TRANSCRIPT: ABC Insiders, Sunday 13 September 2015




SUBJECTS: Iraq; Syrian crisis; Julie Bishop; Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott 'joke'; Liberal leadership. 

BARRIE CASSIDY, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek good morning, welcome.


CASSIDY: Let's pick up on some of Peter Lahey's concerns. You’ve of course signed up to this decision. You might own it, one day. What's missing here, he says, is the long-term strategy, are you worried about that?

PLIBERSEK: I am very worried about that and in fact we've asked the Prime Minister to come into the Parliament and lay out in the Parliament what the strategy is for Iraq and also what is strategy is for Syria. I made a speech at ASPI, the strategic policy institute this week that goes into more detail here. In the first instance what we're being asked to do right now is to support the Government of Iraq to protect its people and its territory from cross-border attacks launched by Daesh, ISIS, whatever you want to call it. And we think that there is a clear legal basis to do that and a reason to do it. But this on its own is certainly not a solution to the disaster that is unfolding in Syria and to a lesser degree in Iraq at the moment.  It needs to be -

CASSIDY: How can you give bipartisan support then when you're worried about this?

PLIBERSEK: Because we're also determined that when a democratically elected government asks for help to protect its people and its territory from cross-border attacks, from a terrorist organisation and there is a legal basis to do it, then we should support that. What we say is that there should also be a political solution to Syria, that the international community is involved in determining, and there should be much greater humanitarian effort to protect the victims of this terrible conflict. Just on the international effort, you've got a number of players here, Peter Leahy talked about Russia, there’s Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the US and its allies that all need to come to the table as part of developing a solution for Syria, that protects the millions of people who have been displaced from their homes from further attack, not just from the terrorist organisations on the ground there, by some counts a thousand organisations, but also from the Assad Government that has murdered hundreds of thousands of its own citizens.

CASSIDY: But we go back to the original point, though. Just because you say there's a legal basis for this, if there is no long-term strategy how can you encourage the Government by giving them support?

PLIBERSEK: Because Iraq has the right to defend itself from terrorist attacks launched across the border from Syria. The Syrian Government is unable or unwilling to stop those attacks. There's a clear basis in international law for the Government of Iraq to protect its people. Just months ago we were looking at Yazidis sitting on the top of Mount Sinjar with no water and no food and imminent threat of mass atrocity crimes. This is still a significant concern in Iraq. Iraq has asked the international community for help. It's asked the United Nations for help and we have agreed to be part of the international effort to help the Iraqi Government protect its own people from those cross-border attacks. But that is not sufficient on its own. There needs to be a next step which is the international community working on a political solution for Syria . In the short term, humanitarian access, humanitarian corridors, safe zones for people to be able to flee to, in the longer term there must be a political solution that stops the fighting.

CASSIDY: There was a report in The Australian during the week that suggested Tony Abbott has one, he has a political solution to get rid of Assad and he will be taking that to the United States very soon.

PLIBERSEK: Well, I hope that he has a well-thought out solution that the international community can work together on because it will take an international response.

CASSIDY: And when you talk, we were talking longer term but even short term, these air strikes, at the very least, they might disrupt but given the nature of them, you would imagine that IS would then find hiding places and make airstrikes difficult so they might, you could disrupt even maybe degrade, but you can't possibly destroy IS?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think in the short term what we are supporting is preventing this organisation continuing with its cross-border attacks. It moves weapons and its fighters at will across the border between Iraq and Syria. The Government of Iraq is working very hard on preventing those cross-border attacks and I think it's quite fair to assist them to do that.

CASSIDY: On the refugee crisis, Labor proposed initially of course 10,000, the Government settled on 12,000. Some experts are saying that 12,000 might not be enough. Do you think that down the track you might have to do more?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it's a very good start but we know that there are 11, maybe 12 million people who are displaced from their homes in Syria. Millions outside the borders, millions more have had to move to different parts of Syria. So it might be necessary for the international community to do more. The European response as led by Germany, is a generous response. I'd certainly like to see a greater effort from some of the countries in the region, some of the Arab League nations, for example, very important to see increased effort from them. And also more support for countries like Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan that are supporting millions of refugees right now with the help of international organisations like the UNHCR, UNICEF, World Food Program, they desperately need support to help those people live in dignity, particularly as winter approaches. Most Syrians want to return to Syria and if they can stay in the region, their kids get a decent education, they get some ability to support themselves, then they will return to Syria when peace comes.

