TRANSCRIPT: ABC Weekend Breakfast, Sunday 27 September 2015





HOST: Joining us now to discuss button holing and other matters of diplomacy and politics is Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Tanya Plibersek who is also in New York this week. Ms Plibersek, thanks for joining us. Julie Bishop has indicated a reversal in Australia's policy to Bashar al-Assad could involve a political solution with Assad remaining in power. Do you support that?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well, I think ultimately Bashar al-Assad cannot govern a country where he's killed at least 200,000 of his own citizens. But we've said all along that the first step is for a political solution to be agreed to the crisis in Syria. A political solution inevitably involves talking to US, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, there are other countries in the region that have strong interests in the outcome here and they all need to be at the table.

HOST: Given Russia's support for Assad, do you believe a political solution must involve Bashar al-Assad?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it must involve him leaving after some period. There might be a managed transition but I don't understand any proposal that has Bashar al-Assad indefinitely governing a country where he has killed well over 200,000 of his own people.

HOST: Tony Abbott was also of that view, obviously, because he described the conflict as baddies versus baddies with Assad's regimes committing monstrous atrocities.

PLIBERSEK: Well, we're there fighting to help Iraq protect itself from IS, or Daish, whatever you want to call it. It is a horrific, horrendous organisation and it has murdered, raped, forced conversions, destroyed churches and historical sites and the only reason that we can say Bashar al-Assad has killed maybe 5 times, maybe 10 times more people than IS or Daish is because they haven't had enough time yet to carry out the sort of atrocities that they have in mind. So this is certainly a situation where we need to be very careful to have all of the parties in the region at the table, the Syrian people themselves obviously should have a choice of how they're governed and by whom they're governed. When you've got Russia with significant military bases in Syria, they have been there for a long time, they've had a very close military relationship for some time obviously they have an interest, obviously they must be at the table to talk about how this political transition should happen but there should be, in the long run, a political transition. I can't see how you can allow a leader who has committed these types of mass atrocities to stay on indefinitely.

HOST: Now another prominent issue at the moment at the UN is obviously China's cap and trade policy, what are the implications for the US and Australia of that?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it's extraordinarily embarrassing for Australia. We are the only country in the world that's actually weakening our action on climate change. We're going backwards. So the excuse that Tony Abbott always had was that China pollutes more than us, the US pollutes more than us, why don't they take action? We've seen very strong action from President Obama and President Xi. This announcement about a national cap and trade system for China comes on top of other commitments that they've made in the past. This means that the two biggest polluters in the world will be going to Paris with a strong commitment to reduce carbon pollution and Australia's going to be going to explain why we've actually gone backwards, why we're doing less to reduce carbon pollution.

HOST: Although China is still going to increase those emissions.

PLIBERSEK: Let me finish. This it's not just embarrassing. One of the problems for us is that the fact that other countries, major trading partners like China are moving to this type of system, means that we will inevitably, over time, miss out on the economic opportunities that may be presented as the world moves more commonly to a cap and trade style emissions trading system approach to climate change.

HOST: One of the criticisms of the China policy is that they're allowed to increase their emissions up to 2030, that's when they're going to start reducing them. Surely that's not the best scenario?

PLIBERSEK: Well, China has said that they hope to reach their peak carbon pollution before 2030. They've committed to substantially increasing energy sourcing from renewables. But remember, China has managed in recent years to raise 600 million of its people out of poverty but hundreds of millions still live in desperate poverty. Australia is an advanced economy that can make the most of the innovation that we have here, the scientists, the engineers, the renewable energy companies that want to invest in Australia to provide us with alternative energy sources and what we've seen actually under this Government is a reduction in investment in large-scale renewables because of the abandonment of the ETS. It is in Australia's interests to make the most of the innovation that we have here and renewable energies. It's good for our environment but it's actually also great for our economy.

HOST: And just still on China, what's the kind of security threat do you see the island building in the south China Sea, what does that constitute?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think there's a substantial concern from many nations in the region. They don't understand why - obvious China has claimed this area for many years, many decades indeed, even hundreds of years in some cases - why this land reclamation has proceeded so quickly now, why there are reports that some of the islands are seeing runways built and other signs of militarisation. Of course Australia takes no position on the legal claims but we say that it is absolutely vital that any disputed territory in the South China Sea, or more broadly East China Sea, any differences about the ownership of these islands is resolved using international law, using all of the same norms and conventions that would otherwise apply.

