Abbott Government’s Response to the Humanitarian Crisis in Syria



The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP

Deputy Leader of the Opposition

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development

Abbott Government’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria

12 FEBRUARY 2014


The Abbott Government’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria has been woefully inadequate.

Despite the record $6.5 billion United Nations’ appeal for help, the Abbott Government has contributed only $12 million.

I have written to the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, urging her to provide more assistance from Australia as a matter of priority.

On my visit to Syria earlier this year, I saw first-hand the great extent of the suffering in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon.

The UN says about half of Syria’s population, some 9.3 million people, are in urgent need of assistance.  Around 2.3 million people have left the country and 6.5 million are internally displaced.  More than half of those who have fled are children.

The Abbott Government’s $12 million contribution pales in comparison to other countries.  During the last round of pledges to the UN appeal, Britain gave an extra $164 million, Norway gave $75 million, and Kuwait gave $500 million.

The Howard Government gave $1 billion to Indonesia after the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004.

The $12 million pledged by the Abbott Government to UN relief efforts does not reflect the scale of the humanitarian disaster facing Syrians or Australia’s generous tradition.  As a member of the UN Security Council, Australia has a responsibility to show global leadership.

The fact a UN convoy was recently attacked in the Syrian city of Homs also underscores the desperate need for protected humanitarian corridors to safely deliver aid - as championed by former Labor Foreign Minister Bob Carr.

From 2011, the former Labor Government delivered around $100 million in assistance for Syria.

Syrian peace talks have recently resumed in Geneva.


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Opinion piece – The Schoolyard Diplomacy Must End


The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP

Deputy Leader of the Opposition

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development 

Opinion piece – The schoolyard diplomacy must end 

Originally published in The Australian Financial Review - 11 February 2014 

In 1971, Gough Whitlam visited China as part of a Labor Party delegation.  That was one month before US President Richard Nixon made a similar visit that would change the course of global politics.  Prime Minister Whitlam’s foresight on the importance of China was again witnessed in 1973 when he returned to the country, this time as the first Australian Prime Minister to do so.

China’s ascendance is just one of the seismic shifts occurring in today’s geopolitical landscape.  The realignment of economic and strategic weight toward Asia in recent decades is something new to Australian foreign policy.  Engaging in this new environment is a delicate business, requiring both skilful diplomacy, and a nuanced understanding of Australia’s international relationships (longstanding and new).  Sadly the current government is struggling on both fronts.

Even before the election, experts including the Australian National University’s Professor Hugh White, observed that Beijing was wary of Tony Abbott.  It wasn’t a good start, and the Government’s actions since have done nothing to dispel China’s misgivings.

Last year, the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, admonished China when she summoned the Chinese Ambassador to her department demanding an explanation about his country’s behaviour – then issued a media release about it.  This was a major diplomatic misstep that earned Ms Bishop an unprecedented public rebuke from the Chinese Foreign Minister when she was in Beijing.

The Abbott Government’s pivot to the US has seen a change in language too.  Ms Bishop has made a point of ignoring the fact that China is our biggest two way trading partner to award the US the title of 'most important economic partner’.  While the US-Australia direct investment relationship is also significant, what is China to make of the Government’s determination to rank and grade our friends?  It’s the kind of rhetorical inelegance which reminds us of Mr Abbott’s simplistic “baddies versus baddies” assessment of the Syrian conflict.

Basic factual errors on the Prime Minister’s part have also raised eyebrows in our region, like calling Japan our ‘ally’.  Our relationship with Japan is one of longest, strongest, and closest in our region, but not formally an alliance.  That was a significant misuse of a word with a very specific diplomatic meaning.  This came on top of Ms Bishop’s insistence that Japan was our ‘best friend’ in Asia.  Not one of our best friends, but decidedly top of the rankings.

The Government’s bungling, ham-fisted diplomacy has arguably led Australia’s relationship with China to its lowest ebb since before Whitlam’s historic visit.

