SUBJECTS: ExxonMobil refinery closure; Labor’s plan for more secure work; WHO COVID-19 report. 

TOM CONNELL, HOST: In Altona, the Deputy Labor Party Leader, Richard Marles. Thank you very much for your time. Now, from what we know of this, the refinery didn’t make any requests from the State Government for any sort of rescue package, was it just a bit too old and inefficient to continue?

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: I don’t think that’s the way to put it Tom. This is a refinery, which has been here for a significant amount of time, which speaks to how important it has been, both in terms of providing work to people in Altona, but also to our national sovereign industrial capability. And I think the point to be made here is that when you’re talking about high tech manufacturing, such as what we’ve got here at this refinery, and such, as we see, throughout the refining sector, to have it continue in Australia is a decision of government. Governments decide to do this, governments decide, for example, whether or not to have a car industry and this government made a decision not to have a car industry. The question now in front of Scott Morrison and his government, is whether or not they’re going to have a refining industry in this country. But today, the refining sector is on the brink, it is in a moment of crisis and we really need to hear from the government right now about what is their plan to keep refining going because what was announced at the end of last year, which they said would sustain the industry has patently failed. It has not been enough, two of the four refineries have announced that they are closing since those packages were released. So, the question today is, what is this government going to do to keep refining in this country?

CONNELL: So, have you spoken to those in charge of this refinery or decision and what have they told you about why the closure decision has come?

MARLES: I’ve not spoken directly with Mobil, but I’ve spoken with others in the refining sector. You know, what the refining sector want is certainty. They want to know that this is a country, which is making a decision to continue to have refining here. That’s fundamentally what they need. And they need assistance –

CONNELL: But what’s missing? Because the government has announced an assistance package. What are they saying is missing from that?

MARLES: What Mobile have announced today is obviously, in terms of their closure, is that what was announced by the government last year was patently not enough. It just didn’t cut the mustard in terms of allowing Mobil to continue its operations here. And we are down to two refineries now. There’s a real question as to whether there is a critical mass which allows it to keep going – the sector to keep going. And this government has been on notice for a long time now that having four refineries, this time last year was right at the brink. They couldn’t afford to lose any more, now we’ve lost two. So, what is the plan to ensure that the Viva refinery in my electorate at Geelong, the Ampol refinery in Brisbane are able to continue. It is a question about sovereign industrial capability. It’s also a question Tom of our national security. If we’re not refining fuel in this country, I can tell you that has profound impacts in terms of our national security. And if that day comes, then as a nation, we are less safe. And that’s on Scott Morrison.

CONNELL: What we also heard from the company, though, was that the Victorian lockdown put unprecedented pressure on this refinery and how much it was losing. So, the mistake out of hotel quarantine, it seems, and the Victorian Labor government had an impact on this business. That’s what the company says.

MARLES: Well, I mean, I think that there’s no doubt that obviously the Victorian economy had its difficulties associated with the lockdown last year, as the whole national economy has had in relation to COVID-19. But you made the point that this is a refinery which was established in the 1940s, there’s been a lot that’s come and gone in that period of time. And if there are difficulties, which unquestionably there are associated with COVID-19, that only heightens the need on the federal government to make sure that it does what is necessary to ensure that this is an industrial capability that we don’t lose. I mean, we’ve lost the car industry on their watch, around the corner here they’ve been building ships for a century and a half – that stopped when the Coalition Government came to power. We’ve seen the biggest deindustrialisation in our nation’s history since 2013. And it’s high tech manufacturing, that we need as a nation to be climbing the technological ladder, if we’re going to continue to make things when a refinery such as this announces that it’s going to stop its production, we’re actually going in the other direction. And that just demonstrates the degree to which this government just doesn’t understand manufacturing and what’s required to support it.

CONNELL: A couple of other topics I just wanted to get to. Industrial relations changes, so Labor unveiling some pretty significant changes. I want to ask you about gig economy workers. So, let’s say an UberEats driver, Labor is talking about them being able to get minimum wage and sick leave provisions. How is Labor envisaging that working and crucially, who’s going to pay for it?

MARLES: Well, it’s trying to make sure that there are rights that people across the workforce have in very different terms of engagement to the traditional permanent full-time job, that those rights and those standards are able to, to apply. We have a workforce now – a workplace now – which is more precarious, less certain that it’s ever been. If you go back to the 1970s, just about everyone worked in a permanent full time job, and they did their 40 hours a week. Now the workforce is so much more complex and with that, there is so much less certainty as a result.  What you’ll hear from Anthony Albanese tonight is Labor’s plan to make sure that we try and empower our workers in our workforce so that they have greater choices about their work, they have greater certainty and security about their work, and they have better pay. Because the other point to make here is that, you know, since 2013, under this Coalition Government, we have seen wage stagnation in an unprecedented way across the workforce, across all the modes in which people are engaged in their work and we need to be doing something about that. And you will get that tonight from Anthony.

CONNELL: We’ll get some more detail, but I guess just in a broad sense, are you ready to say to the Australian people, well, guess what, you know, having someone drive 20 minutes, just to drop your meal off for maybe $4. That doesn’t work in this society are you willing to be that direct?

MARLES: There are a whole lot of platforms, which we will all use in terms of Uber and the like. So it’s not about turning back changes in the way in which we live our lives. But what it is about is trying to make sure that those who are engaged in work through those platforms are empowered, that they have some rights in this process, that they have some opportunities about the decisions that they make, and that there are some standards which apply them. But this is not a system of engaging people, which is beyond our workplace relations system. And that’s the reforms that we will be announcing tonight in Anthony’s speech, which seek to make sure that workers in that situation are given greater security, greater choice, greater pay, greater empowerment.

CONNELL: Okay, and we might go through that when we have greater detail on it as well. Just finally, if I can ask you about the World Health Organisation, we heard from the scientists after this initial 12 day investigation in China. What did you make of what’s been a much spoken about investigation?

MARLES: Well, it’s a first step and, you know, the investigators and the report itself make clear that there’s still a lot more work to be done. I mean, we absolutely agree that the global community needs to have an independent process by which we can understand the origins of the coronavirus that we can understand the science of this. And you know, I read the reports coming out of the World Health Organisation and its investigation, they are the initial steps here, but there is a long way to go but ultimately, as a global community and as Australia –

CONNELL: Can I jump in because we are running out of time. So, I know there’s a long way to go. But are you concerned, for example, that we’re hearing real credence given to the theory that this came into China via frozen food, given most experts think this is very far-fetched?

MARLES: Well, at the end of the day, what we need is an independent process, which actually gets to the bottom of the origins of this crisis or the origins of this virus, wherever they came from.

CONNELL: So, does it feel independent?

MARLES: Well, well, it’s very important that the-  what the World Health Organisation gives us is ultimately a report and an investigation which is independent, and it’s got to go wherever the science leads us.

CONNELL: Richard Marles, thanks for your time today joining us there from Altona.

MARLES: Thanks, Tom.


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