SUBJECTS: Labour force figures; economic recovery; tax relief; debt; proposal for a gas station in Kurri Kurri.

TOM CONNELL, HOST: Well, unemployment figures are out today let’s see what Labor makes of them. The Deputy Labor Leader Richard Marles joins me live from Melbourne. Thanks for your time. It’s gone down again unemployment; 30,000 full time jobs put on. It seems like pretty good news.

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: It is good news. And we welcome the drop in both unemployment and underemployment figures. There are still 1.8 million Australians who are looking for work in one form or another- so, underemployment remains persistently high. So there’s still a way to go before this job is done. But yeah, we definitely welcome the news today.

CONNELL: So the landing now, increasingly, it looks like the end of JobKeeper isn’t the crash landing Labor was predicting?

MARLES: Well, aggregate figures can mask pain in parts of the economy. And the point that we were making in relation to JobKeeper is that any business which is involved in an area which relies on an open international border, which right now is rightly shut, is going to be experiencing pain, and there’s no way they can get back to business as normal. So, we’re still seeing significant pain that has played out in areas like travel agents, in areas which are reliant on tourism. And so, you know, what support there was for those businesses after the end of JobKeeper was a question that we were raising? And that’s a question which remains valid. I mean, the other point, Tom-


MARLES: Is, what jobs are coming back? You know, it’s really important that we have an economy which is generating secure, well paid jobs and yesterday’s wages figures confirm the story which has now been in place really throughout the entirety of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government of record wage stagnation. And, of course, last week’s budget baked in real wage decline over the next four years. And so, it’s hard to see the economic recovery in positive terms, when people end up being worse off.

CONNELL: The net effect on wages in the budget, of course, including the low and middle income tax offset getting another year, do you think there’s a case to make this permanent?

MARLES: Well, I think we need to be looking at all of that going forward. But what you’ve got here is the government really putting in place a temporary tax break for low and middle income earners. Who knows what their plan is beyond the next election. And I think it speaks to the way in which this budget has been presented, generally; they have gone to a whole lot of their areas, which they see a political exposure, you know, you put in place a temporary tax break for low and middle income earners through until the next election- but who knows what happens after that. You know, they perceive they have an issue, a political issue in relation to aged care, so they’ve spent money there. They’ve got a political issue when it comes to childcare, so they’ve spent money there. I mean, it’s all about the politics of the situation, which is all about their own re-election, it’s not about actually rebuilding the country.

CONNELL: Just on that tax offset, though, let’s be clear on this; this was initially brought in ahead of phase two of the income tax cuts- this is exactly the same tax cut, on top of that. This was a bonus that was never supposed to be permanent. The permanent tax cuts already legislated and in effect.

MARLES: Sure. And what they’ve put out there for people is a temporary tax break, which is in place until the next election, and who knows what happens after that-

CONNELL: Well what do you think should happen?

MARLES: As I say, Tom- Well, I mean, we will give answers to all of that in the lead up to the next election. I mean, one of the concerns I’ve got about the way in which the government has proceeded with its income tax agenda is that it sought to forecast a whole lot of economic conditions in effect, by having- by mapping out tax differences going well into the future. And so, you know, we will take our time to make sure that we get these answers right, knowing that if we learnt anything from the last 12 months, it’s that the economy can go through very unpredictable events, as we’ve seen. And so, we will be very clear on our position in relation to all of this as we go into the next election. But what this policy highlights is the degree to which this is a government in last week’s budget, which dealt with everything on political terms, rather than seeking to build and reform the country.

CONNELL: One thing we do know in the concrete right now, is the amount of debt the country is headed towards. Is it too much?

MARLES: Well, again, we need to see what there is to show for this debt. I mean, that to me is the-

CONNELL: But you know that. You’ve seen the budget, you know the debt.

MARLES: Yeah, but what is there to show for having racked up more than a trillion dollars of debt? And we understand the need to have spent money during the course of the pandemic. It was actually Labor that argued for a wage subsidy. It was the government which, you know, took a while to come to that party. So we understand that. But when you spend money, there needs to be something to show for it. And they’ve racked up more than a trillion dollars of debt, they spent $100 billion last week. And what they have to show for it is baking in real wage decline over the next four years.

CONNELL: So is the message from you and Jim Chalmers, yesterday, I feel like the message is; we very well might spend the same amount of money but on different things.

MARLES: Well, what we’re doing is, is holding this government to account in terms of what it has done and made the point that they’re the ones in the chair, they’re the ones who have been managing the economy through the pandemic. And in racking up a trillion dollars’ worth of debt, you would hope there is something to show for it. But in fact, there is, you know, essentially no reform, no real story that’s been put forward through the budget about how we’re going to rebuild this country, about how we’re going to climb the technological ladder, for example, how we’re going to better turn science into jobs, how we’re going to take this economy down a much more modern path, because that’s where secure, well paid jobs lie- that’s where prosperity lies. Now, you don’t see any of that in the budget. What you see is the government dealing with all its perceived political weaknesses, which means that this is a deeply political budget, rather than a budget about reform of the nation.

CONNELL: Just finally, and briefly, Kurri Kurri gas fired power station announced from the government. Is it a good idea?

MARLES: Well, what we need in circumstances where the government is spending $600 million- or proposing to- is to have their business case, and to have a sense of transparency from them about what is needed in relation to this. I mean, our view is we should be taking our lead from the market in respect of how power is generated. If $600 million worth of public money is going to be spent, the least this government can do is put up a transparent business case to the Australian people.

CONNELL: Alright, Deputy Labor Leader Richard Marles appreciate your time today. Thank you.

MARLES: Thanks, Tom.


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