SPEECH - Queensland ALP State Conference

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Queensland ALP State Conference





I want to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we gather today, and pay my respect to their elders both past and present.

Thanks Dr Jim Chalmers for that very warm welcome, and for the work you do fighting for Queenslanders on the Federal Labor frontbench.

And to my other Federal colleagues: Shayne Neumann, Jan McLucas, Bernie Ripoll, Claire Moore, Joe Ludwig, Terri Butler, Graham Perrett, Chris Ketter - every single one of them, a terrific contributor down in Canberra.

I want to say how wonderful it is to be here with Annastacia. Annastacia has been doing such a fine job in such difficult times.

There are two blokes I want to make particular mention of today.

My friend Bill Shorten would have loved to have been here today. Bill has had a difficult week, but he has had a wonderful year. Who would have thought, slightly less than a year in from the last Federal election, Tony Abbott would have had the shortest political honeymoon in Australian history.

Because like Annastacia here with Campbell Newman, Bill has been in Canberra holding Tony Abbott to account every single day.

I want to say how wonderful it is to be in my friend, Wayne Swan’s home state too. 40 years ago Wayne Swan came to Canberra and over those 40 years he has served the Labor Party in many different roles. Including as the Treasurer who saved Australia from the Global Financial Crisis, and did it to save hundreds of thousands of jobs for ordinary people. And he did it too at a time when we were able to introduce the Gonski school funding reforms, the NDIS and other great Labor reforms.

To those already in the State Parliamentary Labor Party and those of you who I have been campaigning with, who I am confident I will see there after the next election.

Local Government candidates and representatives. My union comrades. Delegates, one and all.

Rebuilding Queensland Labor

In particular I want to say how great it is to be in Brisbane. Even though I come from south of the border, we have at least one thing in common.

We both know that in politics, Opposition is the worst kind of place to be.

The difficulty of moving on from the past, while staying united as a team.

The frustration of seeing what you’ve built up being torn down by the conservatives.

The bitterness of being proven right, on all the dire predictions we made on the campaign trail.

And so it’s nothing short of remarkable, the strength that Queensland Labor has shown in the past year under Annastacia Paluszczuk’s leadership.

I also want to particularly welcome two of newer members of your state parliamentary team.

The first is a friend and old colleague of mine – Yvette D’ath, who took Redcliffe back for the ALP.

Could there be a sharper contrast than between Scott Driscoll, the disgraced former member, and Yvette D’ath?

One having to jump out of politics before he was pushed, the other such an effective campaigner and representative that she was only allowed six months off after a gruelling Federal election campaign before she was called back to public life.

And, of course, the new member for Stafford, Anthony Lynham. What a phenomenal campaign - over 4000 volunteer phone calls, almost 4000 doors knocked on, 350 volunteers on polling day. And on Election Day, a 19.1 per cent swing, carrying every booth in the electorate bar one.

But these by-elections weren't just about the quality of Labor’s candidates or the strength of our campaigns – great as they were.

Anthony Lynham met a Northsider on polling day, George, who was 81 years old. He'd never voted Labor before in his life - until that day.

And there's one more person to thank for that.

Yes, it's time to talk about Campbell Newman.

When Bill Shorten gave his Budget Reply speech this year, I had people stopping me on the street to give their thanks for voicing their anger at the unfairness.

Well - voters in Redcliffe and Stafford were the start of a twelve month "right of reply" that Queenslanders have been waiting to deliver, ever since Campbell Newman’s first budget.

Because who would have voted for the LNP if they had known that nurses and health workers in Redcliffe Hospital would be sacked after the brutal cuts to Metro North health funding, with over 1000 full-time jobs lost in Metro North alone?

Who in Stafford would have voted for them, knowing that community organisations would be gutted by cuts to the Skilling Queenslanders for Work program?

Who would have voted for them if Campbell Newman had come clean about his plans for Queensland?

Campbell Newman said when he was elected, ‘I pledge to you that we will conduct ourselves with humility, grace and dignity’.

But for that first-time Labor voter in Stafford, for George, it was the arrogance of the LNP Government that finally tipped him over the edge – the fact that on top of all of the cuts and broken promises, they just stopped listening to the people who put them there.

Which is starting to sound like a very familiar story.

Yes, it’s time to talk about Tony Abbott.

Newman and Abbott: same political strategy of broken promises and cuts

We said in the Federal election campaign that Campbell Newman was the curtain-raiser for an Abbott Federal Government.

For a playbook that has proven to be such a political train wreck, it's strange how closely Newman and Abbott have stuck to it.

  • Step one: promise from opposition that there's nothing to fear;
  • Step two: set up a commission of audit to get your marching orders from the big end of town;
  • Step three: tear up your election commitments and start cutting health and education.

Let’s take Campbell Newman:

First he tells Queensland’s public servants they have ‘nothing to fear’ and that he will ‘revitalise frontline services’.

Then in his first budget, he cuts $3 billion from the Queensland health system and sacks over 4000 health workers.

Revitalising Campbell Newman-style – ripping the guts out of public services Queenslanders rely on.

Now Tony Abbott:

Right up to Election Day, he says: 'No cuts to health, no cuts to education, no change to pensions, no new taxes’.

Then comes the National Commission of Audit, calling for cuts to health, education and essential services.

Here Tony Abbott starts to improvise on the plan – the $5 GP co-payment for concession card holders recommended by the Commission of Audit doesn’t go far enough, so he decides to push for a $7 fee.

Campbell Newman: says he’s “not a right-wing ideologue” and then sacks 14,000 Queenslanders.

Tony Abbott: says before he’s elected “the one thing that the Australian workers will find is that I am their best friend”, goes on to cut 16, 500 jobs from the public service and kills the car industry to boot.

He promised a million new jobs - We just thought some of them would be in Australia.

And for Queenslanders, it isn’t just the insult of having to sit through a re-run of this cynical political play.

Separately, they would be dangerous enough. Together, they’re a disaster for Queensland.


Bad separately, together a disaster

Take the impact on our health system.

Over in the United States, they are taking the long and difficult path back from a user pays health system.

But here, Campbell Newman doesn’t mind sacking nurses, closing hospital beds and pushing out waiting times.

And Tony Abbott backs up with more cuts - to hospitals, to GP services, and to prevention - the job of keeping people healthy and out of hospital.

Campbell Newman cuts, then Tony Abbott shows up with a plan for even deeper cuts.

It’s like coming down with the flu and and then getting food poisoning: bad separately, together a disaster.

Or take education.

Campbell Newman called the Gonski school funding reforms a ‘bucket of custard.’[1]

He turned his back on an extra $3.8 billion for Queensland schools, but worse he sabotaged the opportunity to create a new system which addressed the rising gap between well-off and disadvantaged students.

Now Christopher Pyne has unveiled his plans for higher education, with students paying more and getting less.

It’s true that all students are going to be worse off, but the biggest tragedy is the smart kids who’ll never make it through those university gates because of the prospect of decades of rising debt.

What happens to those kids, the bright ones born in the wrong postcode?

The ones the LNP want to keep piling handicaps on, from threats to federal cuts to preschool through the end of their schooling lives?

The cumulative effect of Newman and Abbott’s robbing of those kids is devastating.

It’s like a having a hopeless teacher and then getting stuck next to the school bully: bad separately, but together a disaster.

What they want to do to young people breaks your heart - cut TAFE, cut Youth Connections and other successful employment programs, leave them without any income at all for six months at a time if they're unlucky enough not to find work, then saddle them with a debt sentence if they want to go to uni.

The question of whether to fund university education is something that shows up the difference between us and them: they argue, why should we subsidise people with our tax money just so they can get ahead? It’s every man for himself and the Devil take the hindmost. That’s their approach.

And we respond – those future graduates we invest in, they will pay through the tax system when they’re graduates and they’ll help the next generation, and they’ll help the next generation.

Because to us in the Labor movement, health and education aren’t just businesses. They’re the right of every Australian, and reserving them for the privileged diminishes us all.

I want to tell you a story about myself.

When I was about 4 or 5 we went to Slovenia for the first time, which is where my parents are from.

When we arrived we went to my grandfather’s farm where everyone was out in the field, with their neighbours, cutting a wheat crop.

This was 40 years ago and they were cutting the wheat crop with scythes, then bundling the wheat up to dry in the sun.

When we finished working we got into a wooden cart pulled by bullocks that took us home.

I think about that first time I met my grandfather and what he would think about my life now and the opportunities that I’ve had.