So why would the Government allow ties to be damaged with our largest trading partner, merchandise export market, and a nation that is set to become the world’s biggest economy by 2025?  What would drive the Coalition to risk our near-term economic interests and long-term security interests so recklessly?  The answer is a deep misunderstanding of the world of diplomacy.  The Coalition sees our relations with the US and China as a zero-sum game – that is, becoming closer to one must move us away from the other.

This type of Cold War thinking has no place in a world with growing multi-polarity.  US Secretary of State, John Kerry, recently advised against zero-sum thinking in relation to the Ukraine.  And the US and China continue to work to strengthen their own relationship, with US Vice-President, Joe Biden, recently warmly welcomed in China.  Labor’s achievements in government completely invalidate the zero-sum approach too.  Then Prime Minister Gillard had President Obama visit and we agreed on stronger defence ties with the US.  During the same term, Gillard made a historic visit to China and established a high level strategic partnership.

The US-China relationship will shape the future of our region like no other factor.  It is in Australia’s interests to ensure this relationship is characterised by dialogue, and underpinned by trust and an understanding of the importance of cooperation.  This cannot be achieved by unthinkingly taking sides or clumsily ranking relationships.  While both China and the US already engage with each other on their own, Australia has something unique to offer.  Australia has an obvious cultural bond to the US, underpinned by a shared anglosphere heritage.  That combined with our growing ties and economic complementarity to China, as well as our large Chinese diaspora, allows us to play a role no other country can.

Beyond our bilateral relationships, we can help facilitate a good China-US relationship through multilateral engagement.  Having a rules-based international system which engages and adapts to rising powers like China is the best way to ensure long-term peace and stability.  As a middle power, our strength lies in our ability to influence and build like-minded coalitions with others.  Working alongside neighbours like Indonesia, we can help magnify our voice.  Multilateralism effectively acts as a force multiplier.

For all this we need policymakers who are adaptable, seek out new opportunities and avoid emerging threats.  At such a phenomenal time in global history, pursuit of our national interests and values will not be furthered by a schoolyard style ranking of friends.  It is inexcusable for Mr Abbott and Ms Bishop, with an entire government bureaucracy at their fingertips, to be blind to something Whitlam and Nixon saw so clearly 40 years ago.

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Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard Appointed Chair of the Global Partnership for Education


The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP

Deputy Leader of the Opposition

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development


The Hon Kate Ellis MP

Shadow Minister for Education

Shadow Minister for Early Childhood 


Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard appointed Chair of the Global Partnership for Education 

11 FEBRUARY 2014


The Labor Opposition congratulates former Prime Minister Julia Gillard on her appointment as Chair of the Global Partnership for Education.

As a global leader in education for years now, Julia Gillard is the perfect choice for this important international role.

During her time as Prime Minister, and Education Minister, Julia Gillard drove the biggest reforms to Australian education in a generation.  And now the international community will benefit from her leadership and passion for improving educational opportunities for all.

The Global Partnership for Education is an international organisation focused on supporting school education in developing countries.

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Goverment Should Take Action to Support Rule of Law in Nauru














Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development Tanya Plibersek and Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus QC have called on the Abbott Government to do all it can to support the rule of law in Nauru.

This week the Australian and New Zealand Governments meet for a joint Cabinet in Sydney.

New Zealand has expressed concern about recent actions of the Nauruan Government. The Australian Government should use this meeting to discuss with their New Zealand counterparts how Australia and New Zealand can assist with supporting the rule of law in Nauru.

The rule of law is the foundation stone of functioning democracies around the world.

We are deeply concerned at recent reports that the Nauruan Government is now moving to draft an emergency order, which would give it the power to dismiss the Chief Justice, Geoffrey Eames.

This follows the deportation of Nauru’s only Magistrate, Peter Law, followed by the cancellation of Justice Eames’ visa after he attempted to prevent Mr Law’s deportation.

Labor has serious concerns about the consequences of the Nauruan Government’s actions for the rule of law in Nauru. We encourage the Nauruan Government to ensure a functioning and independent justice system.

Australia has historically had a close legal connection with Nauru.

The High Court of Australia remains the ultimate court of appeal for the Nauruan justice system.

It is not good enough for our Government to excuse its own inaction by claiming these are internal matters for Nauru.

