Doorstop Interview, Geelong Victoria

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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 July 2023

RICHARD MARLES, ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's great to be here at Goodstart Early Learning Centre and also to be here with Chris Couzens, the member for Geelong, my good friend. And together we represent this part of the world in both the State and the Federal Parliament. Chris and I have just completed what will undoubtedly be the most stressful things that we do today, as we were doing our arts and crafts with the four and five year olds at the Goodstart Centre. You've got footage of that, which we would appreciate if you burn as soon as we are done. Yesterday, Labor's more affordable child care scheme came into operation. And this is really important economic reform for Australia. 1.2 million families around the country will be better off as a result of the changes which came into place from yesterday. Here in Geelong, that means more than 12,000 families across the Geelong region. And here a Goodstart, we're told that for families who are on about $125,000 a year, they're out of pocket expenses have gone from $43 a day down to $27 a day, which is a massive change.

This is really important for kids. My father was a school principal and after a lifetime of being an educationalist he said to me that the one thing that he took from it is that if you want to get a sense of how a kid is going to finish their schooling, the best indication is how they start. This is really the most important years in a child's education, which is why we are so committed to investing in it. But it is also economic reform because by providing an increased subsidy for child care and early learning, it allows the primary caregiver in families, mostly women, to be able to enter the workforce or re-enter the workforce far quicker. And that helps the participation rate, which is so important for economic growth. So this is not just great for kids. It's really important economic reform. This forms part of a suite of measures that this government has been putting in place since the day we came to office, which have been aimed at dealing with the cost of living and we understand the pressures that Australian families and Australian businesses are facing today due to the global inflationary environment that we are all dealing with. From cheaper medicines which came into effect from the beginning of this year, to fee-free TAFE, to the measures we put through the Parliament at the end of last year to put downward pressure on energy bills. Those combined with the more affordable childcare changes that came into effect as of yesterday are playing their part in helping families deal with the cost of living pressures which are so significant in Australia today. And in the Albanese Government, what Australian families know is that they have a Government which each and every day is going to be focused upon reducing their cost of living.

JOURNALIST: Just quickly, on the Robodebt story. Has Kathryn Campbell been suspended or sent on leave from her job with the Defence Department, following the release of the Robodebt Royal Commission’s findings?

MARLES: I'm not going to discuss the situation of any individual public servant. But let me say this, the sealed section of the Royal Commission's report made clear processes that need to take place in respect to those people for whom there have been adverse findings. Those processes have now started. They started as of yesterday. That report came down on Friday, but processes started yesterday in terms of people being referred to the APS Commissioner, being referred to the National Anti-Corruption Commission, to the AFP and the like. So we are doing as a government of what we need to do. But we should be under no illusions as to what is the key finding of the Royal Commission's report. Because it details gross maladministration on the part of the former Liberal government when it came to this scheme. There was half a million Australians who have been adversely affected by a government which set a culture for this to occur and the Royal Commission makes that absolutely plain. We should be under no illusions that the guilty party here is the Liberal Party. They are the ones for whom responsibility, primarily, is placed in terms of the way in which they ran this scheme and ran their government. It is a lesson for governments now and in the future, that when you are looking at programs which are there to support people, policy and process needs to be at the forefront of governments’ minds. Not politics. But politics is what ruled the day each and every day of the former Liberal government. And that is what becomes manifestly clear when one reads the Royal Commission’s report.

JOURNALIST: Have you received any letter from Gordon Legal on behalf of the Prime Minister about fresh claims of Robodebt compensation?

MARLES: A letter from?

JOURNALIST: Gordon Legal. 

MARLES: I've not. I mean, obviously, there has been– I'm not aware of new letter, but obviously there has been the class action in the past, which was one of the most significant class action settlements that this country has seen.

JOURNALIST: Apologies if you don't know about this, just some breaking news out of Canberra. I'm sorry if I say this wrong. Australian man Chau Van Kham has been released from Vietnamese prison and reunited with his family in Australia. How much wrangling has there been behind the scenes from the Australian Government to get him out?

MARLES: I'm aware of the case in the broad. I'm not aware of the specific news that you've just recorded now but I think in those circumstances it's best that I not comment, but we'll make sure that comment is provided.

JOURNALIST: And just a couple about China. Should the Prime Minister delay his China trip amid the climate of Hong Kong arrest warrants out for Australians?

MARLES: Obviously, we monitor events in an ongoing way in terms of our relationship with China. And we would speak about those as we need to. We have, in the broad, sought to stabilise our relationship with China. And you've seen that in the steps that have been taken from the moment that we came to government. We've sought not to respond to specific questions about when the Prime Minister may or may not visit China. I mean, in stabilising our relationship with China, visits of that kind have been very normal in the past, we imagine they will be normal in the future. But as for the specific timing of any Prime Ministerial visit, I’m not going to make comment today.

