TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop, Sydney, Friday 24 October 2014

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

  

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

SYDNEY

FRIDAY, 24 OCTOBER 2014

 

Subject/s: Ebola, Gough Whitlam

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Reports overnight that the Ebola virus has spread to Mali are of substantial concern. On the 1st of October, the World Health Organisation said that if we didn’t get Ebola under control within 60 days, the consequences of the spread of the virus would be completely unpredictable. There would be a situation that there were no plans for. We know that the virus is spreading quickly, about 4500 people have died so far, about 10,000 are infected. But reports suggest that the number of infections is doubling about every 20 days. That means that if the Ebola virus continues to spread in the way that it’s spreading, it will be very difficult to contain it to West Africa. We’ve had calls from around the world for Australia to send in personnel to help, we’ve had calls from the US President, from the Prime Minister of the UK, from the United Nations, from Medicins Sans Frontieres, from Oxfam, from our own Australian Medical Association and our own public health association all saying that Australia has highly experienced staff willing and able to go and that they should be sent. Today there are also reports that the Chief Medical Officer has joined in saying that Australian medical assistance teams should be sent to West Africa. Of course, any such mission is not without risk. This is a dangerous part of the world now with a virus that is spreading quickly. But what President Obama has said, and what our own health professionals are telling us, is that the best way of keeping Australia safe, of keeping Australians safe, is to stop this virus in West Africa. If this virus continues to spread in the way that it does, if it moves to other continents, if it moves into our own region, the consequences are potentially catastrophic. Indeed the World Health Organisation has pointed to the fact thata densely populated region like Asia could have very severe consequences from an Ebola outbreak. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: What do you [inaudible] Minister’s statement that you’re playing politics with Ebola?

PLIBERSEK: There’s nothing to be said about that. This is one of the most critical issues that he has faced as Health Minister. We heard in Senate Estimates this week that Peter Dutton attended the weekly meeting of chief medical officers for the first time last Friday. This is a group that’s been meeting since August. There has been a lack of clarity about Australia’s preparedness. In Senate Estimates we’ve heard different stories from the health department, from the Chief Medical Officer, from defence, all giving different accounts of the level of Australia’s preparedness. And we hear also that Scott Morrison has been after the job of Ebola coordinator. So I think it’s very important that the Health Minister focus on his responsibilities, which are ensuring that Australians are kept safe, that we are prepared domestically and that Australia does its share to halt the spread of Ebola in West Africa.

JOURNALIST: We’ve been told that careful consideration is being given to sending our medical personnel over to help. The thing is- it deserves careful consideration doesn’t it? You can’t rush these things.

PLIBERSEK: This is absolutely something that needs the most careful consideration and the most careful planning. What concerns me is that that consideration and that planning is not happening. We heard different accounts just two days ago about whether Australian staff were being trained and readied to go. It is clear that this Government has not put effort into talking to our allies like the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union to make arrangements for Australian staff, should they need medical back up or evacuation in West Africa. I’m pleased to hear that consideration is being given but I think that that’s rather late in the piece. As I said earlier, we heard from the World Health Organisation on the 1st of October that if we don’t get this virus under control within 60 days - and that means 70 per cent of people being treated in hospitals or a treatment centre, and 70 per cent of dead bodies buried quickly and safely - then we risk seeing this virus spiral out of control - this becomes a global problem. The estimate is that on the current trajectory 1.4 million people will be infected by January next year. We have to stop this in West Africa, and Australia must be a part of that international effort. If Ebola gets to Asia it is very difficult to guarantee Australia’s safety.

JOURNALIST: There has been a case of the New York doctor who has contracted Ebola. Doesn’t that underscore the serious danger of sending medical teams there and how would you explain that to Australians if there was a similar case here in Australia after sending medical teams to West Africa?

PLIBERSEK: There is no question that it is dangerous for medical staff to go to West Africa - no one has ever denied that there is a danger, and that we have to do everything we can to make it as safe as possible for our medical staff. But it comes with risks. What I say to people who are worried about this story of the doctor who has come back to New York is - I understand those fears, I understand those concerns. But we can’t protect Australia if this virus gets out of control. Medical staff who volunteer to go to West Africa know the dangers. The Nurses and Midwives Association have told us that within 12 hours they had 135 nurses ring them to volunteer, to say they were prepared to go to West Africa. Nurses know the dangers of going, doctors know the dangers of going. Why then are they going? They also know that the best way they can contribute to keeping Australia and Australians safe is to go to West Africa and fight the disease there. They have trained all of their professional lives to serve humanity and that’s what they are asking to be allowed to do. They’re asking for the support of their Government to do what they are trained and equipped to do, what they know they must do to help keep Australians safe. It is not without risk, that is clear. But we have medical personnel who are prepared to take that risk with their Government’s support - to keep not just Australians, but the globe safe.

JOURNALIST: You can’t knock the Australian Government however for being unwilling to send Australian personnel into dangerous areas - can you?

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s very important to say that if this virus continues to spread in the way that it has, it will become difficult to keep Australians safe.  I’m asking the Government to look ahead to the worst case scenario. The Centres of Disease Control, a very authoritative organisation in the United States is saying on current trajectories we’ll have 1.4 million people infected by the beginning of next year. How does the Government keep Australians safe if that comes to pass?

JOURNALIST: In Senate Estimates, it was revealed that Australian diplomats have been talking to partner countries about treatment plans. Doesn’t that indicate the Government has been preparing a response [inaudible]?

 

PLIBERSEK: What was revealed in Senate Estimates is that in September we had official requests from the United States and from the United Kingdom – two of our closest friends and best allies, for Australia to send personnel.  It shows that despite those requests the Government has progressed very little.

 

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask – there will be a state memorial service held for the former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam on the 5th of November. Obviously that will be an extremely special day for the Labor party and millions more Australians.

 

PLIBERSEK: Well I think you saw an outpouring of national grief on Wednesday for a great man who represented a great Labor tradition.  The 5th of November will be a sad day for many Australians, and of course for our Labor family.  But it will also be a day of celebration – celebrating a great legacy – a legacy that changed Australia for the better, and changed Australia forever.

ENDS

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MEDIA RELEASE - Ewen Jones Lets Down Townsville Dental Patients

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

THE HON CATHERINE KING MP

SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH
MEMBER FOR BALLARAT

 

MEDIA RELEASE

 

EWEN JONES LETS DOWN TOWNSVILLE DENTAL PATIENTS

 FRIDAY, 24 OCTOBER 2014

In Parliament today the Federal Member for Herbert, Ewen Jones, boasted to supporting cuts to public dental services which will hurt his own constituents.

The Abbott Government’s first budget cut $400 million from public dental services.

Mr Jones interjected during Labor MPs speaking against the cuts and was challenged to own up to his constituents:

Tanya Plibersek: ‘So you support these cuts do you?’

Ewen Jones: ‘Yes I do.’

