SUBJECTS: Violence in Israel, Gaza and Jerusalem; Budget in Reply 2021; Budget; Vaccine rollout; Returning Australians.

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Let’s go to Canberra now and joining us live is the Deputy Labor Leader, Richard Marles. Richard, good to see you, thanks for your time this morning. Just before we get to the Budget Reply, would Labor be mirroring those comments from Marise Payne overnight?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Yes, and we put out a statement to that effect. What Marise Payne said there is exactly right. Israelis and Palestinians- as Antony Blinken said – have a right to live in peace and security without the fear of violence. And it’s really important that every step is now taken to try and de-escalate the situation in Israel and Palestine, because what we’re seeing unfold is a tragedy.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, on to Albanese’s budget reply speech last night, Richard, he seemed a little light on policy and detail. Where was the vision that was promised by several Labor frontbenchers yesterday?

MARLES: Well, I think Anthony’s speech last night was a fantastic speech, befitting the next Prime Minister of this country. And I actually think there was lots of vision. I mean, we spoke to the key challenges which are facing Australia today; making sure that something is done to see wages, actually real wages grow. In the Budget on Tuesday night, we had the astonishing situation of $100 billion being spent and real wages going backwards. Last night, we made clear that we would criminalise wage theft. We’ve made clear that we want to see that we’re not going to be cutting penalty rates, we want to see penalty rates restored. We want to bring security, employment security to what’s become a very insecure workplace. All of that was spoken about last night. We dealt with questions of social housing, we dealt with questions of taking up the challenge and the opportunity, which is renewable energy, and making sure that we’ve got the skills available to really benefit from that. But understanding that the jobs that can come from the renewable energy revolution not only leads us down a path of reducing emissions, but it’s going to be really good for the economy. And we also talked about the need to turn science into jobs. I mean, our fundamental- I think our most important challenge in many respects in terms of micro economic reform, is to start infusing our economy with science and technology, knowing how to- or doing much better at commercialising science, we spoke to that. So I actually think there was lots of vision and, and for me, that speech last night was about saying; the opportunity that COVID represents is the biggest moment to reimagine our nation that we’ve had since the end of the Second World War. Are we going to take that opportunity up? And Anthony Albanese made clear that a Labor Government would.
Is he not keeping his powder dry because he thinks there may well be an election this year?

MARLES: Well, obviously, we’ll say a whole lot more in respect of policy, in the lead up to an election wherever that is- whenever that is. And I think from Tuesday night, it’s clear that the government is preparing the option for an election this year. If they do that, we’ll be ready. And we’ll have much more to say, in respect of policy as we -as we go forward.

STEFANOVIC: So you’re in election mode now?

MARLES: No doubt about that question. We are ready to fight an election whenever the government decides to pull the trigger. Now, what this – the government should run its full term. I mean, they were elected to govern for three years. That would mean an election this time next year. But what was clear on Tuesday night is that they’re clearly tilling the soil and creating the option of going later this year. Well, if they do that, that’s fine. We’ll be ready.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, now you’re in charge of, of national reconstruction and jobs it is part of your super portfolio, but there didn’t seem to be anything on private investment, which at the end of the day makes up eight in ten jobs.

MARLES: Well it’s true- it’s true that private investment is fundamental to our economy. And it’s true that what we’ve seen is business investment go backwards, over the course of the last eight years, well, it stagnated. We will be doing- we will have a lot more to say in relation to that in the lead up to the election. But be clear about this; a Labor Government is going to be focused on growth. And it’s going to be focused on doing something in respect of wages. The idea that, as I said, that you can spend $100 billion on Tuesday night on a Budget which sees wages going in the wrong direction, beggars belief- and that’s actually what occurred on Tuesday night. They were dealing all – the whole way with their political issues. They weren’t dealing with the country’s future. And that’s where our focus is going to be.

STEFANOVIC: But I mean, the economy’s is in pretty good shape at the moment when you compare it to so many other nations. And the unemployment rate is actually lower now than it was when Labor was last in power, right?

MARLES: Well, unemployment and underemployment, you know, need to be considered in the same breath; we’ve still got a whole lot of Australians who are underemployed who are looking for work- more than a million. And so, there’s a significant hole in our labour market in relation to that. But as I say, the economy is not going well, in circumstances where real wages are stagnating. And as is now forecast on Tuesday night, they’re predicted to go backwards over the next four years. You can’t say that equals good economic management, or that equals good prospects for working families in this country, we’re going to be focused on that.

STEFANOVIC: Will Labor support tax- stage three tax cuts?

MARLES: Well, we’ve made clear all along that we’re talking about tax cuts that have been legislated for 2024. If we’ve learnt anything in the last year, it is that we live in a very changeable world. And it’s pretty hard to predict exactly what the economy is going to look like then. So we’re going to take all the time we can in terms of making that decision, we’ll certainly be very clear on our position in relation to that when Australians go to the next election. This is a an event which would take place at the back end of the next term of government- to put it into context. But given everything that has played out in the last 12 months, I think it’s really important that we have the best possible knowledge available to us about the economic landscape that we face. And that’s going to be later on between now and when the election occurs. But we will make our position very clear before the next election.

STEFANOVIC: You will have to raise taxes, though right to pay down that debt?

MARLES: Well, I don’t think that’s clear at all. I mean, growth can deal with the question of debt. But you’ve got to actually deliver growth in the economy. And you’re not doing that if you have a situation where wages are going backwards. And, I think this is the other point, Pete, that you know, true economic reform needs to see us actually climbing the technological ladder, it needs to see Australia becoming a more modern economy. Now, we’ve been going backwards on the Harvard University index of economic complexity, that’s a kind of a long-term measure both of modernity and economic prosperity- we have been falling down that index since this government’s been in power. We’re now in the 80s, ranked in the 80s, between Uganda and Burkina Faso now, in terms of the complexity of our economy, this is not a good thing. It is a stat which describes a radically poorer future for this country in the middle of the century. That’s what we need to turn around. And they’re the policies that we’ve got in place focused upon that. And so actually, there was vision last night in relation to turning science into jobs, which deals exactly with that kind of question.

STEFANOVIC: And just finally on vaccines, some experts in the paper this morning suggests that if Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna once they’re all out, and those supplies remain steady, that it is possible that every Australian could be vaccinated in time for Christmas. What do you make of that?

MARLES: Well, I hope that’s right. I mean, obviously, I hope that’s right. We should be vaccinated, as soon possible.
Is it likely though?

MARLES: Well, we’re reliant on clear messaging from the government in respect of this. And that’s the last thing that we’ve had. You get a different message from each government minister in every moment about whether or not there’s going to be two jabs or one by the end of the year. I’d make the point in relation to the purchase of the Moderna supply, that the bulk of that is for 2022. But the other point here is, this is exactly the kind of arrangement that should have been made by this government last year. I mean last year, which was when it counted in terms of our place in the global queue for being vaccinated. This government bet the house on AstraZeneca being manufactured in Australia and being able to do the bulk of the job. And as it’s turned out, that’s not what’s going to happen. And so now you’re seeing this government play catch up footy, and you’re seeing Australia at the back end of the queue, in terms of when we’re going to get vaccinated. So look, I certainly hope we are vaccinated by Christmas. And if experts are saying that, that’s positive. What we need is clear messaging from this government, about what its plan is to vaccinate the country, what its plan is in respect of having adequate quarantine and what its plan is in respect of end of COVID.

STEFANOVIC: Richard Marles, good to have you with us. Talk to you, soon.

MARLES: Thanks, Pete.


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