Radio Interview, 3AW

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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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15 May 2024

SUBJECTS: Melbourne University Protest, Federal Budget, Budget Night. 

JACQUI FELGATE, HOST: Thank you for your time today, Deputy Prime Minister, 

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Pleasure, Jackie, great to talk to you. 

FELGATE: I wanted to ask about what's happening at Melbourne University and just in universities across Australia in general. Are we at a point now where we need to bring police in? And do you support Victoria Police coming into an action like this and removing students?

MARLES: Well, firstly, I've just become aware of what's played out at Melbourne Uni and the measures that you've just described that the university is undertaking in response to this sound completely appropriate to me. Well, I think the point to be made here is, firstly, universities specifically need to be a place which are safe for everyone, for all students, and it needs to be a place which are safe for Jewish students. We need to make sure that we are not seeing anti semitism in our community. And sadly, I think we are seeing that in significant levels. But I think, more broadly, what's playing out in the Middle East is an obvious tragedy for Israelis and for Palestinians. Innocent lives on both sides have been lost. It is really important that in this country we maintain social cohesion, and that as people rightly express their views about what's happening in the Middle East, we do so with a mind to what makes this country so special and what bonds we share as Australians. And that involves a civil discourse and a means by which we can talk about these issues in a way which is not disruptive. And I think social cohesion has been stretched in this country over the last few months and we really, really need to be bringing people back together.

FELGATE. So, what is your message, then, to these protesters who are carrying out this action today?

MARLES: Well, I guess my message is that everyone has a right to express their view about what is happening in the world. Everybody has a legitimate right to express their view about what's happening in the Middle East. But that right needs to be expressed knowing that we need to have a focus on social cohesion in this country and the cohesion that we all share through the bonds that we have as Australians is what makes this country special. And that needs to be front and centre when people are expressing their views about what's happening in the Middle East.

FELGATE: Yeah, agree. Now, I obviously got you on the programme today to have a chat about the budget and I did want to start with the energy handout, the $300 rebate. Does every Australian deserve it, even the very rich?

MARLES: Yeah, they do, because every Australian is facing cost of living pressures and there are balances here in the Budget. There are some measures that we seek to apply across the board and the energy rebate is one of those. Tax cuts is another. I mean, there are other areas where we seek to target, for example, rent assistance, which goes to a significant number of Australians, but a minority. We've increased rent assistance two budgets in a row. That's the first time that's happened in 30 years. That's a measure that is much more targeted and it is about getting the balance right and there are vulnerable people who need particular help. But it's right to also say the cost of living pressures are being felt right across the community and so it's important that you have broad ranging measures as well and that's what we're doing with the energy rebate.

FELGATE: With respect, I doubt Gina Reinhart and anyone who is in that tax bracket is experiencing cost of living pressures. 

MARLES: Where do we then go with that logic? I mean, Gina Rinehart and every Australian has access to Medicare, they have access to sending their kids to public schools and no one is making an argument that that shouldn't be there. I mean, there are measures in Government which apply across the board and you can focus on the top end and denying access to a relatively small group, or you can focus on the fact that what we want to do is have a measure which applies across the board where middle Australia have access to this. And that's what we've sought to do here. And as I say, it's a balance. It's not every measure in the Budget. It's applying to everyone. There are targeted measures for the more vulnerable, but cost of living pressures are being felt by everyone and it's appropriate that there are some measures, this being one of them, which is provided to everyone.

FELGATE: So, the federal Budget, clearly an election Budget. Yes. And how important is it then to not upset anyone ahead of a potential election?

MARLES: Well, I don't necessarily accept the premise of that, Jackie. I mean, at the end of the day. Look, what this Budget is fundamentally about is the cost of living pressure is the issue that Australians are facing. So, that we've been very focused on that. We've mentioned the energy rebate. We've mentioned the fact that every working Australian is getting a tax break. And that's really what's at the heart of this Budget. What we also need to be doing is making sure that in framing this Budget, we are responsibly managing the public purse in a way which puts downward pressure on inflation. Inflation is what we need to be fighting. Now, we produced two surplus Budgets in a row. That hasn't happened for the better part of two decades. That's something that the Liberals never did. We've been in Government for two years and in those two years, both years will see a Budget surplus that says everything about the way in which this Labor government is seeking to responsibly manage the federal Budget in a way which brings down debt, which sees something like $80 billion in interest payments avoided over the next ten years. That really helps the federal budget going forward. And all of that, of course, contributes to putting a downward pressure on inflation. They're the two things that we're trying to do in this Budget. Responsible economic management that puts downward pressure on inflation. And the spending that we are doing is focusing on easing the burden of the cost of living.

