TRANSCRIPT - ABC Radio National Breakfast, Thursday 2 April 2015

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SUBJECT/S: Foreign policy; Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank; pensions; NSW election.

FRAN KELLY, PRESENTER: You’ve set out in a speech this week Labor’s broad approach to foreign affairs, you delivered the speech to something called the Melbourne Forum, and in it you criticised the Abbott Government’s approach as being transactional and short term. What do you mean by that?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I mean that they’re a bit focused on the inbox rather than thinking about how our world is going to change over the next ten years or the next fifty years and thinking about how we can position Australia best in that changing world. I also think it’s important that we continue to be values-based in our approach to foreign affairs and that means being a supporter of multilateral institutions, a rules-based international system. I hadn’t seen much evidence of that from the Abbott Government either. Last week Julie Bishop said that she was going to seek another term on the Security Council for Australia –

KELLY: Well that’s supportive of multilateral institutions.

PLIBERSEK: It’s fantastic and that’s why we supported it. But if you recall when they were in Opposition, the Liberals said that it was vain and a waste of money for Australia to pursue a seat on the Security Council and yet you look at the benefits of our involvement in the Security Council –

KELLY: So they’ve been persuaded?

PLIBERSEK: I hope they’ve been persuaded and I hope that it signals that they’re going to have greater involvement with these international institutions but if you look at the position on the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and if you look at our position on climate change, you’ve got the United States, China, Europe already signalling what their targets are going to be post 2020 going into the climate change conference in Paris later this year and Australia once again holding back and isolating itself from this global trend.

KELLY: When you’re accusing the Government of being a bit transactional, or as you say a bit focused on the inbox, to be fair the inbox has been pretty full since this Government came to power. We had the downing of MH370, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, the rise of ISIS. These crises have blown up, the Government’s had to deal with them, that’s kept the Foreign Minister - no one can accuse the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop of not being very busy.

PLIBERSEK: No, I think it is absolutely vital that we deal with each of those important issues in the most sensible and appropriate way. That’s not my criticism. My criticism is if you don’t look long term and if you don’t look for the solutions that underpin those individual instances then you can’t build a more peaceful and prosperous world long term. If you’re dealing with each instance as it comes up, that’s important to do. But what you have to do is look ahead, plan ahead and work for the long term future peace and prosperity of our country and our region. And that means, in the case of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, for example, accepting that China, as it grows in economic power, will expect to have a greater say in the multilateral institutions that sprung up mostly after the Second World War, like the IMF. When the US Senate blocks China having a greater say in the IMF or these other international institutions, it is not surprising that China seeks to establish its own infrastructure investment bank. How are we –

KELLY: But that is the point the Government’s come to, isn’t it?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah about six months too late –

KELLY: Too late for what?

PLIBERSEK: About six months too late to influence the direction of the bank from the ground level. Our best interests as a nation are served by having a great relationship with the United States and a great relationship with China. And for some inexplicable reason we have been told, or in fact not even told, it’s been hinted that the United States didn’t want Australia to sign up to this. Well, we need to make decisions that are in our best interests and in our long term interests and that means engagement, deep engagement in our region and a strong relationship with the United States but a relationship, as Kevin Rudd said, of alliance not compliance.

KELLY: But nobody would like Australia to be at the beck and call of anybody, America or China. Sure, the Government has taken some time to sign up to the China Bank, if we can shorthand it to that, but they have done it. We asked the Trade Minister Andrew Robb whether you know not getting in at the first blush was going to reduce influence. He’s adamant it’s not going to, why are you so sure it will?

PLIBERSEK: What would you expect him to say, Fran? ‘Yes, we stuffed it up’?

KELLY: But tell my why it will do that.

PLIBERSEK: Because we are one of the last countries to join on the very last day that membership in the initial round was open. I think the very strong signal that has sent, not just to China but to allies in our region and friends in our region, is that we are biddable. And we shouldn’t be. We should be sending a very strong message that we will do what is in Australia’s long term interests and that includes massive infrastructure investment in our region. We had a meeting of the G20 in Brisbane, which incidentally also the Opposition were sceptical and critical of before they became the Government - we had a meeting of the G20 in Brisbane where our own Government was saying what our region lacks is substantial infrastructure investments. We have an opportunity to partner with China to say we want that initial $50 billion and then $100 billion investment in infrastructure in our region and we want to be part of setting the parameters of how that money is spent. So we want to be in on the ground floor talking about the institutional arrangements of the bank, transparency, accountability, how decisions are made about how that very important new funding is spent, and instead we’re running along after the pack.