JOURNALIST: Should we be worried about China and Solomon Islands signing a new diplomatic agreement?

MARLES: This is a function of the agreement that was signed last year. And to be frank, a decade of lost investment by the former Coalition government in the Pacific. They took their eyes off the ball and we've seen the consequences of that. And what has been announced in the last couple of days in relation to Solomon Islands and China really is nothing more than a function of the agreement that was signed between Solomon Islands and China more than a year ago. But I would say that, in terms of our relationship with Solomon Islands, it has improved significantly over the last 12 months since our government came to power. I was in Solomon Islands just two weeks ago and met with Prime Minister Sogavare. We seek to be the natural partner of choice for Solomon Islands and we are confident that we can be that, and we ourselves are providing a whole range of assistance to Solomon Islands, including in relation to policing and we will continue to do that. I mean, our focus is going to be on our relationship with Solomon Islands, on making sure that we present as the natural partner of choice. I made that clear in my meetings with Prime Minister Sogavare and that was a message that was received well and we will continue to seek to improve our relationship with Solomon Island.

JOURNALIST: How significant is the threat of foreign interference in general, and on the Voice, in particular? Do tech giants or tech platforms need to do more?

MARLES: Well, foreign interference is something that we've been mindful about for a long time and we're obviously very prudent and careful in respect of that. And certainly when that has been– when we've been talking about elections in the past, we will obviously be very much focused on that in terms of the referendum as well. Making sure that the referendum represents a clear and free expression of the will of the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: A question locally in Geelong. You were at a tour for Recharge Industries in Avalon a couple of weeks ago. They were raided by the ATO recently. Are you worried that the gigafactory that’s been promised for Avalon won’t get off the ground?

MARLES: Obviously the processes that have been underway by both the AFP and the ATO is a matter for them and obviously I can't comment on that. The proposed gigafactory in Geelong would represent a really significant industrial opportunity for our city. I certainly hope that we do see that play out. It has the prospect of employing thousands of people in the future. And I think Geelong, as a city, is well placed to be engaged in, in manufacturing generally we've got a manufacturing history, but particularly in relation to battery manufacturing. Because this is going to be one of the key industrial pursuits in our country in the future. And with the manufacturing history that we have as a town, we are certainly a place which is well positioned to be able to do that (inaudible).

JOURNALIST: Does it make you wary though, the raid by the ATO, does it make you wary of any potential government grants that recharge will apply for?

MARLES: As I said, the processes of the ATO and the AFP will take their course, as they should, and I’m obviously not going to be involved or comment on any of those. And clearly when it comes to any industry, government support, that company along with any other company will go through the processes and be assessed appropriately.

JOURNALIST: Just on the child care. So we know that some waitlists in the Geelong region are as long as three years for parents to get their children into child care centres. Are there any plans to sort of sort out the staff shortages leading to the waitlist? What sort of plans do you have?

MARLES: Well firstly, we are aware of that we hope that the subsidy of itself helps, in terms of placing child care centres themselves in a better position. But key to this is making childcare an attractive place for people to work. You know, as we walk through the centre this morning, we were speaking to the staff, each and every one of those people spoke about how great it was to work in this environment, what a great centre this is particularly, but what a great industry it is and how uplifting it is to be able to participate in a child's early learning in a way that is these educators are. That's a message that we need to get out there. And part of that, of course, is making sure that we get the wages for childcare workers going. We've been very focused on getting wages going since the moment we came to government.

JOURNALIST: Just a final one, can I ask, Kathryn Campbell, is she in her job right now?

MARLES: Well, as I said I'm not going to comment specifically on any public servant. I've made the comments I have about the processes that are underway coming out of the Royal Commission in respect of public servants and we began turning those wheels, acting on those processes, as of yesterday.


MARLES: Overnight we received welcome news about the release of Mr Chau Van Kham. We thank the Vietnamese Government for releasing Mr Chau Van Kham. They’ve done this on the basis of humanitarian grounds, and in the spirit of friendship which exists between Australia and Vietnam. This is a result of careful advocacy, which has been undertaken by the Australian Government, with the Vietnamese Government over a number of months now. I was in Vietnam last year, and of course, the Prime Minister was in Vietnam in June. And we are very pleased to see this result. I'd also like to acknowledge the work of our Foreign Minister Penny Wong in respect of this as well. We are very grateful to the government of Vietnam and the release of Mr Chau Van Kham will come as an enormous relief to his family.


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