THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS
AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
ABC 702 POLITICAL FORUM WITH RICHARD GLOVER
MONDAY, 25 MAY 2015
SUBJECT/S: National security; Dual citizenship; Marriage equality; Child Abuse Royal Commission; Sydney Writer’s Festival
RICHARD GLOVER, PRESENTER: Good afternoon, Tanya.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: How are you going there?
GLOVER: Yeah, good. And Jillian Skinner is the NSW Health Minister and Member for North Shore and she’s here with me in Sydney. Good afternoon.
JILLIAN SKINNER: Hello, Richard.
GLOVER: Now, Australians who hold dual nationalities and are suspected of terrorism, of killing, raping, pillaging people in Syria, to quote the Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, should lose their citizenship with the Government expected to unveil legislation this week to put his sentiments into effect. He says it’s a privilege to be an Australian and the privilege should be able to be revoked. Has he got a point, Tanya Plibersek?
PLIBERSEK: Well we have requested a briefing from the Government on the proposal, we haven’t seen any details yet. I think as a general proposition it’s true to say that citizenship comes with rights but it also comes with very important responsibilities and when you become an Australian citizen you give a pledge which I think is actually a really good description of our responsibilities, all of us as citizens. “I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its peoples, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties are respected and whose laws I will uphold and obey”. I think it is important that people think about the responsibilities of citizenship and if you’re talking about now these worst categories of people that are going overseas to fight with organisations that are phenomenally brutal, destructive organisations, I think there’s certainly no question that they should face the full extent of the Australian law.
GLOVER: If possible, I know politicians enjoy saying ‘look we should bring down things hard on these people’, in practice though, it’s often difficult to collect the evidence, isn’t it? Because the evidence has occurred in this jurisdiction which is by its very nature chaotic.
PLIBERSEK: It’s very difficult to get evidence and I think if you talk to our security and policing agencies here, they do an excellent job, working really hard to keep Australians safe but they’d be the first to admit to you that if you’re talking about people who are overseas, unbelievably, some of these people actually post these photos of themselves doing things that would break Australian law. But even if they’re posting messages and putting things online, unless you’ve actually got the photo, they can still come back and claim then that it wasn’t them that made the post.
GLOVER: We’re really talking about a category of people, aren’t we, where they have got dual citizenship. It’s accepted by I think both sides of politics that if somebody has only got one passport, if they’re only Australian, it is really difficult under international law to make them stateless.
PLIBERSEK: I think under international law it is very difficult. Australians are signatory to conventions that make it difficult at the very least, probably impossible to make someone stateless. You’re talking about people who are it seems, according to what we’ve gleaned from the media, Peter Dutton’s talking about people who are dual citizens.
GLOVER: That’s the category. Jillian Skinner, if we’re talking about dual citizenship do you agree that we should be doing everything we can to strip them of their Australian citizenship if they’re proved to be, if we can prove they’ve been doing that stuff?
SKINNER: Look, I’m of a similar view to Tanya. I attend citizenship ceremonies every other month. I can say the pledge like anyone else who attends, or on a regular basis, and I take it very seriously. You know, if you’re pledging loyalty to Australia and its people, respecting all its traditions and upholding the law, pledging to uphold-
GLOVER: They’re rather lovely words. I don’t think I’ve really listened to them in that sense.
SKINNER: It’s a very simple pledge but very meaningful. And look, maybe we need to spend more time educating people about what it really means. I watch people sometimes make this pledge and I wonder, you know, now when you get married, priest ministers often require you to sit down and talk about what it means to be married, the sanctity of marriage etc. etc. Maybe we need to spend more effort talking to these people about what they are saying when they take this pledge.
GLOVER: To actually explain to them what democracy is. Tanya?
PLIBERSEK: But do you know what- I was just going to say, Richard, one of the great things that Jillian’s saying , she attends citizenship ceremonies and I do too obviously as a Member of Parliament, it is a great opportunity for people who are born Australian citizens to think about our responsibilities as citizens as well. We get a lot of focus on our rights as citizens, but I think we’re not just talking about people who are newly taking the oath who need to understand what it means to be an Australian citizen, but I think all of us can take some time reflecting on what our responsibilities are.