“Today Mr Jones betrayed all his constituents on a public dental waiting list in Townsville when he spoke up for these cruel cuts,” said Ms Plibersek.

“Like the rest of the Abbott Government’s unfair Budget, the cuts to public dental services hurt the people most who can least afford it.”

“The Abbott Government’s dental cuts means hundreds of thousands of people with poor dental health, many of them in constant pain, will continue to wait for treatment,” Ms King said.

“These cuts will have a particularly damaging impact in regional cities like Townsville, where there are fewer dentists than in the capital cities.”

The $400 million in cuts to public dental are on top of $229 million in cuts to the Dental Flexible grants program, which reduces access barriers for people living in outer metropolitan, rural and regional areas.

In stark contrast, Labor in government:

  • Introduced reforms to make going to the dentist as easy as visiting a GP for 3.4 million children – including 28 000 in Herbert;
  • Funded the development of the Tropical Queensland Centre for Oral Health which benefits North Queensland; and
  • Provided $250 million to expand the Townsville Hospital with additional beds and operating theatres.

 

 

 

 

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MEDIA RELEASE - Ebola Crisis

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

THE HON CATHERINE KING MP

SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH
MEMBER FOR BALLARAT

 

MEDIA RELEASE

 

EBOLA CRISIS

 

 FRIDAY, 24 OCTOBER 2014

The nation’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Baggoley, has thrown his support behind sending Australian medical teams to fight Ebola in West Africa, according to ABC reports.

“Professor Baggoley said he would like to see Australian medical teams sent into the hot zone.”

          Australian Broadcasting Corporation, October 23.

This report follows news today Ebola has spread to Mali, and that a doctor in New York City has tested positive for Ebola.

For weeks now, Labor has been pressing the Abbott Government to do more to fight the Ebola crisis at its source – in West Africa.

Under questioning at Senate Estimates yesterday, the foreign affairs department revealed that back in September the UK and US Governments made specific requests for Australia to send personnel to help fight the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

Those calls are echoed by the UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon, the UN Security Council, Médecins Sans Frontières, the International Crisis Group, the President of Sierra Leone, Oxfam, the Australian Medical Association, and the Public Health Association of Australia.

We know going to help fight Ebola in West Africa would not be without risk which is why it’s important safety protocols are in place to support Australian personnel who volunteer to serve.

But it is unacceptable that the Abbott Government has failed to make arrangements and act.

We know many Australian health workers are ready, willing, and able to assist.

There is no time to lose.

Earlier this month, the UN said the Ebola outbreak must be controlled within 60 days or else the world faces an unprecedented situation for which there is no plan.

If the international community doesn’t do more, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predict the number of Ebola cases could reach 1.4 million by early 2015.

We cannot afford to wait until Ebola reaches out to our region before Australia becomes part of the global effort to control this virus.

This week, we’ve heard wildly different accounts of the Abbott Government’s preparedness to respond to the Ebola crisis in West Africa from the Chief Medical Officer, the head of the health department, the Defence Force, the foreign affairs department, and the immigration minister.

The Abbott Government’s uninterested, chaotic response to this serious health crisis is just not good enough.

 

 

 

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SPEECH - 2014 ACFID National Council Speech

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

SPEECH

** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY **

2014 AUSTRALIAN COUNCIL FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT NATIONAL COUNCIL

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we meet today, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to their elders both past and present.

I would also like to acknowledge:

  • Sam Mostyn, President of ACFID;
  • Marc Purcell, Executive Director of ACFID;
  • Other ACFID council members;
  • Senator Lee Rhiannon.

This week Gough Whitlam passed away at the age of 98.

Many of us have been reflecting on how much Australia changed under Gough’s Prime Ministership, and how much has changed since.

That in 1974, Gough brought Australia’s aid spending to its height of 0.5 per cent of GNI – working towards 0.7 per cent - saying it was ‘in recognition of the responsibilities that lie on all of the richer nations to assist the poor and undeveloped countries.’

That today, the Abbott Government has cut aid by $7.6 billion and walked away from the 0.5 per cent target altogether – meaning Australian aid has peaked at 0.35 per cent and is now declining.

Despite the mounting policy successes of recent years as we near the end of the Millennium Development Goals, in Australia we have to confront the fact that bipartisanship on aid is broken and that unprecedented political ground has been lost under the current government.

It has been a little over a year since the Abbott Government was elected, and in that time we have heard a lot about aid effectiveness, as though it were absent prior to the election.

It is important to defend the record and the reality. Australia has over many years built a highly effective aid program through our NGOs and our specialist aid agency AusAID:

  • We have the headline statistics, like in Timor-Leste where we helped more than 30,000 farmers improve their yield, in some cases by as much as 80 per cent, or helped 67,000 people get access to basic sanitation.
  • We have the anecdotes about individual programs, like the mobile courtrooms in Indonesia helping disadvantaged women get marriage and birth certificates, so they could enrol their children in school.
  • We have the individual stories that we all carry around with us, like the women in Papua New Guinea who were able to use the local markets more freely because the ablution blocks our aid program had built meant they did not have to use the nearby bushes and risk being robbed or raped.

But we don’t just have statistics, anecdotal evidence and individual stories.

Positive findings in our own independent reviews were backed up by the most recent Peer Review from the OECD last year, which highlighted some of the strengths of our aid program:

  • We were increasing funding in line with our target to reach 0.5 per cent of GNI, our areas of good practice were increasing and the overall degree of fragmentation was decreasing.
  • AusAID was singled out for praise for its strategic planning and the coherence it brought to key policy areas.
  • Our focus on gender and support of UN Women was among the best in the world, as was our expertise in disability-inclusive aid.

Aid effectiveness is not a new concept. We had a highly effective aid program.

It’s an important point to make, because aid effectiveness matters not just to development outcomes, but to public trust in foreign aid itself.

  • You would all have seen the research produced by the Narrative Project this year with the support of a number of your organisations. It confirmed what many of us already knew: that the biggest barrier to mobilising public support for global development is the perception that aid is wasted and that progress is impossible.

Of course we should all demand effectiveness of our aid program.

But in addition to being an important goal in itself, the debate around effectiveness can also operate as a dog-whistle to the sceptics in the community, and a smokescreen for the vandals in government.

We must start the conversation by saying that aid works, and that Australian aid in particular is not just effective but transformational and world-leading.

Internationally, we are facing a changing environment for aid:

  • The GFC has seen some donors reducing their efforts, while at the same time we have new entrants like China and India. Public and private donors are shaping the agenda through new partnerships like GAVI which has helped immunize 440 million boys and girls since 2000, saving six million lives.
  • We’re seeing greater need around climate change, natural disasters, and disease – like the global implications of the Ebola crisis in West Africa, and the need for a coordinated international response.
  • At the same time, economic development is happening alongside rapid technological change – like in Kenya, where fishermen out at sea use their mobile phones to check the price of fish at different markets before deciding where to land, and 86 per cent of households report using mobile phones to make payments.

