MEDIA RELEASE - Response to Tropical Cyclone Pam

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Labor has welcomed the Government’s announcement of a contribution towards relief efforts in Vanuatu following Tropical Cyclone Pam.

Now we are starting to see the extent of the devastation, it is clear more help is needed.  Indeed, the Prime Minister of Vanuatu has asked for further assistance.

We urge the Abbott Government to do more to help Vanuatu, immediately.  Labor believes serious consideration should be given to deploying our expert Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT).

Vanuatu is our close neighbour and good friend.  We must do all we can in support.



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TRANSCRIPT - Sky News Australian Agenda, Sunday 15 March 2015

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Subject: Cyclone Pam, higher education, superannuation, Budget, Middle East, IS, AIIB, Japan, NSW state election, asylum seekers.

PETER VAN ONSELEN, PRESENTER: And we’re joined as mentioned at the top of the program by the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party and Shadow Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Tanya Plibersek. Thanks for being here. I’d be keen in a domestic sense for us to get to the two issues in Paul’s editorial shortly but first, the situation in Vanuatu which obviously falls into the ambit of your policy, or policy area, I should say. Cyclone Pam has devastated North Vanuatu. Have you got any update or information that you can share?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well of course it’s a very serious situation. We believe 7 or 8 people have lost their lives, that’s confirmed, but up to 40 are feared dead. If you look at the images of the devastation, you see how very serious the damage is. Of course we would support any effort made by the Australian Government to get aid workers into Vanuatu as quickly as possible, particularly to make sure that people have enough to eat and to make sure that drinking water supplies are adequate. I believe the Queensland Government has also offered specific help as well, I think it’s very important to get that help there as quickly as possible.

VAN ONSELEN: In the domestic setting, Paul Kelly started by talking about higher education. Does Labor accept the proposition that at the moment is that the sector is caught between two outcomes? One is return to capped places to create more financial sustainability or a move to deregulation, even if Labor doesn’t support the cuts that are attached to that, a move to deregulation is in a way completing the reform agenda that Labor started when it removed the caps on places?

PLIBERSEK: We’re working very closely with the education sector and they feel they have a gun to their heads, that if they don’t agree to the Government’s proposals, that there’s nowhere else for them to get the support that they need for higher education and they’re particularly worried about research funding being held up now. A lot of these very important research institutes have got funding until the end of June this year and they’re already seeing staff leave because the Government’s holding research funding hostage to this higher education package. We are proud of the fact that there’s 190,000 extra students at universities today than when we took government. We think that Australia’s economic future depends on having a highly educated workforce and so we make no apologies for lifting the education standards of the Australian public. But of course we’re prepared to work with the higher education sector to see the most sensible way of funding that. Paul mentioned funding cuts earlier, those funding cuts were to make room for Gonski funding. I don’t think there’s anybody who doesn’t understand that those early years of schooling are absolutely critical to a student’s lifelong learning potential and that investment in those early years means we’ve got kids who are better prepared when they hit university.

PAUL KELLY: I guess the point there is though, that funds for higher education were cut for another purpose, which is one of the points that I was making. But just in relation-

PLIBERSEK: They were trimmed after massive expansion, almost a doubling.

KELLY: I understand. I’d just like to ask you though about Labor’s approach to this issue. Julia Gillard has said that one her achievements as Prime Minister was the deregulation of student numbers in higher education at the university level. Would Labor consider modifying this policy and putting some form of restriction or cap back on student numbers?

PLIBERSEK: Those details of future higher education policies are something we’ll announce in good time. What we’ve said all the way along is we’re happy to work with the higher education sector to ensure that funding is adequate and that we continue to have a higher proportion of our population able to access universities and to make sure as well that universities are there for working class kids who are smart enough to go there, not just the preserve of people whose parents who can afford to pay for $100,000 university degrees.

VAN ONSELEN: But do you accept that this sort of foundation principle that a lot of VCs are themselves saying, certainly Universities Australia is saying this, which is that having uncapped places without taking the next step to- for the deregulation, there’s a fiscal unsustainability about it.

PLIBERSEK: Well I can say that some of the university VCs are putting that case, and there are others putting other cases very strongly against a deregulated university sector because their concern is also for students and how they can afford very high university costs. If you look at the United States and the sort of student debts that people are graduating with in the United States, sometimes never paid off because the jobs that they’re trained for just don’t exist. So we need to make sure that we don’t have young people graduating with unsustainable debt, particularly at the same time in their life as they’re hoping to start a family or buy a home.

KELLY: But one of the great risks here, and I appreciate the point you’ve made that Labor hasn’t clarified its policy, but one of the risks of course is, are we in a position where because Labor is opposing fee deregulation, the consequence on the number side is that Labor will stop people going to university?

PLIBERSEK: We’ve got 190,000 extra students, so our record is a record of increasing the proportion of Australians who are able to go to university, and we stick by that-

KELLY: But they’re not funded. But the whole issue is that the system can’t fund the extra numbers.

PLIBERSEK: I think we’re very prepared to work with the university sector to make sure that we can fund the number of students that are going to Australian universities. And what the Government’s proposing, $100,000 university degrees or even more, that’s not sustainable either. It means a smaller proportion of Australians going to universities and it means people self selecting based on ability to pay not ability to do the work.

VAN ONSELEN: What about pensions? You would’ve seen Paul Kelly’s article in the Australian yesterday, Morrison has a proposal with a review every 3 years. Does that open Labor up to discussing pension changes?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it’s meaningless. I mean, it’s a review every 3 years that will tell us that the newer, lower indexation rate means that the pension’s inadequate.  Then the Government may or may not accept that advice, and I can guess what the Government’s proposal will be if this independent body comes to them and says ‘pensioners are really struggling’, they’ll say ‘well, in forty years time we’ll go back to the higher rate of indexation’, it’s completely inadequate as a protection for pensioners. It is very clearly a broken promise. Tony Abbott said before the election that he would not touch pensions. He is now trying to move to a lower rate of indexation so that pensioners will always be worse off by $23 billion over the next ten years. And pensioners know that they’re being duded, that they’ll be $80 a week worse off in ten years’ time based on this lower rate of indexation. A group of people telling them that it’s inadequate isn’t going to fix that problem. If we are really concerned about the sustainability of pensions, what we should be doing is investing more in superannuation. Well, our policy was to move to 12%, the Government has of course delayed moving to 12%. They’ve also got rid of the low income superannuation contribution, which was helping 3.7 million lower paid workers contribute to their superannuation so that they would retire with a more adequate superannuation balance. If we are serious about taking pressure off the pension system, we should be investing more in the superannuation system and the Government’s done everything to move away from that, including getting rid of the low income superannuation contribution in favour of tax cuts for people with balances of more than $2 million in their superannuation. That’s nuts.

VAN ONSELEN: You don’t support Joe Hockey’s idea that perhaps young people could access their super to buy a home, you agree with Malcolm Turnbull that it’s an absurd idea.

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it’s a ridiculous proposition, and it’s even more ridiculous when you realise that Joe Hockey got rid of first home saver accounts, about 50,000 Australians had half a billion dollars saved in first home buyer accounts which we set up when we were in government, they did get a favourable tax treatment, similar to superannuation. Instead of taking money out of your super, we should be encouraging young people to save extra. The Government can help with that, as was happening with first home saver accounts. Why did Joe Hockey, if he thinks people should be allowed to use their super for their first home deposit, why did he get rid of first home saver accounts?

KELLY: The superannuation system though is fairly advanced. We’ve just had six years of Labor government policy in relation to superannuation, but one of the aspects of the intergenerational report is that it’s not showing much of a tradeoff at all between the pension and superannuation. So the point at mid century, while we’ll have this superannuation scheme, there is still going to be a lot of people on the pension. How do we address this problem?

PLIBERSEK: What the intergenerational report shows is that there’ll be fewer people on the full pension and there’ll be fewer people overall on the pension, and the way that you can speed that up is investing more in superannuation. So instead of retreating from that 12% target for superannuation, we should be getting to the 12% target as originally scheduled by our Labor government, and we should be encouraging, particularly people who are on low and medium incomes, to save more. At the moment, the benefits of superannuation are massively skewed to high income earners, we need to see better benefits for people on low and middle incomes. So it’s back to what I was saying earlier, Paul, if you get rid of the low income superannuation contribution and slow the mandatory progress towards the mandatory contribution of 12%, that’s a real problem.

KELLY: Now you just talked then about a tax concession for super. So as far as Labor’s concerned, given that there’s going to be competition for savings, you’ve got to find savings somewhere given the state of the Budget, to what extent is this on the table for Labor as a real and live option, that is, closing off some of these superannuation tax concessions for the higher income earners?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we’re not talking about those potential savings at the moment. I’m pointing you to our record, our record was that-

KELLY: I understand, I understand your point about your record. But I’m asking you a different question now.

