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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some pundits and scholars predict conflict is inevitable.

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

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

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

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

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

China’s economic miracle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome China’s rise?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two scenarios

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

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

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

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

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

How to avoid conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China and the US acting together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Australia’s response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion – constructive win-win approaches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Add your reaction Share

ABC Capital Hill with Julie Doyle









SUBJECT/S: foreign aid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DOYLE: But in the past how did you measure?

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

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

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

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

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


Add your reaction Share

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








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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Add your reaction Share

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












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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MIDDLETON: Tanya Plibersek thank you very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you Jim.


Add your reaction Share

Radio Interview from Beijing with Chris Uhlmann for ABC AM









SUBJECT/S: china.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Tanya Plibersek, many of China’s neighbours have expressed concern that it’s becoming more assertive. What’s the sense you’re getting from your meetings there?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: I’ve been very clear in saying to our Chinese counterparts that we see the growth of China as a very good thing, a good thing for Australia, a good thing for our region. I’ve also said very clearly to them that while Australia doesn’t take any position on the territorial disputes that have sprung up, that we are very keen to see a peaceful resolution to any dispute - that our interest in the region is for a peaceful and secure region with free trade routes and so on. And certainly, I think, the Chinese have understood that that’s the bipartisan position in Australia.

UHLMANN: Do they understand that planting an oil rig in waters claimed by Vietnam and surrounding it with warships hardly is conducive to having a good neighbourhood?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we have had discussions about some of the territorial disputes and like I say, I haven’t taken a position on the different merits of the different cases, nor has the Australian Government, nor will the Opposition. These are things for the parties to negotiate in accordance with international laws and norms and it’s very important that they keep talking so that they can resolve these disputes peacefully.

UHLMANN: But of course the Australian Government did take a strong stand over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands when it criticised the unilateral declaration of an air defence identification zone.

PLIBERSEK: Well I think what you see is in subsequent comments from the Government they have reiterated that Australia doesn’t take a position on the territorial dispute. Certainly I think the initial response from the Government wasn’t well received by the Chinese because there was a misunderstanding that Australia was taking a position at the time. I’ve been clear on this trip and I think the Department of Foreign Affairs has been very clear with their Chinese counterparts that Australia doesn’t have a view on the islands themselves but we do have a very strong view that peace and security are important in our region and that any dispute has to be solved peacefully and through dialogue.

UHLMANN: Do you think, though, that it’s important when China does overstep the mark, and there are many who believe it has done so on quite a few occasions recently, that nations do have to speak up?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah I think it’s very important that if we’ve got a view on something, if we’ve got a message that we deliver it in a way that’s open and frank but also  respectful.

UHLMANN: How do you balance the relationship that we have with China with the alliance we have with the United States?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think the key word there is balance. We have a terrifically important economic and strategic partnership with the United States. We’ve got a long shared history, shared values, shared democratic institutions, they are a very close and important friend for us. But there is no reason for us not to have a very strong and close relationship also with China. In the conversations I’ve had today a number of the senior people from the Chinese government remarked on the fact that the Australian Labor Party, under Gough Whitlam’s leadership even when he was Opposition Leader, was one of the countries very early on to provide diplomatic recognition to China and that they value the fact that we’ve had, for many decades now, an open dialogue with China. It doesn’t mean that we agree on everything, and sometimes there are times when we need to raise issues that we don’t agree on. But that the fundamentals of our relationship are close and open and that the dialogue remains even when there are things that occasionally we don’t see eye to eye on.

UHLMANN: Now you’ve described the Prime Minister as Neville No Friends on some of his trips around the world but in fact his trip through Japan, China and Korea was very successful.

PLIBERSEK: Look I’m always delighted when Australia does well overseas. I think what we’ve seen in recent times is Australia sort of out on its own when it comes to climate change, the world moving one direction and Australia moving in completely the other direction -

UHLMANN: With Canada

PLIBERSEK: And I don’t want to see Australia isolated in that way.

UHLMANN: Well it’s certainly moving with Canada and there may be other countries in the world that it’s moving with as well.

