TRANSCRIPT: ABC RN Drive, Thursday 7 July




SUBJECTS: The 2016 Federal Election; the Chilcot Report

PATRICIA KARVELAS, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek is Deputy Leader - Labor Leader, rather - and the Shadow Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, and the recently re-elected Member for Sydney. Welcome to the program.


KARVELAS: A few hats there! We're at 73 LNP, 66 Labor in the latest count. Looks like you're staying in Opposition?

PLIBERSEK: Well it's still pretty close. It's not clear that the Government can finally form a government again. I think if you're a betting person, you'd have to say it's more likely than not. But we are still just letting the Electoral Commission do their work. There's still a number of seats hanging in the balance, some of them are very close indeed.

KARVELAS: A big caucus meeting tomorrow but before that, I mean, what do you make of Bob Katter's decision to back the Coalition today?

PLIBERSEK: Well I guess it's no great surprise. I think it's important that Bob made very clear that this is a deal on supply. It certainly doesn't mean that he'll be backing every piece of conservative legislation. I think he's also made very clear that he shouldn't be taken for granted, and I guess that what it really does is contribute to the sense of instability and insecurity that the Liberals and Nationals have brought to the Parliament, with this very close result.

KARVELAS: But in 2010 you also governed in minority and at the time you were telling the public that is was stable and it was an effective government, passed a lot of legislation, so what's to say that you can't have a minority government that's effective?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think Julia Gillard did an extraordinary job during that Parliament to keep our Parliament on track - passing close to 500 pieces of legislation during that minority government. I would put my money on Julia Gillard's negotiating skills over Malcolm Turnbull's any day of the week. I'd be very surprised if he's able to bring the same sense of progress to this hung Parliament that we see in prospect that we were able to bring to the minority government that we ran. We got through really big reforms, like the National Disability Insurance Scheme, like the Gonski school education funding reforms, and we did it in a way that, I think, we are still proud of, the fact that we achieved those great reforms.

KARVELAS: Now the big Caucus meeting happens tomorrow. Will Bill Shorten be the only one to nominate for the leadership?

PLIBERSEK: Well I would certainly expect so. I mean, all of the feedback that I'm getting from my Caucus colleagues and from Labor Party members and supporters is that they think Bill has done a terrific job. It was a very hard-fought campaign. I think our message - our focus on jobs, health and education - was very important. Bill's leadership on those policy issues - the fact that he's been able to unite our Caucus and give us a very clear platform to take to the Australian people was very critical to our good result. We got a lot of help from of course from our 12,200 volunteers around the country, our fantastic candidates, our terrific National Secretary and the team that he assembled for that central campaign. But the feedback I get everywhere is that people are very impressed with the job that Bill's done.

KARVELAS: I know that Anthony Albanese referred to this period as kind of extra time after a football match, or whatever, where you have that period where you - I don't know, I don't understand football, why am I pretending? Really I had to just end that, didn't I? It was getting embarrassing!

PLIBERSEK: How have you made it in Australian public life, Patricia, if you don't understand that sporting analogy? Come on!

KARVELAS: Arguably, I haven't, but there's been Prime Ministers who are just as bad as me, okay, so you can make it, people. But it is extra time - why are you rushing to complete this leadership process? I mean, is Bill Shorten trying to steamroll people, because don't you need that extra time to play out, have the Parliament declared so you can give people a chance to make an assessment if they want to contest the leadership?

PLIBERSEK: We've had a fantastic result, I don't think anybody expected us to do as well as we've done, with this number of seats, and really, the only person here who is worried about his leadership is Malcolm Turnbull. I mean, you already see Cory Bernardi threatening to start a party of his own, you've got Andrew Hastie in the west and the Tasmanian MPs who were defeated complaining about the character of the national campaign, the fact that the big business tax cut didn't resonate with Australians of the, Malcolm Turnbull, you know you played a clip of him just earlier talking about what an exciting time it is to be alive. Well, again, that message I think really missed the mark for a lot of Australians - they know that they haven't had wages growth in years, they know that living standards have been declining for seven straight quarters, they know again today we had one of the ratings agencies sending up a red flag on the Australian economy, and Malcolm Turnbull just sounds like he's in denial about all of this. I think the fact that Tony Abbott is meeting with Tony Nutt in Canberra, people are reading all sorts of things into what's going on in the Liberal Party at the moment - they're the ones you should be watching, Patricia, it's going to be a very interesting few months in the Liberal Party, that's for sure.

KARVELAS: What sort of opposition will you be? I mean, do you plan to sort of copy the style of Tony Abbott in 2010 who went on to destabilise and to create, I supposed you'd have to say is the feeling that the Parliament was constantly in chaos while it was in minority. If there's a minority government will you do a similar thing to try and destabilise the government?

