Sky News AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert










SUBJECT/S:  Peter Greste.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PLIBERSEK: Certainly not.

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

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


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ABC News Radio with Marius Benson










SUBJECT/S:  Peter Greste.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BENSON: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Marius.


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ABC Lateline with Emma Alberici









MONDAY, 23 JUNE 2014



EMMA ALBERICI: Just a few minutes ago, the Opposition's Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek joined us from Canberra.

Tanya Plibersek, thanks for being there. Now Peter Greste's been jailed for seven years after a serious lobbying effort by the Australian Government. In fact, Tony Abbott recently spoke to the new Egyptian President. What more can the Australian Government do?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it's important that the Australian Government stay in contact with the new Egyptian government. I know that both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister have spoken to their counterparts. Of course that's welcome. The Department of Foreign Affairs have had consular staff assisting Peter Greste in jail. It's obviously very important that they keep up that effort. This is a case, I think, that has shocked us all. The length of the sentence - first of all, the idea that a journalist would be jailed simply for doing his job, and now the length of the sentence, have been quite shocking to Australians.

ALBERICI: Now clearly, diplomacy hasn't worked thus far. Should there be any retaliation against Egypt from Australia - sanctions or reprisals against the Egyptian ambassador in Canberra?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think the first decision that Peter Greste and his family will need to make is whether they take further legal action, whether there is an appeal against the conviction and sentence. I think the focus really needs to be on those next legal steps.

ALBERICI: But does Australia have the capacity to hurt Egypt in some way with sanctions or in fact sending some sort of a message via the ambassador?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I don't think that's a discussion for tonight. I think the most important message to send tonight: that the Australian Government, the Australian Opposition are united in saying that journalists, not in Egypt, not anywhere should be jailed for doing their job, that we are appalled by this sentence, that we strongly support the immediate release of Peter Greste and his colleagues and that Egypt as a country moving towards democracy must understand that a free press is a very important part of establishing that strong democracy, which Egyptians marched in the street for, which Egyptians actually suffered and even died for.

ALBERICI: John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, made a surprise visit to Cairo on the eve of this verdict. He talked there about press freedom, and on that trip, he actually released half a billion dollars worth of military aid to the Egyptian presidency, which we understand they're using to buy 10 new Apache helicopters. Was that premature, do you think, on behalf of the US Government, given the way this new Egyptian leadership has thumbed its nose at democracy and press freedom?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it's an indication that the United States is hoping to have a close relationship with the new Egyptian government. And it is important that we keep the channels of communication open. Our thoughts tonight, though, are with Peter Greste and his family, his colleagues and his friends and our focus really needs to be on solving this individual case at the moment.

ALBERICI: Tanya Plibersek, thank you so much for joining us tonight

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Emma.

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ABC 24 News Breakfast with Michael Rowland











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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


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Peter Greste







MONDAY, 23 JUNE 2014


Labor is appalled by the seven year gaol sentence given to Australian journalist Peter Greste.

We remain ready to help the Abbott Government do everything it can to assist in securing Peter’s release.

Our thoughts are with Peter, his parents, family, colleagues and friends at this incredibly difficult time.

Being a journalist is not a crime.

Journalists shouldn’t be put on trial or locked up for doing their job.

We commend the ongoing efforts of Australian diplomats who are working so hard on this matter.


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ABC Radio National Breakfast











ALISON CARABINE: Tanya Plibersek, good morning.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Hi Alison, how are you?

CARABINE: Very well thank you. Tanya Plibersek, Iraq has now requested air strikes against militants but Barack Obama is still weighing up his options, does Labor see any role at all for Australia in helping to crush this insurgency if indeed a request is made?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think that’s really a question for the Government, we’ve had briefings as an Opposition on the unfolding situation there and of course we would, if the Government made a specific proposal, be willing to talk with them about what they are actually proposing. It is a very concerning situation, a million people displaced, a humanitarian disaster. I think David Cameron’s suggestion that the idea of a radical Islamic state that would be a potential source of terrorist threat internationally isn’t far-fetched. So we do need to consider the situation very closely but I’m not sure a military action which involves Australia is the first and best response.