The thing that strikes me most about it is he could never have imagined, 40 years ago, the jobs that exist in Australia today.

The fact that we live in a country where any kid can go to school and we have aspired to any kid being able to do post school education; TAFE, vocational education or university.

And not based on their families wealth, based on their ability and their desire and their dreams.

What will this country be like in 40 years’ time? We cannot imagine the jobs that will exist in 40 years’ time. We can’t even conceive of them today.

So we aren’t just robbing these individual kids of their opportunity, we are robbing the future prosperity of this nation if we don’t invest in education.


Why we care

Each of us has a different story about what makes us Labor.

I think of my dad. He migrated to Australia and worked here in Queensland for a while, cutting cane and helping build big sugar silos.

It was hard work and he worked hard at it. And he felt the effects of that strain and the cement dust on his lungs for years after he’d moved on.

It was important to him that he could provide for his family, and he told me that’s why he was always part of the union.

Instead of going it alone, being part of a union meant he knew he could rely on decent wages and conditions that had some dignity.

I think of my mum. She came to Australia in her early twenties with no English and worked in factories, before raising us.

I think of the choices my mum and dad made, raising me and my brothers.

We didn't have a lot of money, but all I ever had to say was "it's educational" for them to hand over the money they worked so hard to save.

They never resented paying tax so other people could go to university as Christopher Pyne says, because those "other people" were their kids – we were the first generation to have that chance.

I cannot tolerate a vision of Australia where we are the last generation to have that chance.

Each of us has a different story about why we're Labor, but we share the same vision for the kind of Australia we want to live in.

When I was elected, I said that I was proud to live in a country where your birth is not your destiny.

And together, as a movement, we can protect and build on that vision.

We've done it before - we're a party that values our history and the great Labor reforms of the past, like Medicare and superannuation.

And more importantly we'll do it again, because our party is the party of building the future.

And as bad as Campbell Newman and Tony Abbott are individually, and as toxic as they are in combination, by that same degree Labor working together in State and Federal government can change Queensland for the better.

And that's the reason Annastacia and her team have been working every day to hold the Newman Government to account.

And that's why Bill and his Federal team has been working every single day to take on Tony Abbott.



A British Prime Minister, the Earl of Derby, once said: "The duty of an Opposition is very simple... to oppose everything, and propose nothing."

Of course, Lord Derby was a Tory. That was Tony Abbott’s approach.

Labor knows that we are only worthy of regaining government because of our hopes and aspirations – because of what we stand for:

  • a decent wage, and strong rights at work – the purpose of a thriving economy, not the barrier to it.
  • a health system where patients are treated on need, not triaged on the size of their wallets.
  • schools where every kid can get a great education, and where a difficult childhood doesn’t mean you are lost for the rest of your life.

We will face up to the challenge of climate change, because the political costs of today are nothing compared to the real costs we’re leaving to our kids and grandkids.

And we won’t stop until everybody has the same rights – no matter the colour of your skin, or the gender of the person you love.

We stand for an Australia where:

  • If you become homeless, you don’t become invisible.
  • If your child is born with a disability, you aren’t on your own.
  • If you lose your job and can’t make ends meet, you can lean on us while you look for work - and then you in turn help others.

Delegates, we know that prosperity and justice only come together when we work together.

That’s the Labor way, that’s the kind of Australia we stand for, and that’s why we’re taking the fight up to Campbell Newman and Tony Abbott.

And Queensland – it starts with you. I’ll see you on the campaign trail.


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TRANSCRIPT - ABC Radio National AM, Friday 22 August 2014

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SUBJECT/S: Bill Shorten addressing claims; National security legislation.  

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Tanya Plibersek is Labor’s Deputy Leader and she joins me now. Tanya Plibersek welcome to AM.


BRISSENDEN: What do you make of the decision to go public, it certainly would have come as a shock to most Australians wouldn’t it?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it would have surprised many people that Bill has outed himself as the person that The Australian reported several months ago there was an investigation about. But it is important of course when such serious allegations are made that the police do thoroughly investigate those allegations and having seen that process completed now I think Bill thought it was time to hopefully put a line under this.

BRISSENDEN: How is it going to play out politically because Parliament is back next week, do you expect it will divert debate at all?

PLIBERSEK: Michael, I’m not a political commentator I think that’s really a question for someone else. This has been a very serious allegation, like any serious allegation it should have been thoroughly investigated by the police. They have taken some months to investigate it. They’ve spoken also to the Office of the Public Prosecutor in Victoria to confirm that there is no case to answer here. I think that does really need to be the end.

BRISSENDEN: Okay I know he says he wants that to be the end of it as well, but online is where this allegation first surfaced. Do you fear that this may be driven further by a non-mainstream media campaign?

PLIBERSEK: Well I don’t think any of us can control what’s said on the internet.

BRISSENDEN: Clearly there is a lot of chatter out there that will continue, I guess you have to find a way to deal with that somehow.

PLIBERSEK: Well Michael I don’t know, I don’t read that sort of stuff. I think we’d all go mad if we read and believed everything that’s on the internet.

BRISSENDEN: Did he and the Labor Party need to clear the air on this at this stage well before an election?

PLIBERSEK: No, Bill didn’t need to address this at all. He was not named in the original report, he could have carried on without ever expressing the fact that this report was about him. But you can imagine that it’s taken a significant toll on his family and he thought now that the police investigation is concluded it was a good time to say it was me – ‘I’m not hiding behind spin doctors and so on. I put my hand up, it was about me, but the police have thoroughly investigated as they should’ve and they’ve found that there’s no case to answer’.

BRISSENDEN: Do you expect the woman will continue with her claim?

PLIBERSEK: I couldn’t begin to speculate.

BRISSENDEN: Okay. On other matters the Prime Minister has been meeting with Muslim leaders this week trying to win their support for the planned changes to the terrorism laws. Would you urge the community to support those laws?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think it’s very important that David Irvine the head of ASIO was out yesterday saying that these laws are not about targeting any particular community. They’re about keeping Australians safe from potential acts of terrorism. We are very fortunate that we’ve been able to keep Australians safe but we shouldn’t ever be complacent about threats overseas. On the other hand it’s also very important – I mean one of the reasons terrorists behave in the way they do Michael is because they want to strike fear into people’s hearts, and we’ve been a free and functioning democracy. We can’t change the way we behave as Australians to behaving in a fearful way because of terrorist events overseas. So we need to find a balance. There’s a first lot of laws that the Parliamentary Committee that I’m on, the Intelligence and Security Committee is examining at the moment. We’re methodically examining those laws. The Prime Minister announced recently that he wants to introduce a second tranche of laws but we haven’t seen any of the details of those Michael. So we’d need to look at them, examine them methodically and make sure that they do help our security agencies do their job but they don’t change our Australian way of life.

BRISSENDEN: Do you agree with the Prime Minister when he says we need to remain vigilant and that these laws do that and that if we don’t beheading such as in Iraq could happen here in Australia at the hands of terrorists?

PLIBERSEK: I don’t know which laws he’s talking about because he’s made an announcement that there will be new laws but he hasn’t drafted them yet. So when those laws are drafted Labor will examine them closely and see whether they do assist the national security agencies do their work. The national security agencies do very important work, we are very supportive of the work they do. We want them to keep Australians safe but I have to say that we balance that against behaving fearfully. I don’t want terrorists to change the way that I live as an Australian.

BRISSENDEN: Okay Tanya Plibersek thanks for joining us.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you Michael.


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TRANSCRIPT - Today Show, Friday, 22 August 2014

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Subject/s: Higher education; Bill Shorten addresses claims.  

LISA WILKINSON: PM Tony Abbott has been bombarded by more than 500 protestors overnight while trying to deliver a speech at Adelaide University. The mostly student crowd barged through a security fence and screamed at the Prime Minister about his unpopular policies on asylum seekers, student fees, gay marriage and job losses. To have a look at this and more we are joined now by communications minister Malcom Turnbull and deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek. Good morning to both of you. Malcolm, if I can start with you, 100 or so days on from releasing the budget there is certainly a lot that those protestors are unhappy about.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well so it seems but the bulk of the budget has been passed already. There are some issues that are, that we are still debating with the cross benchers but that is situation normal. As Tanya knows Governments rarely have a majority in the Senate and so you have to negotiate with the people with the swing votes which in that case is the 8 independent Senators.

