SUBJECTS: Scott Morrison politicising our national security; Religious Discrimination.
TOM CONNELL, HOST: Joining me live now is Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Richard Marles. Thanks very much for your time.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Tom.
CONNELL: Let’s just take us back to the comments of Peter Dutton. He spoke about if the US was defending Taiwan in some form, he thought it was inconceivable, possible, but inconceivable from his mind that we would not become involved. Is he right?
MARLES: Well, the point that Penny Wong is making and she’s rightly making, is that national security really should be above the political fray. And so, the kind of question that I would ask is, why is Peter Dutton talking about that? Now I mean you know, that in politics it as much as about what you decide to talk about, as what you are saying. This should be an issue, which is above electoral politics, and to make it an issue of electoral politics is a very dangerous game indeed. And that is the point that Penny Wong was making yesterday, and she’s making it correctly. You know, Labor is completely committed to the US Alliance, we are very supportive of AUKUS. You know, there’s an attempt to try and talk up division there, there is none. What we’re seeing is the government seeking to make an issue out of this, in a way, which we believe is very dangerous.
CONNELL: So, that’s the political element of it. You’re not alone in your thoughts. But what about the substance? That essentially what he’s saying is, it’s highly likely, if this plays out in that manner, the US has taken that action that we would join them, is he right?
MARLES: Well, again, the question is, why is he talking about that?
CONNELL: Well, that’s one of the questions.
MARLES: But he is talking about that, in order to try and, you know, get that conversation going. And we see that as being very dangerous. So let me make it really clear, we support the US Alliance. Now, there is no stronger supporter of the US Alliance than Australian Labor. We absolutely understand the challenges that China represents, to Australia’s strategic circumstances. Indeed, I’ve made that really clear in relation to the South China Sea, in the face of criticism from this government. That’s the truth of the matter. And there is, and we support our relationship with the UK, and we see AUKUS as a natural evolution of all of that, which is why we’ve given our support to all of that. Now, you can’t get any clearer than that. And really, there is actually no difference between the political parties in respect of all that. So walking down this path that we have seen, you know, Peter Dutton seek to walk down in our view, is trying to make this a political issue, which it is not. And that is very dangerous.
CONNELL: Do you see, Taiwan as important, first of all, in terms of a country having its democracy, which China – lets be blunt – doesn’t want Taiwanese independence and democracy? Do you see that as an important thing to protect?
MARLES: Well, we’ve got a very good relationship. We support the relationship with Taiwan and we support the status quo. And there’s a lot of fine diplomacy really around how we describe that status quo-
CONNELL: Do you think China’s increasingly, positioning and indicating that it will – it wants to end the status quo?
MARLES: Well, whatever they are doing, we have made it clear that our view is supporting the status quo. So that’s where Australian Labor stands. And as Peter Dutton and others are seeking to make a division between the government and us in relation to this, we support the status quo. I can only imagine that that is what the government supports as well. So there’s no division here. But we’re seeing the government try and nibble away, try and find a point where they can turn this into an election issue. That is a really dangerous game. We’re not going to play it and we are going to call it out. And that’s exactly what Penny Wong did yesterday.
CONNELL: What would be weighed up on whether we joined the US?
MARLES: Again, there’s this sort of desire to walk us down the path that Peter Dutton has-
CONNELL: You just said you don’t want to engage in that because it increases the chances-
MARLES: Because all it does is amp up the kind of rhetoric that we’ve seen the government engage in, which we see as being very unhelpful, quite dangerous, and trying to create a division in Australian politics, which there isn’t. When you look at the question of our relationship with China, when you look at the question of our relationship with America, the United Kingdom, and indeed with Taiwan, there is no difference between Labor and the government in respect of all of this, but the government are desperate to try and find something because they want to make this an issue at the next election. And we’re about to go into Question Time and we will undoubtedly get another Dorothy-Dixer asked of Peter Dutton during Question Time in relation to national security; we can see what they are trying to do. It needs to be called out and that is what Penny Wong has done.
CONNELL: Penny Wong spoken about the strategic ambiguity of the US policy on Taiwan, if you like, the keep them guessing approach. Joe Biden was asked recently about defending Taiwan in that situation. He said, yes, we have a commitment to do that. What did you make of that?
