TRANSCRIPT: ABC Capital Hill, Wednesday 29 June




SUBJECTS: Bombing at Istanbul Airport; the Liberals' wasteful plebiscite on marriage equality; the election; British Labour Party.

GREG JENNETT, ABC CAPITAL HILL: Also in Sydney is Bill Shorten's deputy, Tanya Plibersek. As Labor's Foreign Affairs spokeswoman she has been keeping an eye on events in Istanbul. We caught up with Tanya Plibersek on that and other issues of the day after a visit to the RPA Hospital in Sydney. Tanya Plibersek, let's start with the Istanbul bombing. If it turns out that Islamic State was responsible, doesn't this simply prove that, as military gains are made in Syria or in Iraq, they just switch their attention to elsewhere? This is essentially unwinnable, isn't it?

TANYA PLIBERSEK MP, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well, the first thing I want to say is that, of course, all Australians are shocked by these terrible events in Istanbul. It seems now that several dozens of people have been killed and many more injured, and of course, Australia sends its deepest sympathy to the friends and family of those who have lost their lives and all who were injured, and the Turkish people, more generally. Military specialists have said in the past that the fact that IS is trying to project beyond Syria and Iraq, might not be a sign of the organisation's strengthening but, rather, a sign of the organisation weakening its grip on territory in Syria and Iraq. The fact that it's pushing beyond those borders is a way of making its presence felt, as it loses power in the area that it's originated from.

JENNETT: But that's still a high degree of potency, though isn't it? It's still very potent as a force?

PLIBERSEK: We can't be certain it is IS in the first place. We need to properly evaluate whether that's the case. But I also would be very cautious even if we do - if we do find IS claiming responsibility for the attack - I would be very cautious in interpreting that as some sort of sign of the organisation strengthening and I think we need to look much more deeply at the motivation of an organisation that is losing its grip on Iraq and on Syria.

JENNETT: Alright. Let's switch to domestic issues now. Were you aware before today that Bill Shorten, only three years ago, was quite relaxed about the concept of a plebiscite on same-sex marriage? 

PLIBERSEK: Well and then I guess we saw some of the paths that this divisive debate has been going down. We saw what happened in Ireland with a very hard-fought campaign, and a lot of people upset about some of the campaigning that happened in Ireland. And that’s a country that actually needed to have a vote, because they needed to change their constitution. We don't need a plebiscite, and what we have found out in the last few weeks alone is that the Liberals won't be bound by a plebiscite.

JENNETT: So in Bill Shorten's case, you are saying that events allow or permit his change of heart or his black flip - is that what you are saying?

PLIBERSEK: You are talking three years ago. I mean, Malcolm Turnbull said he didn't support a plebiscite a year ago. Malcolm Turnbull said he supported marriage equality and he supported the Parliament taking a vote on it and he supported a free vote for the Liberal Party. He's turned his back on every one of those positions, six months ago.  Being told that nobody in the Liberal Party will be bound to vote according to the findings of the plebiscite would make you sceptical about why we are spending $160 million on this proposal.

JENNETT: Alright. Now there is always a degree of desperation in the final weeks of a campaign. That's perfectly natural. But are you entirely comfortable with a whatever-it-takes approach, such as we saw with the Labor ads last night around this misrepresentation of Malcolm Turnbull? Bill Shorten called it a defining moment in the campaign, but it was actually taking one form of words and completely turning it on its head, wasn't it? Are you comfortable with that?

PLIBERSEK: It's not an unusual thing for Labor to point out that, just the day before the last election, the Liberals made a range of commitments, all of which they broke within months of being elected.

JENNETT: I think their point might have been about the Labor Party. We won't dwell on that. Let's just look, as we enter the final stretch, if Labor is to win, you are going to need about 20 seats. A swag of those would need to be in the state that you know best, in New South Wales. Are there five or six that you could name now, in your home state of New South Wales, that you feel pretty confident of winning?

PLIBERSEK: Yes, I have got my eye on quite a number in New South Wales. I have got my eye on quite a few in Queensland, in Western Australia, Tasmania. We hope to pick up a few seats. Victoria, South Australia, the Northern Territory, we hope to...

JENNETT: So by that whip around, you sound like you actually think you are going to get there?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's possible, Greg, and that is a terrific place to be just a few days out. And no-one would have imagined three years ago that we would be in contention in this stage of the election. And certainly when Malcolm Turnbull took over from Tony Abbott a lot of people wrote Labor off. We are neck and neck in this campaign, and the last few days will matter, the last few days will be absolutely decisive. So I say to people, if they want to protect Medicare, vote Labor. If they want to protect penalty rates, vote Labor. If they want Gonski school funding, vote Labor. If they want to protect our universities and TAFEs, vote Labor. If they want investment in infrastructure that will drive new jobs, if they want action on climate change, if they want marriage equality in the first 100 days, vote Labor.

JENNETT: And just finally, Tanya Plibersek, because this may be pertinent to the Australian Labor Party after Sunday, when you look at events in the UK, with Jeremy Corbyn, do you think that rings alarm bells about the rigidities of some of these rank and file membership ballot processes for leadership?

PLIBERSEK: I think the processes that the UK Labour Party follow are a decision for themselves. Obviously, it is a period of great turmoil, both in the Labour Party and in the Conservative Party in the UK at the moment, and I truly wish them - both parties - the very best in sorting out their direction for the future because a strong UK is a benefit for Australia, for Europe and for the world. I'm not going to speculate on... 

JENNETT: But being unable to remove a leader who doesn't command the confidence of his caucus is actually a problem, isn't it? It's not a strength in the system?

PLIBERSEK: The British Labour Party has a long and proud history and I'm sure that they will come through this stronger and better. They have got a history of overcoming any difficulties and any setbacks they have faced and I am sure they will do so again.

JENNETT: Alright. Tanya Plibersek, we will let you surge towards the finishing line in this campaign. And that's probably the last time we will talk within it, so best of luck.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Greg.