PLIBERSEK: And we’re halfway through an electoral cycle, I’m not going to start announcing opposition policy halfway through an electoral cycle.

KELLY: No, no, I’m not asking for a detailed policy obviously, I’m just saying, might this be an area where Labor will give consideration to savings.

PLIBERSEK: Well, Chris Bowen said during the week that some of the incentives are skewed in the wrong place, that the greater incentives should be for low and middle income earners.

KELLY: And you think that it’s possible to market this electorally?

PLIBERSEK: I think that good policy is good politics, Paul. And as long as you’re doing the right thing, the task then is to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing and I think that’s our bread and butter.

VAN ONSELEN: Can I ask you a different question about super? There is a lot of focus on the taxing and structure of taxing on superannuation, but something that I’m interested in is whether you think that there is room for, or as part of superannuation reform, to have some sort of hand of Government over how you are able to use your super. Because there seems to be some evidence that people access their super, they get this lump sum, and its design purpose is to then support you over a lifetime of retirement. But if you use it up, you then end up on a pension or part-pension subsequently. Now, yes at one level it’s got a sort of certain amount of nanny stateism about it if you are going to dictate to them how to use their super, but by the same token, as the intergenerational report says, now that we’re living longer etc., is there an argument to at least have a debate about whether Government should have a role in how you can access your super, whether in part or over time?

PLIBERSEK: I think the example that people give is people get a lump sum and they go on a cruise. Well I reckon after a lifetime of work you deserve a nice holiday. So I’m not going to criticise people for taking a break. What I say is that we need to focus on adequacy of income in retirement and the most important things we can do there are move to that 12% over time and make sure that people on low and middle incomes have the opportunity to save more.

KELLY: Now if we look at the condition of the Budget, which will obviously dominate Labor policy making, we have the new Treasury Secretary, John Fraser, in his first speech taking a very different position to Labor. Fraser said that we have spent our way to our Budget deficit problem, and the fundamental defect lies on the spending side, which suggests that if we are to fix it, we’ve got to fix it mainly on the spending side. Does Labor agree or disagree with that proposition?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think you have to make sure that every dollar you spend is wisely spent. When I was Health Minister, for example, I means tested the private health insurance rebate saving many, many billions of dollars into the future. We introduced a system of paying less for generic medicines, many billions of dollars of savings. Both of those were opposed by Tony Abbott, by Peter Dutton as Shadow Health Minister at the time. We made about $180 billion worth of savings when we were in opposition, and if the Government proposed sensible savings, we’re prepared to back them. We’ve passed $20 billion worth of budget measures that improve the budget bottom line, including things like the temporary increase to high income earners’ taxation, but other means testing for family benefit, for example, as well. So yes if savings are sensible, we will back them, and indeed we’ve made many savings of our own over the years, many of which were opposed by the Liberals. Can I make this point as well about the private health insurance rebate? Tony Abbott said before the election that it was his desire to get rid of means testing for the private health insurance rebate. Well that would cost $100 billion between now and 2054 but it doesn’t appear anywhere in the intergenerational report-

KELLY: He hasn’t talked much about that recently.

PLIBERSEK: He hasn’t mentioned it recently, no, but I’m surprised it doesn’t appear in the intergenerational report which is of course supposed to be a full accounting for the expenses which are going to come up in the next 40 years, it doesn’t appear there.

KELLY: Okay, I’d like to ask you the question again, does Labor agree with Secretary Fraser that we spent our way to a budget deficit?

PLIBERSEK: We spent wisely during the Global Financial Crisis to keep 200,000 Australians in work-

KELLY: So you disagree? You basically disagree.

PLIBERSEK: I’m disagreeing with that because it’s a simplistic proposition about our Budget-

KELLY: Would you sack him as Treasury Secretary?

PLIBERSEK: You know what? We do have revenue write downs that we face in the Budget. Joe Hockey pretends to have just discovered this in the last few months when of course we knew and Wayne Swan was saying as Treasurer that these revenue write downs are a serious problem for us, that we have to readjust and that’s why at least in part a number of those very difficult decisions were taken by us when we were in Government.

VAN ONSELEN: We’re going to take a break in moment but just before we do, on this issue of spending, I have no problem with the inflated spending during the Global Financial Crisis to be able to stimulate the economy. My criticism of both sides of politics is that in the aftermath of that, spending not to the same extent but spending kept going up budget after budget after budget. And even the Government now, the Coalition, they were critical of that in opposition, but you look at their first Budget, spending went up, and it’s projected to keep going up year in, year out. Surely having insulated us from the GFC, both sides of politics owe us a kind of fiscal discipline that sees spending really contract hard after having perhaps necessarily gone up during it.

PLIBERSEK: Other than the Global Financial Crisis, spending growth under Labor was consistently below 2%. It was very modest and I think it’s important to recognize that we made substantial efforts to keep that spending growth low and ministers, like me, every time we walked into the Cabinet room for an expenditure review committee meeting, if we had any new ideas, we had to come with a proposal for how we were going to pay for them with offsets in other parts of our portfolio. There was strong discipline there. I mean, I’m very pleased that Tony Abbot’s finally junked his mad paid parental leave scheme but you look at what they’re doing with greenhouse gas emissions, instead of actually doing what we were doing, fining large polluters for pumping out carbon pollution into the atmosphere, they’re paying polluters for some unspecified benefit that might accrue. It’s an irrational approach.

VAN ONSELEN: Alright, hold that thought. We’re talking to Labor’s Deputy Leader, Tanya Plibersek. We’ll move the conversation on into her portfolio area of foreign affairs when we come back.

[Ad break]

VAN ONSELEN: Welcome back, you’re watching Australian Agenda. Paul Kelly and I have been talking to Labor’s Deputy Leader as well as Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek. We’re joined now by the Foreign Editor for the Australian newspaper, Greg Sheridan and columnist, Troy Bramston.

GREG SHERIDAN: Ms Plibersek, I wonder if I could ask you first about the Middle East, which is going to be a big subject of controversy in Labor’s National Conference. The NSW motion which was passed called for an early recognition of a Palestinian state, and that implied even in the absence of a two-state solution. All the supporters of Israel regard that as a disastrous position for Labor to take and a sign of Labor distancing itself from its traditional support of Israel. Did you support that resolution and how do you think that will play out at National Conference?

PLIBERSEK: I think we have to be clear first of all that there’ll probably several different resolutions coming to the National Conference about the Middle East because this has been a subject at a number of state conferences. I go back to our position which is support for a two-state solution that of course means support for a strong Israel that can defend itself, but it also means inevitably a Palestinian state. There’s no two-state solution without an independent, economically viable Palestinian state with contiguous territory as-

SHERIDAN: Did you support the NSW resolution?

PLIBERSEK: I didn’t think the wording of the NSW resolution was something that I could support in its entirety, but I understand that there are very strong feelings on both sides of this issue and I think in particular in recent times the continued expansion of settlements has been a great concern, not just in Australia but you would see similar resolutions in a number of European countries as well. I think that this is at least in part a response to that continued expansion of settlements.

SHERIDAN: On another subject, could I just ask you, Indonesia has said it’s going to execute all 60 odd people on death row this year, of whom about 40 are foreigners. Do you think Indonesia is going to suffer a catastrophic damage to its international standing if it goes ahead with that program?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think it’s been clear from comments that a number of very senior Indonesian figures have made that this is a very controversial proposition in Indonesia itself. The Governor of Jakarta most recently has been very public, General Prabowo has been very public as well in his criticism of this lot of executions. I think it is a problem for Indonesia internationally because Indonesia has almost 230 of its own citizens on death row, including many, many in Malaysia as well and of course there are Malaysians in the group scheduled for execution in Indonesia. It is very difficult for Indonesia to make a plea for the lives of its own citizens when it’s putting to death citizens of other countries in Indonesia. So I think it certainly undermines their ability to protect the lives of their own citizens, to plead for clemency and as for broader implications, I don’t think it’s the right thing to comment on that.

TROY BRAMSTON: Can I ask about Iraq? The Opposition, the Labor Party, has supported the readying of troops for deployment to train the Iraqi army there. Now, this sort of strategy has not worked in the past. The United States army of course could not train the Iraqi army effectively. There’s a lot of criticism that this may not have the effect that is desired. What do you think about this preparation, I guess, for deployment? Do you have faith and confidence that it will make an impact against ISIS?

