SUBJECT/S: Floods across NSW and Queensland; Ukraine; Defence; ICAC

ANDREW CLENNELL, HOST: Well, joining me now is Deputy Labor Leader, Richard Marles. Lots to talk about, Mr. Marles. Thanks for joining us. I might start with the floods. Good news before with the suggestion the military are getting involved in Lismore, I think. It looks like there’s some serious issues with airlifting people off roofs there.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Definitely. And when you look at the footage that you’ve just been showing, it demonstrates how significant an event this is, and the pain that’s been inflicted on so many people in northern New South Wales and in southeast Queensland. The military is really important in moments like this, they have unique capability, as you say, airlifting being an example of that. They train to provide this kind of assistance. And it’s really important that they are being involved in this so that we can do everything we can to keep people safe. And that’s obviously the highest priority here and to make sure this disaster can be dealt with as promptly as possible.

CLENNELL: And I saw a short time ago, ACOSS were calling for an increase in disaster support payments. Is that something you’d support? Or are they adequate, the payments from the federal government?

MARLES: Well, there is a long history in terms of the disaster payments, and in terms of the level of them. I mean, obviously, not all disasters are the same. And it’s important that the government is having a clear eye on what the impact of this is and looking at how people are affected and to see – make sure that the assistance provided is enough. But you know, we obviously we want to work with the government in terms of how this unfolds.

CLENNELL: Now to Ukraine now, what do you make of where Vladimir Putin is at here? Is a nuclear attack possible?

MARLES: Look, I think it’s important to look at events as they play out. I mean, certainly the posturing that’s come out from Russia is deeply concerning. But obviously what’s – well it is all concerning – but the actions that Russia has been engaged in over the last few days are just appalling. What matters right now is that the world stands in unity, in condemnation of Russia’s actions and stands with Ukraine. And that’s very important and it is important that Australia is doing that and the government, I know are doing everything they can to make sure that Australia is standing with the global community. And from our part, from our point of view, we are wanting to offer bipartisanship in this moment, national unity in this moment, to make sure that Australia is counted when it comes to those who are standing with Ukraine in this time of enormous distress.

CLENNELL: So you agree with the approach of the Australian Government and the international community so far – sanctions, the SWIFT system- moving on that? Even the EU sending fighter jets to Ukraine, you agree with all that?

MARLES: Well, I think it’s really important that the global community stands firm here. And a country’s sovereignty, and territorial integrity is at the heart of a global rules based order. And what we’ve seen here is an act of aggression on the part of Russia, which runs right over the top of all of that. And when a country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are undermined in the way that Ukraine’s has been by the actions of Russia, that is an issue for us all around the world. And it matters that the world stands up and it matters that Australia plays it’s part in that, and I think the government is doing all it can in relation to Australia playing it’s part.

CLENNELL: I know you can’t tell me in great detail the security briefings that Labor have had in relation to this, but can we get an idea of who is briefing Anthony Albanese and how regularly?

MARLES: Anthony is being briefed regularly, I mean, every few days, and at the most senior level, let me put it that way, of our government agencies in respect of defence and also our intelligence agencies. So the best advice is being provided to him. And we’re very grateful to the government for that. It matters in this moment, and for our part, and we are very much offering our bipartisanship in this moment, to make it clear that Australia’s actions come with a complete sense of national unity. I think that’s important in terms of Australia’s place on the global stage, but it’s also important, particularly for the Ukrainian-Australian community here, that they know that in a bipartisan way their government is making sure that Australia’s voice is expressed and actions are expressed as firmly as possible in support of Ukraine.

CLENNELL: Now, the government’s made a lot of the amount of defence spending Labor had in power, and the fact you reduced defence spending. What’s your response to that now? Because they’re saying that would happen again. And that’s a concern. And that’s why Labor’s weak on national security.

MARLES: Well, that’s not right. But we’ve made it clear, indeed as part of our platform, spending in defence should be 2 per cent of GDP, and we made it clear that we’re matching the government in relation to all they have spent on defence. I mean, you can take particular figures from moments in time and try and make an argument which the government has done. It’s also true that there were points during the Rudd-Gillard years where expenditure on defence outstripped any moment during the Howard years as a proportion of GDP. But really, going back to then doesn’t tell us- is disingenuous. It is completely clear that there is bipartisanship when it comes to the place that defence should have in our Budget, and in our national posture, and we’ve made that really clear. Beyond that, what matters is not only the level of spending, but the quality of the spend. And where we have been critical of the government is that in relation to a whole lot of programs, particularly submarines, we have seen an appalling handling of that procurement, such that in the last nine years, we’ve seen a capability gap of more than 20 years open up in relation to the successor to the Collins class submarines, which is the single most important military platform that we have. This is a government which doesn’t actually have a particularly good record in terms of how it has managed our defence forces and it has had an effect on the degree to which Australia is safe. But the idea that there wouldn’t be the same spending from Labor as there is from the Coalition is completely wrong.

CLENNELL: Well, can I ask about foreign interference and the potential for that for just a second? We saw those ICAC findings today in New South Wales. Ernest Wong, he was a member of the Upper House for the Labor Party, found to have acted corruptly. And in concert with an accused agent of foreign influence- who has been accused of that Huang Xiangmo, who had a relationship with Sam Dastyari. What’s your reaction to this? And doesn’t it raise concerns about at least the past practices of Labor?

MARLES: Well, firstly, there is no place for corruption in public affairs, and certainly, under Anthony Albanese, there has been a zero tolerance attitude when it comes to corruption within the Labor Party. And when these matters first came to light Anthony Albanese was very firm in intervening in the New South Wales branch in relation to all of this. We have made it very clear there is no place for this, when it comes to the way in which Labor operates and is governed. And indeed, we think that that standard should apply across the nation. And our bona fides in respect of that are best expressed by the fact that we support the place of an ICAC federally, which the government has been totally hopeless on. Sam Dastyari is not in Parliament anymore. Foreign interference is a concern, it’s something that we all need to be vigilant about. It is a threat. I think we’ve been really active in terms of the management on our side of the fence. But it has happened not just in the Labor Party, it’s happened across the board, and you’ve got members of the government who – where questions have been raised – who are still there as members of the government. From our point of view, we have acted.

CLENNELL: Who are you referring to there? Sorry, Mr. Marles, who are you referring to when you say that?

MARLES: That’s all been on the public record? But we are out-

CLENNELL: No, no, but you’ve raised it. Mr. Marles, sorry, you’ve raised it. So who are you specifically referring to?

MARLES: We have been very strong in respect of the operation of our maintenance of our house- if I can put it that way. And Anthony Albanese came out really clearly, in relation to this. I’ll let you [inaudible] – do the interviews with the other side. For our part, we’ve acted here and Anthony Albanese has acted here. There is no place for corruption anywhere in public affairs. And if the government were fair dinkum about that proposition, they would be making sure there was an ICAC at a federal level, which is obviously what we support now and we will take to the next election.

CLENNELL: Mr. Marles, thanks so much for your time.

MARLES: Thanks, Andrew.

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