WILKINSON: Tanya Plibersek, 50 police were called in. One protester was injured in the ruckus. We know there is a lot of opposition to the Abbott Government policies but are protestors starting to go too far?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well I think it is interesting that Malcolm has changed the rhetoric now. A few weeks ago it was budget emergency and we had Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott out there saying disaster, disaster. Now the Government has realised they have gone too far in talking about a budget emergency and they are dialling back the rhetoric. It’s been a very noticeable change in their talking points. When it comes to these students I don’t think protests should ever turn violent but I think every Australian has a right to tell their Government how they feel about a budget that breaks promises. There was no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no change to pensions, no new taxes. All those promises broken. And these uni students are really going to feel the brunt of it. They are looking at much more expensive degrees and of course they are worried about that. They are worried about having to choose between buying a house when they grow up and actually paying off their university debt. It is a terrible thing in Australia, it’s a very American-style university system and Australians have rejected it. And not just uni students have rejected it but all Australians have rejected that move away from the fairer system that we have always had.

WILKINSON: Do those broken promises sit comfortably with you Malcolm?

TURNBULL: I do not concede we have broken any promises.

WILKINSON: There is a laundry list there that Tanya read out?

TURNBULL: It’s a very long list, it’ll be a long program! Let's just go back to the point about university fees. When I went to university fees were free. And it was actually a Labor Government that reintroduced fees and introduced HECS because it recognised it was unfair to ask the whole population, many of whom, most of who had not gone to university to pay tax to send people to university so they could get jobs and earn much higher incomes than they would without a university degree. So it is fair for people to pay –

PLIBERSEK: A small portion Malcolm, but not an unaffordable, not an unaffordable amount.

TURNBULL: The reality is that students will be able to borrow the entire amount of the fees at the best rate they will ever be able to get and they will have significantly higher income in their lives.

PLIBERSEK: So they should pay more tax. So they will pay more tax throughout their lives.

TURNBULL: They will have significantly higher income and as a consequence of that degree – you see this is the critical thing – I mean for a Labor Party which – the Labor Party claims to be on behalf of the battler, working man and woman –

PLIBERSEK: I know I could never have afforded to go to university if what your Government proposes is true. I could not afford it. My dad was a plumber, my mum a housewife, I would never have got to university under your scheme.

TURNBULL: Tanya, that is not true –

PLIBERSEK: It is true –

TURNBULL: Because you would have been able to obviously contribute to your fees by your own work, which all students did, I certainly did.

PLIBERSEK: And I did that too.

TURNBULL: I worked when I was at university but I did not have fees. But you would also be able to borrow the money from the Government at a very low rate and that is something you - don't sniff, we borrow money for everything.

PLIBERSEK: But Malcolm, working class kids are not going to go into $200,000 worth of debt knowing that that means they will never be able to buy a home of their own.

TURNBULL: That is not true.

PLIBERSEK: No listen, if you’re talk about a nurse or a teacher, you are looking at 15 years’ worth of repayment. If you’re talking about a woman studying engineering you are talking about 18 years’ worth of university-fee repayment. Would you take on as an 18-year-old student almost 20 years’ worth of debt not even knowing you’ve got a job at the end of that study? Would you do that?

TURNBULL: These figures are wildly exaggerated.

PLIBERSEK: No, they are not. They are not wildly exaggerated. They are National Tertiary Education Union  figures.

TURNBULL: This is the case today, I mean students are taking on debt today under Fee Help. So this is –

PLIBERSEK: It is the size of the debt.

TURNBULL: All the reforms are doing is giving the universities greater flexibility in setting fees. And some universities may set lower fees to compete.

PLIBERSEK: And who is going to do that?

TURNBULL: Universities that want to compete for students.

PLIBERSEK: Except you are cutting their funding, you’re cutting their funding by 20 per cent so they have to make up the 20 per cent just to be back at stage one.

WILKINSON: We are going to have to leave it there, we have to move on, because a big story yesterday. We saw that Victoria Police will not pursue rape charges against opposition leader Bill Shorten saying they don’t have enough evidence to secure a conviction. Mr Shorten came forward to address the story yesterday.

BILL SHORTEN: I fully cooperated to clear my name. That is what I have done. I freely answered all the questions that the police asked of me. The police have now concluded the investigation. The decision speaks for itself. It is over.

WILKINSON: Bill Shorten yesterday. Now Tanya, for most people I think the fact that these allegations even existed came as a surprise. We know that it has been circulating a bit on social media. These allegations emerged around the time that Bill Shorten became opposition leader. Can you give us some idea of how much concern there has been over the last ten months over these allegations?

PLIBERSEK: Well I – the first and most important thing to say is that when allegations like this are made it is absolutely vital that the person making the allegation goes to the police and that the issue is thoroughly investigated. And a few months ago when this was first in the newspapers, an unnamed person was being investigated. I was asked about it at the time and I said the police have to investigate. It’s an incredibly serious allegation. We take these allegations seriously as a society, that means the police must investigate. But having had all these months to undertake their investigation I think with the investigation concluded Bill thought ‘Well I’ve got to now face this front-on’ and I think that is a pretty gutsy thing to do given he had not been named in the media.

He wanted to take it head-on and say ‘cooperated with the police, they’ve found I have no case to answer.’ We now should be able to draw a line under it. It has been an incredibly stressful period I think for him and his family and no doubt everybody involved in this – it has been very stressful. But having been investigated, having had his name cleared it is good now he can draw a line under it.

WILKINSON: Malcolm, as a young lawyer working for Kerry Parker, you defended him during the time of Costigan. Do you feel sorry? Obviously those allegations were proved untrue but do you feel sorry for Bill Shorten right now?

TURNBULL: Let me say this - I think Bill Shorten made the right decision to come out and say he was the person being talked about. Remember Kerry Parker did the same thing because the allegations which were being made about him were about the goanna, it was a pseudonym but everybody was talking and was saying it was Kerry. I think you have to nail these things. Look, there is nothing more - well, I suppose there are plenty of things but it is very, very painful to be - to feel you are the subject of a an unjust accusation, particularly a very serious one like that. I think Shorten has done the right thing. The police - it is very important that allegations of this kind are taken seriously. And the police have to investigate them, go through their process and they have come to a conclusion that they don’t want to take it any further. Bill Shorten has said ‘Yes, well that was the me’ and that’s it now.  What the complainant says now, I do not know but from Bill Shorten's point of view he is better off getting this thing aired and ventilated and dealt with now rather than it continuing to bubble up as a whispering campaign which, those things can be very dangerous.

WILKINSON: Indeed. Ok, Malcolm and Tanya, we’ll have to leave it there. Thanks very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks Lisa.

WILKINSON: Hope you both have a great weekend.



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SPEECH - 2014 ACTU National Women's Conference

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 I want to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, and pay my respect to elders both past and present.

Thank you Aunty Joy Murphy for providing the welcome to country.

I also want to acknowledge all of the activists from the union movement here in the room, including the ACTU Women’s Committee who have organised this conference.

Thank you Ged for your words and your welcome – it’s easy to see that the union movement has a strong future with you at the helm.

It is particularly important that this conference is gathering today, a week after figures emerged from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that the gender pay gap in Australia is actually growing.

The average man now earns 18.2 per cent, or $283.20 per week, more than a woman doing comparable work.

When we hear that the gender pay gap is at a 20-year high, it’s easy to feel angry that women's work isn't valued properly, a fact even harder to stomach when we are then told we live in a post-feminist world.

That's when we need more than ever to spend time in the company of other union women, to celebrate our strength and most importantly to organise for change.


History of trade union women

It’s also worth taking a moment to remember the past.

Muriel Heagney was the daughter of one of the founding members of the ALP and a lifelong campaigner for equal pay for clothing workers.

In the 1930s, rising unemployment in the Great Depression gave rise to a campaign to get women out of the workforce.

Heagney responded by helping found the Council of Action of Equal Pay, saying:

‘a woman’s right to work rests not on the number of her dependents, nor on the fact that she does or does not compete with men, but in the absolute right of a free human being, a taxpayer and a voter, to economic independence.

Of course Heagney faced stiff resistance: from employers, from wider society, and from within some parts of the trade union movement itself.

But that basic driving principle - that women’s rights at work are human rights worth fighting for - kept her campaigning for change throughout her life.

As Edna Ryan, one of the feminists she inspired, said, ‘Muriel was a real goer, she never missed a trick.’

Muriel first called for a standard minimum wage for men and women in a submission to the Arbitration court in 1923. It would be over 50 years, in 1974, that the National Wage Case decision granted women an adult minimum wage.

