ABC Drive, 5 August 2014










Subject: National security legislation; Commercial surrogacy; Gaza.

WALEED ALY, PRESENTER: Joining me now is Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development. Tanya Plibersek thank you very much for joining us. Could I get a sort of overarching reaction to the suite of counter-terrorism legislation we’ve seen today?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Well it’s a bit soon to give you much of a reaction Waleed because we were only told slightly before the press conference that this was coming up. We’ve been offered a more detailed briefing but we’re obviously yet to take that up given the press conference only finished a little while ago. It is important to be able to protect Australians from terrorists, from terrorism related activities, but we haven’t seen really enough detail to make an assessment of whether these proposals do that effectively, or indeed whether they have the sort of checks and balances that we would expect.

ALY: Can you have a check or a balance that is adequate to justify a reverse onus of proof for people who are returning from designated parts of the world?

PLIBERSEK: Well I can’t give you a more detailed answer, because I don’t know what the government is proposing in any sort of detailed way. We’ve heard as you have the details, the headline details in a press conference. I would like to know what sort of protections the government has in mind –

ALY: Can you think of a protection that would be adequate for that sort of thing?

PLIBERSEK: Well I’m not going to get into hypotheticals about it. We were very concerned as an opposition when the position of the Independent National Security Monitor was abolished during the ‘red tape’ repeal day, or whatever it was called, that position was abolished. That position has been vacant since April, George Brandis has backed down on that, and has said that he will reinstate that position and that there will be someone appointed to that position. That’s a very important start, having parliamentary oversight of some intelligence and security matters is also important. But this is all speculation at this stage, because we haven’t received a detailed briefing.

ALY: One of the things that Julie Bishop your counterpoint was pointing to was enhanced powers, again not fully specified or detailed, but enhanced powers to cancel passports. Whatever the design of that ends up being, do you accept that there is a need for those powers to be enhanced?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think there is certainly a need to have the power to cancel passports. I think it’s important if there is intelligence information that someone is planning to go and fight overseas with one of these very nasty organisations that we don’t allow that to occur.

ALY: The other area of this which, as I say, strikes me at the very least as being bipartisan is the idea of mandatory data retention, so ISPs keeping all of our metadata. I was just looking at a panel that was commissioned by Barack Obama to review the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance of Americans which is along very similar lines, and they concluded that this had not helped in stopping a single terrorist attack. Where is the evidence that we need this?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think you’d know that when Mark Dreyfus was the Attorney-General he didn’t support the mandatory retention of metadata at that time. We, again, have not seen any detailed proposal. There is a piece of legislation, the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill number one, that has a number of measures proposed, that has been made public, we’ve been examining that, there are public hearings coming up. That is a piece of legislation, we know the piece of legislation, we can debate it. The announcement today is just an announcement – it’s a press conference, I cannot tell you what the detailed proposal is and I think in any case like this it’s important to understand that there are very real security threats that have to be dealt with, and that our security and intelligence organisations have a very serious job to do, and an important job to do, and they need updated legislation as the environment changes, as the internet becomes a bigger feature of our communications environment. On the other hand that needs to go with proper oversight, proper transparency, and a case needs to be made.

ALY: But the original argument was made by Nicola Roxon I think it might have been when she was Attorney-General that this is something that we needed to do.

PLIBERSEK: Nicola Roxon asked that the issue be examined and I think it is important to examine as technologies change whether security agencies need updated powers to deal with that.

ALY: So as it stands then the Labor Party does not have a formed position on whether or not the retention of metadata as a principle or as an idea is necessary.

PLIBERSEK: Well we haven’t seen any detailed proposal from the Government yet. We’ve seen a press conference and we’re not going to make a decision based on a press conference.

ALY: While I’m talking legal matters I might just change tack a bit. Have you had any thoughts recently or have you developed any thoughts in response to the tragic case of Gammy in respect of surrogacy laws as they operate in Australia and whether or not there are any problems that we might need to fix up or loopholes we might need to close?

PLIBERSEK: Of course I’ve been wrestling with it like anybody would, seeing this very difficult situation for a 21 year old mother, two children of her own already, now facing raising a child who looks to have significant health problems. It’s a tragic situation, there is no one who would not feel sympathy for the child who’s been left behind when his sister’s been taken. That’s not an easy thing to grow up with. And the mother who obviously is already in financial difficulties or she wouldn’t have agreed to the surrogacy arrangement to now have a child with significant health issues to raise as well. The legislation around surrogacy varies from state to state as you know, I do understand that some people feel a very intense and desperate need and desire to be parents and really are prepared to go to very, very long lengths to do it. On the other hand I do worry about the potential for exploitation, particularly for vulnerable women, particularly in this case in a country where the economic situation of many of its citizens still is they’re living in a great deal of poverty. An industry that commercialises parenthood and attracts people into the industry that are there to make a commercial gain does trouble me, because the opportunities for exploitation are, I think, well we see the result of it.

ALY: I’ll be speaking to the Attorney-General for the ACT in the next hour of the program looking on that issue. I might come back to your portfolio just finally Tanya Plibersek, and that is the issue of Gaza. Julie Bishop has spoken out today backing an investigation, particularly into the Israeli attack that hit a UN shelter, or UN schools, that the UN has attacked, has been very vocal about. Do you agree with the United Nations assessment, particularly Ban Ki-moon’s assessment, that the shelling of the UN school was a moral outrage and a criminal act?

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s very difficult to understand how this is now the third school which has been shelled. It is very difficult to understand when the Israeli defence forces are given the coordinates of UN facilities how this can happen now for a third time. I believe 10 people lost their lives in this most recent shelling. We’re now looking at about 1800, over 1800 people have lost their lives. The vast majority of them are children, the most recent estimate that I saw was well over 300 children – sorry the vast majority are civilians, the most recent figures I saw were well over 300 children, I think 365 children had lost their lives. It is completely unacceptable. Of course Hamas needs to agree to a ceasefire and stop firing rockets, but with this death toll now and the fact that there is nowhere safe to go. Even non-combatants, all they want to do is keep their heads down and keep their families safe, taking their families to a UN-run facility and then that facility being bombed. I think there were 3000 people reportedly sheltering in that facility, the most recent school that was bombed, it is completely unacceptable. I am very pleased that a ceasefire has been declared and this time it just has to stick. The cost of this in civilian lives, including the lives of children, is just beyond imagining.

ALY: It’s been catastrophic, I think the world agrees with that much at least even if they haven’t been able to broker a lasting ceasefire. We have a three day ceasefire for humanitarian reasons, we’ll see if it lasts beyond that. Tanya Plibersek, I do appreciate your time tonight, thank you.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you Waleed.


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