E&OE TRANSCRIPT –  SUBJECTS: Upper Hunter by-election; Gas; Energy; Tax; Labor’s policies at the next election; Wage stagnation under the Coalition

ANDREW CLENNELL, HOST: Joining me now is Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles. Mr. Marles, thanks for joining us.


CLENNELL: Alright, Upper Hunter by-election results. Labor in New South Wales seems like it’s in a bit of strife, isn’t it? Generally, the primary vote at a state and federal levels been a concern there for quite a while, the most populous state, the most number of federal seats. What does this mean in terms of your federal election prospects? And more importantly, I guess, or more acute to this result; what does it mean about retaining seats in the Hunter region?

MARLES: Well we’ll obviously have a good look at the result. You know, we take all of these events very seriously. But I wouldn’t be rushing to jump to conclusions about this having big implications federally. I mean, it was a state by-election. It was a by-election and so there was a lot more independents who are running then you would see at a general election, and that necessarily spreads the primary vote. And ultimately, the incumbent won. So you know, as I say, we take all of these things seriously, we’ll have a good look at the results in detail in due course, but I wouldn’t be rushing to overreact to the result last night.

CLENNELL: Alright, but what about this whole issue of coal and gas versus renewables? You must admit the splits in your party there last week, it was Joel Fitzgibbon versus Chris Bowen. And just generally concerning these sorts of blue-collar regions, that Labor’s not looking after its constituency, are a real concern for you going forward?

MARLES: Well, I don’t accept that that paradigm, obviously. We’re very focused on working people around the country, no matter what industry they’re in. And when it comes to those who work in coal, coalminers, and people who work in other parts of that sector, the truth is that, even on the most significant projections about how quickly we move down a path of carbon reduction, coal will still be a significant part of our economy for years and years to come-

CLENNELL: But Mr. Marles, you didn’t back the gas plant, did you? Which was an interesting decision, really, because that would be very popular in that area, there are three seats there you need to retain and Chris Bowen’s come out and said, we’re not backing this thing?

MARLES: Well, the point we make in relation to that is simply; that if you’re going to spend $600 million of public money, then it’s really important that you have transparency about that. That you explain to the Australian people what the business plan behind it is, and that what we really need to be doing is taking our lead from the market, in terms of what is the cheapest and most efficient form of power generation. That is the only point we’re making in relation to the announcement that the government made during the week. I mean, we’re focused on building renewables in this country, because it does help create jobs. And it creates jobs across the spectrum of work. But we also completely acknowledge that coal as a sector will be a critical part of our economy for a long time to come. And that’s a point that we continue to make, and that those who work in that sector, do a fantastic job and are valued members of our economy and are doing an enormous amount to help improve Australia’s economy. Those two propositions sit together. And even within the Hunter, you know, there is a desire to see the take up of renewables as there is across the country. And so, we can move down that path, whilst at the same time making it very clear that those who work in those industries are very valued.

CLENNELL: It appears obvious that Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg, are trying to- setting the scene for an attempted replay of the last election really, saying we are the party of lower taxes. The Victorian Labor Government, they haven’t really helped that narrative with this payroll tax surcharge last week, have they?

MARLES: Well, it’s a matter for the Victorian Government and I’m not about to sit in the bleachers and give them advice about how they manage their budget-

CLENNELL: But they haven’t helped you, have they? They haven’t helped the Labor brand.

MARLES: Well ultimately, it’s a matter for them as to how they manage the budget. I mean, I think in terms of their contribution to the Labor brand, the Labor brands doing pretty well in the state of Victoria. And I think Victorian Labor is- the Victorian state government is doing well. They have faced as we have in this state, the real costs of mental health and that was the focus of their budget. And I don’t think there is anybody in the state or the country who would begrudge a state government trying to take this issue much more seriously. And again, how they deal with it is a matter for them. At our end, you know, we’re focused on making sure that we’re fiscally responsible. We’re obviously reviewing all the policies that we took to the last election. And we’re not about to have the same agenda that we did going into 2019. And our instinct is that we don’t want to stand between people and a tax cut, which is, that is why we’ve taken the positions we have.

CLENNELL: Just on that, Mr. Marles, it seems clear Labor will promise to rejig the stage three tax cuts to the benefit of low to middle income earners. Can you confirm that? And will you seek to take on Scott Morrison, by offering a bigger tax cut package than him at the election?

MARLES: Well, as I say, you know, our instinct is we don’t want to stand between anyone and a tax cut. That’s, and if you look at the decisions that we have taken in-

CLENNELL: But you’re looking to a oppose stage three, you’re looking to oppose stage three, what are you going to do there?

MARLES: If you look at the decisions that we’ve taken in this term of government, in relation to legislation that’s been put before the parliament, that’s where we’ve stood. The concern that we have expressed about the government’s tax agenda is that it seeks to outline a plan of tax cuts going a long way into the future, which in a sense, is a prediction of where the economy is going to be at, you know, way off into the future in a way that no one can reasonably do. If we’ve learned anything, in the last 18 months, it’s that there can be very unpredictable economic circumstances which confront the economy. What we’re talking about in terms of stage three is tax cuts that would come into play in 2024. So, the only point, again, that we’ve made there is that we’ll make our decision in respect of them in good time, but prior to the election, you know, when we’ve got the best visibility of what faces the country in the next term of government, which is when this would be applying. And so- if I can finish the point, Andrew, what we have said in relation to that, is that we will make our decision in due course and we’ve not made any decisions in respect of stage three.