The cancellation of Justice Eames’ visa has led to statements of concern and comments about the importance of the rule of law in Nauru from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria and the peak legal professional bodies, the Law Council of Australia and the Australian Bar Association.

The International Court of Jurists, the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, the Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association and the South Pacific Lawyers Association have also expressed their concern about the current situation in Nauru.



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Australia’s Consul-General in New York






Australia’s Consul-General in New York



The Foreign Minister must immediately explain why the post of Australia’s Consul-General in New York has been vacant for five months.

In September last year, the Abbott Government stripped former Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks, of the post saying he had ‘no obvious credentials for the job’.

Now, five months on, the Foreign Minister needs to say who she intends to appoint, and when.

Australia’s diplomatic, business, and cultural interests in New York have gone without senior representation for months because of the Abbott Government’s indecision.

By any measure, Steve Bracks was eminently qualified to serve as Consul-General.  Mr Bracks is a respected Australian businessman and an eight year Premier of Victoria.  He has held senior positions in foreign affairs, finance and superannuation and would have played a central role in Australia-New York business growth.



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Australia's Next Governor-General - General Peter Cosgrove AC MC










The Federal Opposition today congratulates General Peter Cosgrove AC MC on his appointment as Australia’s 26th Governor-General.

Labor welcomes the selection of such a capable, eminent and respected Australian to this high office.

General Cosgrove reflects the best of Australia and its people. He has dedicated his entire adult life to serving his country, inspiring others with his determination, strength and leadership.

As Commander of the international peacekeeping forces in East Timor, General Cosgrove helped bring independence to a new nation and stability to our region in difficult times.

As a former Chief of the Army and Chief of the Defence Force, General Cosgrove represented the most remarkable qualities of our service personnel at home and abroad.

He continued his unwavering commitment to public service in leading the recovery effort in Far North Queensland following the devastation of Cyclone Larry in 2006.

General Cosgrove was also recognised as a role model for others when he was named our Australian of the Year in 2001.

We wish General Cosgrove the very best as he undertakes this new role on behalf of the Australian people.

Federal Labor also recognises and thanks Governor-General Her Excellency the Hon Quentin Bryce AC CVO for her tremendous contribution and service since her appointment as Governor-General in 2008.

Ms Bryce is Australia’s first female Governor-General and has brought a renewed sense of respect and appreciation to Australia’s highest office, in particular, serving as a role model and mentor to Australian women.

Ms Bryce has served Australia with honour and represented our country with grace.

We will miss her sincerity, and her warmth.

All Australians are grateful for Ms Bryce’s service.

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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Brisbane, Monday 19 January 2015

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SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s 500 days of lies; GST on fresh food; Business confidence at 23 year low; Tony Abbott’s unfair Budget; Tony Abbott’s GP Tax; Death Penalty; Manus Island; Great Barrier Reef.

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It’s great to be in Yeerongpilly, supporting our Labor candidate Mark Bailey for the upcoming state election. It’s also great to be here in my first event for the year, with Deputy Leader, Tanya Plibersek, and also Graham Perrett, our hard working Federal Member for Morton. Today is 500 days since the Abbott Government was elected. 500 days of broken promises, of lies, and increased pressure on families cost of living. Families are now $6,000 a year worse off because of the Abbott Government. Pensioners are seeing the real value of their pension effectively cut in the future because of the Abbott Government. Students, worse off because they are going to have to pay two and three times what they once paid to go to university with the prospect of $100,000 degrees. Sick people worse off with the ongoing confusion and debate about the GP Tax and charging sick people more to go to the doctor. Our Defence Force is worse off, because they’ve had a real pay cut since the Abbott Government got elected.

Tony Abbott won't come to Queensland, he won't come on his 500-day anniversary. Queenslanders have got legitimate questions to ask about education, health and jobs. The economy is simply worse off than it was when Tony Abbott got elected. We see business confidence in the High Street down, and we see the ranks of the jobless increasing. Tony Abbott should come to Queensland before the end of the Queensland election, and he should explain to Queenslanders why he wants to put a GST on fresh food, why he wants sick people to pay more to go to the doctor, why he wants to take $10 billion from the Queensland hospital system, why he wants to cut and slash the funding to Queensland schools.

