TRANSCRIPT: ABC Radio National Breakfast, Wednesday 15 June




SUBJECTS: Speech to the McKell Institute; Labor's achievements as a party of Government; Indigenous recognition; preferences; Orlando shootings.

FRAN KELLY, PRESENTER: The Deputy Labor Leader joins me in the breakfast studio now. Tanya Plibersek welcome back to Breakfast.


KELLY: Your speech is called the progressive case for Labor. The fact that you're having to make the case, is this a clear acknowledgement that Labor is losing ground to the Greens?

PLIBERSEK: No, it's a reminder that to really achieve anything, you need to be consistent, you need to have a long-term objective - you need to be prepared to be pragmatic along the way. And in the speech Fran, I talk about Medicare - Medicare has been a forty-year project for the Labor Party - two steps forward, reverses when the Liberals have come back into government, privatising Medibank for example. We are still fighting to protect Medicare, but what I want to lay out for young voters in particular is that change doesn't happen overnight. You've got to have a long term objective - the light on the hill that we often refer to. You've got to be pretty clear about how you're going to get there, which step is first? How are you going to pay for it? What the plan is.

KELLY: And you have to get your values right and get that balance right don't you? I mean talk about Medicare and you say more than just wishful thinking - it took more than wishful thinking, more than slogans, more than protests. It took real tough pragmatic politics but Medicare is forty years old, the world was different then and the Labor Party was different then too. It had a lot more members, it had a lot higher vote at a time when the idealists were perhaps part more than they are now. Many of them have gone and joined the Greens -

PLIBERSEK: I absolutely reject that. I have a lot of young people in my branches and you couldn't find people who are more idealistic, the difference between -

KELLY: But do they stay?

PLIBERSEK: Yes, of course they do. They're our next generation - they're the ones we're going to pass the baton to. But the difference is they understand that progress is made step by step. You don't teleport to the end destination. It's hard, there are struggles along the way, there are setbacks and the big difference of course is we're a party of government, we need to take more than half of the Australian population with us on this journey. So it is harder.

KELLY: But that's what you're struggling to do? I mean the Greens are taking votes off you in more and more numbers all the time. They took a seat off you in Melbourne, they might have taken another seat off you if you hadn't done a cosy deal with the Liberals?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I don't think you can say that this is a constant trajectory Fran. We’ve seen parties like the Democrats come and go. We've seen parties on the right come and go too - the Palmer United Party, Katter and others waxing and waning, so I don’t think you can say this is a determined long-term trend and one of the reasons -

KELLY: Do you think the Greens might come and go?

PLIBERSEK: Well, one of the reasons I'm making the speech today is to appeal to people who are making this decision and say to them idealism on its own is not enough - you need idealism and a plan to achieve the objectives that you set out.

KELLY: So you are saying to people you don't think the Greens would last or should last?

PLIBERSEK: I don't think they've really delivered anything, so the question about whether they would last or should last is one for their voters in the long-term and this is a democracy of course. But I look at what we have achieved as a party as a movement; great reforms like Medicare, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the Gonski school funding reforms, the apology to the stolen generations, the Royal Commission into Child Abuse. None of these can happen unless you are in government.

KELLY: You say in the speech that Labor is both idealistic and pragmatic as you've been saying here and Labor's true believers are not wishful thinkers. What about all those true believers that just detest offshore processing, is that what they are, wishful thinkers?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's the difference between Labor and the Liberals. We actually say we need to treat people with compassion. We want to double the number of humanitarian entrants into Australia. You heard Bill Shorten talk the other night about how we would increase transparency in offshore processing. We also have a responsibility to stop people from drowning at sea. We can't say like the Greens do, ‘just let them come’. We have to be a party of the centre that deals with the real issues before us, which is preventing people drowning at sea and being more compassionate as the world needs our compassion.

KELLY: The government describes that very sort of comment as Labor walking both sides of the street. It's also been accusing Labor in this campaign of veering left to head off the Greens. We've had Bill Shorten as you've just mentioned talk about transparency when it comes to offshore processing and Peter Dutton said that was just to try and head off the Greens. Bill Shorten has also spoken about a treaty with Indigenous Australians this week. Let's talk about that, Malcolm Turnbull says that Bill Shorten has jeopardised Indigenous recognition in the constitution by engaging in the idea of treaty. To introduce another element as a level of uncertainty that puts at risk the constitutional process. Has Labor done that?

PLIBERSEK: Well, what happened to the Malcolm Turnbull that started off his Prime Ministership saying that we shouldn't insult the intelligence of Australians - that we should have these complex conversations, be prepared to have the discussion. What Bill said is that constitutional recognition and a treaty are not mutually exclusive - that of course we should take this next step together. We should absolutely continue to work in a bi-partisan way for constitutional recognition. This needs to be something that parliamentarians across the political spectrum join to support, but that doesn't mean that’s the end of our reconciliation journey and I think it's very important to say that constitutional recognition is one step along many to a future where Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians are truly reconciled.