PLIBERSEK: Yeah it’s interesting to see that the two very significant nations economically for Australia, very significant economic partners the United States and China are both talking about taking stronger measures. And indeed a great number of our conversations with Chinese Government representatives talking about their emissions trading trials in a number of cities, the fact that they’ll be moving to a national emissions trading system in years to come and the other measures that they’re taking to reduce the carbon reliance of their economy.


Add your reaction Share

ABC Newsradio with Marius Benson












SUBJECT / S: Indonesia, Victorian Government crisis.

MARIUS BENSON: Tanya Plibersek, before I ask you about the Prime Minister’s trip to Indonesia, can I go to Victoria where there is a crisis in politics, a constitutional crisis in the minds of most people with a deadlock between the Government and the Opposition. How should that deadlock, how should that crisis be resolved in Victoria?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well, of course that’s a matter for Victorians but I do know that the Opposition Leader, Daniel Andrews, is seeking a meeting with the Premier today. I would expect we’ll see some outcome from that meeting but it may be an early election, but that’s a matter for Victorians.

BENSON: An early election – there is no election due until November in Victoria. Would you, Labor, federally welcome an early state election against the current background of the battle over the Budget federally?

PLIBERSEK: Look, it’s not about what we would welcome politically. It’s about what’s in the best interest of Victorians. If the Government believes it can continue to govern, then it should show that. If it can’t continue to govern, if indeed Mr Shaw does support a motion of no confidence, then I think the position of the Government becomes untenable.

BENSON: Okay, can I go from Victoria to the Indonesian island of Batam where the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is going to be meeting the Indonesian President later today and Tony Abbott has been pointing to that as an indication of the increasing warmth of bilateral relations with Jakarta. Do you accept that view?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think ‘increasing warmth’ is an overstatement of what’s happening. I hope that relations are moving closer to normal. I was delighted when the Indonesian Ambassador returned to Australia recently but cooperation is still suspended in many areas where we are usually cooperating with the Indonesian government. It’s very important that we get the relationship back on track. It is one of our most important economic and strategic relationships. And what’s very disappointing is that it’s been six months now since our Government said that it would be signing a code of conduct with the Indonesians and yet nothing is signed and there’s no intention of signing on this visit either.

BENSON: There’s no intention of signing on this trip but Tony Abbott told Parliament yesterday the signing of that code of conduct, which the Indonesians want, is only weeks away.

PLIBERSEK: Well, in response to a question I asked about why the code of conduct’s not yet signed and whether it would be signed on this trip, he did say that it was likely to be signed shortly. I certainly hope that’s the case. I think that it’s quite right that President Yudhoyono has been a very good friend to Australia and that it is much more likely that we’ll be able to restore normal relations under this President than under any new president because any new president will be more focused on their domestic responsibilities than on the relationship with Australia. So, there is some urgency to restoring normal relationships now.

BENSON: How abnormal are relationships now? What is not normal about the way the two nations are dealing with each other at the moment?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we know that cooperation is still suspended in a number of areas. Indonesia is a very important strategic partner for Australia, we need to have full cooperation in all strategic areas. We also know that it’s affecting our economic relationship with Indonesia. Australian businesses are reporting that they’re finding it harder to get commitments or answers from their Indonesian partners, from the Indonesian Government. That’s a real problem for Australian businesses that are very much looking to a growing Indonesia as an important source of Australian investment.

BENSON: More broadly, the trip, the twelve day trip ahead for the Prime Minister, he says is going to the principal message to Europe and the United States, and North America, is that Australia is back in business. And the Government points to new deals signed on the last international journey of the Prime Minister with Korea and Japan as evidence that business is improving under the Coalition internationally for Australia.

PLIBERSEK: Well of course both of those free trade agreements had their genesis under Labor and the Trade Minister, Andrew Robb, was generous enough to acknowledge that and acknowledge that Craig Emerson in particular had done an enormous amount of work in the early stages of those agreements.

BENSON: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Marius.