CARABINE: But you do agree with David Cameron when he says it is important not to be lulled into thinking the sectarian bloodshed in Iraq has nothing to do with us?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think as international citizens we need to consider the horror that people are experiencing in Iraq and of course also in Syria, of course has something to do with us. We have a responsibility to each other as citizens of the world. But beyond that, do I think it’s a potential security threat in Australia? Of course it is.

CARABINE: And there could be a direct Australian link with what’s going on in that part of the world, there are fears that some of the 150 or so Australians already fighting with ISIS in Syria could cross the border and join the insurgency in Iraq. How big is a worry is the prospect of these foreign fighters returning to Australia at some point and bringing with them all their training and all their hatred?

PLIBERSEK: It’s a very serious risk I think.  When we were in government, the current government also, have taken steps to try to prevent people going to Syria to fight, cancelled passports and so on but of course some people have managed to go there. The speculation, this isn’t confidential information, but the speculation is that it’s 150 to 200 people, those people do return well trained, radicalised and with a degree of sick sort of street cred that allows them to convince other impressionable young people that perhaps going to fight is a good idea or perhaps committing crimes here in Australia might be a good idea.

CARABINE: And there have been calls for increased powers for ASIO to suspend passports at short notice, also revoke the Australian citizenship of dual nationals fighting in Iraq and Syria. Are you of the view that there is more the Government can do to crack down on these jihadists?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think we have to be very careful when we start revoking citizenship but it is very important that we take this seriously as a threat. I think the Government is doing that. It is right to stop people going to fight with these extremist groups and any other measures that the Government proposes we will look at very seriously.

CARABINE: And one measure that the Government will be announcing today is the $5 million in immediate humanitarian aid for Iraq. Would you expect that to be just the first instalment of what might be needed from Australia to help deal with the situation over there?

PLIBERSEK: Look, it’s excellent that the Government’s providing $5 million of aid. When you’ve got up to a million people displaced from their homes, $5 million is a drop in the bucket. I have been disappointed by the relatively small amount of aid that the Australian Government has provided so far to Syria. I would hope that in both cases, Australian aid is increased and does provide some relief to people who have been out of their homes in Syria for many months to people who are leaving their homes in Iraq with nothing but the clothes they’re wearing, and no food, no shelter, traveling long distances in very difficult circumstances. I think Australians look at the horror that’s unfolding on their TV sets and think, well we can help a little bit here and it’s our responsibility to do that.

CARABINE: Tanya Plibersek, also bubbling away is the Government’s decision to refer to East Jerusalem as ‘disputed’ not ‘occupied’. Ambassadors from Arab countries will meet the Foreign Minister today to voice their concerns, why do you think they haven’t been reassured by the Prime Minister’s statement, his firm statement that while there might be some revised language in play, there’s not been any change to Australia’s support for a two-state solution. Nothing’s been changed on that front.

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think that the fact that Senator Brandis has been out freelancing on this sort of foreign policy issue, a very serious foreign policy issue, is not reassuring. It’s not reassuring for Ambassadors and I think it worries people who understand that loose words in Australia have consequences. Obviously consequences for Australian farmers, they’re worried about $3.5 billion worth of agricultural exports to the Arab League countries. But beyond our own concerns here in Australia, these loose words have reverberations in the Middle East, they don’t help the peace process, you’ve got people who are working very hard every day on the ground to try and build a sustainable two-state solution with a secure Israel and a viable Palestine next door to each other and George Brandis at 11 o’clock at night in Senate Estimates trying to divert attention from other problems that he’s got by ratcheting up the discussions about East Jerusalem and settlements and occupied territories and so on. It’s not a good look for Australia to be moving away from bipartisan, long-held positions, terminology that’s been accepted and used by Liberal and Labor Governments in the past to what Senator Brandis is making up on the spot in Senate Estimates.

CARABINE: But the Prime Minister says the Government is still committed to the peace process and can I ask you how united is Labor in your support for the classification of East Jerusalem as occupied? There is a view that Bill Shorten and the Victorian right are too close to what’s called the pro-Israeli lobby and you yourself coming from the left is unhappy that Bill Shorten has not used stronger language to condemn this change of wording.