Muriel lived to see that great result of her decades of activism – but survived just a week after the decision. She must have been hanging on for it.

For her to see, after half a century, her call for equality at last becoming law, it must have felt bittersweet.

To win the fight for formal pay equity, and yet to see that substantive equality was still a far way off.

Of course, Muriel was a pioneer, but she was never on her own. She was an inspiration and she was part of a movement:

  • Kath Williams, who had to quit being a teacher twice each time she got married in the 1930s and 40s, who drove the equal pay campaign within the Victorian trade union movement, leading to the ACTU congress in 1953 agreeing to establish equal pay committees in each State.
  • Jenny Acton, the ACTU advocate in the 1985 claim for nurses’ salaries to be increased to put them on par with similar occupations like firefighters and police. Some of you might remember the campaign that accompanied that case, with women boarding Melbourne buses and trams bound for the Commission and paying only 67 cents of the $1 fare, because they were only making 67% of the male wage.
  • Anna Booth, who would become ACTU Vice President after pushing for equal pay for clothing workers in the 1980s and 90s. She helped broker deals with clothing brands and retailers who promised to only deal with suppliers who paid their workers properly.


Modern union activism and Labor in government

It’s a line of activism that runs right to the present day.

I remember when Julia Gillard was Prime Minister in 2011, meeting unionists at the forefront of the equal pay case run by the Australian Services Union.

I met Maree, a delegate who had spent her life contributing to the labour movement as an active unionist, and contributing to her community running local neighbourhood services.

Yet her work was still not given equal value because it was caring work – ‘women’s work’.

Maree became an active and passionate equal pay advocate, in a campaign that forged a personal relationship between her and Julia Gillard.

I remember talking with Maree that day, and then walking straight into an auditorium full of delegates and organisers, where Julia announced the federal government would provide $3 billion to fund our share of equal pay for social and community sector workers.

To me, it felt like the labour movement at our best: unions organising working people to achieve real change, and the parliamentary wing living up to its history and its purpose.

And I was grateful to have many moments like that as member of the Labor Government, working towards gender equality:

  • The strengthened Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 2012 which allows the Government to set industry-specific minimum standards and requires companies to report on the composition of their governing bodies like boards;
  • $22.4 billion to make quality early childhood education and care more affordable and accessible;
  • Giving workers the right to request flexible work arrangements from their employer after having a child, if they are experiencing domestic violence, or if they have caring responsibilities.


Tony Abbott and the Federal Budget

Only a few years later, and we live in a very different political moment.

It won’t surprise you to learn that our minister for women, Tony Abbott, hasn't said much about the widening gender pay gap.

Instead his ideology, laid bare in this year's budget, seems designed to make economic inequality worse.

The Labor movement built superannuation and helped build up workers’ retirement savings.

Abbott’s budget cut the Low Income Superannuation Contribution, stopped our increase to superannuation, and gave back tax breaks for wealthy individuals and companies.

When Labor was in government, we committed to funding wage increases for aged care workers and early childhood educators. We knew that the work that these professionals did – caring work – was undervalued.

The Abbott Government tore up these wage increases as soon as they got into office, and in the budget they cut funding to early childhood education even further, including cutting all federal funding for preschool.

The Labor Party and the union movement together fought for and built our first national paid parental leave scheme – which Abbott at one point said would be ‘over my dead body’.

In trying to persuade him we should have been careful what we wished for – now as a late convert, Abbott wants to introduce his own scheme which pays the most money to the richest Australians, and he plans to fund it by cutting pensions and wage increases for underpaid workers.


The agenda for the union movement today

At this moment, with a widening gender pay gap and a conservative government making the challenge of inequality worse, the union movement is needed more than ever.

Over these next two days, you will sharpen the union movement’s strategy to deliver for working women.

You will need to talk about what you want, and as organisers you know that means tapping into what makes you angry:

  • The gender pay gap means that in a 38 hour working week, women who start at 9am, by 3.38pm every day are working for free.
  • According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, the number of people who reported having being sexually harassed in the workplace actually increased between 2008 and 2012 – most of them were women, and most people reported having been harassed in the workplace. Better reporting often means people have the confidence for the first time to complain about behavior that has been common and acceptable in the past, but how are we responding to this increase in the reports?
  • The rise of insecure work in Australia and around the world is leaving women with fewer rights and less economic independence. The ACTU’s own inquiry in 2011 revealed stories like the Sydney women working casually in the textiles sector who were paid piece rates that amount to $4 to $5 per hour to produce garments with a retail value of up to $1,000.

As well as setting your agenda for the future, you also need to spend some time reflecting on the wins you have had, and drawing strength from each other:

  • Acknowledge the women who have built strong organizing campaigns in their unions, as well as the women who have stepped up as delegates and activists to grow our movement.
  • Share ideas about what has worked and what hasn’t; learn from and mentor each other; build on the network of women unionists that spans every industry across the country.

Because chances are you will need those friendships in the years ahead.

Joyce Barry was a tram conductress for 27 years before she finally became the first a qualified female tram driver in 1975.

It wasn’t just the sexist attitudes in the community which stood in her way. The final and biggest hurdle for her to overcome was her union’s ban on women tram drivers, in a high-profile campaign that drew on the solidarity of the broader labour and women’s movements to finally succeed.

Joyce Barry, reflecting on the campaign, said: ‘I’ve stuck rigidly to one thing – that I wanted this done so that girls had equal opportunities in the structures of our union.’

Making sure that our union movement reflects the diversity of its membership, right up to its leadership, is just one of the many challenges that require union women to work together.

Together, you can build better unions, better workplaces, and a better Australian community.



Today I wanted to pay tribute to some of the women who have been part of the trade union movement’s history, like Muriel Heagney and Joyce Barry.

I want to pay tribute to some other union women.

Ged Kearney, leading the ACTU and the national conversation on insecure work.

Sharan Burrow, re-elected this year as the General Secretary of the 170-million member International Trade Union Confederation.

And our future union women leaders, some of them in this room.

Australia has a proud history of women leading the fight for economic and gender equality, and I know it has a bright future too.

So I wish you all the best for the conference over the next two days: I hope it propels you to make your mark on Australia’s workplaces and our country.

I know you’ll leave them the better for it.



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STATEMENT - Labor Backs Iraqi Christian Calls for Support

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Federal Labor backs calls by Australian representatives of the Iraqi Assyrian and Chaldean Christian community for the Government to help alleviate the suffering of the humanitarian disaster in northern Iraq.

The Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Tanya Plibersek, the Shadow Treasurer and Member for McMahon, Chris Bowen, and the Chief Opposition Whip and Member for Fowler, Chris Hayes, met today with community leaders to hear their concerns.

Assyrian and Chaldean Christians have lived in northern Iraq for millennia, but more than 150,000 have been displaced in recent months as they fled Islamic State insurgents, taking refuge in Syria, Lebanon, Iran and other neighbouring countries.

All Australians are appalled by the vicious and brutal terror campaign undertaken by Islamic State forces, which reportedly includes killing those who do not support their radical agenda.

Ms Plibersek, Mr Bowen and Mr Hayes met in western Sydney with leaders of the Assyrian Universal Alliance, the Assyrian Church of the East, the Saint Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church and other community groups.

The community and church leaders have called on the Government to support proposals to establish an autonomous region in the Nineveh plains, to increase humanitarian refugees from the region, and to increase Australian humanitarian aid.

Even though the humanitarian crisis on Mount Sinjar has eased after US air strikes, hundreds of thousands of people forced from their homes still need food, clothing and shelter.

Federal Labor welcomes the decision by the Iraqi Government to support in principle the creation of an autonomous region in the Nineveh plains. We are hopeful that the new government soon to be formed in Iraq will find ways to ensure security and autonomy for minority religious groups.

Federal Labor welcomes the decision of the Australian Government to provide $5 million in emergency humanitarian aid for those fleeing IS – after it had previously cut the Australian aid budget to Iraq from $7.7 million last year to zero – but much more is needed. Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war gives us a particular responsibility to support those who have been displaced.

Federal Labor also welcomes the Government’s decision to allocate 4400 existing refugee places to people from Iraq and Syria, but regrets the Government’s decision to reverse the previous Labor Government’s increase in the humanitarian quota to 20,000.



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STATEMENT - Labor Condemns Beheading

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The beheading of an American journalist by Islamic State shows the extreme brutality and disregard for human life of the terrorist group.

