ABC Radio National Breakfast










MONDAY, 21 JULY 2014     


SUBJECT/S: MH17.            


ALISON CARABINE: Tanya Plibersek, thanks for your time.


CARABINE: Tanya Plibersek, it’s taken several days but Vladimir Putin has finally taken Tony Abbott’s telephone call. Could this signal Russia is prepared to be more cooperative?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it was extraordinary that it’s taken this long for Vladimir Putin to answer the phone to Tony Abbott, considering the very high toll that this terrible tragedy has taken on Australian lives, Australian citizens and permanent residents. I can’t interpret whether this is a good sign or not, but it would be extraordinary if Russia didn’t support the Security Council resolution calling for a full, transparent, international investigation, for investigators to be allowed unimpeded onto the crash site immediately. It would be extraordinary if they did not support that.

CARABINE: But the Prime Minister has expressed concerns that the Russians may give all the right assurances, say the right things, but then will interfere with the site, interfere with that full and independent international investigation. From what we’ve seen so far on the ground in Eastern Ukraine, do you share those fears? Are those fears well-founded, that the Russians won’t cooperate?

PLIBERSEK: I think the first thing to ensure is that they support the formal resolution. The second thing that is required of the Russians is that they use all of the influence that they have with the separatist rebels to ensure that there is proper access to the site, that there is no threat of interference or violence towards investigators. I think the international community would generally have a view that Russia would have a strong potential influence on these separatists. They should use that influence.

CARABINE: But the Kremlin has indicated that it will support an independent investigation, but the bottom line: can Vladimir Putin be trusted?

PLIBERSEK: I don’t think I’m the appropriate person to ask that question, and I don’t think it would be appropriate to offer a view.

CARABINE: Now, right from the start the Prime Minister has used very forthright language. He is no doubt that Russia is implicated in the missile attack on MH17. Is the Opposition of the same view that Russia can’t wash its hands of this one?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think we need to take this step by step. The first thing we need to do is secure the bodies, to make sure they are held in appropriate conditions and returned to Australia, returned to their countries of origin as quickly as possible. The second thing that we need to do is ensure the site is accessible to an international team of investigators. There are already people in Kiev who could be going to the site now, who could be securing the site and gathering evidence, that’s the next most important thing to do. That investigation has to run its course, but when we know who is responsible, I think the international community would demand a very strong response. The loss of almost 300 lives is an absolutely unacceptable tragedy and we need to establish clearly who’s responsible, and hold whoever is responsible to account.

CARABINE: So does Labor hold Russia responsible for the downing of MH17? Is it implicated to some extent?

PLIBERSEK: I don’t think it’s appropriate to speculate in that way. What I would say is that there is strong evidence that the missile was fired from territory held by Russian-backed rebels, there is credible evidence of the type of missile that was used. If that is indeed found to be the case, the type of missile is identified as something that could have been or is likely to have been provided to rebel separatists by Russians, then of course there is a degree of responsibility. But I have to stress that it is important that this goes through a step by step process. This site covers many square kilometres, there will be debris from the type of missile - that has been used that has to be gathered and carefully examined to ensure that it’s the type of missile that people believe that it is. Then the next step is to establish through other means how this missile – who fired it, and how it came to be in the hands of whoever fired it.

CARABINE: And those others means, of course, is the United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a full independent, international investigation. Julie Bishop expects Russia will support that resolution, do you believe that will be the case?

PLIBERSEK: I think it would be extraordinary if Russia didn’t support this resolution, I think it would be extraordinary. But supporting the resolution is one thing, using its influence with separatists to ensure proper investigation to the site, to ensure that debris is not removed, to ensure that sadly the bodies are able to be dealt with properly. They need to use their influence with the rebels to ensure that as well, it’s not just a matter of signing on the dotted line, but of using everything at their disposal to aid and support a proper investigation.

CARABINE: But if the Russians continue to be uncooperative and it doesn’t use its influence with the pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine, what is next? Is there anything really that Australia or the rest of the world community can do, or will we effectively be stymied?

