Sky News Interview with Celina Edmunds









FRIDAY, 18 JULY 2014                 



CELINA EDMUNDS, PRESENTERTanya Plibersek thanks for your time. It’s hard to digest 298 lives lost among them 28 Australians it’s very, very hard to find the words with such a tragedy.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It is indeed a shocking tragedy and our first thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims of this shocking tragedy. The 28 Australians obviously but those of all nations who’ve been affected and those of course who were on their way to Australia for the AIDS conference in Melbourne. People who have devoted their lives to helping others killed in this senseless tragedy.

EDMUNDSOf course our attention turns to what happened and particularly this meeting the Russian ambassador and the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop this afternoon. The Prime Minister has described the response from the Russian ambassador blaming the Ukraine as deeply, deeply unsatisfactory.

PLIBERSEK: Well indeed, if the Russian Government is blaming Ukraine or if the Russian ambassador is blaming Ukraine that would be completely unacceptable. The next stage is for there to be a full, international, independent investigation and Australia will use its role on the Security Council to insist on that. Julie Bishop has assured me that she will. It is vitally important that there is an international investigation, because any investigation done by just one country would not have the same strong credibility that an international investigation, including Australian investigators would have. We have a concern in this, we’ve lost 28 Australians and it is important that we have the opportunity of contributing our expertise to finding exactly what’s happened here.

EDMUNDSBill Shorten indicated this morning that he appreciated the level of bi-partisanship that the Prime Minister was offering and the briefings he was receiving. Are you likewise receiving similar responses from the Foreign Minister?

PLIBERSEK: Indeed, I’ve spoken to the Foreign Minister this morning and I expect I’ll speak to her again over the next few days. I’ve offered to her, as Bill Shorten has to the Prime Minister, full support and cooperation and we are very concerned to know exactly what’s happened here and support the efforts of Australia on the Security Council to demand a full, international, independent, transparent investigation. It is critically important that we find the black box and any other evidence that can tell us exactly what’s happened. Securing the site will be very difficult. It is in rebel-held territory at the moment. And it is extremely important that Russia uses its influence with these pro-Russian separatists to allow an international team in to investigate the site.

EDMUNDSHow appropriate would it be that the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, was welcomed to Australia for the G20 in November?

PLIBERSEK: Well let’s just see what this investigation determines. I think it’s pretty clear that the surface-to-air missile has been fired off by pro-Russian separatists. That seems to be the consensus internationally, but the next step of determining how and where they received such a sophisticated weapon is something that needs to be investigated.

EDMUNDSIf it is and that weapon has come from Russia what action should Australia take?

PLIBERSEK: Well I’m not going to speculate on that now, but I would say this is an excellent opportunity for Vladimir Putin to use any influence he has with these rebels to allow an international team into the crash site. And more particularly to use any influence he has with these rebels to ensure peace in Ukraine. This conflict has gone on too long and it has cost too much.

EDMUNDSTanya Plibersek, at times of conflict it is very hard to find out the truth isn’t it?

PLIBERSEK: It’s extremely difficult to find out the truth in a situation like this because the area is held by pro-separatist rebels. I have spoken to our honorary consulate in Kiev, so I have had some first-hand descriptions of the difficulties of emergency and rescue teams trying to get into the area. They have had some success in approaching the site but they have not been able to get from these reports I’ve had from Kiev to the, I guess you’d call it epicentre of the crash site up till now. It is extremely important that there is access, that the black box is recovered and that the site is undisturbed until investigators are able to make it onto the scene.

EDMUNDSAnd yet the pictures would indicate that people trampling over the site, that pieces of the wreckage have indeed been moved. It’s hard to see how if investigators are allowed in there and there is some type of transparent investigation just what they are going to find.

PLIBERSEKIndeed, and that’s why it’s so important that Australia, now with a position on the Security Council, uses all of our influence to ensure that there is a transparent, international investigation. It would certainly be completely inappropriate for Russia to suggest anything else and I hope that the outcome of this emergency meeting of the Security Council sees a resolution from all of the Security Council members to support such an investigation.

EDMUNDS: The Prime Minister just in that news conference a short time ago said it was hard to have confidence in a transparent investigation involving Russia.

PLIBERSEKWell I think involving Russia is one thing, I think run by Russia is another. That’s why it’s important that it is an international investigation. Australia has very skilled experts who certainly could offer help. The Australian Government has offered that help. For our own interest in this I think it would be appropriate for Australians to be involved in the investigation. But certainly it needs to be an international team beyond either Ukraine or Russia involving experts from several other countries. Either because of their expertise or because of the interest they have because they’ve lost citizens.

EDMUNDSYes it would be appropriate wouldn’t it that Ukraine and Russia were removed entirely from this investigation but unfortunately that wouldn’t be likely would it?

PLIBERSEK: I don’t have a view on whether they should be removed entirely but this needs to be an international investigation to give all parties confidence.

EDMUNDSWe spoke about the bipartisanship on this disaster and the response to the tragedy of MH17. What do you think it’s important people remember as we try to come to terms with the number of lives lost around the world, the 28
Australians who have been lost and as this investigation unfolds and the response from the likes of Russia and the Ukraine?

PLIBERSEKWell I think the first and most important thing for us to bear in mind is the grief and suffering of the family and friends who are affected. Secondly, we need to remember the ongoing suffering of the people of Ukraine who are experiencing this conflict now for much too long. Our attention has been captured in this most tragic way today by this plane being shot out of the sky but we need to remember too dozens of Ukrainians have lost their lives in recent times. It is important there is immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and immediate peace and trust building in Ukraine. And I think the third thing perhaps to keep in mind as an international community is, and Australia with our position on the Security Council at the moment, it is important that as an international community that we repudiate the use of force. That we support negotiation, the rule of law and international norms to settle territorial disputes.

