TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Wednesday 18 March 2015

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Subject: Vanuatu; Cyclone Pam; Higher education; Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: I just wanted to start by saying a few words about Vanuatu. Of course, all Australians are still very concerned for the people of Vanuatu and what they’ve suffered after Cyclone Pam. Labor supports any efforts by the Australian Government to give greater assistance to the people of Vanuatu. It’s unclear still the extent of the damage, particularly in outer islands and sadly, it may become apparent that the toll of Cyclone Pam is even worse than we currently know. It may be necessary, in fact it’s likely necessary that we’ll have to give greater assistance than we’ve provided to date.

I also wanted to say a few words about higher education. Last night in the Senate, Christopher Pyne suffered another humiliating defeat. The Senate gave a very clear message that Senators won’t accept $100,000 university degrees. We know Australians won’t accept $100,000 university degrees. Nobody wants Christopher Pyne’s deregulated university sector, which means that ordinary kids won’t be able to afford a university education.

The third thing I just wanted to say a few quick words about today is the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. China has proposed a massive infrastructure investment focused on our region. This infrastructure is desperately needed in our region and it is absolutely beyond me why this Government is still dithering about whether to sign up or not. We know that there have been conflicts in Cabinet, we’ve had all sorts of leaks out of Cabinet about who supports signing up and who doesn’t support signing up. We now see that most of our trading partners and many of our friends have signed up, New Zealand obviously, the UK, a number of European countries have all signed up. And Australia had the potential to be one of the early signers, one of the countries that signed up to the AIIB from the beginning giving us the opportunity of influencing the priorities of the bank and influencing the transparency and accountability measures for the bank. It is beyond understanding why Australia has still not signed up to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: The US hasn’t signed up though, should we be concerned by that? Or should we take that into consideration?

PLIBERSEK: No, I think the decision of whether the United States signs up or doesn’t sign up is one for the United States. But it is absolutely within our capacity to have a good relationship with China and a good relationship with the United States. Many of our major trading partners have signed up to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and there is no barrier to Australia doing the same. Of course we need to get assurances about the governance of the bank, transparency and accountability but we are better off being involved in the bank and seeking to influence those parameters from within the group of countries involved in the bank rather than expecting to be able to do that from outside.

JOURNALIST: Ms Plibersek, do you believe that there’s a link between climate change and the intense cyclone systems in the Pacific?

PLIBERSEK: It’s not a matter of whether I believe it or not. Every credible scientist will tell you that climate change over time will cause more extreme weather events.

JOURNALIST: And on Vanuatu, a lot of, or a good chunk of aid funding that Australia hands over goes towards disaster preparedness and response. Are we servicing those areas adequately at the moment?

PLIBERSEK: Of course the great frustration of Australia’s aid budget is that Vanuatu had its bilateral aid budget cut substantially, by around $6 million in last year’s budget. It would’ve received further cuts in last year’s mid-year economic and fiscal outlook but we don’t know the quantum of those cuts. So actually our initial $5 million aid support after Cyclone Pam was less than the money we had cut in the previous- the government in the previous budget from the Vanuatu country program. Of course we support the Government in its efforts now to help the people of Vanuatu after this terrible cyclone but we have to remember that the support we’re giving now comes after very substantial cuts, and those programs of course help the people of Vanuatu prepare for these sorts of disasters.

JOURNALIST: Has Australia done enough? Are you happy with the Government’s response?

PLIBERSEK: Well we’re very pleased the Government yesterday responded to Labor’s call to send Australian Medical Assistant Teams, AUSMAT teams. We called yesterday for the Government to do that, and they have done that. I’m pleased also that the Government has as I say, provided millions of dollars. I would say that it is a shame that it comes after a cut to the Vanuatu country program last year and that as more information becomes available about the extent of damage, it may well be necessary for Australia to do more. Vanuatu is a close friend and neighbour for us. We have got a strong history of providing support to Vanuatu for economic development, for disaster preparedness and that support should continue and it might be necessary to do more.



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