PLIBERSEK: Well I don’t know who has that view. Bill and I have an identical position here. We put out statements yesterday that show exactly that. It is important that we continue to focus on the issue of bringing people to the table, Palestinians, Israelis, bringing them to the table and ensuring that negotiations continue for a two-state solution. A safe and secure Israel behind internationally recognised borders, a viable Palestinian state; that’s everybody’s position in the Australian Labor Party.

CARABINE: Now just finally much closer to home. Labor along with the Greens has given the Government a trigger for a double dissolution election. This is just gamesmanship isn’t it? You know the Government’s not going to pull that trigger.

PLIBERSEK: Well we’re not about giving the Government triggers for anything, we’re about saying yes to policy proposals that benefit the country and doing our best to stop those that undermine our standard of living, undermine our health and education systems and in the case of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and others, undermine the good work that we’ve done to reduce carbon pollution in Australia.

CARABINE: Okay Tanya Plibersek we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you so much for your time.

PLIBERSEK: No worries Ali, thank you.


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Politics and security in an emerging Asia – Can China grow peacefully?


Politics and security in an emerging Asia – Can China grow peacefully?

Address by The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development, to the Alliance21 conference, Canberra, Wednesday 18 June 2014


I was given a lot of latitude with my topic: ‘Politics and security in an emerging Asia’.

It is a region that is vast and it is undergoing profound changes. I could talk about the recent election in India, a significant turning point for the world’s largest democracy. I could talk about the election that’s coming up in Indonesia, one of our most important and nearest neighbours.

But having just returned from China, I want to concentrate instead on what’s probably the single biggest issue affecting the region: the rise of China.

I made my first visit to China last week. Although China is now our biggest trading partner, and it is forty years since we gave diplomatic recognition to the People’s Republic of China, there are still some large gaps in our understanding of each other.

One gap is the question of what China’s rise means for Australia and for our region.

There’s universal agreement that the rise of China is a key feature of the strategic environment of Asia, and of the world.

But there continues to be a lot of handwringing about what China’s rise means.

Some pundits and scholars predict conflict is inevitable.

Others say China’s integration into the global economy prevents that.

Others still say that the US needs to agree now to share power with China – deliberately conceding some power to China to avoid conflict.

Of course I’m not going to settle all these complex questions today.

But they are questions that need to think about, to consider and to work on, because they’re crucial to Australia’s security and prosperity.

Put in its simplest and starkest way, the question being asked is, can China grow peacefully?

China’s economic miracle

There are many signs of China’s increasing economic importance for Australia and the world.

China’s economy has grown rapidly since Den Xiaoping’s reforms began in 1978. Since that time, more people have been lifted out of poverty than at any other place or any other time in history. That is an extraordinary achievement.

The value of one day’s trade between China and Australia today is greater than the value of one year’s trade between China and Australia forty years ago.

China is Australia's largest trading partner, with total trade in goods and services of $151 billion in 2013. It is our largest export destination; it is our largest source of imports.

Viewed globally, China has already grown from under one 20th of the global economy at the start of this century to an eighth now – measuring its economy at market exchange rates. Over the same period, the US economy has fallen from just under a third of the global economy to a fifth. That still makes the American economy twice as large as China’s, but it gives you an indication of how quickly the economic lines are converging.

On another measure of economic size, Purchasing Power Parity, China has already overtaken the US.

So there’s no arguing that China is a rising economic power – although there is some argument about the extent to which the size of the economy is a useful guide to power in its broadest sense.

China’s economic growth brings the challenge of rising expectations: rising expectations from the people of China for a social safety net, for better health and education, for jobs, and for a better quality of life more generally, including a cleaner environment.

China has a new generation of young people who are well-travelled and who have studied overseas. They are more engaged with the world; they are less suspicious of it. Last year there were 235,000 international students from China in the United States, and 90,000 in Australia. I hope that most of them return home with a good impression of our nations. I’m sure that many of them return home with lifelong friendships and business partnerships. They certainly return home with broader expectations of their lives in China.

The question that goes along with these increased expectations is, does China’s economic growth create expectations among its leaders that they will have a greater say in regional and global affairs, what form does that greater influence take, and how far can it be accommodated?

