TRANSCRIPT: Doorstop, Rushcutter's Bay, Saturday 21 May





SUBJECTS: Labor's commitment to foreign aid, NBN

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Good afternoon everyone and thanks for joining us here. I’m very proud to be here today with Labor’s Deputy Leader and Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Tanya Plibersek, for a very important announcement regarding the Labor Party’s commitment to boosting overseas development aid. It’s also wonderful to be joined by representatives of church groups and non-government organisations that work in this field and do wonderful work, partnering with the Australian Government to ensure Australia is doing its bit to lift living standards and promote development, particularly within our region, and we’ll hear from those experts who work in this area in a moment. Australia’s overseas aid budget at the moment is at the lowest level it’s ever been in our history. 0.22 percent of Gross National Income, and set to fall further. Over the last two and a half years, Tanya and myself have been working with the groups represented here today, and some of the stories they’ve relayed to us about the damage this government has done to Australia’s international reputation. The damage they have done to development throughout our region is quite shocking and we will allow these representatives to tell their stories in a moment. But the current government’s approach to overseas development aid does not respect and reflect Australian values. The values of fairness, the values of having a go, the values of doing our bit to ensure we promote development and boost living standards within our region. Well Tanya has spent the last two and a half years travelling throughout the region, travelling extensively throughout our region and the world, consulting with the member groups who are represented here today, and others who are working on the ground. We’ve carefully framed and put together a policy Tanya will announce refl ects Australian values of fairness, equity, and doing our bit to promote development in our region. I’m now very proud to hand over to Labor’s Deputy Leader, Tanya Plibersek.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thank you very much Matt Thistlethwaite. It’s been wonderful to work with Matt as my Parliamentary Secretary on issues around aid and development. He’s been an absolutely vital sounding board to me. It’s wonderful to be here with so many representatives of charities, churches, non-government organisations. People whose organisations are on the front line of developing our neighbours, our neighbourhood, making sure we deliver health, education, maternity health care, assistance with policing, agriculture and good governance right across our region and our world. The reason I wanted to meet here in the park today is because you take a look around you, you take a moment to consider just how fortunate we are as Australians. We live in a country that by global standards is the luckiest, one of the most prosperous, one of the most peaceful countries you will find anywhere. That gives us an important moral responsibility to do our fair share internationally. But it’s also in Australia’s interests to be a good global citizen. Having a good international reputation helps us in international negotiations. Having countries in our region develop themselves economically, lift their people out of poverty, is good for us economically. Think about Malaysia and Thailand, as just two examples; countries that used to be major recipients of Australian aid, are now trading partners. When it comes to strengthening education and health systems in our neighbourhood, you can see the benefits for Australia. PNG of course has a particular problem with drug resistant tuberculosis. Well if the PNG health system is weak then of course there is a threat of illnesses like multi-drug resistant tuberculosis crossing the water and affecting Australians in our north. So both for the reasons of being a good global citizen and it’s in our own domestic interests, we sh ould do our fair share when it comes to offering assistance to the world. But in recent years we haven’t been. Australia’s target has always been 0.5 percent of Gross National Income, 0.5 percent of what we make each year as a nation. Now, I think if I said to any Australian, if they had $100 in their pockets, if I asked them: “Are you willing to spend fifty cents to save a life?” their answer would be “yes”. But we’re not spending fifty cents out of every $100. We’ve gone backwards when it comes to what we spend to assist the world’s poorest people. As Matt said, we’re at 0.23, headed for 0.22, we are actually on a trajectory to get to 0.17 percent of Gross National Income. That means we will be spending in the foreseeable future as little as 17 cents in every $100 of our national income on helping the world’s poorest people. When Labor was in government we almost doubled the aid budget. We went from $2.9 bil lion to $5.6 billion a year. This government has only taken us backwards. We have seen cuts of more than $11 billion to Australia’s aid budget, and of course those cuts just become larger over time. Today I am announcing I will agree to the aid sector’s request that we stop the clock on aid cuts. Between this year and next year, a further $224 million was to be cut from Australia’s aid budget. That means existing programmes delivering child and maternal health, education, general health care, good governance, assistance with agriculture so countries can feed themselves, assistance with developing good policing so countries can be secure and prosperous. These programmes were slated to be cut across our region and across the world. We will stop the clock on aid cuts. We will ensure that there are no cuts next financial year to the aid budget. But significantly we will do better than stopping the clock. We are also announcing $450 million over three years to a ssist the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. We know we have a greater number of displaced people globally than we have ever had. We’ve got more than 60 million people, who have fled their homes due to conflict, natural disaster, poverty and other reasons. So Labor has said we will assist the UNHCR, especially in our region, to ensure people who have fled their homes are able to be properly cared for and properly processed as refugees. Further, I have also said we will work with NGOs, like the ones represented here today, by investing an extra $40 million a year to work with NGO partners to ensure they are able to do the vital work they do so well, assisting the world’s poorest people with health, with education, with agriculture, with good governance, with all of the areas Australians are able to help develop countries in our region and around the world. I want to finish on this note: We know it’s not just extra dollars that matter. Of course extr a dollars matter but it’s not just extra dollars. We have seen an unprecedented lack of transparency in Australia’s aid budget in recent years. It used to be very easy know what Australia was spending, in which countries, in which programmes, the kind of areas that Australia was spending it’s aid dollars, and we were able to evaluate aid effectiveness. You see the culture of secrecy in this Government around the NBN. Well a similar thing has happened with the aid budget. The publication that used to be available publicly every year that described how Australia was spending its aid is no longer available. We will legislate to ensure there is transparency in our aid budget and that effectiveness will continue to be evaluated and improved in our aid budget. So thank you very much for coming out today.

