SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison’s lies; Free TAFE; Labor’s skills announcement; Labor’s climate policy; cheap, clean energy.
CATHY VAN EXTEL, HOST: Richard Marles is the Deputy Labor Leader and the Shadow Minister for National Reconstruction and Skills. Good morning.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning, Cathy. How are you?
VAN EXTEL: Well, let’s start with your election slogan, ‘A Better Future’. Is that the best you could do to come up with to convince swinging voters to give Labor a chance?
MARLES: Well, I think Australians coming out of the pandemic, are looking for a government that will have a plan and a plan to create a better future. And right now, I think what they see with the Morrison Government is a government which is consistently behind the play which reacts to events rather than leads. And we saw that with the slow rollout of the vaccine, I think we’ve really seen that throughout the pandemic. And we see a government under Scott Morrison, which doesn’t have any plans for taking this moment and building Australia back to a place that was better than where we were before the pandemic hit. And really, that’s the focus of what we’re going to be about and we will make clear that there is a plan.
VAN EXTEL: Well, I think the focus may also be about the Prime Minister’s character and integrity. In your warm up speech yesterday, you called the Prime Minister a liar 18 times. To quote, ‘he even lies about lying’. Just how dirty and personal is Labor going to get in this campaign?
MARLES: Well, I don’t think it’s a question of being dirty. I think it’s a question of what the character of our Prime Minister is, and people look to the person in that role to have character, to tell the truth, to say things when they’re difficult to say, but to be a source of authority and truth so that we can have a leader who takes us through a difficult time, such as the pandemic. And none of that describes Scott Morrison. I mean, the fact of the matter is that he is a Prime Minister who is willing to say one thing on one day and it can be on the record, it can be taped, we can all hear it, it can be there in perpetuity. And then, a little time down the track, he will literally say precisely the opposite. And that means that it’s very difficult to rely on what Scott Morrison says, and the truth of it.
VAN EXTEL: Well, yesterday’s quasi-campaign launch in Sydney, Anthony Albanese spoke about the kind of Prime Minister he would be if Labor wins the election. He says he’d bring a sense of responsibility, decency and integrity to the job. Are you saying that those qualities are missing in the current PM?
MARLES: I think when it comes to character, there is a chasm- a massive chasm between Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese, there’s no doubt about that.
VAN EXTEL: And yet Scott Morrison is still well ahead of Anthony Albanese as preferred Prime Minister.
MARLES: Well, people can look at the polls, but people can also look at what they see on the TV. And they can look at the degree to which the Prime Minister has been consistent. And you can also look at the record of Anthony Albanese throughout his life in politics, and he is a person of enormous integrity. He’s a person of enormous experience, bringing people around the table and making things happen. Building compromise and building consensus is actually what Anthony has done in government and for that matter in Opposition. And I think, you know, as we come into the second year of the pandemic, I think there is a sense in which the country has been deeply divided by Scott Morrison and there is a need to try and bring people back together. And I think Anthony Albanese with his experience, and his character, and his honesty and integrity is perfectly placed to do that.
VAN EXTEL: The government had a horror end to the parliamentary year; its legislative agenda was hijacked by its own backbenchers, there were ministerial resignations, more sexual harassment claims, MPs across the floor. But yet there still doesn’t actually seem to be any great mood for change in the community. How fearful are you that, to quote your speech from yesterday that, ‘you’ll find yourself standing in a half empty hall on election night staring into a flat beer’?
MARLES: Well, we don’t take anything for granted. That’s the first point. And I want to make it really clear yesterday and I make it clear again, today; we are going to have to have every conversation, make every phone call, we’re going to have to work really hard if we’re going to win this election. And it would be a real mistake for anyone to take this for granted. And certainly I think after the experience of the 2019 election, none of us are going to do that. What our job is, is to work as hard as we can each and every day between now and the election, putting an alternative to the Australian people which frankly I think they’re crying out for.
VAN EXTEL: Well, let’s go to your skills plan because you’ve come up with a $1.2 billion skills plan called ‘A Future Made in Australia’. The centrepiece is as I mentioned, 465,000 free TAFE places. This is of course tied to the skills shortage which has been exacerbated by the COVID lockdowns. How does a young person get a free spot at TAFE and for which courses under this plan?
MARLES: Well, what we’re proposing is that we will work with the states to support free TAFE for anyone studying in an area of skill shortage, it’s as simple as that.
VAN EXTEL: So what sort of areas are we talking about?