GLOVER: Yeah, and really those words about being loyal and understanding democracy. Ireland, that strongly Catholic country, has voted strongly to allow gay marriage adding to a growing list. What is it about Australia that means that countries from New Zealand to Brazil have made this change before us? I guess I’m asking how come? Tanya Plibersek, I know you’re on one side of this debate, you’ve observed it, what is it about Australia that makes us slower than others?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think the Parliament’s out of step with the Australian people. I think the Australian people are ahead of their political representatives on this. One recent survey had 72% of Australians favouring recognition of same sex marriage. So I think this will definitely happen in Australia, it’ll happen when our Parliament catches up with the Australian people. I think it’s absolutely important to understand from the perspective of people who see marriage as a sacrament, who see it as an important religious milestone, that we wouldn’t expect churches to marry people in the church-
GLOVER: So, sorry, just to be clear on that, a church would have the right to say ‘we define, as far as our premises are concerned, we define marriage this way’-
GLOVER: In a traditional way.
PLIBERSEK: But marriage is more than a religious sacrament, it’s also a legal obligation between two people. It’s accepted more broadly in society, even by people who don’t have a religious background, or religious views, as an important statement of commitment to one another. So I think we have to be able to accept and understand that the churches aren’t necessarily going to move in this direction but as a state, as a country, as a government offering legal status to our citizens, I don’t think we should be able to discriminate in this way.
GLOVER: Your idea of removing the conscience vote for Labor members to say ‘look, it’s party line, you’ve got to vote’, that seemed to go down like a lead balloon with everybody.
PLIBERSEK: Well, look, I think this is an issue of- not of religious freedom, but of legal discrimination. We’ve removed 85 other pieces of legal discrimination against gay men, lesbians, same sex couples and so on. And if you accept that marriage is a legal institution between two people and two people should be able to legally marry in Australia without that discrimination, that’s my view. I am very respectful of my colleagues who have a different view. I think it’s been a very healthy debate in the Labor Party and what we’ve seen in fact- is the fact that we’re having this debate has meant that a number of people who have previously voted against marriage equality have said that they will vote for it if it comes up again in our Parliament. What we really need now is for Tony Abbott to allow his Members of Parliament to have a conscience vote on the issue so that we can see some progress to this legal discrimination-
GLOVER: But it was hard for you to argue that Tony Abbott should allow a conscience vote when you are simultaneously saying to your own party ‘we shouldn’t have one’.
PLIBERSEK: Well I think at the very least there should be a conscience vote and I think we can do better than that.
GLOVER: Alright. And Jillian Skinner, what is it about Australia? Because I think if you thought in an entirely abstract way, you were trying to predict which would be one of the first countries to allow gay marriage, you would’ve though ‘well, those Australians are pretty relaxed and they don’t like interfering with each other’s business, they’re kind of a live let and let live kind of culture, so they’re probably likely to do it earlier’ and yet we’re doing it later. How come?
SKINNER: I’m puzzled as are you, Richard. I think it’s quite surprising. But I think, as Tanya has indicated, we’ve moved. And if you’d asked the question of people just a few years ago, there would’ve been a much greater resistance whereas now the population tends to have shifted. I think the politicians sometimes are a bit slower to shift. I think if we had a conscience vote, there would’ve been a different outcome.
GLOVER: Is the plebiscite a good idea in the sense that, you know, we’ve had ones before about things like conscription for instance, which is a moral issue. And although the plebiscite is not binding on Parliament in the way a referendum is, it produces an automatic result for the constitution, it would nonetheless give the politicians a pretty good excuse for doing what the people want.
SKINNER: Well, you know, maybe you do need that. I think that most politicians have got- take more notice of their constituency, certainly in the lower house where you’ve got to be elected by them, to not need a plebiscite-
GLOVER: And yet it’s not working, is it? They’re not taking- if Tanya’s right and 72% support-
SKINNER: Well that’s why I think you need a conscience vote frankly. This is really- see I take the word gay out of it and make it an equality issue. It used to be, you know, people wanted to get married because they wanted kids. That was the old attitude. Well we accept that people get married, heterosexual people get married and don’t want to have children. So the-
GLOVER: And we also accept marriage that marriage often happens who are past child bearing age or where there’s a medical problem and they can’t. We don’t say, well marriage for them can’t exist.
