TRANSCRIPT: Doorstop Interview, Saturday 20 June 2015





SUBJECTS: Iran; Relationship with Indonesia; National security; Tony Abbott’s royal commission

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks for coming out this morning. There are a couple of things that I wanted to discuss today. The first is our relationship with Iran, and the second is Australia’s relationship with Indonesia. Going first to Iran, we’ve seen once again leaked reports from the Government about Australia’s security and international relations. Here we have Iran, a country that has had a difficult relationship with Australia and indeed a difficult relationship with the rest of the world, reports in the newspapers suggests that Australia might be downgrading its travel advisories for Iran. It might be making a number of other changes to our relationship with Iran if Iran is to take back unsuccessful asylum seekers. Now it’s extremely concerning that Australians are learning about this, once again, through a leak from Cabinet, and it’s also extremely concerning to imagine that Australia might trade off our travel advisories for another reason- bargain with our travel advisories. The Government needs to explain very clearly if there are any changes to the travel advisory warning to Iran, what has prompted that change, what’s changed on the ground that would make Australians any safer when visiting Iran.

Turning now to the relationship with Indonesia. A couple of years ago, the then Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa, said that the relationship between Indonesia and Australia had never been better. In recent weeks we’ve heard Indonesia say that our actions have reached a new low. Before coming to government, Tony Abbott said that his foreign policy would be more Jakarta, less Geneva. In fact, we’ve seen our relationship under unprecedented strain. About ten days ago, the Foreign Minister and the Immigration Minister flat out denied that people smugglers had been paid to ferry around asylum seekers. They weren’t prepared to repeat that denial this week in the Parliament and indeed the Prime Minister gave every indication that in fact this may have happened. It is extraordinary that the Australian Government would be offering an incentive for people smugglers to ply their vile trade, and extraordinary that the relationship with Indonesia has reached such a low point. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: So do you think it’s reasonable for Indonesia to assume that people smugglers payments have been made?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I can’t comment on whether this has happened or not. We’ve seen a lot of footage, interviews with the people smugglers themselves, with the crew on the ship, the Indonesian police and so on, but a proper investigation should take place in a situation like this. What is extraordinary is that we have the Foreign Minister and the Immigration Minister flat out deny it and then the Prime Minister seemed to indicate that this may have happened. After all their talk of taking the sugar off the table for people smugglers, we now have a government putting the sugar on the table.

JOURNALIST: Do you want the Government to come out and admit they’ve done wrong?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think they need to explain to the Australian people exactly what’s happened here.

JOURNALIST: Obviously it’s quite concerning that the Indonesians are putting these allegations out, how do you think Abbott should actually be replying to this?

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s important to understand; Indonesia is one Australia’s most important strategic and economic partners. It’s a fast growing economy, directly on our doorstep directly to our north, and having a good relationship with Indonesia is important for our economic growth into the future, but it’s also important for security. It is absolutely vital that the Prime Minister does what he has to to get this relationship back on track.

JOURNALIST: How are you responding to Bill Shorten’s wife being [inaudible] in the Royal Commission?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it’s truly extraordinary to see some of the reporting that’s coming out of the Royal Commission. Bill Shorten has said all along that he is prepared to cooperate with the Royal Commission, in fact he’s asked to be able to go to the Royal Commission earlier than he was called to answer any questions that they might have for him. So I mean- he’ll go to the Royal Commission and they put to him whatever questions they choose to. It would be excellent if that were done as quickly as possible so we can get on with the important issues that face us as a nation. We’ve got of course these troubled relations with our nearest neighbour to the north, we’ve got these extraordinary suggestions that we are downgrading travel warnings for Iran for a deal to do with asylum seekers. There are of course issues that face us as a nation that we’re being diverted from.

JOURNALIST: And in relation to- you were saying they leaked this information, that is quite concerning that again you think they’re being leaked.

PLIBERSEK: This Government’s whole approach to national security bears a great deal of scrutiny. As we say, this most recent story on Iran again seems to be a leak. We’ve had the Prime Minister talking about withdrawing Australian citizenship from Australians. None of that information has been given directly to the Australian people. For about 18 months now, the Government has been floating this idea, this thought bubble, that they might revoke Australian citizenship from Australians who fought overseas. About 18 months they’ve been talking about it, and there is still no legislation before the Parliament. What is even more extraordinary is that no legislation has gone to Cabinet, no legislation has gone to the national security committee of Cabinet, when asked about it, the Prime Minister has suggested that only two Ministers have seen legislation. We have suggestions legal advice from the Solicitor General that such legislation might not be constitutional and might be subject to High Court challenge. This is a mess. And what we’ve got is Tony Abbott out there demanding bipartisanship from Labor when there’s no legislation to scrutinise, when his own Cabinet are leaking against him, when we’ve had six Cabinet Ministers expressing their concerns coming out of the first Cabinet meeting where this was discussed, when there’s no agreement from the Government about what the proposal entails and no legislation to examine. We have been talking about this quite long enough, the Prime Minister should release draft legislation to be examined. Labor has said all along that when it comes to national security, we put the interests of Australia first. We are determined to do what’s in the best interests of Australia to keep Australians safe. When other pieces of national security legislation have been released, we’ve endeavoured to be bipartisan. Those pieces of legislation have been improved by examination by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Security and Intelligence. The same scrutiny should improve any further legislation. Of course, if the Government says to us that they are interested in updating Australia’s national security legislation so that people who would have previously lost their citizenship because they fought with an army of a nation with which we are at war, updating those provisions to include non-state actors like Daesh, ISIS, ISIL, whatever you want to call it, then we’ve said we’re inclined to support such a measure. If the legislation goes beyond that, it would be very important for the Prime Minister to release it so that it may be examined properly by the Parliament.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] problem passing the legislation of revoking citizenship, where do you think he’s gotten this idea from if you’ve found lots of legal experts to say it’s not a good idea?

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s important to note that six members of his own Cabinet have objected to the idea so far. That there is no draft legislation that’s been circulated either to the Cabinet, to the national security committee of the Cabinet, to the Parliament, there’s been no details discussed with Labor. The Solicitor General and the former independent national security legislation monitor have raised questions about the legislation as it’s been described by the Government. We can reduce confusion and increase people’s feelings of security by releasing the legislation so that it can properly examined by the Government’s own legal advisers, by the Parliament itself, by the relevant Parliamentary Committee and really, I would have thought most importantly to the Prime Minister, by his own Cabinet and his own national security committee of the Cabinet. It is extraordinary that the Prime Minister- he’s said all along that this legislation will be introduced before the Parliament rises and so far we’ve seen nothing.

JOURNALIST: Tanya, there’s been polls suggesting that you would make a more preferred Opposition Leader. Do you have your sights set on the leadership anytime in the future?

PLIBERSEK: I have my sights set on being part of a great Labor team. Thank you.