MARLES: Well, I think that’s an important statement from the American President. And I reiterate; we’ve got-
CONNELL: Is that a good thing that whatever happens the US will go in and won’t allow Taiwan to just be at China’s mercy.
MARLES: America has made a really important statement in relation to Taiwan. And we support that. And we have a very-
CONNELL: So you back the US essentially, the President who’s gone beyond strategic ambiguity.
MARLES: And we’ve got a very good relationship with Taiwan that we value, and we support the status quo. I can’t be any clearer than that.
CONNELL: Okay. Is it time for more formal ties with Taiwan, do you think?
MARLES: I think the status quo, which using that language which embodies the diplomatic forms that are in place in terms of recognising one China, is important with its capital being in Beijing. And to be really clear, that’s exactly what the Morrison Government, that’s where they stand as well. And it is really important that we are bipartisan about that.
CONNELL: Do you see it as important that Taiwan is not allowed to go the way of Hong Kong?
MARLES: Well, Taiwan is in, I think, is in a different situation-
CONNELL: It is, of course it is. But you can see the analogy. You can see the similarity-
MARLES: Well I actually think Taiwan is in quite a different situation to Hong Kong. So I, with respect, think that it’s not quite the same analogy-
CONNELL: I’m not saying but there are similarities-
MARLES: There’s a different history, and the diplomatic form around it is actually quite different. We have a good relationship with Taiwan, we recognise one China with its capital in Beijing, we’ve made that clear. That’s been the case as bipartisan policy in this country, which the government support as well, since the early 1970s.
CONNELL: Okay. And so just that question, again, on more formal ties with Taiwan, is that a no?
MARLES: We support the status quo.
CONNELL: Okay. Religious discrimination, we know a bit about this. What’s your views so far? Is Labor inclined to support this with a caveat on the details?
MARLES: Yeah, what we want to do is work with the government on delivering a bill which prevents discrimination on the basis of religion. We’ve been making that clear now for a number of years, actually, for as long as this has been there. And, you know, our hope is that this should be something that can be delivered in a bipartisan way. And it’s really important that the bill not have any unintended consequences, which is why the details matter, and we’ve only really just got-
CONNELL: Okay, fair enough. But on that, on the consequences, let’s get to a specific; so advocacy groups are saying today, there could be a nurse freely able to tell an HIV patient, this is a punishment from God.
MARLES: Yeah. Well, I think we need to be making sure we get the details, right.
CONNELL: There is no question. But are you comfortable that? Is that a freedom you want to grant in Australia or enshrine?
MARLES: I think we need to- there is a balance here that we need to be making sure is in place, that there aren’t unintended consequences. I’m not comfortable with the example you’ve just described.
CONNELL: So you wouldn’t want that to be enshrined, I am just trying to clarify that.
MARLES: Yeah, but nor do I want to sort of walk down a set of a range of hypotheticals here-
CONNELL: I feel like they’re important because we talk about this in the in the general, but the specifics matter, what we want our country to look like.
MARLES: Totally right. The specifics do matter-
CONNELL: So you wouldn’t want that to be enshrined as a protection.
MARLES: No, but again, I’m reticent to walk down a path of a whole lot of hypotheticals here-
CONNELL: You don’t want me to go through the other ones?
MARLES: Yeah, that would be good if you don’t. I think the broad point is this, we want to deliver a piece of legislation which prevents discrimination in this country, we’d like to work with the government on doing that. It should, we think, be bipartisan at the end of the day, we’d actually like to work with the various religious communities around Australia to do that. We think we can do it in a way which doesn’t deliver unintended consequences. There needs to be some goodwill, and we need to have a Prime Minister here who actually wants to deliver that as well, rather than using this as an instrument to try and divide.
CONNELL: Just very finally and briefly; Hezbollah being added to the terrorist organisation list. It’s interesting because a lot of people wouldn’t defend the organisation but it helped defeat ISIS at the same time.
MARLES: Yeah, but I think this is a decision that makes sense.
CONNELL: Yep, fully support it?
CONNELL: Okay. We’re out of time, so I won’t give you more examples. Maybe another day.
MARLES: Another day, Tom.
CONNELL: Thank you.