In this changing environment, government is increasingly looking to NGOs and the private sector to play a larger role in development:

  • The private sector does have a role to play, but it will never replace effort and expenditure which government withdraws.
  • And government also has a particular role to play in providing coordination and accountability which won’t easily be filled by the private sector or NGOs.
  • NGOs are partners in the design and delivery of aid programs, and advocates for communities in developing countries, not just a way to outsource our country’s responsibility to the international community.

That partnership between government, NGOs and the private sector only works when it is built on respect and transparency. But the evidence is that the government needs to do much better on this front:

  • Since the change of government, our ranking on the Aid Transparency Index has dropped and the adoption of the Open Government Partnership has stalled. Labor joined over 60 other countries in the Open Government Partnership to commit Australia to improving access to information about government activities, through a concrete action plan.
  • The Abbott Government says that they will redirect resources to NGOs which are effective on the ground, but so far there is little to no information about how that effectiveness will be evaluated.
  • In June, Labor asked when the effectiveness benchmarks would be released – the response from the Government was to point to their new performance framework, and yet all that framework said was that benchmarks would be included in country and regional plans over the next 12 months.
  • As you know, it is estimated that the value of aid is reduced by up to 20 per cent when funding is unpredictable and volatile. So the Government’s approach not only means ongoing uncertainty for NGOs who don’t know whether their funding will be cut, but decreased effectiveness for our aid program more broadly.

As we build towards a new international consensus around the Sustainable Development Goals, it is important to be clear about what the purpose of our aid program is:

  • I cannot understand a government which removes poverty alleviation as an objective of our aid program, as the Abbott Government did. Surely helping people and countries overcome poverty is the central purpose of foreign aid?
    • While trade is important for developing countries, the Abbott Government seems untroubled by the prospect that the gains flowing from increased “aid for trade” may only trickle down unevenly with no guarantee of helping those most in need
    • As we know, economic growth does not necessarily reduce inequality. Countries like Cambodia and Indonesia have seen growth and income inequality rise together – and the IMF has even found that inequality ultimately threatens long-term growth.
    • So it’s vital that we maintain clarity about the purpose of our aid program – not to drive growth for growth’s sake, but to help people overcome poverty.

The biggest challenge of all, though, is the broken bipartisanship on aid and development.

For the Abbott government, ‘aid effectiveness’ and private sector investment are fig leaves to hide their cuts and failures of political leadership.

To put it bluntly, if the two greatest challenges faced by the aid sector are inequality and climate change, then the Abbott Government has vandalized your agenda for global development:

  • Cutting $7.6 billion from aid and walking away from the bipartisan commitment to the 0.5 per cent target of GNI which John Howard signed up to.
  • Tearing up the carbon price and taking us backward on climate change at home, and undermining momentum for international action abroad.

These cuts aren’t just a headline statistic. $7.6 billion in aid could contribute to:

  • Connecting 600 000 people to basic sanitation or sewerage; and
  • Creating 180 000 new school places; and
  • Training almost 30 000 health professionals, and ensuring over 300 000 births are attended by a skilled health worker.

But what disturbs me most is the lack of consequences:

  • With the 2014 Budget, the Abbott Government bet that even though the cuts to aid were the largest in the Budget by far – one in every five dollars of cuts – the political consequences would be minimal.
  • Although some organisations and individuals have spoken up, the lack of a coordinated response by the sector has proven them right.

In Parliament we call “Dorothy Dixers” the planted questions that government ministers are asked by their own backbenchers – named after an American advice columnist who answered her own questions.

It is the way the government of the day draws attention to their political successes, and the things they are most proud of.

This year, Julie Bishop has been asked seven Dorothy Dix questions during Question Time by her own backbenchers about their cuts to aid.

They aren’t just keeping quiet about these cuts, they actually see them as a political windfall. They are crowing about them.

And why shouldn’t they? They can pander to the aid-sceptics in the community while at the same time being welcomed for their ‘commitment to Australia’s aid’ – as ACFID publicly did earlier this month.

When Labor was in government we nearly doubled the aid budget and maintained our commitment to the 0.5 per cent target. The Liberals have cut aid by $7.6 billion and abandoned the 0.5 per cent target.

In this new partisan paradigm, it’s worth remembering that Australia’s commitment to development isn’t just a story about political leadership – giants like Gough Whitlam, and vandals like Tony Abbott.

It’s also a story about the development sector, mobilising the Australian public and lifting our aspirations.

I remember the extraordinary energy of the Make Poverty History campaign which locked in bipartisan support for the 0.5 per cent target – I remember it not just as a moral argument, but as a political strategy for the sector to exert influence over Australia’s place in the world.

And I remember that it worked.

When we ask ourselves why so much political ground has been lost, two features stand out.

Leadership from government.

And a strong, coordinated campaign from the sector which can mobilise public sentiment.

I've been told today that you'll be launching such a campaign tomorrow. I cannot say how thrilled I am to hear it and how pleased I will be to see and support the work you will be doing in communities. I know that there will be people around Australia who will have been looking for this leadership who will be delighted to sign on.

When the Millennium Development Goals were agreed to, we rose to that challenge together – a political success that matters because of the human lives it changed and saved.

Through the MDGs we have:

  • Halved global poverty;
  • Averted 3.3 million deaths from malaria;
  • Provided primary education to 90 per cent of children in developing regions.

As we near the end of the MDGs and the development of the Sustainable Development Goals, it’s clear that these new targets will require more – not less – from the international community.

More commitment to tackling poverty, inequality and environment degradation.

More resources to translate that commitment into results.

We will be asked to lift our ambition and our efforts, and at this crucial moment we cannot allow Australia to think smaller and do less.

The SDGs will articulate the development challenge for the international community, and the roadmap for responding to it.

Whether Australia rises to that challenge and does its fair share is up to us.

ENDS 

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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Parliament House, Thursday 23 October 2014

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 THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

THE HON CATHERINE KING MP

SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH
MEMBER FOR BALLARAT

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

PARLIAMENT HOUSE

THURSDAY, 23 OCTOBER 2014

 

Subject/s: Ebola

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Today in Question Time we heard for the first time the Prime Minister admit that our friends and allies have been calling on Australia to do more to help fight Ebola in West Africa. We have heard over the last 24 hours that the Prime Minister has spoken to President Obama, who has been urging Australia to do more, we know that the Foreign Minister has previously spoken to the Prime Minister of the UK who has also asked Australia to do more. This comes on top of requests from many international organisations including the United Nations Security Council, including organisations like Oxfam, Medicins Sans Frontieres, the International Crisis Group and others. All of them say that countries such as Australia should assist with personnel as well as money. Now we know that any such mission would not be without risk. Of course it’s dangerous to go into an area where a virus like Ebola has taken hold. We also know that not acting is simply not an option. President Obama has said very clearly that the best way to protect Americans from Ebola is to fight it in West Africa. The same goes for Australia, the best way to fight Ebola, to protect Australians from Ebola, is to fight it in West Africa. I am going to hand over to Catherine King in a moment to talk about the chaotic stories that have been coming out Senate Estimates over the last 24 hours about Australia's preparedness in the area of Ebola, but I want to finish by saying this - there is absolutely no time to lose in fighting Ebola. We have heard that there could be up to 1.4 million cases by January next year. It is reported that the number of people infected by Ebola is doubling around every 20 days. If we do not get a hold of this virus in West Africa, the chances of it spreading into our region grow. If Ebola reaches our region, we are in big trouble. The World Health Organisation has said that Ebola reaching Asia is potentially catastrophic. We have got some very strong health systems in our region but we have also got some that would be overwhelmed by a virus that spreads so easily. I am going to ask Catherine to make a few comments about domestic issues.

CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks very much, Tanya, and I too just want to reiterate very clearly that it is in Australia's absolute and best interests - the way that we protect Australian citizens from Ebola is fighting this in West Africa. We have some of the best public health systems in the world, we have some of the best health services staff in the world, in fact it is actually why we have been saying that they need to use that expertise volunteering internationally. Now, yesterday at Senate estimates we quite deliberately asked the question as to whether any volunteer personnel, any AUSMAT personnel had been trained ready for Ebola. The reason we asked that question was specifically that we know that should the Government reach a great arrangement with other international countries in relation to treatment or evacuation of health services personnel, we know that it will take two to three weeks for a team to be ready to go. So we wanted to find out whether there was one ready. Now the chaos that occurred yesterday where we had different accounts coming from different officials and then finally late at night a statement made and statements made from the Minister for Health show that there has been a lack of command and control on this issue. It is clear that the first time the Minister for Health has attended one of the chief medical officer and state medical officer meetings or teleconferences was last Friday, when this was first raised or began to get raised in the media. Labor has been calling for months now for the Government to engage with the international community on this issue and to send medical personnel. It should not have been up to Labor to force the Minister for Health to actually start for the first time to go and meet with the chief medical officers and state medical officers. I think that the Minister for Health has something to answer to here and certainly it has not filled me with great confidence in his efforts to actually make sure we are domestically ready, but I do have enormous faith in our health services personnel to deal with the unfortunate circumstances should there be a case of Ebola in Australia. I think we’ll take some questions now.

JOURNALIST: Minister, given that there is so many moving parts, different ministries involved, Scott Morrison’s apparent proposal to have everybody- to have him take charge of the whole response, does not that idea have some merit?

KING: Do you want to take that one, Tanya? You can have that one. I’m happy to answer it.

PLIBERSEK: Well, what we’ve heard today is another land grab from Scott Morrison. He’s now tried to take interest in about half a dozen portfolios. I think it is important that someone is in charge and at the moment we’ve got a Health Minister, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Immigration Minister that all seem to be competing for who is in charge. This is a very serious issue for us domestically. It is a very serious issue internationally. And instead of getting on with the job, making it clear who is responsible, we’ve got internal competition within the Liberal party.

JOURNALIST: But there's a sort of a conglomeration of public service departments that was announced today, I think nine or ten departments put together at a public service level, so why shouldn’t there be the same sort of thing at a ministerial level?

PLIBERSEK: Well, look I'm not going to make comments about the internal arrangements of the Liberal Government. My responsibility and Catherine King's responsibility is to make sure that we hold the Government to account. To make sure that they are confidently preparing Australia should the worst happen and we see a case of Ebola in Australia. And it's our responsibility to say loud and clear that the best way to protect Australia is to fight Ebola in West Africa, and that Australia must be part of that global effort. We've got our very close friends and allies, the United Kingdom and the United States, asking Australia to do more. We've got the United Nations, and international organisations like Oxfam and Medecins Sans Frontieres and the International Crisis Group, and others saying that Australia should be involved with sending personnel to West Africa to help fight the Ebola crisis there. It is unacceptable that a month after these first formal requests have come from our allies, that the Government is still not able to answer whether it will be sending Australian personnel and what arrangements it has put in place for the safety of those personnel.

JOURNALIST:  Do you think that Scott Morrison can do a better job than the Health Minister? If he can stop the boats he can stop Ebola?

KING: Well I think surely it's obvious the Immigration Minister thinks he can do a better job than the Health Minister. I'll leave that for people to conclude.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that the Government has been complacent about the threat that Ebola poses?

KING: I don't think that they've been complacent, I think they've been missing in action, is really what's happened. And you know it's as though because this wasn't on the front pages of our newspapers that they have been very, very slow to the case. The fact that we've been calling for weeks now for there to be a response, the fact that the Health Minister for the first time came in on the teleconference that the chief medical officer and state counterparts have been having for several weeks now, is pretty extraordinary, frankly.

JOURNALIST: Just in regards to the response of Peter Varghese from DFAT today said that there have been talks with allies, the United states, the United Kingdom for instance,  but there isn't an agreement yet. The fact that there isn’t an agreement, doesn’t it make it risky to launch ourselves to promise that we will send medical teams if we still don't have that agreement in place?

PLIBERSEK: Any mission like this has its risks, and it would be completely irresponsible of the Australian Government to send people if there was no support measures put in place. What we know though is that these requests came in a month ago. The Prime Minister admitted today that requests from our friends and allies came in one month ago. We've had all sorts of excuses from the Government about why they can't make arrangements for our personnel. What we haven't heard from them, is the effort that they've put into making those arrangements. Of course we need to protect and support Australians who go to West Africa to fight Ebola but we also need to know that our Government is actually making an effort to join that international mission, not sitting on its hands.

JOURNALIST: You say the Government is complacent, isn't it in fact the entire world, the entire world has been put on the hop by this deadly virus?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it's fair to say that there are a number of countries that are shouldering the greatest responsibility at this time. We know of course that the disease is particularly affecting Sierra Leone and Guinea and Liberia. Those countries are bearing the brunt of the Ebola virus outbreak. And assistance is being provided most generously by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany and a number of others. It is absolutely critical that Australia become part of that international effort. It's no good now saying the world was caught off-guard. We have a very limited time to act, we heard on the first of October that we have sixty days to act, and that means 70% of people in treatment centres or receiving treatment and 70% of bodies buried appropriately and quickly. If we don't act within that sixty day window, the World Health Organisation cannot tell what will happen. They say that there will be a crisis that is unprecedented and that the world is not prepared for. We have a limited window of opportunity to act, and we must be part of that global effort to act.

JOURNALIST: Does this make you all the more curious about the conversation between Barack Obama and Tony Abbott yesterday?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it's plain that the President of the United States has been saying for a month to countries around the world, we all need to lift our game. And the President has been saying that the world has come late to the assistance of West Africa. I obviously can't say what happened in that telephone conversation, but it's been made clear by the White House that a request for greater assistance, including personnel, was made by the President of our Prime Minister. And it's up to the Prime Minister to answer now whether he will refuse that request from our friends and allies.