Add your reaction Share

The Budget that Forgot Women












Last week former Prime Minister Julia Gillard summed up the government’s budget perfectly. At the Joan Kirner Social Justice Oration, she said:

“Budgets are made up of choices. They make us – all of us, no matter what side of politics we are on – think about what we care most about – what we
want valued in our society. What we want to create and reward, preserve and defend.”

By that measure, Tony Abbott’s first Budget is terrible for Australian women. And you don’t have to look hard to see why.

Mr Abbott had all the credentials to be the Prime Minister for women, said the Liberals before the last election. He’s got a wife and three daughters, they said – what else is there to know? He wants to pay millionaire women of ‘calibre’ $50,000 to have a baby. What more proof did we need of genuine commitment to women?

Let’s take a quick look at some examples of what’s happened since:


The facts

Many Australian families are already struggling to make ends meet.

Tony Abbott’s promise

“A dumb way [to cut spending] would be to threaten family benefits or to means test them further.” Speech, 4 May 2011

Tony Abbott’s Budget

For example:

  • A family with two kids aged 5 and 12, on a combined income of $95,000 will be nearly $5,000 a year worse off with cuts to family tax benefits, the GP tax, the petrol tax, cuts to the Schoolkids bonus, and the increased cost of medicines.
  • An unemployed 26 year old will be nearly $7,000 a year worse off with no Newstart payments for six months, increased health costs, and cuts to the income support bonus.


The facts

Women account for around 60 per cent of GP visits. Under the former Labor Government, GP bulk-billing rates rose to record highs, with around 82 per cent of visits to the GP free to the patient.

Tony Abbott’s promise
“…no cuts to health…” SBS News , 6 September 2013

Tony Abbott’s Budget

  • A $7 GP tax every time you visit your family doctor. $55 billion cut from health, which means hospital beds will close and waiting times will blow out.
  • Price of medicine goes up to $42.90 per script.


The facts

Many Australian families are finding it hard to meet the costs of education for their children.

Tony Abbott’s promise

“…no cuts to education…” Channel 7 News , 6 September 2013

Tony Abbott’s Budget

  • $30 billion cut from schools.
  • Cuts all federal funding for preschool – $500 million.
  • Schoolkids bonus cut, costing a family with two kids $15,000 through the course of their children’s schooling


The facts

Most aged pensioners are women, because men usually have more superannuation savings.

Tony Abbott’s promise

“…no changes to pensions…” ABC News, 6 September 2013

Tony Abbott’s Budget

  • Cut fair indexation of the pension which made sure the pension kept pace with the cost of living. Had Tony Abbott’s new indexation system been in place for the last four years, a single pensioner on the maximum rate would be $1,560 a year worse off than they are today.
  • Increased the pension age to 70.
  • All pensioners and state seniors card holders are set to lose valuable concessions for public transport and utilities.
  • Veterans have also had their entitlements cut.


The facts

In Australia, women still earn 17.1 per cent less than men. Women make up 2.1 million of the 3.6 million workers who benefit from the Low Income Superannuation Contribution from the government. Women typically have lower superannuation assets because of lower workforce participation and the wage gap, so are less able to afford to fund their own retirement.

Tony Abbott’s promise

“…the commitment that the Coalition has given is that there will be no unexpected adverse changes to people’s superannuation.” Press conference, 2 April 2013

Tony Abbott’s Budget

  • Cut the Low Income Superannuation Contribution up to $500 a year for workers on incomes below $37,000.
  • Delayed Labor’s plan to increase compulsory superannuation contributions from 9 per cent to 12 per cent, which would have seen a 30 year old on average wages with an extra $100,000 in super when they retire.


The facts

Women and girls make up about 60 per cent of all people accessing homelessness services – about a quarter of those are fleeing domestic and family violence.

Tony Abbott’s promise

“The Coalition believes it is fundamental that women and their families are safe from violence.” Coalition election policy, 2013

Tony Abbott’s Budget

  • $44 million cut from homelessness services in the first year alone.


The facts

Last year alone Australia’s aid budget: meant 305,000 additional births were attended by a skilled birth attendant; 2.76 million children were vaccinated; and 24,800 women survivors of violence received counselling, crisis accommodation, legal and medical support.