PLIBERSEK: Well no, of course there are consequences to a lack of cooperation, but I don’t think it’s the right time now to start talking about those potential consequences. I think we need to take this step by step, at getting an investigative team in there right now and demanding the cooperation of separatists are the two most critical things to do right now. There are potential consequences, the European community has been very badly affected by this, there were - as you know - in particular many Dutch nationals on this plane. I’m sure that there is a strong degree of expectation amongst all of the nations that have had citizens affected by this, for the perpetrators to be found and to be punished.

CARABINE: Tanya Plibersek, you’ve been briefed by agencies on the latest situation in Ukraine. We’ve all seen the vision of bodies being removed and placed on a train, the black box also being taken away, belongings being looted. Is it now too late for the site to be secured in any shape or form?

PLIBERSEK: I think every minute that passes is – it’s a shame that any time would continue to elapse before investigators are allowed to do their work properly. But this is a very forensic task, they’ll be looking for very small pieces of missile, for example, in amongst the wreckage. And I think that the very highly skilled investigators that we have would still be able to find evidence at the site. It is just completely against any of the rules of humanity that investigators would be prevented from accessing the site, but more particularly that bodies would be not properly handled, not properly and respectfully handled at the moment. So any time elapsing is a problem, but I think it’s still important to get a team in there as quickly as quickly as we can.


CARABINE: Tanya Plibersek, just finally, there is still the question of Vladimir Putin’s attendance at the G20 is Brisbane in November. The Prime Minister is suggesting he will only be invited if there is full cooperation and an apology, and full regret and remorse are expressed. Would that be good enough for the Opposition or is Vladimir Putin not welcome in this country regardless of what happens next?

PLIBERSEK: I think, as I’ve said, it’s important to establish step by step who is responsible here. If the suggestions that Russian-backed rebels have fired this missile and it was supplied by the Russians, then there is a degree of culpability and we would expect consequences to that culpability. But it is very important to establish this in a methodical way beyond doubt.

CARABINE: Tanya Plibersek, thank you for your time this morning.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks Alison.

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Press Conference, 20 July 2014








SUNDAY, 20 JULY 2014

SUBJECT/S: MH17, United Nation’s Security Council; Saint Mary’s service for victims of MH17; International AIDS Conference; Russia and the G20; Repatriation of victims to Australia.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks for coming out this afternoon. The first thing to say of course is that the Prime Minister, his wife, the leader of the opposition Bill Shorten and I, the Governor-General, his wife, the New South Wales Governor, the Premier Mike Baird and a number of others attended a service this morning at Saint Mary’s cathedral to commemorate the shocking loss of life from MH 17 today. The service was a great opportunity to remind ourselves that in Australia the whole community is shocked by this act of extraordinary violence and the loss of human life that has come from it. We now know that at least 36 Australian citizens and permanent residents have lost their lives. Children, parents, grandparents, teachers, a whole range of people right across the Australian community, from all parts of our community there are many, many families grieving today and many communities grieving the loss of a community member. The service today was an opportunity to show that all Australians are united in their grief, and united in their support for the families who’ve lost a loved one, for the communities who’ve lost a member of their community.