KELLY: Is a notion of a treaty though, is it a step too far for some, do you think it will frighten people back into their boxes on this?

PLIBERSEK: I think that's why it is important to have the conversation. There's nothing wrong with having a conversation about steps beyond constitutional recognition. Of course our next, our first step is bi-partisan support for constitutional recognition but that's not where the conversation ends.

KELLY: Do you believe as some do - like Warren Mundine, I mean these are not considered radical Indigenous voices. Warren Mundine, Tanya Hosch to some extent, Tony McEvoy, Australia's first Indigenous SC we spoke to earlier, basically saying you can't have recognition without a relationship and that the treaty becomes part of that relationship.

PLIBERSEK: I think you can take the next step towards recognition, constitutional recognition without having settled whether or not there will be a treaty and what that treaty would look like. I think saying that constitutional recognition is not the final step in our reconciliation journey means that both things are in prospect in the future.

KELLY: Is Labor veering to the left in this campaign, to try and head off the Greens?

PLIBERSEK: I don't think the Greens would say we are veering to the left. We are ourselves, Fran. We have always been the party that has had a vision for a strong economy with good growth, that drives decent quality jobs with good pay and conditions, getting the economics right and also the party of a fair society that says that the benefits of our strong economy are fairly shared, that nobody is left behind.

KELLY: Let's talk about the pragmatic side of the Labor Party because preferences have been at the heart of the election battle between Labor and the Greens. When you spoke to us in the first week of this campaign you said a preference deal had been done between the Liberals and the Greens. Has a deal been done do you know?

PLIBERSEK: (recording) Absolutely it has. Certainly in Victoria - we are hearing all the time from our negotiators that the Victorian seats are off the table - so Melbourne, Batman, Wills - there's a deal done.

KELLY: Turns out you were wrong, was that just a tactic to force the Liberals to spurn the Greens and do a deal with you instead?

PLIBERSEK: It turns out that the deal was so unpopular with both Liberal Party members and perhaps Greens members that they've backed away from the deal. There is no question that Michael Kroger was negotiating a deal in Victoria that had spill over into NSW and potentially other seats as well. If he's been over-ruled, well that's good.

KELLY: You've just been visiting Adelaide, we're going there tomorrow, Labor say's it's going to issue open tickets in South Australia. You won’t preference the Nick Xenophon team which will harm the chances of them picking up a couple of Liberal seats perhaps - Mayo, Grey, even Sturt. Who do you want to beat more in this election, the Liberal Party or the Nick Xenophon team?

PLIBERSEK: We want to be able to form government. That's our objective and I think it would have been terrific if we could actually have been confident that the Nick Xenophon team shared our values and we would be able to exchange preferences with them. But we have raised issues like penalty rates with them, we've raised health and education and we haven't really had a great deal of comfort from our policy similarities. I mean for South Australians, the real question is - Nick Xenophon is going to get back, who does he bring with him? He's got a number two on his senate ticket that's opposed to weekend penalty rates; he's got a candidate who talks about a very bizarre form of acupuncture to treat infertility. Remember Ann Bressington -

KELLY: Do you think his team is less acceptable than members of the Liberal Party?

PLIBERSEK: I think we don't know Fran, because they're not allowed to speak. It says in the Nick Xenophon Party constitution that they're not allowed to talk without the permission of the party. People don't know who they're voting for, that's the point I'm to making.

KELLY: I just wonder whether the voters looking on seeing the Liberals preferencing Labor ahead of the Greens, seeing you not preferencing Nick Xenophon - it looks like voters believe the two major parties just colluding to squeeze out the smaller parties.

PLIBERSEK: I was there yesterday, I was on pre-polling, I saw the 'how to votes' we’ve got and on the how to vote it says this is how you vote Labor and if you want to go number two to Nick Xenophon, this is what you do. If you want to go number two to Liberal, this is how you do it. I think it's quite legitimate. If you can’t be confident of the policies of the Nick Xenophon party just to give people the option.

KELLY: Can I just ask you finally about the Orlando shootings - your seat of Sydney is the home to the Gay Mardi Gras. Do you have a sense of how vulnerable same-sex Australians are feeling at the moment?

PLIBERSEK: I think all Americans are horrified and of course I called the US Ambassador and offered our condolences as a Labor Party a couple of days ago when this happened. But beyond every American and every Australian being horrified by this, it obviously has a particular effect on the gay and lesbian community because there is a clear targeting of people who are just out having a good time. I don't think Australians by and large feel as vulnerable to mass shooting attacks.

KELLY: Course not -

PLIBERSEK: As we've seen in the United States. But there is a particular sense of grief in the gay and lesbian community about the targeting of gays and lesbians in this attack.

KELLY: Does the timing of this bring any thought to the way we should think about managing the plebiscite on same sex marriage?

PLIBERSEK: I don't want to link the two things Fran, but what I have always said, before this terrible tragedy, about the plebiscite is that anything that gives license to people to say there's something wrong with being gay or lesbian, or being in a family with same-sex parents is something that I don't think is good for our Australian society.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek, thank you for joining us.