THE HON. TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
THE HON. CHRIS BOWEN MP
WEDNESDAY, 6 NOVEMBER 2013
SUBJECTS: Joe Hockey’s mini-Budget, superannuation tax slug on lower and middle income earners, Abbott Government priorities, GrainCorp, bilateral relationship with Indonesia, Abbott Government’s culture of secrecy, car industry.
TANYA PLIBERSEK: I just want to start by talking about a couple of things today. In a moment I'll hand over to Chris Bowen to talk about the Liberal Party's tax announcements. The Government's made a number of important announcements today and Chris Bowen will go through the details of those.
Just very briefly on that, I'd like to say how incredible it is that we had a campaign that was so firmly based on debt and deficit and since coming to Government all Joe Hockey has done is super-size the deficit.
I also wanted to make mention of the fact that the announcements that the Government have made today very clearly show their priorities. There's a number of announcements here that hit ordinary families, including the fact that 3.6 million low and middle income workers' superannuation will be reduced to benefit 16,000 of the highest income earners and their superannuation. Coming on top of the 1.3 million families that are missing out on the Schoolkids' Bonus it really does show where the priorities of this Government lie and it does further underline the fact that Australians aren't getting the Tony Abbott they voted for.
When Chris has made his announcements today I will make a few extra comments about our diplomatic relationship with Indonesia.
CHRIS BOWEN: Thank you very much, Tanya. We see two things very starkly today. We see Liberal Party's hypocrisy and we see their values and their priorities - their twisted values and their wrong priorities.
On hypocrisy, Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey campaigned on the platform of reducing the budget deficit. Since the election, all they've done is blow the budget deficit. And they have shown us their values and priorities by giving higher income earners a bigger tax break on superannuation while insisting, insisting on scaling back the tax concessions for low and middle income workers. Since the election we've seen Mr Hockey provide a $9 billion grant to the Reserve Bank, which was not asked for, which has a debt impact, an increase in the deficit each year of $350 million.
And today seen him give a tax break to with 16,000 very high income earners with more than $2 million in their superannuation accounts to provide a watering down of Labor's measures to improve the tax integrity of our largest businesses and at the same time we see the Government insisting on scaling back tax concessions for Australia's hard working small businesses, taking away previous tax concessions that the previous Government gave Australia's small businesses.
They are attacking 3.6 million low and middle income earners by refusing to proceed with Labor's tax concessions. This Government fundamentally doesn't understand, fundamentally does not get that it's unfair for Australia's low and middle income earners to receive effectively zero tax concession on superannuation when Australia's high income earners get substantial tax concessions for superannuation. They just don't get the unfairness of that. And they're scaling back of our tax concessions for low and middle income earners is a slap in the face to Australia's hard-working, low and middle income families - to shop assistants, to cleaners, services indeed to our essential services workers right across Australia - that this Government thinks they don't deserve a superannuation tax concession at the same time as this Government is deliberately giving more tax concessions to those people with $2 million or more in their superannuation accounts.
Now we saw Mr Hockey again today say that the budget since the situation had deteriorated since the election and we see him today announce a raft of measures with a huge impact on the Budget. Mr Hockey has no excuse. He must release the mid-year economic forecast. He should not wait until just before Christmas. There is it nothing stopping him releasing it now. It's been released by now in other years - it should be released now. And make no mistake, that with these changes that Mr Hockey's made, that this Government's made with a $9 billion grant, with the tax changes made today, MYEFO would be Mr Hockey's mini-budget.
He can't hide behind and create excuses that it's not his fault. He's the Treasurer of Australia, he must take responsibility for his own decisions and he must update the Australian people on state of the budget which he refuses to do. He refuses to provide the update. He said before it would be done January – he briefed out and leaked it would be done in January. We've shamed them in to agreeing to do Christmas but it should be done now.
I just want to cover one other matter before I hand back to Tanya.
We saw on the weekend the extraordinary spectacle of the Deputy Prime Minister of trying to publicly bounce the Treasurer into making a decision on GrainCorp to knock back foreign investment. We see the Government at war with itself on this issue and today we saw the even more spectacular statement by Treasurer Hockey that he would not be bullied into this decision. I think there's only one conclusion to make out of that comment; he feels he's being bullied by the Deputy Prime Minister, or perhaps it's by the Agriculture Minister, Mr Joyce.
We clearly have a Government at war with itself on this issue. For the Deputy Prime Minister to try to publicly shame the Treasurer into a decision and for the Treasurer to publicly respond in a press conference by saying that he won't be bullied, shows these deep divisions.
The Treasurer has an obligation to explain to the Australian people the benefits of foreign investment in the agriculture sector and in the economy more broadly and if he were to knock back this foreign investment decision he would need to have very good reasons indeed. But I call on the Treasurer to show leadership and to not hide behind claims of being bullied by his Cabinet colleagues and to make the right decision in the national interest.
TANYA PLIBERSEK: Thanks very much, Chris. I want to make a few additional comments about Australia's diplomatic relationship with Indonesia. Not, of course, on any security matters or intelligence matters - there's long-standing convention that we don't comment on those issues. What's at stake here, however, is our very long and strong and close relationship with Indonesia.
Indonesia is an important neighbour. It's been partner an important friend and trading partner and Labor in Government worked very closely with Indonesia to strengthen that relationship. Recently, however, that relationship has soured and unfortunately it's not difficult to understand why.
