TRANSCRIPT: Doorstop, Brisbane, Friday 29 July 2016








FRIDAY, 29 JULY 2016

SUBJECTS: Kevin Rudd's nomination for UN Secretary-General; Royal Commission into Northern Territory juvenile detention system.


PETER COALDRAKE, VICE-CHANCELLOR, QUT: It is my pleasure to welcome to QUT this morning, the acting Leader of the Opposition, Tanya Plibersek who is here with Terri Bulter who is the Opposition spokesperson for Universities and Senator-elect, Murray Watt. They are here at the Science and Engineering Centre and here at the Cube. And in a sense, what goes on in this building is a metaphor for what should be going on for research and science in Australia. So welcome, Tanya.

TERRI BUTLER, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR UNIVERSITIES: Thanks, Peter. It's actually such a pleasure to be here at the Queensland University of Technology, which is well known for being a university that is a leader in science and technology. Less well known for being my alma mater but it is something that has a good and strong and fond place in my heart as well. It's a great opportunity for us to see the work that's being done in science and technology here at QUT. As the new spokesperson for universities from Labor, as the Assistant Shadow Minister for Universities, it's particularly wonderful for me to get the opportunity to come here and see the work that's being done for this university and for the technology of the future. So it's wonderful to be here and it's particularly a pleasure to be here with Tanya Plibersek, the acting Leader of the Opposition. Tanya is someone who has a great interest in the role of universities, not just for the strong economic benefits that we get through universities, not just because universities are such an important part of our exports as Australians, not just because universities help individual kids to benefit from this nation's prosperity, but also because universities actually help build equality in Australia by making sure that all kids, or should make sure that all kids, regardless of their background, get the opportunity to benefit from our nation's economic growth and our prosperity. And so it's been wonderful to be here with Tanya today and of course with Murray Watt, Senator-elect for Queensland. I'd now like you to welcome Tanya to the microphone, thanks very much.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much, Terri, and thanks very much to Vice Chancellor Coaldrake for welcoming us here today. It is wonderful to be here with him, his staff and also, with Terri Bulter and Murray Watt. This university is doing what we hope all universities will do; that's focussing on excellence and equity. This is a university that puts a lot of emphasis on making sure that kids from poorer backgrounds, from regional areas, from families where they're the first in their generation to go to university, are able to have a successful university education here. That's obviously transformational for the lives of those individual students. But what we also want to see from universities is investment in excellence. The sort of excellence that drives productivity and economic growth for our nation. Today, we've seen upstairs some incredible science, some science that will change the lives, particularly of children who are born, for example, with a missing part of their body, a missing ear in the case that we were looking at, looking at the sort of bio-engineering that would mean the replacement of that ear. You can imagine the kind of difference that can make in the life of an individual child. But it's that sort of research and innovation and the commercialisation of those discoveries that will also underpin our economic productivity and our wealth as a nation in the future. 

So what we're doing today is looking at this combination of equity and excellence that we expect across our university sector, that we hope for and will build towards across the university sector. We're also here today to reiterate the fact that under Labor there will never be $100,000 university degrees in an American-style user-pays system, where if you're lucky enough to have wealthy parents you can make it to university, but if you're an ordinary kid from an ordinary family, no matter how hard you work, no matter how good you are at school, you will be put off going to university by the lifetime costs of that university degree.

We want to make sure that every kid in Australia has a great education through their school years. But that they can go on beyond their schooling to TAFE or to university, to further study, to make the most of their advantages, to make the most of their interest, to pursue the things that they're passionate about, to get a well-paid, highly-skilled job in the future. So thanks very much. Happy to take any questions on higher education or the issues of the day.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Kevin Rudd should be captain's pick for Malcolm Turnbull?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I absolutely think that Kevin Rudd is a distinguished Australian: successful diplomat, successful Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and it would be extraordinary if the Government didn't support such a distinguished Australian. Kevin Rudd is an acknowledged international expert on Asia, on China in particular. His advice is sought by governments around the world. The work he's been doing since he left Australia shows that he is internationally seen as a foreign affairs expert and he's eminently well qualified for the position that he's seeking.

JOURNALIST: Don't you think his management style and skills raises some questions and we've seen examples of that in the past.

JOURNALIST: Peter Garrett said he was a megalomaniac, Conroy said he had contempt for Cabinet, Gillard said operating style dysfunctional and Burke said impossible micromanagement. Yet you support him in being in the UN, how do you think he will deal with those people behind closed doors if he can't deal with your party behind closed doors.

PLIBERSEK: Well I'm sure that Kevin's experience as Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, as a diplomat of decades of standing would be very well put to use at the United Nations. The United Nations is a large organisation with reach right around the world. Intervening to support peace and prosperity, making sure that we reduce conflict, that we grow economic strength. I think Kevin's experiences would be very well put to use at the United Nations. And I think the real question is, given that the Foreign Minister clearly believes that it would be in Australia's national interest to have an Australian serving in such an important role, whether she has the power in the Cabinet to back her pick or whether Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop are captive to the right wing of the Liberal Party who are prepared to put petty politics ahead of the national interest.

