Interview with Karl Stefanovic, 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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8 September 2023


KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: Well, it's been a rough week for Qantas, hasn't it? Alan Joyce making a swift exit. The Government under pressure to let us know why they blocked flights from Qatar that would make travel cheaper. And who signed off on the decision. Acting PM Richard Marles and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton join us now, good morning to you. Richard, to you first up. Gee, you've had a rough week, tiger, haven't you?

RICHARD MARLES, ACTING PRIME MINISTER: It's been business as usual and the decision around Qantas has been business as usual. I mean, we've got a Transport Minister who made the decision that Transport Ministers make. And I get that normal Cabinet process is going to be confusing for Peter, given they had a Prime Minister who was literally doing everyone's job. But Transport Ministers making these kind of decisions in the national interest is how the government and the country should be run.

STEFANOVIC: A captain's call, some are calling it.

MARLES: I'm not sure what that means. It was the Minister's call and the Minister's call in the national interest.

STEFANOVIC: I think the problem is that she hasn't answered the question as to whether Albo knew – the PM knew about it before the actual public announcement. Did he know about it?

MARLES: Well, she's absolutely answered the question that she made the decision, which is what Transport Ministers do.

STEFANOVIC: No but did he know about it before the public announcement?

MARLES: Well, she has made clear that she made this call because there are certain decisions which belong to Ministers and this is one of them. And that's what happened under the former government with Michael McCormack. It's what happened when the Prime Minister was the Transport Minister in the Rudd-Gillard years.

STEFANOVIC: I have the greatest respect for you, but did the Prime Minister know?

MARLES: Well, the decision was made by the Transport Minister and the fact that it was made by the Transport Minister has been made clear.

STEFANOVIC: You're running for cover again.

MARLES: I'm not running for cover.

STEFANOVIC: Did the Prime Minister know or not?

MARLES: Well, she made the decision before the Prime Minister knew and she's made that clear. But that's how it works and that's what you would expect to happen. But, look, when you bring this back to the way in which this is impacting Australians, we need to see greater competitiveness in our skies. We need Qantas to be giving the best possible service for the lowest possible price, along with every other airline, that happens by having greater competition in our skies. That's why we put on increased capacity – Singapore, Cathay, China Southern. And the issue with Qatar, Qatar is not using the capacity they currently have. Now, we've got in place an Aviation White Paper process to look at how we can have greater competition in our skies. And frankly, we inherited a mess from those opposite, which we've been –

STEFANOVIC: You've got a rainbow of papers coming out, there's a Senate inquiry. Pete, you teed off on this. You've certainly got some frequent flyer miles on it. Is it put to rest now?

PETER DUTTON, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I just don't think it is, Karl. I mean, even Richard's performance now, and again, we've got the greatest respect for him, but in Question Time this week, the Minister, Catherine King, could remember all of the detail about her decision making in relation to a pretty substantial decision, but she couldn't remember anything about speaking with or the date on which she advised the Prime Minister. She couldn't recall whether she'd spoken to Alan Joyce or not, but she could recall in great detail other stakeholders she'd spoken to. It just doesn't pass the pub test. And you had Catherine King out yesterday saying, oh, it's because of what happened at Doha Airport, which was a terrible incident. But as it turns out, Penny Wong and Don Farrell are frequent flyers on Qatar and most recently accepted upgrades to first class from Qatar. So, that's not the reason that it was knocked back. And obviously, the Prime Minister's very close personal friendship with Alan Joyce is well known to everyone. The Prime Minister had to come back into the Parliament last week – or earlier this week – before he went away to correct the record because he'd misled the Parliament. So, I actually think after this week there's more questions than answers. And just think Australians want a straight up answer. Richard can't answer it straight, the Minister couldn't answer it straight, and hopefully the Prime Minister can do that when he gets back on Monday.

STEFANOVIC: You haven't answered it straight.

MARLES: Well, firstly, what we've just heard from Peter is a good old mudsling. I mean, throwing whatever he can find –

STEFANOVIC: it's not hard.

MARLES: Well, I mean, the Opposition can come clean –

DUTTON: Just the facts, Richard. They’re the facts and you can’t contest them.

MARLES: Well, the Opposition can come clean in terms of whatever Qatar flights they've been on. So, I mean, going to there, this is not about people's personal relationships, this is about the national interest. That is the basis upon which the Transport Minister made a decision.

STEFANOVIC: Let's keep rolling. The Prime Minister confirming he'll meet with President Xi later this year. Parameters of that conversation? Will he get along?

MARLES: Well, it will be an important meeting. It's an important part of the process of stabilising our relationship with China. When we came to government, we made clear that was our intent and what we've seen since then is the resumption of much of the trade to the benefit of thousands of Australian jobs. We've seen the formal Defence dialogue be put back in place, which is so important in terms of not having any miscalculation. This is a really significant step forward.

STEFANOVIC: Pete, he didn't even answer your faxes when you were in government.

DUTTON: Well, Karl, we've always stood up for our national interest and we'd never compromise on our beliefs, our national security or what we fought for. So, stand by all of that. But it's a good thing that the Prime Minister is going, he'll be able to raise the human rights issues, the Australians that are still held there, hopefully lift some of the sanctions that have been put in place, and we want a strong trading partnership with China. But we can't compromise on the values that we hold dear.

STEFANOVIC: All right. Pete, I thought you really turned on Richard this week. Perhaps a little slightly unseemly. I mean, if you guys are going to start dishing the dirt on each other, I might have to extend the show, hey?

DUTTON: Maybe we should be – maybe you should demand we're in the same studio. A bit of cage fight most Friday mornings. How about that?

MARLES: We can do cage fighting.


DUTTON: Well, you're an expert at it.

STEFANOVIC: Do you want to talk about that, the cage fighting experiences?

MARLES: I've got some family members in cage fighting.



STEFANOVIC: Well, there you go. All right, enjoy your weekend, guys. Appreciate it.

MARLES: Thank you.


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