SUBJECTS: Labor’s climate policy; jobs for regions; cheap, clean energy; Scott Morrison’s lies; Free TAFE; Labor’s skills announcement; Allegations against Alan Tudge.
ANDREW CLENNELL, HOST: Joining me now, Deputy Labor Leader and National Reconstruction, Skills and Employment spokesman for Labor Richard Marles. Richard Marles, Labor has lost three elections where you’ve gone with similar positions to this. Could this target lose you the election?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: No, what we’ve put in place here is a sensible proposition, Andrew. I mean, we’re looking at investing in renewables, in the infrastructure which underpins them. And through that, reducing electricity prices, creating jobs, and ultimately reducing emissions. I mean, the point to make here is this is really an economic policy for which there is an environmental dividend. Any person out there who has put solar panels on their roof, they know the benefit that that has made for their household in terms of reducing prices, well really all we’re doing is applying that principle to the nation. And what has dramatically changed since I was first elected to Parliament back in 2007, is that in 2021 clean energy is cheap energy. And the sooner that we get there and the way in which government can lead us there, in fact, the more economic growth we will see, the more jobs created and the lower our power bills as a result.
CLENNELL: All right, well what, if any, consideration did your leadership team give to going closer to the 35 per cent target the Government projects will occur anyhow?
MARLES: Well again, what we’ve done here, Andrew, is thorough modelling. So RepuTex is a well-recognised outfit of the highest quality. Our method here was to look at practical measures that we could take, that we knew Australians would be willing to support, and then looked at where that took the numbers. And that’s how we end up at 43. And so when you look at Rewiring the Nation, which is essentially investing in our electricity grid – making sure that it’s smarter, making sure that it’s able to take on more renewable energy – we are proposing that. We’re proposing support through the National Reconstruction Fund that we have already announced, to encourage companies to move to a point where they are either investing in carbon farming and other abatement measures as you described, or they are taking steps themselves to reduce their emissions. The point here is that in taking all of those steps, there are direct jobs created as you move to decarbonize the economy, but then in getting cheaper power as a result, you see economic growth and jobs created as a result.
CLENNELL: All right, well, it used to be that Labor – and you’ve spoken about jobs a bit – but it used to be Labor was about the workers and the Liberals were about the employers. But now it seems your number one policy is around climate change, policies that attract rich inner-city people. This is why you didn’t win the last election. Isn’t there a danger here for you and Labor?
MARLES: I think it’s a matter of explaining this. I mean, I get that the Prime Minister is going to say what he’s going to say. I mean, this is a prime minister who lies at every point in the process and certainly does in relation to Labor’s policies. We are absolutely about jobs. And we’re about jobs for working people, might I say we’re about jobs in regional Australia – five out of the six jobs which are created through this policy are in regional Australia. Now I get that the Prime Minister is going to say all the things that you’ve just seen in that clip, they’re his lines, they’re not actually a plan to take the country forward. It’s just lying about us, which is what he does.
CLENNELL: But he beat you last time doing that. I mean, I’m not calling it lies incidentally, but he beat you by grabbing your policy and just day after day prosecuting that it was going to hurt Australians in seats in the Hunter, in seats in Queensland. You can see that danger, surely?
MARLES: Well lying is what it is, to be clear. But yeah we don’t underestimate the capacity of this Prime Minister. I mean, Scott Morrison is an exceptionally clever politician. And his ability to create division, to make it work in his favour is something we’re all completely aware of, so we don’t take any of it for granted. There is a contest that we need to fight out here, and we need to be really clear in explaining what we are doing. But at the end of the day Australians, I think, are crying out for a government which actually does have a plan for the future and a plan which is about them. Which isn’t about politics and creating division and all the spin, which is actually taking us forward into the future. Scott Morrison- all his lines are really about, at their heart, being fearful of what the future holds. The fact of the matter is that, you know, we have tremendous assets in this country, tremendous opportunities to develop renewable energy, and through that to get cheap power prices, economic growth, more jobs. And that’s what this plan is about, and more jobs in the regions for working people.
CLENNELL: All right, but is the Safeguards Mechanism not an effective or implicit carbon tax?
MARLES: The Safeguard Mechanism was put in place by this Government, by the Liberal Government, it’s their mechanism.
CLENNELL: They have never used it though, right?
MARLES: It’s not right. It’s their creation. There are 215 companies which are already captured by it. And all we are doing is taking the baseline in that mechanism, doing what the Business Council of Australia has urged, and to gradually reduce that baseline through to 2050. That’s what we are adopting here, we’re actually supporting what business wants. So a whole lot of businesses are moving in this direction anyway, but in supporting what business wants, we’re creating, you know, a consistent predictable level playing field for businesses who are already regulated by this mechanism. This is Scott Morrison’s architecture, let’s be clear about that. For all the spin-
CLENNELL: I think it’s Greg Hunt’s, isn’t it?
