SUBJECTS: Australian Jobs; high-tech manufacturing; coal mining; energy policy; Royal Commission into veterans’ suicides; COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
NEIL BREEN, HOST: Yes, Queensland has been blessed lately because, obviously, when and if a federal election is called, well, it will be called at some stage, it’s going to be a key battleground, there is thirty seats here. Labor only holds six and if Labor want to take power off the Coalition, they have to do far better in Queensland. We had Anthony Albanese in the studio recently and joining me live in the studio now Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles, good to see you, Deputy Opposition Leader.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Morning Neil, how are you?
BREEN: Can I call you Richard, for the purposes of this?
MARLES: Of course, you can call me Richard, definitely.
BREEN: We’ve had a good chat about golf.
MARLES: Indeed, I’d be very happy to do an interview on golf.
BREEN: You’re a lot better than me.
MARLES: Well, it’s a great climate here for golf.
BREEN: You’re not wrong, you’re absolutely not wrong. So today, you’re catching up with Anika Wells and you’re visiting pharmaceutical company, Sanofi, is that one of the things on the agenda today?
MARLES: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. So really, the, I mean, the focus of my work now and the focus of this visit is jobs and high-tech jobs. Sanofi is a pharmaceutical company, which manufactures drugs for diabetes, as well as some vaccines. And really, they’re a great example of a company which is turning science into jobs and that’s what we need to see happening in Australia. But so often now, that’s actually not where we’re at, like we’re one of the worst commercialisers of public research in the OECD. We’re not very good at turning science into jobs. We’re pretty good at doing science, but we’re not good at turning them into jobs. And that’s really been going backwards over the last eight years. That’s what we’ve got to change if we want to have manufacturing come back to this country and Sanofi is a really good example of it.
BREEN: A lot of things got thrown into the too hard basket politically over the past couple of decades. I think climate change is one of the things that caused that. But because of the pandemic, we’ve been able to reset everything. Is the employment market the same – we can reset things easier now?
MARLES: I think you’re right that what the pandemic has done is given us an opportunity to –
MARLES: – course correct is how I would put it and I think many ways I think it’s the biggest moment to reimagine the country that we’ve probably had since the end of the Second World War.
BREEN: And get rid of red tape, get things done quicker.
MARLES: Yes, but also look at – , I mean, I think what the pandemic has done is it’s taught us lessons good and bad about the country. I mean, we’ve done really well as a community, people looking after each other, our care economy workers, you know, people in aged care people, nurses, we probably had a broader sense of who’s a hero now, actually, within our community, but at the same time, I think we’ve learned that, you know, we don’t make things now in anything like the way we did eight years ago, we’ve lost national industrial sovereign capability. I mean, you look at you know, the car industry, right now refining is in question, I mean, there’s only two refineries left in the country, one of them here in Brisbane.
MARLES: All of those are really high tech, complex manufacturing. It’s actually how we need to be doing things if we’re going to make things in a, you know, like a developed first world country like our own and that’s what we need to turn around and, and at the heart of that, is getting much better at turning science into jobs. And, you know, there are really good examples of it here in Brisbane – Sanofi is one. I mean, another really high-tech manufacturer in Brisbane is Rheinmetall who’s doing work in the Defence industry.
MARLES: That is the pathway forward, but we, you know, we’re doing a bit of it. We’re not doing enough of it; we have got to do more of it and we’ve got to take the examples of Sanofi and Rheinmetall and make sure that we are pushing them through the economy.
BREEN: If we talk politically, all of those things are great and they’re blue sky, but when it comes down to the ballot box, a lot of people in Queensland will vote on traditional industries and the coal industry is one that you can’t avoid. I know that the Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, today, he’s addressing a virtual Clean Energy and Jobs Summit, we had Madeleine King, the Trade spokeswoman for your party yesterday pledging Labor would provide long term support for the coal mining industry. It’s vexed for the Labor Party, isn’t it? Like, there are inner city greenies or Labor voters who want clean energy, who want 2050 zero emissions. But there’s also a lot of people in Queensland rely on the coal industry for jobs.
MARLES: Yeah, look, well firstly the coal industry is really important –
BREEN: And it’s not going anywhere.
MARLES: And it’s not and coal miners do a really important role within our economy, the economy of this State and the economy of the country. And we should be celebrating the work that they do. And we do that and to be honest, I think at the last election we got that wrong. Not long after the election, I went up to Moranbah –
MARLES: Which is really at the heart of the Bowen basin and coal mining there. And in a sense, you know, it was clear to me how badly we had got it wrong in failing to really speak to those people and to value the role that they play within their community, but within our broader national economy. And you’re right, coal mining and coal exports are going to be a feature of our economy for decades to come. I think one of the issues is that, you know, where we kind of got on the wrong track at the last election was to see all of that as somehow being a binary question as against, you know, dealing with climate change. We do support, zero net emissions by 2050. We want to promote renewables within our economy and we’re going to do all that. That doesn’t mean we can’t do coal exports, coal exports is a really important part of our economy.
BREEN: Yeah. So, reading all of these stories yesterday, oh well, over the time. 2050, so zero net emissions in Australia, but happy to export coal to other countries – is that basically where Labor has ended up sitting on this?
MARLES: Well, coal exports is a function of what those global markets are and there’s going to be a desire for that product. And yeah, we’re completely happy with that. I mean, there is like, you look at thermal coal and the role that it’s playing that Australian coal playing globally, it is cleaner thermal coal than what will be obtained–
MARLES: – by places like China and India, if they go elsewhere. And if you look at metallurgical coal, I mean, it’s an input to the making of steel.
