TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Thursday 19 March 2015

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Subject/s: Foreign aid cuts; Double dissolution; Higher education; Budget; Terrorist attack

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Yesterday when the Prime Minister was meeting with Prime Minister of Vietnam, the Prime Minister of Vietnam raised the issue of Australian official development assistance, Australian aid. The Prime Minister in his press conference mentioned there had been modest reductions. Those modest reductions now total $11 billion in Australia’s aid budget. Indeed to Vietnam alone, there’s been a cut of about $14 million in one round of funding cuts alone. The Prime Minister said that he wanted to focus aid in our region, and yet from the Asia Pacific region there’s been a $110 million cut in that one round of funding cuts alone. So we now have a total aid cut of over $11 billion. This takes us down to the lowest proportion of aid in our budget since the 1950s, since records have been kept. Instead of tracking to 0.5 per cent of Gross National Income, GNI, we’re tracking to 0.2 per cent or possibly lower. It is extraordinary that our Prime Minister would call this a modest reduction and the question of course that it raises is are there further cuts planned for the Budget in May? Are there further aid cuts planned for the Budget in May? The interesting thing from the Government’s point of view when it comes to the aid budget is it doesn’t require legislation through the Parliament to further reduce aid and that means that when Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are looking around for further savings, this is an area that’s in great danger.

JOURNALIST: Does the argument that Vietnam’s economy is growing quite strongly have any merit?

PLIBERSEK: Well Vietnam is a country that is growing strongly, it’s taken 35 million people out of poverty. But when I spoke to the Prime Minister of Vietnam yesterday, and when Bill Shorten spoke to him, he emphasised to us what a huge difference Australian aid has made to his people, to the opportunity that children have to get an education, to the fact that university students from Vietnam can come to Australia, that the very driver of the growth that you mention is at least in part the Australian aid budget. Australia has been the most significant donor to Vietnam for some years and the Prime Minister of Vietnam emphasised how important that had been to the economic development of his country. The other thing I would say about the Vietnamese economic achievement is that not only have 35 million people been lifted out of poverty, a marvellous achievement, that economic development has been spread very evenly across the population. That’s a terrific thing for Vietnam’s future prosperity, because we know that countries that grow economically sustainably with the benefits of that growth spread more broadly across the population actually achieve better growth in the long term so there will come a day when Australian aid is not necessary for Vietnam but that’s certainly not the message that we got yesterday. If you look at a country like South Korea, South Korea received billions of dollars of aid after the Korean War, and now it’s become one of the most powerful countries economically in our region and a major trading partner for Australia. That’s what we hope for all of the aid receiving countries in our region, that they grow in prosperity, that they no longer need assistance. But that’s certainly not the view of the Vietnamese Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST: Would the Government be wise to go to a double dissolution election on the higher ed reforms?

PLIBERSEK: The Government would be wise to keep its promises to Australian people and if they want a double dissolution on $100,000 university degrees, we can throw in there cuts to pensions, so that pensioners will be up to $80 a week worse off, you can throw in there the GP co-payment, which still turns up in the intergenerational report as something that they want to do. You can throw in there any of the broken promises that were made when it comes to cuts to health, cuts to educations, cuts to pensions, increased taxes and let’s see if they want a double dissolution on that.

JOURNALIST: Just back to aid, what level would a future Labor government allocate to the aid budget and how would you intend to pay for an [inaudible]?

PLIBERSEK: It certainly won’t be the lowest spending since the 1950s which is what the Government’s on track to now but we’ll make further announcements about our aid budget much closer to an election.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] …are you happy that the Prime Minister’s planning on handing out a dull budget that [inaudible]…?

PLIBERSEK: Tony Abbott hasn’t yet dealt with the nightmare budget that was handed down last May so it may be his objective to hand down a dull budget. If that’s the case, he has to rule out $100,000 university degrees, he has to reverse the cuts to hospitals that are already in his budget from last May, he has to commit to further funding for the Gonski school education reforms that he’s walked away from, he has to reassure pensioners that the indexation rate of the pension won’t change to leave them up to $80 a week worse off. He hasn’t dealt with last May’s nightmare yet.

JOURNALIST: On the higher ed reforms, Christopher Pyne has reportedly offered to take funding away from universities that have a proportion of graduates that don’t repay their student debt. Is that something that Labor would consider supporting?

PLIBERSEK: Christopher Pyne is making it up as he goes along. This is a minister whose default position is angry and aggressive. He’s not sitting down and talking through with universities, with Labor, with, very importantly, parents and students, how the university sector can be made stronger. He wants to have a fight, he’s lost one fight, he’s looking for the next one.

JOURNALIST: And just lastly, what was your reaction to the attacks we've seen overnight at the museum in Tunisia.

PLIBERSEK: I think I need to get further information about that this morning but of course it’s very concerning to see any attack.



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