JOURNALIST: If the PM supports the nomination, what should happen next?

PLIBERSEK: Well, if the Prime Minister supports the nomination of Kevin Rudd for this position, Kevin is very well able to campaign with the leaders of the countries that will be making this decision in coming months. I'm sure that Australian diplomats would be very enthusiastic about supporting the nomination of an Australian for such an important role.

JOURNALIST: Isn't this a sign of how divisive Kevin Rudd is three years after he lost the federal election?

PLIBERSEK: No, I think this is a sign that Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop don't have the strength to influence their Cabinet in the way that they should be able to. There is no question that it is in our national interest to have an Australian in this vital role. There is no-one who could argue that it is anything other than in our national interest to have an Aussie doing this job. If the cabinet don't back Kevin Rudd for this role, it will show that they are putting their pettiness and their political interests ahead of the national interest. 

JOURNALIST: Is he a better choice than Helen Clark? 

PLIBERSEK: I think Kevin Rudd is the best choice. He's the Australian in an international contest. I would always back the Aussie in an international contest.

JOURNALIST: Can you address his negotiating skills behind closed doors and what they'll be like at the UN? Because that's where all the criticism came from your party about what he was like behind closed doors, not how he was in public?

PLIBERSEK: I'm sure that Kevin has all of the skills necessary to undertake this role with distinction and I'm sure that every sensible Australian would see the benefit to our national reputation, to our standing in the world in having one of our own in such an important position.

JOURNALIST: So his negotiating skills aren't relevant then, is that what you're saying?

PLIBERSEK: I'm saying that he has all of the skills necessary to do the job. I don't doubt that he could do it for a moment. He was a very successful diplomat for many decades. He's very well regarded internationally. He has received the support of people on our side of politics but also Liberals like Brendan Nelson. He's got the support of international figures, leaders and foreign ministers of nations around the world. I don't doubt for a moment that Kevin Rudd could do this job.

JOURNALIST: If his nomination is blocked, do you think there would be retribution further down the track if Labor is returned to power and, for instance, Tony Abbott puts up his hand for a similar kind of job?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we don't play those games. When we were last in Government, we supported the nomination of a number of very senior Liberals to very important roles overseas. Brendan Nelson, Tim Fisher and others were asked to serve overseas by a Labor Government despite the fact they came from conservative backgrounds. We have - we appointed Peter Costello to the Future Fund. We are prepared to back the best person for the job. It would be terrific if the Government made a clear statement today that they are prepared to back an Australian for a position that would bring a great deal of credit to our nation.

JOURNALIST: Is it embarrassing - just on the royal commission, the Federal Government says it doesn't want the royal commission to be delayed by consultations, isn't that fair given how lengthy that would be?

PLIBERSEK: No, it is a simple fact that Government ministers have said that the Opposition has been consulted and Indigenous Australians have been consulted about these terms of reference and it is simply not the case that that has happened. Labor has been very clear from day one that we back a Royal Commission. We're not interested in delays, we're interested in getting to the bottom of the shocking failures of the juvenile justice system in the Northern Territory, just as the Government is. We are absolutely prepared to work with them hand in hand to ensure that both the terms of reference and the appointment of the commissioner are unequivocally supported across the board. We had Government ministers saying that the Opposition was being consulted and that Indigenous leaders were being consulted and that hasn't happened and that is deeply, deeply disappointing. I would certainly say that it would have been a very good idea to consult with Indigenous leaders and I would certainly say that it would be a good idea to consider the appointment of an additional commissioner, an Aboriginal commissioner to this Royal Commission. I think we would see a better result in the long term if the Government paused now, reconsidered the rushed job they have done on the terms of reference and took some soundings. I said to Prime Minister Turnbull yesterday when he rang me about this, after the terms of reference had been set and after the commissioner had been selected, that Labor was very prepared to work cooperatively to make sure that all the initial decisions were right and had broad spread public support.

JOURNALIST: Who do you think that Indigenous Commissioner should -

PLIBERSEK: Can I just finish this comment? And Prime Minister Turnbull did say to me that it was possible to amend the terms of reference during the course of the Royal Commission should that become necessary. I am disappointed that that is the attitude. I would have thought it would be good to get this right the first time.

JOURNALIST: Who do you suggest that Indigenous commissioner should be?

PLIBERSEK: There's a number of distinguished Australians who could do the job. I don't think it's appropriate for me to start naming names. I think the better thing to do would be for the Prime Minister to have a talk with the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, or with me while I'm acting this week, and determine one of any number of people who could do it.