As Greg Sheridan pointed out this morning, Indonesia's Foreign Minister seems to be taking too much pleasure at having a go at us lately. Despite claiming before the election that their foreign policy would be more Jakarta and less Geneva, there's been a series of missteps by the incoming Government that have affected our relationship with Indonesia. Before the election the Liberals made claims about policies how their asylum seeker policies would operate within Indonesian territory without discussing those plans with Indonesia.
Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop failed to talk to Indonesia about the Liberal's turn back the boats or buy back the boats policies leading the Indonesian Foreign Minister to describe them as unilateral and worrying plans. The Indonesian Foreign Minister warned Julie Bishop in New York that Indonesia cannot accept any Australian policy that would in nature violate Indonesian sovereignty. That was his exact quote.
Of course in response to that Tony Abbott made much of his first visit to Indonesia, however, it really didn't go very well. He locked Indonesian journalists out of a press conference and the suggestion by the Indonesian journalists union at the time was that that might have contravened Indonesian law. Of course it went down very poorly. Tony Abbott was forced during that visit to spend much of his time apologising for the things that he had said before the election and the policies that he'd announced with no consultation and of course he came back empty-handed on both his turn back the boats and buy back the boats policies.
The diplomatic relationship which Labor handed to the incoming government was in fine working order but in a very short time Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop have managed to run it into the ground. The current difficulties in the relationship are of course, magnified by the poor footing that this relationship is built on. And the fact is that Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott insulted the Indonesians on more than one occasion. I wrote very recently to suggest that she should visit Indonesia immediately to repair this damaged relationship. I note that indeed she will arrive in Indonesia today. So the test for the new Foreign Minister is to restore the good will in our relationship with our near neighbour because anything less undermines the mutual cooperation we have with Indonesia and the stability that that brings to our region.
Thanks. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Foreign Minister has the character to deal with this?
PLIBERSEK: I'm not going to make personal comments about other Members of Parliament. What I would say about our relationship with Indonesia is that it is one of our most important. It's been built on over a long period of time by successive governments; it was handed to the incoming Government in very good working order. There was a very close rapport between Bob Carr, for example, as our Foreign Minister and Marty Natalegawa as the Indonesian Foreign Minister and it's absolutely now imperative that Julie Bishop now go to retrieve the relationship that these loose comments over time have led to.
JOURNALIST: Do you think Indonesia's Foreign Minister sees this as a form of payback given Mr Abbott's posturing on boats before the election?
PLIBERSEK: Again, I'm not going to speculate on the motivations of the Indonesian Foreign Minister. What's of interest to us is our Indonesia relationship as a nation with Indonesia as a nation. What I can say is that the relationship has been good, strong and deep for many years and in recent months has deteriorated very substantially because of a number of missteps taken by Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott before the election and unfortunately also since the election.
JOURNALIST: So is there one specific thing the Minister could do to start to repair the relationship?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's very important that she has gone to Indonesia now. I'm pleased to see that she went to Indonesia. I think she needs meet obviously with the Foreign Minister and any other senior Indonesian officials and listen to their concerns. The fact the Indonesian Foreign Minister repudiated Australian Government policy in New York was troubling at the time. There's obviously a fractured relationship there, the relationship is strained and it's very important that the Australian Foreign Minister listen to the concerns of the Indonesians.
JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, the profit shifting crackdown that was abandoned by Joe Hockey, I think he said it was unrealisable, what do you say to that?
BOWEN: I think the measures that he announced today will save $1.1 billion compared to the $1.8 billion that they would have saved in the way the previous government was implementing them.
Now we saw Mr Hockey a few weeks ago beating his chest saying tax minimization crackdowns will watered be the hallmark of his chairmanship of the G20 Finance Ministers. Now he’s watered down based on advice from the previous Government. Advice from the various economic agencies that the Government has available to it, most notably the Treasury and the tax office, that this was a workable way of reducing tax minimization. So, it's up to him to justify this significant amount of revenue that would have been saved and how he can close the ring on that with his rhetoric as the incoming Chairman of the G20 Finance Ministers, and the G20 Finance Ministers have made exactly these sorts of measures and agreeing on them across international borders, one of the key priorities for the next 12 months.
JOURNALIST: Mr Bowen, who owns these billions of dollars of tax hikes coming Australia's way, are they Labor’s or the Coalition’s?
BOWEN: The Treasurer is the Treasurer of Australia and he can take decisions and responsibility for the decisions he's announced today.
JOURNALIST: So if you're going to criticise him how can you given some of these were apparently Labor's ideas?
BOWEN: Well let's be clear, we announced a whole range of measures. Now Mr Hockey has today scrapped some of those measures, like he scrapped the improving of the tax integrity around high income earners’ superannuation. He's got to take responsibility for that. He's got to explain why his priority is to give a tax break to people with $2 million in their superannuation accounts at the same time he's cracking down on Australia's low and middle income earners and taking away the only tax concession they get, the only tax concession they get for their superannuation which Mr Hockey seems to think is appropriate that they don't get any.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe that doctors could rort the self-education arrangements to travel to conferences and education events?