Tony Abbott’s promise

“The Coalition remains committed to the Millennium Development goal of increasing foreign aid to 0.5 per cent of GNI.” Coalition election policy, 2013

Tony Abbott’s Budget

  • Cut $7.6 billion from the aid budget.
  • Abandoned the Millennium Development Goal target of 0.5% of Australia’s Gross National Income to be spent on aid.

This federal Budget makes it harder for women to balance the family budget, and it cuts all the services we rely on – health and education especially.

As Julia Gillard put it, government Budgets are about choices and values. Tony Abbott has delivered a Budget that takes away choice and security for women.

Mr Abbott’s choices in this Budget so clearly reveal his values.

Tony Abbott has chosen to pay millionaires $50,000 to have a baby, while at the same time cutting family tax benefits for ordinary families, cutting $500 million from preschools, cutting $450 million from Outside School Hours Care, and scrapping the Schoolkids bonus. This comes on top of cuts to the wages of childcare workers. That really says it all.

Add your reaction Share

Doorstop Interview












SUBJECT/S: DFAT, Aid, Education, PNG.


TANYA PLIBERSEK: This morning we’ve heard that there’s a leaked report from DFAT that shows that it is a deeply dysfunctional and unhappy organisation. That’s a real problem for Australia because it means that our diplomats are unable to help with the issues that Australia faces, this is like the continuing fracture in the relationship with Indonesia.

It’s also a great problem for the world’s poorest. Our experienced AusAid staff are not able to do the work that they are trained to do. We lost so many AusAid staff and there’s now been an additional $400 million cut to the Department of Foreign Affairs in the most recent Budget, further compromising their ability to deliver for Australia and for the world’s poorest. It’s very important to understand the effect of the $7.6 billion cut on the world’s poorest. The cut to the aid budget at the end of last year was going to be $4.5 million. In this Budget, we see that the cut is much greater, it’s $7.6 billion. And this is at a time when there are about 980,000 children around the world trafficked into forced labour. It’s at a time when 57 million children still don’t have access to schooling. It’s at a time, at last count, when around 7 million children under the age of 5 died mostly from preventable causes.

So the need globally for Australian assistance is as high as it’s ever been, and Australian aid is effective. We know it’s effective in saving people from malaria, in helping kids get an education, in training midwives, in fact the $7.6 billion that’s been cut from the aid budget would train the equivalent of 3 million midwives. It would help 25 million people to read and write. That’s the scale of the robbery of the world’s poorest that this Government has engaged in. On top of that, on top of the massive cut to assistance, on top of the abandonment of the target that was set by John Howard of reaching 0.5 per cent of gross national income for our aid budget, on top of that, we’ve now got rid of our staff that have delivered our highly successful aid programs.

Now, I also wanted to say a couple of words about higher education today. Christopher Pyne overnight has admitted that he is saddling young Australians with a lifetime of debt. He’s admitted that there’s every chance that you’ll be paying for your university education for the whole of your life. University degrees of $100,000, $200,000 introduced by a government of people who got their university education for free. People like Joe Hockey who back in the day were protesting in favour of a free university education. Now, you don’t have to go back 25 years to know what a hypocrite Joe Hockey is, but his hypocrisy should not contribute to young Australians carrying a debt to the grave, and then Christopher Pyne going after them once they’re in it.

JOURNALIST: Joe Hockey says it shouldn’t be any different to a mortgage given it’s [inaudible]?

PLIBERSEK: Well, the problem with Joe Hockey’s argument is that young people would be choosing between the two. We’re going to have a generation of young Australians who can’t afford to have a university degree and mortgage. They’re going to be choosing between a home of their own and a professional education. What kind of country do we want to become when we say to young people, you’ve got a choice, you can have a university education but chances are, if you’re in a profession like nursing, for example, you’ll never have the opportunity of paying back that degree, you’ll be paying it back for the rest of your life, and you can give up that great Australian dream of home ownership.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

PLIBERSEK: Well, that’s absolutely not true. We doubled the aid budget in Labor’s time in government. It went from $2.7 billion to close to $6 billion. It rose every single year, and we were in line to achieve the 0.5% of gross national income target. Labor’s aid program is highly successful, it was judged by the OECD and the independent evaluation deemed it to be highly successful particularly in delivering on gender equity programs that allowed things for example like the safety upgrades of the marketplaces in PNG that meant that the women subsistence farmers could bring their goods to the markets without being raped in the bushes when they went to the toilet. I mean, these are the things that delivered changed lives for people around the world. It reduced –

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] Promised increases.

