TRANSCRIPT: Capital Hill, Thursday 19 November 2015




SUBJECTS: Syria, national security legislation, climate change.

JULIE DOYLE, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, thanks for joining me. Let’s start with the situation in Syria. There’s a lot of discussion about the need for a political solution in Syria to end the conflict. How feasible do you think that is with so many different groups operating in that country?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I think it's difficult but it's also vital. We've been saying for years now really, realistically, that there has to be a political as well as a military solution in Syria. And of course an addressing of the massive and growing humanitarian crisis there too. I think a political solution with the support of the international community including countries that have been in strategic competition in the area is absolutely vital.

PRESENTER: There's been acknowledgement that there may be a need to keep the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power in the short-term. Can you see that working in any kind of arrangement?

PLIBERSEK: I think it has to be a managed transition out of power. Of course, countries such as Iran and Russia that have been supporting the Assad regime will only want to be part of a peace process or a political resolution that does see some managed transition but I don't see how a man who has killed hundreds of thousands of his own citizens can be seriously considered as part of the medium or longer term solution for Syria. I don't think the Syrian people would accept a long-term solution that involves Bashar al-Assad. In the short-term, of course countries like Iran and Russia will want some ability to manage the political transition but not as a long-term solution.

PRESENTER: On that time frames that have been posed, the head of parliament's intelligence and security committee Dan Tehan has suggested that President Assad could be removed within six months, what do you think of that kind of time frame?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I'm not really sure that it's particular productive to start picking numbers out of the air. I don't think that's an assessment based on any information that's not publicly available. Dan Tehan is guessing like the rest of us, what this might look like. The more productive thing to focus on is the structures that are being put in place to form this political transition, making sure that countries that have been in competition in the area are brought into the discussion, we now see of course that because of the tragic downing of the Russian passenger jet in Egypt perhaps a stronger motivation for Russia to be involved in resolving this situation in Syria and perhaps a sharper focus on fighting IS rather than just fighting groups that are opposed to the Assad regime more generally. Our hope is that the international community can come together in a more productive way, as for time frames I think it is difficult to put time frames, the Vienna conference have certainly set some guiding time frames, they've suggested a time frame for the removal of the Assad regime, a time frame for a transition to a unity Government or democracy in the longer term. People are speculating about whether those time frames are idealistic or not. I think actually working across the international community, the countries that are most interested, is the most important next step.

PRESENTER: Based on the information that you have and the briefings that you've received, how confident are you that all this talk of some kind of political agreement will actually amount to something?

PLIBERSEK: I'm hopeful. I think it's important that all of us focus on this as an important step in bringing peace to Syria. I don't think - talking about confidence is not really the right way to approach this. There has to be a political solution to the conflict in Syria. How soon we can get there really depends on the efforts of the international community and on the large players that have been using this as a proxy war being prepared to set aside some of their conflicting interests and come to the table.

PRESENTER: Looking at some of the discussion about terrorism laws, counter-terrorism legislation, back home here in Australia, we know the Opposition supports the changes as far as the citizenship changes for dual nationals but what about the Government's proposal for control orders to have them apply to younger people, reducing the age there, what's Labor's position on that?

PLIBERSEK: We'll look very closely at the proposed legislation and I think the committee processes around these changed national security pieces of legislation have been very important. We've seen each time that a set of legislation has been referred to the national security and - committee of the parliament, we've seen quite substantial improvements to the safe guards around legislation, we are very keen to work in a bipartisan way with the Government to ensure the safety of Australians but as well as protecting Australians we need to protect the rights of Australian citizens and having a process where a bipartisan parliamentary committee takes evidence from experts and considers in very minute detail the implications of suggested legislation is the proper way to go forward.

PRESENTER: Finally Tanya Plibersek, the President of Kiribati has again called for a worldwide moratorium on new coal mines, he wants it debated at next month's climate change summit in Paris and he said today the world is running out of time and needs to focus on concrete action, does he have a point there?

PLIBERSEK: I think the leader of Kiribati Anote Tong has been a very strong and admirable global voice on the effect of climate change because his country is in the front-line of climate change effects, this is not a potential future threat for Kiribati, it is a real life reality now and an existential threat. 97 per cemt of the land mass of Kiribati is less than 5 metres above sea level, these tiny islands are already experiencing coastal erosion, fresh water being polluted by salt or brackish water, a change in the crops that they’re able to grow, reduced water for drinking, it is a real threat for Kiribati and Anote Tong has played a fantastic role not just for his own nation but for small island states everywhere and for Pacific nations in particular.

PRESENTER: But is he right though, is it time for a moratorium?

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s time for strong action to reduce the threat of climate change and Labor is absolutely committed to measures that would take us to no more than 2 degrees warming, we are absolutely committed to a 50 per cent renewable energy target, and we are also committed to helping Pacific leaders make their case to the world.