BOWEN: I'm not going to talk about doctors in particular but I will say this, this was a measure designed again, to improve the fairness and integrity of the tax system. When I was Treasurer delayed this measure by a year to enable better consultation to ensure that it was properly targeted, to ensure it is cracking down on claimed self-education expenses which are over and above that which could be properly justified. I would include in that expensive overseas conferences which may have some educational element to them but which clearly also have other side benefits from the individual undertaking them. That I think is appropriate. Again Mr Hockey, again with this so-called ‘budget emergency; he thinks it's somehow okay to leave all that in place - Yeah, sure, go overseas as much as you like, claim as much money as you like, and claim it as self- education and we're at going to do anything about it at all. That underlines again his warped priorities and his incorrect prioritisation of the tax changes needed in Australia.
BOWEN: That's a matter for Mr McTernan. Each individual case should be looked at on its merits. As I say, if someone is going overseas, not using Australian education institutions, but going on it expensive conferences, claiming it as a government would be entitled to look very closely at that to take necessary and prudent steps to tighten that in the interest of fairness.
JOURNALIST: Why do there seem to be so many tax measures announced under your government that were not actually legislated?
BOWEN: That's pretty standard. I notice Mr Hockey said today one of these measures were announced in 2001. Yes, who was the Treasurer in 2001 and the Treasurer for the next 6 years and didn't implement that tax change? I think we all know the answer to that question.
JOURNALIST: There was some commentary today, particularly with the self-education cap, that its axing was a win for common sense and Joe Hockey was saying it actually helped further themselves. Do you make much of that argument?
BOWEN: Look, we all good agree that self-education is a good thing, that people trying to improve their and their productivity and their saleability in the labour market is a good thing for them and a good thing for the nation, there's no argument there. But it's a matter of ensuring that it's targeted at those people who do need do the tax concession to undertake their self-improvement, their education courses and not providing a wind-fall benefit for those who are in the position, and there's only a certain group of people who are in the position, where they're able to afford international courses and international travel at very considerable expense and then to claim that as a tax concession.
We're not talking about going down to the local TAFE and doing a course there, we're talking about very expensive international travel which some people have been claiming as a self-education expense.
JOURNALIST: They’ve given themselves another few weeks to look at some of these tax initiatives they haven’t made a decision on, I’m not sure which ones they are. Do you have any views about what should happen there
BOWEN: It should be dealt with on a case by case basis. A couple of weeks of consultation I think is not necessarily ideal but that's a matter for the Assistant Treasurer to ensure the consultation is proper.
JOURNALIST: Is leaving 62 options up in the air, is this adding to the uncertainty of the business community?
BOWEN: I think that can be overblown. I think the business community certainly wasn't banging my door down to say we need these legislated or not legislated. I think a couple of weeks of consultation if that’s the way the Assistant Treasurer wants to do it, I’ll be very critical of many of the things they have announced today, but I’m not going to criticise a couple of weeks of consultation.
JOURNALIST: You'd like the midyear economic outlook out before that?
BOWEN: Absolutely. There's no excuse for not releasing the mid-year economic outlook it now. I mean this is our Treasurer who wants us to approve an increase in the debt cap of 67% to half a trillion dollars but is not going to release the economic forecast to back that up. This is a Treasurer who wants to give $9 billion to the Reserve Bank but is not going to release the mid-year economic outlook. This is a Treasurer who says there's been a further deterioration since the election in the time that he's been Treasurer but I'm not going to tell you how much and I'm not going to outline the figures. So the culture of secrecy which encounters so much of this Government is well and truly at place in the Treasury.
JOURNALIST: Will you be campaigning for a Fringe Benefits Tax on cars over the next three years?
BOWEN: Well the next election is three years away and we will be developing our policy. On the Fringe Benefits Tax let me say this. I saw Mr Hockey in a moment of Orwellian hutzpah say that the car industry is open for business. Well that will come as a bit of a surprise to the workers at Holden and Toyota who are waiting day by day to find out if they have a job because of this Government's refusal to give the car industry the necessary assurances it needs because of the Government’s insistence on ripping away half a billion dollars from the car industry.
So we're not going to be lectured by Mr Hockey about the car industry. He's in no position to do that. In relation to the integrity of the budget we said it was fair enough that if people are claiming tax deduction on the basis that they're using their car for work purposes that it would not provide be unreasonable for them to provide some evidence, some evidence that that's the case. Now, what policy we take to the between next election we'll announce between now and the next election.
JOURNALIST: If the Foreign Minister were to come back from Indonesia and the Indonesian President of Foreign Minister were to make remarks that they've been making over the last couple of months, does that leave us, our kind of relationship in dire straits?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think the relationship is seriously fractured, or we wouldn’t have seen the level of response we've seen from Indonesia over the last few days, I think the test for come Julie Bishop, if she doesn't come back from Indonesia with the obvious good will of the Indonesian Government behind her you would have to judge very harshly the series of the steps that have occurred over the last few months that have led us to this position.
We handed over a relationship that and was in very good working order and now we've got the Australian Foreign Minster having to fly to Indonesia and to explain herself and apologise. It really has deteriorated to a great extent that we're in this situation at the moment.
JOURNALIST: The substance of the allegations, would Indonesia know that Australia has an ASIS station in Jakarta?
PLIBERSEK: We have never commented on intelligence matters and I'm not going to start doing that now.
THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
SATURDAY 2 NOVEMBER 2013
Subjects: WA Labor; WA Government an insight into Abbott Government cuts; Australian journalists detained in Sri Lanka; Indonesia spy claims; Emissions Trading Scheme; WA missing ballot papers.