SKINNER: Yeah, we’ve moved. So if you view it like I do, as a matter of equality then it’s just a no brainer.
PLIBERSEK: And I think, Richard, the reason that Ireland did it as a referendum rather than just have the Parliament change it is because marriage is defined in their constitution, and of course it’s not defined in our constitution, it’s actually just an act of Parliament that can be changed by our Parliament, it doesn’t require constitutional change.
GLOVER: Your gut feeling is that it’s going to happen in the next 2 or 3 years?
PLIBERSEK: I’m not sure of the timeframe, but it’ll definitely happen in the near future. I can’t see something with this sort of momentum not happening.
GLOVER: Tanya Plibersek, with us here, as is Jillian Skinner. There have been calls for Cardinal George Pell to return from Rome to face accusations that have been made in the current Royal Commission, in particular an accusation he offered an inducement for a victim to drop his claims. Should Cardinal Pell return or are his previous denials of wrongdoing sufficient? Jillian.
SKINNER: Well this is another vexed one. I know that Cardinal Pell did appear before the Royal Commission previously. He has put out a statement, these are allegations are unproven. I would’ve thought he might want to come back and clarify the matter but to compel him to do, I’m not so sure.
GLOVER: But if you were him, you would come back?
SKINNER: I would if I were he because it would give an opportunity to clarify even further. His statements are very strong, Richard. So I think I personally would if I were he.
GLOVER: It was interesting to see the Sunday papers, there was such passion on both sides. I think Miranda Devine defending George Pell, people like Peter FitzSimons saying it’s a bad look essentially.
SKINNER: Well you know, the bad look- would he choose to do so himself rather than some sort of, we’ll subpoena him to come and appear before the Royal Commission. I think that he has given evidence but it wouldn’t hurt for him to come back and clarify. And to be there to address these concerns.
GLOVER: Now of course the wider picture is just that has emerged from the Royal Commission is not limited to the Catholic church at all. What’s been so shocking and surprising about it is institution after institution after institution, even in the last fortnight we’ve heard all that evidence about hospitals, medical clinics, and the degree in which victims would ring up exactly who they were supposed to ring up, I suppose I particularly mention this to you because of your expertise in health, but you know they’re ringing up the medical boards, precisely the bodies they’re supposed to ring up and they’re basically being threatened in return.
SKINNER: Yes, indeed and I think the positives that have come out of inquiries like this is the realisation of how inadequate the response was then and how it’s essential that we have much better systems and I’m very pleased to say we have in NSW now the allegations dated back to the 60s and 70s. I mean particularly a doctor in question remained in the system for a very long time, that would not happen.
GLOVER: That was a guy at the Royal North Shore, wasn’t it?
SKINNER: Yeah, that’s correct.
GLOVER: And basically boys were going in, quite innocent and he would say essentially, without being too vulgar, he’d say he had to touch them in a certain way in order to complete their medical examination and he appeared to do this for years.
SKINNER: Yes and it started in the 60s and 70s when I think first complaints were made. And he was working at the North Shore later on, and other places as well and you know, that just would not happen now. I’ve just had a meeting to do with some of the professional registration matters where another profession, not doctors, where because of the safeguards and the checks and balances now, and the healthcare complaints commission being much tougher, that is very unlikely to happen now.
GLOVER: What was it about the time though, you know, 60s, 70s, 80s that in all these institutions, the first response seemed to be to protect the institution. Whether it was a hospital, church or a scouting body, it would- there seemed to be something in human nature where they would put the institution ahead of the victim.
SKINNER: And I think it was not even the institution, it was the profession. So a doctor defended a doctor regardless of what they might have thought was the case. We’ve now got mandatory reporting with very stiff penalties if you believe one of your doctor colleagues is incompetent or has got problems. So things have changed dramatically.
GLOVER: Tanya, I think we speak for everyone when we say we knew paedophiles existed, we knew evil existed. What’s really surprised everybody is not the behaviour of the paedophiles but the behaviour of normal people, if I can say, to put it that way, who nonetheless defended them and protected them.