The family and friends of the journalist, James Foley, must be greatly distressed at the news, and the way it has been broadcast. Federal Labor offers them our condolences and sympathy.

This atrocity illustrates the terrible risks faced more generally by foreign correspondents reporting in war zones.

Mr Foley’s life is just one of hundreds of thousands to have been lost in Syria and now Iraq, but it highlights graphically the extreme and shocking tactics used by IS.

This event reinforces the need for an urgent solution to the conflict in Syria and Iraq.

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TRANSCRIPT - Capital Hill, ABC News 24, Tuesday 19 August

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SUBJECT/S: Relationship with Indonesia, Clive Palmer, Asylum seekers.


LYNDAL CURTIS: Labor's foreign affairs spokeswoman and deputy leader is Tanya Plibersek. I spoke to her a little earlier.

Tanya Plibersek, welcome to Capital Hill. If we can go first to Indonesia, an agreement has been reached on what's called the joint understanding of a code and conduct. It’s aimed at resolving a diplomatic row when the news broke of that Australia once tried to spy on the Indonesian President, his family and Government officials. Is this a big step towards healing that rift?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Look of course we are very pleased if there’s any resolution of the ongoing misunderstanding between Australia and Indonesia. Indonesia’s one of our most important economic and strategic partners and we as a Labor Party have been calling for a resolution of this difficulty for some time. It has been 257 days since Julie Bishop said that Australia would work with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his Government on resolving this difficulty. I'm sorry that it's taken 257 days, I think it's a shame that the Indonesian Ambassador wasn't here for 6 months of that time because there was such a degree of difficulty between our two nations. If indeed this is a resolution then we'll be very happy to welcome it.

CURTIS: We haven't yet seen the details of the code of conduct. Would you like to see them as soon as possible?

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely. Of course we would. It is very important that we resolve this difficulty but we would ask for a briefing as quickly as possible on the detailed contents of any agreement that is to be signed.

CURTIS: If we could move on to another of Australia's important relationships and that's the one with China. We heard Clive Palmer on 'Q&A' last night called the Chinese Government bastards and accused Beijing of wanting to destroy the wages system and take over ports. One of his Senators, Jacqui Lambie, has talked about not ignoring the possibility of a Chinese Communist invasion. Do you think the Chinese will see these for what they are not comments of the Government but comments of minor party figures?

PLIBERSEK: Well my experience of dealing with Chinese interlocutors is they have a good understanding of our political system. They understand that we have a Government, we have an Opposition, that the major parties move between Government and Opposition and that we have minor parties and Independents who speak for themselves rather than for the Government of Australia or indeed for the Opposition. I think these comments would be seen in China for what they are.

CURTIS: This is, Clive Palmer's raised these comments, he's got an ongoing legal dispute with a Chinese-owned company. Jacqui Lambie's comments back those up. Do you think they are well advised to make them?

PLIBERSEK: Well Lyndal, I think that you and I both know the answer to that one. China’s our most important two way trading partner, economically the growth of China is very good for us here in Australia and for the world. It is important that we seek to always better understand each other, our two nations. For 40 years we've had good diplomatic relations with China. I was talking to Bob Hawke recently and who told he's about to make his 100th visit to China so those people to people links are very strong as well. Government to Government, people to people, business to business. We’ve got more students studying in China, they have more students studying in Australia, and in the rest of the world also. We see more Chinese tourists all the time. I think that the best way forward for our two nations is to build on the very close relationship we already have by understanding each other better and I'm sure that people in the Chinese Government, representatives of the Government here, would understand that Clive Palmer and Jacqui Lambie aren't speaking for all Australians.

CURTIS: If we could turn now to domestic politics, Scott Morrison, the Immigration Minister, has announced moves to get children not only in what he's called held detention but out of community detention as well. He says it's taken some time because there were problems particularly in the support they would have been provided on bridging visas. He says that's now changed. Do you welcome this move to get children out of detention by the end of the year?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think of course, anyone would say that detention centres are not places for children and that children should be living in the community with their families. I'm a bit perplexed about how this is new policy or a new announcement. I think when Labor spoke about children moving into the community in 2010, Scott Morrison at that time said, "Well this has been happening since 2005,” so I'm not really sure what's new here but of course I welcome anything that takes children out of detention centres.

CURTIS: But what is clear from that long period of time is that not all children have been got out of those detention centres. He's taken, on your interpretation, years and years to do it.

PLIBERSEK: No, that's absolutely true and the difficulty of course with, at times, when there's been a larger number of people coming, it's taken a longer time to check the identity, health and security of people and move them through detention, and that’s not a good situation. Of course it's better not to have children in detention at all. I'm just a bit perplexed at what's actually changing, what will the difference be?

CURTIS: On that note we’ll have to leave it. Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much for your time.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Lyndal.


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SPEECH - The Good Fight Book Launch

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Thank you Ian and others from ANU for having us today. I’d like to start by also acknowledging the traditional owners of the land that we’re meeting on today and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I want to say how good it is to be with a couple of my colleagues today, Andrew Leigh the Doobie Howzer economics professor. And Jim Charlmers who of course worked very closely with Wayne in order to fight off the Global Financial Crisis.

While Joe Hockey was preparing to deliver his first budget in May, a budget that unravelled Australia’s social fabric, he listened to a song called Best day of my life by American Authors.

The “best day of my life” for Joe Hockey was the day he cut the pension, it was the day he broke the promise “no cuts to health, no cuts to education and no new taxes.”

Wayne listens to music on budget days too. And you could have guessed if you already know Wayne, his music was “Born to Run”, the song Bruce Springsteen says was the “dividing line between the carefree concerns of his youth and the political concerns of his adulthood.”

Wayne wrote about the song, and about his musical hero in his 2012 John Button lecture, which is an appendix to this book. He quoted Bruce Springsteen:

“… the stress and tension of my father’s and mother’s life that came with the difficulties of trying to make ends meet – influenced my writing. I had a reaction to my own good fortune. I asked myself new questions. I felt a sense of accountability to the people I’d grown up alongside of.”

That, in a nutshell, is Wayne Swan too.

When he was framing his six budgets, Wayne never forgot the people he grew up alongside of. And it was those people, his brothers and sister, the men he knew who lost their jobs in the last recession, even Craig Midgley, who he had met at the Penrith Community Cabinet who are the constant characters in this book. Wayne says of Craig Midgley:

“stuck up his hand and spoke of the financial pressures on families like his, on a reasonable income but struggling to make ends meet… I sat there thinking, ‘What do we say and do for people like Craig Midgley if there’s a global economy meltdown that pushes unemployment through the roof?’ ”.

In The Good Fight, Wayne tells the compelling story of how he and the government responded to the greatest economic crisis to befall Australia in 80 years.

But it’s not just about how Australia avoided recession. It’s about why Wayne cared so much about keeping Australians working. The how and the why. This book is as much a reflection of Wayne’s values as it is about the technical aspects of the decisions that he took which gave Australia the stand-out economy during the Global Financial Crisis.

Wayne describes inheriting an Australian economy challenged with growing inflation.

He came to office determined to cut spending to tackle the inflationary challenge he’d been left by the profligacy of the Howard years: the permanent spending paid for by temporary windfalls from the mining boom; the infrastructure bottlenecks; rising interest rates and rising cost of living.

Instead, just months into his new role the whispers started coming from the United States that their economy might be in trouble. He describes the uncertainty, the worry, the difficulties of preparing for the worst while not causing a panic that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The account of the GFC in the Good Fight has more tension than your average thriller – at least for budget tragics like us.

You really get the sense from reading this book how close Australia came to the brink – waiting for the quarterly number which would tell us whether we had gone into recession like the rest of the OECD.

And in reading you recall the querulous opposition to stimulus – Joe Hockey saying we should follow the New Zealand path, into recession presumably. And Tony Abbott sleeping through crucial votes on the stimulus packages.

Of course Wayne was a victim of his own success. He never received, and the Rudd and Gillard governments never received, credit from the public for the economic management that protected Australia from the recession. You don’t feel the bullet you dodged. But there is no word of complaint on that score in this book.

Wayne never complains that while the world was feting him as “finance minister of the year” the Liberals and their media cheer squad were calling for less action to protect jobs and keep the Australian economy from falling into recession.