TANYA PLIBERSEK: It’s a great pleasure to be here today with Mark McGowan and my friends in the West Australian Labor Party at their annual conference. This annual conference is an opportunity for Western Australian delegates to talk about their plans for the future, but also to make sure that Colin Barnett is held to account here in the West.
We were talking earlier today about a series of broken promises made by the State Government, and I was saying in fact this was a prelude, an insight, into what it’s going to be like with Tony Abbott as Prime Minister.
We’re already seeing in Canberra, Australians didn't get the Tony Abbott they voted for at the last election. Tony Abbott said for example that the commission of cuts would not affect health and education. Just days into the Government we know that health and education are also on the chopping block. Tony Abbott said during the election campaign that he was concerned about cost of living, but he’s already legislating to take the SchoolKids Bonus away from Australian families. That’s $1,200 a year taken away from an ordinary Australian family.
We see a pattern here, where Liberal governments say one thing before an election and do another once they’re elected. They say very little that’s controversial before the election and then after the election they take out the big scissors, they go after the cuts that will hurt Australian families the most.
JOURNALIST: Indonesia has reacted angrily to allegations that Australia is [inaudible] Jakarta to spy on the country. What do you think this has done to our relationship with Indonesia?
PLIBERSEK: It’s a very long-term tradition that neither governments nor oppositions comment on matters of national security, and of course I will be abiding by that tradition.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of news that Australian journalists have been detained in Sri Lanka? Are you concerned by that especially given the [inaudible]
PLIBERSEK: I did speak to the Media and Entertainment Arts Alliance yesterday about two of their members that were questioned in Sri Lanka. I’m delighted to hear, I heard yesterday afternoon that they were released after questioning and were making their way home to Australia.
JOURNALIST: Louise Pratt is facing an anxious wait. What do you think her chances are and will Labor lodge an appeal if she’s not successful?
PLIBERSEK: First things first, we’ll allow the Australian Electoral Commission to make a determination about the best course of action. The Australian Electoral Commission has acknowledged that an error has been made, a very serious error. But we know that the Australian Electoral Commission is in fact one of the best and most trusted electoral commissions in the world, so we’ll wait for them to make their comments.
JOURNALIST: Do you think though that an appeal [inaudible]
PLIBERSEK: I don't think we should get into hypotheticals. I think we need to find out for certain what the Australian Electoral Commission believes is the best course of action and we’ll consider that course of action once they’ve made their statement.
PLIBERSEK: I think this is a highly unusual one-off incident. I think it’s decades, indeed I think the last time we had anything like this was 1906 is what I've been told. I don't think we should get carried away with the idea that this being something that happens frequently. This is a highly, highly unusual set of circumstances. I’m sure that the Australian Electoral Commission are taking it very seriously indeed and we’ll wait to hear what their proposed course of action is.
JOURNALIST: So your not critical at all of the handling of it?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it’s a terrible thing that these ballot papers have been lost. What I would say is that it is highly unusual in the Australian system that anything like this should happen.
JOURNALIST: It might be unusual but it’s also costly. They’re estimating if we go to another election it might cost effectively $11 million.
PLIBERSEK: Indeed. It's a disappointing outcome. I think that voters will be disappointed, I think there’s a bit of exhaustion really in the West. The number of times that people have had to go to the polls here recently over the last few years. But I just would caution against imagining that this is something that is common or happens all the time. We need to take a sober and sensible approach to what happens next.
PLIBERSEK: I think it’s fine to examine different ways of making sure our system is strengthened, we can do that all the time, there’s no objection to seeing if there are more efficient ways that we can conduct ballots. I just want to remind people and caution them that Australia has one of the best and strongest electoral systems in the world and this is a highly unusual set of circumstances. We can’t extrapolate from this.
JOURNALIST: Tony Abbott has said that he will scrap the carbon tax, you've said you wont support it unless there is an emissions trading scheme. Why do you continue to stand by that?
PLIBERSEK: Because the vast majority of scientists internationally say that climate change is happening, that it is caused by carbon pollution in our atmosphere and that if we don't reduce carbon pollution, if we don't reduce the pollution that we’re pumping into our atmosphere that the consequences, both to our economy and our environment will be serious in years to come. In 2007, John Howard went to the election with an emissions trading scheme proposed. Both the Liberal and Labor party in 2007 went to that election with an ETS. 2010, Labor also went to the election with an emissions trading scheme, 2013 Labor went to the election with an emission trading scheme. It’s been our long-held view that the bulk of the science is supportive of taking action to reduce cabon pollution. Scientists around the world are saying we must act to protect our environment and to protect our economy, because the economic consequences of climate change are also extremely serious.
We say that we must act, and indeed Tony Abbott also says that we must act; but he’s proposing a system where you take tax-payer dollars and give them to big polluters. And we’re proposing a system where you take tax-payer dollars from big polluters and invest that in helping ordinary Australians cope with climate change - that’s the difference.
JOURNALIST: State Labor MPs say that they feel a bit snubbed by the federal turn-out at this conference, does Federal Labor value the West?
PLIBERSEK: I’m the Acting Leader, so I’m here today, and I was here last night at the conference functions as well. I’d say I’m delighted to be here. Thanks.
THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
OPINION PIECE ON AUSTRALIA’S RELATIONSHIP WITH INDONESIA
ROCKING THE BOATS: ABBOTT NEEDS TO SALVAGE INDONESIAN TIES
Over the last several weeks, many have looked on shocked as the Abbott Government has turned Australia’s once strong relationship with Indonesia sour.