Welcome China’s rise?

The benefits of a growing Chinese economy are unquestionable for Australia. Our economies are complementary rather than competitive. China’s demand for our resources has been a strong underpinning of our economic growth in recent decades.

And there are new opportunities for trade in services and agricultural products, particularly with a growing Chinese middle class.

Yet in spite of the undoubted economic benefits of China’s rise, some historians and scholars warn that we should be wary. They point out that when a rising power challenges a dominant power, conflict may result.

The crucial point of course is that this doesn’t have to happen, and it doesn’t always happen. Conflict is not inevitable. We all have a responsibility to avert conflict.

The precedents of the past that are used to support the argument of the risk of conflict occurred in different times, in different places. Western history may not be the best guide to what’s happening in Asia today. In so many ways, what we are facing is unprecedented.

One reason is our understanding of the sheer horror of full scale war in the nuclear age.

Another reason is the high degree of economic interdependence that I mentioned earlier. China’s and America’s prosperity, indeed the prosperity of the globe, rests on the relationship between China and the United States.

But even if the chance of full-scale conflict in our region is low, we can never assume it to be zero. The Australian government’s first responsibility is to protect its citizens and that means being ready for worst case scenarios, even as we work to avoid them.

And there’s always the possibility of something less than full-scale conflict. There have been far fewer wars in recent decades, but they have not stopped altogether. Of course we should also strive to avoid more limited conflict. Nobody ever knows where more limited conflicts will lead. We should invest in preventing a regional arms race – it’s an expense that no one needs.

Two scenarios

In a speech last month, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong outlined two scenarios for the future strategic landscape in Asia.

One scenario was a peaceful and integrated Asia, with a more powerful China acting as a status quo power that adheres to international law and norms. While China and the US would compete for influence, they would accommodate each other on many issues.

Prime Minister Lee’s other scenario was not as optimistic. His other scenario was a riven and fractious Asia: US‑China relations fraught with tensions, pushed by a zero-sum view of the world and a lack of mutual trust.

Which scenario comes to pass would depend on US-China relations, and the path of nationalism in both countries, he contended.

Prime Minister Lee said: ‘On both sides, there are those who doubt and distrust the other’s intentions. It will require great restraint and wisdom to overcome this distrust and reach a workable and peaceful accommodation.’

How to avoid conflict

So what can we do to avoid Prime Minister Lee’s pessimistic scenario?

Paul Keating argued in a speech in Beijing last November that great powers need to work together to create a new Asian order – an order that reflects and accommodates the new distribution of power, while at the same time preserving the features that have underwritten stability in recent decades.

Mr Keating said: ‘China’s most important responsibility now is to explain more clearly and in more detail how it sees the new Asian order working, what role it sees itself taking, what roles it envisages for others, and how core norms and principles will be upheld’.

American sentiment and behaviour will be just as important as China’s, and there are times when the US could make more of its opportunities to promote engagement with China.

In the Financial Times last month, commentator Edward Luce argued that, ‘America’s ability to address these vast challenges is stymied by domestic paralysis’. He said the US holds more cards than any other country in shaping the new world order, but the new order needs to accommodate a relatively stronger China, and it’s not clear that America recognises this challenge.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) being negotiated between the US and many other countries in the region may be an opportunity that is missed. The TPP is the key economic element of President Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’. It could be a catalyst for binding countries together more tightly – reducing trade barriers among most of Asia’s major economies and reinforcing rules on free and open trade.

But support for the TPP among both Democrats and Republicans is weak, and China is seeking its own trade agreement with its neighbours in the region. It is excluded from the TPP and it thinks it can make its own deal as a better deal.

Congress has also failed to agree on changing the rules of the International Monetary Fund to give more say to Asian countries. Scholar Fareed Zakaria says China, Indonesia and Singapore see this as a sign that the West will never let them share real power in global institutions.

The US Senate has refused to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world's oceans. Opponents of ratification argue that it cedes sovereign power. The administration says that it’s abiding by the rules anyway, so ratification is not important.

But when we’re asking other nations to abide by a rules-based international framework, it is important that we show that we value and support that framework ourselves.

