By Richard Marles MP and Terri Butler MP

01 March 2021

Topics: Household debt in Queensland; Labor’s national platform; Reports to the AFP; crackdown on payday lenders; Vaccine rollout; Aged Care Royal Commission Report to be released today.

TERRI BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER: Well, it's so great to be here at FareShare in Morningside in my electorate of Griffith. And it's wonderful to welcome Richard Marles, the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, here to our local area to see what's happening in this important facility. FareShare is an organisation that cooks thousands of meals every day, with the help of hundreds of volunteers- people come from all over to come to the commercial kitchens to help put together meals for families and households that are in need. And of course, with COVID, with the pandemic, we've seen a lot of different households in need, and that's only increasing. There's also a lot of pressure here in Queensland because people are really worried about what's going to happen when JobKeeper comes to an end, at the end of March. Of course, for all of us, that means pressure on households, pressure on jobs, and a real lack of certainty. People want to know what's going to happen, and they're turning to Scott Morrison and saying, what are you going to do about COVID recovery for the state of Queensland? People are very concerned and unfortunately, Scott Morrison has been leaving them in that state of uncertainty, because Scott Morrison is bad for Queensland. He is bad for Queensland because he's not giving us the certainty that we need about what's going to happen with COVID recovery. Someone whose good for Queensland is Richard Marles. And Richard, I'm so pleased to have been able to show you around this amazing facility behind us and talk to you a little bit about what these people are doing every day to help households in need. So we'd love to hear from you. 

RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thank you. Well, firstly, let me say it's, it's a pleasure to be here with Terri Butler, the Member for Griffith, who does such a fantastic job representing this community in our federal parliament. You do not get a stronger voice for the people of Griffith, for the people of Queensland in our federal parliament than Terri Butler, and it really is a great pleasure to be here with her. It's also great to see FareShare. This is a fantastic facility and organisation which is doing really great work. The hundreds of volunteers who come here preparing meals for those who are the most vulnerable within a community. And doing all of that with just a fantastic smile on their face is something which was really noticeable to all of us, as we walked around - was just how much joy there was in the work that the volunteers were doing, a sense of people making a difference in the volunteering that they're performing. All of this though does contain a sad story, which is that during COVID-19, during the recession, we've seen the use of this facility, the use of these meals grow. It's been a significantly difficult time for people in Queensland as it has around Australia. And we see further evidence of that today, in the Courier-Mail which is reporting a growing amount of unsecured debt for Queenslanders. Every Queenslander now, having on average more than $4,000 in unsecured debt. Way above the national average. People who are turning to ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ schemes, using their credit cards just to get through.  The truth of the matter is that before COVID-19 hit, our economy was not doing that well. Coronavirus, has actually put into sharp relief the extent to which people were just scraping by, and the degree of the growth in unsecured debt is a perfect example of that. And it also highlights the fact that with eight years of the Morrison Government there has been no real plan in relation to building an economy which generates long term secure jobs. Now, as we look forward, it's really important that as Australia reconstructs out of the COVID-19 crisis, we become a better country than the one that we went into this crisis. And that's what is the challenge before Scott Morrison and the federal government. That's what we need to do in terms of dealing with the issue of household debt and unsecured debt. The fact that we're standing here today, 27 days to go until Jobkeeper runs out, also puts all of this into sharp relief. This is a state which is very dependent on tourism. It's a state which feels the closure of our international border - the necessary closure of our international border. And it means that the idea that Jobkeeper is going to come to an end in 27 days without any answer for those businesses is a matter of enormous concern to tens of thousands of workers across the country, and here in Queensland. If there is no extension of Jobkeeper for those industries which need it the most, we are going to see thousands of businesses go bust, and we're going to see tens of thousands of Australians lose their job. It's why we need to be hearing from Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg right now about what their plan is 27 days from now, when Jobkeeper comes to an end. Because business, as usual, is simply not the reality for so many businesses in this state- businesses in tourism, businesses who would normally rely on an open international border. So we need to hear from the government about what their plan is for Jobkeeper. After this month, we need to hear from this government about what its plan is for reconstructing Australia out of COVID-19.

JOURNALIST: So they've sort of flagged that there will be changes for some support to some of those industries. What damage does it do not reporting it now, say two weeks out or one week out? 

