TRANSCRIPT: ABC Radio National Drive, Wednesday 25 November 2015




SUBJECTS: National Security, domestic violence, foreign investment, women in politics 

PATRICIA KARVELAS, PRESENTER: As if the conflict in Syria wasn’t diabolical enough, Turkey – a Member of NATO – has shot down a Russian warplane near the Turkey-Syria border. Vladimir Putin has called it a “stab in the back” as other world leaders try to clarify details and contain the diplomatic fallout. Tanya Plibersek is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, welcome back to RN Drive.


PRESENTER: There seems to be a general consensus that this jet was warned several times before it was shot down but there’s less agreement on whether it was in Syrian or Turkish airspace, and of course, the allocation of blame… what’s your current understanding?

PLIBERSEK: Well I’m going from the same public reports that you are Patricia and I think it’s important for Australia not to get caught up in the argument about whether the plane was in Turkish airspace. I think what we should be saying is that it’s very important that all of the parties are working together to fight Daesh, or IS; make sure that they have clear lines of communication. This is exactly the sort of consequence that we feared when Russia entered into this conflict; that the US and other allies would not have clear enough lines of communication with Russia, which of course operates on different rules of engagement. It shows how vital that communication is and it shows how vital that we have the agreed objective of targeting IS, or Daesh, rather than some of the more confusing objectives that it seems that Russia has had, including defending the Assad Government.

PRESENTER: Here’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop this morning, when asked if Australia would side with the US in supporting Turkey:

FOREIGN MINISITER, JULIE BISHOP: Well the investigation is yet to take place, the facts are not yet clear and Australia will of course await a detailed analysis of what occurred.

PRESENTER: Now that’s a very diplomatic answer, but Australia will have to take sides at some stage, won’t it? I mean either due to what comes out of an investigation or for alliance purposes?

PLIBERSEK: Well no, I don’t see it that way. I don’t think it’s up to Australia to take sides in this, I think it’s up to Australia to reiterate that it’s absolutely vital that all of the parties that are working together to defeat Daesh have clear lines of engagement and clear lines of communication between them.

PRESENTER: Russian President, Vladimir Putin says this is a stab in the back by the terrorists’ accomplices and there will be serious consequences for Russia’s relationship with Turkey. Is a political solution in Syria now less likely? Does this complicate it very substantially?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think there are different views on whether this makes peace in Syria less likely. I think the reporting that you’ve done on what’s come out of the Vienna meeting recently – the Vienna Process recently – suggests that we are moving slowly, ever so slowly, towards a better political solution or a better understanding at least of the steps it would take to come to a political solution. And so I still am hopeful that we’re heading inch by inch slowly in a better direction when it comes to a political solution. There has been, I suppose, escalating tension between Russia and Turkey over Syria – since late September when Russia first became involved, Turkey has been accusing Russia of targeting moderate rebels and violating its airspace, it’s made that accusation on a number of occasions. And Russia has been saying that Turkey is guilty of arming terrorists, so they haven’t been holding back up until now in their conflict. Turkey obviously is very keen to see Bashar al Assad leave office; Russia has been protecting the Assad regime, so we need to focus not on the conflict between Turkey’s objectives and Russia’s objectives, but on the objective they share which is the defeat of Daesh, or IS, and of course that’s our objective, the objective of the United States and all of the countries – 60 countries in fact – involved in trying to prevent Daesh expanding its territory.

PRESENTER: In terms of a political solution, Bill Shorten has said – and I quote – “there can be no lasting peace if you keep the butcher, Assad, in power”. What is Labor’s tolerance for allowing Bashar al Assad to be part of a power-sharing or a transitional arrangement in Syria?

PLIBERSEK: It’s not about Labor’s tolerance of that, it’s about the tolerance of the Syrian people. And this is a man who has killed well over 200 thousand of his own citizens. He continues to use barrel bombs, chemical weapons, the most brutal attacks on civilians… I don’t think the people of Syria will tolerate Bashar al Assad as their President. It may be that he is part of a transitional arrangement, it may be he will have to be part of negotiations with the rebel groups. But, I cannot see a long term solution that allows the Assad regime to continue with this man as President.