PLIBERSEK: We’re getting to the promised increases slightly later than we said. We had this little thing called the Global Financial Crisis. You might remember it from such things as global unemployment of 30 million people. It is an absurd comparison to say that getting to the 0.5% target a couple of years later, having doubled the aid budget during our time in government, is the same thing as cutting $7.6 billion from the aid budget.

JOURNALIST: PNG police are contradicting –

PLIBERSEK: I can only hear one question at a time. Go ahead.

JOURNALIST: PNG police are contradicting the Cornell report and suggesting there’s a cover up. Is there more to this?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think that’s a question for the Government. It’s an extraordinary thing that we have waited so long and that the Australian Government has provided so little information to the people of Australia about what’s going on in PNG. We want to see, as everybody does, people not risking their lives, making the dangerous journey to Australia by sea. That is not an excuse for cruelty and cover ups on Manus Island.

JOURNALIST: Do we need to hear more from the PNG side of things?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think we need to hear first of all from the Australian Government, their explanation for these most recent claims.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it was reasonable for Malcolm Turnbull and Martin Parkinson to meet with Clive Palmer last night?

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s extraordinary and what’s even more curious is that apparently Joe Hockey didn’t know that his own departmental secretary was meeting with Malcolm Turnbull and Clive Palmer. I mean, it’s not unusual that they would get Malcolm Turnbull out to try and sell the Budget both to the public and to the crossbenchers. Malcolm Turnbull has been surprisingly unwilling to associate himself with I think, one of the Liberal backbenchers called is a stinking carcass of a Budget. Malcolm Turnbull’s kept his distance pretty well, up til now. But for him to be having meetings with Clive Palmer and Martin Parkinson and Joe Hockey apparently not to be aware of it, I can’t begin to fathom what’s going on there.

JOURNALIST: So the previous Labor Government, when Martin Parkinson was still the Treasury Chief then, never did that to the crossbenchers or the Greens or Tony Windsor?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I can’t answer that but what I can say is I expect that Wayne Swan would’ve known about it. Thanks, everyone.


Add your reaction Share

Sky News Pm Agenda Interview with David Speers










SUBJECT/S: Cuts to aid, budget, family payments, Newstart, higher education, asylum seekers, Indonesia


DAVID SPEERS: Tanya Plibersek thanks for your time, you were kicked out at the end of question time today.


SPEERS: As the Foreign Minister was defending her cuts to the aid budget, the foreign aid budget. To be clear you have said you will reverse these or consider reversing these? Where do you stand?

PLIBERSEK: We have said that we will retain the target of 0.5% of gross national income spent on aid. Now this is a target –

SPEERS: They say it is a goal they still share.

PLIBERSEK: No they don’t, because Tony Abbott said, he said that in Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook. The numbers were there showing 0.5% projection, since then he’s said that they have abandoned that target, they have no hurry to reach, not no hurry, they have said that they won’t reach that target. They’ve admitted they won’t reach that target.

SPEERS: He has said it’s still an ambition of theirs to get to.

PLIBERSEK: He has said that in the past, he is now not sticking with that. This is not an ambition of the Coalition any longer, they have abandoned that. They are going backwards.

SPEERS: Doesn’t it come down to when you would achieve it?

PLIBERSEK: Well I can’t tell you when we’ll achieve it because I don’t know when we’re going to be back in government, but it’s our ambition, it’s not theirs. And we’ve got to remember who set this 0.5% of gross national income target. It was John Howard, because even John Howard recognised that some problems are too big for one country to solve on its own and global poverty is one of those problems. The millennium development goals were an expression of all of the advanced economies saying that poverty, extreme poverty, is not good for any of us. It’s obviously not good for the poorest people in the poorest nations but it’s not good for the rest of the world either.