HOST: Now, you would have seen the UN special rapporteur on migrants have cancelled his trip to Australia on the basis that the staff at the detention centres are not fwree to talk about this threat of revealing a crime by revealing that information. Would you hope that Malcolm Turnbull, as PM, would now force a change to that policy?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it's another Peter Dutton special, isn't it? Of course Australia should give the special rapporteur an assurance that no-one speaking to the special rapporteur would have subject to prosecution. Now we need to be careful with the personal details of refugees or asylum seekers in detention but the idea that people couldn't confidentially inform the special rapporteur of what's going on is ridiculous and I think particularly given that the Australian Government has said that - well Julie Bishop has said that the Australian Government wants to pursue a seat on the Human Rights Council in 2018, it's pretty contradictory. It's contradictory, incidentally in the same way that Australia was today talking about how great the sustainable development goals were and yet we've cut $11.3 billion from our aid budget. We've got these contradictions when it comes to climate change, when it comes to refugees, when it comes to our aid budget where our Government is happy to publicly claim to be a good international citizen but in fact is moving in exactly the wrong direction and exactly the opposite direction to the rest of the international community.

HOST: And just on Malcolm Turnbull still, he's shifted the polls back in favour of the Coalition, what chance of Labor ousting Bill Shorten?

PLIBERSEK: None and, you know, it's interesting. In fact Malcolm Turnbull has had a sugar hit, as we always said that he would, but he had less of an impact on the Liberals' polling than the change to Julia Gillard or the change back to Kevin Rudd. So we had some pretty tough times when we were in government with our leadership changes. It's interesting to see that Malcolm Turnbull, although people thought that he'd have a sugar hit, actually has had a bit less of one than people expected. I think the real problem with Malcolm Turnbull, as Tony Abbott has said, is that it's the same policies. Just take climate change as one example. Malcolm Turnbull used to say that he wouldn't lead a party that wasn't as committed to climate change as he is. Now he's taken instruction from the people in the Liberal and National Parties who want to do nothing on climate change. He's signed up to a policy that everybody knows is expensive and won't work effectively because he was so desperate to get the Liberal Party leadership. So I mean same policies, different spokesmodel.

HOST: You say even the polls have changed there's no chance of moving away from Bill Shorten but obviously people in Australia know that that's been such a motivating factor for Labor in the past, why would they believe you?

PLIBERSEK:  Well it's just a ridiculous proposition. We've done very strongly in recent times. We did well in the Canning by-election. We're out there every single day advancing a case for a Labor Government led by Bill Shorten. In this last week we've been talking about attracting our entrepreneurs back who have gone overseas, attracting other entrepreneurs overseas, investing in start-ups, helping uni students with great ideas start their own businesses, we've spoken in the past about our TAFE guarantee. $100,000 university degrees reversed under us. Our changes that would make multinational companies pay their fair share of tax, trim the top rate very generous superannuation concessions for high income earners. Our 50% renewable energy target. We're out there week after week making the case for a Labor Government.

HOST: Now, I just want to touch on the trade union royal commission. We've heard serious allegations of corruption within the CFMEU, have you seen enough to believe that Labor should severe ties.

PLIBERSEK: Well I'm in New York so I'm not following the details of the royal commission reporting in a lot of detail. We've always said that wherever there is any suggestion that there is criminal behaviour that should be fully investigated by the police, anyone who has that sort of evidence should hand it over to the police and anybody, if they have committed an offence, should face the full force of the law. In fact when we're in Government, we tightened up many of the laws around accountability and transparency, governance of union movement. I make no excuse for people who do the wrong thing. They should face the full force of the law. But we see this royal commission has gone on for many, many months, costing, well, tens of millions of taxpayers' dollars. I hope that at the end of it we see that if there are people who have to face the law they do, but that the disparagement, the suggestion that this is a widespread problem in the union movement is put to bed.

HOST: Could I just go back to that question, what would it take to convince Labor that it should severe ties based on the evidence at the trade union royal commission?

PLIBERSEK: It's just an illogical question. I can't make up hypothetical scenarios of people doing wrong things. What I say is that when people do the wrong thing they should face the law, that this royal commission was set up deliberately by Tony Abbott to try and besmirch union members and unions more generally and that there are proper processes for taking legal action when someone's done the wrong thing and I make no excuses for people who do the wrong thing. If they rip off their members, if they do the wrong thing, I'm happy for them to, you know, get in as much trouble as the law can deliver for them.

HOST: Tanya Plibersek, thanks very much for your time.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.