E&OE TRANSCRIPT |SUBJECTS: Cairns; China; Support of our ADF in 2020; The Footy Season; Christmas.
MURRAY JONES, HOST: Richard Marles is the Deputy Labor Leader and Shadow Minister for Defence, he joins me this morning. 35 degrees compared to where you are. What do you reckon about being here in this part of the world, Richard?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: I would love to be an Murray. So I can report from Geelong, the skies are overcast. I feel like it’s about 12 degrees here. I am wearing a jumper. And I’m kind of shivering. It’s ridiculous, on the 23rd of December. I wish I was there.
JONES: And I actually had a caller that was listening to us online from Geelong, about half an hour ago. And he was saying exactly the same thing. But I don’t know, I think this 35 degrees is going to be a bit of a challenge today. But tell me about your connection to Cairns. You have got quite a close connection to our city.
MARLES: Well, Cairns is a city that is very close to my heart and a place that I love. My wife and I, when we got married, we eloped to Cairns. And so we both- we were very keen to get married. We weren’t sure we wanted to have the big wedding. And we couldn’t really get our minds around that. And so we hit on the idea of eloping. And I love Cairns, and Rachel, I think had been once, so she was happy to do it. And so we were married in the Cairns Botanical Garden-
MARLES: With a celebrant. And we were talking to the celebrant about, you know, like, do we need to organise witnesses, you’ve got to have- and she was saying, no don’t worry about it, I will sort out the witnesses. And so, I say, okay, no worries. So we turn up to the botanical gardens and it’s just her. And she’s kind of got a card table which unfolds and puts a nice white cloth on it. You know, a little ceremony, I’m like where are the witness? She disappears, you know, into the sort of the trees, in the bush, in the Botanical Gardens, and then pops out with two random joggers who we had never met before and we have never seen since, who you know, are now in our wedding photos. They were the witnesses for our nuptials. So, there you go.
JONES: That’s incredible. I wonder if they’ve ever put two and two together and realised that, that was the man, the Deputy Opposition Leader in Australia. I guess things have changed a bit since then. That’s an incredible story. Well look, for you, and I believe the four kids, we’ve always got a spot for you and of course, of course, the boss as well. So looking forward to seeing you back up here at some stage.
MARLES: Yeah, I hope to get up there soon.
JONES: Let’s talk about some stuff. It’s been a bit of a challenging year. And I guess one of the things, well there’s two, two main things that I’m really keen to talk to you about, particularly with respect to your portfolio is Shadow Minister for Defence. But let’s just talk a little bit more about the China issue. There’s been a lot of talk about, you know, bans and people boycotting Chinese products and all that type of thing. It seems like at the end of the day, that’s basically going to be a mozzie bite to most of the Chinese. And unfortunately, it’s likely to do us more harm than good. But you know, they banned our coal, we get a lot of things that I guess, are really concerning the Australian economy, but most importantly, those relationships. Moving forward into 2021, you know, what do you see as the best way of dealing with what is potentially quite a serious issue for Australia?
MARLES: I just think we need to take a deep breath here, Murray and try and reset this. I mean, the China relationship is one that governments of both persuasions, since the early 1970s, has been working on. It’s been a really important relationship in terms of the trade that we do with China. And it is our largest trading partner and by some way, both governments of both persuasions worked on the China Free Trade Agreement, for example, and our economy has been benefited enormously from it. Now, you know, China, under President Xi does create challenges- President Xi is seeking to shape the world around him, in a way that China probably never has before. And I don’t really say that with judgement- it is great power doing what great powers do. But it does create challenges for us. And it’s really important that we do stick up for our national interests. So in places like the South China Sea, it matters that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea applies there. And most of our trade goes through that body of water. It’s important that we’re sticking up for human rights and the Uyghur community, for example, in the west of China, there’s been significant human rights issues there. And it’s important, we talk about that. But I think it is possible to do all of those things and to make sure that we are talking about our national interests, that we stay true to our values as a nation, while maintaining a relationship with China- as complex as it is- which involves the trade that we’ve built up over the years. And the reason why I say I think it’s possible is because if you look at a country like Japan, which is right next door to China, which has all the issues I’ve described and more, they have territorial disputes with China, they’re still managing to trade with them. So I think, somehow we’ve got to get this back to a more even keel. Because at the end of the day, there are hundreds of 1000s of Australian jobs tied up in this. And, you know, I think it’s really important that we’re doing- that the government does something to put this back on track and express to the Australian people what the plan is.
JONES: How far can we dig our heels in? You know, we understand it’s a communist country, you know, we don’t have democratically elected leaders, whereas the bulk of the world, as you know, in the international scene, that’s kind of the badge of honour. How far can we dig our heels in about that particular issue? Because I mean, there’s good reason for us to have, I guess, some, you know, philosophical issues with the way that they go about things.
