SUBJECTS: Aged care crisis; Religious Discrimination. 

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Let’s talk to the Deputy Labor Leader, Richard Marles now. Just on that aged care matter, the Prime Minister told Question Time, told the parliament, this is a pandemic that is wreaking havoc across elderly cohorts right around the world. We’re not alone in that, obviously Labor would accept that proposition.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Of course we’re not alone in it. But that doesn’t absolve the Prime Minister from the responsibility of being prepared – from the responsibility of seeking to plan for this moment. I mean, the starting point here is that aged care is the responsibility of the federal government. This is on the Prime Minister. We’ve got a situation now where a quarter of the shifts are not being fulfilled. Now, the government’s known that it was around January, and now that we would see the peak of the outbreak, there was nothing to be done- nothing being done in terms of planning for that. Tens of thousands of people within the system have not received their booster shot, when one in four shifts are not being fulfilled, what does that actually mean? It means that people are being left in their rooms, are not being tended to, or not being washed. And for those who are in aged care, for those of us who have families and loved ones in aged care, this is an absolutely heartbreaking moment. And a moment where there’s just a profound sense of outrage about the lack of action on the part of Scott Morrison and his government.

GILBERT: There’s enormous complexity too though, isn’t there? Because you don’t want to have workers go in with COVID, even though more than 600 people have died in aged care with COVID- it’s not something you willingly want workers to take in. So you’ve got to isolate that workforce, and so on. So, it’s a diabolical problem.

MARLES: No one’s saying it’s not difficult. But the Prime Minister, in response to these questions doing nothing other than standing up and saying this is tough, doesn’t frankly, provide an answer to those who are in aged care, and the families of those who are in aged care-

GILBERT: What about when he says that there are more than 9,000 deaths since the start of the year across that sector, putting it into that context, the fact that there are 9,000 plus, and then, sadly, more than 600, due to COVID. But within that broader context of this is tragically part of part of life.

MARLES: I- it angers me, is the truth when I hear that. It really – it misses the point entirely of what is happening now, and the experience of those in aged care and those who have loved ones in aged care. We understand that people die in aged care, that it is a place which is at the end of people’s lives. But it’s in that moment that what we hope happens in terms of aged care, when there are so many emotions of anxiety, guilt, that at least what will happen is that your loved one is going to be treated with care, that they will be given dignity. That in these final times of their life, there is going to be dignity in the way in which they live them. Now, we get that people die in aged care, but to say that, and then to completely avoid the point, which is that he has not planned for this moment, that things could be much better, that in terms of getting people more back on shift is about having access to rapid antigen tests, which for a long time, they were not. That to protect those in aged care means giving them the booster, which means having an efficient rollout of that- and we were lagging near the bottom of the world table in relation to that, the developed world table. I mean, they’re the matters that the Prime Minister should be held to account on. And to refer to the fact that people die in aged care, and so somehow that absolves him from action in respect of this, I mean, it’s a disgrace. And there is no one who is in aged care or who has a loved one in aged care who will take any solace or comfort from what the Prime Minister has said today. They will just be filled with a sense of anger and outrage about his inaction.

GILBERT: On another very difficult area for both sides; the religious discrimination Bill. Is Labor committed to a bill enshrining the rights of those with religious faith?

MARLES: We have said from the outset, that what we want is to work with the government in respect of this legislation. We understand that the protection of religious freedom is an important protection within our society. We’ve actually been saying that from the very beginning. What we’ve wanted to do is to make sure that in the process of that, and it is complex, as you say, that there aren’t unintended consequences, that we don’t see discrimination in other forms- that people are protected. Now the Prime Minister has said from the outset that he’s going to protect students around the country from discrimination. Well the ball is now in the government’s court as to whether or not he honours that commitment-

GILBERT: Well he is saying in terms of those – in terms of their sexual orientation – those who are transitioning, trans kids, will have to – that this will be something decided after the election in terms of protections and so on. But do you- can see there is another complexity there when you look at, say, a single sex school, and a child that might be transitioning? It obviously poses various complexities there.

MARLES: We understand the complexities. And we want to work with the government on it. And right now the ball is in their court. We want to make sure there are not unintended consequences. And we’ll wait to see what the government finally comes back to us with. But I’ll make this point, when the Prime Minister said at the end of last year, that he was going to protect school kids, there wasn’t any fine print associated with that, which is what, you know, we now seem to be hearing from him-

GILBRET: Okay. What are the other-

MARLES: We need to hear what the government is actually going to do in respect of this. And when we get that we will have a look.

GILBERT: And can respond. The Human Rights Committee, Janet Rice, the Greens raised the prospect of a taxi driver telling a person with a visual impairment dog that their dog was unclean. Graham Perrett, your colleague said that the Islamic faith has got a problem with dogs when discussing the question around religious freedoms. Is that- is that reasonable to say that about, about that faith?

MARLES: Well, look, I don’t want to go through the questions of particular scenarios. What I think is important here is this; we understand that religious freedom is an important right within our society. We have been wanting, in good faith, to work with the government from day one, to deliver legislation in respect of this. We want to make sure there are no unintended consequences. And right now, the ball is in the government’s court to give us a sense that those protections are there.

GILBERT: But they’re difficult. I mean, you say you don’t want to go into the specific scenarios but in a scenario like that, it raises the question; should a driver of that or any faith have the right to reject a customer on the grounds that they’ve got a dog?

MARLES: Yeah, well, again, you know, I just come back to the point; we accept that religious freedom is an important tenet in our society. Right now we want to make sure there are no unintended consequences and we want to see what the government comes back to us with.

GILBERT: Mr. Marles, thanks for your time.

MARLES: Thanks.


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