And in keeping with this, Wayne’s greatest failing, throughout the book he gives credit to others for the internationally lauded success of Australia’s stimulus: he credits Ken Henry with the “go early, go hard, go households” advice; he talks at length about Kevin Rudd’s tireless work to make the G20 the premier decision making body for co-ordinating global efforts to fight the GFC; he speaks warmly about his public servants and personal staff; and he gives credit to any number of business figures in Australia and around the world for the insights that they gave him into the real economy globally. He always talks about what Australians did to avoid the GFC, giving credit to working people, to their employers, to unions and to others but never taking it for himself.

Wayne’s greatest failing may be his modesty. There are times when this book actually made me cringe because Wayne’s criticism of himself and the errors he believes he made are so excoriatingly honest. I know his critics will selectively quote his own insights and use his self-awareness and honesty as ammunition against him.

If only Joe Hockey or Tony Abbott had one tenth of Wayne’s insight and honesty. Instead we’ve got this bombastic defence of a deeply unfair and unpopular budget; all bluster and machismo; none of Wayne’s attention to detail. In fact it struck me at the time the fact that Joe Hockey didn’t know that chronically ill patients would pay the $7 GP co-payment shows how little attention he paid to the detail of his own budget.

You get an incredible sense from the book about how seriously Wayne took each budget.

Each one was prepared for the times: to set up the Australian economy for the challenges ahead.

You can feel the weight of responsibility on his shoulders as he works to “get the big calls right”.

The challenge presented by the GFC is rightly the main concern of this book, as it was the main preoccupation of our first years in government. Wayne talks of Rahm Emmanuel’s advice: “never waste a crisis”. Our stimulus was designed first and foremost to keep people working, to keep confidence up, to keep the economy ticking over. But it also had the benefit of upgrading every school in Australia, building new public transport, building public housing and any number of other good things besides.

Wayne talks also of how important it is was to walk and chew gum at the same time. Our pre-occupation with the GFC didn’t let us off the hook when it came to the other big reforms that had been so neglected during the Howard years: we delivered the biggest increase to pensions ever; the National Disability Insurance Scheme, two reforms that were delivered by Wayne in partnership with his good friend Jenny Macklin. The Health Reforms which Kevin Rudd as PM and Nicola Roxon worked so hard on; and the Gonski School Funding reforms begun by Julia Gillard as Education minister and that were finally delivered by Peter Garrett. All of these most important reforms for Australia’s future.

Wayne’s recalls Keatings advice that fighting for, and achieving, the big, transformative national schemes like superannuation is what politics is all about.

And of course sometimes those big changes are very hard.

In 2010, as he thought about the importance of introducing a Resource Super Profits Tax, he remembered the advice he’d heard many years earlier from his first boss when he came to Canberra almost 40 years as a political adviser.

Bill Hayden had told him that the long-term reforms are almost always fiercely contested, and he said “you rarely get them to stick the first time around. You have to persevere and persevere. Medicare and Medibank are the classic examples.”

In decades to come this book will be studied to understand how, almost uniquely among developed countries, Australia avoided recession during the time of the Global Financial Crisis. You could use it as a text book for Keynsian economics.

But there’s another question answered here too.

Wayne says in his Button Lecture that Springsteen’s songs ask an abiding question: “when are ordinary people – the people who get up in the morning, work hard and look after their families, going to get a fair go?”

Wayne’s six years as Treasurer were about answering that question.


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TRANSCRIPT - Australian Agenda, Sky News, Sunday 17 August 2014

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Subject/s: Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Japan, China, Federal Budget


PETER VAN ONSELEN, INTERVIEWER: We are joined now by the Deputy Labor Leader and shadow Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek. Thanks for being here.


VAN ONSELEN: The whole issue around foreign affairs and national security, the opinion polls, and I don’t mean to bring it to that level, they do always tell us that the Coalition are well-respected by voters to handle these issues. Are you worried as a political party that this will distract from the strong success from Labor at the moment in terms of rebutting the Budget and get the Coalition on the firm policy ground the voters appreciate its efforts on?

PLIBERSEK: Well I’d never be worried about a national security issue on the basis of what the polling told me, I’ll make a decision and Labor will always make a decision based on what’s in the national interest. So I think we’ll talk in a minute about Iraq and Ukraine and some of these issues that are running at the moment, but if you take the issue of national security we’ve been presented recently with a second tranche of national security changes, and we’ve said that on those proposed legislative changes we need to see some legislation, that we are happy to support greater powers for our national security agencies if they come with stronger safeguards and stronger oversight. It’s also important to recognise that our threat assessment hasn’t changed since the September 11 attacks in New York, there are indications that we need to be on heightened vigilance because of, in particular, what’s happening in Syria and Iraq, but we need to take that in a balanced way.

VAN ONSLEN: It sounds like you think the Government might be over-dramatising the extent of the problem.

PLIBERSEK: No I’m not suggesting that, I just think that it’s important to make decisions based on the facts, based on the information that we have, and that applies to any proposed changes to legislation as well. We need to see the legislation when it’s drafted as well. I think it was a little odd to make an announcement, for example, about metadata and then to say that there’s no clear timetable for even when that legislation would come before the parliament or when we could even see draft legislation. I think the other important thing to say is that the Government have been talking tough on terrorism but in the last few months two – well one convicted terrorist, someone who has spent time in jail in Australia for terrorism-related offences, has walked out of the country, and we hear a report that there’s a suggestion that a second young man has also left Australia using his brother’s passport just recently, so it’s important if you’re going to talk tough on these things that you’re going to actually have in place the systems that would prevent Australians who have been convicted or suspected of, or on watch for terrorism-related offences, from walking out of the country and joining fights overseas.

PAUL KELLY, INTERVIEWER: Tony Abbott said this week that the new Islamic State in Syria and Iraq needs to be defeated. Is that Labor’s position?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think they certainly need to be stopped. I think whether you could claim that you have defeated an organisation that has no structure, no internal communications, no hierarchical organisation, I don’t know quite how you would determine that the organisation had been defeated, and one of the problems with these organisations is that they reform and change, they are factionalised, they are not clearly under any chain of command. So it’s not like one army fighting another army, it’s the Iraqi forces, the standing Iraqi army, fighting an organisation that is changing in its character and make-up all the time. One of the critical elements I think is what happens with the Sunni tribes now who were initially making way, frankly, and in some cases even supporting IS coming through, sweeping through Syria into northern Iraq. With the change in the Iraqi Government, with some strong suggestions that there will be a greater place for Sunni Iraqis in the decision-making structures of Iraq there’s been a couple of Sunni tribal leaders now saying ‘we can defeat IS any time we want’, I mean I don’t know how much credit you give that, but they are saying ‘a lot of these people are foreign fighters, we can take them on.’ And I think the indications are that if the Sunni tribal areas, tribal leaders, did say that they would fight off an IS advance, I think that would really change the situation on the ground.

KELLY: Given that there’s going to be a new government formed in Baghdad now, to what extend do you think it’s desirable for the United States to take whatever action is required to stop the Islamic State?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it’s very important for the United States to support the Iraqi Government in doing that. It’s clear we have a moral obligation and responsibility to support the people of Iraq to return to a situation of a peaceful country, I think our involvement in the earlier Iraq wars and the United States’ involvement in the earlier Iraq wars gives us a special responsibility and a special relationship there. But it is important for the government of Iraq to lead this process.

KELLY: Sure, I guess the question is then how we exercise the responsibility you just talked about, we are involved in humanitarian efforts which both sides support, would Labor be prepared to contemplate some form of military action in support of the United States.

PLIBERSEK: Well we’ve been very supportive of the humanitarian action as you say, I would draw attention to the fact that our aid to Iraq last calendar year was $7.7 million and that went to zero in the last federal budget, so I am pleased that there is humanitarian assistance now because it is obviously so desperately needed, I think it’s unlikely, all the indications are that it’s unlikely that the Americans are even thinking about putting combat troops on the ground. President Obama’s approach to intervention in other countries was pretty clearly laid out at that West Point speech, and the American commentators and American officials seem to be saying it’s unlikely that they’ll put, as they say, boots on the ground. So I think that it’s unlikely that Australia is asked to provide that kind of support. If we are asked to provide that kind of support we would look at the legal basis for any intervention. Australia has always been a supporter for example of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine, Gareth Evans was a great proponent of that, where governments are unable to protect their civilians or unwilling to protect their civilians the international community does have a responsibility to protect those civilians. But the problem with the Iraq wars were they were done without any international sanction and the consequences were felt for some long time after that, I think you could still say that the consequences are being felt.