MARLES: And, of course, I think the principal point that we need to be making is, is around human rights. And we need to speak out when we see human rights violations anywhere in the world. That’s really the way the international system has worked after the Second World War, and the Holocaust, and kind of what came out of that was people said, never again, are we going to, you know, turn a blind eye or not look beyond the nation’s borders, in terms of calling out violations of human rights, and the way in which the world has worked since then, and that’s what we’ve done. And in doing it, you know, we submit ourselves to judgement. So we judge others, but we expect to be judged as well. So it’s not about preaching, it’s about every nation holding themselves up to account. And as part of that process, you know, as I said, before, I think there are real issues around the treatment of Uyghurs in the western part of China. And it’s very important that we speak about that, I think we can do that. And we and we must, and we must also speak up for our national interest to be that diverges from Chinese action and the South China Sea is the most obvious example, there were really, you know, there is an asserting of control over that body of water, which does seem to be at variance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. And that’s where it’s really important that we are speaking to our national interest there. But I think if we do that, in a way, which is clear, where we are very respectful and clear to China, about why we say what we say and how we’re saying it, like all of that can be done and all of that can be managed in the context of also having a productive trading relationship. Certainly other countries around the world do exactly that. But somehow, you know, we’ve got ourselves to a place where, you know, I don’t think that diplomacy between the government- that our government has managed this, you know, has been, what it should have been. We don’t have any significant relationships, which exists between members of the Australian Government and senior members of the Chinese Government, that’s really a real difference to what existed at any point, since the recognition of the PRC back in the early 1970s. So there’s no ballast, there is no personal ballast which allows this stuff to be worked through. And I think there has at times been the kind of the silence on the part of our government. And fringe dwellers, if I can put it that way on the part of- within the government, have been, you know, saying a lot of things which are right out there, which don’t go to any of the issues that I’ve spoken about now. And of course, causes offences. And so, you know, it’s the gratuitousness, I guess, that we need to make sure that we are avoiding, and that we are very clear in what we speak to. That there is a very clear sense of principles that we speak about. And that we do the diplomacy well. And that’s what we need to do to get this back on track. And it’s really important that we do because at the end of the day, where this ends up is hundreds of 1000s of Australian jobs.
JONES: Okay, let’s move on to your portfolio is the Shadow Minister for Defence; you know, is there any significant change with respect to strategy and the way that we go about things that’s really going to be called upon to occur during 2021? Do you feel?
MARLES: Well, I do, I think, I think we are experiencing the most challenging set of strategic circumstances really, since the Second World War. And a lot of it’s to do with what we just talked about; China, seeking to shape the world around it in a way that it’s never done before, it does present a whole lot of challenges for us. This year, the Defence Department did a defence strategic update. It gets into the weeds and a bit sort of policy wonky here, but there had been really since the Vietnam War a sense that we would always be given about a ten year warning, if anybody meant to do us any harm. And that update this year for the first time said that we are now within that ten year window that we don’t have a warning anymore. That’s a really significant observation to make. I think it’s the correct observation to make and I think it means we need to rethink a whole lot of our, the way in which we engage in our defence, the posture of our defence forces and I think importantly, how quickly we get some of these key defence assets that we are currently procuring. So, you know, an example of that is that, we’re getting a new submarine that’s a real, probably the most important platform that we have. But the new one, the first the new ones, we’re getting 12, is not scheduled to come through until 2035. So if we’re making an observation that we’re within the ten year window, right now, that feels like it’s just way too down, way too far down the track. So I think all of those issues need a big rethink. I think it’s an important observation that’s been made this year. But it’s now the follow through; okay, having said that, what does that mean? What do we now need to do to put ourselves in a better position to make sure that we can defend ourselves and I think we’re going to be thinking a lot about that in 2021.
JONES: It has been a tough year for the ADF. But at the same time, you know, they’ve done a lot to assist in some of the issues, bushfires, COVID-19. So, I guess our best wishes from a tough year, to all the people in the ADF, Richard.
MARLES: Absolutely. And, I mean, like they do a fantastic job. I’ve been privileged enough in my role to see the ADF deployed overseas, and their work in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and they do us proud there, but in 2020, they really did us proud at home. And when you look at what happened during the bush fire season, and then the response to COVID-19, literally 1000s of people in uniform have been, well, they’ve been heroes in a different way. And I’ve been really providing a service to our nation that perhaps I wouldn’t have expected but has been so profoundly important. And as we go into this summer, and we look at the possibilities of cyclones and the like and other weather events going forward. You know, they’ll bracing to make sure that they are ready to give us assistance if it’s needed over the coming months.
JONES: And I think a lot of people will certainly keep them in mind during this Christmas period as well.
MARLES: Totally right.
JONES: I was about to go through your full title, but I think for some people it gets a bit confusing. I might just call you, Albo’s right hand man. But I was just thinking too, at the end of the day, you know, he is such a mad Rabbitohs fan. You’re a Cats fan? How can you guys communicate about anything? That must be tough?
MARLES: Well, no. They are different codes, you’re right. The benefit is that our teams never play to each other. So we don’t have to worry about that. But what we do have in common is the ridiculous passion of supporting a football team and being beholden to a whole story which you have no control over. Which this year, it felt like it had real hope for both of us as the Rabbitohs made it deep into the finals. And of course the Cats got into the Grand Final of the AFL. But the last game that both teams played this year was a loss. And so the one thing that Anthony and I have in common right now is we’re both pretty bitter, you know, we’re not over it yet.
JONES: Hopefully there’s not too much bitterness during 2021. It has been great to talk to you this morning. Richard Marles is the Deputy Opposition Leader and Shadow Minister for Defence. Have a fantastic Christmas. And we’re looking forward to seeing you in the family back here in the tropical north in the not too distant future, Richard.
MARLES: Well, thanks, Murray. You have a great Christmas and the same to all your listeners.