ENDS

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MEDIA RELEASE - Ebola Crisis

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

THE HON CATHERINE KING MP

SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH
MEMBER FOR BALLARAT

 

MEDIA RELEASE 

EBOLA CRISIS

 THURSDAY, 23 OCTOBER 2014

 

 

 

The foreign affairs department has revealed the UK and US Governments made specific requests for Australia to send personnel to help fight the Ebola crisis in West Africa, weeks ago.

 

In Senate Estimates today, the foreign affairs department’s Ebola response chief admitted that back in September the UK Government sent a specific request to the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, for Australian personnel to be sent to West Africa.

 

Foreign affairs’ officials confirmed this request was consistent with the views of UK Prime Minister, David Cameron.

 

The foreign affairs department also revealed that the US Government has requested Australia send personnel to West Africa.  That request was made formally through the Australian embassy in Washington DC, again in September.

 

In a further extraordinary admission, the head of the foreign affairs department said he had no information about a phone call between Prime Minister Abbott and US President Barack Obama where they discussed Australia making additional commitments to the Ebola crisis response effort.  That’s despite details of the call being released publicly by the White House.

 

The Abbott Government must immediately explain why it hasn’t acted on these very specific requests from the US and the UK - two of our closest friends.

 

Today’s revelations follow 24 hours of wildly different accounts of the Abbott Government’s preparedness to respond to the Ebola crisis in West Africa from the Chief Medical Officer, the head of the health department, the Defence Force, and the immigration minister.

 

The Abbott Government’s uninterested, chaotic response to this serious health crisis is just not good enough.

 

 

 

 

EXTRACT FROM SENATE ESTIMATES TODAY

 

WONG: Now UK, I think in answer to a question from Senator Rhiannon you indicated there had been a request from the United Kingdom, is that right?

 

BLAIR EXELL, FIRST ASSISTANT SECRETARY, THE DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE (EBOLA CRISIS CHIEF): Correct, yep.

 

WONG: Just remind me, I apologise, I can’t recall this, it might have been reported but –

 

EXELL: So I mentioned earlier that the request covered personnel into the broader Sierra Leone Ebola response and for funding to again to support the response in Sierra Leone.

 

WONG: And how as that request received?

 

EXELL: I, from memory, I think Senator that was a letter to the foreign minister.

 

WONG: When was that received?

 

EXELL: The end of September.

 

WONG: From her counterpart?

 

EXELL: Actually I think it came from the High Commissioner , UK’s High Commissioner to Australia.

 

WONG: Australia’s High Commissioner? Sorry, the UK –

 

EXELL: High Commissioner –

 

WONG: Here in Australia?

 

EXELL: Correct.

 

WONG: Did that, given that was to the foreign minister tell me what happened as a result of that. Was there a meeting between the foreign minister and the High Commissioner or between DFAT and the High Commissioner or?

 

EXELL: Yeah, there’s been a number of meetings then between DFAT and the High Commissioner, I think he then went overseas so it’s actually been the acting High Commissioner. So we’ve been in touch with that office here in Canberra and indeed there’s been conversations that have been occurring in the UK as well.

 

WONG: In relation to this request, right. And has this request also been the subject of cabinet consideration?

 

EXELL: In the same way that I think the secretary referred to before as being part of the consideration, yep.

 

WONG: Okay. 

 

 

 

David Cameron’s views consistent with the request from the UK High Commission in Australia

 

WONG: And Mr Cameron maintained the British Government’s position in relation to the request or has the request been altered in some way?

 

EXELL: To my knowledge it hasn’t been altered.

 

PETER VARGESE, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE: My understanding is the UK is still interested in Australian assistance along those lines….

 

 

 

Later – the US request

 

WONG: Finally the US, what is the US request?

EXELL: So there was an initial request for a liaison officer and then more recently the request from the US has expanded again to request personnel to support their efforts in Liberia and request has been for further contributions in to the UN system for financial resources.

 

WONG: What’s the nature of the request in relation to support, personnel to support US efforts in Liberia?

 

EXELL: It hasn’t been more specific than that Senator; it’s been personnel to support their efforts in Liberia.

 

WONG: And how was that communicated?

EXELL: I think that’s been through meetings with our Embassy in the US.

 

JOHN FAULKNER: Does it go to the number of personnel?

 

EXELL: Hasn’t gone to that detail Senator.

 

WONG: Can we just get some timeframes around this, so you said more recently, there was, there was the initial request for liaison officer then and more recently personnel to support their efforts in Liberia. Can you give me the approximate date of the second?

 

EXELL: Again the initial request was in the end towards the end of September.

 

WONG: Yep.

 

 

 

Later – about the status of this request

 

WONG: What’s happened with that request?

 

PETER VARGHESE, SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE: I think it is part of the general process.

 

 

 

On the head of the foreign affairs department and Tony Abbott’s call with President Obama

 

WONG: I appreciate that you’ve said you haven’t seen a record of this conversation but have you been orally briefed? Or have the Foreign Minister or her office, to your knowledge, been briefed?

 

VARGESE: I don’t know.

 

 

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TRANSCRIPT - Capital Hill, Thursday 23 October 2014

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

TV INTERVIEW

ABC CAPITAL HILL

THURSDAY, 23 OCTOBER 2014

 

Subject/s: Ebola

JULIE DOYLE, PRESENTER: We've heard evidence from the Department of Foreign Affairs at Senate Estimates today that there's now been requests from the United Kingdom and the United States for Australian people to be sent to West Africa to help fight Ebola. If they're asking for us to send people, should they be agreeing then to evacuate Australians if they do become infected?

PLIBERSEK: Well both the US and the UK are making a decision to treat their own medical staff in-country. That means wherever possible they'll treat people as quickly as possible on the ground in Liberia or Sierra Leone where they are building hospitals with first world health standards. The UK's also said that they are potentially sending a hospital ship. They're making a different decision about their own health staff in the first instance to treat in-country. But of course, the proposition remains that Australia should be able to get an agreement with the United States, with the UK or one of our European allies to provide health facilities on the same basis, or health treatment on the same basis, to our personnel as they would to their own.

DOYLE: Does it surprise you that we've had confirmation - that we have had these official requests from the United Kingdom, United States amongst others, but this agreement as far as the evacuation of Australian personnel hasn't been sorted out?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it’s very significant that we've had the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the President of the United States make formal requests of our government for extra Australian commitment to fight Ebola in West Africa and those requests haven't been met. These are two of our most important allies. They are bearing a huge share of the responsibility of fighting Ebola in West Africa. We've now got a situation where the President of the United States is ringing the Prime Minister of Australia. The Prime Minister of the UK has spoken to our Foreign Minister, and still the Australian Government is not making arrangements to support Australian personnel who are trained, who are willing, who are able to fight Ebola in West Africa to go.