PLIBERSEK: Well I certainly have faith and confidence in our armed forces. I think we need to be very, very careful about our involvement. In 2003, Australia was involved in Iraq and it was a disaster, it turned out to be a disaster for the people of Iraq and I don’t think you can claim that we made a positive difference at the time. I see a number of differences now. The first difference is we’ve being asked by the Iraqi government, a democratically elected government for help to protect themselves from an invading force that is particularly brutal in the conduct of its invasion. Nevertheless, I think it’s important that Australia puts some very clear parameters around our involvement and that we continue to refer back to those parameters to see whether our involvement is making a positive difference. The Labor Party has said all along that we support involvement only in Iraq, certainly not in Syria. Our involvement should only last as long as it takes for the Iraqi government to be able to protect its own territory and its own citizens, that we don’t support sort of formed up combat battalions on the ground and that we need to continue to monitor the behaviour of the Iraqi government and of course that goes for their armed forces as well, that it’s the sort of behaviour that Australia can support and be involved in.

KELLY: But there are already reports of Sunnis being killed. How concerned is Labor about that and is there a risk that the conditions that you just talked about that Labor laid down of governing its support for this intervention are close to being breached?

PLIBERSEK: Look there have been some very concerning reports of Shia militias involved in human rights abuses and potentially massacres. That’s why I say our involvement is conditional and it has to be tightly monitored, we have to have an exit strategy, we have to be very clear about what success looks like, what failure looks like and what happens on either of those paths. But I would say that our defence personnel as part of their training of the Iraqi army do include in that training, right throughout their training, training that includes rules of engagement, how to protect human rights in armed conflict situations and our defence personnel of course as part of their own responsibilities, if they heard of any behaviour that is questionable, have to report that up their chain of command.

VAN ONSELEN: Isn’t it a truism though that Australian involvement increases the likelihood a terror threat at home? I mean, ISIS focus on the near enemy not the far enemy which is what Al-Qaeda does, so you intervene in relation to Al-Qaeda, sure, because at the end of the day part of their script is to wreak terrorism outside of that particular local. But ISIS is really only doing more of that or advocating more of that since Western involvement on the ground in the area where they’re trying to build a caliphate.

PLIBERSEK: I understand why people make that argument. I think I’d start from a different position, which is that a democratically elected government has asked us for help to protect civilians from massacre in the first instance. And we thought very carefully about this. Our national security sub-committee of the Shadow Cabinet met on a number of occasions and the reasons that we have set the parameters that we have is that we do believe after this request that Australia should participate in a responsibility to protect type mission.


PLIBERSEK: There are a number of other countries involved, it’s not unilateral action. I understand the question you’re asking-

VAN ONSELEN: I’m not saying that’s not a reason to do it. But presumably, it’s just a truism, that by being involved, the greater good of involvement as what you’re outlining, is reason to be involved even though involvement does increase the likelihood of a terror threat at home.

PLIBERSEK: Well I think the decision making, the decisions we took focused on our responsibility and I don’t think Australia has ever been a country that’s just stuck its head in the sand and said we don’t have a responsibility to other nations.

SHERIDAN: Ms Plibersek, a broader question about Iraq. Are you worried about this incredible Shia/Sunni hostility and all of the fighting in Iraq is not being led by troops trained by America or troops trained by Australians, it’s being led by Iranians. Iranian professional soldiers are leading Iranian trained and backed Shiite forces to beat a Sunni force. Aren’t we in effect lining up in the great Shia/Sunni intra-religious civil war in Islam on the Shia side and making the Middle East safe for Iranian influence which will be as bad for our interests as Islamic State?

PLIBERSEK: I think the last thing in the world that we should get in the middle of is a Shia/Sunni conflict. And I think during the Iran/Iraq war, Australia played a very straight bat and certainly wasn’t perceived to be on either side, if you want to put it that way. And that’s why I say, Greg, that it is important that we are very closely monitoring the progress of the conflict and if it moves to being a straight out Shia/Sunni conflict, I don’t think Australia has any part in that. If we can help protect civilians from an invading force at the request of a democratically elected government, that is one thing-

SHERIDAN: They’re not all invading though, are they? There’s a lot of local support for Islamic State, there’s former Saddam generals, Sunnis who live in Tikrit and Mosul and so on. I mean, they’re not all invaders.

PLIBERSEK: No, I agree with that and I’d also say that a number of the minority communities that have been worst affected by this conflict would probably say to you that they hadn’t felt particularly safe even before Daesh, ISIL was invading either. So, it is a complex situation, quickly changing, and we need to be alert to getting dragged into an insoluble problem.

KELLY: Just switching to China, the Abbott Government decided several months ago on competing positions from Julie Bishop and Joe Hockey on not to sign up to the China regional infrastructure bank and there were pressures from the Americans on that front, there are signs now the Government may reassess the position. What’s Labor’s position on this and is Labor at all concerned about pressure from the Americans on this front?

PLIBERSEK: It’s interesting to see the UK has recently said that they’ll sign up and look, my position at the time was that we should have signed up and we should’ve done it with the understanding that we expect transparency and good governance from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. This is a sign, I think, that the global arrangements or architectures that were set up particularly after the Second World War haven’t taken account of a China that is growing in economic power as well as strategic power. And if you could have an IMF or World Bank that made room for China or an Asian Development Bank that made room for China in a better way it would be ideal to have China join the existing architecture. But I think this is an expression of China’s frustration that that architecture hasn’t made room for China. We need make sure that this bank is governed in the same- similar transparent ways, with similar accountability mechanisms, but of course we should be part of it. Our region desperately needs new infrastructure investment. It’s a very important step to lifting countries and people out of poverty.

KELLY: Are you aware of much pressure from the Americans on this issue?

PLIBERSEK: I had my own discussions with a number of quite senior US figures shortly after we had said Australia wouldn’t be part of it. Their view to me was that they were relaxed about Australia joining up. I think it’s important for our own accountability mechanisms that we describe what we expect of our involvement, the way that we think the AIIB should be run but of course we should be part of it.

SHERIDAN: Ms Plibersek, a sort of a flip side of that, the Abbott Government has gone into a much more intimate, strategic partnership with Japan than anything we’ve seen before. Does Labor have any concern about a potential militarisation of a Japan/Australia relationship? Bill Shorten expressed some concern about Japanese submarines, made reference to World War 2. Does Labor feel uncomfortable with this new strategic intimacy between Shinzo Abe and Tony Abbott?

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s very important that we have a good and close relationship with Japan but we should also have a good and close relationship with China. It’s in our interests not to be choosing best friends but to have strong relationships-

SHERIDAN: And can we have the strategic alliance with Japan without hurting our relationship with China?

PLIBERSEK: I think that we can have a good relationship with both Japan and with China and with the United States and with the ASEAN nations and that is the job of Australian diplomacy.

BRAMSTON: Can I ask you about another topic? Bill Shorten has said 2015 will be the year of ideas for the Labor Party. It’s nearly April so at best, it’s going to be nine months of new ideas. Can I ask you about the criticism that there is significantly, in not only in the media and in the Government but increasingly within the Labor Party about why Labor doesn’t have a more proactive agenda, so can I ask you about your response to the criticism of that and can I also ask what are you doing in the foreign policy space to refresh Labor’s policy agenda?

PLIBERSEK: So last week, last parliamentary sitting week, we announced two very substantial policies. One of them was in the area of domestic violence, that included almost $50 million of funding for legal services and just under $20 million for safe at home programs, so victims of violence are able to stay in their homes, perpetrators move out, security is upgraded so it’s safer for the, usually women, to stay at home. And the other policy of course was about multinational company tax avoidance. Two policies; important, significant ones in one week. I think it’s a bit rich, we’re about halfway through an electoral cycle for people to be criticising that we haven’t got all of our policies out there. Before the last election, Tony Abbott had this kind of thin blue pamphlet called ‘Real Solutions’, that was it, and that was released just days before the election, and that was the whole policy agenda for the Liberals, you know the famous mantra ‘no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no change to pensions, no new taxes, no cuts to the ABC and SBS’, but they were the policies of the Liberals and every one of those has been repudiated since coming to government. We will methodically lay out our policies, and our National Conference is in the middle of the year. We actually have a democratic policy making process as well so I’ve been going around the country to ask about foreign affairs, I would’ve had well over a dozen meetings with party members that they’ve been able to come to, put their views about our foreign policy. You know that I’m meeting constantly with people who want to talk to me about Labor’s foreign policy. We’ll be very clear before the election.

BRAMSTON: Just one other thing, we are in the middle of a NSW state election campaign, obviously the key election issue is the privatisation of the electricity distribution network which Labor opposes yet there’s a number of significant Labor figures, past and present, who think Labor should support that policy. What’s your view about this and is there a danger that Labor’s economic credibility is at risk by opposing this plan for privatisation?