Unfortunately this is hardly a surprise.
Indonesia is an important neighbour. It is an important trading partner and friend.
In Government, Labor worked with Indonesia to strengthen the relationship between our two countries.
From closer defence ties to helping build two thousand schools, Labor carved out a deeper partnership with Indonesia.
We handed over a relationship in fine working order – strong and productive.
Despite claiming their foreign policy would be “more Jakarta and less Geneva”, Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop have weakened that relationship in just a matter of months.
The new government has taken a number of diplomatic missteps.
Before the election, the Liberals made claims about how their asylum seeker policies would operate on Indonesian soil and in Indonesian waters without discussion or consultation with Indonesia.
Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop failed to talk to Indonesia about their ‘turn back the boats’ or ‘buy back the boats’ policies leading the Indonesian Foreign Minister to describe these announcements as ‘unilateral’ and ‘worrying’. The Indonesian Foreign Minister warned Julie Bishop that “Indonesia cannot accept any Australian policy that would, in nature, violate Indonesia’s sovereignty.”
People smuggling is a regional problem that requires regional cooperation. The Liberals’ unilateral announcements undermine that cooperation and have plainly made the Indonesian government disinclined to accept asylum seeker boats which Australia has sought to return.
We know this through the Indonesian media – not our own government which refuses to answer questions about the ‘turn back the boats’ policy it took to the election. The Jakarta Post is telling Australians more than our own government.
While Tony Abbott made much of his first official visit to Indonesia, he was forced to spend much of his time apologising for things he said during the election campaign, and came back empty handed on both his ‘turn back the boats’ and ‘buy back the boats’ policies.
The state of our relationship with Indonesia is the result of the Liberal party in opposition and now in government continuing to insult our neighbour.
Diplomacy is a two way street. You can’t act disrespectfully to our international partners and expect cooperation in return.
The recent stand off on asylum seeker boats is a very practical manifestation of that, but it is just one example of the deteriorating relationship.
Julie Bishop visited Indonesia last week, but has refused to explain to the Australian people how she will repair our relationship with our neighbour. It is plain that her belated efforts to fix the friendship have failed so far.
The Vice President of Indonesia is visiting Australia this week. The Prime Minister and Foreign Minister must meet with the Vice President to reassure Indonesia of the Abbott Government’s goodwill.
The test for the new Government is to restore the long standing and friendly diplomatic relationship with our neighbour.
Anything less undermines future cooperation with Indonesia, and the stability that brings to our region.
MONDAY, 11 NOVEMBER 2013
THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
FRIDAY, 8 NOVEMBER 2013
Tanya Plibersek: Australians aren’t getting the Tony Abbott they voted for, in recent days we’ve seen the lie of the budget emergency scare campaign that was used before the election with the government almost doubling the debt ceiling and adding 50 per cent to the deficit in the few months they have been in office. We’ve seen also a range of other areas where Tony Abbott said one thing before the election and another thing after the election. In particular I want to talk today about the fact that Tony Abbott has taken an axe to the CSIRO and a number of other expert advisory groups. It looks like the CSIRO could lose up to a quarter of its staff. The CSIRO is the preeminent scientific organisation in Australia. It’s internationally recognised for the terrific research it produces and now it’s under threat. Before the election Tony Abbott said he would not touch health and medical research. He said, even since the election, science is absolutely critical to progress and scientists are the explorers and adventures of the modern age. We are lucky here in Australia that our scientists are the best in the world. He said I’m pleased to pledge the incoming government will continue to support science to the fullest extent possible. What’s changed in a week? I’d like to know.
First of all, Tony Abbott refused to appoint a minister for science that rang alarm bells for people in the scientific community. Now we see these huge cuts to CSIRO because of the reductions in public service mean up to a quarter of their staff may lose their jobs. That will impact scientific research in Australia. I also want to talk about the expert advisory groups Tony Abbott has announced he wants to disband today. Again, this is an example of saying one thing before an election, and doing something completely different after an election. Take the housing supply council for example. Tony Abbott said before the election he was concerned about the cost of living for families. Well housing affordability is one of the biggest impacts for ordinary families.
The housing supply council has done excellent work since it was established reporting on how we can increase housing supply. It has experts on it from the building industry, from finance, academics and others looking at how we can boost housing supply and consequently improve housing affordability in Australia. Many Liberals like Kevin Andrews, Marise Payne and others have used the work of the housing supply council to make comments on housing affordability and housing supply and yet on the same day we have a report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare about housing affordability and the stress it is placing on families we get rid of the very body that is being used by local government, by state governments, by industry itself to help boost housing supply. There are a number of other expert bodies as well, the expert body on firearms. Right here in New South Wales and in other parts of Australia too, we have significant problems with gun crime right now and the Abbott Government getting rid of the expert body that was set up, coming out of moves from John Howard to restrict firearms, to help us control firearms in Australia.
We’ve got an expert advisory group on ageing. Today we read in the papers that Australians might live to an average of 100 years and the body set up to help encourage active ageing is being disbanded by this Government. You see a pattern of saying one thing before the election and doing something completely different after the election. But you also see an even more worrying trend which is ignoring the advice of people who are expert in their field, who are working in the field day to day.