DOYLE: But don’t they need some way if requests are coming and they want people to go there, isn't it fair enough that the Australian Government says there must be a way to evacuate or treat Australian people if they get infected?

PLIBERSEK: Well, of course it's fair enough to say that there must be a way of treating Australians. What's in question is what effort has the Australian Government made to put those arrangements in place? And the Prime Minister says that it's impossible, it’s just too hard. For weeks now we've had the Health Minister saying it's just too hard and we find out that, in fact, the Health Minister’s only for the first time on Friday joined the weekly meeting of chief health and medical officers to manage the Ebola crisis. So we've got a chaotic 24 hours in Senate Estimates where there's three different stories about Australia's preparedness in Australia and in our region and we have further evidence now saying that Australia has been requested by the United States, by the United Kingdom, joining requests from the United Nations, the UN Security Council, the International Crisis Group, Medecins Sans Frontieres, the World Health Organisation, our own AMA, Public Health Association - all of these organisations saying that it is important to have personnel on the ground in West Africa, people who are trained and willing and able to go. We're knocking back the requests of all of these health and security organisations. Now we're also saying no to some of our most important allies.

DOYLE: Looking at some of the measures closer to home to deal with any kind of outbreak in the Asia Pacific region or with people coming back here from West Africa, now there's been reports about some tension in the Cabinet when it comes to the role of the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. Now as far as quarantine measures at the airport for example, for people coming back from West Africa, wouldn't it make sense, doesn't that require Customs and Immigration to have a greater role there?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it absolutely requires that Customs and Immigration are aware of what they should be telling passengers who are coming back into Australia. It's very important that they have very clear instructions, that they obviously tell passengers that if they have any of these symptoms that they should go to a hospital and so on. I think the problem here is after 24 hours of chaotic answers in Senate Estimates we now have Scott Morrison making a bid to expand his portfolio responsibilities further. To be honest, it doesn't matter to me so much who is in charge within the Government, there needs to be someone in charge.

DOYLE: Wouldn't it make sense then to bring all this under one umbrella?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think that's a matter for the Government.

DOYLE: Alright, Tanya Plibersek, we'll leave it there. Thank you very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.

ENDS

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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Parliament House, Thursday 23 October 2014

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

PARLIAMENT HOUSE

THURSDAY, 23 OCTOBER 2014

 

Subject/s: Attack on Canada’s Parliament, Ebola, RET.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: This morning all Australians are thinking of our friends in Canada, the extraordinary attack on their Parliament Houses - our thoughts are with the Canadians.  We share much with Canada. Our democracy, our institutions, some of our history - we fought together in wars passed, we have a great deal of friendship and affection for the Canadians and our thoughts are with them today.

I also wanted to say a little bit about Ebola today. We have heard from Senate estimates in the last 24 hours essentially three different stories about Australia's preparedness to fight Ebola. And we have heard one story from the Chief Medical Officer, a completely different story from the head of the health department and a different story again from our defence force personnel. We need a government that is prepared to take charge of protecting Australians from Ebola, and as we have said in the past, the best way to protect Australians from Ebola is to ensure that it is stopped at its source in West Africa. There are reports that President Obama spoke with Prime Minister Abbott about Australia making a greater contribution to the international effort to fight Ebola. So we have now heard pleas from President Obama, from Prime Minister Cameron, from the World Health Organisation from the Secretary General of the United Nations, from the UN Security Council with a motion that Australia signed up to, organisations like Oxfam, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Red Cross, all of them doing their very best to help stop Ebola in West Africa, to get this terrible virus under control and asking the Australian Government - urging more international effort - for Australia to be a part of the international effort to get this virus under control. And the Australian Government still unwilling to act. There is chaos at home it is clear now with Scott Morrison saying that he should be in charge. Well, someone should be in charge of the domestic response. We heard that the Health Minister participated for the first time just last Friday in a weekly crisis meeting that Chief Medical Officers and health officers around the states and territories have been participating in since August to ensure Australian preparedness. It’s taken our Health Minister until October to participate in our weekly meeting. And we hear that a crisis team is ready to fly, isn’t ready to fly, is trained, isn’t trained, is waiting in Darwin, is prepared, isn’t prepared, it’s simply not acceptable.

JOURNALIST: In light of the attack on the Canada’s Parliament, how safe do you feel coming into work today?

PLIBERSEK: I feel perfectly safe.

JOURNALIST: Is the Government doing enough, I mean do you feel perhaps that security has backed off in the last couple of days?

PLIBERSEK: I am sorry, are you talking about Parliament here?

JOURNALIST: Yes, sorry.

PLIBERSEK: I feel perfectly safe here.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe that more needs to be done to protect MPs here and workers?

PLIBERSEK: I think our security is excellent here, but I would say this  there were very brave people in the Parliament buildings in Ottawa today and it makes me appreciative again and again for the excellent, dedicated staff at the Parliament.

JOURNALIST: Could there be a role here for mandatory quarantine to counter any Ebola threat?

PLIBERSEK: The very best way of getting a handle on this virus is to stop its spread. The number of infected cases is doubling on average every 20 days. If we do not get the virus under control, 1.4 million people are estimated to have it by January next year. It is impossible when you have got those large numbers of people infected to protect Australia effectively. The best and most effective protection for Australia right now is to be part of an international effort to stop the spread of the virus. If this virus gets to Asia, the World Health Organisation has described that as potentially catastrophic. We live in a densely populated region of the world. We live in a region where some countries have excellent health systems, like Australia does, and some countries have very poor health systems. So the best protection for Australia is to fight Ebola in West Africa.

JOURNALIST: Would you like to see an investigation into the alleged [inaudible]

PLIBERSEK: Unfortunately I do not have further details of that so I will not comment.

JOURNALIST: Just from Senate Estimates yesterday, we heard from the Chief Medical Officer who obviously expressed concerns about Australia’s preparedness if an Ebola case were to happen here, but then we heard on Monday from the Health Secretary, Martin Bowles, who said that there were a team of around 20 specialists,  who’s right?

PLIBERSEK: Well this is the point, we have got a Government that is telling Australians that we are prepared and yet government officials have given three different stories about Australia's preparedness. You have to ask the Government who is right. But the problem is the Government should be all over this. The Health Minister, Peter Dutton, should have been attending those weekly meetings of health officials and he should be able to confidently answer this question. There shouldn’t be three stories, there should be one story, and the Health Minister should be confidently able to explain to Australians what measures are in place to fight Ebola in Australia and in our region and more particularly, what effort Australia is making to stop Ebola in West Africa, at the source.

JOURNALIST: Are you comfortable with Labor's negotiating position on the RET?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I certainly think that the Government is not negotiating in good faith. They have come to the table with a 40 percent cut, something that represents a 40 percent cut in our renewable energy target. I think that it is important that Labor is open to working with the Government if they have got a fair proposal. But I would like to see a fair dinkum proposal to start with.

