TRANSCRIPT: ABC RN Breakfast, Wednesday 29 July 2015






SUBJECTS: UN tribunal; women in Parliament; marriage equality; asylum seeker policy; Bronwyn Bishop

FRAN KELLY, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, good morning.


KELLY: I’m good, thank you. Can I ask you first as Shadow Foreign Minister – Julie Bishop, the Foreign Minister is at the UN lobbying for an international tribunal to prosecute the culprits, the people who shot down MH17 over Ukraine. We heard on AM, she said there’s a high level of support but she doesn’t sound confident that Russia won’t exercise its veto which would put paid to the idea of a tribunal. How can justice be achieved without it?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it would be disappointing if Russia exercised a veto. If Russia decided to abstain that would be one matter, but exercising a veto, I’m sure many people would be disappointed. 298 lives were lost, including 39 Australians. Australia and other nations that had citizens aboard MH17 are very concerned to see the people responsible brought to justice.

KELLY: Can I go to other matters now around Labor’s National Conference on the weekend. There’s a lot of talk about affirmative action rules for women at the moment in the Parliament. Labor adopted a 50 per cent quota in ten years’ time. Would you have any chance of getting to that number without quotas?

PLIBERSEK: I think quotas really focus the mind. I’m not sure that the quota that we’ve had at each stage has been particularly useful because of interventions by national executive or anything concrete like that. What it’s done is remind party members and officials at every level that they need to consider making sure that we have more women in our parliaments, and the proof’s in the pudding, Fran. In 1994 about 18 per cent of our MPs were women and in 2015 it’s more than 43 per cent -

KELLY: Well, Julie Bishop told AM the proof’s in the pudding in that these quotas get abandoned every time a male union leader wants a seat.

PLIBERSEK: Well, I’m not sure that Julie Bishop’s in a great position to be lecturing the Labor Party on affirmative action given that she’s one of only two female Cabinet ministers in the Liberal Cabinet. And in fact, when the second one was appointed it was a doubling of the number of female Cabinet ministers. I think the Liberal Party itself, people like even Christopher Pyne, certainly Sharman Stone, Teresa Gambaro, Kelly O’Dwyer, all of them have been speaking out in recent days saying that the Liberal Party needs to do better. Look at their -

KELLY: But not for quotas, they won’t support quotas, they all argue for it to be merit based as Julie Bishop was again this morning, which implies that some of the Labor women have got there not through merit.

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I’d stack our women up against anyone. I think the simple fact is there are a lot talented Liberal women sitting on the backbench because of the current culture of their party. I can’t understand why Kelly O’Dwyer wasn’t promoted before now. She’s a, you know, compared with many other MPs, very talented person. And it was inexplicable to me that she was languishing there on the backbench as long as she was. I think that quotas focus the mind, Fran, and rather than actually having to intervene at any particular time, what it’s done is introduce a culture into our Labor party of ensuring that we are increasing female representation. I told you the numbers, 1994 to 2015, Fran, we’ve basically doubled our proportion of female representation. In that same time, the Liberals have gone from about 14 per cent to just under 23 per cent so they really have increased their numbers much more slowly.

KELLY: Okay-

PLIBERSEK: Each time we’ve set the bar, we’ve achieved it, we’ve set it higher. I think that’s the really good way to progress.

KELLY: A couple of other issues to get through. You were a main driver behind the adoption of a binding vote on marriage equality, albeit not for two terms, another four years. Senior Liberals are now claiming this lets Tony Abbott off the hook, the prospect of a conscience vote in the Liberal Party has now diminished because of the position you and others took at conference. Have you set back the cause of marriage reform?

PLIBERSEK: It is the most ridiculous excuse I have ever heard. The fact that we will have a binding vote sometime after 2019 doesn’t give Tony Abbott an excuse to prevent a conscience vote in his Liberal Party in the next month. There’ll be backbenchers like Warren Entsch proposing private members’ bills; of course the Liberal Party should be allowed to debate it in their party room. Up til now, Tony Abbott’s prevented that. We could have marriage equality by Christmas, Fran. We can certainly have it in this term of Parliament. If not in this term of Parliament, in the first 100 days of a newly elected Labor government. There is no excuse now for Tony Abbott to further delay discussion in his party room. I hear yesterday that he’s now talking about a plebiscite. He is grasping at any excuse to prevent this change that the majority of Australians want. We know that in recent surveys, well over 70 per cent of Australians support marriage equality. I think a lot of people of faith support marriage equality, as long as their own churches don’t need to marry people if they feel uncomfortable with that. And our proposed legislation earlier this year certainly made sure there was a very clear exemption for religious institutions.

KELLY: Okay, can I ask you, because your conference also controversially within adopted boat turnbacks as policy. You sent a proxy vote against that policy. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton lost no time saying that demonstrates how fraught the situation would be if in government you were Foreign Minister, you’d be at odds with the policy and that would weaken Labor’s resolve. What’s your response to that?

PLIBERSEK: I think Peter Dutton doesn’t really understand the Labor Party or me very well. I’m very pleased with where we’ve ended up on this policy –

KELLY: But you voted against turnbacks.

PLIBERSEK: Sorry, just let me finish this sentence. We are bringing more people to Australia, more refugees, but we’re bringing them here safely. We are doubling the number of refugees that will come to Australia. We are increasing support for the UNHCR by $450 million both in our region and internationally. We’ll get kids out of detention, end temporary protection visas, an independent children’s advocate, mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse.  This is a very healthy package because it balances the need to bring people here to Australia safely, prevent deaths at sea by drowning -

KELLY: Yes, but Tanya Plibersek, to go to Peter Dutton’s point, if you were Foreign Minister, would you be able to argue strongly to countries that don’t like turnbacks that this is what Australia needs to do?

PLIBERSEK: Yes, I would. And I think that the $450 million that we’re contributing to the UNHCR makes it much easier because countries in our region want to work cooperatively with Australia to prevent boats departing from Indonesia for example, and when we work through the UNHCR on a regional processing agreement it makes that much easier.

KELLY: Can I just ask you very briefly because we’re running out of time but Bronwyn Bishop, if she repaid the taxpayer money she has spent, it looks like attending the weddings of two of her colleagues, would all be forgiven?

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s extraordinary Bronwyn Bishop and other members of the Liberal Party for a moment thought that it was appropriate to bill the taxpayer to attend a wedding -

KELLY: That’s in the past, most of them have repaid. If she repays, can she stay in the Parliament, like the others have, as Speaker?

PLIBERSEK: Oh look, I think it’s absolutely vital that she does repay and I think that the Australian Federal Police should have been empowered to look into this. But I think the real problem with Bronwyn Bishop is the travel entitlements scandal is just another manifestation of her attitude to the Parliament, which is deeply partisan and certainly not above politics for one moment. I think that the bigger problem with Bronwyn Bishop, as well as the travel entitlements controversy is the fact that she has not risen above politics in the role of Speaker, she’s become more partisan, a greater warrior for the Liberal Party than ever, I think. People should be asking questions about the way she conducts herself as Speaker, not just her travel entitlements.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek, we’ll leave it there. Thank you very much for joining us.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.