I want to talk for a minute about what is happening in climate change as well. We hear today that Australia will not send a minister to the talks in Warsaw. This is extremely concerning; I think one commentator said today if you’re not at the table in these discussions, you’re on the menu. I think that is extraordinary that neither the climate change minister Greg Hunt nor the minister for foreign affairs who has taken over responsibility for climate change negotiations will be going. It is usual at these discussions to have at least ministerial representation, if not prime ministerial representation. The only possible explanation for this absence of Australia from the table is that we don’t take climate change seriously. I think that Tony Abbott knows, Julie Bishop knows, Greg Hunt knows that we would be laughed off the international stage because we are the only country that is going backwards when it comes to controlling pollution. This is a further indication to the international community that this new government does not take climate change seriously, that they are not interested in the economic or environmental consequences of climate change and they are not interested in putting a global cap on pollution and working to limit the effects of climate change.
The other thing worth mentioning when it comes to climate change is of course the pricing impact. Joe Hockey has been claiming for some time now prices will fall if the carbon tax is repealed. We hear now from experts in industry, in business, in energy production that prices are not likely to fall. So what we’ll have is a dangerous lemon of a policy from the Government, we won’t see prices fall, we won’t see pollution fall, the only falls we see are in the production of renewable energy and the jobs that go with the clean new energy industries.
Finally, I think it’s worth saying when you look at the attacks on expert advice and the way the Government is sticking its head in the sand on climate change in contrast with the way they have found $360 million to provide superannuation benefits for high income earners, you get a schizophrenic approach to what the most important issues are facing Australia today. I think if the Government continues to go down this path we’ll be able to save a whole lot more money, we’ll just get rid of all expert advice and Wikipedia everything like Greg Hunt did when it came to climate change. Any questions?
Journalists: Just in regards to the CSIRO, the CSIRO said only 300 jobs have gone, are certainly not the number reported this morning, is that a bit more of a relief?
Plibersek: Well I think any jobs losses at the CSIRO are a concern, it’s always important that organisations are as efficient as they can be, but the CSIRO like most government organisations has been facing quite regular reviews of its capacity, capabilities and its efficiency. 300 jobs is a lot of jobs, I’ve seen 550 reported, I’ve seen one in four reported, this is all speculation. What we know is there is a cap on hiring and renewing contracts and a large number of CSIRO staff are on contracts of two years or four years, of course they feel their employment is threatened and the top quality research that they produce is consequently threatened and this is, I’ve got to say, in absolute contrast to what the Prime Minister said before he was elected which was that he was a supporter of science and health and medical research.
Plibersek: Look, I can’t answer what type of research will be hit hardest but anyone of the hundreds and thousands of Australians, for example who used the CSIRO wellbeing diet, knows the research the CSIRO produces is really important in our day to day living in Australia. It has real impact on ordinary Australians, the choices they make, the decisions they make. But the other thing the CSIRO does is not just that very day to day applied research, they also do some very important basic research, the sort of research that underpins industry development here in Australia, the sort of research that underpins major scientific discoveries right across all the areas of science in Australia.
Journalist: Isn’t it actually true there has been no cut in funding by the Government, they have just said there will be a hiring freeze in place and they will be no cut in funding at all?
Plibersek: Well, they have said they are sacking 12,000 public servants, it seems like a large number will be coming from the CSIRO. When they sack those public servants that is a saving to the Government, that’s why they are doing it. So it’s not clear how much of the burden of that the CSIRO will bear but we hear they will bear a particularly large proportion of the burden because they have so many staff on contract.
Journalist: Isn’t it true that a large part of funding for CSIRO comes from external sources and has been dropping for some time?
Plibersek: It’s very important that the CSIRO partner with industry. That’s why I say that they are one of the best organisations in the world for applied research, research that transforms the everyday lives of Australians and partnership with industry is an important part of that. There is no criticism of that, it’s a good thing. What we can’t do is loose the experienced researchers employed at the CSIRO for short-term savings in staffing costs.
Plibersek: I think the fact this Government has added 50 per cent to the deficit including measures like giving $9 billion to the Reserve Bank of Australia they didn’t need nor want, shows the nonsense of this argument that deep cuts are necessary. The Government’s able to find $360 million to give 16,000 high income earners a superannuation tax break, they can afford to fund science properly too.
Journalist: Channel 10 last night aired some pretty severe allegations regards to a navy ship and abuse on that ship, how concerning are those reports form a Labor point of view?
Plibersek: Of course any report of any abuse or assault on any naval vessel is something that must be absolutely thoroughly investigated. We of course support a thorough investigation of all the allegations but I won’t comment on the details until the investigation is complete.
Plibersek: I’m not going to comment on allegations until there has been a proper investigation. What I will say is in the past when these instances have been alleged and subsequently been proved, I think it’s been very important Navy has taken them seriously; they have taken them seriously in recent years. I think there is culture change in the Navy because of the increasing openness and encouragement to people to report allegations of abuse, but on these specific allegations I won’t comment any further because it is important to have a proper investigation take place.
Plibersek: Well I’d say Peter Varghese is an extraordinarily talented and highly regarded bureaucrat but it is extraordinary that we should have a head of a department explaining Australia’s relationship with Indonesia rather than the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It is the job of the Minister for Foreign Affairs to manage that relationship, she’s in Indonesia at the moment, she should be the one who is accountable for the decline in diplomatic relationships with Indonesia and she should be the one explaining the steps she has taken to repair that rift.