SPEERS: You’ve got to surely differentiate yourself here, have some sort of timeline. If you get back into government at the next election you would be able to hit this target by a certain date.

PLIBERSEK: Well when we’re in government, we’ll know when we’re going to hit the target but we’re not clear when we’ll return to government. It is a firm commitment from us. It has been abandoned by the Coalition and what happened today was our foreign minister, who has seen the benefit of our aid program, was boasting about $7.6 billion worth of cuts. This program has literally saved lives. In the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu we had dropped the malaria rate by fifty and eighty per cent. Literally, we are saving lives. In Afghanistan, six million extra kids going to school, two million extra girls going to school because of our aid dollars. We’ve built 2000 schools in Indonesia, our aid budget is making a huge difference to the lives of the world’s poorest people. How could you boast about that? Imagine this, if you had two fifty dollar notes and someone told you that 50 cents would save a life. Would you give that fifty cents? You would do it without hesitation. Our foreign minister says no and she’s boasting about the fact that she will never give away that fifty cents.

SPEERS: Let’s turn to some of the other budget areas. Labor did allow the debt, the deficit levy to pass through the lower house today. Can we take it that Labor has now made its decision on all of the budget items?

PLIBERSEK: Well not all of them and there’s an extraordinary number of items in the budget. Obviously as legislation comes up we have to decide on those things case by case, but we have clearly said that we’ll oppose the pension changes, that we’ll oppose the freeze on indexation of family payments. We’ve said we’ll oppose the higher education the deregulation of fees, the extraordinary costs that are going to be imposed on uni students. Pensions, the fact that they’re cutting the growth rate of the pension. All of these are clearly broken promises along with no cuts to healthcare, no cuts to education.

SPEERS: On the family payments, you said there that you will oppose the two year freeze on the family payments.

PLIBERSEK: On indexation.

SPEERS: On indexation. Will you also oppose or will you support cutting off family payments to those over $100 000.

PLIBERSEK:  Well in the past Labor has always been open to thresholds, to means testing of different payments. So we will look at that on its merits.

SPEERS: Well do you think those on $100 000 deserve family payments?

PLIBERSEK: Well I can tell you that life’s not that easy if you’re living in Sydney or Melbourne on $100 000 or $120 000. We need to look at that on a case by case basis.

SPEERS: Can we, in this budget situation, still afford that?

PLIBERSEK: Well this is the great, the great furphy, this budget situation. Tony Abbott is about to spend $20 billion on a rolled-gold, over the top, paid-parental leave scheme. He’s cutting pensions, he’s cutting family payments, he’s hiking up the cost of petrol, he’s hiking up the cost of a university education and even a TAFE education to do it. How can you say that we’ve got a budget situation on the one hand and then spend $20 billion on paid parental leave on the other? It’s not credible.

SPEERS: What about work for the dole? Where does Labor now stand on work for the dole?

PLIBERSEK: Well we’ve always supported mutual obligation in benefits. We believe that if someone can work they should work and we believe that they should show that they’re looking for work. What we don’t support is a punitive regime that takes away all the supports that are available to a young person looking for a job. So they’ve cut youth connections, they’ve cut apprenticeships, they’ve cut trades training centres in schools and they’re making a TAFE education more expensive. They’re loading TAFE students with debt, all the things that help you get a job, including local area coordinators that help people in specific geographical locations.

SPEERS: Yeah but they’re also extending commonwealth support to a lot more areas of study then just actual degrees.

PLIBERSEK: Yeah and to private colleges, I don’t know that that is a great equity –

SPEERS: You can’t leave that out of this discussion. You’re looking at young unemployed, that is an avenue isn’t it for them, to learn, a pathway to employment?

PLIBERSEK: I think that anything that helps a young person get an education is a good thing. But the way that they’re able to extend payments to areas that haven’t traditionally received a Commonwealth subsidy like private colleges for example is by massively hiking up university fees across the board and by cutting the support for every university place by 20 percent. So there’s billions of dollars coming out of higher education, the fact that it’s spread around a little differently doesn’t mean it hasn’t been cut.