EDMUNDSAnd just finally before we let you go you mentioned you will be speaking again with the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop today.

PLIBERSEK: The Foreign Minister has told me that she’ll keep me up to date I will wait for her to contact me to give me further updates. This is something that is demanding her attention, but she has called me once today and I expect she’ll keep me up to date as further news becomes available.

EDMUNDSTanya Plibersek I do thank you very much for your time on Sky News.


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Malaysia Airlines Flight 17












 FRIDAY, 18 JULY 2014

This tragedy is devastating news.

Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with the family and friends of all those on board, including at least 23 Australians.

We are advised the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has established a 24 hour hotline. Anyone with concerns about loved ones should call 1300 555 135.

The Labor Opposition will do all it can to support the Government at this terrible time.



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Abbott Government Must Rule Out More Cuts to Overseas Aid and Australia’s Diplomatic Service














16 JULY 2014



I call on the Abbott Government to immediately rule out more cuts to overseas aid and Australia’s diplomatic service following the Treasurer’s announcement that he is looking for further cuts to rescue his unfair, chaotic Budget.

The $7.6 billion cut to aid was the single biggest in the Abbott Government’s first Budget.

The Abbott Government’s cut to aid has already hit some of the world’s poorest nations hard, including countries in Australia’s own backyard.

Our aid program helps to enhance global prosperity, and Australia's own security. The Abbott Government's cuts put both at risk.

Mr Abbott’s $400 million cut to our diplomatic service seriously jeopardises Australia’s influence on the international stage.

Labor will continue to fight this unfair, chaotic Budget.

Now, if the Senate chooses to block savings initiatives, then we need to look at other savings initiatives that may not require legislation and I would ask the Greens and the Labor Party who between them hold 35 votes on the floor of the Senate - to understand that there are alternatives for a Government.





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Events in Israel and the Palestinian Territories







MONDAY, 14 JULY 2014


Labor urges calm and supports the calls of the UN Security Council for a ceasefire.

We encourage all parties to do everything they can to stop violence and de-escalate tensions, to end the deaths and the human suffering.

Labor is committed to supporting an enduring peace for Israelis and Palestinians through a just two-state solution.

For their own safety, Australians should follow the latest travel advice for the region from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.



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Doorstop Interview












Subject/s: Julie Bishop’s china comments; Climate change; Indonesia.


TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everyone and thanks for joining me here this morning. I was a bit dismayed this morning to wake up to a front-page newspaper story in the Sydney Morning Herald from the Foreign Minister suggesting that we needed to move away from one of our friends in the region to be closer to the other. This has been a continuing theme in the Government's foreign policy recently - this zero-sum game approach to our friendships in the region. I think it's very important to understand that when talking about Australia's foreign policy interests, it's very clear that our best interests are served by having a close relationship with China and a close relationship with Japan. Our best interests are reflected in close relations with both of our good friends, China and Japan, and also by efforts on our part to ensure that China and Japan better understand one another and that the relationship between those two very significant partners is a good one. I think it's very important to understand that Australia's foreign policy has to put Australian interests first and Australian interests are best served by having a good relationship with China and a good relationship with Japan, not by choosing one friend over another. I think the comments today reflect loose language that is quite counterproductive. It's important to understand that there's a big difference between being a foreign policy commentator and being the Foreign Minister of Australia. The role of the Foreign Minister of Australia is to shepherd our relations with all of our neighbours, to ensure that Australia's best interests are served and, as I've said, Australia's best interests are served by having good and close relations with both these neighbours. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Any thoughts on Clive Palmer's comments today, his push to amend the bill in the Senate before he will allow it to go through?

PLIBERSEK: It's pretty hard to keep up with what's going on in the Senate. It seems to be changing daily. What I would say is that it's good news that Clive Palmer understands that climate change is real and that as a nation we need to do something about it and that an Emissions Trading Scheme is the best design at the least cost for tackling climate change. It's important that Clive Palmer has supported Labor's climate change architecture, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and so on. What is really quite perplexing is why Tony Abbott won't make clear that the claimed savings from abolishing carbon pricing, the $550 a year he claims families will save, Tony Abbott won't say where this money is coming from and he's unclear about whether he'll end up supporting Clive Palmer in demanding that companies pass on savings. So far today we've heard already that Woolworths, Qantas, Virgin won't pass on any price reductions so where are these savings that Tony Abbott keeps talking about, and is he prepared to actually confirm to Australians that they will save the $550 that he's claiming? So far, Tony Abbott's made lot of big claims about his policies but he's failed to deliver on any of them.

JOURNALIST: What are the biggest challenges that Australia faces when working with China?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think that the relationship between Australia and China is one full of opportunity. China is a major trading partner for us, a major export destination and also a major source of imports. The relationship with China has improved over many decades and is one of our closest and most important relationships now.

JOURNALIST: So, obviously we need to establish some good relationships, there’s going to be some challenges. What would you say the challenges would be?

PLIBERSEK: Well you know, Australia, no matter how close we are to our friends and neighbours, will not always agree on 100% of the issues that we have in common. There have been times when Australian leaders have, for example, raised human rights issues with China; Julia Gillard did that, Kevin Rudd did that. And within a respectful friendship there’s nothing wrong with doing that. But I think it’s very important, first of all, to focus on what a good and healthy relationship with China we have, what the relationship can deliver for Australia in the future and certainly not to play these zero-sum game politics where we have to move further from China to become closer to Japan.

