TRANSCRIPT: ABC Radio, Alice Springs, Wednesday 25 May





ROHAN BARWICK, PRESENTER: The Federal Election bandwagon has rolled into Alice Springs today with the arrival of the Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek. She was in Darwin yesterday but today has visited the Purple House to make an announcement about kidney health. Now her visit coincides with the shock announcement yesterday that Labor's star Senator, Nova Peris, will not be recontesting the next election despite the fact that it's only weeks away and the electoral rolls closed on Monday. She's no doubt also here to give some support to Warren Snowdon who is sitting on a very thin margin in Lingiari and I spoke with the Deputy Opposition Leader before we came to air. Tanya Plibersek, good afternoon.


BARWICK: Thanks for coming in. Nova Peris announced yesterday that she won't be recontesting her Senate seat on 2 July. When did you first hear that she may be reconsidering her position.

PLIBERSEK: We heard a few days ago that she was considering not recontesting but of course we wanted to give Nova the space and the respect to make that decision herself. So of course, we had the formal statement from her just yesterday and we do just need to say that we wish her well. She's made a great contribution over the last three years. And she's a very distinguished Australian, terrific role model, great sportsperson. I'm sure that the next stage of her life and her career will be just as distinguished.

BARWICK: Are you disappointed?

PLIBERSEK: Look, she was making a great contribution and so of course we would have loved to keep her in the Senate. But I understand that it's a really hard slog. Warren Snowdon who I'm visiting today has an electorate that's almost the whole size of the NT and the amount of travel that's required just to do your job week to week is just enormous. And then you add onto that having to go to Canberra, it's a lot of time away from home. It's hard on family life so I understand why you'd make this decision. But of course we'll miss her.

BARWICK: Sure. She was Julia Gillard's captain's pick. In retrospect do you think that Gillard made the wrong call considering that Peris is bowing out so soon?

PLIBERSEK: Oh no. I think the three years that Nova has contributed have been a great three years and I'd just draw a comparison between Julia Gillard’s captain's pick and Tony Abbott's captain’s pick which was a knighthood for Prince Philip.

BARWICK: Trish Crossin said she believed that Peris should have stayed on. Here's a little of what she told us yesterday.

CROSSIN [RECORDING]: I'm not surprised but I'm disappointed. But I actually thought that if you willingly accepted a job to be the first Indigenous female member of the Federal Parliament you might actually stay there at least one term, but you might stay there for many, many years and try and elicit the change that you talked about when you first got the job.

BARWICK: That's Trish Crossin speaking to us yesterday. Tanya Plibersek is it not the case if Nova Peris had stayed on then perhaps her legacy would be larger and she could have created more change.

PLIBERSEK: I'm sure whichever field Nova works in she'll create a legacy. And she's already been such a great role model for young people, young sports people in particular, and she will go on to make a distinguished contribution inside the Senate or outside. I'd also say that, of course, Trish Crossin served the Labor Party with great distinction in the Northern Territory as well.

BARWICK: Do you think she's right to be feeling perhaps a little bit cheesed off as to how all this has played out?

PLIBERSEK: Well I understand why she would feel that way, but this is no reflection on either of these two great servants of the Labor Party.

BARWICK: Yesterday, this is what CLP Senator Nigel Scullion had to say about Peris' decision.

SCULLION [RECORDING]: The real question is when are Labor going to share with the Territory, when were they going to share with the Territory that this was actually going on. I thought we should have been a pretty important part of that process and are they going to share with us what the process is going to be? Is this going to be another captain’s pick?

BARWICK: And that's quite a vital question, that's CLP Senator Nigel Scullion yesterday. When Nova Peris was announced as the Senate candidate, there was a lot of concern from NT Labor that she hadn't come through the party. Will the next candidate come through the party or will it be another choice from the Federal party?

PLIBERSEK: Because we're right in the middle of an election campaign I anticipate that the National Executive will make the final decision, but of course they'll be listening to the view of Territory members of the ALP. And I'm sure there's already a number of people putting their hands up and all of the candidates I've heard so far are very distinguished people that would make a great contribution.

BARWICK: Is there anybody that you'd like to highlight?

PLIBERSEK: No, I'm not going to get involved in that, but I have heard a few names and the names have all been attached to very impressive people that I have met, that I have worked with, that I've seen in action. And in fact, there's not a name I've heard yet of a person that I wouldn't be absolutely honoured to serve with.

BARWICK: Trish Crossin was saying that the candidate should be Indigenous. Do you agree?