We know that Tony Abbott doesn't want to come to Queensland, yet I remember that in 2012, when Tony Abbott was introducing Campbell Newman when Campbell Newman was heading up the LNP team in Queensland, Tony Abbott was all over Campbell Newman then. But Tony Abbott famously said words to the effect that the people of Queensland have got the opportunity when they vote, to send a message they don't want bad Governments anywhere in Australia. Well, to quote Tony Abbott again, Queenslanders at this up coming State election have got the opportunity to send a message that they don't want bad Governments in Queensland or in Canberra.

Happy to just ask Tanya to say a few words about what she’s seen on the campaign trail and then we'll take questions.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks. That’s good, you've got a fan club Bill, that's terrific. It's terrific to be here with our leader, Bill Shorten, who has been received terrifically well here in Queensland. We have also got Mark Bailey, terrific local candidate. I have been this morning with a couple of other local candidates, with Joe Kelly and Di Farmer. And as I have gone around to the shops as Bill's been on this trip as well, we have got a very strong message from shopkeepers, from locals who are shopping, that they don't want a GST on food. As a former Health Minister I know one of the most important things you can do to keep our population healthy, is to keep the cost of fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and so on, affordable for families. So on top of the $6,000 dollars that the ordinary families lost after Tony Abbott's cuts, they simply can't afford to be paying more for doctor’s visits, paying more for medicine, paying more for education, and now on top of it, Tony Abbott's proposing an extra cost for fresh fruit and vegetables, and fresh food generally. A very strong message that Queenslanders don't want that.

SHORTEN: Thanks, Tanya. Are there any questions for us?

JOURNALIST: Mr. Shorten what do you make of Mr. Hockey’s comment that children are going to live to 150?

SHORTEN: Yes Joe Hockey has been kept in the basement over summer and now he's burst out of the basement. Now I genuinely think that he's had a brain snap here. He's almost had what I'd call his Sarah Palin moment, ‘I can see Russia from my house’. This proposition to justify his 2014 Budget, based on a not yet born baby's 150th birthday in a century and a half’s time, just shows that I suspect our Treasurer's simply lost the plot.

If you want to have serious policies about growing old in Australia, you don't freeze superannuation at 9 and a half per cent. You certainly don't make less well-off Australians pay more tax in their superannuation. You don't cut pensions. But in the meantime, we have got a Treasurer who has been engaged behind the scenes and finger pointing against the Prime Minister, a Prime Minister against the Treasurer over the GP Tax debacle. And in the meantime the healthcare of Australians being jeopardised by this absolutely over the top behaviour of the Government.

JOURNALIST: The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has a survey out today that said that business confidence was at a 23 year low and a lot of that is due to the uncertainty in Canberra. Isn't Labor contributing to that a bit?

SHORTEN: 500 days of the Abbott Government. It's their 500 day birthday and things are getting worse in Australia. And it's not good enough for the Abbott Government to simply blame everyone else. Families are worse off up to the tune of $6,000. Pensioners are facing cuts in their pensions. Our Defence Force has had a real pay cut. Sick people have had to worry about can they afford to go to see a doctor, the confidence is down as you observed in the business world and we’ve got more people in the jobless queues. Every day gets worse under the Abbott Government and every day means that this is a Government who are gradually more and more just losing the plot in terms of what they are going to do for Australians.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) making more of a contribution to see a doctor?

SHORTEN: I think we have got a very good system, the Medicare system. The Australian health system - let's get some facts on the table before we see the Government just attack GPs as they have been doing shamelessly in the last few weeks. Our health system, we spend about 9 per cent of our GDP on healthcare in Australia compared to about 17 per cent in the United States. If you look at what our GPs do, they are less than 30 per cent of the Medicare costs in the system, yet they look after 80 per cent of the patients and medical work. We need to see a government who stops fighting with the doctors, stops fighting with nurses, stops fighting with the patients, and starts working with people.