MARLES: You know, as I speak to businesses around Australia, and here in Queensland, the point they make is there are investments, there are decisions that they need to take about their futures, which require time. And it's not good enough to announce something the day before the 28th of March. Actually, the signals and the understandings need to be given to businesses right now about what is the plan after the 28th of March? And if it really is the plan to not extend Jobkeeper beyond that date for industries which are so deeply affected by it - tourism being an obvious one- then that is going to result in untold hardship across this state and across the country. 

JOURNALIST: Reports today that Labor’s going to dump negative gearing and capital gains tax changes before the next election. Is that a done deal? 

MARLES: We are, as has been said many times, reviewing all our policies. We took very clearly the lessons from our campaign review of the 2019 campaign. We've made it very clear that we will have a much more focused offering at the next election than we did at the last. But we've got time to make all those decisions and our position in relation to all that will be very clear before Australians next go to the polls. 

JOURNALIST: Should Anthony Albanese take any action against the federal Labor MP who has been accused of an historical rape?

MARLES: Look, I've seen those reports. I understand there has appropriately been a referral to the AFP. I'm not really in a position to say any more than that. And so I don't intend to comment more. 

JOURNALIST: What about the Cabinet Minister who has been stood aside - I - sorry. [inaudible] This was an historical rape as well, should they be stood aside?

MARLES: Well, ultimately, that is a matter for the Prime Minister. I mean, the- the buck stops with the Prime Minister, he needs to assure himself of the appropriateness of all his Ministers to serve in the context of whatever processes need to play out. I mean, look what we've see emerge in the last few days, adds to what has been a very difficult few weeks in federal politics. Let me start by saying that; my feelings, my thoughts are most for those who are making the allegations that they have, who are describing traumatic experiences that they’ve gone through. I think all of us would be feeling for them and their families today. There are now processes which need to be gone through. These matters are in the hands of the Federal Police. And we need to let those processes play out.  

JOURNALIST: How concerned are you about these allegations that are being made against politicians on both sides?

MARLES: I'm concerned. It's obviously a concerning situation. But the allegations have appropriately now been referred to the AFP. It's a matter for those processes to play out and it's a matter for leaders to make sure that they are in a position to affirm the appropriateness of their members to continue their work in the context of those processes playing out. But I think it is important to let those processes play out. 

JOURNALIST: I would like to ask you the same questions on that topic, is that okay. 

BUTLER: Yes, sure. 

JOURNALIST: Should Anthony Albanese take any action against the federal Labor MP who has been accused of a historical rape?

BUTLER: Well, as Richard said, the starting point with anyone making allegations of this nature has to be expressing concern for anyone who was a victim or survivor of sexual violence across this country and I know that the events of the past fortnight have been really distressing. They've been bringing up old trauma for a lot of people out there in our community, whether they're involved in federal politics or not. So just I really wanted to reiterate what Richard Marles has said, which is that all victims and survivors of sexual violence are going through a really distressing time right now – this is a really awful time for them. So I wanted to express my concern for anyone making those allegations and also their friends and family who are supporting them through this time.

JOURNALIST: Should there be an investigation into those claims?

BUTLER: These claims absolutely should be referred to the police and the police should investigate them properly – and our leader and the Prime Minister should of course take those into consideration and really assess them and satisfy themselves, as Richard has said, about what needs to be done. And this is something that transcends politics, of course. It's important that we all are respecting the dignity of victims and survivors and ensuring people feel like they can come forward and their claims and allegations will be treated seriously, with respect and with dignity, and privacy as well. So all leaders, of any political party, to whom these allegations are made should treat them seriously and, of course, victims and survivors should ensure that they go to the federal police or the state police as the case might be.

JOURNALIST: How concerned are you about these allegations?

BUTLER: Well, I think – I think every person in this country is rightly concerned about the allegations of sexual violence that have come to light over the past fortnight. We all want to see leadership. We all want to see a situation where victims and survivors can be heard and can be respected. We want to see a culture where sexual violence is not acceptable.

JOURNALIST: What would Labor do to crackdown on payday lenders?