Plibersek: I would say it’s a relationship that Labor handed over in fine working order that in just a few months has come under strain. I’ve said over the last few days that is very important that the Minister for Foreign Affairs seeks to rebuild that relationship. Indonesia is an important trading partner for us, an important security partner, our good relationship with Indonesia is good for us, good for Indonesia and good for our region buts it’s a relationship that’s not at its best today.
Journalist: Why do you think that is the case? Is that because if the way the boat issue has been handled? What do you see as the cause of the problem?
Plibersek: Look I think there have been a number of missteps by the incoming government. They started before the election with announcements made about what the Australian government would do in Indonesian waters and on Indonesia soil that were not discussed with the Indonesians. They were compounded when the Prime Minister went there for his first trip and excluded Indonesian journalists from his press conference. I think that it’s very clear there have been a number of missteps that have put the relationship under strain and that it’s a relationship that’s imperative the Foreign Minister now re-build and account to the Australian people for those missteps and how she will repair the relationship.
Journalist: Qantas has let go 300 workers today closing their Avalon operations. Do you think the Abbott Government should have stepped up to offer assistance?
Plibersek: Well I think it’s terrible, a tragedy when any Australian worker loses their job and particularly when you see the closing of a major workplace like this. I think the important thing today is to focus on the needs of those workers and their families, for the Government to work closely with Qantas to ensure that as many workers are transferred to other jobs as possible and provide assistance to those who can’t be transferred to find new employment quickly. I think the focus for today has to be on supporting those workers and their families find ongoing employment as quickly as possible. Thanks everyone.
The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP
Deputy Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development
Speech to the Australian Council for International Development
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Acknowledgments and introduction
I would like to acknowledge:
- The traditional owners of the land, the Ngunnawal people
- The Honourable Dr Meredith Burgmann, the President of ACFID
- Marc Purcell, the Executive Director of ACFID
The fight against global poverty is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st Century.
It’s a fight in which Australia has a strategic, economic, and moral stake.
My party has always believed in the fair go, and not just for our citizens, but for our neighbours too.
We believe that a society as wealthy as ours has an obligation to advance the development of the poorest people, communities, and nations, and assist them to a better life.
I’d like to start by acknowledging the work of everyone in this room.
I’d also like to acknowledge the key role ACFID plays, including through your code of conduct, in ensuring Australia’s aid sector is world leading in its accountability, transparency and effectiveness.
Everyone here would like to be able to flick a switch to eradicate extreme poverty, illiteracy, health inequalities, child mortality, gender inequality, food insecurity and environmental problems.
But there isn’t a switch to flick; there’s only complex, painstaking, patient work – and I know many of you have been at it for years.
However frustrating the pace of change is, your successes are there. The last fifteen years has seen significant progress made in reaching a
number of the Millennium Development Goals.
Six million fewer children died in 2012 than in 1990, and the developing world is on track to halve the number of people living in poverty by 2015.
Australia’s contribution has been good.
We’ve helped 6 million Afghan children (including 2 million girls) go to school. We’ve helped cut malaria cases by 80% in Vanuatu and more than 50% in the Solomon Islands; we’ve helped construct 2000 schools across Indonesia.
Of course meeting other Millennium Development Goals remains challenging and some regions are struggling more than others.
I know the sector is now discussing where international development policy should go after 2015, and this is a discussion I look forward to having with you.
Today I wanted to set out a few markers for both myself and the new Labor Opposition when it comes to international development policy.
Two tests in international development policy
For Labor, the fundamental goal of Australia’s aid policy should be to overcome poverty and to save and improve lives.
Of course, I’m new to this portfolio, but it seems to me there are two baseline questions – how much do we give? and how successful is that giving?
Are we as a nation paying our fair share?
And just as important, is our aid effort effective?
They are the questions I’ll judge our own efforts by, and they are standards of accountability to which I will hold the Government.
We need to ensure a well-funded sector
The ALP has two goals for the quantum of our international development effort.
The first is to increase our official development assistance spend to 0.5% of gross national income.
Beyond, we believe in working towards a target of 0.7% GNI.
I understand that there are people here today who were concerned when our 0.5% target slipped from 2015 to 2017 because of the GFC.
But, under our government, Australia’s contribution to official development assistance grew with every Budget. In 2006-07 the Australian Government invested $2.9 billion and by 2013-14 that had grown to $5.7 billion.
Labor remains committed to meeting the 0.5% target and will hold firm on working towards the longer term target of 0.7%.
I know many in this room will feel 0.5% of GNI, or even 0.7% are modest targets, but it looks as though under the Abbott government we won’t even get there.
The Coalition’s decision to slash $4.5 billion from Australia’s aid budget, announced at one minute to midnight in the dying days of the election campaign, is a severe disappointment to millions of Australians who agree that we have an ethical responsibility to help, and it’s a betrayal of the poorest of the poor in our region and around the globe.
Speaking in May 2011, Joe Hockey claimed Australian families would be “riled” to know that Labor had been planning to increase the aid budget.
Why, he was asked.
Well, Joe Hockey claimed, at a time when Australia had such a significant debt and deficit problem, we simply couldn’t afford this.
I think the first few weeks of the Abbott Government has revealed the fraud at the heart of this rhetoric.
Just last week, the Treasurer borrowed nearly $9 billion to give to the Reserve Bank, which it seems may not have been needed.
In just over a month in office, the Government has doubled the debt ceiling so it can borrow more money.
But they’ve announced they will take $4.5 billion from the world’s poor on the false pretence that Australia cannot afford it.