JOURNALIST: What does the Government's offer mean for green jobs?

PLIBERSEK: Well, this Government has presided over the greatest uncertainty in the renewable energy sector that we have seen for some time. We have gone from being a preferred destination for a renewable energy investment to falling way down the list. Thank you.

ENDS

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SPEECH - Death of the Hon. Edward Gough Whitlam AC QC - Motion of Condolence

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

***CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY***

SPEECH

DEATH OF THE HON. EDWARD GOUGH WHITLAM AC QC - MOTION OF CONDOLENCE

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

TUESDAY, 21 OCTOBER 2014

 

 

Thank you Madam Speaker.

I’d like to pay my respects to the family of Gough and Margaret Whitlam and I start by acknowledging, Catherine, Nicholas, Tony, Stephen, their partners and their families.  The wonderful support and love they have shown their parents for many years.  And of course Gough’s dear friends who will miss him so greatly. 

I have often thought it fitting that Gough Whitlam was Australia’s 21st Prime Minister.

Because with Gough as Prime Minister, Australia came of age.

An Australia that once thought small was asked to think big.

An Australia, once closed and inward-looking, opened to the world.

Gough rejected those old ideas of what Australia should be and led us to what Australia could be.

The Australia that Gough Whitlam was born to in 1916, almost a century ago, was a very different place.

We were at war in support of mother England.

Australian women had only relatively recently secured the right to vote.

And Indigenous Australians were shamefully excluded from our national life and even from our national census.

Gough’s life, nearly a century long, charted the evolution of our nation from one of insularity and dependence, to one of openness and confidence.

Gough only had three short years in Government.

But they were I think, arguably, the most transformative three years in Australian political history.

Free university education - my family, my brothers and I, and I think many people on Labor’s side, and no doubt many on the other side too, were the first in their families able to afford a university education.

You could get a university education based on your intellect, your hard work, your desire to go to university, rather than your parents income.

Universal healthcare.  Medibank, now Medicare.

Rights for women, support for sole parents, homeless Australians, and for “new Australians” as they were then called. He made room for us all in our nation.

Who can forget that image of Gough Whitlam pouring the sand into Vincent Lingiari’s hand?

…starting a process of giving land rights to Indigenous Australians who had waited so long and worked so hard to achieve that gain.

Gough’s commitment to equality for women, was best embodied in the wonderful relationship he had with his beloved wife, Margaret.

A relationship which spanned nearly 70 years of marriage.

Yes, Gough’s reforms for women were landmark.

They included the election of the first Labor woman to the house of representatives, Joan Child in 1974.

His partnership with Margaret was such a driving force of that drive for equality for women.  Gough respected her, he listened to her views, he treated her as an equal in every way.

When she died, a few months short of 70 years of marriage he said: ”We were married for almost 70 years…she was a remarkable person and the love of my life.”

On hearing of Gough’s passing today, many people have described Gough as a giant of our nation.

And he was.

He was a towering figure.

He had the ability to deliver soaring rhetoric, but his actions were down to earth.

He was a very warm person on a one to one basis.

I remember when my parents first met him they were almost embarrassed to talk to him because they admired him so much - he was so incredibly warm and welcoming to them, particularly to my mother.

His ability to talk at an international level about issues of enormous complexity and convince an audience on the one hand, and on the other speak person to person to any Australian and make them feel respected and included.  A phenomenal ability.

From helping to sewer Western Sydney, to his reforms to health and education.

It was that ability to merge the idealistic and the pragmatic that made him such a great leader.

He delivered so many great reforms that mattered so much to the everyday lives of Australians.

His work in the suburbs of Sydney, not just the sewers but the work that he and Margaret did together building libraries and swimming pools.

Those things mattered to Gough as well.

They mattered to the people he represented, and they mattered to him.

They were the great motivator for him, the thing that made him work so hard as a member of Parliament.

But as well as that phenomenal drive to improve the lives of Australians, at that suburban level, in Western Sydney in particular, he also saw himself, and saw Australians, as citizens of the world.

He turned Australia into an outward looking nation.

He ended conscription, he brought our last troops home from Vietnam.

He delivered independence for Papua New Guinea.

He said at the time:

“By an extraordinary twist of history, Australia, herself once a colony, became one of the world's last colonial powers. By this legislation, we not only divest ourselves of the last significant colony in the world, but we divest ourselves of our own colonial heritage. It should never be forgotten that in making our own former colony independent, we as Australians enhance our own independence. Australia was never truly free until Papua New Guinea became truly free”. 

Most enduringly perhaps, Gough helped us find our place in Asia.

He visited China of course, as Opposition leader – leading the world.

And as Prime Minister he established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China – where to this day he is still remembered with great affection.

Gough united with Malcolm Fraser to campaign for a republic, part of his long term push to cement Australia’s independence.   As Prime Minister he changed the national anthem from God Save the Queen to Advance Australia Fair, and he dispensed with the British honours system.

He was a fine ambassador to UNESCO and he was part of our successful bid for the Sydney Olympics - both he and Margaret were.

Malcolm Fraser said about him “he wanted Australia to be an independent player on the world stage. He didn’t want Australia to be the subject of any other nation.”  His whole career expressed that.

Gough’s legacy both domestically and on the world stage is now so deeply ingrained in our national character that we sometimes take it for granted.  We forget, perhaps, how fierce the battles were.

All of our Prime Ministers have served our nation with great loyalty and distinction.

But, there will always be something special about Gough.

He had an ego, that’s true.  And he was the first to make fun of himself for that.

He said in the early 2000s: “I feel I am eternal but not immortal."

As always, as he would say, he was right about that.

His contribution to Australia has changed us, fundamentally and permanently. But you know, the great man, still came to branch members’ Christmas parties, he still did Labor Party fundraisers for me and for many of my colleagues.

And he would turn up without fanfare. There was one year we had our Christmas party upstairs at a pub and he needed assistance up the stairs.  I said to him “Gough, if you’d told us you were coming, we would have had the party anywhere just to make it a little bit easier for you to attend”.

He waved away that consideration and said “comrade, I’m just a humble branch member now”.

He also, I think, had Margaret to keep him in check. I remember one of these fundraisers where he was speaking and he got onto a favourite topic of his - the single gauge railway.  It ended with Margaret banging her stick on the ground saying “enough now, Gough, they’ve heard enough, sit down!”

They loved each other very deeply and each of them made an enormous commitment to the service of our nation.

They will be deeply missed by their friends, by their family, and by our colleague, John Faulkner, who had a very special friendship with Gough Whitlam.

The outpouring of grief that we are witnessing today is not just mourning for a man, but for everything he represented.

He had a clear vision of the country that he knew Australia could be, and he had the ability to project that vision to the world.

More than anything else, Gough’s memory should inspire us to have courage in politics.

           …a reminder that often the most important reforms are the hardest.

