Insiders, Sunday, 27 JULY 2014








SUNDAY, 27 JULY 2014


Subject/s: MH17; Middle East, Asylum Seekers, Paid Parental Leave, Greg Combet, Joe Hockey.

FRAN KELLY, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, welcome to Insiders.


KELLY: Tanya Plibersek, we've heard this morning from Angus Houston that this will be a police and civilian operation on the site in Ukraine, not a military one. It's unlikely, he suggests, that armed Australian soldiers certainly will accompany the police force to keep them safe. There seems to be some confusion around this. Have you had a briefing from the Government - can you clarify it for us. What do you know?

PLIBERSEK: We did have some briefings earlier in the week. Unfortunately we asked for a briefing on this latest development recently and we weren't able to get that. I guess what I would say is that Angus Houston is a highly experienced, very trusted commander, and in a situation like this, I would accept Angus Houston's advice about whether a police and civilian team is the best way to go. He is on the ground there. He is absolutely the right person to make that decision.

KELLY: Have you been able to speak to the ADF about any concerns, because initially when this was announced by the PM, the first question was, "Is it safe to send unarmed police into a war zone?"

PLIBERSEK: Earlier in the week I had the opportunity of speaking with the ADF and at that stage 50 officers had been pre-deployed to London. The ADF at that stage said that they believed that they had the resources, the training, the expertise to be involved in a recovery mission, and were comfortable at that time, that they would - if they were allowed onto the site, that they would be able to do the job.

KELLY: Are you happy with the level of information you are getting from the Government on this? You mentioned you had been denied a briefing?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think - we have had a number of briefings along the way. We haven't had all of our requests for briefings granted, but really at this stage I'm much more interested in supporting the Government's efforts. I don't think anybody really wants to be listening to me complaining about whether I get briefed or not. I think the most important thing is to take the advice of Angus Houston who is there on the site and make sure that we support his efforts there, whether it's with police, a civilian team, whether they need some ADF support for logistics and protection, he is the best person to make that decision.

KELLY: Tony Abbott has received accolades in foreign media and respect from foreign leaders for the leadership he has shown on this issue, particularly in terms of a tough response to Russia and pushing for a UN resolution. Do you join in that praise of the PM and how he has managed this?

PLIBERSEK: I think it was very important that Australia put the resolution at the United Nations Security Council and I certainly think that Australian leadership, given the number of Australian lives lost, was critical to convincing Russia to use its influence with the Russian-backed separatists in the area. I think it shows how important it is that international organisations like the Security Council have our support and work. It's times like this when those organisations really come into their own. We have gone out of our way, as a Labor Opposition, to be supportive of the Government's efforts. We think that this is a time for national unity. The families of the victims of MH17 want to know that both the Government, the Opposition and all Australians are 100% committed to bringing their loved ones home.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek, can I ask you now as Shadow Foreign Minister you're also focused on events going on in Gaza of course. On Friday, an Israeli bomb struck a UN school site. There were deaths reinforcing comments from UN chief Valerie Amos when she said it was almost impossible now for Palestinians to shelter from Israeli air strikes in the densely populated Gaza Strip. In your view, is Israel's response to this, to missiles going over their border been proportionate?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think with over a thousand deaths and pictures every day of bodies being carried from rubble, including many, many children, I think the international community is very concerned with the level of civilian deaths and particularly the level of children who have been caught up in this conflict. It is critical that the 12-hour pause in fighting be extended immediately to a ceasefire and that parties return to the negotiating table to negotiate a durable peace. We cannot have a situation where every few months or every few years the rockets start firing from Hamas and Israel retaliates in this way, causing many, many civilian deaths. It is an unacceptable situation.

KELLY: The Australian Government supports the need for a two-state solution. It also supports Israel's right to defend itself and that's Labor's position too, long-held. This weekend at the NSW ALP Conference, a motion put up by Bob Carr was passed, which seems to go a little further, suggesting Labor recognises a Palestinian state if there is no official progress on a two-state solution. That's a distinct tilt, isn't it, towards Australia recognising a Palestinian state. What would that mean in practice, and is this a change in Labor's position?