MARLES: Scott Morrison was the Treasurer at the time, but it’s his Government. It is their mechanism. It is their architecture. And we are simply using it in the way that the Business Council of Australia has suggested.
CLENNELL: All right, well how much might those companies have to spend on carbon credits? What could it cost them?
MARLES: Well at the end of the day this is what business is asking for. But the point to be made here, again, is that there is opportunity for business as well-
CLENNELL: So you can’t say how much it would actually cost one of these big businesses?
MARLES: Well what is clear, and this is what the modelling shows, is that there are cheaper power prices for business as well, and the modelling is completely clear about that. There is opportunity for these-
CLENNELL: But we’re talking about the cost of carbon credits.
MARLES: Yeah but there is an opportunity for the businesses themselves to grow, and to employ more people and that’s made clear in the modelling. I mean this is the point, the suggestion about costs in all of this, clean power is now cheap power. And this is helping business move in that direction. There will be a cost to business in not moving in this direction and that’s what the modelling shows.
CLENNELL: Well is there a bit of smoke and mirrors in this, because I’m always wary of announcements where it’s not necessarily direct government investment, but encouraging private investment. A lot of this seems to be ‘we’re going to encourage private investment’, so how confident are you that the money that you are committing would do that?
MARLES: Well we’re really confident, again, the modelling makes that clear. I mean, we are using the power of the government’s balance sheet to help businesses move down this path, to make their businesses more profitable, so we are doing that. There is also direct investment in this proposal as well, in terms of doing initiatives such as solar banks and community batteries. We’re using the power of government to take us down a renewables path, because clean energy is cheap energy. And that’s the way we drive our economy, that’s the way we see more jobs created. That’s the way we reduce power bills.
CLENNELL: All right. Well, Scott Morrison seems keen to talk up the danger of a Labor-Greens government. Would you rule out a Labor-Greens minority government?
MARLES: We’ve made it clear we are not going to enter into a coalition with the Greens. We’ve been making that clear from day one. This is just Scott Morrison lying again-
CLENNELL: What happens if you’re at 73 seats though, and the other guy’s at 72?
MARLES: Well, we’re seeking to win government in our own right-
CLENNELL: Yeah but what if you don’t?
MARLES: Well Andrew, right now our proposition is about how to get to 76.
CLENNELL: So there is no Labor Greens minority government?
MARLES: We are not going to enter into a coalition with the Greens, we’ve made that clear. And we are going to seek, through policies like this and others, a mandate to govern in our own right.
CLENNELL: All right, just briefly because we’re running out of time, big investment today in TAFEs and universities. Another other big differentiation with the Government, tell us about this. We’re talking about free TAFE in certain areas, a lot more university places. I guess you’re funding universities more significantly with international students coming off?
MARLES: Well certainly universities have been on the frontline of particularly the international border being closed. And so this will be welcome news for them in terms of the funding of an additional 20,000 places. But we’ve got a skills crisis in this country, Andrew, and if we learn no other lesson from COVID than that, then we will be making a huge mistake. Cutting $3 billion out of TAFE, which is what this Government has done over the last eight years, has come at the cost of developing the skills of Australians, and now Australian businesses are struggling to find the people that they need. So what we are proposing is this; that if you are going to study a course at TAFE which gives you a skill which is in need, in shortage, you will do that for free. And that is the proposition that we’re putting forward. That is the plan which is going to solve the problem of the skills crisis in this country.
CLENNELL: OK, well Labor’s National Secretary Paul Erickson told the Caucus, from what I’m told from my sources, that out there there was not so much a mood for change, by a desire for renewal. You’re pretty hard pressed to win without a need for change, aren’t you?
MARLES: Well look at the end of the day, and certainly after the experience of 2019, what we’re going to do is spend every day between now and the election putting an alternative to the Australian people. I actually think that Australians are crying out for that. I think they want a government, a leader, who is actually going to bring people back together again, after the dysfunction that has been so apparent over the last few years. Anthony Albanese is in fact incredibly well-placed to do that, with the experience that he’s had, with his ability to bring people around a table, get things done. So that’s what we’re going to do. We don’t do it with any sense of cockiness or overconfidence, certainly after the last election, we don’t have that. In fact, if anything, we do it with a sense of humility, really. And we completely understand the capacity of Scott Morrison to create division and use it for his own advantage. But we are going to put forward that alternative and create an option for the Australian people, and after that it’s a matter for them.
CLENNELL: Very briefly, because I’m actually out of time, just wanted your reaction on the PM’s response on the Alan Tudge matter. Has he done the right thing?
MARLES: Well, I think the right thing is for Alan Tudge to have stepped aside and now there is an inquiry in place and we need to see the outcome of that.
CLENNELL: Thanks so much for your time Richard Marles.
MARLES: Thanks Andrew.