TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Tuesday 24 March 2015

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SUBJECTS:  Aid cuts and Julie Bishop; cuts to DFAT; New South Wales election; polls; privatisation; workplace agreements.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Good morning. Yesterday we saw further division and dysfunction in the Liberal Party when it comes to preparing for this year's Budget. The Budget is just weeks away and we see a lack of clarity, a lack of direction. We saw Julie Bishop openly mocking Joe Hockey yesterday when he talked about the expenditure review committee. But Julie Bishop can’t just roll her eyes when it comes to further cuts to the aid budget. $11 billion has been cut from Australia’s aid budget.  And the Australian Council for International Development has said that if there are further cuts Australia’s aid program will not be credible, it won’t be effective. We’ve known that for some time. Of course there continue to be risks of further cuts, and it’s not just cuts to the aid budget that we are worried about in the foreign affairs portfolio. Despite coming to Government with a plan to increase Australia’s diplomatic footprint, Julie Bishop has presided over cuts of more than $400 million to the Department of Foreign Affairs with more than 500 jobs lost. Saying that she would expand the diplomatic footprint, in fact Australia’s diplomatic footprint has contracted. We’ve got the weakest, most depleted aid program ever, as well as substantial cuts to our foreign affairs portfolio more generally.

JOURNALIST: How would you describe the role of [inaudible] former colleague Martin Ferguson [inaudible]?

PLIBERSEK: Well let’s just see if we’ve got any questions about aid and then I’m happy to answer –

JOURNALIST: The Finance Minister has effectively ruled out any further cuts to this year’s budget, he said that they’ve done enough in that space, are you just stirring things up a bit?

PLIBERSEK: Let’s see. Last year in October, Julie Bishop said that there’d be no more cuts to foreign aid and in December $3.7 billion was cut from the aid budget in the mid-year economic update-

JOURNALIST: The Finance Minister actually sits on the ERC.

PLIBERSEK: Yes, that’s right and the Foreign Minister last year said that there’d be no more cuts to the aid budget and then there was a $3.7 billion cut. So, the first thing we need to look at is if there are any further cuts to the foreign aid budget that will be a deep failure on behalf of the Foreign Minister to protect her portfolio, but we’ll also be looking for sneaky accounting tricks. We know that $400 million has already been cut from other parts of the portfolio, the diplomatic presence. And if we see instead of aid cuts, hundreds of millions of dollars cut again from DFAT itself then that’ll just be a sneaky accounting trick, so we’ve got to look for both.

JOURNALIST: Will Labor commit to restoring the aid budget to what it was in 2013?

PLIBERSEK: Well I can tell you that when we come back into government after $11 billion of cuts, we’ll certainly have a huge repair job to do. Unfortunately at this stage we don’t know how deep, how big that repair job will be, we don’t know whether there’ll be further cuts. But I can tell you this, we’ll be doing better on foreign aid than the Liberals have done.

JOURNALIST: If I could turn to Martin Ferguson, how would you characterise or describe his contribution to the state election?

PLIBERSEK: Well Martin Ferguson is a private citizen, he’s able to make any contribution he likes-

JOURNALIST: Sure, but he’s a former senior Labor minister. Is it damaging when he says what he says?

PLIBERSEK: There’s been plenty of times when Martin has disagreed with his caucus colleagues when he was here in Canberra and I’m sure there’ll be a number of his former colleagues who disagree with the position he’s put in the New South Wales state campaign. New South Wales Labor has gone to every election campaign with the position that they’ve got now, that the monopoly parts of the electricity business, in particular the poles and wires, should not be sold because it would push up electricity prices.

JOURNALIST: Is he a rat?

PLIBERSEK: I’m not going to go into that sort of commentary.

JOURNALIST: Today’s polls seem to suggest –

PLIBERSEK: I can tell you however that Tony Abbott is electoral poison and that when he appeared in the Liberals’ campaign launch the other day, it was like a mime artist, we didn’t hear much from him about what he’s done to the state of New South Wales. The billions of dollars of cuts to the health system and to the education system, the cuts that Mike Baird doesn’t have the guts to complain about.

JOURNALIST: Today’s poll would seem to suggest that the Coalition is getting a bit of a bounce, does it also seem to suggest that some of the windback in policy that they’ve been doing over the last couple of months is starting to work?

PLIBERSEK: We’ve said consistently that the polls are interesting but none of it matters until we get a lot closer to election day. I think it’s a pretty extraordinary situation where the Liberals are out there celebrating that they’re only trailing by a bit.

JOURNALIST: Tanya, can I ask, the unions have launched a new campaign in which people are accused of being xenophobic on the poles and wires. Do you think there is a bit of an anti-China sentiment being whipped up?

PLIBERSEK: No, I think there’s quite a lot of anti-privatisation sentiment that’s not being whipped up, it’s being expressed. There are many people in the New South Wales community who are opposed to the privatisation of the electricity industry.

JOURNALIST: I just wanted to ask on the penalty rates. There’s a story in today’s Oz suggesting that the South Australia Shop Assistants Union is prepared to weaken penalty rates in exchange for a slightly higher base salary, or base wage. Do you think that could spread to New South Wales and some of the other states?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I’ve seen those stories but I’m not going to start commentating on individual agreements that employees and employers strike in particular workplaces or in particular industries. I think that this shows that there’s flexibility in the system but I’m not going to comment on it beyond that.


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