MARLES: And that’s going to be a feature of the global economy for a long time to come. So you know, there is a future for those industries. And it’s a really important part of our national economy. And we shouldn’t shy away from that. We shouldn’t be wincing when we say that, that’s good. It’s a good thing for Queensland, for Australia and those workers play an important role in our economy. At the same time, we need to be developing renewables in this country. That’s important in terms of climate change and reducing carbon emissions, it’s also going forward a really cheap source of power. And it’s going to be one of the ways in which we actually fuel bringing back manufacturing to Australia and the kind of high-tech manufacturing that I was talking about at the start. So you can do both – and it’s actually really important that you do both. But let me say this as well, Neil, you don’t get to do renewables unless you have a settled energy policy. And this is where I think the government has let us down and let the country down badly. I mean, they have been unable to land a settled energy policy in this country, there’s been no sense to those that want to invest in renewable energy about what the rules are going to be. And as a result, we really haven’t grabbed that future as we should have. And, again, going back to COVID, this is a moment where we get to course correct. This is a moment where we get to reimagine –
MARLES: This is absolutely an issue that we need to be taking up going forward.
BREEN: It’s an issue that’s chewed up and spat everyone out, didn’t it? It caused Kevin Rudd difficulties in his Prime Ministership. Like Malcolm Turnbull was Opposition Leader then he wasn’t Opposition Leader, then he was Prime Minister, then he was out. Tony Abbott, it caused him problems. Julia Gillard it caused her problems that nearly cost everyone their job federally, at some stage.
MARLES: It is a difficult issue.
BREEN: It is deadly.
MARLES: But again, what I would say there is that, you know, right now, there is unanimity within the Labor Party about the need to get to zero net emissions by 2050. And we will articulate before the next election the pathway to get there. That is not a proposition, which is clear within the government party room within the LNP. I mean, they actually have been at war with themselves since 2013, the fight that was going on between Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull then is continued by Josh Frydenberg and Angus Taylor now, so theirs is a party room divided. And we would like to get to a bipartisan position on this so that in a sense, it wasn’t spitting people out so that we did have settled policy in this country. But well before we can get to that point, the government actually needs to settle this within its own party room, and they’ve got a long way to go.
BREEN: My special guest in the studio is Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles. Just quickly on a couple of issues, veteran suicide, and we’re going to have a Royal Commission now, what is Labor’s hopes for that?
MARLES: Well, we’re very pleased about the announcement of that. It’s taken the government –
BREEN: It’s taken a long time.
MARLES: It has taken the government a long time to get there, we’ve been calling for this now for –
BREEN: Long time.
MARLES: More than a year. Yeah, a long time. But we’re glad they’ve got there. It’s really important. The rate of suicide amongst our veterans is twice that of the national average and we really do need to look at what the issues are here and they’re complex, which is exactly why you need a Royal Commission to have a have a good look at this. And so, I’m really pleased that this is happening. It’s very important I think that the terms of reference here are settled independently so that we do get a proper examination of what’s going on. But it’s a big step forward and we’re glad the government’s finally got there.
BREEN: The vaccine rollout, National Cabinet will meet twice a week now. It looks like group 2A that I’m a part of, I don’t know what part, what group, you’re in.
MARLES: I suspect I’m in the same group.
BREEN: Group 2A. We might be offered AstraZeneca earlier. Look, it’s just important everyone’s on the same page here, isn’t it?
MARLES: Well, it’s important that we get the vaccine rollout done. That’s, the critical issue.
BREEN: It hasn’t been good.
MARLES: The vaccine rollout has been completely botched. I mean, that’s the truth of it. And it’s not, you know, we want to give confidence in the vaccine, I’m certainly going to get it. And we can be confident in the medical advice.
BREEN: Will you be getting AstraZeneca?
MARLES: I’ll be getting AstraZeneca, I’m sure and you know, we can be confident of the medical advice that we get in this country. And so, our criticism is not that. But you know, last year, and we were making this point last year, the government did not place Australia in enough queues in respect of the various vaccine projects that were going on at that time, they didn’t spread risk. In fact, they bet the house on AstraZeneca, being manufactured in Australia.
BREEN: They did bet the house on that –
MARLES: And then being able to do the lion’s share of the work. And now we’ve got the issue where it’s not going to be given to people under 50. And the truth is they’ve put the country, the federal government have put the country in a really difficult spot and they can hold all the National Cabinet meetings they want. At the end of the day, it is not about the State Premiers, the Premiers have done an incredible job over the last year in, in the medical response to COVID-19. This lies squarely with the federal government, they’re the ones that need to source the vaccine supplies and they’ve got to do it in a way which doesn’t see Australia left behind. The story from here in relation to COVID-19 is going to be told by how the world is vaccinated. That’s where the game is at and –
BREEN: It is the story of 2020, I said it on our first day –
MARLES: If Scott Morrison has one job this year, it’s to vaccinate the country. And we’re at real risk now of watching the rest of the world, North America, Western Europe, getting vaccinated, getting on the other side of this, moving on with Australia left behind and that’s going to really have a dramatic economic impact from, you know, Deakin University in my electorate through to the whole of the tourism industry in this State. There is going to be jobs that will not happen unless we get this right and really, its for Scott Morrison to actually answer the Australian people what his plan is to see us vaccinated this year.
BREEN: Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles I don’t want to end on a cliché but enjoy the Queensland weather. 28 degrees and we watched the rain bomb going over Victoria on satellite on the Today Show earlier, didn’t we Ash? We looked at it, it doesn’t look good down there. Enjoy it here. Thanks for joining me.
MARLES: I will enjoy it. I won’t be playing golf, but I’ll be dreaming about it in my head, I assure you.