to change. But it really is in that context that, you know, I do think that the reaction of Scott this week hasn’t been what it should be. I mean, this isn’t about minimising the political impact of this moment. It is about actually putting Brittany Higgins in the centre of this and making sure that she is appropriately supported in this and that there really is a proper look at what happened in the facts of this specific case but then what that then implies in terms of what we need to do to fix the culture within Parliament House. And, you know-
WILSON: Should Defence Minister Linda Reynolds resign, Richard?
MARLES: I’m not a fan of making those pronouncements. Ultimately, that is a matter for the Prime Minister. But, you know, where the record stands in terms of what’s being asserted by both the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister, just are- they’re impossible to reconcile. I mean, as things stand, we’ve got a situation where, you know, there is an allegation of a very serious crime, which carries with it a serious custodial sentence, which, if the Prime Minister is to be believed, was withheld from the Prime Minister’s Office for two years. And the other point to make here which I think is being missed in all this is, you know, that the Prime Minister’s Office has a human resources responsibility for all ministerial staff. And that’s why the account that Brittany Higgins has given makes perfect sense. Like all of us who work in the building completely understand that what she’s saying is how – is how things work. I mean, when there are problems, the Prime Minister’s Office get involved. And that’s why it’s very hard- that’s why people like Peta Credlin and Malcolm Turnbull have come out and said, it’s impossible to believe the idea that the Prime Minister’s Office didn’t know until last Friday. It’s precisely the sort of thing- and particularly given how serious this is- that the Prime Minister’s office would be involved in, in terms of, you know, dealing with the issue and one would hope providing support to the person concerned. And that’s obviously, where Brittany Higgins herself feels as though she was, well her own safety was obviously compromised, and she was then let down in the aftermath. But, you know, we actually do need to know what happened here. And it’s got to be done not from the point of view in – in this week of trying to minimise the political impact of all this- it’s not about that. It’s about the fact that, you know, a terrible, there is an allegation of a terrible incident, that we’ve got a person who has been incredibly brave in coming forward. She should never have had to come forward in the public way in which she’s had to. And that the support that she needed, obviously wasn’t given because that’s the way she feels. And that – and they’re the issues at hand here. And that’s what actually needs to be addressed.
WILSON: Yeah, well they’re very, very serious allegations.
MARLES: Thanks, Jim.