SUBJECTS: Federal election; division and disunity in the Liberal Party; possibility of a hung parliament; Labor's and medicare; Leadership.


FRAN KELLY, PRESENTER: We’re joined by Labor’s Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek. Tanya Plibersek welcome back to Breakfast.


KELLY: I imagine that I feel a little better from you I can’t image how you feel today. How would you sum up the feeling?

PLIBERSEK: Obviously, we feel very uncertain about what the final result will be with so many seats still to be declared and so many votes still to count. We’ve got all the pre-poll votes and postal votes still to go, and probably 13 seats, really, where you couldn’t call it finally for days, perhaps even longer.

KELLY: What do you think the chances are of heading to a hung parliament? We’ve just been discussing there Andrew Willkie and Cathy McGowan the role they might play.

PLIBERSEK: I just really think it’s too early to tell about that sort of thing because we don’t know in those last seats whether they’ll swing more to us, more to the Government or whether we’ll see a few more wild card results. But I would say, Fran, you asked me to start with how I feel, and I feel very proud of the campaign we’ve run, and very proud of our candidates, our leader, our volunteers, our workers - our booth workers and others. I think it’s really a tribute to Bill’s leadership and our united team that we’ve come so far in such a relatively short time - in this three years in Opposition.

KELLY: It’s a funny thing isn’t it because you’ve come so far in a sense that no one thought you were in this race and here we are discussing a hung parliament; but at the same time you haven’t come very far at all - your primary vote at the end of night was only 34.9 percent - that’s Labor’s second lowest primary vote in nearly 70 years. Only one third of the electorate wants to have you in government. Do you deserve to govern?

PLIBERSEK: We’ve had an improvement in our primary vote on the Liberals by about 2 percent and the Liberals have gone back by about 4 percent.

KELLY: Still low though is my point.

PLIBERSEK: I think that reflects modern politics. We don’t have two parties anymore, we’ve got a plethora of choices out there and, like I say, I’m very proud of the campaign we’ve run and the strong result we had. I think we really out-campaigned the conservatives, we made about close to 1 million phone calls, we knocked on about half a million doors and I think our social media campaign was really way ahead of the Liberals – they really relied on mass advertising, more expensive, but I think less impact in the long run. And today, I guess the real thing to say about the wash up of this is that we’ve come through strong, united, clear message, clear set of policies and the Liberals are already fracturing. They’re a party at war with themselves, there’s all sorts of recriminations when you flick through the papers today. Were they too left wing, did they not have a clear message? – this is the Liberals talking about their campaign. I think there’s a degree of instability in the future for the conservative parties that really doesn’t bode well for them.

KELLY: If we end up in hung parliament territory would you expect that, that tension within the Coalition to play into the thinking of the independents and would that be part of your pitch to the independents when you’re talking with them?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think the independents don’t know who the leader of the Liberal Party is going to be in the next few weeks. There’s such a degree of recrimination here that I think - I mean I can’t speak for the Liberals – but I’d be very surprised if they can solidly say that they’re all behind Malcolm Turnbull and even Julie Bishop. You’ve read the same speculation I have – that there’s people out to get her, there’s certainly within the campaign team itself, the backroom operators in the Liberal Party, there’s a lot of recriminations there. I don’t think anybody can say who will be leading the Liberal Party in a month’s time.

KELLY: Obviously, just listening there to Andrew Willkie and Cathy McGowan and looking at the numbers we can’t say who’s going to be governing Australia. For Labor to do it, if it is hung parliament territory, the Greens would come into play. Their Adam Bandt is in the lower house. Bill Shorten said again yesterday there would be no coalition with the Greens. You gave that impassioned speech during the campaign criticising the Greens for splitting the progressive vote – as they surely have done – but an alliance with the Greens might be your only hope for forming government. Would you still say no?

PLIBERSEK: Well, absolutely we’ve said no to any sort of coalition. We’ve got at the moment, probably, at least 5 people sitting on the cross benches and we will have to obviously talk to them over coming weeks about whether we can work with them to offer some sort of stable government to Australia. But we’ve ruled out coalition.

KELLY: And what’s you pitch to them?

PLIBERSEK: We’re stable, we’re united, you can tell what we want to do in government. We’ve got well over 100 positive policies out there. There’s no mystery to what our agenda is – our agenda is strong economy, fair society, jobs, health, education. If they agree with that, if they want to do something about climate change, if they want marriage equality within the first 100 days, then they should support Labor to offer these policies to the Australian people. If they want disunity and dysfunction then the Liberals have got that in spades.

KELLY: If the numbers are close, if it is hung, truth be told, would you rather leave Malcolm Turnbull to the angst of trying to form government and run with a hung parliament and a Senate that looks as though it could be even more unpredictable and recalcitrant than the last one?

PLIBERSEK: You know what, I think what’s at stake is too important for that. We really have some important choices to make as a country. Do we really think that a $50 billion tax cut for big business in the most important thing we can do for our nation at the moment, or do we think investing in education and the productivity dividend that that delivers over years to come is more important?

KELLY: You say you out-campaigned the Government. Did you out-campaign them or did you just lie shamelessly? The Prime Minister accused you of one of the most systematic, well-funded lies ever peddled in Australia over Medicare? Did you go too far?

PLIBERSEK: No way. I think that is the most acute example of sour grapes I’ve ever seen. This is a government that in its three years has tried to introduce a Medicare co-payment, has tried to put up the price of medicines, has cut tens of billions of dollars from our hospitals…

KELLY: That’s all very well, but we’re talking about campaigning styles. You were handing out, your supporters were handing out Medicare cards and you were putting out a text saying ‘vote to save Medicare’ with Medicare on the top of it. Is that proper?

PLIBERSEK: Medicare was at risk at this election, Fran, and I don’t apologise for reminding people that there is a philosophical, fundamental choice here: do you support a health system where we all contribute through our taxes and people draw down on that contribution as they need it, when they need it; or do we want a user-pays health system like they’ve got in the United States, that actually ends up costing them more as a nation but doesn’t deliver the same quality of care? I’ll stand up for Medicare any day and I’m absolutely proud to do it.

KELLY: The police are looking into this text message.

PLIBERSEK: Really Fran, what an absurd proposition from the Liberals – I don’t know. I remember their campaign against a sensible price on carbon pollution that would reduce pollution in Australia: $100 legs of lamb, Whyalla wiped off the face of the map. Truly, are we really in a stage where if you lose an election you call the police out? Absurd.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek, can I just ask you finally, if Labor loses this election the Labor leadership will automatically be spilled. That’s the rules. Bill Shorten says he’s never been more certain of his leadership as he is now after Labor’s showing on Saturday. Will he face a challenge?

PLIBERSEK: I’d be amazed. This is really a fantastic result for Bill. He’s led a united team, we’ve put out a very positive policy agenda, we’ve come closer than anybody ever imagined. This is on top of the fact, obviously, that we saw off Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey some time ago. We’ve now seen off another Liberal Prime Minister. I think Bill’s achievement speaks for itself. He’s done a great job and I’m sure that everyone will be delighted to support him and show that they are so proud of him for the job that he’s done.

KELLY: I’m almost at the news but you won’t be a challenger in the leadership?

PLIBERSEK: No no, Fran - I think around the country Labor supporters, voters, members were saying on Saturday night what a magnificent job, what a tribute to Bill Shorten.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek, thanks very much for joining us.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks Fran.