SPEERS: To be clear on work for the dole though, so you don’t support it in this form?

PLIBERSEK: Well we don’t support this, what we’ve heard from the newspapers is a shocking suggestion. Young people would be left with no income for six months at a time and work for the dole for the other six months at a time. The idea that you would leave someone with no income for six months at a time is a guarantee to poverty.

SPEERS: What if you extended that work for the dole for the full twelve months?

PLIBERSEK: Well we know – well if you did that it wouldn’t be a saving it would be a massive cost to the budget. Work for the dole is expensive and it doesn’t generally work, it doesn’t work to get people into work.

SPEERS: But it would mean money in the pockets of those young unemployed you’re talking about there.

PLIBERSEK: Well I don’t think the Government’s going to massively increase their spending on young unemployed people. I think that you have to look at mutual obligation, have to make sure that kids and anyone of any age who can work is working and they’re taking steps to look for work. But there are some pretty tight requirements for looking for work now. Let’s make sure that people are doing their best to get into work. You can’t cut youth connections, you can’t cut apprenticeship support, you can’t cut trades training centres, you can’t cut all of the supports there are for people to get into work and then blame the unemployed people who are sometimes living in areas that have 10%, 15%, 20% youth unemployment.

SPEERS: Can I ask you about Labor’s position now on offshore processing of asylum seekers. There is some concern on the backbench about this. Where do you stand? Are you still comfortable with offshore processing given what we now know about what went on in Manus Island?

PLIBERSEK: Well I’m not at all comfortable with what went on on Manus Island. I think it’s a disgraceful thing and it’s been shocking to hear the reports of the violence on Manus Island. And I am disturbed, as any Australian would be, to hear those reports. To hear about the assaults, the violent assaults that took place. I’m also deeply concerned about how secretive the government has been in responding to this and how slow, frankly, the minister was when warned that security needed to be upgraded on Manus Island. How slow he was in providing those upgrades.

SPEERS: Sure, but Labor set this place up. It re-established this centre and it put in place this policy of telling asylum seekers you don’t know how long your processing will take, you’ll be resettled in PNG not in Australia. This is the stuff that’s really angered those asylum seekers and upset them.

PLIBERSEK: I think if we had had one of our Labor immigration ministers in charge and they’d been told that security needed to be upgraded for the protection of detainees on Manus Island it would have been a very different situation, they would have moved very quickly to ensure their safety.

SPEERS: Ok but in principle you are still in favour of offshore processing?

PLIBERSEK: This is not an easy area of policy. I think it’s clear that we need a regional approach to asylum seekers. We need to ensure that people don’t have an incentive to risk their lives by coming by boat. But it’s not an opportunity or it shouldn’t be an invitation to be cruel to people who are leaving countries which are –

SPEERS: But what does that mean in practice? In the absence of this regional solution do you still support processing people on Manus Island?

PLIBERSEK: Well it’s been a very difficult decision for Labor, but it’s the decision that we took to reduce the incentives for people to risk their lives coming to Australia. You would have seen Richard Marles’ speech yesterday and he talked about an approach which is generous, that is fair, and that is compassionate. It’s true that it’s not compassionate to encourage people to risk their lives to come to Australia by boat. We need to be generous. We should increase our intake of refugees, and it should be fair too. People who are found to be genuine refugees shouldn’t be punished by the government in the way they continue to be.

SPEERS: Let me ask you briefly and finally, the Indonesian ambassador has returned to Australia six months after leaving because of the spying allegations. Do you welcome the fact that he’s back, it’s an improvement in relations?

PLIBERSEK: Of course I’m delighted that the Indonesian ambassador has returned. I think the fact that we’re talking about this still six months after the initial breach with Indonesia shows how poorly the Government has handled the decline in our relationship. It’s very clear that there are still areas of cooperation that have been suspended. It’s close to six months since the government said there would be a code of conduct signed with Indonesia. No sign of that. It’s interesting that Julie Bishop’s got time to boast about cutting $7.6 billion worth of aid funding to the world’s poorest but hasn’t got time to fix our relationship with Indonesia.



