SUBJECTS: Lockdowns; COVID outbreak in NSW; Vaccine rollout; Labor’s policies at the next election.
RAF EPSTEIN, HOST: Richard Marles is the ALP MP for the seat of Corio, down Geelong way. He is also the Federal Opposition’s Deputy Leader. Richard Marles, good afternoon.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good afternoon Raf, how are you?
EPSTEIN: Do you think Sydney’s outbreak is a threat to Melbourne?
MARLES: Well, I think we’ve learnt over the last 16 months that we live in one country and that COVIDs presence anywhere in Australia is obviously a threat to everywhere else. I mean, we’ve seen leakage across the border in relation to this most recent outbreak- the removalist being the case in point. But we saw leakage from South Australia into Melbourne, earlier, we saw leakage from Victoria into Queensland- we actually, we live in one country. And so yeah, there’s no doubt that the size of the outbreak in Sydney represents a threat to the whole country
EPSTEIN: Is Gladys Berejiklian right, that it’s the harshest locked down?
MARLES: Well, I’m not sure that that is a contest. What I know is that until there is a proper rollout of vaccines, and we’ve spoken a lot about the failure of the federal government in getting Australia properly vaccinated, that’s going to take some time now. But until that happens, we do need to see lockdowns. I mean, we really need to be seeing state governments doing everything they can to suppress the virus wherever it exists.
EPSTEIN: Have they done enough in New South Wales?
MARLES: Well, I think it’s really important that they do everything they can to suppress that virus. Obviously, I’m as concerned as anyone about the numbers that we have seen. I don’t particularly feel like I want to be in the business of criticizing state governments. I think we saw enough of that from Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg last year, as they criticized the Victorian Government. And I think what we need to be doing is supporting the state governments in the in the difficult work that they’ve got, given how poor the level of vaccination is in the country as a result of what Scott Morrison has failed to do. Clearly though, the New South Wales Government, it’s really important that they are doing everything within their power to suppress this virus. It’s important for the people of Sydney, in New South Wales, it’s obviously important for us, it’s important for the whole country.
EPSTEIN: You’re not frustrated with their response?
MARLES: Sorry, say that again.
EPSTEIN: Are you frustrated with the New South Wales response? In terms of the lockdown?
MARLES: Look, I think that the lesson that has been learnt around Australia, in terms of lockdowns is that the quicker you act, and the sort of harder you act in those initial stages, the better. I mean this actually, the spread of a virus is an exponential function, and therefore it’s not a proportionate act, you actually need to act disproportionately up front. That’s what we’ve seen- it’s actually what we’ve seen around Australia, but certainly what we’ve seen here in Victoria, and it’s worked. And I think that’s what we need to see now happening in New South Wales properly, so that they can get on top of this. I mean, today’s number is a deep concern. It’s obviously- I mean, look, I really feel for the people of New South Wales. I know- we all know how hard it is to go through lockdown. We know the sense of anxiety that they will all be feeling up there. We know that because people, particularly in Melbourne lived that last year. But we also know we live in one country, as I said. And the outbreak of this in Sydney is actually a threat to the whole nation.
EPSTEIN: The Prime Minister said yesterday we won’t have lockdowns after Christmas. Do you think he is right?
MARLES: Well, I hope he is right. It’s amazing now, that the penny has dropped for him that the secret to getting to the other side of this is getting the country vaccinated. As we as we talk this afternoon, we’re at 13 per cent vaccination in Australia-
EPSTEIN: I understand that point, Richard Marles. I think you’ve made that point about the vaccine rollout. I am curious, from Labor’s point of view, let’s assume for this question; we reach our vaccination horizon at the end of the year- if we do, if most people have been offered the vaccine, who are eligible, say over 16; do you think that means lockdowns are then a thing of the past?
MARLES: Well, I think the advice needs to be taken from federal government about what is the number that needs to be attained. And it’s not, it’s not just a question in terms of the way in which the federal government formulates it, so that everyone who wants one will be offered, and will have the opportunity to get a vaccine by the end of the year. I mean, what number is that? And what number do we actually need to achieve in terms of getting to some form of herd immunity? It’s actually for the federal government to articulate that. And I think this is one of the problems that we’ve got here. There is no attempt on the part of the federal government to actually articulate what is the end of COVID plan? I mean, how do we get to the end? What is the rate of vaccination that we need to get to? And how do they intend to get to that point? And what does-
EPSTEIN: Well, they can’t pull that number out of the air. They’re asking scientists for that-
MARLES: Sure, and they’re the ones who have scientists at their disposal. But they’re also the ones who need to lead the conversation for the country, about what the pathway to the end of COVID looks like. And what an end of COVID plan looks like. We hear nothing of that from this government. I mean, there really is complete radio silence on any of those conversations. And so, a whole lot of questions remain unanswered as a result. And as a result, I think consistently, we’re seeing this government playing catch up footy when it comes to how they’re dealing with the issue of the vaccine rollout, but also the issue of the economic response to that. I mean, we’ve seen in the last couple of days, the government announced further support for businesses who are experiencing downturns in lockdown areas. Okay, that’s fine. But I think it’s the fourth iteration. It really is policy on the run. Back in March, when they bought JobKeeper to an end, back then they understood, in fact, it’s in the budget papers, that they were expecting a lockdown in a major capital every month.
MARLES: So why weren’t they articulating back then, what the packages would look like for exactly this scenario, which they foresaw. And it’s because they do not articulate what the pathway is, what it looks like, and how we get to the end. And it’s a real problem.
EPSTEIN: Richard Marles is with us. He is Anthony Albanese’s Deputy. He is the Deputy Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. Richard Marles, what’s the point of being in Opposition, if you don’t oppose anything, any of the government’s policies?