PLIBERSEK: I think decisions about privatisation have to be on a case by case basis. And Luke Foley’s made clear, for example, that he was comfortable with the privatisation of the ports. It’s the electricity and natural monopoly, the electricity poles and wires that he’s opposed to the privatisation of. I think the bigger question is for Mike Baird, how does he pay for all the promises he’s made if he a) can’t get the partial privatisation through a new parliament or b) if he doesn’t get the price that he hopes.

SHERIDAN: Ms Plibersek, on another topic, Labor supported the Prime Minister’s National Security statement overall, but in that the Prime Minister made the remark that he would like Muslim leaders more often to say that Islam is a religion of peace and mean it. Do you think Australian Muslim leaders have done enough to denounce the whole world view behind IS, not just the terrorism but the sense of Islamic grievance, and the persecution of Islam by the West? Are you satisfied with the level of commitment by Australian Muslim leaders on that area?

PLIBERSEK: I think Australian Muslim leaders have been very loud and vocal in their denunciation of this terrorist organisation. Of course there are some outliers in the community here and most particularly online who are spruikers for Daesh, or organisations like it. I don’t think you can take them to be mainstream voices.

KELLY: I think I’m correct in saying in relation to the arrival of asylum seeker boats, that Labor’s firm position is it won’t tolerate turn backs or tow-backs. Given that situation, how confident are you that under a Labor government, we’ll see no boat arrivals?

PLIBERSEK: You know, Paul, one of the questions that I’m amazed that no one has ever asked Tony Abbott is why Tony Abbott voted against the Malaysia proposition that Labor put. We had an arrangement with Malaysia where asylum seekers could live in the community, had work rights, they had access to healthcare, their children could go to school and Tony Abbott said it was cruel and unusual. Joe Hockey cried in the parliament and said over his dead body would he be part of that. We had a proposition that would have worked, that the Liberals blocked. I am confident that if we are to form government after the next election that we could continue to keep people safe and to make regional arrangements with our neighbours. There are about 50 million displaced people in the world, this is a problem that is bigger than Australia and that we need to continue to work with the international community-

KELLY: Can I just clarify that you won’t accept turn backs though? That’s clear, isn’t it or not?

PLIBERSEK: We certainly have been opposed to turn backs. We think that the issue with Indonesia, I mean, Tony Abbott can’t get a phone call returned from the Indonesian President. It has affected our relationship with Indonesia in the past. It’s not being good for it.

SHERIDAN: But you’re not suggesting the lack of the phone call is because of asylum seeker boats?

PLIBERSEK: No, I’m saying that the relationship hasn’t been good in recent times.

KELLY: Is Labor determined if it comes back into government to avoid a repeat of the Rudd/Gillard years when what we saw when Labor came in, there were no boat arrivals, and under Labor there was a resurgence of boats. So my question to you is, is Labor determined if it comes back into government to ensure there are no boat arrivals?

PLIBERSEK: We introduced a quite difficult policy of diverting people to Manus Island and Nauru. We saw numbers falling substantially after those decisions were made. That could have happened many months earlier if the Liberals had accepted that our proposal to send people to Malaysia instead-

KELLY: I understand that argument completely. I’m asking you about the future.

PLIBERSEK: Of course it’s our intention to continue to see as few, or no boats, coming to Australia as possible but we also say that it’s important that we treat people with respect and dignity when they’re on Manus Island and Nauru and that we do all we can to prevent deaths at sea.

BRAMSTON: Tanya Plibersek, you mentioned the ALP National Conference coming up in July, before that there’ll be a race for the ALP National Presidency. We reported in the Australian this week that Mark Butler is going to run and he’s the lead candidate from Labor’s left faction, you’re a key person in the left, do you support Mark Butler?

PLIBERSEK: He’s a terrific candidate but I don’t want to start picking winners when we don’t know the full field. But Mark’s great. I think he’s doing an excellent job as a Shadow Minister, he’s making a very strong case on climate change and he’d be a very good candidate.

BRAMSTON: Do you think he would make a good National President of the party?

PLIBERSEK: I think he’d make a terrific National President, but let’s see the full field.

VAN ONSELEN: Tanya Plibersek, you’ve been very generous with your time, we appreciate you fronting up for a live interview here on Sky news. Thank you.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


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TRANSCRIPT - Sky News, Thursday 5 March 2015

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SUBJECT/S: Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran

KIERAN GILBERT, PRESENTER: As far as you’re aware, where are things at? There’s just a fair bit of confusion here, isn’t there, out of Indonesia?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: The Foreign Minister and I are speaking regularly about what’s happening at the moment with the transfer and what that means in terms of timing. I mean, you’ve spoken to her already so I’m not going to repeat what she said. We have been in continual contact with Indonesia authorities. I continue to contact anyone who might influence the President in his decision making. A lot of Australians have been working behind the scenes, people who have got good relations with Indonesia to continue to plead our case and certainly to argue that the legal challenges that are still afoot must be completed.

GILBERT: We’ll get onto a bit of that detail in a moment. I want to ask you, I guess to start off with, this morning there was another show of solidarity, of unity of the Parliament, wasn’t there, this morning with that candle light vigil on the forecourt of Parliament.

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s a very powerful thing to say that despite all of our differences, as Australian parliamentarians and I think as Australian citizens, we are united in saying that we oppose the death penalty for whomever and wherever it might be applied. But for these young men, we say they’ve spent 10 years in Indonesian gaol, they have made a great effort to rehabilitate and reform themselves. They’re playing a very important role in rehabilitating other prisoners. They show the success of the Indonesian gaol system when it comes to rehabilitation. They can continue to play a role in rehabilitating other prisoners and that is, I think, a very strong argument to commute their death sentence, for the President to show them clemency. There continues to be the argument about legal challenges still afoot. And I think there is an overriding argument here as well, that as Australian parliamentarians, we don’t support the death penalty anywhere. This is not just about our citizens in Indonesia, it’s about anyone, anywhere, to whom this penalty may be applied.

GILBERT: And I guess the point that’s been made as well by the Foreign Minister this morning and others over recent weeks is that the Indonesians themselves seek clemency for I think it’s nearly 200 of their own citizens on death row around the world.

PLIBERSEK: Almost 230, in fact, 229 was the most recent figure. And they’ve been successful in getting many, many of their own off death row in other countries. They do, the Indonesians do exactly what we’re doing at the moment. They are, all the time, pleading with other governments for their citizens to be shown clemency. We make the same plea for our own citizens and I have said to the Indonesian Ambassador that it surely must weaken their case when they  are pleading for the lives of their own people if they do not show the same clemency to the citizens of other nations.

GILBERT: President Jokowi has only been in the job for a couple of months. You’ve spoken about the representations made to people that might have some influence over him. Sadly, according to those I’ve spoken to, including experts, Indonesia experts, who say that basically there’s a brick wall around the President. He does not want to hear, he’s made the decision and that’s it.

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it’s very important that our thoughts, our comments, our speech at the moment is focused on these two young men and making a case for them. I think analysis and so on is better left for another day.

GILBERT: I guess though, to start the relationship of this Presidency without, you know Australia-Indonesia bilateral relationship on this footing, is the worst possible scenario.

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s very important for us to continue to say to the Government of Indonesia and to the new President to look at the long sweep of our history with Indonesia. Australia has supported Indonesian independence, we’ve had a good relationship over many years with Indonesia. And there have been times of tension, of course, but the long sweep of our history with Indonesia is a mutually respectful, close relationship, and there are many people in Australia and Indonesia who have been working for many years to continue to bring that relationship closer. That should be the focus of our relationship at the moment.

GILBERT: And you say you’ve been in constant contact with the Foreign Minister over developments here, it does seem the Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs are doing everything they can, including this 11th hour prisoner swap offer to try and secure the freedom, well, not the freedom, but at least clemency for those two individuals.

PLIBERSEK: Indeed successive governments have pleaded for the lives of these two young men. Of course, it’s a more urgent task of diplomacy at the moment but for 10 years now, successive Australian leaders have spoken to successive Indonesia presidents and made a case for clemency to be shown to these young men. And of course, we’ll continue to do that over coming days. All Australians, I believe, are united in saying that we don’t want to see this penalty applied.

GILBERT: I don’t think you want to speculate on any possible diplomatic response that might happen in the wake of the executions because as you and others point out, while there’s life, there’s hope, but I guess that’s something Australia’s got to turn its attention to, given we have many other consular cases in Indonesia, so if you remove an ambassador, then you instantly jeopardise the success of those particular cases, those individuals, don’t you? Potentially.

