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Labor's Richard Marles Found Himself Defending Coalition Policies And It Got Worse From There

Turns out that the best peddler of government was a member of the opposition.

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Q&A was shaping up to be dull after Tony Abbott made an eleventh hour decision to ban all frontbenchers from being on the panel because it's basically The Voice for wannabe terrorists.

Anyway, Barnaby Joyce had to stay home and not talk about the agricultural white paper which was a real bummer for the inner-city cold-drip sipping Q&A audience who were burning with questions about farm management deposits and funding for irrigation projects.

It meant the only MP on the panel was Labor's shadow immigration minister Richard Marles, who was probably looking forward to lobbing a few criticisms at the government without getting any backchat.

It started with a video question about the strong stance against asylum seekers and when the opposition would reveal their own immigration policy.

Will asylum seeker policies make or break ALP's next election campaign? @RichardMarlesMP responds #QandA http://t.co/RRI9j9lxPH

"Mr Shorten and the ALP have yet to provide a sufficient response on this pertinent matter. Will this make or break the ALP's campaign in the next election?" asked the young man, who for a change wasn't a former terror suspect, but surely had a feature role in Marles' night terrors that evening.

Marles responded with a pledge not to "re-open the journey between Java and Christmas Island" and then launched into some classic government rhetoric about stopping deaths at sea and how people smugglers are bad.

ABC

"Because, ultimately, what it means is putting back into business people smugglers, who right now by and large are out of business," he said.

It sounded oddly familiar.

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Then Tony Jones asked the question we were all thinking: Will a Labor government turn back the boats?

ABC

But the shadow immigration minister couldn't answer that one either.

"We have articulated concerns around the questions of turn-backs. I retain those concerns. Basically it's back on our relationship with Indonesia," Marles said, before attempting a pivot to a discussion about Tony Abbott's diplomacy efforts.

He then tried to dismiss it as a hypothetical before Jones pointed out that he would have to write up the policy after the ALP conference later this month.

It wasn't pretty, but he'd handled the hairy immigration question and was out of the woods.

Or so he thought.

Then came a question about the government's controversial whistleblower laws, that could see health workers locked up for speaking up about conditions on detention centres.

"Did Labor read the Border Force Act and, if so, why did you rubber stamp this repressive law that turns advocacy in a criminal offence?"

There has been some confusion in recent days about the extent of protections in place for whistleblowers under the Border Force legislation, and whether they are covered by public interest disclosure laws.

But Marles again found himself in the position of having to explain the government's laws for two reasons: Because Labor passed them through the Senate, and because all the other parliamentary frontbenchers were at home watching the tennis.

vine.co

"It shouldn't be me coming out defending this! We ought to be hearing from the government" Marles said, hoping to wake from this bizarro universe where he was peddling Dutton's policies. The trainwreck continued thusly:

Jones: You are basically saying the government got this right?

Marles: What I'm saying is that the government has a role to be out there and giving clarity and certainty to doctors -

Jones: You are saying the Government got this right, the legislation is appropriate and you have the -

Marles: I do think the doctors have got it wrong here.

You can actually watch him say it here...

vine.co
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The doctors got it wrong??? Doctors all across the universe screamed in unison.

BBC

Ok Richard, you're the opposition's immigraton spokesperson, you can get out of this terrible hole you've dug yourself. Just end this with something opposition-y.

TJ: So the Government's got it right?

Marles: It may be but the point is we ought to hear the Government out there now giving a sense of security to everybody that they have a right to speak out -

TJ: Isn't that what you are doing on their behalf?

Needless to say, Richard Marles got slammed on Twitter.

Richard Marles, from shadow minister to shadow of a minister. #QandA

I guess after Richard Marles's shocker tonight that Bill Shorten will ban his frontbenchers too. No politicians would improve #qanda no end

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We don't need a coalition member when @RichardMarlesMP is on the panel to explain their policies for them #QandA

It was very magnanimous of the Coalition to send @RichardMarlesMP along tonight #qanda

Labor voted against the Greens amendments which would have allowed doctors to speak out #qanda

@JulianBurnside Seriously considering changing life-long Labour allegiance to Greens based on Richard Marles abysmal performance on #QandA

And that boys and girls, is how the best government frontbencher that the good people of Q&A ever did see, was a member of the opposition.

Next week, tune in to see which Labor MP will be donning Turnbull's funky leather jacket and defending budget cuts.

Alexandra Lee is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Alex Lee at alexandra.lee@buzzfeed.com.

Mark Di Stefano is a Media and Politics Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Mark Di Stefano at mark.distefano@buzzfeed.com.

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