TRANSCRIPT: ABC NewsRadio, Wednesday 29 July 2015






SUBJECTS: Bronwyn Bishop, UN Resolution; ALP National Conference

STEVE CHASE, PRESENTER: First of all, the breaking news about the actions of Clive Palmer and Andrew Wilkie, Tanya Plibersek, that obviously puts Labor in a strong position, doesn’t it?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION:  Look, it certainly helps us hold the Government to account and Bronwyn Bishop in this instance to account if we’ve got support of the crossbench. We have been saying since these revelations broke that it is completely inappropriate to use taxpayers’ funds to attend a colleague’s wedding. I’m amazed that anyone would’ve even considered doing this in the first instance and now it seems like it’s not a one-off, and like the Prime Minister, money repaid, but in fact a pattern of behaviour. It is extraordinary.

CHASE: But as Melissa Clarke pointed out, the Government has the numbers on the floor of the Parliament and I suppose if pushed, if you go back in August and Bronwyn Bishop is still there, and you have- not you, the Party has foreshadowed they’re going to move a motion of no confidence, so is this theatrics or are you trying to up the pressure on the Prime Minister to tap Bronwyn Bishop on the shoulder?

PLIBERSEK: Look, it’s more than theatrics and there is of course the simple numbers game that having a majority in the House of Representatives allows the Government to block any moves of no confidence. But it is a very serious thing to introduce such a motion – any time that an Opposition moved dissent in the Speaker it’s something that you only do with great, serious consideration because the position of Speaker has always been one that is above politics. What you’ve got here though, with these travel rort allegations is something that brings the dignity of the Speaker into question. And it’s also, I guess, Steve, it falls on fertile ground, because many people have questioned Bronwyn Bishop’s ability to be a less partisan figure, as a Speaker should be. The fact that she has been, I think it’s fair to say, somewhat partisan in the role, means that you know, she has not herself protected the dignity of the position in the way that you would normally like to see.

CHASE: Just one further question on this before we move onto other topics. The question I want answered is why isn’t the ALP moving to improve the expenses system rather than throwing grenades. Because the public knows both sides make claims, get overpaid or wrongly paid, pay money back, surely the objective should be to make sure problems don’t arise in the future, because if you get rid of Bronwyn Bishop, what’s to say another Labor MP or a Liberal will come up with the same issue in 6 weeks?

PLIBERSEK: Look, if the Government wants to propose tightening up, we are very happy to cooperate. What I would say is, Bronwyn Bishop has broken the rules. It’s not that the rules are wrong, she, it seems very clearly used -

CHASE: Well, the rules are open to interpretation, aren’t they?

PLIBERSEK: No, they’re not. There is no way, there is no way that people should be claiming colleagues’ weddings as work related -

CHASE: But -

PLIBERSEK: I mean, honestly, Steve, if you go to a colleague’s wedding, do you claim overtime when you do it -

CHASE: But -

PLIBERSEK: It’s an absurd proposition.

CHASE: But that’s what she’s arguing, or has argued in the past, not now that she’s paid it back. And other MPs have argued in the past too that that’s the way I read the rules. But it seems a bit wishy-washy.

PLIBERSEK: Yeah. Look, of course if there’s a sensible proposal to tighten up the rules then we’re very happy to support them. What I’d say is you actually need people to abide by the rules as well. So there are some people, it doesn’t matter how tightly you draw the rules, they think they’re a special case, and this sort of behaviour, using taxpayers’ funds to attend a wedding, hiring helicopters for one hour trips, that is not someone who is uncertain about the rules, that’s someone who thinks they’re above the rules.

CHASE: Okay. Let’s move onto foreign affairs issues. There’s an expectation that Russia’s going to veto that UN resolution to prosecute those responsible for shooting down MH17 over Ukraine a year ago now. And as you know, your counterpart Julie Bishop and her counterparts in the Netherlands and Ukraine are behind this Security Council move. If, as seems likely Russia vetoes this move, what do you think are the alternatives for Australia in pursuing justice?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it would be very disappointing if Russia did veto this. 298 people lost their lives when MH17 went down, including 39 Australians, so we have a very strong interest in this as a nation. We believe that Australia should pursue further investigation, further action until the people responsible for this are brought to justice. Almost 300 people murdered, falling from the sky. Someone needs to be held accountable.

CHASE: Alright. You’ve been criticised for your low profile role on the floor of the ALP National Conference on the boat turnbacks and the same sex marriage debate. Is that criticism valid?

PLIBERSEK: I spoke in the same sex marriage debate so I’m not sure how low profile that is -

CHASE: Well, you had proxy votes.

PLIBERSEK: No, I voted in it too. In fact, there wasn’t a vote in that because we agreed in the end but I think it’s fair to say, I think anyone involved, if they were making fair comment, would say I was critical to getting a resolution that both the left and the right could support in the marriage equality debate. One of the jobs, Steve – you’ve been to Labor conferences no doubt, and you would know that they’re a bit like icebergs; you see the top sort of 10 per cent is floating above the surface, but there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. And one of my jobs right through conference was working to bring parties together to see whether we can get to positions-

CHASE: But, Tanya -

PLIBERSEK: The diverse set of views that are represented by the party -

CHASE: Yeah, sure, I take that point but you were very gung-ho a few weeks ago about binding, I mean you got it eventually if Labor gets back into power, but you seemed to have gone silent over the weekend when you had to, as you say behind the scenes, reach this accommodation.

PLIBERSEK: I did at least two television interviews about it, Steve, so I’m sorry to hear that you weren’t watching ALP conference on News24 or whoever was running it all weekend but I did at least two television interviews -

CHASE: Well, the commentary was that you didn’t play a very high profile role when the vote was going against you, but anyway -

PLIBERSEK: I’m not really sure that that’s fair, Steve, and I guess you also know the Labor Party well enough to know that sometimes people have a barrow to push in their own commentary.

CHASE: Okay, now let’s move on to the issue of more women in Parliament. Will the Party’s 50 per cent target for women in Parliament in 2025 stop a repeat of last year’s removal of Louise Pratt by Joe Bullock on the most secure position on Labor’s WA Senate ticket? Is that sort of thing going to be countenanced in the future?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I don’t think you can say that an advance like this would make a particular preselection more or less likely, or unlikely. What it does is focus the minds of everybody in the ALP, that means members, that means party officials, on making sure that we have equal representation of men and women. We’re almost there. I’m really proud of the fact that we set a 40 per cent target, we’ve in fact improved on that, we’re already at over 43 per cent, so this is our next extension, our next is certainly within reach. And the thing about it is, very seldom do the rules need to be brought into effect, we don’t need to resort to them very often. The fact that you have those targets means that people’s thinking changes, their focus on it- they start much earlier in the process thinking about where they’re going to recruit our great new Members of Parliament from and when they’re thinking about that, they are already thinking more of, you know, we’ve got some blokes there, we’ve got to make sure that we balance it with a number of women that we’re bringing up through the ranks as well. So it really affects the way you look at the pipeline and that’s the benefit of these long term targets.

CHASE: Tanya Plibersek, you’ve been very generous with your time this afternoon. We’ve had a lot of ground to cover. Thanks for giving us the Labor point of view this afternoon.

PLIBERSEK: It’s always a pleasure to talk to you, Steve.