MARLES: We’ve been opposing lots of the government’s policies. In fact, you know, we’ve been making very clear, as I have in this interview, the-
EPSTEIN: But that is criticism- that is management criticism, I guess I’m after a policy difference.
MARLES: It’s much more than that. You know, the way in which this government has managed the economy over the last eight years, has been laid bare by what’s occurred in COVID-19. And by that, I mean, the failures before COVID hit. I mean, we’ve had an economy, which in the last eight years has seen wages completely stagnate. We’ve had an economy in the last eight years, which has seen productivity go through the floor. We’ve had an economy in the last eight years where it’s clear we don’t make things in anything in the way we used to make things-
EPSTEIN: That is a discussion, you’re pointing to statistics, you don’t have a policy that’s different.
MARLES: No, no that’s not right. I mean, all of those go to the effective management of the economy, which is the central task of the federal government. And we don’t have a vision from this government about how it intends to reconstruct better coming out of this. We do. You know, we think that it is absolutely critical that we’re climbing the technological ladder. We think it’s absolutely critical that we build an economy in this country, which generates jobs. But not just any jobs, jobs which are secure and which are well played.
EPSTEIN: Generating jobs and increasing productivity, they don’t sound like policies. But if I can, Richard Marles, I just want to list some of the things that you have dropped recently, which I guess is the backbone to my question; the negative gearing change on housing, franking credits, the capital gains changes on housing, you agree with the government now on tax cuts for people on $200 grand, you’re not spending that extra Medicare money on cancer care, you won’t help pensioners with dental care. I’m not even sure if you’re going to have a difference on climate emissions at the end of this decade. You do at 2050, but you don’t at the end of this decade. So, on what policies are you actually at a different point to the government, which of those policies are different to the government?
MARLES: Well firstly, we lost the last election. You know, I wish it wasn’t the case. But it’s what happened. And we have to acknowledge that. And we have to listen to what the people said at that election. The government in the immediate aftermath of the election legislated their tax cuts. That happened some time ago. Given they have done it, we don’t intend to stand in the way of a tax cut for 9 million Australians. It is not about trying to re-prosecute the last election, which we lost. We are now looking forward in terms of the next election and what we seek to take to the Australian people at that point. And really, you know, I think this is going to be as profoundly an important election given all that has occurred, the you know, this unique moment in time that COVID has given us. And it is a moment, perhaps unlike any that we’ve had since the end of the Second World War, to reimagine the country. And we will be placing a vision before the Australian people in respect of that, and actually, you know, reconstructing industry, which is very much a policy. Making sure that we have an economy which is growing, and one which is generating secure, well-paid jobs-
EPSTEIN: Forgive me, Richard Marles. A lot of the things you have said about the economy, sound like good intention. So, we all want to have better technology, we all want to have better productivity. But if you’ve junked all the policies that were actually of substantial difference, what do you actually in a concrete way, going to do differently? I haven’t heard anything you are going to do differently.
MARLES: Well, the government has said nothing about productivity or economic growth going forward. I mean, nothing-
EPSTEIN: Talking about it though isn’t a policy.
MARLES: Well, we’ll put forward policies at the next election. But what we will stand for is that. Jobs. But not just any jobs, jobs, which are well paid, and which are secure by virtue of developing an economy, which-
EPSTEIN: But how?
MARLES: Well, for starters, we need to be turning science into jobs. You know, we are okay at science. In fact, we do well at science. We do appallingly at turning science into jobs. You know, we are one of the worst commercializers at public research in the developed world. That’s what this government has presided over. That’s what we mean to change-
EPSTEIN: Do you think I am asking an unfair question? Now, I’m not saying none of these things aren’t problems. I just still haven’t heard a policy difference. Is that a fair question at this stage? If the election is less than a year away?
MARLES: It’s obviously a fair question. But when this is a government, which has done nothing towards lifting our capacity to turn science into jobs, and I’m saying to you that that’s going to be a focus in terms of what we put to the Australian people. That’s a difference. When I say that, you know, productivity has gone through the floor, over the last eight years, we will seek to put to the Australian people, policies which see an improvement in productivity, that’s a difference. When I say to you that, they’ve had wage stagnation over the last eight years- and in the most recent budget, they baked in real wage decline over the next four years, and we will seek through all of that, to build an economy which generates real wage growth; that’s a difference. And all of that- now, we’re still some time out from the election and the policies that we put forward, which will achieve all of that, we will make sure they’re in front of the Australian people. But that is a very different agenda, and a very different perspective than what we’ve got from this government, which frankly, has no vision whatsoever, which is why we are in a situation where we have an appalling vaccine rollout. But why we also have no discussion from this federal government about what kind of Australia they want to build in the aftermath of COVID-19. I think actually, there is a massive difference in that. And that’s what the next election is about. It’s not about the issues that we took the 2019. You know, we’re not going to be fighting that election again. We’re going to be fighting a very different election in the context of all that has occurred with COVID-19. And actually, the really good opportunity it provides for this country to reimagine ourselves in a way that we’ve never really had since the end of the Second World War.
EPSTEIN: Think I might be looking forward to the election now. I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
MARLES: It’s a pleasure, Raf.
EPSTEIN: Richard Marles, you still there? Have you had both jabs?
MARLES: In fact, I got my second jab yesterday of AstraZeneca. And so, the answer to that is; yes. There is a moment of satisfaction when you get that little card which I feel like is a certificate which says you’re there. So, it’s a good feeling.
EPSTEIN: Thank you for advertising the fact that you got vaccinated thanks for your time.