JOURNALIST: One last question, so are you concerned that the election stalemate in Indonesia could lead to any civil unrest?

PLIBERSEK: I’m full of admiration for the Indonesian system of democracy. This is a country that has really only– a very young democracy, and yet close to 200 million people will vote at almost half a million polling booths around the country. I think it’s been a very interesting and closely contested presidential election. Of course Australia takes no view on which candidate we hope will be successful. That’s a matter completely for the Indonesians. And I’m very confident that the incredible advances we’ve seen in Indonesian democracy in recent years will deliver a sound result for the Indonesian people. Thank you.


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ABC Lateline










WEDNESDAY, 9 JULY 2014                 



TONY JONES, PRESENTER: To discuss the situation with those Sri Lankan asylum seekers and other developments in the region we were joined just a short time ago in the studio by the Deputy Opposition Leader and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Tanya Plibersek.

Tanya Plibersek, thanks for joining us.


JONES: Do you agree with Senator Hanson-Young that the 153 asylum seekers held in limbo on the high seas is Tony Abbott's Tampa?

PLIBERSEK: Well look, obviously we have concerns for the welfare of these people. They have been at sea for some weeks now.

And what concerns us too is the culture of secrecy that's developing from this Government. We need to find out details about these people from the High Court, from the governments of other countries. It's completely unacceptable.

JONES: What about this analogy with the Tampa?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I'm not sure exactly what Sarah Hanson-Young means by that. I am concerned about the people, the fact that they're still at sea. And if she's alluding to the fact that India has said that they won't accept these asylum seekers and that perhaps they will be returned to Sri Lanka, then I think, you know, there are some very serious concerns about the type of processing that's been done.

The lack of detail about the type of processing, the lack of detail of the condition of the people onboard, who's onboard, whether they do have a claim for asylum or not: all of these are questions that, really, our Government should be sharing with the Australian people.

JONES: Is it clear to you, as a statement of principle, that if they have been in India - Sri Lankans living in India and they've gotten on a boat to try to reach Australia - that they cannot be sent back to Sri Lanka if they have sought refuge from there in the past?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I really don't want to get into a legal discussion about this. This is something that our courts are deciding at the moment.

JONES: But non-refoulement is a pretty basic international principle, isn't it?

PLIBERSEK: Well, non-refoulement is a pretty basic international principle. But if people don't have a valid claim to asylum then, of course, we have returned people who have been seeking asylum and be found not to have a valid claim - if they have been properly processed.

JONES: But that's only if they've come from the country that they're being returned to, like Sri Lanka, for example: you did return 1,000 Sri Lankans to Sri Lanka. But if they'd come from India, would you have returned them to Sri Lanka?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I can't answer questions that are now currently being decided by our courts, Tony. If I knew the answer to that, I don't think we'd need to have this issue being decided by the courts.

It is complex and one of the things that is most troubling about it is that we don't know any of the details. We don't know who these people are, whether they've made a claim for asylum, how that's being determined, what their claim is, whether they themselves say that they fear persecution if they're returned to Sri Lanka. We don't know any of these details.

JONES: What do you actually think should happen to them? Should they be sent for processing, as some are suggesting, immediately to Christmas Island?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think, given the slim reports we have suggest that the boat was near Christmas Island, it would have been a more sensible option to process them on Christmas Island.

I think, you know, there's probably a degree of Scott Morrison not wanting to land a boat on Christmas Island behind some of these extraordinary decisions that we've seen to take unprecedented steps of... I mean, processing en masse by videoconference is one rumour we've heard. Who knows what's actually happening here?

JONES: But what do you think should happen to them? Where should they go?

PLIBERSEK: I just said to you that, given the boat was near Christmas Island, it seems that that would have been a more sensible option.

JONES: Now would it be...

PLIBERSEK: It's reported it was near Christmas Island. Again, I can't say that definitively. None of us know.

JONES: Would it be logical for them to be sent to one of the two Pacific detention centres which the Labor government itself set up in Nauru or Manus Island?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think offshore processing has been part of our immigration system for some time now and given the boat was apparently near Christmas Island it would make sense to process them there.

JONES: What about the fact that there are apparently 30 or more children onboard?

PLIBERSEK: Of course, Tony, it troubles me or anyone that there are children whose lives are at risk making a very dangerous journey. If it is indeed true that they have made the journey from India, it's a very long and a very dangerous journey. And nobody wants to see parents risking the lives of their children like this.

JONES: But would it be appropriate, given that they're already at sea, for those children to end up in one of those two detention centres, Nauru or Manus Island, both of which have seen violent riots?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think you do have to ask some questions about how detention centres are being run at the moment.

I think it's very clear that the Government have been very focused on deterrence. And some of the conditions that we would expect people to be held in when they are in the care of Australians, or where Australia has some responsibility: the basic level of treating people with dignity, being able to ensure their safety; I think it's fair to say that not all of these conditions are being met at the moment.

JONES: Scott Morrison makes the point, the Minister makes the point that they are the conditions inherited from the previous government, from the Labor government?

PLIBERSEK: Well, that's simply not true. Scott Morrison has been the Minister for many months now and he has responsibility for the day-to-day running of these centres.

JONES: You mentioned turning back the boats. And after stumbling around the question of what Labor's view of turning back boats is this morning, your Immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, was pressed again today on this issue.

He said, "We've got an open mind in relation to any step that will be taken in the future which helps save lives at sea." Is it now the case that Labor has an open mind about turning back boats?

PLIBERSEK: You know, Tony, the problem with turning back the boats to Indonesia is that it has fractured our relationship with Indonesia.