FELGATE: Well, you mentioned the word responsible and the word spending, which gets me to the Suburban Rail Loop. You are from Victoria, from Geelong. Do you support it?

MARLES: I do. And in the Suburban Rail Loop, we've got a $2.2 billion capped contribution to that. And that's in relation to the Suburban Rail Loop East. We will continue to work with the Victorian Government moving forward in respect of that, around what milestones need to be achieved and how that moves forward. But I think, again, the important point to make here is that infrastructure spending in Victoria is increasing not just the Suburban Rail Loop East, but North East Link, for example, a significant commitment, $5 billion towards that. We are seeing infrastructure spending occurring now in Victoria again, and that comes off the back of the former coalition government, which vastly underspent.

FELGATE: And you haven't seen a business case further into the project. You've only got the first stage one. So, does it make you edgy about the further stages? And a lot of people in Victoria are saying that it's a doomed project, particularly now the feds have only kicked in 2.2 billion towards that first stage.

MARLES: Well, we've kicked in that amount, as you say, to the first stage, and that is capped. We've got very clear milestones and understandings, if you like, that we need to see, in terms of the conversations that we have with the Victorian Government and we will continue to work with the Victorian Government going forward in respect of how that project is ultimately delivered.

FELGATE: And do you believe that we need a Suburban Rail Loop more than an Airport Rail Link? I imagine coming from Geelong and representing people in the Corio region that a rail link would be very important to the airport for your constituents.

MARLES: Well, that's true and down our way that there is certainly interest in the rail link to the Melbourne Airport. And indeed, there's a $5 billion commitment in the federal Budget to that as well. So, that is a very important project for people well across Melbourne, but particularly in the south west and particularly down Geelong way.

FELGATE: On the milestones. You mentioned it a couple of times. Then just with the Suburban Rail Loop. Do you have a timeline of these milestones? What do you actually mean by the word milestone?

MARLES: Well, it means that we're going to work cooperative. There's a clear understanding with the Victorian Government about what we need to see in terms of how future funding comes forth in terms of the completion of this project. And right now, as you rightly stated in this Budget in terms of stage one for the Suburban Rail Loop East, is that $2.2 billion capped commitment. Now, we will work closely with the Victorian Government moving forward about how about how this is funded in the future to see the delivery of this project, but right now, that is where this Government's at.

FELGATE: Okay and just on another quick things before I know you have to get off, but there's a story online about Treasurer Jim Chalmer’s wife wearing a $1,900 outfit last night. And personally, I just found that story to be quite appalling and the fact that we're still talking about what women wear in parliament and also saying that the Treasurer was out of touch because of her choice of outfit. I wanted to ask you about that.

MARLES: I think that reporting is completely inappropriate. Firstly, no one has any idea how much that actually cost is the truth. But I think the bigger point, and maybe that's what you're alluding to, is I didn't see any commentary about the cost of the suits that any of the men were wearing in parliament last night. You know, there was no commentary on the suit that Jim was wearing himself. So, I think, you know, in this day and age, surely we've got to move past this. And I sit next to Jim, actually. So, I was talking to him about this. I think it is really unfair on Laura that she's had to face this kind of commentary. It's obviously gendered. It's obviously gendered by virtue of the fact that there was no commentary on the suits that men are wearing. And frankly, we've got to get beyond it.

FELGATE: Couldn't agree with you more, Deputy Prime Minister. And just on a final lighter note, I want to ask you about the MPs that sit around the Treasurer last night for a good hour bobbing their heads. It must be exhausting. I was watching the Budget speech last night. You guys have to nod a lot.

MARLES: Well, that. Well, this goes into the dark secrets that we can't talk about, of course, which is when we go to nodding school. I'm in the frame here because,

FELGATE: Are you one of them?

MARLES: Totally. I sit in the camera shot behind whoever is at dispatch box. So, I give lectures on how to do nodding. My tactic, for what it's worth I focus on the speaker's right ear, on the back of their right ear. And I make sure that I try to have a serious smile at all times.

FELGATE: A very good tip. Richard Marles. Hopefully next time we can talk about those Cats. 


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