We pay our Medicare taxes to help pay for our healthcare system. This is a Government who is going to attack and keep attacking, bulk billing, and the only thing they did last week was due to the Queensland election where they backed off their crazy $20 fine to go and see a doctor. But the truth of the matter is the Government may have changed its tactics, but they haven't changed their mind on what they want to do with Medicare. We have got an invisible Prime Minister, but unfortunately his policies are very visible and he should come to Queensland and account for his policies and positions.

JOURNALIST: But should a person earning $100,000 be able to walk into a GP and get bulk-billed the same was as an electrician can?

SHORTEN: This argument that Australians don't pay for their Medicare does Australians a great disservice. Australians already pay a Medicare levy, so they are already paying for it. Many Australians have private health insurance so they are already paying for it. This is a Government who wants people to triple dip. This is a government who thinks the only way you cure the sick is by discouraging them from going to the doctor. We know and you know and reasonable people around Australia understand that all this Government wants to do is play our budget and political games. No-one thinks their latest backflips and contortions on Medicare is based about treatment of the sick, it's all about an untidy race to charge more people and raise more taxes by going to the doctor.

JOURNALIST: What should the Government do if the two Australians in Bali are executed – should they withdraw Ambassadors?

SHORTEN: This is a very difficult set of circumstances, and one which appropriately is above the political debate. Let me state very clearly, Labor believes that the death penalty is abhorrent whenever and wherever it occurs. It demeans all of us as human beings. We haven't given up and I'm sure the Government hasn't given up the prospect of achieving clemency for these two Australians. I understand that these Australians have broken the laws and they have broken the laws in Indonesia. We understand that they have to pay a penalty. But the death penalty simply won't discourage the crimes. It doesn't work, and Labor is at one with the Government to try to save the lives of these Australians.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the Government is doing enough?

SHORTEN: Well, again, I'm not about to make this a political issue. There is one task at hand today, ladies and gentlemen. It is to do whatever we can to achieve clemency for these two Australians. So the lawyers of the families, the families, the Government, ourselves, are of one mind, we oppose the death penalty.

JOURNALIST: What should the Government be doing with regards to the situation on Manus Island?

SHORTEN: Well first of all the Government - the reports there are very troubling now. Whatever one's perspective about these matters, I think that all Australians are unhappy that there's a culture of secrecy. These people are directly or indirectly in the care of Australia, and the Government just needs to come clean with what is happening. Australians are a fair minded people. We believe in making sure the right thing is done by people within our care both directly and indirectly. The first step to doing that is to make sure we actually know what's going on and I don't think anyone outside of a few people in the Government actually know what is really happening.

JOURNALIST: What can we expect from the Queensland election campaign launch tomorrow from Labor?

SHORTEN: Well you'll have to wait and to the launch tomorrow. But I think it's fair to say that Annastacia Palaszczuk and her state team ably represented the flag being carried in Yeerongpilly by Mark Bailey, have had a massive mountain to climb from three and a half years ago. Three and a half years ago, the electorate returned only 7 Labor MPs out of 89. There have been two by-elections since then, with Anthony Lynham and Yvette D’Ath joining the ranks, but that’s still only 9 out of 89. It's been a mammoth task for Annastacia Palaszczuk to get Labor back to competitive and I think they are competitive. I think it's not so much what we expect from the launch tomorrow, but it’s about the issues, isn't it. This is a Labor team in Queensland determined to see that the assets of Queensland are put to best use for Queenslanders. This is a Labor team talking about health and education and jobs. These are coincidentally issues which transcend state and federal boundaries, that is why Tanya, Graham, myself and all our team are so keen to be here because the health and education of every Queenslander, the employment prospects of every young Queenslander are a matter of great importance to all levels of politics.

JOURNALIST: It sounds like you are lowering expectations. Can Annastacia Palaszczuk pull off a victory?

SHORTEN: The arithmetic is very difficult. I'm not an election commentator, I’ll leave that to the ladies and gentlemen of the press, but what I do know is it's a steep climb and Labor, I think, has exceeded expectations so far, it is a very difficult climb. But what matters is the future of Queensland. What matters is jobs. What matters is making sure your kids can get a good education, what matters is making sure that your parents when they need to see a doctor can see a doctor. These are the matters which unite Labor and unite Labor with Queensland and that's what we stand for. One more question.