MARLES: Well, we'll have a lot more to say on this in the lead up to the election. But what is clear is that, as reported today in Queensland, more and more people are using these services. It’s putting people into more and more unsecured debt and that's a ticking time bomb for a whole lot of Queenslanders, for a whole lot of people around Australia. So it's very important that there is the appropriate regulation of this sector and regulation that takes into account the rights of those people who find themselves in need and find themselves in a position – in a position of having unsecured debt.

JOURNALIST: When will Labor announce its jobs plan and what sort of role will coal have – will the coal industry have to play in that?

MARLES: Well, we will be making very clear our plan in relation to jobs and how we see the reconstruction of our economy coming out of COVID-19 as Australians go to the next election. That will be first and foremost in terms of the proposition that we put to the Australian people, because we want to make that question about what Australia looks like, about how we take advantage of this moment to reimagine our nation, as being the centrepiece of what the next election is about. It's critically important that we're having a discussion about the future of our country and that, with all the difficulty that is associated with COVID-19, with all the issues that it has laid bare, that we take the opportunity to put our country on a path to a better Australia than the one that entered the COVID-19 crisis. The coal industry will remain a significant part of our economy for a long time to come and those people who work in the coal industry do a fantastic job in terms of the contribution that they make to Australia's economy and to Australian exports, and they will continue to have a very significant role to play in our economy for a long time to come.

JOURNALIST: Inaudible.

MARLES: Yup, you go.

JOURNALIST: Richard, thanks very much [indistinct]. Can I just ask you, Richard, do you think that [inaudible] held that view?

MARLES: Ultimately, this is a matter for the Prime Minister and it is a matter for the Prime Minister to satisfy himself that it is appropriate for any Minister to be able to continue with their duties in the context of whatever processes are on the way. The person who has agency here is the Prime Minister of Australia, and it’s ultimately a decision that he is in a position to make with the knowledge that he has at his hands.

JOURNALIST: Should there be an investigation which is –inaudible  

MARLES: Well, this matter has been referred to the relevant police and a number of police forces. It is a matter for them to look at. I understand there are other legal processes that are underway, I mean that's where this is rightly dealt with.

JOURNALIST: Last week, the Deputy Premier here, Steven Miles was quite critical of the government over the vaccine rollout. [inaudible] here, and also the Toowoomba quarantine facility issue. Do you think it's right for him to be politicising the issue so much when even Anthony Albanese didn't really attack the government over that problem in the Brisbane rollout?

MARLES: I don't think it's a matter of politicising the issue, I think Australians want to have a sense of confidence about the effectiveness and the safety of the rollout. You know, it was surprising to me that a mistake of this kind could be made so early on in the rollout. And it was disturbing to me to discover that the doctor concerned had been in the process of administering the vaccine without having done the proper training. This is a matter for the federal government. The federal government needs to make sure that there is zero tolerance for any mistakes being made in relation to the vaccination of the Australian population. Australians want to see the vaccination rollout happen as quickly as possible, but they want to see it happen as safely as possible as well. And I think one of the things we've learned over the course of the last year is that small mistakes need to be taken out of the system, that this needs to be a process. We need to be dealing with the disease and the vaccination in a mistake-free way. And that is ultimately, the obligation of the federal government, as in fact, is the whole question of quarantine. You know, I'm astounded at the degree to which the government has sought to wash its hands in relation to quarantine, pretend that it's somehow a state responsibility. It just isn't. The Constitution makes very clear, this is for the federal government to do and it's absolutely for the federal government to answer the question as to how we would have a proper quarantine facility and proper quarantine regime around the country, particularly with returning Australians who want to return, which keeps the rest of the country safe.

BUTLER: I just wanted to mention, people in my community are talking to me as I am out and about the community, about quarantine, and they're really distressed. They've got friends and family overseas and they're really distressed by the buck passing that they are seeing from the Prime Minister. They just want to see him get on with the job and arrange quarantine facilities. 

MARLES: And I might just say, quickly say, today, we're expecting to receive the final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care. This will be a report which is eagerly awaited by hundreds of thousands of Australians. But we don't need a report to understand that our aged care system is broken. It is absolutely essential that as this report is made clear that we hear from Scott Morrison, about what steps his government is going to take to remedy the aged care sector, but also to make sure that every Australian is able to have dignity throughout their life as they deserve.