THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
SKY NEWS PM AGENDA
INTERVIEW WITH DAVID SPEERS
WEDNESDAY, 28 MAY 2014
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.
TANYA PLIBERSEK: I was.
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.