Interview with Sarah Abo, Today Show

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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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11 November 2022

SARAH ABO, HOST: It has been a big week in politics. The contentious Albanese industrial relations bill passed the lower house yesterday. The Government will now need to win the support of one crossbencher in order to get it through the Senate. To discuss we are joined by Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles in Canberra and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton in Brisbane. Good morning to you both. Richard, I want to start with you if I could. Now you want to get this deal done by Christmas. That seems a little bit ambitious.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER RICHARD MARLES: Well we're really confident about the mandate we've got here. This is legislation which makes industrial relations fairer in the workplace and encourages employers, their workers, unions, employer organisations to get round the table to get better, more productive deals going. And yeah, it is about getting wages going as well. So it's now a matter for the crossbench in the Senate. We'll obviously make these arguments to them, but we hope that they see that we've got a mandate to do this and that what we're putting before the Parliament and the Australian people is something which makes sense, and which is fair, and which is going to get the economy going.

ABO:  It is clearly a priority obviously for your government but there are a lot of factors here, it's not just the employees you've got to consider. What do you think when it comes to this, Peter?  Business Council of Australia and other industry groups have presented a united front against the Bill, saying it's not fit to pass. There are still a few issues to overcome.

PETER DUTTON, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well there are many issues, Sarah. All of the business organisations have really worked constructively with the government and were prepared to support a sensible package, but they've all come out in a united way and said that this is a bad bill. At the moment you've got an economy with high inflation, high interest rates, high cost‑of‑living. Labor predicts that under their government over the next two years electricity prices go up by 56 per cent and gas goes up by 44 per cent, and this is just another wet blanket over the economy. For the hundred million dollars that the unions have donated to Labor over the last 15 years or so, this is a huge win for them. But it's a massive loss for employers and employees. Everyone's in favour of wages going up, but this is going to mean unions in small businesses right around the country. And I'm not sure yet that small businesses fully understand the impact on their businesses, and the fact that it takes away from them the ability to negotiate and puts it in the hands of the unions with Fair Work Australia. So it's a hugely disruptive model at exactly the wrong time, and Labor really is killing confidence in the economy at exactly the wrong time.

ABO:  Richard, is there a risk that this is being rushed through? I mean, we do know, as Peter said, that wages do need to go up but at the cost of what? I mean small businesses around the country are also struggling.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Actually, I think this is going to make industrial relations a whole lot easier for small businesses. What Peter has said there is completely wrong, that it takes bargaining out of the hands of businesses. We're in a situation where we've seen the enterprise bargaining system really not fit for purpose in terms of where the modern workplace is at, and this is going to get bargaining going again.

Peter can talk about wages now but he's been quoted in the past as saying his precise concern about this Bill is that it will see wages go up. We make no apologies for the fact that the key ambition here is to see wages grow again. But we're doing this in a way where we're encouraging people to get around the table, employers and their workers, so that they can do more productive, better deals. And particularly in those workplaces which are low paid, which are dominated by female workers, where we haven't seen bargaining delivering the results both to employers and to workers. That's what this legislation is about and we're confident that it's going to achieve that end. This is what we said we do at the last election, so we're carrying through with that promise, which is why we're keen to get this moving. And it is now a matter for the crossbench and the Senate, and we'll obviously talk to them about why this should happen, why there's a mandate for this and how this will make the workplace fairer.

ABO:  Yeah, it always begs a question when it hinges on a crossbench decision. But anyway, let's move on.

We know that this is a topic that's starting to sound and feel a lot like Groundhog Day across the country. Peter, first Optus, now Medibank. There's clearly a lack of safeguards in place to protect customer data. How are we feeling about this? 

DUTTON:  Well I think there's a lot that Australians need to really be aware of, Sarah, at the moment. I mean there's a lot of collection of data, Medicare, passport details, et cetera, et cetera, to establish accounts.

Now there's a huge onus on those companies and it's a catastrophic event, particularly in relation to Medibank where people's private health records are being released by these unscrupulous online criminals. But it's also incumbent on us as consumers as well to make sure that we've got the right protections. I mean my phone, in the last week I think I've had two or three text messages and I was an ‑ or am an Optus customer so maybe it came from there, I don't know, but requesting that I click on the link on my phone. If you do that then, you know, you're opening up the gates of all sorts of trouble.

So there is a lot that the companies need to do and we've pledged our support to provide help to the government to support legislation, whatever needs to happen to protect Australians because as we increasingly live our lives online, this is going to become more and more regular.

A lot of the companies, you know, put in place pretty significant protections, but these are sophisticated attackers and many of them sponsored by states like Iran or North Korea, et cetera. So it's an uphill battle and we'll support the government in whatever way they can introduce legislation to support consumers.

ABO:  Well in this case Russia as well. The problem really is that there's this lack of transparency and a lack of communication which we saw with Optus, to a lesser extent Medibank, but Medibank is still not reaching out to some of their customers.

Richard, details of women's abortions have been posted online. It's a total violation, something so deeply personal that's now out there. I mean we've been talking up introducing legislation to tighten all of this up, when are we actually going to see that happen? 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, I mean this is an appalling circumstance and, you know, we can only imagine the sense of anxiety that people feel whose information is now out there. And obviously the Government is working very closely with Medibank to assist those whose data has been breached and to work with Medibank to minimise the damage of this breach. And it's worth understanding that the speed with which both the Optus data breach and the Medibank data breach became public has actually thwarted the criminals' ambitions in terms of the way in which they sought to make money from this crime.

But look, I actually agree with what Peter said here. Last week we were announcing the annual cyber threat report. This is an issue which is getting much worse. What we need to understand, be it small businesses or large, government as well, but individuals, we're living in a much more precarious place on cyber space, and we need to be much more vigilant. Peter's totally right about warning around not clicking on links where you don't know what's going on, making sure that when you get phone calls, you're not revealing your personal data. All of that's very important.

We're spending more money as a Government, but I do think these episodes have been a wake-up call for corporate Australia and I think all of us are trying to build the resilience of the country when it comes to our cyber defences in a context where this is becoming an increasing problem.

ABO:  It's terrifying for those impacted. I just want to quickly get your opinion, well, Richard, your thoughts and the likelihood of the PM actually when he goes overseas catching up with Xi Jinping, because we know the US President is having a meeting with him.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well I mean at meetings such as this diaries are jam packed and often these meetings are arranged at the last minute, so we've just got to see what unfolds. I mean if there is ultimately a meeting we think that would be a positive thing. We want to try and stabilise the relationship with China, we've made that clear. We want to get it into a better place and as our largest trading partner we would value a more productive relationship with China. But we've just got to see how the next few days unfold in the context of the busy agenda that will be happening in Bali.

ABO:  No doubt we do need to address that relationship. Just very, very quickly now, we've got the Socceroos taking on France in the World Cup. Your tips, boys? 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well I'm obviously going the Socceroos, it would be an amazing thing even if we got one point out of that game with France, but fingers are crossed and it's one of the great world events, the World Cup and I think this is in a couple of weeks' time early in the morning Australian time, we'll all be there wearing the green and gold.

ABO:  Go the Socceroos, hey Pete. I think we've run out of time.

DUTTON: No question.

ABO:  Thank you both so much for your time, appreciate it.

KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: I just want to say one thing about that, there'll be no subs in that game.

ABO:  Oh, Karl. He had to go there, didn't he? 

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: It's a friendly match, it's not a grudge match.

STEFANOVIC: There you go, all right. On fire. Thank you, lads. Thank you, Sarah.


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