SUBJECTS: Biloela family; UK Free Trade Agreement; Tax.

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Well, let’s return to Canberra now because joining us live is the Deputy Labor Leader Richard Marles. Richard, good to see you. So we just had confirmation from the Treasurer that the Tamil family will be reunited in Australia, he confirmed that. What’s your response to it?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, in all of this, there’s got to be some room for the rule of common sense. And I hope that what the Treasurer has said this morning will be affirmed in an announcement later today, which means that that rule is being applied. That the circumstance- the legal circumstance of the young girl is still in question. We saw her in a hospital in Perth last week. Whatever else, as all of that is resolved, the last place this family should be is on Christmas Island at the enormous expense to the Australian public. So you know, if this is playing out, as the Treasurer has said, then I’m pleased that the rule of common sense is applying.

STEFANOVIC: Yep. Okay, as you said, all of those details are going to be confirmed by Alex Hawke in due course. But in what capacity, in your opinion, in what capacity should this family stay?

MARLES: Well, there are still matters before the courts which need to be worked through. You know, ultimately, that is a matter for the government as to exactly the basis on which this is done. And, you know, we all acknowledge how complex these issues are, and how important it is to have firm rules in place. But in the midst of it, you have ministerial discretion so that there can be the rule of common sense applying. And that’s what matters here. And ultimately, whatever the process is, what really matters is the outcome. And we’re hopeful that the outcome is as it’s been projected.

STEFANOVIC: The rule of common sense, though, doesn’t apply to smugglers. Do you believe that they will be showing a fair bit of interest in this decision? If this family is allowed to stay? Do you believe that there will be an uptick in opportunities for them?

MARLES: No, I don’t think so. I certainly understand the question. But I don’t think that’ll be the case. The fact of the matter is this; that under Labor, offshore processing was put in place, under Labor since the middle of 2013, anyone coming by boat and going to an offshore detention facility has not been resettled in Australia, and under the Coalition and supported by Labor, there’s been a process of turning around boats, particularly between Java and Christmas Island. Now, that regime in total, has had success in putting an end to the very dangerous journeys, which saw so much loss of life at sea, and really has been very successful in putting people smugglers out of business. None of that is being altered, that regime is still absolutely there. And so that’s the message that people smugglers will be hearing. And that is the facts on the ground that they will be seeing. So I don’t think this is going to provide any incentive for them at all.

STEFANOVIC: Okay. What about people who are here? Do you have any concerns that they may try and game the system by having children in detention?

MARLES: Well, I’m not sure that, that that’s the basis of this. I mean, as I say; there is still a legal process to work through. And that applies to everybody who is in the system here. And obviously, it is really important that there are firm rules that apply, because that’s the only way you can manage a system of this kind. But in the midst of it, you do have ministerial discretion. And that is so, that in particularly extraordinary circumstances, there is an ability to apply a rule of common sense. And that’s what we’re seeing- I hope is what we’re seeing apply here this morning.

STEFANOVIC: Just onto this Australia-UK trade deal; it looks as though there may well be some news on this front tomorrow, and whether that’s signed or not. I’m wondering what, if any concerns, that you might have bearing in mind that David Littleproud has some concerns that scrapping this requirement for Brits to work in the agricultural sector after entering Australia on a working holiday visa, may well be a part of that. That could leave a shortfall of about 10,000 workers in the agricultural sector. Do you share those concerns as well?

MARLES: Well, I think we certainly have the concern about the agricultural sector and the need to get a proper workforce going there. Ultimately, though, what we need to see is this deal done. And you know, the government’s been talking about it for some time- trade agreements are important for our country. And trade diversification is important for our country. And so you know, the government has been talking about this, what we actually want to see is for them to get this deal done and then when they do we’ll obviously have a good look at the detail of it, but it matters that we get an in place

STEFANOVIC: Okay, also just from the Treasurer then he’s announced this morning, or given an update on his figures which show the unemployment rate is tracking nicely towards 4.5 per cent in the next of couple of years. Is that justification I suppose, for the work that he is doing. Do you admit that that it’s done well?

MARLES: Well, we certainly hope that the unemployment rate does go down. But, you know, there are some heroic figures that the government are constantly putting in their budget. I mean, JobMaker was meant to create 450,000 jobs, it ended up creating 1,000 jobs. So you know, they were 449,000 short of that target. We see enormous numbers put in the budget in relation to apprentices, new apprentices when in fact, the reality is that apprenticeships have gone backwards in this country. So we look at the figures that the Treasurer is putting forward with a grain of salt if we’re being honest. The proof here is in the pudding. Let’s see what actually transpires. That’s the only thing that we can judge this government on. They’re very big on making announcements, putting figures out there, the relationship between them, and the ultimate reality is often pretty thin.

STEFANOVIC: Yeah, but you got to admit though, I mean, JobMaker aside, the rest of it’s done pretty well.

MARLES: Well, we acknowledge where the economy’s at. But, you know, there’s a lot of challenges which still face the economy. And if the government’s economic strategy is to engage in a national tour of self-congratulation, I don’t think they’re going to be particularly applauded by the Australian public. I mean, there’s a whole lot of businesses in Melbourne, for example, that I’ve been talking to over the last couple of weeks, which face real difficulties now going forward with reductions on venue limits, for example. A whole lot of people in the hospitality sector who don’t have employment and their circumstances are very uncertain- in the absence of, obviously JobKeeper, but in the absence of the interim measure that was announced by the government a couple of weeks ago. There are challenges. And yeah, we acknowledge that JobKeeper played a critically important role in getting this country through the pandemic. I might add; we were calling for it a long time before this government actually acted on it, but eventually they came to the party and they did put it in place, that is to their credit. But you know, not before Labor was calling for it for some time. And there remain a whole lot of challenges in the economy. I think it’d be better for the government and the Treasurer to be focused on that than engaging in the kind of self-congratulation which has been their habit.

STEFANOVIC: Richard Marles, good to have you with us. We’ll talk to you soon.

MARLES: Thanks, Pete.


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