A multilateral rules-based system in which all countries observe international law gives us the best hope of reducing conflict. But countries have to feel they have buy-in to those systems. They have to feel that they’ve had some say in how the rules have been developed and how they are applied. And existing powers need to reach an accommodation with rising powers about those rules-based frameworks.

China and the US acting together

Professor Hugh White has argued the US and China need to rethink their relationship.

He says the US needs to share power with China to avoid conflict between them.

I’m not sure whether there needs to be an explicit agreement. But I do agree that both countries need to be very clear about their own interests and they have to be clear in looking for ways of accommodating each other’s interests. The best outcome would be for them to work together, over time, to find common ground on how to meet each other’s interests in the region.

Former American diplomat Nicholas Burns suggested to this forum two years ago that political and military leaders from both countries spend too little time with each other. He argued that they need to keep making efforts at achieving greater contact, which will lead to better understanding.

He said America and China need to work harder to find ways to cooperate in regional initiatives.

He suggested that dialogue be expanded to include other countries in the region, including Australia.

He said the US, Australia and others should identify concrete projects that would build cooperation and trust. And they should create pan-Asian institutions and make better use of existing ones to bind governments together in common purpose.

You can see from those comments two years ago that there are many positive steps that can be taken.

Conflict is certainly not inevitable. The actions of key players will determine the outcomes – especially leaders in China and the United States, but also the people of China and the United States.

Will they act and behave in ways that contribute to win-win solutions to the challenges, or to a zero-sum approach? That is, will they take a view that a gain for one country must be at the cost of the other country, or will they see that the strength of one country can be to the benefit of both?

There are voices in the US and China who focus on state power, especially its military dimension, and who consider that one nation’s gain must be another’s loss.

But there are also many more optimistic voices, who argue that states can make choices that create a better world, that through cooperation, we can overcome the constraints of the zero-sum approach and achieve better outcomes all round.

That has always been the guiding principle of Labor’s foreign policy, and it should be the guiding principle in our relations with China.

There are encouraging signs that China is beginning to see merit in cooperation and engagement. There has been progress.

It was terrific during my trip to China that the issue of climate change was raised by our Chinese counterparts, including by the Chinese climate change negotiator Xie Zhenhua of the National Development and Reform Commission.

Our Chinese interlocutors told us that the trial emissions trading schemes running in several large cities will be extended in coming years to a national emissions trading scheme.

They talked about reducing the carbon intensity of their economy; they said they would reach ‘peak carbon’ soon, and they talked about about increasing the share of renewable energy in China’s energy mix.

They acknowledged their responsibilities as a global citizen, contributing almost a third of the world’s carbon emissions.

One reason China is taking air pollution so seriously is the effect it is having on the quality of life of ordinary Chinese people. The air in their cities is unbreathable on some days.

That is an example of where the domestic demands of a population with growing expectations are affecting the country’s leadership.

It was interesting to speak to Xie Zhenhua because he’s been the climate change negotiator for nine years, and this is a very, very different position to the Chinese position at the time of the Copenhagen agreement. There are people who say that if this was the Chinese position at that time there would have been a very different outcome from that conference.

But it’s not just in this area where we are seeing increased cooperation.

China’s cooperation on disaster relief is another opportunity to improve communication and understanding, particularly between our armed forces.

China’s participation in the search for Malaysian Airlines MH 370 was impressive and welcome.

And it’s noteworthy that China has been invited to participate in this year’s RIMPAC, a large naval exercise. It’s quite a step forward to see our navies cooperating in this way.

Australia’s response

Although we are not one of the principal actors in this tussle between a great power and an emerging power, our close relations with both the US and China means we can and should contribute. We can and should help shape a positive outcome in North Asia.

We have a unique relationship with China. We are a western country, a democracy and an ally of the United States, but we don’t have colonial baggage, and we have independent interests.

China takes Australia seriously, in part because of our importance as a supplier of vital resources such as coal and iron ore, and also for our potential as a supplier of agricultural products and services.

We’re also well regarded by other nations in North Asia and South East Asia.