KELLY: Can I ask you on a couple of other issues? Pensions in the news still - have been pretty much since the last budget in May. Scott Morrison seems to be a bit keen on a proposal by ACOSS to limit eligibility to the age pension, talking about changing the assets test, for instance. He says he’ll speak to the cross benchers about this. Is it something Labor would consider supporting? Is it a good idea?

PLIBERSEK: Well the first thing to say is it’s a very clear broken promise. Tony Abbott said in that famous interview on the night before the election ‘no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no cuts to the ABC or SBS, no change to pensions and no new taxes’ and –

KELLY: It might be a broken promise but is it fair that people, couples with wealth in excess of $1.1 million in addition to the family home can access some of the pension?

PLIBERSEK: It just troubles me that the first thing Scott Morrison goes to is pensions. We’ve said as a Labor Opposition that if they’re interested in looking at people with very high superannuation balances that we’re prepared to look at whether we can support something in that area. Remember when we were in government, we tried to move on people with balances of more than $2 million in their super and the Liberals backed that. It troubles me that the first thing they start looking at is pensions, particularly when they’ve said no change to pensions and particularly when their first proposal was in fact to cut the indexation rate of pensions which would’ve taken the average pension down by $80 a week within ten years. So, we don’t have a specific proposal from Scott Morrison, you know he’s –

KELLY: No, this is not a new idea though. The Grattan Institute has been talking about this for a long time. Labor must have looked at this.

PLIBERSEK: He’s free to put to us a proposal and of course we’ll have a look at it. But it troubles me that they reversed our measures on multinational tax that was a couple of billions of dollars, they reversed our measures on high income superannuation, they’ve given up the revenue from carbon pricing, they’ve given up the revenue from mining tax and now they’re running once again to pensioners.

KELLY: We’ve heard from Richard Di Natale earlier on a push for Parliamentary inquiry, a Senate inquiry on the handling of the ASADA anti-doping case against Essendon. Some have suggested that as part of that inquiry it needs to be focused on that press conference two years ago, the blackest day of sports press conference - and some have accused Labor of trying to make political mileage out of that, of beating up the Crime Commission report to make political diversion. You were a Cabinet Minister at the time, was this a political move?

PLIBERSEK: Not at all, it was an interest in making sure there’s no doping in our sport.

KELLY: On NSW election, there’s been considerable soul searching for Labor here in your home state. You lost the election, that’s not a surprise but you also didn’t win back Balmain and the new seat of Newtown which was new, the Greens won those seats. Are the Greens poised to become the natural party of the progressive left, have Labor lost that ground now?

PLIBERSEK: It’s a very interesting result for the Greens because of course state-wide their vote hasn’t budged, it hasn’t gone up, it hasn’t gone down. But the concentration of the vote in Newtown, in Balmain, in Ballina, in Lismore –

KELLY: In progressive seats.

PLIBERSEK: Well, in progressive seats and relatively wealthy seats, I think you have to say, has been very intense. The Green vote in my federal seat has always been high, I’ve always treated it as a marginal seat because the Liberal and Green vote combined together is something that we have to watch. Look, I think one of the things that surprised me when I was on the booths was people were voting Green and you would talk to them about Green policies and they would actually say ‘but that’s alright, they’ll never be able to implement them’. And I think that’s something that we’re going to have to really wrestle with as parties of government, that when your opponents have the freedom to promise anything and never be held to account, that is something that we’re going to have to deal with.

KELLY: Aren’t you also going to have to face the fact that whatever you’re promising, they’re not buying and Labor’s response to that is perhaps not the best way to get these voters back. I notice that for instance there’s been some belittling of Greens voters, the Greens are stealing Labor’s votes, is that a –

PLIBERSEK: Well it’s a democracy. We compete for votes, we don’t own anybody’s votes and I don’t like that sort of language at all. Our responsibility as Members of Parliament is to set out our vision for the nation; how we would address the problems that beset us, how we would make the most of the advantages that we have. The issue for parties of government, like Labor, is that those explanations have to credible, they have to be implementable. When we’ve had independents, minor parties in the past, they have always been able to promise the world because they’ve never been held to account on delivering and I think if minor parties are going to become major parties, then they have to be held to the same standards.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much for joining us.


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