MARLES: Well, there is the national skills priority list, which details the skill shortage list. And that’s what we would work from. Right across the trades areas, construction, in the care economy, hairdressing, even butchers, you know, you can look right across the areas of skills, and there are shortages across the board. And people who want to study in those areas will be able to do so at TAFE, for free. And that is the proposition that we are seeking to build with the states. And I think part of this is also – there is a question of resourcing and obviously, we’ve made our financial commitment to that yesterday. I think there’s a question of mindset as well, I think it’s really important that within our schools, you know, it’s great if people want to go to university, but TAFE is a great option as well. You get a trade-
VAN EXTEL: Which is a conversation that has come from the government as well about this sort of shift. But clearly the skills need is now and it takes time to train up a new workforce, how quickly would a Labor Government return to skilled migration to the pre-pandemic levels because employers are crying out for staff now?
MARLES: Well, that’s true. And it’s also true that it does take time to rebuild this. And given the government’s cut $3 billion out of TAFE over the last eight years, such that we’ve got 85,000 less trainees and apprentices today than we did in 2013, it’s not going to be possible to repair this either overnight. But it’s really important that we start. In terms of skilled migrants, obviously, we would like to see the international border, get back to normality as soon as possible. But the lesson that we must learn from the experience of having had the border shut, having had the experience of the pandemic is that we are not training enough Australians. And that is what- that’s the consequence of the massive cuts that have occurred during the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government years to TAFE, which now sees us with less trainees and apprentices today than there were eight years ago.
VAN EXTEL: Well the government also points to cuts under Labor as well in the past for TAFE. Can we go to the climate policy?
MARLES: Can I just make that point, Cathy. I mean, that’s kind of Scott Morrison at it again. There’s no escaping the fact that under Labor, there was more money going to TAFE. And under Labor, more apprentices and trainees were coming through the system in 2013, in absolute numbers than there are now. But despite the fact that the labour market has grown, the number of apprentices has shrunk, and that’s the issue that needs to be reversed, and that’s what this policy will do.
VAN EXTEL: Let’s go to the climate policy, which was announced on Friday, the headline is a 43 per cent cut in emissions by 2030. The government says that Labor can’t be trusted and points to the Gillard Government’s no carbon tax vow. Doesn’t your own modelling suggests that the target will end up higher at 48 per cent? Is 43 per cent set in stone?
MARLES: 43 per cent is what the modelling shows and the way-
VAN EXTEL: No but is it set in stone?
MARLES: Well, 43 per cent is the target. I mean, it’s a target and we’ll do everything we can to meet that target. But the important point to make here is that the methodology – what we’ve done in terms of reaching this. We’ve looked at specific policies, specific measures that that we can take which we believe are easily achievable, which we think the Australian people will support, which give rise to job creation and will see power bills come down, and we have modelled them. And then the number from there comes out at 43, with RepuTex which are a highly credible agency, who have done this modelling. And really at the heart of it is reinvesting- or rather investing I should say – in our electricity grid so that it can take on more renewable energy. Knowing that at the end of the day, in 2021 – which is really different to back in 2007, when I was first elected to parliament – now clean energy is cheap energy. And if we build our infrastructure to promote that, firstly, there’s a whole lot of jobs associated with the building of it, but what we then put into the system is much cheaper power which drives economic growth and drives jobs. And that’s what our proposal is and the modelling has said that that will – that will achieve a 43 per cent reduction by 2030.
VAN EXTEL: Well, the modelling talks about over 600,000 jobs being created by 2030. But former union leader and Labor MP Jennie George says that the pledge is simply unbelievable. She says the multiplier effect is so high that it doesn’t have any credibility at all. How can we have any faith in this?
MARLES: You know, with the greatest respect to Jennie, I disagree with that. I mean, again, RepuTex who are a highly credible agency have done this incredibly thoroughly and have reached the figure that they have. And part of that is because we’re talking about a multiplier effect, which goes nine years into the future in terms of that – that figure of 604,000 jobs, is through till 2030. And what it’s really showing is that if we do invest in the infrastructure, particularly our electricity grid, which enables more renewables to come online, we will be giving rise to cheap power in this country, and that will drive economic growth, which will have a really significant impact on jobs. And it’s important to understand that this is projected nine years into the future, which is, when you do that, you really see how significant the impact is of revitalizing our electricity grid in the way that we are proposing.
VAN EXTEL: Richard Marles good to talk to you this morning.
MARLES: Thanks, Cathy.