Television Interview, 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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28 April 2023

SUBJECTS: Migration system reform; Situation in Sudan; Voice; National Cabinet; AFL.

SARAH ABO, HOST: Well, big changes are on the way for the workforce. The Federal Government preparing for a major overhaul of our migration system. A review finding the current system is broken and outdated, leading to serious labour shortages. Joining us in the studio is Deputy Prime Minister, Richard Marles. Thank you so much for your time, and being in here of course, Richard.


ABO: Now you're blaming the previous government, the previous government's blaming you. Peter Dutton saying you've misled voters, that there isn't enough housing, and I mean that's what is at the crux of all of this. How will you get enough houses out there for the migrants coming in?

MARLES: Well, housing is an issue. It's only one of the issues, I might say. But in terms of housing, obviously we're working very closely with the states and territories around getting more housing. But in terms of a federal initiative, we went to the election last year with the Housing Australia Future Fund, which is a $10 billion investment in getting more housing stock in this country. It's pretty rich for the Opposition to be having a go at us about housing while they're opposing that in the Parliament. But what we're trying to do with migration is make sure that we have a much more ordered migration system which can work for the country. So, be it family reunion, be it skilled migration, that there are clear pathways where the country can make sure that we're managing the front door in a way in which we have a migration system that contributes to the country.

ABO: Has it run away from you? Because this report found so many problems with it. Obviously, you mentioned there the need to attract skilled migrants, but also tourism is down, we also need to attract international students. I mean, there is a lot to get across in a short time. And also just where are you going to put them, basically?

MARLES: Well, I think over a long period of time, the migration system has become very hard to manage, and you've got a visa system which is really all over the place. And for governments to try and get a hold of that is actually quite difficult, which is why Clare O'Neil is doing this review. So that if we're talking about family reunion, there are clear rules. If we are talking about having skilled migration, there are clear pathways. Australia is the country with the second highest number of our citizens who are born outside of our shores. We are deeply invested as a nation in migration and making sure we have a migration system that works. And that's what this review is about.

ABO: Another ‘big Australia’ policy?

MARLES: It's not about that, it's about having a migration system which delivers for the country what we need so that we do have the skilled workers. But so many people want family reunion that we have a system that works there as well.

ABO: All right, well the violence, as we know, continues in Sudan with the army and the paramilitary force still battling in Khartoum’s outskirts. There are still at least 158 Australians who are stuck there. They're saying that the Government isn't doing enough. How are we going to ensure that they are brought home safely?

MARLES: Well, we're very focused on this. I mean, obviously, Sudan is a long way from Australia and the emergency is right now, and those who are wanting to leave want to leave right now. The best way we can provide avenues for that is to be working with our partners. I've been in contact with the UK Defence Secretary this week. Indeed, Australians have left on UK planes this week, and we will continue to work with our partners as well as those Australians who are in Sudan and particularly Khartoum, to provide avenues to leave.

ABO: The problem is Australian citizens, they're saying they feel like second class citizens because you're not doing enough and it's left up to them. I mean, there's a very real risk to their lives over there.

MARLES: Well, it is a very dangerous situation, but as I say, we are very focused on their issues and their welfare, and we are working very closely with our partners to provide avenues for them to leave. Because that's the way in which we can do this in the quickest way. And as I say, I've been in contact with my counterpart in the UK and we've seen people leave on UK planes.

ABO: Yeah, we need to get them out there though, that's for sure. Now, Senator Lydia Thorpe is making headlines, as we know, very regularly these days. She's spoken out about what it would take for her to vote yes in the Voice referendum. She wants Indigenous senators in every state. Is that something the Government would consider?

MARLES: Look, I think what we want to see is that the recognition of our First Nations people in the Constitution through a Voice to Parliament is a hugely unifying moment for our nation. I think Australians want to see our First Nations people recognised in the Constitution –

ABO: But you need to negotiate with people, I guess as well, within Parliament?

MARLES: Sure. But what we need to do is get to a place where this is a unifying moment for the nation. Now, we've had the working group on this. We've taken the question through the Parliament. We are confident that the direction that we're now going in and what will be put to the Australian people will give the country the opportunity to have that unifying moment around the Voice and around the recognition of our First Nations people, which I really think Australians want to see happen.

ABO: Cabinet meets today. There is a lot to get through, and especially in the hospital space. Every state is really struggling within that sector, we're talking about people's lives at risk here. What are you going to do to fix that? Are you going to give the states more money?

MARLES: We'll continue to work with the states. I mean, the provision of health care is obviously really important, it happens in the context of tight budgets at a state and a federal level, but we do broadly have a really good health care system. But it's important that we get cooperation, and that's what the National Cabinet is about. And speaking to the Prime Minister last night, I mean, we're confident that we will be able to get that cooperation with the states.

ABO: We're both AFL fans, but perhaps –

MARLES: Are you still on a high from Tuesday?

ABO: I'm still on a high.

MARLES: Can I just say, Collingwood fans since Tuesday have been – well, not just since Tuesday, generally, totally insufferable.

ABO: Insufferable? I think I've been all right. You can ask my colleagues. And I'm very surprised, you haven't actually been to a Cats game, Richard Marles, you pretend to be a diehard Geelong supporter.

MARLES: I'm missing it, so I'm very keen to get to the Bombers game – Geelong-Essendon – on Sunday.

ABO: It'll be a tight one on Sunday. All right, thank you so much for your time, Deputy Prime Minister. Appreciate it.


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