KELLY: I take it from that answer that what it suggest to me is that Labor is flexible, that if you’ve talked about looking at what might be the international foundation for intervention, looking at the responsibility to protect doctrine that is, is it correct to say that Labor doesn’t rule out a military role for Australia?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it’s very unlikely, extremely unlikely, so we’re talking very hypothetically here, and I don’t think it’s productive to talk too hypothetically, but if you were seeing acts of genocide I don’t think Labor would be saying we stand back and allow those acts of genocide to continue.

VAN ONSELEN: Can I ask you about how you think we’ve gotten to this point, do you think the international community has been too slow to react, I mean it strikes me that when you look at it, that what was originally happening in Syria was that it was a largely moderate-led rebellion against a dictatorial leader which has morphed into the origins of the support-base for ISIS and the radical jihadists, and it wasn’t always like that.

PLIBERSEK: I think you can very easily make that argument, but the question of what should we have done, when should we have done it, I think they’re much more difficult questions to answer.

VAN ONSELEN: The argument is that the international community could have got behind the rebels in the situation in Syria earlier, before they were radicalised.

PLIBERSEK: Well I don’t know that you could even say that ‘the rebels have been radicalised’, I think there are still a number of groups that are fighting the Assad regime, and they’re also fighting the elements that, extremist jihadist elements that have come, some from Syria but many from other parts of the Middle East and indeed internationally have been attracted to this fight in Syria. I don’t think there’s any simple time or point of intervention that you can say, ‘if only we had done X, if only we had armed’ –

KELLY: That’s what Hillary Clinton has said, I mean she’s come out very publicly, with a very strong critique of President Obama saying that he got it wrong, that there should have been an intervention at a much earlier stage to support the moderate rebels.

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it’s very easy to talk counterfactuals but it’s very difficult to know. I think that there is an argument that if the anti-Assad forces had been supported earlier on there would have been less room for extremist jihadist groups to come to Syria and fight and grow stronger, but I don’t think it’s as easier to assert that as – Hillary Clinton is very certain of it, I guess I’m less certain of it.

VAN ONSELEN: Do you think that the existing nation-state boundaries which, let’s be honest, were colonially divvied-up with minimal regard to the ethnic divisions within the Middle East, are they maintainable? You’ve got a push for a Kurdish state that incurs on Turkey potentially, although the tensions there seem to have dissipated because of the greater concerns around ISIS. States like Iraq are not formed in a way that have an understanding of the ethnic divisions within the Middle East. Should we be looking to adjust the nation-state boundaries do you think?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think if we start looking to adjust nation-state boundaries we’ll see conflict for decades to come. I think it’s possible to argue that the boundaries are not natural boundaries in some cases, but you can’t rewrite history, you have to deal with the present as it is, and if we go to a situation of, there are many people saying that the whole borders of the Middle East will be redrawn over the next decades. My fear if that comes to pass is that the fighting will be ongoing for those decades. It won’t be a situation where people are sitting around a conference table somewhere making conciliatory decisions about where the borders should be, they’ll be determined by fighting.

VAN ONSELEN: And presumably if you were going to go down that path of reshaping nation-state boundaries, it probably empowers an organisation like ISIS that is looking for a caliphate state based around Islam.

PLIBERSEK: Well it’s just a horrendous thought that there would be a country run by an organisation like ISIS, so the reports not only of religious and ethnic minorities that are going on, efforts to wipe out whole communities, apparently they issues a fatwa very soon after moving into northern Iraq that more than 4 million women living in the area that they controlled would have to undergo female genital mutilation, there’s reports of women being stoned to death for adultery, there’s reports of every town they sweep through they’re closing hairdressing salons and killing people who resist because it doesn’t fit in with their ideology. It’s not just the people who get killed in the fighting it’s what comes after that. But this is what we were talking about earlier, the position of the Sunni tribal leaders. One of the arguments is that with a more inclusive government in Baghdad and with the horrendous oppression and violence that ISIS brings with them when they move into an area, that you will have Iraqis saying that we don’t want to live in this sort of, under this sort of regime. The difficulty is that you’ve got now I think about 50 to 80 000 people fighting and they’ve captured so many weapons and so many resources along the way. They will be tough to dislodge.

KELLY: Do you recognise or do you accept that there is a security issue as far as Australia is concerned, in the emergence of these forces?

PLIBERSEK: Of course there is, and I think it’s, I think that’s been true really, well it’s been true for some time but I’d say I’d put it at the upswing of hostilities in Syria, really would be the time that you would start to say that we need to be more alert to the potential for Australians who are fighting overseas coming back radicalised, and the more recent reports are that Australians who are involved in this internet chatter are being told ‘you don’t have to come here, why don’t you plan something at home?’ I mean both of these things are of extreme concern. What I would say is that our alert is not higher than it’s been since September 11, and we need to balance those two things, we need to have, if we have additional powers for our intelligence and security agencies, we need to have additional oversight and transparency and accountability to go with that.

KELLY: Ok, well how do we balance the point you have just raised, the domestic security point, with our foreign and international security policy, that is to what extent does military activity in the Middle East, military commitments in the Middle East, still remain a reasonably significant priority for Australia, or do you think we should shun those sorts of options, concentrate more on our own region, concern about the effect that any military action in the region might have on the domestic situation at home.

PLIBERSEK: Well I think they’re really two separate questions. Our foreign policy in Australia has to be about Australia’s best interests, and our most important engagement I believe remains in our region, our priority needs to be fixing our relationship with Indonesia, it needs to be working with both China and Japan to have a peaceful balance between both those nations in our region, but we can’t turn our backs on these large conflicts in other parts of the world, our engagement has to be a thoughtful engagement though, and I don’t believe our participation in previous US-led invasions in Iraq met that test, I don’t believe it was in Australia’s interest and I don’t believe that it was a thoughtful engagement.

KELLY: But do you accept what the Prime Minister has said, that is he’s -

PLIBERSEK: - I rarely accept what the Prime Minister says Paul –

KELLY: Well I mean essentially what he’s said, he’s said this very directly, any action now in Iraq has got no parallel now with the 2003 invasion, that’s what he’s said.

PLIBERSEK: Well I think any support for humanitarian intervention is not the same thing as happened with earlier conflicts, but we need to be cautious in our involvement. Humanitarian assistance to people facing genocide obviously we support, Australian involvement and support for that.

KELLY: As far as I’m concerned, do you draw a red line there and say, only humanitarian involvement or not?

PLIBERSEK: No I said very clearly earlier that if a population is facing genocide and if there is a legal basis for intervention such as the responsibility to protect – the reason we’re on the Security Council, Paul, is that Labor has always believed that our multilateral institutions, whatever their faults and flaws, are the best way to deal with international conflicts. The reason we argued so hard to be on the Security Council against Tony Abbott’s wishes, against Julie Bishop’s wishes, they said it was a waste of time and a waste of money, was so that we could engage in international action. We saw the usefulness of that with MH17 and the Security Council resolution that helped Australians get access to the site and retrieve Australian remains from the site. So of course we believe in multilateral institutions and that countries acting together have a responsibility to keep the peace, assist populations like the minorities that have been persecuted in Iraq, but it has to be done thoughtfully and it has to be done with a legal basis.

VAN ONSELEN: Can I ask you about the Labor position on Palestine and Israel, because it strikes me that there are quite strong differing views between, if you like, a section of Melbourne Labor versus Sydney Labor. You’ve got people like yourself and Anthony Albanese and certainly Doug Cameron who I’ve spoken to about this issue as well, and then you’ve got Michael Danby, Stephen Conroy, Richard Marles and even to an extent Bill Shorten who have, to an extent, a different view. How does Labor come to a policy on this issue, this difficult issue, without dividing itself?

PLIBERSEK: I’ll talk about that in just one second. The final think I wanted to say about Iraq is that we also need to have a moral and intellectual look at, why intervene in Iraq, why not Syria, how do we have a logical approach that takes in both of these crisis areas. On Israel and Palestine, our approach has always been a two-state solution where Israel can live behind secure, internationally recognised borders and the Palestinians have a viable state of their own. They have every right to expect a viable state where they provide their own security, where their economy is strong, and where they are able to support their people, see employment, and all of the ordinary things that citizens of any country have a right to expect, a decent school system, a health system, an economy that’s growing. We are appalled by the outbreak of conflict in Gaza. Of course Hamas bears a great deal of responsibility for the firing of around 3000 rockets we believe so far, but the number of civilian deaths, 1900 or so deaths in Gaza, the vast majority of them civilians, hundreds of them children, well over 400 children dying, is something that the international community cannot accept or tolerate.