PLIBERSEK: I think our whole conversation at the moment has to be on using every diplomatic means, every formal and informal channel, to focus on pleading for clemency for these two young men. And I think any other conversations are better left for another day.

GILBERT: What about the use of, the show of force around the transfer, that was quite bizarre, wasn’t it?

PLIBERSEK: It was very difficult to understand why that was necessary.

GILBERT: It certainly was. The barbaric, armed vehicles, and these are two reformed individuals as you’ve pointed out.

PLIBERSEK: It’s difficult to understand why it was thought necessary.

GILBERT: And finally, I know that you reflected on this in the Parliament, but you are well aware of the success of what rehabilitation can do to an individual so for you, there’s a much more sort of poignant emotion, I guess this –

PLIBERSEK: Indeed. I think one of the saddest things about this story, one of the saddest things on a human level, is that these two young men have obviously, of course they’ve done the wrong thing and of course they should be punished, but they have made such an effort not just to reform themselves, but to improve the quality of life, and to give hope to other prisoners. Carrying out the death penalty robs these two young men of life, it robs their families and friends of the opportunity of seeing them pay their debt to society.

But it also robs Indonesian prisoners, who they’ve helped, who they’ve become role models for, it robs them of hope and the understanding that reform is possible in their own lives. I think that the Indonesians should think about using these young men as an example of what reformation can do in the life of a person, how you can do the wrong thing, turn your life around and then spend the rest of your life repaying your debt to society.

GILBERT: Let’s hope so, let’s hope there’s a show of mercy from the Indonesian leader. Tanya Plibersek, thanks for your time.



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TRANSCRIPT - 4BC, Thursday 5 March 2015

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Subject: Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran

LORETTA RYAN, PRESENTER: What was it like there at the vigil this morning, the show of support, but what was the feeling?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Look, it was a very sombre feeling. I think people feel now that the young men have been moved, we really- the feeling has very strongly intensified that the carrying out of the sentence might be imminent and I think many Australians feel quite helpless in the face of this.  And so coming together and being able to show that we are united across political lines and across the Australian community in saying that we hope that the death penalty won’t be carried out in this instance because these young men have reformed their lives but that also we are opposed to the death penalty as a matter of principle. I think it was a very important thing this morning.

IAN SKIPPEN, PRESENTER: Now you are the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and I know that you have dealt with the Indonesian government. This show of force yesterday, was it purely a chest beating exercise to the rest of the world?

PLIBERSEK: I can’t understand why it was thought necessary to have all of this military accompaniment. I actually- I can’t explain it to you. I think it was a curious decision.

RYAN: We’ve never seen that before, maybe it’s just the fact that we’ve never seen any drug runners being transferred before like that. Do you think though now with this prisoner transfer suggestion that Julie Bishop has mentioned, do you think that is likely to happen?

PLIBERSEK: I certainly hope it’s possible for it to happen. I think we need to continue to try every diplomatic method, every formal and informal channel we have, every opportunity for communication. Certainly that’s what I’ll be doing and I’m sure the Government has also been using any person they can think of that may be able to influence the President of Indonesia to make contact to plead for the lives of these two young men.

RYAN: But Tanya, why should we ask for a prisoner transfer for them when we didn’t do it for Schapelle Corby, for instance? I think it was brought up during her time there.

PLIBERSEK: Well, Schapelle Corby wasn’t facing the death penalty.

RYAN: She was still in there for a long time though, wasn’t she?

PLIBERSEK: That’s true and I think it’s very well worth having a more general conversation about prisoner transfer programs with Indonesia, but we are at a very critical stage now where two young men are facing the worst possible penalty and I think that really our focus needs to be on them.

SKIPPEN: Tanya you just mentioned before that you will do some work, do you work closely with for instance Julie Bishop, or are your lines of communication with people that you’ve had past dealings with in Indonesia?

PLIBERSEK: Well both, so Julie Bishop, Christine Milne and I, for example have written together to the Indonesian Foreign Minister. I’ve written and spoken separately to Indonesians in Australia who might be able to influence the Government. I’ve spoken to Indonesians in Indonesia who have relations with the President and his office. And of course to Australians, to people who have a long association with Indonesia to ask them, or anyone who might be able to influence this situation to use whatever influence they have.

SKIPPEN: So all of those words, all of that communication, going behind the scenes from all levels of Government, friends, religious organisations, still falls on deaf ears?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think we need to use every opportunity, exhaust every channel, and I’ve been saying for a while that while there’s life there’s hope. I think it’s important to use every opportunity we still have to try and influence the President of Indonesia to consider the fact that he’s got almost 230 of his own citizens on death row around the world. And that it makes it much harder for Indonesia to plead for clemency for its own citizens if it’s not prepared to show that same clemency to the citizens of other nations who are facing the death penalty in Indonesia. And the other thing of course we ask the Indonesian President to consider is that these two young men - have 100% done the wrong thing, they should be punished, but in that punishment, in the gaol that they’ve been in, they’ve been able to reform themselves and they’re playing a positive role in reforming other prisoners. They’ve been setting an example for people to turn their lives around. And I think that that is an opportunity that the Indonesian goal system shouldn’t miss, and an opportunity for these young men to repay their debt to Indonesian society that the Indonesians should accept.

SKIPPEN: Tanya Plibersek, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs speaking to us just now from the post-vigil in Canberra this morning.



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OPINION PIECE - Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran

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Recently, while in gaol in Indonesia, Andrew Chan wrote a letter to his teenage self.

In the letter he says:

"Your family and your friends are heartbroken and your life will be ended by a firing squad.

"I have missed weddings. I've missed funerals and the simple presence of my own family. The hurt and pain - I don't just put it on to myself. But the pain I put on my family is agonising.”

There aren’t many people who’d fail to be moved by those words.

They give us some understanding of the heartache, and the guilt felt by this son, brother, cousin.

That said, of course prison is not meant to be easy. It’s punishment. And it’s an opportunity to reform.

Both Andrew and his co-convicted, Myuran Sukumaran, know they committed a very serious crime. They have demonstrated genuine remorse. But they know they must pay a heavy price. They know their time in prison is an opportunity to repay their debt to society.

By all reports, during their decade in gaol, both young men have made exemplary efforts to rehabilitate themselves, as well as other prisoners. Even the Governor of the prison has commended their work.

Andrew has become a pastor. Myuran has trained as an artist. They have facilitated educational courses for others prisoners including English language classes, painting classes, drawing, music, dance, fitness and basic computer skills. They have helped coordinate fundraising activities both to improve the prison facilities and to support the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

Allowed life, the example of Andrew and Myuran’s reform shows the strength of the Indonesian justice system.

Death weakens Indonesia’s ability to plead mercy for its own citizens facing execution around the world – currently some 229 people.

And death would rob Indonesia of two young men who want to continue repaying their debt to society.

I have a particularly strong view on remorse and redemption because of experiences in my own life.

A few weeks ago I made a speech in the Parliament about Andrew and Myuran.

In that speech, I mentioned the example of my husband. In 1988, nearly 30 years ago and long before I knew him, my husband left prison after being convicted of being part of a conspiracy to import heroin.

Re-hab and prison as a very young man probably saved his life, and more importantly, allowed him to show remorse and reform. Leaving prison, he has spent every day since repaying his debt to society.

Had my husband been subject to death penalty, I think about what the world would have missed out on.

The world would have missed out on the three beautiful children that we’ve had together. It would have missed out on a man who spent the rest of his life making amends for the crime he committed.

I rarely talk about my private life in public.  But I shared that story was because I think it’s important for everyone, especially family and friends, to see that while there’s life, there’s hope. While there’s life, there’s opportunity to reform. While there’s life, there’s potential to repay a debt to society. Death extinguishes these things forever.

The reason Andrew Chan’s words to his teenage self are so heart-wrenching is because they remind us that the death penalty is not just a sentence on these two young men, but on all those who love them.

I plead with the Indonesian Government to show them mercy.

This article was originally published in MAMAMIA on Tuesday the 9th of March 2015.