PLIBERSEK: Well, not really. Labor for many decades has supported a two-state solution. That means an Israeli state behind internationally recognised secure borders, and a Palestinian state which is economically viable, which has responsibility for its own security. You can't have a two-state solution without a Palestinian state. The only change that's occurred in recent months has been a change in the Government's position. Until recently there was bipartisan agreement that the building of settlements was not in line with international law and that East Jerusalem - bipartisan agreement that East Jerusalem is occupied territory. It has seemed, from Julie Bishop's comments and George Brandis' comments that they have retreated from that position.

KELLY: On another issue, can I ask you about the asylum seekers, the 157 people who have been aboard an Australia Customs vessels now for a month. Reportedly they will arrive in the Curtin Detention Centre on Australian soil as early as today. Indian officials, in an agreement struck with the Government, will then travel to the detention centre to interview these people. Is that appropriate, in your view, in Labor's view, officials from another country, a country from where some of these people are fleeing, be invited onto Australian soil to interview them in this way?

PLIBERSEK: I think the whole handling of this has not been appropriate, these people floating around on the ocean for three weeks, they could have been processed on Christmas Island weeks ago and the only thing that stopped that was Scott Morrison's ego. I can't tell you how these people will be processed, the Government has not made that clear. We don't have the details and it is exactly the sort of thing you should ask Scott Morrison if you can get him to turn up to a press conference and get him to answer some questions.

KELLY: In your view, is it the job for the Australian Government to talk these people or the Indian Government?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think if people are on Australian soil, they should be dealt with by Australian authorities and it should have happened weeks ago.

KELLY: A couple of other domestic matters arising this week, the Productivity Commission released a draft report into the childcare system. It noted that funds for Tony Abbott's paid parental leave scheme would be better spent, perhaps some of them, not all of them, on improved childcare options. You've been a consistent critic of Tony Abbott's paid parental scheme, you've dubbed it a Rolls-Royce scheme. But if his is a Rolls-Royce scheme, is the current Labor scheme more like a Datsun 180B. It’s 18 weeks minimum wage, no superannuation. It’s out motored, lacks a bit of grunt. Why shouldn’t women who take time out of the workforce to have a baby get superannuation, doesn't it need to be upgraded?

PLIBERSEK: That's something that could be considered in the future.

KELLY: Would you support that?

PLIBERSEK: Well it's something you can consider in the future. Tony Abbott's scheme pays the greatest benefit to people who already earn the most money. It makes no sense to use taxpayers' dollars to give the biggest benefit to people who already have the most - that's been my criticism. Something else to be said about it, at a time when pensioners have been told the pension is too high, they should wait longer and get less, and when unemployed people have been told they should live on nothing for six months of the year, when funding has been cut from education, from health, despite promises before the election that that wouldn't happen, to introduce a scheme worth $5 billion a year or more makes absolutely no sense. If we are in austerity times and pensioners and students and unemployed young people and families on low incomes all lose money, how can it be that someone on a million dollars a year would get $50,000 from the taxpayer?

KELLY: On another issue, there has been a fair bit of attention on the biography of Joe Hockey, but there is a Labor autobiography coming out this week, Greg Combet, he is revealing in his memoirs that Julia Gillard suggested, in the dying days of her Prime Ministership, that she could step down and Greg Combet could put his hand up in a caucus ballot. You are a strong supporter of Julia Gillard. Did you know about that?

PLIBERSEK: That was obviously a conversation between the two of them, but what I would say is that Greg is a fine Australian and many people thought for many years that he could be a future Labor Prime Minister, and I guess the other thing I would say is what a contrast - here is Greg Combet's book which is about his battle for asbestos victims, his time as a minister fighting for policies that would put a cap on pollution and a price on carbon, and here is Joe Hockey, the longest job application in history, and by the sounds of the book, a very petulant one.

KELLY: But here’s Greg Combet, you could say, back then at the time really at the height of Labor's leadership tensions and the Prime Minister at the time suggesting perhaps another leadership change to somebody that the voters haven't even thought about. It is completely untenable, wouldn't it have been?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think from listening to Greg's interview earlier in the week, that was his conclusion too.

KELLY: What would you have concluded if that had have been put up?

PLIBERSEK: I'm not going to look back at history. What I would say is that Greg Combet is a great loss to the Parliament. He is a great Australian.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek, thanks very much for joining us.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


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