ABC Radio National with Alison Carabine












SUBJECT / S: Student protests; The Abbott Government’s Budget of broken promises Thailand; Cambodia.

ALISON CARABINE: Tanya Plibersek, good morning.


CARABINE: Tanya Plibersek, if we could first go to the student protests, the Prime Minister has taken the AFP advice and cancelled his visit today to Deakin University. Is it a pretty sad indictment that the Prime Minister’s safety can’t be guaranteed visiting a university campus in his own country?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think certainly the scenes we saw a couple of days ago of Julie Bishop and Sophie Mirabella being jostled at protests are not acceptable. I think student protests should be large but they should be peaceful. It’s very clear that students have something to protest about but they have to do it in a way that’s proper and respects our democratic positions. Christopher Pyne said as late as November last year that he wasn’t going to increase university fees. This move to deregulate university fees basically means poor kids won’t get to university and they won’t get to do the courses that will lead them to a successful career with a decent job. It’s a completely clear broken promise. Christopher Pyne could not have been clearer when he said that he was not going to increase university fees. So it’s not just that it’s a broken promise, but the fact that this will take us to a two-tier American style university system where the best courses at the best universities are completely unaffordable to ordinary people.

CARABINE: And Labor will vote against these changes to higher education in the Senate but it was just last year that the Labor Government was trying to cut $2.3 billion worth of funding to the tertiary sector. Isn’t it a bit cute, maybe even hypocritical, for Labor to now be lining up against these changes to higher ed?

PLIBERSEK: Higher education funding expanded massively under the Labor Government, in part because we deregulated university places. We said to universities, you can have as many students as you can cope with. But funding increased, year on year, every year, very substantially. What we sought to do, was take some of that very fast growth and put it into the Gonski school education reforms because we know that the first years of a child’s schooling are critical to their life long success in education. Now, the Gonski school education funding reforms have gone too, so there’s a cut to university funding, a cut to school education funding, a cut to TAFE, a cut to youth programs that connect kids who have less school, back into schooling or into the workforce, and they’re at every stage, there’s a cut to childcare as well. So, from the minute your children leave the cradle to go out into the world, every stage of their education has received a cut in this Budget.

CARABINE: But the cut to higher education won’t occur in the Senate because you’re opposed to it, so too the Greens and we also understand, Clive Palmer. Now, the Government has calculated that Labor is blocking $40 billion worth of savings measures, the Treasurer says unless the Budget is passed pretty much unchanged, every household could face higher interest rates, higher taxes down the track. Did you take that into consideration before deciding to take what is a fairly obstructionist stance in the Senate?

PLIBERSEK: It’s not about obstructing the Budget. This is about standing for to the sort of Australia that we want to live in and that we believe Australians want to live in. We don’t want an American style deregulated university system or worse still, an American style deregulated health system where your credit card counts more than your Medicare card. Australians were not told before the election, in fact they were told the exact opposite, they were told that Tony Abbott was the best friend of Medicare, no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no change to pensions, no new taxes, every one of those promises broken –

CARABINE: But if, if Tony –

PLIBERSEK: No, no, I want to finish this saying this –


PLIBERSEK: Because if Tony Abbott is serious about this Budget being a threat to Australia’s Triple-A credit rating, why is he introducing a $20 billion Paid Parental Leave Scheme? $5.5 billion a year –

CARABINE: Which is paid mainly by business.

PLIBERSEK: No, well it’s paid partly by business and partly by taxpayers. And it’s paid partly by cuts to things like pensions, health, education, all of the cuts that this Government is proposing. I’ll tell you something else, Ali, when we were in –

CARABINE: Well, can I just put one thing to you, Tanya Plibersek?


CARABINE: You talk about the pre-election promises which have been broken by the Government, Labor is making a big song and dance about that but as Joe Hockey points out, Labor is opposing over $13 billion in savings that the Coalition took to the election, such as the mining and carbon tax repeals, where is the consistency from Labor in that?

PLIBERSEK: Well, because people voted Labor because we said we would oppose those measures. And enough people voted Labor to give us the power –

CARABINE: But more people voted for the Coalition.

PLIBERSEK: Sure. And enough people voted for us to give us the power to keep our promise to the Australian people which is not to allow open slather when it comes to air pollution, that’s what getting rid of the Carbon Pricing Scheme would do, open slather on air pollution. And enough people voted for us to say that when mining companies are extracting minerals from the land that belongs to all of us, if they are very highly profitable then some of that profit should go back to the Australian people to pay for health and to pay for education and to pay for pensions and to pay for the low income super contribution that is also being taken away by this Government and to pay for the school kids’ bonus. And Alison, when we were in Government, the Liberals opposed the very sensible savings that we made in private health insurance. For example, when I was Health Minister, they opposed the means testing of private health insurance, something that they’ve in fact extended in this Budget. They opposed the sensible pricing of older, generic medicines. They voted against paying less for older medicines to put that money into new medicines. I don’t think that they can be pointing the finger on the budget responsibility.

CARABINE: Okay. We’re going to have to move on. Tanya Plibersek, if we could turn to the Foreign Affairs portfolio, I’m not sure if you’ve had a formal briefing on the situation in Thailand, but with the army on the streets having declared martial law, is there any sign of a political consensus in Bangkok?

PLIBERSEK: Well, Alison, I haven’t had a formal briefing from the Department of Foreign Affairs but obviously I am very concerned about what’s happened with the military now. I would hope very much that order is restored quickly but that Thailand is able to draw on its constitution and its democratic values to allow the Thai people to indeed choose their government and that peace and democracy are restored quickly.

CARABINE: And on the negotiations for a refugee resettlement deal with Cambodia, Labor is not ruling out supporting such an arrangement. As we know, Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world with a poor human rights record, why would Labor consider Cambodia to be a suitable place for refugees?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we haven’t seen the details of the proposal at all and I certainly share the concerns that you’ve just mentioned. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Asia, it’s a country that still has difficulty in feeding its own people, malnutrition for children is still a problem there, the human rights record as you point out, is questionable at the moment, protestors are being shot in the street. So we are gravely concerned about some of the things that are happening in Cambodia and I think really the question for the Government is why they think Cambodia is a better place to send asylum seekers than Malaysia where they, when they were in the Opposition, they blocked Labor’s proposal for Malaysia which would’ve seen people living in the community, able to work, able to send their kids to school, and able to get healthcare.

CARABINE: Yeah but does that mean you would be arguing within the Party room for Labor to oppose any Cambodia resettlement deal?


PLIBERSEK: Well, I make my arguments in the party room, Alison, I don’t just go on the radio before I do. All I’m saying is that Cambodia is a country that has many problems of its own and we haven’t seen the proposal –

CARABINE: It sounds like you don’t want it to go ahead, you don’t want Labor to support it.

PLIBERSEK: Well, we haven’t seen the proposal yet, Alison. I don’t know how the Government’s going to guarantee the safety of the people that it sends there. I’d be interested to hear that.

CARABINE: Tanya Plibersek, thanks so much for your time this morning.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks, Alison. See you.


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