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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Friday 6 March 2015

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Subject: Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: [audio cuts in] Myuran Sukumaran's continuing case in Indonesia. Of course, all Australians continue to plead for clemency for these two young men. I am heartened that there's been a delay of an indeterminate time, certainly for a few days, in the carrying out of the sentence. We've been told that there are some delays perhaps due to the ongoing legal cases that these two men have ongoing in Indonesia, one of an administrative appeal type and one of a judicial type. It is reassuring that these legal processes have been given a little more time. My call to the Indonesian Government is, of course, that any legal processes be given a full opportunity to be properly heard. We also, as Australians, continue to ask the Indonesian President to give clemency to our citizens and others in the same way that Indonesia pleads for clemency for their own citizens on death row around the world. Indonesia has just under 230 of its own citizens on death row in many countries around the globe. And Indonesia has been successful in seeing some of those citizens in the past taken off death row, and indeed, continues to plead for the lives of others. We ask that that same consideration be extended to Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. These are two young men who have unquestionably done the wrong thing. And they've spent 10 years in gaol already. And should their lives be spared, we understand that the Indonesian judicial system might require many more years in prison. But while they've been in prison for this last decade, they have made great changes in their lives, and not just their own lives, but the lives of other prisoners. They are a testament to the power of the Indonesian gaol system to allow people to reform and to rebuild their lives and to repay their debt to society.

JOURNALIST: What was your opinion of the photo of the police chief posing with them?

PLIBERSEK: I can't really understand why such a photo was taken and I can't understand why it was publicly released. I certainly thought it was in poor taste.

JOURNALIST: What about the use of force in transferring the men? Do you think it was disproportionate?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's very difficult to understand why such force was necessary. I think- it's certainly a contrast to the way that other prisoners have been transported in the past and it's difficult to understand why the Indonesian Government thought this show of force was necessary.

JOURNALIST: I know what you mean about the delay, that of course we're thankful that these men are still alive but do you think the constant delays are also making things emotionally more difficult, especially for the families?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think this is a more hellish time than any one of us can imagine, if you haven't gone through it. But I think for all of us and for the families of these two young men and their legal teams, while there’s life, there's hope, and however difficult the uncertainty and the delays may be, of course, the certainty of a sentence being carried out would be the worst possible outcome. This is a sentence that affects not only the lives of these two young men, but it's a sentence for everyone who knows and loves them. They will carry the grief and loss of this throughout their lives.

JOURNALIST: How do you see this impacting relationships with Indonesia?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think these are things for another day. Our focus at the moment has to be completely on finding any constructive suggestion that might cause this sentence not to be carried out. There's been a great deal of work over many years behind the scenes through successive governments, arguing that the sentence of these young men should be commuted. Now, there's also been, in more recent times, more public work, both diplomatic efforts, business-to-business contacts, person-to-person contacts. I think all of those approaches have to be tried and tried again. If there's anything we can do with the Indonesian Government, for example, prisoner swaps, of course we would support that.

JOURNALIST: It's often a tough thing… [inaudible]

PLIBERSEK: I think every Australian is united in supporting the Government in any effort they can make to spare the lives of these two young men. As I say, successive Australian governments have worked with the Indonesian Government to argue the case for these two young men. As the date of their sentence being carried out draws closer, those efforts have become more public. But of course, every effort that the Government has made has had bipartisan support and I think has had also very wide support among the Australian community.

JOURNALIST: Is there the anything you would suggest that the Government could do that it is not doing?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I've made a number of suggestions directly to the Foreign Minister about ways that we can continue to support these young men, options that the Government might not have thought of. Of course, people are continuing to write to me and email me with those suggestions, and when they do, I pass them on. I think it's most critical at this time, though, to take the advice of our diplomats. We have very experienced current and former diplomats who've served in Indonesia for many years. They have close personal contacts and friendships with senior members of the Indonesian Government, business community and so on. And so we need to take the advice of those people about how we best make these approaches and the most useful offers that we can make to Indonesia for cooperation.

JOURNALIST: And is the family, do you think, getting enough consular assistance on its journey to Nusakambangan?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think the families are very grateful for the support they've received so far from the consular services of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I've certainly- the family members I've spoken to have been very grateful for the assistance they've received, in some cases over many years.

JOURNALIST: When this spying controversy emerged some years ago, Indonesia withdrew cooperation in all sorts of areas, in security, in policing. Surely those types of sanctions must be on the table, you say you don't want to talk about that now, but surely those kinds of things must be on the table instead of just words?

PLIBERSEK: As I've said in the past, I think now is certainly not the time to have those discussions. Our total focus at the moment has to be on working cooperatively with the many Indonesians who also oppose the death penalty and have helped us in pleading with their government to spare the lives of these two young men and to work absolutely assiduously with all our focus on doing something productive for these young men. The time for any other discussion is much, much later.

JOURNALIST: Is that working though? Tony Abbott said he that hasn't heard back from President Widodo about his request for another telephone conversation. Julie Bishop says she has not received a response to a letter that was delivered to her counterpart yesterday. So words don't seem to be working.

PLIBERSEK: I think at the moment, open communication, frequent communication is the best approach that we have. I've written to the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Bill Shorten has written to the President, we're in frequent contact with the Indonesian Ambassador. We continue to offer all our support to the Government in making every effort they can to see the lives of these two young men spared. Thanks, everyone.



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TRANSCRIPT - Sky News, Wednesday 4 March 2015

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Subject: Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran

DAVID LIPSON, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, thanks so much for your time. These two Australian men now being moved, what’s your understanding of what this means for the timeline in terms of their sentence being carried out?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well, I don’t think it is actually productive for me to talk about that at the moment. The Indonesian government do normally give 72 hours notice to the families of people in this situation, but when that 72 hours notice might start is a matter that is not established yet. I think the important thing to be saying at this stage is that there are still two legal challenges underway and that those legal challenges must be allowed to run their course. We need to continue to say to the Indonesian Government that with almost 230 of own their citizens on death row around the world that they weaken their case to the governments of other nations when they’re pleading for clemency for their own people. And we must continue to say that these two young men are an example of the power of the Indonesian corrective system to actually rehabilitate - rehabilitate prisoners. These young men have obviously rehabilitated themselves but they are also contributing to the rehabilitation of other prisoners.

LIPSON: As you say, those legal and diplomatic channels are still being pursued, but this morning the Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that the Indonesians’ position is hardening. Do we need to be preparing for the worst now?

PLIBERSEK: I think where there is life there is hope, and we need to as an opposition, we will do everything we can to support the Government, as they did when we were the Government, to plead for clemency for these two young men. And if there is, I have been in contact with the legal team this morning, and if there is anything we can do to support the legal actions that are underway, of course we will do that. I think it is very important to continue to make the case in every formal way and every informal way that we can.

LIPSON: You’ve spoken, as you mentioned, to the legal team. So what have they told you? What are their plans for action over the coming days?

PLIBERSEK: Well I won’t go into that, what I will say is that they are engaged in these two continuing actions. One of which is, has a kind of administrative approach, and one of which is a complaint to the judicial commission. They are very serious legal approaches, and they absolutely must be allowed to run their course. It would be shocking if these, this sentence was carried out before these legal appeals had run their course.

LIPSON: And have you had any further contact with the families or friends?

PLIBERSEK: I have had contact over several occasions with different family members and friends of these two young men. They are of course distressed beyond belief. This is a sentence not just on the young men themselves but on everyone who knows them and loves them. Particularly as they have been in gaol for some time, they have had the opportunity of repairing their relationship with their family, of showing that they have reformed. Their families of course firmly believe that these young men did the wrong thing, that they are rightly subject to the Indonesian legal system. But now that they have reformed, they should have the opportunity to pay their debt to society, to contribute to the prison community that they are part of in the way that they have been doing, in reforming other prisoners.

LIPSON: Should the worst happen, what do you believe an appropriate diplomatic response from Australia should be?

PLIBERSEK: I think it is the wrong time to be talking about anything like that, I think our focus, on the moment, at the moment, has to be on the fact that we have for many years had a strong relationship with Indonesia. There are many people in Indonesia and in Australia who are working to make that relationship even stronger in the future and I count myself as one of them. Our focus now has to be on using the strength of that friendship to appeal to the President of Indonesia, the Attorney-General and others to understand that of course we understand the Indonesian legal system but the death penalty is not a deterrent, it’s not more of a deterrent than a long gaol sentence certainly and that the Indonesian case for clemency for its own citizens internationally is weakened by this action.

LIPSON: Not just a strong relationship, it’s also an extremely important one for both countries. Is there a danger that that relationship could be damaged by Indonesia’s actions here?

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s the wrong time to be talking about anything like that. We need to focus on the needs of these two young men and continue to redouble our efforts to use every formal channel of communication and every informal channel of communication to make our case.

LIPSON: And what about the threats that some Australians have made, including lawyer Lex Lasry today, of boycotting Indonesia. Do you believe that will achieve anything in this case?

PLIBERSEK: I understand that emotions are running very high at the moment. I understand why a friend, someone who’s represented these two young men would speak from the heart at such an emotional time. I think our focus as a government, as an opposition needs to be on keeping channels of communication open and constructive.