Very shortly, Australian will be engaged with the UN Security Council in debating a resolution about granting full access to the site of this terrible crash. It is absolutely critical that Security Council members unanimously support the call for an investigation that is transparent, that is made up of investigators from a number of countries, so a credible, transparent,international investigation. Access to the site must be granted immediately and it must be unimpeded. I think every Australian would be outraged at the suggestions that there are paramilitary personnel on the site at the moment that are interfering with investigations, preventing investigation and it seems perhaps preventing the removal and retrieval of bodies. This is completely unacceptable. There is no explanation, no excuse for anything other than for authorities to have full access to the site to retrieve and remove bodies and also of course, to ensure that the site is not tampered with, that any investigation is thorough and is credible.
The third thing to say is that tomorrow I’ll be travelling to Melbourne to go to the International AIDS Conference. As well as the Australian citizens and permanent residents that were mourning for, we understand the grief of other nations, particularly the Netherlands who’ve lost so many of their citizens. We also understand the terrible grief being suffered by those attending the International AIDS Conference to have lost so many colleagues in this shocking tragedy. The people who are travelling to the conference in Melbourne are people who have spent their lives, dedicated their careers to helping others. We’ve got health campaigners, doctors, researchers, scientists, people who have made a huge contribution to saving literally millions of lives by ensuring better access to medicines in countries where the epidemic is most fierce. So as well as the terrible individual tragedies of these lives lost, as we think of the families and friends and colleagues of all of those on board, we also think of the cost to humanity of losing so many fine researchers and health activists at one time.

I want to just, before we move into questions, mention another tragedy that’s happening today. We now know that the death toll in Gaza is over 300. We need to find a peaceful resolution immediately to the military conflict that’s occurring in Gaza. Of course the rockets must stop, Hamas must agree to a ceasefire and I also urge Israel to ensure that any response to that rocket fire is proportionate and spares the lives of civilians. We are hearing of a lot of civilian casualties at the moment and I am full of concern for those people also.

JOURNALIST: On MH17, the Prime Minister this morning said on television that Russia can’t wash its hand of the situation. What are your thoughts on the way that Russia and President Putin are handling this so far?

PLIBERSEK: The priority for Australia has to be getting on to the crash site and retrieving Australians from that crash site. The second most important thing to do is ensure an international investigation into exactly what’s happened here. I am extremely concerned, however, about reports that Russian backed separatists are engaged in preventing access to the site and preventing the investigation that must happen. We need to establish what type of rocket this was, who fired it and where they got it from, but that’s the next step for us.

JOURNALIST: I suppose for a lot of the families, of let’s say the Australian victims, they’d be wondering whether or not President Putin should be allowed into Australian for the G20 Summit, or should attend the G20 Summit. Can you understand some of these families and more broadly the Australian community believing that he shouldn’t be here in person?

PLIBERSEK: I absolutely support [inaudible] concerned about the, what President Putin has said. Certainly his first response in seeking to blame Ukraine for this terrible tragedy is completely unacceptable.  He has the opportunity now, in the Security Council, to back the full international investigation and he also has the opportunity to send a very strong message to Russian backed separatists in Ukraine that they must cooperate with an international investigation. They must cooperate in allowing bodies to be removed from the site and repatriated, taken home, brought home to Australia and to all of those nations that are sharing in this tragedy with us. President Putin has the opportunity of showing leadership on this by backing that investigation and ensuring that Russian backed separatists allow the international team investigating and removing and repatriating bodies to do their work in [inaudible].

JOURNALIST: But about him coming to the G20?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think that that’s something that we need to consider when it becomes clear what type of rocket this was, where it came from and who fired it.

JOURNALIST: And the Sister Tiernan, she was from your electorate?

PLIBERSEK: No, she was from a neighbouring electorate I believe, but I was able to meet this morning at Saint Mary’s with a number of her fellow Sisters of the Sacred Heart and a number of other Orders were also represented there. There were a number of young women from Kincoppal who were at the service this morning and I know that they are feeling a great deal of grief at this time. We were able to offer our condolences to those other nuns, but of course it’s a tragic time for them as it is for all of the families, friends and colleagues of those Australian citizens and permanent residents.

JOURNALIST: Just back on to Russia, do you think that the broader international community and countries like Germany and Britain also need to do their bit to try and encourage Russia or force Russia into supporting an independent and international inquiry?

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely. I think any nation, any world leader that is in contact with Vladimir Putin with any nation that has any influence with Russia should be using that influence right now to ensure that Russia supports a UN Security Council resolution to allow a credible, independent, international investigation. And that, also on top of that, that Vladimir Putin urges Russian separatists very clearly to ensure that the site is accessible, that there is no tampering with the site.

