Doorstop Interview












SUBJECT/S: DFAT, Aid, Education, PNG.


TANYA PLIBERSEK: This morning we’ve heard that there’s a leaked report from DFAT that shows that it is a deeply dysfunctional and unhappy organisation. That’s a real problem for Australia because it means that our diplomats are unable to help with the issues that Australia faces, this is like the continuing fracture in the relationship with Indonesia.

It’s also a great problem for the world’s poorest. Our experienced AusAid staff are not able to do the work that they are trained to do. We lost so many AusAid staff and there’s now been an additional $400 million cut to the Department of Foreign Affairs in the most recent Budget, further compromising their ability to deliver for Australia and for the world’s poorest. It’s very important to understand the effect of the $7.6 billion cut on the world’s poorest. The cut to the aid budget at the end of last year was going to be $4.5 million. In this Budget, we see that the cut is much greater, it’s $7.6 billion. And this is at a time when there are about 980,000 children around the world trafficked into forced labour. It’s at a time when 57 million children still don’t have access to schooling. It’s at a time, at last count, when around 7 million children under the age of 5 died mostly from preventable causes.

So the need globally for Australian assistance is as high as it’s ever been, and Australian aid is effective. We know it’s effective in saving people from malaria, in helping kids get an education, in training midwives, in fact the $7.6 billion that’s been cut from the aid budget would train the equivalent of 3 million midwives. It would help 25 million people to read and write. That’s the scale of the robbery of the world’s poorest that this Government has engaged in. On top of that, on top of the massive cut to assistance, on top of the abandonment of the target that was set by John Howard of reaching 0.5 per cent of gross national income for our aid budget, on top of that, we’ve now got rid of our staff that have delivered our highly successful aid programs.

Now, I also wanted to say a couple of words about higher education today. Christopher Pyne overnight has admitted that he is saddling young Australians with a lifetime of debt. He’s admitted that there’s every chance that you’ll be paying for your university education for the whole of your life. University degrees of $100,000, $200,000 introduced by a government of people who got their university education for free. People like Joe Hockey who back in the day were protesting in favour of a free university education. Now, you don’t have to go back 25 years to know what a hypocrite Joe Hockey is, but his hypocrisy should not contribute to young Australians carrying a debt to the grave, and then Christopher Pyne going after them once they’re in it.

JOURNALIST: Joe Hockey says it shouldn’t be any different to a mortgage given it’s [inaudible]?

PLIBERSEK: Well, the problem with Joe Hockey’s argument is that young people would be choosing between the two. We’re going to have a generation of young Australians who can’t afford to have a university degree and mortgage. They’re going to be choosing between a home of their own and a professional education. What kind of country do we want to become when we say to young people, you’ve got a choice, you can have a university education but chances are, if you’re in a profession like nursing, for example, you’ll never have the opportunity of paying back that degree, you’ll be paying it back for the rest of your life, and you can give up that great Australian dream of home ownership.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

PLIBERSEK: Well, that’s absolutely not true. We doubled the aid budget in Labor’s time in government. It went from $2.7 billion to close to $6 billion. It rose every single year, and we were in line to achieve the 0.5% of gross national income target. Labor’s aid program is highly successful, it was judged by the OECD and the independent evaluation deemed it to be highly successful particularly in delivering on gender equity programs that allowed things for example like the safety upgrades of the marketplaces in PNG that meant that the women subsistence farmers could bring their goods to the markets without being raped in the bushes when they went to the toilet. I mean, these are the things that delivered changed lives for people around the world. It reduced –

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] Promised increases.

PLIBERSEK: We’re getting to the promised increases slightly later than we said. We had this little thing called the Global Financial Crisis. You might remember it from such things as global unemployment of 30 million people. It is an absurd comparison to say that getting to the 0.5% target a couple of years later, having doubled the aid budget during our time in government, is the same thing as cutting $7.6 billion from the aid budget.

JOURNALIST: PNG police are contradicting –

PLIBERSEK: I can only hear one question at a time. Go ahead.

JOURNALIST: PNG police are contradicting the Cornell report and suggesting there’s a cover up. Is there more to this?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think that’s a question for the Government. It’s an extraordinary thing that we have waited so long and that the Australian Government has provided so little information to the people of Australia about what’s going on in PNG. We want to see, as everybody does, people not risking their lives, making the dangerous journey to Australia by sea. That is not an excuse for cruelty and cover ups on Manus Island.

JOURNALIST: Do we need to hear more from the PNG side of things?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think we need to hear first of all from the Australian Government, their explanation for these most recent claims.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it was reasonable for Malcolm Turnbull and Martin Parkinson to meet with Clive Palmer last night?

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s extraordinary and what’s even more curious is that apparently Joe Hockey didn’t know that his own departmental secretary was meeting with Malcolm Turnbull and Clive Palmer. I mean, it’s not unusual that they would get Malcolm Turnbull out to try and sell the Budget both to the public and to the crossbenchers. Malcolm Turnbull has been surprisingly unwilling to associate himself with I think, one of the Liberal backbenchers called is a stinking carcass of a Budget. Malcolm Turnbull’s kept his distance pretty well, up til now. But for him to be having meetings with Clive Palmer and Martin Parkinson and Joe Hockey apparently not to be aware of it, I can’t begin to fathom what’s going on there.

JOURNALIST: So the previous Labor Government, when Martin Parkinson was still the Treasury Chief then, never did that to the crossbenchers or the Greens or Tony Windsor?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I can’t answer that but what I can say is I expect that Wayne Swan would’ve known about it. Thanks, everyone.


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