At the moment we don't have a fully operational relationship with Indonesia. We have suspended cooperation in people smuggling, in military areas, in a whole range of areas. Our businesses are reporting that they're finding it difficult to do business in Indonesia because we've made announcements about what we're going to do - Australia.

When I say "we", I mean Australia has made announcements about what it's going to do on Indonesian soil and in Indonesian waters without talking to the Indonesians. There have been incursions - accidental incursions, we hope - of the Australian Navy into Indonesian waters because of this.

So it is a very serious thing to say.

JONES: You've made that point but I will quickly go back to what Richard Marles says because he was pretty clear about it. "We've got an open mind about what we do, whether we do this sort of thing in the future." Is that a major shift of policy from the Labor Party?

PLIBERSEK: Tony, I think you're getting well ahead of yourself. We're two or three years away from an election. We're in the middle of a...

JONES: It's Richard Marles that said he had an open mind. He's the one who made this case.

PLIBERSEK: And what you're trying to do is dissect every word of a shadow minister and you're not even asking Scott Morrison why he voted against Malaysia.

JONES: Well, Scott Morrison has yet to do an interview on this program since he's been Minister. So we will come to those questions when we get a chance.

PLIBERSEK: So you're going to ask the Opposition...

JONES: Right now we're interrogating the Labor position so I've got to ask you: will Labor's position change?

For example, if the argument against turning back the boats is only that the government is against it in Indonesia, what about Sri Lanka where the government is in favour of it? Would Labor support boat turn-backs to Sri Lanka, where the government says "Yes, that's fine"?

PLIBERSEK: Tony, what we would support is people who aren't found to be refugees to be returned quickly. What we're seeing from the Government now is a culture of secrecy. We don't know whether we're turning back people who have made a claim for asylum. I think it's very important that we focus on what's happening today and what the Government's doing today rather than trying to get an answer from me about what Labor would do potentially in three years' time.

JONES: Well, obviously it looked like there was a shift to... It looked like a shift had been made, at least, in the language about which you talk about boat turn-backs. And so I'm wondering if that's reflected in any policy shift?

PLIBERSEK: I think it would be really important to hold the government of the day accountable for what the government of the day is doing on our seas and in our name.

JONES: Let's continue with questions to you, however, for the time being. Amnesty International claims that all ethnic groups in Sri Lanka continue to face risks of torture in police custody, especially sexual violence where it is pervasive. Do you take their assessment seriously?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think anybody who has been watching the more than three decades of conflict in Sri Lanka would be very glad that the civil war is over. But I think everybody who is watching Sri Lanka would continue to say that it is very important that we see more progress in the upholding of human rights of all of the people of Sri Lanka.

It was a very bloody and brutal conflict. There were allegations of human rights abuses and, indeed, war crimes on both sides.

JONES: Yes, but we're talking about now. Amnesty International is talking about what's going on now with returnees.

PLIBERSEK: Well, I'm getting to it now. I'm halfway through a sentence, Tony.

JONES: I'm sorry. Well, we're running out of time so I'm sorry to do that to you.

PLIBERSEK: All right. Well, Tony: 30 years of conflict. The UN human rights committee says, and Australia has supported in 2012, 2013, resolutions under Labor calling for an independent investigation into those allegations of abuse.

There are still claims at the moment that there are arrests, irregular arrests and so on. And so of course I think it is very important that we acknowledge that it's very good that the civil war is over but say that the international community continues to watch Sri Lanka for evidence of real progress on human rights.

JONES: Your former foreign minister, as you know, Bob Carr, says such claims from the "refugee lobby", as he puts it, are unsustainable. They're urban mythology. The previous government couldn't find a single case of a returned asylum seeker being abused by authorities. Is he more credible? Is his view more credible than Amnesty International?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I'm certainly not going to sit here and defend what Bob Carr has said. He can come on the show and defend himself if he wants to do that.

I think it's clear that Sri Lankans have been found to have credible claims for asylum in Australia. We have Sri Lankan asylum seekers today in Australia who have been found to be refugees. So for anyone to say that there have not been human rights abuses there is... it's just not credible.

JONES: So it's not a mythology?

PLIBERSEK: Well, Bob was saying, I think if you listened to him on the radio this morning, that asylum seekers that Australia had returned had not told Australian authorities that they had then suffered ongoing abuse. I can't answer for that. That's a matter of fact whether that has happened or not.

But if you're asking me, in a more general sense, have there been human rights violations in Sri Lanka? Yes, of course there have. There was a very brutal three-decade civil war that saw very serious human rights abuses on both sides.

JONES: All right. Okay. We've got a little time left and we'll move subjects. Given China's deep suspicions of Japan and its motives, is Japan's move to abandon its key commitments in its constitution likely to heighten tensions between Japan and China?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it's impossible to suggest that tensions haven't been higher in the last few years than they were 10 years ago.

I think that it is important, when the Japanese Government say that they're reinterpreting their constitution so that they can play a stronger role in peacekeeping missions and so on: I think it's important to take those statements at face value.

JONES: Except China is not. I mean, China was invaded by Japan in World War II. Much of its territory was occupied by the Japanese. Japanese troops routinely committed massacres and other war crimes in China. Why shouldn't China be suspicious of Japan's motives?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's fair to say that many Australians also suffered during the Second World War and we don't whitewash that history. We don't paper over it, we don't ignore it. But we have moved to a focus on today and a focus on the future.

Our relationship with Japan has been a very good one for many decades now. We've cooperated on international nuclear disarmament movement....

JONES: I'm sorry to interrupt you but you're talking about Australia and I'm talking about China.

PLIBERSEK: And I'm making the point that Australia has also had difficulties in its history with Japan and we have formed a very good friendship, a very good trading partnership, a good partnership in nuclear disarmament, a good partnership in aid.