KELLY: I just wanted to go now to Asia. Obviously the China-Japan relationship here and the tensions involved are critical, not so long ago we had a visit from the Japanese Prime Minister Abe, with a lot of security initiatives announced, can I just clarify Labor’s position here, is Labor supportive of the deepening security relationship between Australia and Japan or do you have concerns about that?

PLIBERSEK: Well we’re supportive of improvements in the friendships of any of our neighbours. What I’d say is an improved relationship with Japan, a closer and deeper relationship with Japan, shouldn’t be at the expense of a close and deep relationship with China. What’s in Australia’s interest is not to be picking sides or elevating one friendship above another, but to have good relations with both.

KELLY: Do you think that we’re doing that, I mean do you think that there’s any danger we’re doing that?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think that Tony Abbott’s language on his visit to Japan where he called Japan our best friend in Asia wasn’t well chosen. I think it’s important for us to have good friendships with all of our neighbours.

KELLY: Can I just clarify, I mean, Japanese Prime Minister Abe has reinterpreted the constitution to give much more autonomy to the Japanese defence forces, the Chinese are extremely upset about that, Tony Abbott has supported the constitutional reinterpretation, what’s Labor’s view on that?

PLIBERSEK: Well I note that it’s not been very popular domestically in Japan, and the Japanese government realised it wasn’t very popular and didn’t seek to take the decision to the Japanese people. Look, I think it’s, I’m not worried by the constitutional reinterpretation. What I am worried about is the increasing, well the rhetoric from both Japan and China about one another, and I think Australia’s role in this should be saying to both countries, ‘tone it down fellas’, we have an opportunity as a very long-standing friend of China, we’ve got over four decades of good strong diplomatic relations, Bob Hawke’s about to make his 100th visit to China for example, those person-to-person relations are very strong, we’ve put a lot of effort into our relationship with China. The same is true of Japan, from particularly the early 1950s we’ve put a great deal of effort, first on the trade front, but our diplomatic relations again are very strong. There is no need for us to get caught between two countries with increasingly nationalistic rhetoric.

KELLY: Well just on that point, just to finish up on this point, are you concerned at all that there is in the United States and Japanese approach to China a sense of containment, are you worried that there’s a containment element in that American-Japanese approach.

PLIBERSEK: Well I think that the United States would say that they’re not interested in containing China, but I think that China may feel that they are, and there is a lot of dialogue between the United States and China, there’s a lot of country-to-country meetings, a whole range of security and trade and other levels, I think it’s important for China and the United States to make a greater effort to understand one another.

KELLY: But are you concerned that the current settings of America, Japan and Australia vis-à-vis China?

PLIBERSEK: I’m concerned that there is room for misunderstanding and our best interests are served by saying very clearly to China, and to Japan, and to the United States, that it is not in Australia’s interests or in the interests of our broader region to see any increase in tension.

VAN ONSELEN: Surely we’re going to talk a lot more about the Budget with John Hewson and Geoff Gallop, but before doing that I want to ask you about some of the Budget issues. Joe Hockey obviously hasn’t had a great week, he’s ended it with an apology, but getting to the actual issue, the indexing of fuel excise, what’s wrong with the principle of it, if nothing else, simply as an environmental measure whereby taxing fuel greater is akin in a sense to a carbon tax, isn’t it?

PLIBERSEK: Well that’s what Tony Abbott said to President Obama, he said he’s got his own carbon tax and it’s on petrol. Well the difficulty is that poor people spend a greater proportion of their income on transport costs than wealthier people, and more particularly if you take a step back, Tony Abbott came into government saying ‘not cuts to health, no cuts to education, no change to pensions, no new taxes.’ And this is clearly a new tax.

VAN ONSELEN: Wasn’t the bigger error there to make that commitment rather than to then change the indexation subsequently? He deserves to wear political pain for the broken promise, sure, but isn’t he better off to go down that path for the sake of reindexing it, something that John Howard never should have changed?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it’s a bit rich to say, ‘putting aside the fact that he made this clear, written-in-blood promise more than once, including on the night before the election – no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no change to pensions, no new taxes, no surprises, no excuses government’, I don’t think you can really just say, well setting that aside let’s talk about, you know, what he shouldn’t have promised, he shouldn’t have promised that, we’ll deal with the issue on its merits.

VAN ONSELEN: There are reports today that the Government is looking to backflip on a few differenet budget measures, the linking of the mining tax, some of the issues around university with student repayment rates for HECS and so forth, Labor would welcome those changes assuming that we see Government policy to announce the same.

PLIBERSEK: They should just go back to the drawing board. I mean this is a stinking budget. It’s a stinking budget because it breaks so many promises and because it’s so profoundly unfair. They’re talking about tinkering at the edges. This is a budget that outsources all of the savings to the states and territories, so $80 billion cut from health and education, the federal government is not making those savings, the states and territories will have to work out how to make those savings, it makes a number of cuts and changes including to health and education and pensions, but doesn’t really improve the budget bottom line because all of those cuts are going to pay for the pet projects of the Prime Minister, so there’s paid parental leave, there’s Direct Action that nobody really thinks will work, and then there’s the revenue that they’ve given up, so they’ve given up revenue from the Minerals Resources Rent Tax, they’ve given up revenue from carbon pricing, they’ve given up revenue from the business tax avoidance measures, they’ve knocked back proposals to change high-income superannuation. So they’re giving away potential savings, they’re spending money on things that nobody really thinks are a priority, and then they’re outsourcing half the cuts to the states and territories for very little improvement in the bottom line. The $7 GP co-payment that is such a hard sell, that’s no going back into the health budget, that’s going into the future medical research, and I think most people don’t really believe that’s going to benefit them anytime soon.

KELLY: Isn’t Labor in trouble here though because there are $5 billion worth of cuts which you accepted in government which you’ve now reneged on, so isn’t there now a question about Labor’s real motives?

PLIBERSEK: Well we’ve agreed to a number of the saves proposed in this budget, we’ve agreed to $3 billion of them already, things like means-testing on some of the benefits –

KELLY: But you’ve changed your mind on $5 billion worth of Labor cuts.

PLIBERSEK: I’ll give you an example. We said we would spend some of the higher education funding that we had massively increased while we were in government, we’d spend some of that on primary schools and high schools, because we know that kids aren’t going to get into university if they’re left behind in primary school. There’s a difference between moving spending within the education portfolio from higher education into primary schools and high schools, compared to just cutting higher education and introducing $100 000, $200 000 university degrees for nurses and teachers. There’s a big difference to the approach that this government has taken, which puts the greatest cost of the budget onto the poorest people. Another example of the unfairness of this budget, is the largest single cut - $7.6 billion – comes from the world’s poorest people, 1 dollar in every 5 which is saved in this budget, so we’ve had $7.7 million cut to country aid in Iraq, they’re now talking about putting some of that money back, money cut from the Palestinian Territories now having to put some of that back. You can’t look at any of these measures on their own without understanding that the greatest burden is carried by the poorest people when it comes to this budget.

VAN ONSELEN: Tanya Plibersek, as always we appreciate your time on Australian Agenda, thanks very much.

PLIBERSEK: It’s a pleasure, thanks.


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STATEMENT - Labor Backs Call for More Help to South Sudan

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Australia can and should do more in response to the food crisis in South Sudan.

The ‘fair share’ analysis released by Oxfam shows Australia should be contributing around $26 million this year – almost twice the amount it currently does.

Instead of lifting our efforts, the largest single cut in the Abbott Government’s Budget was to foreign aid, with one in every five dollars saved at the expense of the world’s poor.

Now we are seeing the Government having to provide emergency humanitarian aid to countries where they have cut Australia’s normal aid program earlier in the year, like Iraq and the Palestinian Territories.

In the last two years of the Labor Government, the aid provided to Syria was more than three times the amount given by the Abbott Government to date, even though the number of refugees in need is increasing every day.


The Government’s $7.6 billion cuts to foreign aid are a blow to the ability of countries in the developing world to build up their stability, independence and self-reliance.

It is in Australia’s interests to help countries build stable and thriving economies and societies, rather than waiting to respond to a humanitarian crisis.

Like the Abbott Government’s short-sighted cuts in so many other areas, their cuts to foreign aid are setting us up for much larger costs down the track.

And, as always, the Abbott Government places the heaviest burden on the people least able to shoulder it.



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