TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Friday 20 March 2015

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SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Fraser; Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank; Lindt café

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Thanks for coming out this afternoon. I wanted to start by saying how saddened all Australians are about the death of Malcolm Fraser. Mr Fraser never retired from public life. In recent decades he’s been a particularly strong advocate for human rights in Australia and around the world. As Prime Minister, he was a strong supporter of a multicultural Australia, of Asian migration; he was a strong opponent of apartheid in South Africa. In his later years, he’s had a very influential role in arguing for an independent Australian foreign policy. I know that he’ll be sadly missed by his family and many friends. Of course his prime ministership was not uncontroversial and many Labor people remember the difficult circumstances in which he came to the prime ministership. But over recent decent decades, he had repaired relationships with many of his former opponents and I know even his former opponents will miss him.

Turning now to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. We’ve had overnight another leak from the national security committee of the Cabinet. This leak relates to the potential backflip on Australia’s support for an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Labor has been saying for many months now, indeed since last year, that Australia should be part of this massive Chinese investment in infrastructure around our region. Potential infrastructure investment runs to about $100 billion. Many of our most important friends and trading partners have already said that they will be involved. Yet despite this, last year, Julie Bishop, Prime Minister Abbott said that Australia shouldn’t be involved. It’s absolutely mystifying the argument for Australia not to be involved. The Government says on the one hand at the G20 meeting that Australia should be involved in supporting more infrastructure investment in our region, on the other hand, when there’s a proposed $100 billion to invest, Australia’s not going to be involved. This is a backflip, one way or another.  The chaos and confusion that we’re hearing from the national security committee of Cabinet is very concerning in itself.  What’s even more concerning is that the national security committee of Cabinet keeps leaking, and they may as well start broadcasting meetings. They seem to happen one day and leaked the next. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: If there is a backflip, is it in the direction that you think is the right one to make?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think it’s terrific if the Government now does decide to sign up with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, but it would’ve been much better for Australia to be involved from the very beginning. The Government has said that they’re worried about the governance mechanisms for the bank, well the best way to influence that was to get involved early on in setting up the bank including setting up the governance frameworks.

JOURNALIST: The leak, is it further evidence that there’s still a sort of campaign there to destabilise Tony Abbott?

PLIBERSEK: It’s just impossible to understand how the national security committee of Cabinet can keep leaking in this way. I don’t know whether this is about destabilising Tony Abbott. Certainly the reports early on were that Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott opposed Australia signing up whereas Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb were in favour. If there is going to be this chaotic backflip now, perhaps it is a sign that Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb have won the day. But it is perplexing that the way that this sort of policy would become public is through this sort of leak. Australia should’ve had an orderly process for signing up, we should’ve been in consultation with the Chinese government, making clear the sort of governance transparency and accountability arrangements that Australia would like to see. Instead of that, we’ve had one leak from Cabinet early on saying that Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott had prevailed and blocked Australia’s involvement in the bank and then a second leak now saying they’ve been rolled.

JOURNALIST: What are the Chinese to think?

PLIBERSEK: Well I can’t imagine what this makes us look like internationally.

JOURNALIST: If there is a leak from this committee, is that damaging to the work the committee is tasked with?

PLIBERSEK: There have been so many leaks from the national security committee of Cabinet that they may as well put the meetings on YouTube. They seem to no sooner meet than the contents of that meeting is leaked. It is certainly not the way for Cabinet to behave or any sub-committee of Cabinet, but when it’s the national security sub-committee of Cabinet, it’s particularly concerning.

JOURNALIST: And back to your thoughts on Malcolm Fraser, what can the rest of us take from the fact that he apparently became friends with Gough Whitlam in later life?

PLIBERSEK: Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam did repair much of their relationship and I think as Mr Fraser said himself that there was a great deal of conflict between them at one time but they found over decades that what united them was much greater than what divided them. They had a lot of agreement on human rights, both in Australia and around the world, and they had a lot of agreement about an independent foreign policy for Australia.

JOURNALIST: And do you as a politician take anything personally from that?

PLIBERSEK: Well I actually met Mr Fraser on a number of occasions. I went specifically to see him to talk to him about his views on Australia’s foreign policy and he was very welcoming to me, very encouraging, very generous with his time and with his views. I think certainly the way that Malcolm Fraser behaved towards his previous combatants and the way that Gough Whitlam accepted Malcolm Fraser’s overtures to friendship are a wonderful model.

JOURNALIST: And just a comment on the Lindt café opening today.

PLIBERSEK: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.

JOURNALIST: The Lindt café.

PLIBERSEK: The Lindt café siege is one of the most difficult and confronting periods in Australia’s history. It brought a conflict that has seemed a long way away right into the heart of our nation’s largest city. It was a tragic event for the families of those involved, particularly the two people who lost their lives and we should always remember what happened on that site. I think it’s very important that we have a permanent memorial to the events there, to the loss of the two lives of innocent people just going about their business. And it’s important that in building that memorial that the families of those involved are consulted.



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