JONES: But are you saying, as Prime Minister Tony Abbott appeared to be saying, that China effectively should get over it because it's a long time, 70 years ago? Because the Chinese media have reacted, the official media have reacted very strongly to those statements this evening. They've accused him of crossing the moral bottom line, whatever that means?

PLIBERSEK: Yes. I read those reports in the Chinese media as well and I think what they were taking particular offence at was the suggestion that the Japanese, we admired the efficiency of the Japanese soldiers during the Second World War, or words to that effect. I don't think they were well chosen words.

But I think it is very important from Australia's perspective that we look at what's in Australia's foreign policy best interests. And what's in our best interests is for us to have a good relationship with Japan and a good relationship with China and for us to play whatever role we can in improving the relationship between those two friends of ours as well.

We have some good fora in the Asia Pacific region and Australia has played a role in the past in making sure that our friends are talking cooperatively with one another as well.

JONES: So finally, because we virtually are out of time, what did you make of Hillary Clinton's claim that Australia's economy is too reliant on China and that Australia is two-timing the United States over its relations with China?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's a very interesting thing to say that our economy is too involved in China. Obviously we have a terrific trading relationship with China and it's something that I welcome and celebrate. We've got a very good trading relationship with Japan, too. We've got a very good trading relationship with the United States.

JONES: This is the woman who might well be the next president of the US accusing Australia of two-timing the US over its relationship with China.

PLIBERSEK: Well, I will be delighted if Hillary Clinton as president of the US opens American markets to even more Australian goods and that we can, you know, spread our trading relationship more evenly.

JONES: No, seriously: what did you make of her comments, though? We can address exactly what she said. I mean, what did you make of her comments?

PLIBERSEK: I think what's in Australia's best interests is to have a good relationship with the US and a good relationship with China and I don't think we should be forced to pick. I don't think any of our friends should be asking us to choose.

JONES: Tanya Plibersek, learning diplomacy by the day, evidently. Thank you very much for coming in to join us.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you Tony.

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Launch of Mary Delanunty’s book Gravity


Launch of Mary Delanunty’s book Gravity

Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Leader of the Opposition

2 July 2014

Sophie Deane’s photo of Prime Minister Julia Gillard on the cover of this book is my favourite photo of her – it shows her open-faced and smiling.

It is a photo taken by a 12-year-old girl with Down Syndrome who took a shine to the Prime Minister. It’s a great photo because it shows the Prime Minister happy doing what she loved: in the middle of the tough policy battle of convincing Australia of the need for a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Sophie showed us something in Julia that was too often missed.

It’s the photo that reminds me of the many, many people who met Julia and asked, “Why isn’t she always like this?”

“Actually, she is,” I would say.

She is good‑natured, humorous and fun, as well as fiercely intelligent and disciplined.

Why didn’t some see this side of Julia? Why was the public perception often so hostile? Was it her personality, or was it something deeper?

Those are the questions that Mary Delahunty explores in this book.

I’m sure you will all remember the moving and restrained speech Julia gave on the night she lost the prime ministership, just over a year ago, on 26 June 2013.

Here’s what she said:

…the reaction to being the first female prime minister does not explain everything about my prime ministership, nor does it explain nothing about my prime ministership … it explains some things.

And it is for the nation to think in a sophisticated way about those shades of grey.

Mary’s book is about those shades of grey, those things that gender does explain. Mary explores them with sophistication – and also with sympathy, clarity and passion. Her own experiences in politics give her insights into the privileges and stresses of public life.

The issues of women in leadership roles should have been pretty thoroughly examined by now.

There are now so many successful women who have become role models. Our own Prime Minister Gillard joins vastly impressive political leaders such as Hillary Clinton, who may well be the next American president, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and Helen Clark. Margaret Thatcher, Mary Robinson, Corazon Aquino, Benazir Bhutto – you don’t have to agree with them to recognise they were trail blazers.

Mary asks: Was Australia less ready to accept a woman in the top job than we imagined, or was it the individual failings of a particular woman that saw our public debate descend into something pornographic?

Reading Gravity reopened a room in my mind which I had firmly closed. I’d closed that room and buried the key.

Re-reading some of the language that was used against our Prime Minister made me nauseous all over again.

No-one is saying that women in public life can’t be criticised. And no-one is saying that men are fair game. The socialist newspaper front cover of Tony Abbott having his throat cut is completely inappropriate. But there was a gendered, pornographic, violent edge to much of the criticism of Julia that was beyond anything we’ve seen in public life in this country.

How did the Prime Minister get out of bed day after day and face that?

The grief I felt on the night that Julia Gillard was defeated was partly for our nation. She achieved great things in three years, in extraordinarily difficult times: almost 600 pieces of legislation were passed by a hung parliament; big reforms such as the Gonski education changes and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

There was more to the grief: partly, the grief was personal. After such hard work for so many years Julia didn’t deserve the treatment she got. On a human level I felt deep sympathy.

But a large part of the grief was for Australian women and girls, for whom the treatment meted out to Julia Gillard sent exactly the wrong message. All those girls who were so excited about the first female prime minister heard grown men in positions of responsibility say that talking about the prime minister’s body parts obscenely was all in good fun; talking about her looks, her relationship, her family.

It worried me deeply that those idealistic young women – and young men too – would look at the viciousness and ask, “why would I subject myself to that?” and choose not to engage with politics. I was very worried about the message it sent to women thinking about pursuing a calling to representative politics.

Surely they would be thinking: “sometimes, it feels like you can never get it right”.

If you are childless you lack normal female instincts.