From opposition, the Australian Labor Party controversially adopted the policy of recognising the PRC in 1955. And Gough Whitlam moved to establish diplomatic relations with the PRC within three weeks of a Labor government being elected in December 1972.

In my visit to China last week this was remembered with great affection.

Australian prime ministers have worked hard since then to build on that good relationship.

Prime Minister Bob Hawke presided over the start of the resources export boom to China, established mechanisms to facilitate trade, and his government drove the creation of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Prime Minister Paul Keating expanded APEC to a leaders’ forum.

Prime Minister John Howard hosted the first official visit to Australia by a Chinese head of state, President Hu Jintao.

Close engagement continued under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who made three visits to China and hosted two senior visits to Australia – including one from the current president, Xi Jinping.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard struck a strategic partnership with China that established annual talks between the two countries’ prime ministers, treasurers, foreign ministers and trade ministers that are shared with few other countries.

We have worked hard under both Labor and Liberal governments to build a close relationship with China to complement our historic and continuing relationship with our closest ally, the United States. Although the United States and China don’t need Australia as an intermediary, we might sometimes be of assistance in filling the awkward silences.

Last week, Chinese officials urged us to promote people-to-people exchanges at senior levels, to increase exchanges by young political leaders, and to make more use of side meetings when we meet at multilateral fora.

We need to find ways of using our creative middle power diplomacy. We’ve always excelled at that.

Gareth Evans is in the audience today, and his role in resolving the Cambodia conflict in the 1980s is a marvellous example.

At the establishment of the United Nations, Doc Evatt argued for small and middle sized countries to be given one vote: for a democratic approach to the United Nations that gave fair representation to small and middle sized countries.

Recall John Howard’s role leading international peacekeepers in East Timor in 1999, and Kevin Rudd’s role in making the G20 the pre-eminent body for tackling the global financial crisis.

These are examples of a small country, with a relatively small population, having a big impact in our world.

And as we have in the past, we can play a large role in future. In different ways, we have close relationships with the greatest existing and emerging powers of the 21st century, and we should use our closeness with each of them to encourage better understanding between them.

Conclusion – constructive win-win approaches

Whatever we do, we need to apply maximum effort to thinking about and finding ways of achieving win-win solutions to the opportunities and the challenges that are posed by the rise of China.

It’s unlikely that there’ll be a point – for many decades at least – where we can say for sure that we asked the right questions and we made the right answers.

But the future is not-predetermined. We help create the future through our actions and decisions – and through our assumptions.

To have people behave as friends, it is important that we treat them as friends.

If we keep working to find constructive, win-win answers, we maximise the prospects for Australia’s and for the region’s prosperity and security.

China can of course grow peacefully and Australia and our region will benefit if it does.

I’d like to end with a quote from Confucius, who was asked by one of his disciples, Zizhang, for advice about proper conduct. Confucius replied:

‘Speak with loyalty and good faith, act with dedication and deference, and even among the barbarians your conduct will be irreproachable. If you speak without loyalty and good faith, if you act without dedication or deference, your conduct will be unacceptable, even in your own village.

‘Wherever you stand, you should have this precept always in front of your eyes; have it carved upon the yoke of your chariot, and only then will you be able to move ahead.’

Zizhang did write down the precept – although not on the yoke of his chariot, but on a sash. And I’d like to think that each of us could consider and remember that precept as well – to speak with loyalty and good faith – and that our leaders in Asia, in Australia and the United States will bear in mind this advice and will act, as Prime Minister Lee suggested, with ‘restraint and wisdom to [build] … a workable and peaceful accommodation’.


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ABC Capital Hill with Julie Doyle









SUBJECT/S: foreign aid

JULIE DOYLE: Tanya Plibersek thanks for coming in. Now, Julie Bishop has outlined the Government's new approach to the delivery of foreign aid. She's talking about a focus on the region closer to home on the Pacific. Is that suitable?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well, I guess this is a valiant effort to disguise the largest single cut in the Budget as good news. There's a $7.6 billion cut to aid in the Budget, the single largest cut in the Budget and that includes $110 million cut to aid in the Asia Pacific region in one year alone. So talking about a re-focus on the Pacific is a bit rich when we're actually cutting our aid funding.

