TRANSCRIPT: ABC AM Radio, Thursday 13 August 2015






SUBJECTS: Syria; Climate change; Marriage equality

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Tanya Plibersek, welcome to the program.

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Good morning.

BRISSENDEN: On Syria, Labor has consistently said its support for military action is only for the action in Iraq. Would you now be open to having Australian forces being given a wider role?

PLIBERSEK: Well, there is a clear legal basis for Australia's involvement in Iraq, and that's the invitation of the Iraqi Government to help it train its own forces to defend its own citizens. There is no such clear legal basis for Australian involvement in Syria. I notice Dan Tehan saying that we should bomb and then go and get the support of the United Nations to do it. If the Prime Minister is interested in Australia now being involved in Syria, he should first declare what is the legal basis for Australian involvement. Australia could urge the UN Security Council or the international community to change its view on this. There is no doubt that there is a humanitarian disaster in Syria, it’s a country about the same size as Australia, 11.5 million of its people are internally or externally displaced, but without a clear legal basis for Australian involvement and without a clear plan - like, what does victory in Syria look like? - I think it would be very dangerous to send Australian personnel into one of the most dangerous places on earth right now.

BRISSENDEN: The argument put there by Dan Tehan about the national interest, surely that carries some weight?

PLIBERSEK: Well, Australia is heavily involved in Iraq. We are one of the largest contributors per capita of any country that is involved in the mission in Iraq, and it's clear what our role there is, it is to train Iraqi personnel and it is to help them protect Iraqi civilians. Without that sort of clarity around Syria, I think it's extraordinary, frankly, that the Government sent out a backbencher to start floating ideas without any clear proposal, without any explanation to the Australian people of what the legal basis would be, what the mission would be, what success would look like, what our personnel would be expected to do, and how this would fit in with what the rest of the international community is doing.

BRISSENDEN: There is already a campaign under way in Syria, a bombing campaign under way in Syria. Why not just be part of it? I mean, there is no legal precedent there? There is no-

PLIBERSEK: Well, because as the Prime Minister said, not so long ago, it is not clear what legal basis Australia would be involved in such a bombing campaign. I think if the Prime Minister wants us to change our position, he should have the courage to go into the Parliament and make that argument rather than sending a backbencher out to float an idea and see how people respond.

BRISSENDEN: But you wouldn't support it anyway?

PLIBERSEK: Well, he has made no case. He has made no case that the legal situation has changed. I should also say very importantly, we have a much greater humanitarian responsibility in Syria. With 11.5 million people displaced, with millions in neighbouring countries like Jordan, like Lebanon, like Turkey, we should be doing more to help, but we've actually reduced our assistance to Syrian refugees.

BRISSENDEN: I’ve got another couple of issues that I want to get across. On climate and the Paris talks, the Government has put up its 26 to 28 per cent target by 2030 which is well ahead of Japan and of course Korea and a number of other countries but behind quite a lot of our OECD comparison countries, of course.


BRISSENDEN: The Government says, though, that it is a respectable figure, it’s environmentally responsible and above all, it’s economically responsible. They are right, aren’t they?

PLIBERSEK: I don't think any of that stacks up. It is extraordinary to use Japan as an example, a country that was hit by tsunami, that closed down its nuclear power industry in response, it’s only just getting back on its feet. Extraordinary to use that as an example. We are the largest per capita emitters of carbon pollution in the world-

BRISSENDEN: But should we do more at any cost? I think that’s the issue, isn’t it?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it’s not at any cost. One of the great transformations in the international economy is that countries around the world are reducing their carbon emissions, we can be a world leader in innovating in this area, in the business opportunities that are driven by the clean energy revolution, and we should be.

BRISSENDEN: What sort of targets will Labor present?

PLIBERSEK: We need to see the modelling that the Government is basing their figures on first. They claim that the target they've set would be consistent with a 2 per cent global warming cap, that all countries are trying to stay beneath. Our information is that it's more like 3 or 4 per cent of global warming based on the targets that the Australian Government have set.

BRISSENDEN: 3 or 4 degrees.

PLIBERSEK: 3 or 4 degrees, I'm sorry. They, however, haven't shared any of the modelling and I think it is very important to make a decision that is based on the science and based on the economics and the Government should share its model-

BRISSENDEN: Some of the modelling done a few years ago, by your government, the previous government, showed that it would require between 40 and 60 per cent to keep within that 2 degree band. Is that the sort of level we’re looking at from you?

PLIBERSEK: No, I don’t think you can use years old modelling to determine what our position would be now. I think it's very important to use the most up-to-date figures and we call on the Government to release them.

BRISSENDEN: Okay, on the-

PLIBERSEK: I think it's important to say though that we have made our 50 per cent renewable energy commitment and I think that is a very important step to reducing carbon emissions in our economy.

BRISSENDEN: On the issue of same-sex marriage and the plebiscite, now- or a referendum as it's turning into now. First a plebiscite was raised, now Scott Morrison says a referendum to change the Constitution is also being discussed, is that something you would support?

PLIBERSEK: Is this really how we want to spend $120 million of taxpayers' money? I mean, this is extraordinary. The High Court has already decided that the Australia Parliament should legislate, that it has the power to legislate. We’ve got constitutional experts like Anne Twomey making it very clear that it is the role of the Parliament to legislate in this area. This is an expensive delaying tactic pushed by the opponents of marriage equality.

BRISSENDEN: But why not let the people decide this?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I've got nothing against the people deciding, other than it's going to cost $120 million, but I would also like the people to decide whether we are going to push the GST rate up from 10 to 15 per cent. I would like the people to decide whether we’re going to cut pensions as this Government’s done, whether we’re going to have $100,000 university degrees, cut school education funding, cut health funding, introduce a GP Tax, the Australian people should decide on all of these things, shouldn't they?

BRISSENDEN: If we do come to a referendum, if it does come to that, presumably that will be sometime in 2017 or perhaps 2018, but the question will be the crucial thing, won’t it, if it is a referendum, because they haven’t had a great track record of success, who would you like to see frame that question?

PLIBERSEK: I think the question is a very clear one. In a country like Australia, in the 21st century, do we continue to discriminate against one group in our community - law-abiding citizens who want nothing more than to have the legal and public recognition of their relationship? It’s not a tough question.

BRISSENDEN: Tanya Plibersek, we'll leave it there.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.