If you have children the assumption is that you’re either neglecting the job or your kids.

If you show emotion you are irrational and can’t be trusted.

If you don’t show enough emotion when under the most depraved attack, obviously you are hard and unnatural: like Lindy Chamberlain, your lack of tears is proof of your guilt.

This is the paradox of women’s leadership – it seems that to be seen as legitimate you have to show you are tough enough to do the job; but if you’re too tough you’re unnatural, you’re not a real woman and consequently you’re untrustworthy.

And if you call any of this for what it is – you’re playing the gender card.

Bizarrely, hypocritically, it’s not the people who use the gendered insults – bitch, witch, fishwife, harridan and worse – who are accused of playing the gender card, it’s the woman or women who call them on it who are attacked.

But you take a deep breath. And you say none of this, because really, how can someone with so much power be hurt by mere words?

Another question that reading this book brought back was, how could conservatives be so prepared to smash up the place? To benefit from the nutters and the cranks inhabiting the dark corners of the twitterverse? How did their mannered supporters turn a blind eye at the obscenities that were hurled at Julia Gillard?

They’re not really conservatives.

Mary’s book sets out the systematic leeching of legitimacy from our Prime Minister. One disturbing thing that emerges more from its absence, is how rarely people defended Julia against the sexist attacks. Mary quotes Geoff Kitney, who wrote after a nasty exchange with a shock jock: ‘She is the victim of the nastiest, dirtiest, ugliest, most obscene and sustained personal attacks on an Australian prime minister any of us have witnessed'.

But why were defences like that so rare? I discussed this at times with parliamentary colleagues. Would we, by responding, just be giving power to the trolls? Would we be publicising the ravings of fringe dwellers? Would we be distracting from our message as a government on the important work on education, health, disabilities, climate change and our other reforms?

We thought that we would be seen as self-indulgent, that we would be seen as defending our own personal positions. Indeed, a few of us earned the title “hand bag hit squad” from Kelly O’Dwyer – ironically for calling out sexism!

But as I think about it now, maybe that was a mistake; maybe if we’d been more methodical in calling out this crude behaviour more firmly from the start, perhaps we could have reined it in.

There’s a bigger issue at stake than the attacks on one individual. To respond to these attacks is not only to defend one individual’s position, it is to fight for an idea of the kinds of roles women can play in society, it is to rebut the massive gendered abuse and its message to young women that it’s not worth the risk of putting your head up and getting involved in politics.

I was asked after it was all over, “do you think the feminist cheer squad helped or hindered Julia?”

Sadly, for the most part, the feminist cheer squad arrived on the field after the game was over.

There have been notable exceptions, like Anne Summers’ necessary but phenomenally disturbing catalogue of vileness. But during the pitched battle I expect the Prime Minister sometimes felt very alone.

Having lived through all this and seen the toll it took, reading about it now and reliving it seems kind of masochistic.

But I’m glad someone has written this history because there were precious few people calling it at the time for what it was.  Including me.  Mostly I thought it was best to ignore the nasty trolls. Maybe I was wrong.

Mary Delahunty has not only called the outrageous behaviour. For all that she has reopened a sore I’d have rather have left alone, she has done it gently; and with warmth and affection.

Sometimes in public life, when you admire someone from afar and then get to know them, you realise your idol has feet of clay. Julia Gillard and I didn’t start out as close friends, but by the time she left the leadership there was no one I admired more: because of what she achieved for Australia, but also because of the way she kept her humour and treated people with decency, in an environment that was harsh in the extreme.

I hope that in telling this story Mary doesn’t turn idealistic, talented young women and men off a career in politics.

For all the conflict and harshness, the sense of achievement that comes from driving great reform is incomparable.

When I drive past Common Ground in Melbourne or the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, I think, “that wouldn’t have happened but for a Labor government”, and I can’t imagine greater professional satisfaction.

In case this book makes these idealistic young people wonder, the answer to “is it worth it?” is an emphatic “yes”.

But I do hope instead that this account reminds us never to tolerate again the descent into obscenity that coloured the term of our first woman prime minister.


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Sky News AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert










SUBJECT/S:  Peter Greste.

KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me live now here in the Studio the Shadow Foreign Minister, Tanya Plibersek. Tanya Plibersek thanks for your time are you satisfied with the Government’s response in this case?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Look, I think it’s very important that both government and opposition join together now to focus on the needs of Peter Greste and his family and his colleagues. I am pleased that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister have been speaking to their counterparts. I think speaking directly with the Egyptian ambassador today is a good move, it’s going to be important that those lines of communication stay open and also that we enlist our friends internationally also to put pressure on the Egyptian Government.

GILBERT: So you think suggestions of sanctions are misplaced given the need for those lines of communication?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it’s very important now that we focus on Peter Greste and his immediate chance now for an appeal to this sentencing and conviction and I think the most productive thing is to continue to have diplomatic links and frank conversations at senior levels.

GILBERT: When we’re talking about the US and now a relationship with the United States, of course, and I spoke to the Foreign Minister about this, they provide hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Egypt every year. Why can’t Washington, why can’t the United States leverage that funding to have some sort of influence here?

PLIBERSEK: And indeed when I say that we should ask our friends internationally to help that’s one of the examples of a friend helping that I would hope we would see. It is important though to understand that our words and our actions have to be very carefully chosen now and the focus has to be on what will help Peter Greste and his colleagues in their appeal processes if they should choose to appeal and I expect they will.

GILBERT: Because of course this country has had a fairly turbulent, to say the least, period in the last couple of years, is that the context in which Australian leaders, Government, needs to see it? And I suppose hence the need to tread, to tread carefully.

