Interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC Radio National

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12 September 2022

SUBJECTS: The Passing of Her Majesty The Queen; Australian High Commissioner to the UK; Russia-Ukraine conflict.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: World leaders past and present are making their way to London to attend the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will be in attendance. But back home the Federal Parliamentary Sitting Week has been cancelled and the nation will get a one-off public holiday later this month.

Richard Marles is Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence and our guest this morning. Richard Marles, welcome.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, Patricia. How are you?

KARVELAS: I’m well, thank you. What does the decision to cancel this week’s Parliamentary sitting mean for your legislative agenda?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s a challenge in the sense that before this week there were 19 sitting days left in the House for the rest of the year, and 15 in the Senate. So we lose four sitting days this week, of course, and we’ll need to make them up, which is what the Prime Minister announced yesterday. But we can do that in the time that we’ve got between now and the end of the year. And I think the decision to not have Parliamentary debate, the kind of partisan contest which goes with Parliament, happening at a time when really there is a sense of mourning around the nation is an appropriate decision to make. And we’ll be able to make up those days and make sure that we get the legislative agenda back on track.

KARVELAS: Will you still be able to pass the bill to legislate a federal anti-corruption body before the end of the year?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, all the commitments that we’ve made about the timing that we have in respect of all of our policies, including that, we’re confident that we will be able to make up. But part of that is obviously then needing to ensure that we do find the four days, in both the Senate and the House, that we are losing as a result of the decision that’s been made about this week. But we will find those days.

KARVELAS: So, you will stick to your election promises? So, the Integrity Commission time frame, nothing changes?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: No, nothing changes. We’ll be looking to find those four additional days and we’ll have more to say about that in the coming days. But we’re completely confident we can do that.

KARVELAS: The AMA says the decision to declare a public holiday means the cancellation of surgeries. Business groups are also unhappy at the short notice. What’s your response to the criticism that you’re getting? And they’re really from different sectors, but both health and business.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, there will be some change associated with having a public holiday on Thursday week. But the public holiday is appropriate. This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment. The Queen has been a sense of constancy, a reference point, a person who has marked our lives, for most of us, for the entirety of our lives. And I think that’s why Australians are feeling this moment - in the sense whatever their views might be, I think everyone is feeling the significance of the moment and the change that results from it. And having a national day of mourning as a result is completely appropriate.

And the sense we get as we speak to people is that this is what’s appropriate. This is what makes sense. And we’re obviously only talking about one day in what is a once-in-a-generation moment. So, I’m sure that the adjustments that people will need to make on the basis of their being a public holiday on Thursday week can be made. But it will give a chance for the nation to express their grief in the way that is appropriate.

KARVELAS: I spoke to the shadow Foreign Minister Simon Birmingham earlier who said it was important to follow tradition this time, but things might be done differently in the future and that there will need to be a discussion about all of these protocols and conventions. Do you agree that we need to be having that bigger discussion – well, I don’t know what time frame – but at some point?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, if the context of the question is the protocols that we’ve been going through as a result of the Queen’s passing, that can be a discussion for a later date. But I think right now the focus should be on the life of the Queen, on the significance of this moment, on the way in which Australians are feeling and giving appropriate regard to that and making sure that as a nation we walk through this moment in a way which the country would want. And that’s got to be the focus. And there’s plenty of time for conversations about a whole range of things down the track. But now I think it is about acknowledging the life of a person who has given unparalleled service throughout her life, and that’s what Australians want to do.

KARVELAS: Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says the new King should continue speaking out on climate change. He has been very outspoken on a few issues, and that is one of them. Can he realistically do that and maintain his stated position of political neutrality?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, on things such as sustainable gardens, sustainable agriculture, King Charles throughout his life has obviously been passionate about those issues – but more than that, has really been a thought leader. Now how he seeks to express himself as the King ultimately is a matter for him. But his views by virtue of the way in which he has engaged on these issues over a long period of time are well known. And I would say that I think the way in which he’s engaged in these issues has not sought to engage in the political fray but bring issues that he sees as being important to light. And that is around those questions of sustainable gardens and sustainable agriculture.

KARVELAS: How damaging would it be for the authority of our head of state if there was a view of him as not politically neutral?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I have no doubt that King Charles will walk this path in an appropriate way. And I’m sure that he will be seen as being politically neutral. And I know that navigating this has been and will be for him in the future an issue which they give a lot – he and his office give an enormous amount of thought to. And I have complete confidence that he will walk that path appropriately.