JOURNALIST: The Great Barrier Reef is under massive attack at the moment from the Abbott Government, are we going to see a lot of developments on that from incoming Labor governments, both federally and at a state level? [inaudible]

SHORTEN: Well, I think what's been very clear in this election is there's only one mainstream political party with any policies for the Great Barrier Reef, and State Labor's made it very clear they will move heaven and earth to protect the pristine nature of the Barrier Reef. In Canberra, we see a Federal Government currently in power who deny the impact of climate change, you can see them being dragged with their fingernail marks across the concrete to have any debate about climate change. And even we saw the dramatic report released this weekend which shows we have just gone through the hottest year. And yet you still have the Abbott Government stuck in the past. So if people care about the Great Barrier Reef, we don't just have to rely on President Obama to tell us about its capacities and its importance, we should do that at the ballot box. Thanks, everyone, lovely to see you.


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STATEMENT - Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan

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Labor opposes the death penalty in all cases.

We urge clemency for anyone facing it, whoever and wherever they may be. That includes two members of the Bali Nine, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan.

Consistent with the long standing bi-partisan opposition to the death penalty, both Labor and Liberal governments have made representations to a number of countries on behalf of Australian citizens who face the death penalty. That work has Labor's full support.



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Transcript of Press Conference: 16 December 2013


The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP
Deputy Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development

Transcript of press conference


Subjects: Marriage equality, Abbott Government’s first 100 days

Tanya Plibersek: Last week we saw in the ACT, the court decided that indeed it’s the federal Parliament that needs to legislate for marriage equality in Australia. That means the federal Parliament needs to decide to end discrimination against same couples when it comes to marriage. I’m going to reintroduce into Parliament next year, a private member’s Bill that will make it possible for same sex couples who love each other to marry. What I’d like to see is conscience vote for Liberal and National Members of Parliament. Until Liberal and National Members of Parliament are allowed a conscience vote, it’s not possible for such legislation to pass. Ideally I’m looking for a Liberal or a National party member to co-sponsor this Bill. I’d like to see a Liberal or National party member put their name this private member’s leg with mine to show that this is a matter that’s above politics, that is bi-partisan. Of course not everyone agrees, but with a conscience vote, we’ll see a majority of Labor party members, and those Liberal and National party members who believe in marriage equality able to express that.
Journalist: Are you heartened by Malcolm Turnbull’s comments?

Plibersek: It’s been obvious for a long time that Malcolm Turnbull is a supporter of marriage equality. And he’s said in the past that he’d like to see a conscience vote in his own party. So ideally, it’d be wonderful if Malcolm was prepared to or able to co-sponsor such a Bill. But of course being a Cabinet minister, that makes that a little more difficult. So if not Malcolm, perhaps one of the Liberal backbenchers or a National party backbencher would be prepared to co-sponsor the Bill. If not, I’m sure that I’ll find someone in the Labor Party. But, there is a fundamental threshold question here. Unless Liberal and National party members are able to have a conscience vote there’s no way that this legislation can pass. So I’ll go to my party room in January, with a proposal that Labor would have a new private member’s Bill, and that I would sponsor that Bill.
But I won’t intro a new bill until Liberal and National members have a conscience vote. So it’s up to Tony Abbott really now to allow his members of Parliament to vote according to their conscience.

Journalist: It’s a hundred days since the Coalition … [inaudible)

Plibersek: Well, I think most Australians have worked out that Tony Abbott’s Government is not the Government they said they’d be. They said they’d be a Government of no surprises and no excuses. But so far it’s been nasty surprises and pathetic excuses. In every area of government policy we’ve seen broken promises. We’ve seen broken promises in health. They said they wouldn’t cut health funding, and they have. We’ve seen broken promises in education. They said they were a unity ticket with Labor on education funding, and instead they been dragged kicking and screaming to funding part of the Gonski funding model but not all of it, and indeed they are cutting Trades Training Centres. So they are cutting some school funding to pay for some other school funding. Trades Training Centres are more important than ever before. We see the jobs losses at Holden, the job losses at Qantas, the job losses in Gove at Rio Tinto, Electrolux, Simplot, all of these job losses. We need to have highly skilled highly trained workers. By cutting Trades Training Centres from high school , a $400 million cut there, you reduce the likelihood that young people come out of high school ready for the skilled trades jobs of the future. Across every area of government policy we’ve seen mis-steps, failures, and broken promises.