But as we’ve seen today from the unprecedented public response to his passing, it is those reforms that Australians cherish, and it is those reforms that will outlast us all.

Gough, my friend and comrade, rest in peace.

ENDS

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TRANSCRIPT - AM Agenda, Tuesday 21 October 2014

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

TELEVISION INTERVIEW

SKY NEWS AM AGENDA

TUESDAY, 21 OCTOBER 2014

 

Subject/s: Gough Whitlam.

KIERAN GILBERT, PRESENTER: I thank you Tanya Plibersek for honouring your commitment to come in this morning on a sad day for the Labor Party.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Thank you Kieran, it certainly is a sad day for the Labor Party. Gough Whitlam was a giant, a Labor Giant, and we feel for his family and of course it is a great loss to the nation also.

GILBERT: Indeed the Prime Minister this morning issued a statement, I’ll just read a little bit to you. He describes Gough Whitlam as a giant of his time, uniting the Australian Labor Party, winning two elections, establishing diplomatic relations with China, the first Australian Prime Minister to visit China, an enduring legacy the Prime Minister describes that as. Also this which is something Matt Thistlethwaite referred to earlier and that I guess is one of those seminal images of the Whitlam era the Prime Minister said that Gough Whitlam recognised the journey our country needed to take with Indigenous Australians the image of soil passing from Gough Whitlam’s hand to that of Vincent Lingiari’s a reminder that all Australians share the same land and the same hopes.

PLIBERSEK: And I think one of the most phenomenal aspects of Gough Whitlam’s time as Prime Minister is that he did things that were so controversial at the time that have become absolutely embedded in our Australian history and character. That image of passing the soil into Vincent Ligiari’s hand starting a process of giving land rights to Indigenous Australians who had waited so long and worked so hard. Introducing Medibank that’s become Medicare, an absolutely fundamental part of our nation’s character now, accessible healthcare for all Australians. Making university education free so that people like my older brother, first in our family ever to go to university, but the experience of so many Australians, that idea that access to university should be based on your intellect and your ability to work hard and not whether your parents are wealthy. These are things that have become part of our national character. The Prime Minister has very generously talked about the establishing of diplomatic relations with China when Gough Whitlam said that he would do that as Opposition Leader, very controversial thing to do, and yet it has been so critical to Australia’s economic and security success in decades following that. And so I think that the lesson I suppose is that those brave policy decisions that have set Australia on a better course should inspire us to bravery today as well. To make those tough decisions, to stand up and argue for the things we believe in, things that we know can make our nation stronger and stronger.

GILBERT: On the foreign policy front that you referred to there he visited in 1971, China, before Kissinger, before Nixon, so not just leading the country in that sense but leading the world as well.

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely and I think now that seems like an uncontroversial thing to do. Most Australians now would acknowledge that our relationship with China is important for us economically and strategically, certainly that we have nothing to fear from China. At that time you’ve got to understand how controversial it was, to be opening up relations with a communist nation. The other great foreign policy achievement is of course returning our troops from Vietnam, bringing back the last of our troops from Vietnam. Again now looking back it seems like the only obvious thing to do and yet at the time incredibly controversial, a very brave move.

GILBERT: A very modern figure, wasn’t he, in the Lodge along with his wife Margaret they were powerful, national leaders and figures weren’t they?

PLIBERSEK: They were great modernisers, making sure that no fault divorce, social security payments for sole parents, reducing the voting age from 21 to 18. These were all big steps on making Australia a more modern nation. But it was something more than that it was actually the relationship between Gough and Margaret, the influence that Margaret obviously had. The fact that she was prepared to speak her mind and the fact that she said she made a decision when she became the wife of the Prime Minister that she could sit quietly in her gilded cage and say nothing or she could use this position to do some good. And she used it to do some good. She speaks very eloquently in a biography that is written about her about the empathy and connectedness that she felt with those women that lived in the western Sydney seat that Gough represented, the work that she did in establishing libraries and swimming pools and arguing for those services in the suburbs of Sydney. But more than that the type of woman she was, she was so utterly herself. Full of intelligence and integrity and with this beautiful close loving relationship with her husband there was a real model of an equal relationship.

GILBERT: Indeed it was and I guess as we reflect on this contribution from Gough Whitlam dying at 98 a rich life, a long life we have to look at their legacy in terms of their impact on the modern Labor Party. Many Labor, senior Labor figures over the last few decades were inspired to enter politics because of his contribution and not a long prime ministership in you know historical standards I guess but three years made a huge lasting legacy as you said social policy but also on the impact in subsequent generations of your party leadership.

PLIBERSEK: He is the iconic figure for making a brave policy stand on a whole range of different issues so he is an inspirational figure in that way. He is inspirational also because there is a whole lot of us who would never have gone to university but for the university changes that he made and he was incredibly generous with his time as well. I noticed the statement from his family talked about him as a loving and generous father. But he was a loving and generous figure in the Labor Party as well. I know many of my colleagues as I did would occasionally visit him in the office or have a cup of coffee in Double Bay and he was so generous with his time and his advice. I mean it always felt like a real thrill as a young person moving into a position of responsibility in the Labor Party actually to be able to go and see Gough Whitlam and say what do you think about these issues, can you tell us a bit more about the history of what were you thinking when you made this decision, how did you come to that position. And he was just phenomenally generous, intellectually and with his time.

GILBERT: A great orator as well wasn’t he?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, terrific.

GILBERT: And Parliamentary performer.

PLIBERSEK: Although- he was a terrific orator, he had a wonderful turn of phrase. Sometimes he tended to you know make speeches that were a little on the long side and I always I thought it was hilarious Margaret would sit up the front sometimes with a walking stick as they got older and she’d beat, you know bang her stick on the ground and say ‘come on, Gough they have heard enough now’. But again just such a beautiful sign of their relationship.

GILBERT: Jim Middleton my colleague earlier described Gough Whitlam as a flawed genius. I guess it was a tumultuous period the most tumultuous in Australian political time, I suppose arguably with the last few years, but I mean 75, such a tumultuous end to his Prime Ministership. The social policy of course it was against the economic policy, was the vision caught up with the focus so much so that the other things sort of fell away in terms of priority?

PLIBERSEK: I think it is completely unreasonable to expect perfection from our leaders. All you can hope for is that a person honestly does their very best for their country and there is no question that Gough Whitlam was a patriot, that he did exactly what he thought was right for his country. Will people find flaws with some of the decisions he made? Of course they will. In the same way that any Prime Minister will have a review of their time in office that includes the successes, great achievements for our nation and things that might have been done differently but I think you know in the relatively short time that Gough Whitlam was Prime Minister our nation changed for the better. He left a lasting legacy in so many areas and I mean I have always been proud to be part of the party that he had such an impact on.

GILBERT: Well thank you I appreciate your time this morning. Thank you. What a difficult day for you and for the Labor Party.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.

ENDS

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