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think there’s a couple of things to say. The first is this is a relatively new government and so we need to speak at senior levels with the new Government and hope that because they’re a new Government they’ll see a way through this that actually respects the fact that Peter Greste and his colleagues were working journalists in a country reporting on the news not in any way involved in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood or any other organisation. The fact that it’s a new government gives me some hope that there’s room for movement there. It is important now to offer Peter Greste and his colleagues every help and support in any appeal that should go forward and I think it’s premature to start talking about things that actually fracture the relationship between our two countries and make it harder to offer that support.

GILBERT: It’s hard to have any faith though in any subsequent appeal process given the travesty that we’ve seen in the current verdict and the sentencing announced yesterday in the trial process. It was a debacle.

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it’s clear to anyone who has been watching this that the evidence that was presented to the court is not one that should sustain a conviction, and on top of that, I’m very surprised that there was a conviction in the first place, but the length of that sentence is really quite extraordinary also. I hope that means that there are strong grounds for appeal because the legal case was a very weak one.

GILBERT: We obviously have great focus on this because of Peter Greste, an Australian, and a journalist you know, from our fraternity in the media, watching this very closely but there are tens of thousands of Egyptians facing a similar fate. I suppose we should be cognisant of that as well.

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely and the thing to always remember in these situations is that it was the Egyptian people themselves who rose up against an autocratic government. Many of them marched in the streets at risk to their own safety, many were injured, some were killed. Egyptians have spoken very strongly about the fact that they want a democracy, and a free press is an integral part of any democracy. I am sure that there are Egyptians who are shocked by this outcome as well and we need to make sure that we can convey our shock as Australians to the Egyptian Government and hope that the Egyptian people themselves express to their government that they believe in a free press and that they’ll support any action to uphold freedom in the press of their country.

GILBERT: And you spoke earlier in an interview about your view and hope, and I guess it’s the Government’s hope as well, that the new government will come to this with fresh eyes and hopefully with a result that we want, but is the presidential pardon the only option that as far as you can see a positive outcome here?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, well I’m not an expert in Egyptian constitutional law but my understanding is that all of the legal processes have to be exhausted and when all of the legal processes are exhausted, there may be an opportunity for a presidential pardon. We need to focus in the short term immediately now, on concentrating on giving a high level of consular support to Peter Greste, and I think the Department of Foreign Affairs has done an excellent job in offering consular support and secondly, should he and his family decide to appeal, whatever support we can give to that appeal process.

GILBERT: I want to ask you one more question, this relates to East Jerusalem, we’ve seen a lot of controversy about the Government’s position on whether it is occupied or it isn’t, with a capital O or not, what is Labor’s stance when it comes to East Jerusalem?

PLIBERSEK: Well, the first thing to say is, this is the problem with George Brandis freelancing at 11 o’clock at night in Senate Estimates. It is- there is a historical fact that there was a war in 1967 and that East Jerusalem, the West Bank, were occupied at that time. There’s no controversy as far as Labor’s concerned, we support a two-state solution, we hope that the peace talks that seem to have run into some difficulties at the moment are resolved positively. We believe that Israel has a right to secure internationally recognised borders but there must also be a viable Palestinian state, and the two must live side by side.

GILBERT: There’s no split within Labor on this issue?

PLIBERSEK: Certainly not.

GILBERT: Okay, Tanya Plibersek, thanks for your time.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


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ABC News Radio with Marius Benson










SUBJECT/S:  Peter Greste.

MARIUS BENSON: Tanya Plibersek, what should the Australian Government be doing now to assist Peter Greste and the other journalists condemned to gaol yesterday?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well, I think the most important thing at the moment is to continue to provide the high level of consular assistance that Peter Greste’s been receiving and to stay in touch with him as often and as thoroughly as possible. Then talking to Peter and his family make a decision about whether there’ll be an appeal to this sentence, what form that appeal will take, and then give him support through that appeal process. Of course it’s also absolutely vital that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the whole of the Government stay in contact with their counterparts in the new Egyptian Government. It’s apparent that the Prime Minister has called his counterpart, the Foreign Minister has also been in touch with her counterpart, that those high levels of communication will continue is very important also. The third area that we need to work on as a nation is using our friends around the world to also speak with the new Egyptian Government and point out to them how highly inappropriate it is to be gaoling journalists who are just doing their jobs.

BENSON: So, the Government’s got it right?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think now is a time for us as a nation to focus on Peter Greste and his needs.

BENSON: And the Greens are calling for sanctions against Egypt, is that the right way to go?

PLIBERSEK: I think the most important thing is actually getting Peter Greste out of gaol and I would say that continued diplomatic approaches are the, what we should be focused on right now.

BENSON: So, you’re not in favour of sanctions at the moment?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think the most important thing is putting Peter Greste and his needs and the needs of his colleagues at the centre of any decisions that we are making. What do I think will help him most? I think that the thing that will help him most is to have continued high level open dialogue between Australia and Egypt and between our friends and our allies and the new Egyptian Government as well.

BENSON: Do you think you understand why Peter Greste is being sentenced in this way and the other journalists, what’s going on in Egypt? Because it seems a very complex picture that involves Saudi Arabia as a big funder of Egypt, Qatar with tensions with Saudi Arabia is the home of Al-Jazeera, it seems fairly complex.

PLIBERSEK: Look, I am concerned that there are some elements of geopolitics being played out here but I’m not going to focus on that at the moment or talk about that at the moment. I think what we need to focus on and talk about now is the illogical case that was run against Peter Greste and his colleagues and the fact that as a democracy, Egypt needs a free and functioning press, and this has sent a very wrong signal about the commitment of Egypt to a free and functioning press.