Journalist: Do you have anything to add on marriage equality?

Plibersek: I think now is really the time for Australians to say to their Government that we need a conscience vote on this. I think its time for Tony Abbott to allow his members of Parliament to follow their conscience and to vote in the federal Parliament for marriage equality.

Journalist: So with your conversations with Malcolm, how did that go, how did the conversation about marriage equality go?

Plibersek: Malcolm Turnbull is in a seat neighbouring mine, and I talk to him all the time about all sorts of issues, but I don’t talk about those conversations afterwards.

Journalist: [inaudible]

Plibersek: I think it’s very difficult for the Coalition to refuse a conscience vote...[inaudible]…so if there’s a CV we’ll see a number of people vote for marriage equality, I and think that it’s very likely there will be a conscience vote.

15 DECEMBER 2013

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Transcript of interview with Ben Fordham: Today Show, Channel 9


The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP

Deputy Leader of the Opposition

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development

Transcript of interview with Ben Fordham

Today Show, Channel 9


Subjects: Holden, NBN

Ben Fordham: How are we all?

Malcom Turnbull: We're very well.

Fordham: Everyone friendly?

Tanya Plibersek: Yeah.

Fordham: Ok, we’ll keep our answers short and sharp today because there's a lot to get through if we can. It's been a devastating week for Holden workers after the company confirmed it will cease manufacturing cars in Australia by 2017. Today a warning from Toyota that uncompetitive work practices could force it to go the same way as Holden, Ford and others. So does that mean, Malcolm, we need to have more flexible agreements i.e. Work Choices, things like that, in the automotive sector?

Turnbull: I think what it means is you need greater productivity. My understanding is that the wages of auto workers in Japan and Australia are comparable but the productivity here is a lot less.

Fordham: The bosses want more flexibility though and there are plenty of people within the Liberal Party who want a return to more flexibility in the workplace, so why wouldn't you deliver that to this industry if that's what they need?

Turnbull: Well, we’ve committed to an industrial relations policy and as you know, Work Choices is dead, buried and cremated but nonetheless it's incumbent on both the unions and the company and Toyota to be able to come to some settlement in terms of more productive work practices because if they can't, if they can't then Toyota will no doubt follow Holden. And then everyone loses.

Fordham: It's been revealed today, Tanya, that the executives in the US, the Holden executives were working on this decision for months. It was months in the making therefore it's a little bit …

Plibersek: Well, no Ben, what I think was revealed is they had two plans. If we stay this is what we need to stay, if we can't stay this is how we leave. And any business makes contingency plans. As late as Tuesday this week, when Mike Devereaux was talking to the Productivity Commission he was saying no decision had been made. What changed was he went into - we went into question time and Joe Hockey dared Holden to leave and they took his dare.

Fordham: You honestly believe that's why they pulled out?

Plibersek: I do.

Fordham: As a result of what Joe Hockey said in question time?

Plibersek: Seeing that, you've seen the text messages being sent by Holden executives saying "Are you watching this, this bloke wants us to leave, he's daring us, he's goading us." I think it was very significant in their decision.

Fordham: Ok, let’s move on right now. The Government is set to break a key election promise on the NBN, Malcolm Turnbull's baby. The pledge to deliver download speeds of 25 megabytes per second to the majority of Australians by 2016.

Now Malcom, I know that you will blame the former government for this.  I know that you will bore us with all sorts of details on the NBN but can you just admit in the interest of transparency that what you said before the election is different to what you were saying now?

Turnbull: Well, what I said before the election is we would tell the truth about the NBN and we would for the first time get a thoroughly objective, independent analysis of where the project is now, where it could have gone to if Labor had stayed in Government which is to run up another $29 billion in debt and a much, much slower roll out and what the options are. Options are constrained by the mess we've been left with by Labor.