KARVELAS: Do you believe King Charles will be the last British monarch to be Australia’s head of state?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Look, again, I don’t think now is the time to speculate on that. There will be plenty of time to have a whole range of conversations about the nation’s constitutional arrangements in the future. But now it really is about acknowledging the life of Queen Elizabeth, acknowledging the historic moment in the transition from Queen Elizabeth II to King Charles III. And I also think connecting with the feeling that people have in this country about a change in a moment where, you know, a bedrock of our existence over a very long period of time is changing. And I really think that people want to give their – irrespective of their views about the constitutional arrangements of our country going forward, I think that people really want to take this moment to honour the life of Queen Elizabeth. And that’s completely appropriate.

KARVELAS: Reporting from Politico in Europe claims foreign heads of state and their spouses heading to London for Queen Elizabeth’s funeral have been asked to fly commercial and are banned from using helicopters to get around. Will the Prime Minister be flying commercial to the United Kingdom?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Look, I’m not sure of what the Prime Minister’s arrangements are in light of that. I mean, generally the Prime Minister does not do that, and that’s normally a security matter. And I’m sure that the principal basis upon which the Prime Minister’s travel arrangements will be determined will be as a result of security. As I say, the Prime Minister – Prime Ministers never travel commercial as far as I’m aware. And that is largely to do with the security arrangements which go with the Prime Minister. And that has to be the paramount consideration here.

And I might add that that’s just not the consideration from the point of view of the security of the Prime Minister; it’s also about the security of the public. You know, there are real issues about having Prime Ministers on commercial planes in terms of the security of the public who are also on those planes. So, I mean, we’ve got to be sensible about this. I mean, as I say, I haven’t followed in detail what the arrangements are for the Prime Minister’s travel. But security will be the guiding determinant in terms of way in which the Prime Minister travels.

KARVELAS: We don’t yet have a High Commissioner in the UK, a permanent one. Jacqui Lambie says the new High Commissioner in the UK must be the right person, not a job for a mate. Should an appointment like this go to a former politician or should it be a proper and thorough and robust process given what we’re learnt from the Barilaro controversy, too?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, it should certainly be a proper, thorough and robust process. There’s no doubt about that. And it should go to the best person for the job. I mean, that’s the answer to the question.

KARVELAS: Can that be a former politician?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think former politicians have done really excellent jobs as ambassadors and high commissioners. And I say that in respect of former politicians on both sides of politics. And there are times and places where that really works and works to the advantage of Australia. And obviously that particular role, you know, going back to Bruce, has had, you know, significant – and Fisher was a former High Commissioner of Britain. I mean, there’s been a long history of politicians who have been in that role, and obviously recently with Alexander Downer and George Brandis.

But really what matters is that we have the best person for the job, that can promote Australia’s interests in the best possible way. And that certainly needs a thorough and robust process to choose that person.

KARVELAS: Just finally, there is another huge story happening in the world, which is incredibly significant I think, and that’s of course Ukraine having some victory over the last couple of days. Is Ukraine’s victory over Russia inevitable now, and what’s the case of boosting military assistance to Ukraine given the gains they’re making?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, firstly I think the resistance of the Ukrainian people has been completely inspirational, as has been the President – as has been the leadership of President Zelenskyy. If we wind back the clock to February of this year, I don’t think anyone imagined that Ukraine would stand up in the way that they have, and it has been heroic. And the news in the last few days is similarly so.

I don’t think there’s anything inevitable about the outcome, though. This needs ongoing support. And there is a very important principle at stake here. You know, we need to be promoting a global rules-based order. It is completely unacceptable that a large country seeks to impose itself on a smaller neighbour, not by reference to any international rule of law but by reference to might and power. I mean, that proposition simply can’t stand. And that’s why even though Ukraine is a long way from Australia we have been standing with Ukraine as the largest non-NATO contributor to Ukraine, and we’ll continue to provide that support in an ongoing way. And I was in Europe the week before last and the sense that I had there in Germany and the UK and France is that there is a similar sense of resolve about needing to stand with Ukraine throughout this time.

KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us on the program this morning, Deputy Prime Minister.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Patricia.

ENDS

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