There were many, many Egyptians who went out to protest on the streets about the old form of autocratic government that Egypt had, many were hurt, some lost their lives. In that struggle for democracy, was implied an absolute commitment to a free and functioning press and I think it would be distressing for those Egyptian democracy fighters as it is for us watching in Australia.

BENSON: Turning to Iraq, John Kerry, the American Secretary of State, has been holding talks. He says it is time for Iraq to have a government of national unity. Is it time for the Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, to go?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I’m not going to comment on whether the Prime Minister should go, but I think it’s plain to most observers that post-conflict Iraq has not emerged as a multiethnic, multicultural state and that it cannot hang together as a nation unless all of the ethnic and religious groups are properly represented in the Government.

BENSON: Turning to domestic issues, it’s been reported in the Daily Telegraph that Arthur Sinodinos has stood aside as the Assistant Treasurer while corruption proceedings were conducted in NSW at the ICAC hearings that he is not going to be found guilty of any corruption but that he may be criticised by ICAC. Do you believe Arthur Sinodinos should return to the Ministry under those circumstances?

PLIBERSEK: Well, he wouldn’t be top pick for me but this really is a matter for Tony Abbott. He’s made a lot of his ministerial standards and so far he’s lost Arthur Sinodinos to this corruption inquiry, he’s been embarrassed by a number of other Ministers including the Assistant Health Minister dumping front of pack labeling because of her Chief of Staff’s conflict of interest in representing the junk food industry and that these are standards for the Government to explain.

BENSON: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Marius.


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ABC 24 News Breakfast with Michael Rowland











MICHAEL ROWLAND: For more on the Peter Greste verdict, we're joined by the Shadow Foreign Minister Tanya Plibersek. She is in our Parliament House studio in Canberra. Tanya Plibersek, good morning to you. What was your first reaction when you heard that shock news?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: I think, shocked, appalled. I was very surprised first of all that Peter Greste and his colleagues were found guilty given the very weak evidence that was presented in court, and secondly I really was - just unspeakable, the length of the sentence was truly shocking as well.

ROWLAND: What does it say to you about this so-called transition to democracy in Egypt? Where is that at now?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's very important that Australia and other nations continue to say to the new government of Egypt that a free and fair press is an absolutely intrinsic part of establishing a democracy. We know that a lot of Egyptians fought, some were injured, some even died to end the autocratic rule that Egypt had seen for many decades. They had very high hopes of their own democracy, and they will expect, as we do, the world community, that the new government of Egypt respect not just the democratic traditions of people being able to vote at the ballot box - very, very important - but a democratic ethos in society which requires a free media.

ROWLAND: This time yesterday the Prime Minister Tony Abbott fresh off a phone call to the Egyptian President said he was confident the Egyptian President had listened to his concerns about the Greste case and was adherent to the rule of law. Do you believe the Prime Minister was being a bit too premature with those comments?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I really don't think now is the time to focus on any criticisms of the Australian Government. I think that we need to focus on helping Peter Greste and his colleagues. The next stage, we expect there may be an appeal. We need to make sure that they have adequate legal and consular support during that appeal process, and that the lines of communication between the Australian Government and the Egyptian government remain open, and also that we enlist the friends that we have internationally also to help press the case for Peter Greste and the other journalists who have been jailed.

ROWLAND: The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says the Egyptian ambassador has been called into the Department of Foreign Affairs this morning. Given the severity of this sentence, do you believe that Julie Bishop should personally be a part of that meeting?

PLIBERSEK: Look, it's not for me to micro manage those issues. I think it's very important that the Australian Government make very clear to the Egyptian Government that Australians are appalled by the fact that Peter Greste and his colleagues have been convicted and shocked by the length of the sentence. I think it's quite appropriate to speak to the Egyptian ambassador to express those views. I'm sure that those views are being made, known also by our ambassador, our Australian ambassador in Egypt to the Egyptian authorities there.

ROWLAND: I want to play you a tape now, firstly to get your reaction and also Tanya Plibersek, perhaps you can take a glass of water, your throat is getting a bit croaky there. This is what the former Labor leader Mark Latham said on Q & A on what he believed the form of action the Australian Government should take, let's listen.

[Recording] MARK LATHAM: In Australia generally we make very poor use of our former prime ministers, and there are other countries in similar circumstances they would send a former national leader in this case to Egypt as a special emissary to plead the case and seek reviews and the like, and it just strikes me as an instance where a Paul Keating, Bob Hawke, John Howard could play a useful role in bringing a special status to Australia's appeal on behalf of Greste and it might get a better result than just sending diplomatic cables.

ROWLAND: What do you reckon, Tanya Plibersek about that idea of a Prime Ministerial special envoy?

PLIBERSEK: I think that's certainly something that the Government could consider. I think it's very important that we continue to raise Peter Greste's case at the highest levels, and whether that's a diplomat, a distinguished diplomat, another distinguished Australian, and also, as I said earlier, making sure that we enlist the help of our friends internationally to also continue to press the case for these journalists. All of those things should be under way or considered.

ROWLAND: Finally, others including the Greens are calling for sanctions to be on the table. Would you favor at least looking at sanctions against the Egyptian Government?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think the most important thing now is to focus on what will help Peter Greste most, and I think what will help him most is continued strong diplomatic representations to the Egyptian Government, using everything at our disposal. I think it's important, very important indeed, not to prejudice Peter Greste's appeal case, and I think staying in touch in a respectful way at the very highest levels is the most efficient and most likely to succeed.

ROWLAND: Tanya Plibersek, I appreciate your time this morning. Thank you so much.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


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