SUBJECTS: Apprentices and trainees; Labor’s VET plan; Free TAFE; skills shortages; passing of Senator Kimberley Kitching; Defence; Labor’s Reconstruction portfolio; cost of living pressure on families; electric vehicles; Hobart.

RYK GODDARD, HOST: Deputy Federal Labor Leader Richard Marles joins me now to answer your questions. We don’t often get federal pollies with an open ear, so 0438 922 936. Good morning.


GODDARD: Very, very well, thanks. Now you’re in town to talk about trades and apprenticeships. And it’s really an issue of massive concern here, particularly in terms of TAFE. So what’s your proposal?

MARLES: Well, I think one of the things to, sort of, understand at the outset is that the country is facing a skills crisis. And, you know, to be honest part of that is through the pandemic, we’ve had the international border shut. And so there’s a whole lot of workers who are not here who might otherwise be here. But the real lesson from the pandemic is we’re simply not training enough of our own people. I mean, if you’re looking at Tasmania specifically, in the last six years, we’ve seen about 17,000 people gain a traineeship or an apprenticeship. That compares during the six years of the last Labor Government to about 30,000 people getting a traineeship or an apprenticeship. So, you know, the numbers have dropped dramatically, they’ve dropped because funding to TAFE has dropped dramatically and we must do something about that. And so what Labor’s announced is that-

GODDARD: Richard- sorry, no go on.

MARLES: Well, in areas of skill shortage, we’ll ensure that TAFE is free. We’re also announcing Jobs and Skills Australia, which is a body which is there to try and make sure that, working with industry and with unions, that we really do understand what sort of training is required to be provided for the industry needs that are out there.

GODDARD: We’re in a state where they’ve already looked at privatising, or private-public partnerships for TAFE, do you think this run is just too late?

MARLES: Look, I think- well, firstly, the private sector has a really important role to play in terms of providing VET training, we really acknowledge that. But we also think that TAFE is the cornerstone of the system. And that’s really important that we do have a strong public system here. And so that’s why we want to make sure that TAFE is properly funded, and that TAFE is free for people studying in areas of skills shortage. But we also want to work with the private sector, to make sure that the courses they’re providing are fit-for-purpose and meet the needs that industry has.

GODDARD: Quarter to 8, Richard Marles, Deputy Federal Labor Leader, in Tasmania to address a conference this morning. Richard, I have to ask you this question about the culture within the Labor Party, which has been discussed much over the last few days. I don’t want to go into details out of respect for the Member, but at the same time, we’ve had issues at the state level, appeals to Federal Labor have fallen on deaf ears in the past to get involved in culture issues here. What’s the party doing to make the party a safe place for women and to make Australian politics a safe place for women?

MARLES: Well, firstly – and I appreciate the way in which you’ve asked the question – I mean, it’s really important that no political parties, and we’re included in this, are complacent about these issues. A lot of what has been alleged in the last few days, I don’t accept. But I also just feel that, certainly in relation to Kimberley Kitching whose death is very tragic, you know, I think right now the focus needs to be on the celebration of her life and her achievements and in providing the support that we must to her family. We have worked very hard to make sure that we have proper processes in place within the Labor Party so that if there are any concerns that anybody has around bullying or harassment, that there is a way in which those grievances can be pursued. And we want to make sure that that process is constantly updated so that it really is a best practice. And we feel that it’s an area that we will continue to work on, as any organisation with a good culture must.

GODDARD: Listener questions in just a second, but as Prime Minister Scott Morrison faces Supreme Court challenges on the party takeover of selection processes in New South Wales – interesting. If you win, there’s a report that says you’ll take back the Defence portfolio. This Government wants to run the election on Defence particularly, is that something you would like to take back on?

