Interview with Lisa Millar, ABC Breakfast

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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02 6277 7800

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27 October 2022

LISA MILLAR, HOST: The Treasurer says he’s powering up a plan to ease the cost‑of‑living crunch, which could include further energy market interventions, but Jim Chalmers insists there will be no cheques in the mail.

Joining us now is the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Richard Marles. Good morning to you. There’s lots to get through. I just want to touch on your role as Defence Minister with this announcement about Australian troops going into the UK to train Ukrainians. Given that they’re not actually going to be doing that until the new year and we’ve been talking about a winter offensive from Russia, is it too little, too late?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER RICHARD MARLES: Well, no, I think we expect this now to be a protracted conflict. That’s really what has evolved over the last few months. We’ve obviously put in place a very significant package of support for Ukraine already, and we’re in the process of getting that to Ukraine and Ukraine is very grateful for it, but we’re mindful that Ukraine needs to now be supported over the longer term if we’re going to put Ukraine in a position where it can resolve this conflict on its own terms. And so this tranche is very much focused on that, both in terms of making sure that we are helping in a UK‑led initiative in respect of training but also extending the line of Bushmasters that we will be providing to Ukraine.

MILLAR: So, there’s 70 Australians who are going to the UK, I understand, to help with this training. I’m curious, do you know how many Australians might be fighting already in Ukraine with foreign legions?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Look, I don’t have that number. But in answer to the training that will be undertaken, we need to understand that what we’re seeing now in Ukraine is largely a reservist force – that is everyday Ukrainians enlisting and signing up. So, training is a really important issue here. This is infantry training that’s going to be provided. The UK has stepped up in leading this initiative and we’ve had some conversations with the UK over a few weeks now around a contribution that we might make to that, and obviously that’s what our announcement is today. And I’ve been in contact with the UK Defence Secretary overnight and they’re very delighted that we will be participating in this.

MILLAR: Just while we’re talking about defence matters, we haven’t had the chance to talk to you about this arrest of an American who was training Chinese. They were arrested here in Australia. Are you confident what is going on with Australians, whether there’s any Australians who are involved in training Chinese military?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I can’t go into the specifics of that, but what I’d make clear is a few things. Firstly, people who have worked in our Defence Force, who are in possession of our nation’s secrets, have an enduring obligation in respect of maintaining those secrets for as long as they remain secret, and to reveal any of that information even after they’ve finished their service with Australia is a breach of the law and we will be treating this extremely seriously.

The reports that we have seen over the last couple of weeks are reports that are very concerning to me and so I’ve asked Defence to look into this urgently, and I’m getting information from them about these matters. And we’ll continue to, well, look at ways in which we can make sure that our system of law and regulation is fit for purpose here. We’re quite happy to talk to the Opposition about this as well obviously. But there are concerning reports here and it’s very important that we have the most significant and robust regime in place so that our secrets are kept.

MILLAR: I realise you’re being very circumspect about this and I understand why, but can you answer whether you have the information yet that you required?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I have some of the information, but I’ve asked for a detailed report here and I expect more information to come to hand soon.

MILLAR: All right. Let’s turn to matters of the day and the IR laws are going to be put to Parliament. Look, we already know the unions are hoping it will lead to an increase in wages. Can the Government say that to Australians ‘look, this will do it for you’, because they’re really wondering when those wages are going to start moving?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, the starting point here is that we want to make sure that we’ve got fair industrial relations laws and industrial relations laws which reflect the changing nature of the workplace. And yes, we are very clear about the fact that we want to try and get wages going again. We’ve seen that with the submission that we made earlier in the year to the national wage case for our lowest paid, which did see a real wage increase for them. We are a government which is about getting wages going again, which stands in stark contrast to what we’ve seen for the last decade, which was a Coalition government which saw wage stagnation as a design feature of the economy they tried to build, and it was the one promise that they actually delivered. We know we’ve got to get wages going again and this is an important part of that.

MILLAR: Yeah, so, why then have a Jobs Summit and make a big deal about building consensus and put something to the Parliament that we already know enough of the details about that the business community are unhappy about?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, there’s a range of measures that we need to take. It’s not as though there is one silver bullet here. We need to make sure that we’ve got workplace laws which are fair. That’s what we’re doing today. We need to make sure that there is a government which seeks to get wage increases for the lowest paid. That’s what we did earlier in the year. And we need it to make that we build an environment out there where employers and employees are working together, which is how we boost productivity. And ultimately that’s the most important step we can take in terms of increasing wages and the Jobs and Skills Summit was very much about that.

So, across all fronts, we’re looking at how we can do everything we can to get wages going again so that what we have in this country is a high‑value, high‑wage economy which is completely different – 

MILLAR: So will the bill up wages? Is it a guarantee that it will do that?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, part of what we are seeking to do is put fairness into the workplace and yes, we do see this as something which will assist in getting wages going again. But, we want to build a high‑value, high-wage economy. The Coalition over the last 10 years was hell bent on creating a cut‑price, low‑wage economy and that’s the one thing that they seem to succeed in doing - the longest period of wage stagnation that we have seen. We want to change that. And you only need to look at the cost of living pressures that Australians have facing now, which has very much been the focus of discussion over the course of this week, and understandably so, to know why it is so important that we get wages going.

MILLAR: Can I just turn to energy, because we heard from the WA Premier on 7:30 last night, Mark McGowan, talking about how that state is well ahead of the curve and how he can’t understand that other states and the Commonwealth haven’t followed its moves on putting a limit on how much gas is kept in that state. How far do you think market intervention will go from your government when it comes to keeping prices down?

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, both the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have made clear that they’re looking at these options. And I’m not about to go into the specifics of those now and certainly neither the Prime Minister nor the Treasurer have either, but we’re really aware of the pressure that is being placed on Australian households by virtue of power prices, and the fact that is a function of a very disrupted energy market globally – I think the war in Ukraine is actually a pretty significant part of that. So, we do need to be looking at what options are available to us. So, we’re doing that.

We’re also mindful over the medium to long term we need to get more energy into the grid, and we need to have a smarter grid to disperse that energy. That’s what our policies in relation to powering the nation are about. We are trying to get more renewable energy online because renewable energy is the cheapest form of energy. That, again, stands in stark contrast to what we saw over the last decade, which was a government that was unable to land an energy policy and saw more energy come out of the power grid than go into it. That’s part of the landscape that we have inherited and part of the circumstances which give rise to the crunch on energy prices that we’re facing right now. So, we’re dealing with this in the short term. We’re dealing with it in the medium to long term as well and we know how important this is for Australian families.

MILLAR: Yeah. Richard Marles, thanks for joining us this morning.



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