DOYLE: Should we be looking though when it comes to aid, the limited dollars that need to be distributed, should we be looking at the regions closest to home?

PLIBERSEK: I think that our responsibility of course is greatest in the Pacific and to our near neighbours, that's a principle that I would support. But we're actually cutting funding to those countries. So saying that we're refocussing on the region while we’re at the same time cutting funding is just - it's a contradiction. Also the idea that we haven't had a focus on benchmarking and performance evaluation in the past is just an absolute false understanding of what Australian aid has delivered, what it's been in the past. We've done our own evaluation of Australian aid effectiveness that showed that our aid was generally well spent and well delivered but we made some changes coming out of that evaluation. We've also been evaluated internationally and again that international evaluation shows that Australian aid dollar for dollar is very good value indeed and –

DOYLE: So when she's talking about introducing another one of the elements, is these performance benchmarks, so that there’ll be greater accountability about how money is spent, do you think that's not necessary, that the protections over the way money is spent are there already?

PLIBERSEK: I think that the point is to divert people from the fact that $7.6 billion has been cut from the aid budget. Of course I support aid effectiveness. Anybody supports getting good value for Australian taxpayers' dollars and indeed, you know, that's true of any area of government spending. Every dollar should be well spent. That's a completely uncontroversial thing to say. What is very much controversial though is the $7.6 billion cut to the aid budget. The idea that you can do anything approaching the same amount of good work with the $7.6 billion cut is absolutely false.

DOYLE: When it comes to aid though and we're talking about performance benchmarks, how do you measure what's value for money?

PLIBERSEK: Well, you'd have to talk to Julie Bishop about that. I think that this has been a completely muddled piece of thinking from the Government –

DOYLE: But in the past how did you measure?

PLIBERSEK: In the past we measured it in outcomes, how many children are vaccinated, how many women have a skilled birth attendant, how many more kids are getting a primary school education, how many schools have we built, how many people have we helped lift out of poverty by improving the safety of women to sell their goods in a marketplace in Port Moresby? They are very concrete measures indeed because aid funding delivers real changes in people's lives. It's about their health, education, safety, security, a roof over their heads, the ability to go about their daily lives unmolested. All of these are measurable and all of these achieved excellent outcomes under Australia's aid spending.

DOYLE: Just finally, she's also talking about the involvement of the private sector more. Now the Greens have raised some concerns about that and the way that could play out on the ground. What do you think of that?

PLIBERSEK: Well, there's nothing wrong with private sector involvement in delivery of any service as long as it's actually doing a better job than the 500 people that have been sacked from the Department of Foreign Affairs, and aid…We've got people who have been extremely experienced in delivering aid on the ground and we're saying we're going to get rid of them and we’re going to replace their years of expertise, their connections with local communities, their experience in working with NGOs in developing countries, with people from the private sector. I'm yet to be convinced that that will give us better results.

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

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


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The Abbott Government's 'Fresh New Approach' on Overseas Aid








The Abbott Government is wrong if it thinks its 'fresh new approach' to aid can explain away its devastating $7.6 billion cut in aid to the world's poor. The aid program doesn’t need cosmetic makeovers, it needs appropriate levels of funding and experienced delivery.

Julie Bishop must explain to the world's poorest nations how her 'fresh new approach' will make all the difference while she rips billions from the budget that supports things like food programs, childhood immunisation, maternal health, and treatment for HIV and malaria.  Ms Bishop must rule out cuts to programs like these.

Labor is also concerned by Ms Bishop's suggestion that Australia's overseas aid can be outsourced to the private sector.

The Abbott Government's $7.6 billion cut to aid includes a $110 million decrease for the Asia-Pacific in one year alone - despite the Government's claims that its aid program would focus on our region.

This comes on top of the Abbott Government sacking 500 staff from the foreign affairs department, including former AusAID experts with critical experience in delivering overseas aid.  The loss of that expertise threatens the effectiveness of Australian aid.

Labor supports efforts to increase the accountability and effectiveness of Australia's overseas aid.  That's why, in Government, Labor undertook a review of aid effectiveness and implemented internationally recognised aid accountability and effectiveness measures.