PLIBERSEK: We'll always put the interests of Australia first, we'll always be a responsible opposition. We are an alternate government, we'll behave like one. We've got more than 100 positive policies out there, they're fully costed; anybody can see what we stand for. During the last Parliament there were a number of times when we supported the government on things that we believed were in the national interest, and there were other times when we opposed. We did that based on our values, the principles that we always hold dear. We are a party that is about a strong economy and a fair society and when the Government proposes things that strengthen our economy, make our society fairer, we're prepared to work with them on that, and have been over the last three years. If they do things that are contrary to those aims and to the values that we hold, then we'll oppose them.

KARVELAS: So but you don't want to be wreckers, is the question that I'm asking?

PLIBERSEK: We've never been wreckers. We've been an incredibly responsible opposition over the last three years, and again we've gone into this campaign with a really clearly articulated agenda for government. We are making sure that Australians understand that during this period of instability, we are readying ourselves to take on government. If that happens in a few days time if Malcolm Turnbull can't form government, terrific. If it's not in a few days time, with the instability we're likely to see in the coming months, it might be sooner rather than later. And I can say Patricia, the instability won't necessarily be from our side.  I think it’s much more likely that the sort of stories you're hearing, where Peter Dutton is going to knock off Julie Bishop, and you know, Tony Abbott will be back on the front bench and so on.

KARVELAS: Sure, but it's more about whether you're exploiting that.

PLIBERSEK: Well, I don't know whether pointing out to the Australian people that Australia would be better governed by a united party, with a clear agenda for government - I don't that's exploiting it, I think that's the democratic contest.

KARVELAS: Will there be any discussion, sort of your own version of, you know, talking about the campaign and your own problems? Because you did have a very low primary vote, I mean it can't have all been fantastic for Labor either.

PLIBERSEK: Well we've got - on this most recent count - we've got more than half of the two party preferred vote, which is a terrific result for a first-term opposition. Of course we always look at ways that we can improve for next time, but I think we're going to find it pretty hard to point out too many flaws in the campaign. I think it was a campaign that was disciplined, on-message, connected with the Australian people, strategic. I think it was a very good campaign, and it's shown in our results. We're going to be welcoming a fantastic lot of new Members of Parliament tomorrow - people who picked up seats that were considered very difficult seats for us, you know Susan Lamb will be coming in and Emma Husar, Susan Templeman, Linda Burney, our three Tasmanian MPs, Julian Hill from Victoria - I mean that was a seat that was a very marginal seat, he had to work very hard to win that, our new MPs from WA and from Solomon in the Northern Territory. We've got a great crop of new Members of Parliament, we're delighted to welcome them and I'm really proud of the fact that we'll be doing that tomorrow.

KARVELAS: Let's get to the Chilcot Report just before I let you go, on the UK's involvement in the Iraq War. John Howard held a media conference today, here's what he said about the decision to commit troops to the Iraq War:

[excerpt of John Howard's media conference]

KARVELAS: So the right thing to do with the information available at the time, he also said that there was no lie in intelligence, just mistaken intelligence. What do you make of his response?

PLIBERSEK: I think it was clearly the wrong thing to do. It was clearly the wrong thing to do, and this report, the Chilcot Report, lays out in a great amount of detail the flaws with the intelligence - the claims about weapons of mass destruction - but it also lays out something else that Labor said at the time, which is that weapons inspectors should have been given proper time to complete their work; that the Security Council should have authorised any activity. I mean, there were several complaints that Labor made at the time in 2003, reasons that we opposed the war at the time, we believed that the intelligence was flawed. That information was available at the time - there were contested accounts then, and it is not right of former Prime Minister Howard to pretend that there was not alternative information available at the time - there was. And secondly, the weapons inspectors hadn't been given adequate time, sanctions had not been given any opportunity to work, there were alternatives to invasion that were not explored that should have been explored. Thirdly, the reasons for the invasion changed over time: at first it was an imminent threat of chemical weapons, or biological weapons. When that reason was found to be flawed, it became about Sadaam Hussein the Dictator. That was a change about midway through the operation that was never justified or explained at the time, and lastly, this Chilcot Report points to something that we also said at the time, which was that the day after scenario - the planning for after the invasion - was profoundly inadequate. We - Australia, UK, US - won a very swift military victory that led to 10 years of instability, of internecine fighting, of a power vacuum that gave rise to organisations like Al Qaeda in Iraq, that of course has morphed into Daesh, or IS. It was the wrong thing to do, for the wrong reasons.

KARVELAS: I want to thank you for your time this evening and well, have a fun Caucus meeting! Can't wait to hear more about it.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks Patricia.