PLIBERSEK: Look I think this Royal Commission will be one of Julia Gillard’s most important legacies because the one thing that no one can deny is that all of those children who turned to an adult for help and had an adult punish them for raising the issue, that can never happen again. So many children went to another responsible adult, to the head of an organisation, to a person in the organisation and they were punished for disclosing and I don’t think that could happen today. I think one of the things, Richard, you say ‘how could we let it happen to the scale it did’, you know with organisations protecting the organisational reputation of the individuals within it. I think we were really, as a community, pretty naïve about the sexual abuse of children. I think if it hasn’t happened in your life or to someone you know, it is hard to conceive of such evil-
GLOVER: So that person on the other end of the phone at the medical board would just say ‘oh, that sounds unlikely’. There would be some part of them that would just disbelieve in it, I suppose.
PLIBERSEK: I think, for sure, a lot of kids were disbelieved and it’s only in this process of disclosure, the scale of the problem and the true horror that some children experienced, but coming out publicly that we understand really it was more common than we ever imagined, it is more damaging to children throughout their lives than we knew and institutions cannot any longer minimise.
GLOVER: Jillian, you’re nodding to that.
SKINNER: Yes, Richard, I was a founding member of NAPCAN, the National Association for the Prevention of Abuse and Neglect of Children. That was only in the 80s, can you believe it? And it was started by a teacher who had, well she was a principal of a primary school, who had recognised the behavioural patterns of children who were being sexually abused. And it was considered quite revolutionary to set up this organisation, that’s not that long ago.
GLOVER: I know Royal Commissions are not always a good idea and they’re vastly expensive and all that, but there have been moments when I’ve been sitting in the car listening to the PM program or something like that and listening to an executive of an organisation being quizzed and the inquiry people saying 'why didn’t you do that?’ and ‘then the file got lost’ and the act of listening to it must be so- it must concentrate the minds so much of people who are executives now of various organisations.
SKINNER: Well the Secretary of the NSW Health appeared as did the Chief Executive of Northern Sydney Local Health District and I think they got very complimentary comments from the Royal Commission about the thoroughness of what we’re now doing. But I can tell you, they spent a lot of effort looking at then and now, to make sure that we not only do we have things in place now but that we strengthen them even further for the future.
GLOVER: And Tanya, what about Cardinal Pell, should he come back?
PLIBERSEK: I think it’s completely a matter for the Royal Commission. They have the power to call witnesses and it’s up to the Royal Commission if they think that there is some additional information that they- that Cardinal Pell can give, it’s up to them. If he’s called, of course I would imagine that he would attend.
GLOVER: I mean Jillian Skinner was saying that if she were he, she’d want to come back and try to put a point of view.
PLIBERSEK: Look I think one of the healing aspects of this Royal Commission is the opportunity for leaders of organisations, as Jillian just said, to describe how things are different now, describe the measures they’ve taken to prevent this kind of abuse continuing or happening again. So I think it is an opportunity for leaders to show that sort of leadership.
GLOVER: Okay, eight to six is the time. Monday’s political forum, with us this week is Tanya Plibersek, the Deputy Opposition Leader, she’s Member for Sydney but at the moment she’s in our Canberra studio. With me in Sydney is Jillian Skinner, the NSW Health Minister, she is Member for North Shore.
Now the closing address of the Sydney’s Writers Festival last night featured Helen Macdonald who has written a superb book about nature and the human need for exposure to nature. In her particular case it was the training of a goshawk, that fierce hunting bird, indeed at one point in the book she describes the goshawk as 30 ounces of death in a feathered jacket which is a very nice phrase. What do you get out of being in nature? Is there one place that particularly affects you? And what about this idea that’s been expressed by some authors that we live in a world of nature deficit disorder where particularly young people just don’t get into nature enough and don’t therefore savour its ability to reduce anxiety, to show you a sense of scale about your own problems and even in the case of your eyes, to develop your eye muscles. It’s said by one author that there’s been an epidemic of short sightedness at the moment because young people don’t ever get to see a far horizon which is just a thing that makes you so sad, well me anyway. Tanya Plibersek, do you get out into nature and what does it do for you?
PLIBERSEK: I love getting out into nature but I wish I did it more often. Our favourite holiday as a family is going to Lord Howe Island which is I think probably the most beautiful place on the planet. We’ve also, you know on the weekends, we go down to Royal National Park sometimes and take the kids on, I’ve got to say, pretty short bush walks, because we get a lot of whingeing from the four year old about the bush walking. But-
GLOVER: And then from the husband when he has to carry the four year old.