In contrast to the Abbott Government, Labor improved accountability and effectiveness while at the same time nearly doubling the aid budget - from $2.9 billion to $5.7 billion per year.


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Television Interview From Beijing with Jim Middleton for the World ABC TV












SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s US Trip; Climate Change; G20; China.


JIM MIDDLETON: Tanya Plibersek, good to be talking to you. You are in Beijing but Tony Abbott is in Washington. What should he be saying to Barack Obama when he meets him in just a few hours from now?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well, it's certainly not my job to script Prime Minister Abbott's conversation with President Obama. What I expect will be discussed is Australia's changing position on climate change which is obviously causing some consternation, not just in Washington but in other parts of the globe as well.

MIDDLETON: You and the Labor Party have said that climate change should be on the agenda for this year's G20 summit in Australia but aren't there more important, more immediate economic questions, to trouble the world's financial leaders, say, for example, the question of global tax avoidance by major multinationals, Google and others, which are costing Governments around the world billions of dollars?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think profit shifting and tax avoidance or evasion are very important issues to discuss. There is a very strong reason to talk about them at the G20. But that doesn't suggest that we shouldn't be talking about another very important economic issue which is climate change. Of course climate change is an environmental issue but it is an economic issue too. The cost of doing nothing is too great for the world to bear. Taking action now makes sense because if we don't, it'll be a costlier exercise in the future.

MIDDLETON: I might come back to China and climate change in a moment but before we do, last weekend you called the Prime Minister's Washington schedule embarrassing, you called him a Nigel-no-friends. As it turns out, his dance card is filling up. For example, he has met IMF chief Christine Lagarde. So, perhaps not quite as embarrassing as you might have made it out to be?

PLIBERSEK: Well, at that time the meeting with the IMF and the World Bank had been cancelled and the meeting with the US Treasury Secretary had also apparently been cancelled. And what a proposition, to go to Washington, to have tentatively scheduled meetings with these phenomenally important people and institutions in a year that Australia is hosting the G20 and not to be meeting with them, it would have been quite extraordinary.

MIDDLETON: One of the big problems in relation to climate change leading up to the Copenhagen summit in 2008, one of the flies in the ointment was China's intransigence. You are in Beijing now. How certain are you, as a consequence of your discussions, that China's attitude has changed, that it will be more sympathetic and be a more useful weapon in the fight against climate change when discussions get serious in Paris next year?

PLIBERSEK: Well obviously Jim I can't speak for the Chinese Government but what did surprise me is that in several of our meetings the issue of climate change was raised with us by our Chinese counterparts, including some very senior people in the Chinese Government. They talked to us about the fact that they’ve got several emissions trading schemes trialling in several large cities around China and there is a sixth one about to start shortly and that they're looking to extend that to a national scheme in coming years. They talked to us about reducing the carbon intensity of their economy, they talked to us about increasing the supply of renewable energy in China. Very strong statements about their future intentions. Of course it's not my responsibility to speak on their behalf or to make suggestions about exactly what they'll do but I've got to say I was very pleasantly surprised.

MIDDLETON: Do you get the impression that attitudes in china are changing because pressure is coming up from the grassroots as it were. That because of the very profound pollution problems that China has, that citizens are no longer prepared to have their officials sit on the sidelines, ignore the problem, think it will go away, that they are demanding action and that is genuinely influencing the views of the leadership?

PLIBERSEK: Look I can't answer that question exactly but what I can say is that coming out of the third plenum at the end of last year President Xi Jinping was talking a lot about the quality of economic development in China. That the rate of economic development is important but that quality of that economic development is important too. And one of the issues he spoke about specifically, and it has been raised with us in almost every meeting that I've been in, is air quality. The air pollution in large Chinese cities is obviously a health problem for Chinese citizens and people working here, it's also a break on economic development for a range of different reasons. So I think that the fact that there are grave concerns about air quality here, you can see it just looking out your window most days, has come together with China's desire to be seen as a responsible global citizen on this issue of climate change. Those two things seem to be working together and leading to what I hope will be a stronger commitment next year.

MIDDLETON: Tanya Plibersek thank you very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you Jim.


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