JOURNALIST: But are you concerned that Germany and Britain might be tempering their comments because there’s an economic imperative for both countries?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think, no I couldn’t say that now, I don’t see any evidence of that.

JOURNALIST: Okay, and also Julie Bishop has been finding it difficult to get on to her Russian counterpart and Tony Abbott still hasn’t been able to speak to Vladimir Putin. What do you think that this sort of stuff signals?

PLIBERSEK: I think it is extraordinary that the Russian foreign minister apparently is on holidays and not contactable and that President Putin, at a time like this of international shock and horror, is not available.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any concerns that the MH17 incident could inflame tensions here regarding the Ukraine/Russia conflict?

PLIBERSEK: No, I don’t share those concerns. I believe the Russian community and Ukrainian community here in Australia are both shocked and appalled at the loss of life from MH17 going down, and I’m sure that as good Australian citizens they will be as shocked and as horrified as any other Australian citizen at this loss of life.

Thanks everyone.


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ABC News Radio with Steve Chase









FRIDAY, 18 JULY 2014                 


SUBJECT/S: MH17; Middle East

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I think it’s very important that we establish exactly what’s happened here.  It seems beyond doubt that there’s been a missile involved.  But it’s very important that we get a crash scene investigation team, an independent international team to the site as quickly as possible, so that the exact circumstances of this tragedy can be established.

STEVE CHASE, PRESENTER: You’re being kept up to date I understand it by the Foreign Affairs minister, as is the Opposition Leader about developments?

PLIBERSEK: Indeed, the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has been speaking with the Prime Minister Tony Abbott, I’ve been speaking to my counterpart Julie Bishop.  We are very eager, as the Opposition Leader and the Shadow Foreign Affairs spokesperson, to offer every support to the Australian Government.  Twenty-eight Australians at least have been killed in this terrible tragedy, and we are as eager as the Government to ensure that there is very quickly an independent international investigation into the circumstances.  We also, of course, at the very front of our minds are the families and friends of those Australians and all of the passengers on board, and of course also those people who are coming to Melbourne for the 20th international AIDS conference – that was particularly tragic to have people who’ve spent their lives seeking to help others, killed in this senseless way.

CHASE: It is your understanding that things may get a little bit clearer this weekend, when the United Nations look in detail and indeed press Russia on what has actually gone on here?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it’s extremely important that when the UN Security Council meets, that there is a unanimous and binding resolution from the United National Security Council members and that should include Russia urging and confirming that there will be an independent international investigation into this tragedy.  I think it’s very important that we get a crash scene investigation team into there straight away.  There are reports that there are people picking over the wreckage, it’s very important to secure the site, and to make sure that it can be examined forensically for any evidence of who is responsible.  When it’s establish who’s responsible I think there’ll be a very strong international response to whoever is responsible for this horrendous crime.

CHASE: And in tandem with that, once the perpetrators have been identified, obviously moves to settle what’s been going on for a long time now between Russia and Ukraine should be settled?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think this is the most tragic illustration we could possibly have, that the conflict between Ukraine and Russia will benefit no one – it’s a tragedy for the people of Ukraine, but it’s a tragedy for the people of the world.  It is so important that peace is brought to the region, that there is a diplomatic resolution to any conflict that exists between Ukraine and Russia, and that we see an end immediately to the violence.  It has gone on long enough, it has cost way too much.

CHASE: I imagine too, that as far as your portfolio responsibility is concerned, you’d also be keeping a close eye this weekend on what’s happening in Gaza?

PLIBERSEK: I’m extremely concerned about what’s happening in Gaza. I think again, this shows that it is so important that we resolve differences by negotiation and peaceful means.  There are well over 200 people who’ve lost their lives already in Gaza.  It is absolutely vital that Hamas stops firing rockets, and Israel, it is absolutely critical that the Israeli response is measured and seeks to protect civilian lives.

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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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