CASSIDY: Now Julie Bishop, the Foreign Minister, has said of you that she says she gets all the support she needs from Bill Shorten but you're another story altogether. Based on what you were saying about the longer term strategy, perhaps she has a point?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I don't know how she could fairly make any difference between Bill and I on this issue. We have a national security committee of Shadow Cabinet that meets. Bill is the chair of that, I'm the deputy chair. We make recommendations to the Shadow Cabinet and to our caucus. We debate those in Shadow Cabinet and caucus and we come to a united Labor position. I think it's a bit strange, particularly when we've had so many leaks from the National Security Committee of the actual Cabinet, the Government's National Security Committee, that they may as well issue a transcript, that she should be suggesting that there's any difference in our positions.

CASSIDY: There was a video that did the rounds this week, certainly on the social media, from question time on Tuesday. I want you to have a look at that now.


CASSIDY: It looks like there that she called you a bitch, is that how you saw it?

PLIBERSEK: [laughs] It still makes me laugh. Look, I'm not sure what the Foreign Minister's saying. But that was a week where we were demanding that the Government should take more refugees. At the beginning of the week the Government was saying that they wouldn't, that it would only be within our existing humanitarian intake. We were also calling on the Government to do a lot more to help refugees that remain in the region. We were calling on the Government to provide $100 million of urgent assistance in the region. What matters is that at the end of the week we see more Syrian refugees coming to Australia and we see not $100 million but $44 million of extra humanitarian assistance, that's what matters.

CASSIDY: But the bottom line here though is can the two of you cooperate to the extent that you must as you prosecute issues like Iraq and Syria?

PLIBERSEK: Well certainly we do and we've had to at very pressing times like when Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were facing the death penalty in Indonesia we worked behind the scenes very cooperatively. I mean I don't think it's any surprise that people in politics don't always get on, it's a very high conflict area. What matters is the results that you get.

CASSIDY: And Peter Dutton's apology this morning on television, should that be the end of the matter?

PLIBERSEK: Well he apologised for being caught, Barrie. I don't think that should be the end of the matter at all. He should be apologising to Pacific leaders and to Aboriginal Australians in Cape York. He seems to have insulted millions of people in one go and he hasn't apologised for that. What is actually extraordinary is, you know, for the first few days Peter Dutton was saying ‘oh this is a private conversation, I shouldn't have to account for a private conversation’. What he should have to account for is that with the Prime Minister just back from the Pacific Islands Forum where Pacific leaders were saying they face an existential threat right now. They're not worried about what climate change will do to their nations in the future, they're worried about the fact that the storm surges are eating away at their nations, that they can't grow crops, that they can't get fresh water, that we're seeing climate change refugees leave their homelands. That's what's worrying about these comments. Peter Dutton thinks that's a joke and Tony Abbott laughs along with it. Not the fact that they were caught, that's not the problem. The problem is that they don't care that these Pacific island nations are facing an existential threat.

CASSIDY: What are your instincts telling you, and Labor’s had some experience in this area, about the possibility of a leadership change?

PLIBERSEK: I think, you know, I think it's odds on it will happen. It's a question of when it will happen and a question of who will replace Tony Abbott. But I mean really, they're all the same group of people who sat around the same Cabinet table and made the same decisions. They've made decisions in two Budgets that have smashed confidence, that's seen unemployment go up, taxes go up, debt up, deficit up, and confidence down. It's extraordinary that they think a change of leadership is going to fix all of that because they're all part of the same team that made the same bad decisions on the same product. It's not the sales person that's the problem.

CASSIDY: Sometimes when these things happen you get the two for one deal. If Tony Abbott falls is there a prospect that Labor might look again at their leadership?

PLIBERSEK: Not a chance.

CASSIDY: Thanks for your time this morning.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Barrie.