THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS
AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
Tanya Plibersek (TP): We know the relationship with Indonesia is under strain at the moment. And it will be very important for the Government to take steps to restore normal relations. Our relationship with Indonesia is one of our most important. We’ve got strong security links with Indonesia, we’ve got cooperation to stop people smuggling, to stop terrorism. We also have very strong economic links with Indonesia.
At the moment, the relationship is under a great deal of strain, and it’s very important that the Australian Government take steps to restore normal relations. We can’t let problems like this fester. Our friendship is a long one and a strong one, and I’m confident that we can restore normal relations but it will take some work.
Question: Is there bipartisanship on this?
TP: Well absolutely. The Opposition sees our relationship with Indonesia as critically important, and we will support any steps the Government is taking to restore normal relations with Indonesia. I think the key difference is that before the election, the now Government, the then Opposition, made some injudicious comments about their policies and they came into Government with a relationship that was already under stress. The Coalition said a number of things about buying back the boats and turning back the boats and so on that the Indonesians were concerned about. The Coalition was making announcements about things that would be happening on Indonesian soil and in Indonesian waters without ever having discussed it with the Indonesians. Tony Abbott on his first trip to Indonesia locked Indonesian journalists out of a press conference. So you see the level of media coverage in Indonesia at the moment isn't helped by the fact that Tony Abbott offended the whole of the Indonesia press core on his first visit there. So we need to take a few steps back and look at the lead-up to this most recent strain in the relationship, go back to basics and restore friendly relations with a nation that is a near neighbour and a good friend.
Journalist: (inaudible) in 2009, there are allegations that happened under the former Labor Government. Shouldn’t the Opposition now be doing more to help patch up this relationship?
TP: Well as I say we are absolutely committed to working with the Government to restoring good relations with Indonesia, and absolutely we need to support any moves they make to restore the relationship to its normal footing. We never comment on matters of national security or intelligence, but I would say there is a deeper issue here, and there is a deeper issue of the diplomatic relation between our nations. We need to work on a relationship that has been stressed for some time and is now at a very strained stage, we need to make sure that the difficulties between us don’t fester and that we very quickly restore good relations between our nations.
Journalist: Should the Prime Minister pick up the phone and speak to the Indonesian President?
TP: Look I think it’s very important that the Prime Minister take the advice of the professionals in this area. The diplomats that he has in Indonesia, he’s got a Department of Foreign Affairs that can advise him, a range of people who have long-standing and good relations with Indonesia that can advise him. I’m not going start dictating what the government should do. I would simply say that it is important that we re-establish good relations with Indonesia. It’s important for Indonesia and it’s very important for Australia too.
Journalist: What should Julie Bishop be doing to restore that relationship?
TP: Well in the same way that I’m not going to dictate what the Prime Minister should do, I’m not going to dictate what the Foreign Minister should do. She has a range of very good, very professional advisers now that can tell her the best way forward. But it is important that we move forward, at the moment it seems we seem stuck in a spiral that’s worsening – we need to ensure that we get back to normal good relations as quickly as possible.
Journalist: If Bill Shorten is talking about (inaudible) and you’re out here this morning talking about missteps that have led up to this incident, are you doing your bit to push this along? Shouldn’t you be on Bill Shorten’s ticket calling this (inaudible) Australia?
TP: Well I would say that I’m doing exactly that, I’m out here saying that the Opposition is ready to stand with the government to repair the relationship. I’m giving some context explaining why the issue has progressed in the way it has. But I can’t be clearer than to say that he Opposition is absolutely committed to working with the government on any measures that they take to restore good relations with our neighbour.
Journalist: Can I just ask you about Mark Textor’s Tweet yesterday, he was criticising, and it wasn’t clear in fact who he was criticising, but he was referring to a 1970’s porn star when talking about one of the Indonesian officials.
TP: Look I did have those drawn to my attention and I frankly I was quite shocked. They’re highly inappropriate comments and I’m pleased to be told that they have now been taken off the Twitter feed, but I was frankly quite shocked at the comments. This is a person who is in the Prime Minister’s inner circle. The Indonesians know that he is a long-standing adviser to the Liberal Party and I think these sorts of loose comments can do nothing to restore the relation between our two nations.
Journalist: Just onto the debt ceiling, is it damaging for Australia’s reputation that this issue hasn’t been resolved?
TP: Well it could be resolved today - it could have been resolved last week. The Opposition has offered the Liberal Government a $400 billion debt ceiling - an extra $100 billion dollars. If they want more than an extra $100 billion, then maybe they should say why. Maybe they should release the mid-year economic forecast which is due now. This is a government that came to government saying that they are going to cut debt, and they want to increase it by $200 billion without saying why. And this goes back to the fact this is not the government that they said they’d be. They said that debt was the problem, and that more debt wasn’t the answer. They said they’d cut debt and they want to increase it.
Journalist: The carbon tax is due to be voted on today in the House of Representatives and there is a stalemate expected in the Senate. Has Labor changed its view on the issue?
TP: Well absolutely not, we have said for many years now - since I think 1988 - in our party platform that climate pollution causing climate change is an environmental economic problem that we need to take action on. In 2007, there was bipartisan agreement on that. John Howard went to the election, Labor went to the election, promising to take action on climate change. Ever since then we have said that this nation has to take action on climate change. We introduced an emission trading scheme that was working, it was cutting dirty power generation and increasing clean energy generation. Now the new government want to scrap that scheme without describing in any detail what will replace it. They claim that they can drop pollution with their new scheme but they don’t say how. They also say that if it costs more than expected then we’ll just skip our pollution target. Most Australians agree that there is something happening to our climate. They can see that our summers are getting hotter, that our weather is changing. That affects our economy, it affects our oceans, and it affects our farming communities. They agree that we need to take action. The government is saying ‘Trust us, repeal these bills and we’ll do something about climate change down the track’. It’s not good enough. Thanks everyone.