To put this into perspective, $4.5 billion is greater than what was budgeted by our Labor Government in 2013-14 for the entire AusAID country and global program.
But that’s only half of what the new Treasurer gifted to the Reserve Bank.
Our international development policy should be high quality
As I said earlier, it’s not just the amount of our international development assistance that’s important, it’s the quality.
That’s why Labor undertook a significant review into aid effectiveness to ensure Australia’s international development policy was actually working to help people overcome poverty.
We were determined to ensure our aid program was not just better resourced, but of a higher quality too; that more was spent on front line services like health and education.
It’s why we made enhancing transparency and accountability key planks to ensure effectiveness.
And it’s why we were determined to strengthen Australian Government partnerships with accountable and proven NGOs like those represented in this room.
Poor quality aid is not just a waste of public money and ineffective in reducing poverty, but can and will undermine public support for our aid program and public willingness to make personal donations to NGOs.
That’s why today is such a critical day for international development policy in Australia.
This is AusAID’s last day as a standalone agency.
From tomorrow, Australia’s aid program will be delivered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Firstly, I would like to publicly thank all of AusAID’s staff – past and present.
AusAID has been staffed by dedicated Australians who, like everyone here, have sought to make the world a better place through the eradication of extreme poverty.
This merger has been sudden, traumatic, and leaves unanswered questions.
Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop talk of the need to align Australia’s aid policy with our diplomacy.
The Prime Minister has even said he “doesn't want our diplomacy going in one direction and our aid program going in another direction.”
I’d like them to point to one instance when aid and diplomacy have been in conflict.
Of course we consider issues such as our responsibility to our near neighbours being more acute and demanding than our responsibility to more distant friends, but our aid policy already reflects this.
Aid versus diplomacy is a false dichotomy.
Helping our neighbours develop strong economies means better markets for our goods; helping our neighbours improve their health systems means fewer health threats (like the development of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis) on our doorstep; increasing the number of children in our region going to school reduces the opportunity for indoctrination in place of education.
The danger of losing AusAID is, of course, the danger of losing dedicated staff with specialist expertise and contacts in developing countries, but it’s also the danger of a loss of focus and quality in our aid program.
The Review of Aid Effectiveness set out important future directions and I fear a number of recommendations will not be delivered.
These recommendations include a higher share of total Government aid spend to be directed through NGOs.
Our internationally commended approach in disability-inclusive development, (which has led, for example, to schools built in Indonesia with ramps and accessible bathrooms) is under threat.
The centrality of gender equality to our approach to aid is also under threat.
Kofi Annan said:
“There is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls and women. No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, improve nutrition, promote health -- including the prevention of HIV/AIDS -- and increase the chances of education for the next generation.”
In recent years our aid program has recognised and responded to gender equity as a precondition for both human rights and economic development.
We’ve helped increase the number of girls going to school, we’ve helped women leave behind extreme poverty with microfinance, we’ve increased the number of women who give birth safely, we’ve supported efforts to reduce domestic violence and sexual assault, we’ve supported increased political representation of women, and included women in decision making and peace building exercises.
On coming to government we first abolished the Harradine amendment which prohibited Australian aid money going to organisations which delivered family planning services. Most recently we doubled aid funding for family planning services.
Let me say this very clearly – I will fight any effort by Tony Abbott to strip aid from family planning services in developing countries.
It is good for mothers and their babies for women to have the ability to have their first child later, and for mothers to have the ability to space their family. It is vital for mothers and babies to increase attended births and offer proper post natal care.
I also acknowledge the critical role your organisations play in advocating for those living in poverty in our region and across the globe. I see this as part of your core business.
Labor will do everything we can to protect and strengthen your voices on international development matters, and more broadly.
Australia is at a crossroads when it comes to international development policy.
I believe Australians are generous people who see they have a responsibility to the world.
They want assurances, though, that their tax dollars and any personal donations they make are well and wisely spent, and making a real difference.
I believe Australian aid has been meeting that test, and we must make sure it continues to do so.
I know you share that commitment and I’ll look forward to working with you to ensure that happens.
31 OCTOBER 2013
The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP
Deputy Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development
Appointment as Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development
It is a great privilege to be appointed Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development.
The Australian Labor Party has a proud history on the international stage ‐ from its role in the formation of the United Nations to the development of APEC.
I look forward to leading work on Labor’s vision for Australia’s future in our region, and in the world. I also welcome the opportunity to work cooperatively with the Government on foreign policy and international development matters, where possible.
In addition, I am delighted to be working with Senator Claire Moore on women’s policy, Senator Don Farrell on the Centenary of ANZAC, and Matt Thistlethwaite as the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs.
18 OCTOBER 2013
The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP
Deputy Leader of the Opposition
Election as Deputy Leader of the Opposition
It is an honour to be elected as Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Deputy Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party.
I thank my colleagues for putting their faith in me.
My congratulations go to Bill Shorten on his election as Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party.
Together with Bill and the Labor team, I will work as hard as I can to rebuild a united, strong, progressive party. That is what we owe to Australians who depend on Labor for a strong economy and a fair society.
I would like to pay tribute to Anthony Albanese, for the excellent campaign he ran, and for his work as Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Labor Leader. He was the most formidable Leader of House I have ever seen.
I would also like to thank Chris Bowen. His efforts as interim leader have been greatly appreciated by both the caucus and members of the Labor Party.
14 OCTOBER 2013