LIPSON: And do you believe there should be a review or investigation into the Australian Federal Police actions that led to these two young men and others essentially being handed over to Indonesian authorities?

PLIBERSEK: I think the Australian Federal Police do a fine job at keeping Australians safe, but I don’t think anyone would question that it would have been much better to pick, not just these young men but all of their co-accused, up when they arrived back in Australia and seeing them subject to the Australian judicial system.

LIPSON: With that in mind, does that policy, that sort of course of action need to be reviewed or changed? Does there need to be a directive in the future?

PLIBERSEK: I think again, this is something for discussion at a future time.

LIPSON: Tanya Plibersek, thanks so much for your time.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.



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TRANSCRIPT - ABC RN Drive, Wednesday 4 March 2015

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Subject: Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran, family violence, Iraq

PATRICIA KARVELAS, PRESENTER: I understand you talked to the lawyer Julian McMahon, can you tell us about that call?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: I’m not going to go into the details of the conversation but I think it is important to say that there are still two legal procedures underway and that those legal processes absolutely should be able to run their course. One of them of course is an administrative type appeal and one of them focuses on the judicial commission in Indonesia and I think of course all Australians would want to know that both of those challenges are properly heard and allowed to be completed.

KARVELAS: Do the lawyers still have access to Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I don’t think it’s for me to talk about the relationship between the legal team and their clients. They are in close contact but I’m not going to go into the details of that.

KARVELAS: You’ve said, as I quoted you, that where there’s life, there’s hope still and that’s been the mantra throughout as we, you know, have been on this rollercoaster waiting for where this will all end and hoping that it won’t end in the way that this country does not want it to. Do you still feel like there is hope because the common view is once the transfer occurs, it’s pretty difficult to see the Indonesians reversing their position.

PLIBERSEK: I think obviously it’s an incredibly difficult time for the men and their families, that’s obviously what they’re thinking as well I would expect. But I think because there are still legal processes underway and because the contact between the Australian Government, the Australian Opposition and the Australian business community, diplomatic community, former diplomatic community, continues, that we need to focus on those continued representations and making them as strongly and as consistently as we can. We have been saying all the way through to the Government of Indonesia that they advocate for their own people on death row around the world. They’ve got about 229 people on death row in other countries and it does of course weaken their case if they are prepared to apply that same penalty within Indonesia to the citizens of other nations. We’ve been saying of course that these young men have made a huge effort to reform themselves but also to reform others in the gaol that they’ve been in in Bali and they’ve contributed a great deal to the community in the gaol that they live in. We’ve made these points strongly and consistently and we have to keep making them through every formal and informal channel that we have.

KARVELAS: On RN Drive, my guest is Tanya Plibersek, the Deputy Opposition Leader and Shadow Spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs. If you’d like to text us on this issue, our number is 0418226576 or you can tweet us @rndrive. Julie Bishop has today raised the prospect of consequences for Indonesia if the executions go ahead, and Tony Abbott has underlined that Australia’s relationship with Indonesia will endure regardless. Will we see any diplomatic retribution if these two are executed and what is Labor’s view on whether there should be?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I don’t think it’s the time to be talking about those things at the moment. I think our whole focus and our whole public discussion needs to be on whatever we can do to assist these young men and make a strong case to the Indonesian government that while we respect the Indonesian law, we respect Indonesian sovereignty, we don’t for a moment suggest that these young men haven’t done the wrong thing and that they shouldn’t be punished. What we are doing at the moment is pleading for clemency, in the same way that Indonesia pleads for clemency for its own citizens on death row around the world.

KARVELAS: Can we move to another topic which has dominated the political agenda today, Tanya Plibersek, domestic violence. Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Labor Party, today he said that a future Labor government would hold a National Crisis Summit within 100 days of being elected on domestic violence if the Prime Minister didn’t do it first. But the Prime Minister says that COAG will work with the state and territory governments to reduce violence against women and children. Isn’t COAG more effective than a summit? A summit seems to me like a talk fest, COAG, you know, nationalising laws, kind of is a really structured way to deal with this, isn’t it?

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s very important for state and territory leaders to be involved in the reform process but they can be more effectively involved in the reform process when they’re working with people who staff front line services, with legal representatives who deal with women who have left violent relationships and struggle to get protection, with counsellors who have seen the effect on women and children of domestic violence, with the police officers who have to enforce our laws including cross border protection for women who are fleeing across borders. I think certainly state and territory leaders have to be involved in the process but they can  be most constructively involved when they’re informed by the experiences of victims themselves and the people who are tasked with looking after them.

KARVELAS: So the summit is the way that Labor wants to go forward.

PLIBERSEK: I just think you have to be a little bit careful. This is not how we want to go forward, this is one element of a package that Bill Shorten announced today that also includes substantial funding for safe at home programs, which are programs that allow women and children to remain safely in the family home and the perpetrator to be removed. There’s extra funding in there for legal services, of course a lot of community legal centres that support victims of domestic violence in their legal battles have had their budgets cut in recent times. If we’re serious about protecting women from violence, there has to be a place to go. They have to be safe in their own home or there has to be a place to go. And there has to be decent legal representation and there has to be an attitudinal change. The package announced today covers all of those areas.

KARVELAS: Do you think there is a bipartisan kind of spirit on this issue, on the domestic violence issue between Labor and the Government? It seemed to be kind of politicised by both sides today, you know, the Government was spruiking its way forward, Labor has put forward its way forward. Isn’t it the best way to deal with this trying to somehow  get together and do some serious law reform to try and deal with these problems we’re constantly seeing?

PLIBERSEK: I certainly do not doubt the dedication of every Member of Parliament to seeing an end to domestic violence in our community. It’s one of the most serious crimes in our community because of the number of people affected, because of the huge emotional and indeed financial cost. But I guess there are very different approaches to how we would handle it. I think we’ve proposed some positive measures, almost $80 million worth of positive measures today that include better legal services, better housing, better data that tracks perpetrators to see what works to stop perpetrators repeating their violence, attitudinal change and so on. The Government’s proposals today were for an advertising campaign with the states and territories, I certainly welcome that commitment, I think that’s a very valuable contribution to make and I applaud them for it. What I am concerned about are the very substantial cuts that have been made to the homelessness program, to legal services for victims of violence and community support with a cut of around $270 million to community grants programs that support the very organisations that women turn to at difficult times, to support women’s access to a bit of emergency funding when they’ve walked out of their house with nothing but a bit of clothing on their back.

KARVELAS: Last question on Iraq, in regards to the announced troop deployment to Iraq, the ALP was not advised until shortly before the announcement, with the benefit of kind of, you know, a day, 24 hours. What’s your reaction now to that and do you think this is the way that we can- this is the only way forward, that many experts have warned that we’re going into a situation that does not serve the national interest?

PLIBERSEK: I certainly understand why people are concerned about Australian involvement in Iraq because the war in 2003 was an absolute disaster. It was a disaster for Australia and it was a disaster as it turned out for the people of Iraq, as many of us said at the time that it would be. I think that the situation this year and last year is different in a few key respects because we’ve been invited by the democratically elected government of Iraq to help them protect their land and their people from an invading force, that is an incredibly brutal invading force that targets minority groups, targets women and children in the most brutal possible way. Our role is not a combat role, it’s a training role and we’ve laid out very clear criteria that Labor supports this while it’s not a frontline combat role, while it’s got a humanitarian and training role, while it’s in Iraq and not going into countries like Syria. I mean, as long as it takes the democratically elected government to protect its own people and only so long as the government of Iraq, its armies and so on, continue to behave in a way that’s acceptable to Australia. What I would also add to this it it’s very important that we watch very, very closely for any signs of mission creep. We want to have a clear response from the Government and continued updates from the Government about what the Australian mission is there, how will we judge success and what is our exit strategy. And that’s why we were so disappointed yesterday, instead of having this discussion in our Parliament, the Prime Minister had a press conference and then had himself asked a Dorothy Dix question but refused in the first instance to address the Parliament, and through it, the people of Australia.

KARVELAS: Tanya Plibersek, thanks for joining me on RN Drive.



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TRANSCRIPT - ABC News Breakfast, Thursday 5 March 2015

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Subjects: Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran, Intergenerational Report

VIRGINIA TRIOLI, PRESENTER: The pressure on Indonesia has been intense, the pleading, the requests have been consistent and repeated, they've been bipartisan, why after all of that do you believe that Indonesia is so unwilling to oblige?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Well I think the new President has come in with a very clear statement that he is determined to stamp out drug crimes in Indonesia. I think it's very clear that there's a change of policy at the top level in Indonesia when it comes to implementing the death penalty. But I don't think that we should accept that that's the end of the story. Of course, we accept the right of Indonesia to have its own legal system, to determine its own priorities, but we are another country respectfully asking the President of Indonesia to reconsider the application of the death penalty in this case. We have two citizens who have transformed their lives and have transformed the lives of the people around them. A sentence like this carried out on these two young men is not just a sentence on them, it's a sentence on their families, on their friends, their supporters. And also on the people who have come to look up to them within the Indonesian gaol system as examples of reformation, rehabilitation and hope for the future.

