TRANSCRIPT: ABC Newsradio, Wednesday 18 November 2015





SUBJECTS: Prime Minister’s talks with US President, national security, polls. 

PRESENTER: For a Labor view on the Government’s response to the global terror alert, we’re joined by Labor’s Deputy Leader and Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek. She’s speaking here to Marius Benson.

MARIUS BENSON, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, good morning.


PRESENTER: The Prime Minister and the US President have agreed they want to put more pressure on IS in Syria and Iraq. They want to work for a political solution in Syria but no ground troops, no combat troops to be put in there. Labor is in agreement with that?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think the way to put more pressure on IS in Syria is to coordinate the military response that you’ve seen from the United States, from Australia, from a number of other countries, with the response from Russia and also other very important regional players like Iran and Saudi Arabia. The ability to have a united approach from these countries that all have an interest in seeing IS degraded and eventually defeated, I think is the way to proceed.

PRESENTER: But no combat troops?

PLIBERSEK: No, I don’t think it would assist the situation to have Australian combat troops in the area. We have a number of personnel in Iraq at the moment on an advise and assist mission and I think that’s appropriate – Labor supported that initially because we’ve been asked by the Iraqi Government to help protect its citizens and its territory from IS. The Australians are playing a very valuable role there in the airstrikes as well. But it is important for other countries, particularly countries in the neighbourhood, in the region, to be significantly involved. Australia is a relatively small country a relatively long way away; it is better to have countries in the region playing a more substantial role, I think.

PRESENTER: But you were supporting the idea of the coalition of the West working more closely with Russia – that means essentially working with Bashar al-Assad's principal international backer, or possibly with Iran. Are you comfortable with backing Bashar al-Assad?

PLIBERSEK: Well, the first thing to say is I’m not supporting a coalition of the West; I think it’s very important that as I say, that countries in the region play a substantial role. At the moment we’ve had trouble coordinating the efforts of some countries in the region because of their own political and religious antipathy towards one another. This has become, as many people have said a proxy war – not just between the United States and Russia backing different dogs in the fight, but between large regional players as well.  So it is very important that this is not seen as a coalition of the West. Secondly on your question regarding Bashar al-Assad – no, I don’t think that there is any scenario that sees peace in Syria that involves Bashar al-Assad at the head of that Government. But there will be a time for a political transition; it is important to be speaking to the countries that have supported and defended Assad in working out how that political transition happens. You’ve got to recall that probably 5 or 10 times the number of people have been killed by Assad and his regime than have actually been killed by IS. So the idea that the Syrian people would, having suffered, you know, 300 thousand deaths, 11 million people displaced from their homes, years of violence and conflict, that they would accept an Assad Government in the medium to long term - I don’t think that’s credible.

PRESENTER: Can I leave terrorism and international issues there and take you to the domestic political situation of Bill Shorten’s leadership – I won’t ask you directly if his position is secure because obviously publically you’re -

PLIBERSEK: - Oh, I can tell you definitively, of course it is.

PRESENTER: I know the answer, that’s why I won’t bother asking. But that’s obligatory for all politicians of all types. But do you admit you’ve got a problem when the leader is the preferred Prime Minister of Australia of just 18 percent of voters?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we always knew that there’d be a poll bounce for Malcolm Turnbull taking over from Tony Abbott; I think the nation breathed a sigh of relief when that happened. So, we anticipated it, it’s as we expected, we need to continue to work to ensure that people know that our policy offering is better than the Liberal’s policy offering. They’re offering the same policies as when Tony Abbott was Prime Minister and I think when people get over the sense of relief -

PRESENTER: - is that true though? Do you think the same policies are being offered by Malcolm Turnbull, particularly on this international visit? There’s obviously a clash between -

PLIBERSEK: - well what’s the difference?

PRESENTER: Sorry, just let me clarify the question – between what Malcolm Turnbull is saying about troops on the ground, for example, and what Tony Abbott is writing directly in his opinion piece in The Australian?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I think there’s certainly a more moderate tone in the national discussion and that’s a relief. But cuts to health, cuts to education, cuts to pensions, cuts to family tax benefits, 100 thousand dollar university degrees… the new Prime Minister is out there talking about science, technology and innovation, but he still cut 3 billion dollars from the Innovation agenda. Cuts to TAFE, cuts to apprenticeships - all of the things that troubled Australians about the 2014 Budget, of Joe Hockey - and Malcolm Turnbull, are still there; not a single significant thing has been changed. The plebiscite on same-sex marriage and the lack of ambition going into the Paris climate talks… all still there.

PRESENTER: Just quickly, how do you think Malcolm Turnbull is going on his first international Prime Ministerial journey?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it’s been a successful visit for Australia and we congratulate the Prime Minister for that. It was always mildly embarrassing when we had Tony Abbott having, you know, caused all sorts of problems in our relationship with neighbours like Indonesia. But I think it’s a good thing if we can reset that relationship, for example – it’s good for the nation and when that happens, we are delighted.

PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.