CLENNELL: Right. So I mean, Anthony Albanese’s budget reply speech, I thought it was a little bit uninspiring compared to last year’s, for example. By leaving so much in the locker and appearing to have a strategy of announcing things a month or two before the election, is it possible that you’re leaving your run too late to build a narrative around this Federal Labor Opposition?

MARLES: I don’t accept that. And I think actually, we’ve been putting a significant amount of policy out there over the last- well, since the election, actually, but particularly over the last 12 months. I mean, what we’ve proposed in relation to childcare last year is very significant economic reform, and it was a proposition put in enormous detail, as was the proposition we put in this budget reply in relation to social housing. But one of the lessons that we learned coming out of 2019 was that you can put a lot of material out there and if you put too much, then there’s a moment at which people don’t really understand any of the message that you’re trying to convey. We’re very focused on that-

CLENNELL: But you’ve gone completely the other way, Mr. Marles. You’ve gone completely the other direction.

MARLES: I don’t accept that, Andrew. I mean, we’ve certainly tried to learn the lessons from 2019. And we obviously need to do that. But to say that we put no policy out there is obviously wrong, we’ve put actually quite a bit out there. But we’re going to focus on making sure that we have a very clear narrative going into the next election. And we will take our time to make sure that we are announcing the key policies that we want to be the focus of our campaign and the timing that suits us-

CLENNELL: We’re less than a year out.

MARLES: That is our strategy and that’s what we’re going to do.

CLENNELL: Mr. Marles, we’re less than a year, out. You don’t have a text policy out there. You’ve got this national reconstruction portfolio. Where’s the big policy on that? When are we going to see these policies?

MARLES: Well, as I say, we’ve been speaking a lot about what reconstruction looks like for us versus the government. We’ve been making the point that we actually do need to have governments which talk about using this moment in time, perhaps the biggest moment to reimagine the country that we’ve had since the end of the Second World War, to see our country climb the technological ladder, to become a more modern country, to be in a position where we are turning science into jobs. And we will have more to say about that in specific detail going into the election. But you know, the narrative around that is clear. Right now, you’ve got a government which is in drift. You’ve got a government which in its budget, put a whole lot of money towards its own political problems, but actually didn’t start articulating a vision of reform for the nation.

CLENNELL: But, Mr. Marles, you keep saying, you almost admit my point, because you keep saying we’ll have more to say on that into the election, we’ll have more to say on that into the election. So, my question was, when? Are you waiting for literally two to three months before the election before announcing these big landmark policies?

MARLES: Well, we are waiting for the lead up to the election, and we will, we will be putting out policies and all the detail policies that we take to the election in time so that it gets the- well, firstly, so that we have the greatest visibility of the next term of government, which is the answer in respect of tax reform that the government itself has put up. But we’ll also be putting our policies up in a way that people in the lead up to the election, see them, look at them and can vote upon them. And we’re not going to be determined by others timing. The election is, you know, may not be occurring for another year, so there is actually still a long way to go. And so, we make no apology for keeping, you know, significant amounts of our powder dry. We mean to win the next election- it’s not about acting in accordance with the timeframe that others place upon us. But we have been pretty clear about, you know, a very different narrative about how we deal with the question of technology and its demands in our economy.

CLENNELL: Sure. Mr. Marles, we’re nearly out of time, Labor has been warning about the cessation of JobKeeper, that unemployment will grow. Just briefly, do you concede now we’ve got the opposite problem now, we’ve got a labour shortage?

MARLES: Well, there are lots of areas in the economy, which are still hurting because they’re based on having an open border, which right now we can’t have. And so, if you’re in tourism, or if you’re a travel agent, you know, there’s no sense in which businesses are back to normal. And the point that we were making in relation to JobKeeper was in respect of those sectors of the economy, which still have significant pain. Yes, there are other parts of the economy where there are labour shortages. But again, one of the things that we’ve got to think about here is how we build back from COVID-19, what reconstruction looks like. And under this government, what reconstruction appears to look like is a situation where, you know, $100 billion was spent in the budget, a week or so ago, and yet, wage decline has been baked in over the next four years. We’re seeing wages stagnate in a way that we’ve never seen in our history. So, it’s difficult to talk about the positive nature of an economic recovery, when people end up being actually worse off. And we don’t we don’t get past that unless there is actually a vision for the future and we turn our economy around in the sense that we learn how to climb the technological ladder, and we actually do solve the problem of turning science into jobs. Now, that is actually a narrative that we’ve been speaking to very loudly over the last few months. I don’t hear anyone in the government speak about that at all. It is the present challenge, which faces our nation today. And this is a government which doesn’t even mention it. And it’s a government which is essentially in drift. So that’s what we would have wanted to see from the budget. That’s certainly what we’re going to be focused upon, as we take positions going into the next election, but that is actually the challenge which faces our nation.

CLENNELL: Mr. Marles, thanks so much for your time.

MARLES: Thanks, Andrew.

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