PRESENTER: The plane was shot down in the North of Syria, rather than the East where Australia is joining the airstrikes. But is there cause to be concerned about the security of Australian forces there?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think of course we can never discount any risk to Australian defence personnel when they’re deployed in one of the most dangerous places in the world. But it is important to understand that the fact that Russia and the United States signed a deconfliction memorandum of understanding in October is very important – that has rules and restrictions that are aimed at preventing instances between America and the group of allies and Russian aircraft.  And, of course, our own aircraft, our own personnel are highly sophisticated: we’ve got sophisticated intelligence and surveillance and reconnaissance air assets and I think that puts us in a very good position to know where the other aircraft are flying over Syria, which of course makes any sort of incident much less likely.

PRESENTER: Now Tanya, it’s also White Ribbon Day as you certainly know and there have been announcements on both sides of politics about domestic violence. Labor’s announcement is that it would write 5 days of paid domestic violence leave into the National Employment Standards. Malcolm Turnbull and Christian Porter say that they’ll consider it. Is there potential for bipartisanship on this?

PLIBERSEK: Well of course we’d be delighted if there was bipartisanship. I think there is to a great extent, Patricia, bipartisanship in the acknowledgement of the importance of White Ribbon Day and the acknowledgment that with an average of more than 1 woman dying every week at the hands of a current or former partner, that this is an epidemic that Australia has to face head on. And I have to say as well, Patricia, that this is because of the work of victims and advocates, survivors of domestic violence, people who work in refuges, and in the legal system… work that they have been doing for decades. It was really encouraging today to hear our Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the Greens, all talking about the importance of men standing up to say no to violence, to act to prevent violence against women. Including these 5 days of leave in the National Standards of Employment is very important; the very last thing we want is for a victim of violence to lose her job because she has to go to court to get protection or because she has to go to counselling, or move house because her ex-partner is harassing her. So, having that leave is important to make sure victims don’t lost their jobs. But it’s also a really important acknowledgement of our business community, of our leaders, that domestic violence is not something that victims of violence have to face alone: it’s something that we as a community take seriously and if you’re facing violence, you’ve got a whole lot of people on your side who will back you to take action to protect yourself. And to that end I think it’s very important to acknowledge that a number of companies have already made provisions like this available to their staff. Unions have fought for and won provisions like this in many agreements, so close to 2 million people already have formal access to this type of leave. And a lot of small businesses in particular, they don’t formal leave but they have supported their employees while they’ve had to move or go to court or look after their kids in situations like this so I really want to pay tribute to those people who have already done this.

PRESENTER: Just on another issue if I can get you on it, particularly as an MP from Sydney. The NSW Government has agreed to a 99 year lease for its electricity transition network Transgrid for 10 billion dollars. The successful bidder is a consortium that is 65% foreign owned. Is that a concern for Labor?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think every individual investment has to be assessed on its merits. And that’s why we properly have a Foreign Investment Review Board and significant investments should be properly examined by the Foreign Investment Review Board. There’s a Senate Inquiry I think just announced today that will look at the electricity situation in NSW, the Port of Darwin, the Kidman rural land holdings, and a number of the other issues that have been controversial recently. But I think it’s important to say Australia benefits from foreign investment – we don’t have enough money in Australia to do all of the building, development and so on that we want to do. Foreign investment is good for Australia, but it has to be assessed case by case to make sure that each individual investment meets that requirement that it’s in Australia’s best interests.

PRESENTER: Just finally, I know I’ve taken some of your time. Earlier today you and Julie Bishop launched Australia’s first university course designed to get more women into politics. How much of a difference do you think that could make?

PLIBERSEK: Oh look, I think it’s a great initiative. This is being driven by a really fantastic woman from Melbourne called Carol Schwartz, who has with her philanthropic organisation said that she will back this program to get more women into our Parliament and into political life more generally. It’s a bipartisan initiative based on something that she saw in Harvard that was called “Harvard Square to Oval Office”. I think it’s well worth doing – we know that a lot of women are interested in a career in politics but don’t necessarily have the confidence or the networks or the mentors to help them take those first steps. So I think it’s a terrific initiative both for learning some political skills; campaigning skills, media and so on, for building a network as well. But I think that political parties also have to take responsibility too for increasing their own numbers of women in Parliament – it’s not a substitute for that. And I think our approach to setting targets, including our target of 50 percent is very important. When we set our first target , about 1 in 5 Labor Parliamentarians were female. Because we’ve progressively raised our targets, almost half are now female: 45 percent of Labor MPs around the country are women.

PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, many thanks for your time.

PLIBERSEK: A pleasure Patricia, thank you.