PLIBERSEK: Yeah I actually, Jillian won’t want to hear this as a Health Minister, but I do use lollies quite effectively as part of my bushwalks. I think- I love it, I really enjoy bush walking, swimming at those beautiful beaches in the national park or on Lord Howe Island and it’s just so good for kids. I just love seeing them get dirty, increase their physical confidence, climb trees, jump off things. I think it’s great for kids.
GLOVER: It is a really interesting thing, I owe this to the guy who thought up this phrase, nature deficit disorder. One of the memories of childhood often for people is when they’ve had a terrible argument with their parents, you know, you’re 14 years old and everything seems to be terrible, one of the almost natural responses is to go climb a tree or go and sit under a tree. There seems to be some deep wisdom, or there was in our day anyway, where you would leave the house, the parental home and be close to something wild.
PLIBERSEK: And do you know the thing I love as well, is as soon as I was disappointed as a kid, I would go out and sit with the dog and talk to the dog and I see my kids doing the same thing too. Their relationship even with pets gives you a little bit of that at home. My kids love changing nature as well. If you take them to a beach and there’s a river running into the beach, there is an irresistible desire to dam that river. And just seeing you know piled rocks up, dragging sticks around, it’s just- there is something quite innate about that behaviour.
GLOVER: Fantastic. And I love the idea that if mum’s not got any wisdom then [inaudible] Jillian, do you get the chance to get out into nature? Do you think it matters? Are you concerned that maybe kids particularly don’t get it anymore?
SKINNER: Oh absolutely. I grew up partly on a farm as a kid, so milking cows, riding horses, playing with dogs and other animals was second nature. I now have a 5 year old and a 7 year old and their parents living with me, so we commune with the dog on the front verandah often and the garden. If you ask what I get out of it, broken nails, arthritic hands and a back ache because I’ve been catching up on the garden. And I can tell you, it’s therapeutic, it is very much about getting your hands dirty, seeing what nature does for you when you put a seed in the ground, and teaching my grandchildren that that’s where their snow peas come from, not the Woollies counter. That’s really important. But again, I’m like Tanya, I love water, so walking down Cremorne Point is my idea of bliss or going up to Port Stephens for family holidays with boats and being out in the water very much so.
PLIBERSEK: I repotted my orchids yesterday, Jillian.
SKINNER: Oh, well done.
GLOVER: There’s Stephanie Alexander, you know the great chef and cook book writer, has pioneered this movement of trying to get gardens in schools. She says once a kid sees a snow pea growing, they’re more likely to eat the snow pea.
SKINNER: And cooking it, Richard, you’ve got to get them to cook it as well. My 5 year old granddaughter doesn’t like food until you get her to cook it, then she loves it.
GLOVER: So you reckon it works?
SKINNER: Oh it does. Not always, but mostly.
GLOVER: Most of the time. The other interesting you say is, is that your nature is the garden which of course is a kind of human made artifact. And one of the most interesting debates I think at the Writer’s Festival this weekend was between Helen and others about what is wildness and how wild does it have to be? And she says it doesn’t have to be wild at all, and she tells this great story about going hunting in Maine in the United States with goshawks and falcons and how a lot of the hunting is happening in really suburban backyards and it didn’t matter because the bird was wild and that was the important thing. And wildness can be found in all sorts of places.
PLIBERSEK: She should see my vegetable patch.
GLOVER: Pretty wild, huh?
PLIBERSEK: It is.
SKINNER: I think we should compare notes, Tanya. My garden’s not too unwild at the moment.
GLOVER: The other great phrase was from Don Watson who was talking about his desire to leave the bush when he was a young man and he described the farm in which he grew up, which was just a farm of hard work really in Gippsland, and he said all a farm is is a prison with cows and weed for gaolers. So that’s the other-
SKINNER: I can relate to that.
GLOVER: That’s the other side of nature. Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much for your time from Canberra, thanks so much.
PLIBERSEK: It’s a pleasure.
GLOVER: Tanya Plibersek is of course Deputy Opposition Leader and Member for Sydney. And with me in Sydney has been Jillian Skinner, the NSW Health Minister and Member for North Shore and it sounds like a pretty contented grandmother of two.