Fordham: But in the interests of transparency, you will admit now won’t you, that what you said before the election is different to what you're saying now?

Turnbull: What I said before the election was that we believed we could get all Australians 25 megs by 2016 and the company has come back with its advisers and said they do not believe that is achievable. But you know what that is? That is the first time the NBN Co has ever written a report which does not coincide with the political agenda of the Minister and that's because I'm the first Communications Minister - it's true.

Fordham: Come on, Tanya…

Turnbull: You can't deny that. I'm the first Communications Minister that has allowed the NBN to tell the truth. Stephen Conroy bullied them into telling lies again and again and again. And that’s the tragedy.

Plibersek: OK, two things to say. This is a report written by Malcolm's mate that he owns a yacht with.

Turnbull: That is outrageous. That is not true. The report on Labor…

Fordham: Hang on, is it true or not true?

Turnbull: It's completely untrue.

Plibersek: You don't own a yacht with him?

Turnbull: I own a yacht, own not a yacht actually, it's an old couta boat, it’s really better described as a menace to shipping and JB Rousselot, who is one of the people on that review - I own that boat with him.

Plibersek: The answer is yes.

Turnbull: No, hang on, wait a minute.

Fordham: Hang on a minute, Malcolm, Malcolm, Malcolm.

Turnbull: No, we've got to tell the truth, the truth about Labor was written by KordaMentha, not by JB Rousselot, and the Boston Consulting Group, it was not written by JB Rousselot, and you know that and you are smearing JB Rousselot because you are ashamed of the billions of dollars your government wasted and the mess that we have to clean up, Tanya, and it is a disgrace. Tens of billions of dollars…

Plibersek: Ben, Ben... This is a clearly broken promise.

Turnbull: You’ve broken your promise (to Fordham) to keep the answers short, you see.

Fordham: You're the one who didn't keep it short.

Turnbull: I never said I would.

Plibersek: The Prime Minister said a minimum of 25 megabits per second download speed, he said that before the election, very clearly.  Promise broken.

Turnbull: Well, what we said was that was our objective.

Plibersek: Promise broken.

Plibersek: No, no, no the Prime Minister promised that.

Turnbull: We made it very clear that all of our objectives, all of our targets were subject to getting to the facts –

Plibersek: That's not true.

Fordham: This is supposed to be a lovely Christmas get together.

Turnbull: Well Tanya, you were –

Fordham: Let’s look at what you turned Christmas into you two.

Turnbull: Let's get this straight.

Fordham: No, Malcolm we're not going to. We're moving on Malcolm.

Turnbull: You went to the election with forecasts on the NBN which you and your Cabinet knew were false. And you didn’t tell the Australian people the truth.

Plibersek: Broken promise.

Fordham: Malcolm, you need to have respect for what I'm doing here right because I've got certain constraints that I've got to follow. Now we're moving on.

Turnbull: Good. Moving forward as someone said.

Fordham: You have found your own way of admitting that what you said beforehand is different to what you've said now. You have found your own way of admitting it.

Turnbull: Well, what I’ve done is made sure the truth is told …

Fordham: If you could, both of you, we need to end this nicely because this is our Christmas edition of In the House, if you could get anything in the world for each other for Christmas without any budget constraints, anything, what would you give Malcolm for Christmas?

Plibersek: Well, I had a really good present for him but I don't want to give it to him now because he's being mean.

Fordham: Come on.

Plibersek: I know that Malcolm and Lucy have been big supporters of the Wayside Chapel so I'd make a donation on their behalf to the Wayside Chapel.

Turnbull: That's very sweet and that's a lovely thing to do.

Plibersek: Now you're sorry you interrupted me, aren't you?

Turnbull: No, no, I tell you what I would give Tanya and it's not really mine to give but I would give Tanya lots of time, quiet time away from politicians and journalists to spend time with Anna, Joe and Louis, her three very beautiful children. That's lots of hugs from those 3.

Fordham: See, we all get along in the end, don't we?

Turnbull: We do.

Plibersek: Well, mostly.

Fordham: Merry Christmas, everyone, from all of us here at the Plibersek and Turnbull families.

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