MARLES: Look, I’m very focused on the Reconstruction portfolio, that’s where my head is at. Just over a year ago, I spoke to Anthony, having been in Defence for a long time, about wanting to focus on a domestic portfolio. But particularly this one in light of the pandemic. And really, the idea of creating a Reconstruction portfolio was about the fact that we – both Anthony and I – felt that it was critically important coming into this election that what Labor offers the Australian people is something of a vision of the society, the economy, that we want to build coming out of the pandemic. I think the pandemic is such a huge change moment – not only in Australia, but around the world – that it really gives us the best opportunity as a nation to reimagine ourselves that we’ve probably had since the end of the Second World War. And the Reconstruction portfolio is about that. And I’m very excited about working in this area and thinking about ways in which we can build the country that we want to be.

GODDARD: Richard Marles, excited about rebuilding Australia rather than blowing up other people – interesting statement!

GODDARD: It does lead straight to a question about your policies for electric vehicles. I think there’s something like six models available in the country at the moment, what’s your plan to, kind of, catch up with the world?

MARLES: Yeah, good question. So, I mean, we have announced policies in relation to electric vehicles which would provide tax breaks in respect of the import tariff associated with electric vehicles, so that in essence, they’re more affordable. But ultimately, what we really need to be doing, and we’ve articulated this through the Powering Australia policy that we announced at the end of last year, is to put ourselves on a path to reducing the carbon footprint of our whole economy, and that includes transport and vehicles. Now, a lot of that, you know, in the broader sense, you know, the big thing we need to do is to make sure that our power grid is as modern as it can be and as fit-for-purpose as can be, so that it can take renewable energy into it, if I can put it that way. But there is also specifically in relation to electric vehicles, making sure that we work hard to build the infrastructure around the country which allows electric vehicles to operate.

GODDARD: Richard Marles, Deputy Federal Labor Leader answering your questions this morning. And John’s asked two really good questions, but John, I’ll choose the one that relates to the widest group of people, on ABC radio Hobart with me, Ryk Goddard. John, in South Hobart, says cost of living has become really hard for many. We’re seeing other governments put in policies really fast to address that. What will the ALP do to help working people?

MARLES: Yeah, and again, really good question. Cost of living is almost, I think, the number one issue when I go and speak to people around the country. And we’re really seeing that a whole lot of people who are in employment are still finding themselves falling behind because of cost of living pressures. So there’s a few things; we want to make sure that, at a very practical level, we can get costs down. So we’ve announced a more affordable child care policy, Free TAFE is actually part of that so that people can access TAFE without fees. The Powering Australia policy that I mentioned earlier will see power bills come down within the next few years as we upgrade our grid – all of those contribute. I think the biggest issue though – and I should say housing affordability is an area that we are very focused on as well, and I note that in Tasmania I think rents have gone up by something like 10 per cent over the course of the last year.

But the thing that, really, has been the standout stat in the economy for the last nine years is we’ve seen flatlining wages. We’ve seen record-low wage growth. Wages have stagnated over the last nine years. Now, that’s a bit of a function of the fact that productivity around the country has stagnated as well. But we’ve got to get wages going again, and that is about making sure that we generate those kind of jobs. It’s also making sure we have appropriate minimum standards around which we want to put in place.

GODDARD: Deputy Federal Labor Leader Richard Marles, one last question from the audience, I think it’s an excellent question, Martin from Claremont – just so that you don’t say that again, I’ve covered it. What funding are you giving to the south of the state if you get elected? Deputy Federal Labor Leader, chequebook out!

GODDARD: Write us some cheques! We never get much. What a loyal electorate.

MARLES: This is going to be a very unsatisfactory politician’s answer to Martin’s question-

GODDARD: Oh come on, what an opportunity! You can announce some stuff.

MARLES: Out of deference to my colleagues, it’s probably not what I’m going to do is to announce a whole lot of policies right now that cost money-

GODDARD: We just want a third bridge and the submarines built here, come on!

MARLES: Well, I take that on notice. Submarines built in Hobart, we’ll go and have a look at that. But look, we see – I mean, Tasmania is a profoundly important state for the Federation, that’s to state the obvious. Hobart is a really important city and we will make sure that we are looking very- we are very focused on Hobart when we come to announcing specific policies in the lead-up to the election.

GODDARD: Oh he can dance, he can dance! Great to speak to you this morning. I hope you have a really pleasant time in the city today.

MARLES: It’s a pleasure, Ryk, thank you.


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