Add your reaction Share

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development












SUBJECT / S: Child Abuse Royal Commission; Budget; Indonesia; Thailand


LYNDAL CURTIS: Tanya Plibersek, welcome to Capital Hill. If I can ask you first about a couple of issues of the day. The Government says that it has - it is not taking decisions to limit resources to the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse. He has redirected some funding. We don't yet know the full details of what it's done, do we?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: We know that money's been taken from the area that offers legal support to victims making a statement. Now, you've got to really imagine this.  Think about this - these are people who sometimes for the first time in their lives are talking about the things that happened to them in their childhood. In some cases these are incidents that have affected their whole lives and some people would say ruined their lives. The reason that there is support there for those people to make a statement is because it's an incredibly difficult thing to do.

CURTIS: But if that money was not spent, in budgeting terms, you can reallocate it without it necessarily having an effect on that area.

PLIBERSEK: And if this- well, the first thing to say is it should have been made easier for people to access that funding if it’s been a problem. We also need to look into the future. Is there money taken from next year and the year after? It looks as though there is. So, that's not an underspend. That's a deliberate removal of funding from the child abuse Royal Commission - that’s a Royal Commission that victims of institutional child abuse have fought for decades to have established because this is a great tragedy, it is a great sore on Australia's soul that this issue has never properly aired. It's being properly aired but the resources must be there for victims to make their statements.

CURTIS: On the question of the general Budget, the Opposition has supported the deficit levy which has passed the House of Representatives. Are you being careful to pick your fights with this Budget?

PLIBERSEK: We were initially told that the income tax increase was going to hit people on $80,000 a year and we were very worried about that. But at $180,000 a year, it's not such a concern to us. It is important for us to focus on the key issues here, the key issues of fairness and broken promises. Now, on $180,000 a year, we're not so worried about that. It is clearly a broken promise. The Government said no new taxes, no tax increases. It is a tax increase. But our main concerns are things like the cuts to family benefits that will very much hurt middle income families and particularly families with a single bread winner or a sole parent. We're very concerned obviously about the attacks on Medicare. This is a fundamental change to operation of Medicare in this country and issues like higher education, what's being done to our young people, the future being snatched from them.

CURTIS: On your old portfolio, the Indonesian ambassador has come back to Canberra. Does that signal a thawing, a repair in relations between Australia and Indonesia?

PLIBERSEK: Look, it’s a very good step. It is step in the right direction but the fact that we're still talking about this 6 months after the Ambassador was first recalled just shows how much trouble the relationship's in. It is a good thing, I welcome it, but it's a very poor state of affairs when we still don't have a code of conduct signed, we've still got cooperation suspended in dozens of areas. Australian businesses are concerned about the suspended cooperation. We've got senior retired diplomats who are expressing concern about the relationship, we’ve got-

CURTIS: Although this was as a result of the spying allegations which was an activity taken while the Labor Party was in charge.

PLIBERSEK: No it is a result of the way this Government has handled the relationship with Indonesia. They've made statements about what will happen on Indonesian soil and in Indonesian waters without ever talking to the Indonesians. And when these allegations were made about spying, Tony Abbott could have picked up the phone, he could have spoken to the Indonesian President who has long been a good friend to Australia. More recently, Tony Abbott's once again refused an invitation to go to Indonesia, he's dumped the invitation at the last minute again without speaking to the Indonesian President so that the Indonesian Foreign Minister is out at sea trying to explain why our Prime Minister's made that decision. I mean, it is a very amateur hour approach to one of our most important neighbours.

CURTIS: And finally on Thailand, there is no timeframe yet from the military who mounted the coup for a move back to democracy. Is it a concern? Would you like to a timeframe at the very least?

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely. It is very important that we see a timeframe for a return to democracy. It is very important that the main political parties understand that they need to participate actively in democracy. If they don't like the election results, well maybe they need to campaign better. And for the government parties to understand that once you win an election it's important to continue to respect and strengthen democratic institutions within the country.

CURTIS: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much for your time.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Lyndal.



Add your reaction Share