17 February 2023
SUBJECTS: Balloons; Australia-China Relationship; Economy.
KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: Joining me now is Deputy PM Richard Marles and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton. Good morning, guys. Nice to see you this morning.
Richard, as Defence Minister, are you putting a ban on all kids parties this weekend?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: No. It is safe to have a kids party and it's safe to have the helium balloons. We give you a guarantee.
STEFANOVIC: Is it a bit embarrassing?
MARLES: Well, look, it's been a curious fascination with balloons over the last month. I think the thing I would want to say is this – there is a serious side to this, obviously, and from an Australian point of view – firstly, we've been advised that there have been no balloons such as what we saw with the Chinese balloon over the US a few weeks ago. There have been no such balloons over Australia. But the important point to know is this – we have the capacity to track any such balloon and we've got the capacity to deal with it. And I think Australians should have confidence about that.
STEFANOVIC: You've had none, you've tracked none?
MARLES: We've tracked none. Not over Australia.
STEFANOVIC: Peter, as a friend of the US, it's as close as you get, describing something as curious, to saying they've lost the plot, wouldn't you agree?
PETER DUTTON, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Look Karl, let's hope it's not a history project. But there's a serious side to it as Richard points out, you've got a real problem with, like a bird strike on a commercial jet, if one of these things goes into an engine, then it could be catastrophic. So let's get to the bottom of it. But if it turns out to be a history class gone wrong, then some kid’s going to get a rap over the knuckles at some point by the President I presume.
STEFANOVIC: Scott Morrison, he's still angry, isn't he a little bit? He's speaking up and demanding the Albanese Government hold them to account – China to account, that is, on their human rights. He's talking about sanctions. Is that really necessary, do you think, Pete at this point? Aren’t the relations thawing a little?
DUTTON: Well, Karl, we've got a good relationship with China. There will always be tensions, but Australia is going to stand up for our sovereignty. This government's done that and we can do it in a respectful way. But equally, there are human rights abuses. There are Australians in China at the moment that are being held with no trial, and the Australian government would be making representations to Beijing on a constant basis. And we've done that as a country for years. It's no different when a government changes. So the human rights abuses are there and it's right that they're called out. Everybody wants every country to operate by the same rules and that should apply to China as well.
STEFANOVIC: Richard, we've only just got our lobsters back in. You're not going to be sanctioning them are you?
MARLES: Well, I think Peter's given a pretty good answer to your question there actually. I mean, we need to stabilise the relationship with China, which is what we're seeking to do. But it is really important that we advocate on behalf of human rights around the world and that we call it as we see it, and that does include what has happened to the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. And so we have done that. I've done that publicly, in China in fact. But we continue to raise it in all our communications with China. But we need to be advancing this in a way which makes a difference and in the context of the whole relationship with China. And that's what we're seeking to do.
STEFANOVIC: Ok. I wanted to ask you about the Navy sending support to Australia's northern waters over fears recent visa changes could trigger people smuggling operations. Can you give the people of Australia some reassurance about the kind of logistics that's been sent there?
MARLES: What we are doing is making sure that we have all the assets necessary to maintain our border, and we do.
STEFANOVIC: How many? Can you go into that detail?
MARLES: I can't and shouldn't go into that detail because I think it's important for the operational protection of that mission to make sure that that's not in the public domain. But what Australians should have confidence about is that we have all the assets we need to protect our border. But I think the point I'd want to make is this, Karl: since coming to office, any person who has tried to come to Australia on an unauthorised maritime vessel – on a boat – has either been turned back or returned to their port of origin. No ifs, no buts. And that will continue to be the case.
STEFANOVIC: So why would you bolster our borders if you thought the policy was going to work?
MARLES: Well, again, we make sure at any given moment in time that there is the right disposition of assets to maintain our border. And sometimes that's more, and sometimes that's less. But what I can say to you is they're there today. They were there on New Year's Day. They were there on Christmas Day. They have been there every day since this government has come to power. And we will be there to make sure that we maintain strong borders, because that's what's in our national interest.
STEFANOVIC: A couple of quick ones. The RBA boss is in the hot seat again today over rising interest rates and the soaring profits of our banks. Pete, I think he's under immense pressure, obviously, at the moment. Do you think that he was let off the hook by the Senate Estimates hitting him with a wet lettuce the other day?
DUTTON: Well Karl, he's got a tough job when the government's out there making policy decisions that's actually driving inflation up. And if inflation goes up, then your mortgage rates go up as well. And that's the problem that he's got. He's trying to deal with the reality of inflation. But if the government's out there spending and putting money into programs and making policy decisions, which is going to drive up your interest rates, then that makes his job near impossible. So a lot of families at the moment who are really hurting know that interest rates are likely to go higher under this government. And as we've pointed out, Karl, your mortgage rate will always be higher under Labor.
STEFANOVIC: Just before we go. It's just dawned on me, Pete, that you're in Melbourne. Richard, do you have any kind of defence around Peter Dutton in Victoria while he's visiting? Is there any kind of bolstering of security while the Opposition Leader is there?
MARLES: Well, that had been worked on, so I'm surprised to learn that he is in Melbourne. I'm not exactly sure how he slipped through the net. Obviously, what played out there was classified, but clearly Peter’s skills here are better than we imagined.
DUTTON: We tricked him because we came by plane, not by boat this morning.
STEFANOVIC: At least it wasn't by balloon.
MARLES: It must have been by balloon.
STEFANOVIC: Thank you, guys. Appreciate it.