TRIOLI: You can't have a qualified position on the death penalty, you either support it or you don't and Australia does not, but is this perhaps at least in part, Tanya Plibersek, a bit of our own history coming back to haunt us because of course at various times both Kevin Rudd and John Howard supported the death penalty, the execution for the Bali Bombers?

PLIBERSEK: I think it is very important to have a consistent position on the death penalty and to say to our friends and allies that still have the death penalty that Australia will always oppose it to whomever it's applied, wherever it may be applied, we are consistently opposed to the death penalty and I think at times like this-

TRIOLI: Although of course, just to jump in there, we weren't of course at that time. I wonder if that history is playing out a little bit here?

PLIBERSEK: I don't think you can draw that link but I would say that if there's one good thing to come out of this public concern about what's happening to Andrew and Myuran is it’s a reinvigoration of a feeling across our Australian community that the death penalty is always wrong wherever it's applied, to whomever it is applied.

TRIOLI: We've always believed that we have a, it’s been fractious at times, a reasonably good relationship with Indonesia, certainly a very strong and very important one. Why in your view is that not counting for much in this discussion at the moment?

PLIBERSEK: I actually think it does count for a lot. We've had an enormous amount of support from many, many senior Indonesian political figures, diplomatic figures, current and former, many, many people pleading on behalf of our citizens. Of course there's strong business links, there's people who have been, Australians who have been great friends to Indonesia over many years who are engaged in behind the scenes diplomatic efforts and there are many, many Indonesians who have also been pleading with the President and those around him in our- on our behalf. Unfortunately that hasn't borne fruit yet but I don't think we can accept that time has run out. I think there we need to continue to say that there are two current legal challenges under way, those legal challenges must be allowed to run their course and just as Indonesia pleads for clemency for its own citizens around the world, we will continue to plead for clemency until every avenue is exhausted.

TRIOLI: Tanya Plibersek, from the Labor Party's point of view, what consequences, if any, should flow from these two men ultimately being executed in terms of our relationship with Indonesia?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it's the wrong time to be talking about anything like that. I think our whole focus, our whole discussion at the moment and every effort has to be on stating very clearly that the legal challenges that remain should be completed and that in any case the President has available to him the option of showing clemency and we would plead that President Widodo think about what he would want for his own citizens on death row around the world, the clemency that he would like Indonesians to be shown by the governments of other countries and he apply that same principle to our citizens and not just to our citizens of course but to the citizens of other nations facing a similar penalty.

TRIOLI: Just one quick question before I let you go if I can, Tanya Plibersek, on the Intergenerational Report, a very important document that’s coming out today, according to some figures that have been pre-released and published today in some newspaper outlets, the most optimistic four decade trajectory shows that Australia would only be free of net debt by 2031/32 if every budget measure announced last year or something equivalent was passed and passed now. What does the Labor Party believe its responsibility is in this, in making sure that Australia is free of debt?

PLIBERSEK: This Intergenerational Report is the final trashing of Peter Costello's legacy in terms of a Charter of Budget Honesty. This is a completely political document that hasn't used Department of Immigration figures for net overseas migration, that includes in it for example savings from a GP co-payment that the Government's made clear they can't get through the House of Representatives and the Senate, it includes in it- it doesn't include in it things like their promise to get rid of means testing for the Private Health Insurance Rebate which would cost $100 billion over the next 40 years, it's a political stitch up of a document. It's the Treasurer's document, not the Treasury's document as they've made clear, this is a document that's been manipulated by Joe Hockey for his own political means.

TRIOLI: Nowhere in that answer to was an answer to my question about what the Labor Party thinks should be done to rid Australia of debt, there's no policy statement there from you.

PLIBERSEK: We announced just recently our plans for reducing multinational tax evasion. Unfortunately we had measures in place to do this when the Government, when the Liberal Government were first elected. They trashed them. They gave billions of dollars back to multinational tax avoiders. We had a carbon pricing mechanism that raised revenue, they've got a carbon pricing mechanism that spends taxpayers' dollars. We have made very large and important savings, including when I was Health Minister, things like means testing the Private Health Insurance Rebate and paying less for generic medicines when they come off patent. The Liberals opposed billions of dollars of savings in those areas so I think it's a bit rich for a Government that's come in, given $9 billion to the Reserve Bank unasked for and unneeded, doubled the deficit since coming to Government, for them to be talking about debt and deficit. We actually now have under Joe Hockey as Treasurer higher debt, higher deficits, higher unemployment, lower consumer confidence and slower growth.

TRIOLI: I assume then from your answer then that a carbon price would then be part of a Government policy should the Labor Party ever win Government?

PLIBERSEK: We'll announce more details about our policies periodically over coming months and years.

TRIOLI: You were just saying that there was a revenue raising measure and that's one you're clearly attached to?

PLIBERSEK: I'm pointing out that it is bit rich for the Liberals to come in and reduce the revenue that they're taking, to change the tax system so that they're collecting less money, they're spending more on their own priorities, they've doubled the deficit, and for them to consistently try and say that this is a Labor responsibility, they have made bad choices in Government. They have rejected the revenue that we collected in a number of different ways, they haven't replaced it. We've supported already more than $20 billion of measures that improve the budget bottom line from the last Budget but we're not going to support things that are unfair, we're not going to support things like the GP co-payment that stop people going to see a doctor.

TRIOLI: Tanya Plibersek, good to talk to you this morning, thank you.




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TRANSCRIPT - ABC The World, Monday 2 March 2015

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Subject: Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran, Vladimir Putin, Boris Nemtsov

BEVERLEY O’CONNOR, PRESENTER: I spoke to Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesperson Tanya Plibersek who says there are still a few glimmers of hope.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: There's been a few heartening moves in the last few days as well and that would include the Governor of Jakarta reportedly speaking to his friend, the President, about this case and about the death penalty more generally, also of course, the former foreign minister Dr Hassan Wirajuda speaking also reportedly on this case and the fact that the death penalty doesn't do the reputation of Indonesia any good internationally.

O’CONNOR: Do you think it’s going to be enough to cut through to a President who seems really determined to carry through with these executions?

PLIBERSEK: Look, it's certainly important to have these voices speaking up in Indonesia and of course people who are politically close to the President, people who are intimately involved in advising the new Government are very strong and credible voices to make the case, first of all the moral and ethical case against the death penalty more generally. I certainly think that while there's life there's hope. There are ongoing legal efforts from the legal teams of these two men.

O’CONNOR: Do you think it changes the dynamic with which we perhaps approach Jokowi in terms of he appeared to be a reforming president coming in that perhaps was going to do things very differently yet it would appear he's playing very much to a domestic audience, that that is his priority?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think to be fair, that most governments have their first eye on their domestic constituencies. There is a broader issue, an international issue about the death penalty and Australia always opposes the death penalty in any country for any person to whom it’s applied. We would hope that the President would consider the pleas for clemency that so many Australians and now so many Indonesians are making.

O’CONNOR: And to that point, do you think it damages our relationship going forward?

PLIBERSEK: Our relationship with Indonesia is one of the most important relationships we have. A close neighbour, of growing importance economically for Australia and certainly Indonesia's always been a very important strategic neighbour for us.

O’CONNOR: Can I take you elsewhere, Tanya Plibersek, and talk for a moment about, I guess, the difficulty that perhaps Vladimir Putin is posing to the world community. We've seen with Ukraine and of course domestically now with the shooting of Boris Nemtsov, of course he has distanced himself and condemned the killing but there is this growing feeling that there is double speak when it comes to Vladimir Putin?

PLIBERSEK: We call on the Russian Government and the President in particular to ensure that the pro-separatist rebels in Ukraine are not supported or armed or encouraged by Russia. The most recent news about Mr Nemtsov over this last day, of course, is very concerning. It's not clear who is responsible yet but it is very important that the murder is investigated swiftly and credibly, that his killers are found. I'd also add that it's very important for any country to have a strong opposition, to have critics that are heard and that can speak up safely and it is, I think the international community has seen with some disquiet that those voices of opposition in Russia have not been - well, it hasn't been a good experience for many of those people criticising the Government.

O’CONNOR: Good to talk to you, thanks so much for your time.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


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