PLIBERSEK: Well we have a record number of Indigenous candidates in this election. The Labor Party has got six Indigenous candidates so we are absolutely delighted. If there is one more that would be fantastic too. We are very proud of the fact that we are increasing representation of Indigenous Australians in the Labor Party and in our parliaments.

BARWICK: You've announced some money today for kidney health and the establishment of a national taskforce to deal with issues surrounding Indigenous health and kidney disease what is this actually going to do?

PLIBERSEK: Well we know that Indigenous Australians are twice as likely to have chronic kidney disease, and for people living in remote and very remote locations, twenty times more likely to have the very extreme end stages of kidney disease. We know too that in a place like the Territory the vast distances that people need to travel for healthcare is a real issue. And what happens is quite often people, they miss out on diagnosis at an early stage. If you get diagnosed early quite often you can slow the progression of the disease. And in some cases if you're earlier enough, if you catch it early enough you can actually reverse the early stages. So, making sure people get diagnosed early and then making sure that people have treatment as close to home as possible. That's the reason I was at Purple House today. Of course, the Purple House provides a fantastic service where people are able to be dialysed in th eir communities on their land. They're not having to make that incredibly difficult decision about leaving behind everything that's familiar including family and support networks to come to Alice or Darwin for dialysis. So we want to see how we can get much better prevention, much better early diagnosis and then of course much better treatment.

BARWICK: Is there not the danger that creating a taskforce creates another layer of bureaucracy?

PLIBERSEK: No, this isn't a permanent task force. This is a short sharp six month project where we will bring together nephrologists, GPs, people who understand the transport and logistics. Purple House has their mobile bus. Territory Government - we, as the Federal Government paid for a bus that the Territory Government is supposed to be running - I hear sadly that it's not running at the moment. I believe that it's somewhere in a car park because they refuse to pay the running costs. But the transport and logistics questions about this, of course it's obviously different - dry, wet, very rough roads and so on - the staffing where you make sure you've got appropriately trained dialysis nurses and so on. So actually what we've got are lots of elements of the system have got people who know many of the keys about how you can do things in a best practice way but we don't have that coordinat ing strategy that is particularly focused on Indigenous kidney health and particularly looking at remote and very remote communities.

BARWICK: Is this going to be the key election announcement for central Australia this campaign or can we expect more?

PLIBERSEK: Oh no, you can...well you've already had more. To be fair we've already made an announcement that if we're elected, of course, the Labor investment in schools across the Territory just over the next 2 years would be an extra $100 million on top of what's being spent just as an example for needs-based school funding.

BARWICK: The seat of Lingiari is certainly going to be one to watch and watch closely in the lead up to 2 July. Now Tina MacFarlane almost won it for the CLP last time around. Is Warren Snowdon in danger? It's very tight - 0.9%.

PLIBERSEK: No. I know it's a very close margin. Nobody knows the Territory better than Warren Snowdon. You know, in fact, if he's re-elected this time he'll be the Father of the House, he'll be the longest serving member of the House of Representatives. And there's a reason for that. He is fierce. He's had fights with just about everybody I know in Canberra because he says it's not about him, it's not about Warren, it's 'you people don't understand the Territory like I know the Territory.' And it's true.

BARWICK: He's been in power, or he's been in that position for a very long time though, is it not perhaps that voters are thinking it's time for a change?

PLIBERSEK: No way. There is no better servant of the Territory than Warren Snowdon. He flies, he drives, he travels so many millions of kilometres in the course of his work making sure that he knows the Territory like the back of his hand. The tiniest communities, everybody in those communities, there's no one who doesn't know Warren.

BARWICK: You've got to admit though, there must be those who are nervous because it is tight, it is going to be tight with Tina MacFarlane?

PLIBERSEK: Look, it is a tight electorate. But I think she appeals to a particular section of the electorate. I think Warren has got much broader appeal.

BARWICK: Just finally are we going to see either yourself or Bill Shorten back in Central Australia any time soon in this lead up to the election?

PLIBERSEK: You'll certainly see me and my colleagues across the Northern Territory. I'm not sure when Bill's planning to be in Alice, he's in Darwin tomorrow and going on to a couple of smaller communities as well tomorrow.

BARWICK: Does he have plans to come to central Australia?

PLIBERSEK: I don't know his diary to be honest over the next few weeks but you'll see a lot of senior Labor people through Alice Springs because it matters, it's a town that matters to us.

BARWICK: And because they're nervous about Lingiari?

PLIBERSEK: And because we love Warren. We can't imagine Canberra without Warren Snowdon.

BARWICK: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much.

PLIBERSEK: It's a pleasure.