JOURNALIST: Can Australia afford this? This budget’s already $37 billion in deficit. Can we afford this?

PLIBERSEK: Well this is a very important investment to make in the prosperity of our neighbours and the safety of our region. We know that as our neighbourhood lifts itself out of poverty, it helps Australia economically as well. Thailand and Malaysia used to be major recipients of Australian aid. They’re now major trading partners. So you see how the economic development of countries, particularly in our region, assists with Australia’s economic development. You also have to think about an increasingly interconnected world. We see viruses like Zika virus, pandemics, epidemics, breaking out, and the fact that we’re living in such an interconnected world shows how important it is we help countries strengthen their own health systems to protect Australia from potentially global health threats. Now, Labor has identified well over $100 billion of improvements to the budget bottom line. We’ve made announcements, several of which of course the government have pinched in their last budget and good luck to them, that’s very good, it’s a good endorsement of our strategy when it comes to improving the budget bottom line. But we have also said we will not support $49 billion worth of tax cuts to big multinational companies. We’ve said that we won’t support $16 billion worth of tax cuts to the highest income earners in Australia. In Bill Shorten’s budget reply speech he identified another $6 billion of savings when it came to cutting down on the unprincipled exploitation of vocational education students by dodgy training college providers. We have of course made announcements such as the fact we won’t proceed with a $160 million plebiscite on marriage equality that will be difficult and divisive and a big waste of money, because the Liberals have already said they won’t abide by the results anyway. We’ve said that we won’t proceed with another baby bonus. We’ve said we won’t proceed with the Government’s current approach to climate change where they pay big polluters to keep polluting. We have been very responsible in outlining some very difficult decisions when it comes to improving the budget bottom line, including on negative gearing, and changing capital gains tax for people in the future, not for existing negative gearers of course but for people in the future, making sure they only invest in newly-built homes if they want to negatively gear. These decisions have been controversial. We’ve been attacked by the Government many times for taking them, but we say that governing is all about choices and we are prepared to make some hard choices to ensure we are able to support Australians, their healthcare, their education, decent jobs, investment in infrastructure domestically, and we are also able at the same time to be a good global citizen.

  JOURNALIST: One more – by what year are you projecting this to be (inaudible)?

PLIBERSEK: Well this announcement of $224 million is a one year announcement. The $40 million a year announcement is ongoing, and the $450 million to the UNHCR is over 3 years. We certainly will not be returning to 0.5 percent any time soon. This is an ambition of the Labor Party. We almost got there when we were last in government but due to the massive cuts of this government it will be quite some time before we are able to meet that ambition.

JOURNALIST: Tanya sorry can I get your response to the revelation that Mitch Fifield knew that the NBN had referred the alleged document leaks to the AFP-

PLIBERSEK: Can you just hang on a sec? If anybody doesn’t want to be in the back of the picture on the NBN. Just because it’s political I don’t want to compromise our guests here. Do you want to ask me the question again sorry?

JOURNALIST: Sorry, what’s your response to the revelation that Mitch Fifield knew that the NBN had referred the alleged document leaks to the AFP but didn’t tell Malcolm Turnbull?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, it reminds me of Muriel’s Wedding, what is it? “Deirdre? Deidre Chambers! Fancy meeting you here!”. This is about the most predictable thing we could have heard. There has been some pressure on the NBN to go after whistle-blowers within the organisation because they are embarrassing Malcolm Turnbull. This story is all about documents that have been kept secret because they prove that Malcolm Turnbull’s mismanagement of the NBN has doubled the price. It’s gone from $29 billion to $56 billion and it’s blown out the time frame. The NBN was supposed to be finished by the end of this year. We’re in 2016. Malcolm Turnbull said ‘all done by the end of 2016’. We know there are vast parts of the country where work has not even started. I’m not just talking about remote areas. I’m talking about big towns, cities including Sydney, huge parts of our cities, our suburbs, o ur regional towns, right across the country, are getting second rate NBN. You know, when Malcolm Turnbull started his one job, we had the 30th fastest internet speed in the world. We’re now 60th on that list. We’ve actually seen our internet speeds going backwards, we’ve seen a doubling of the cost of the NBN, and we’ve seen a four year blowout of delivery times. It is no wonder that Malcolm Turnbull wants to keep these documents secret. I’ve got to also say, my information is that many of these documents were previously published under Labor. They were made available on the NBN website - anybody could look at them whenever they wanted. Why have we now entered this culture of secrecy? Many of you will recall that Malcolm Turnbull made his name with the Spycatcher trials, arguing against the Government’s ability to keep secret things that were embarrassing for the Government. Well the fact that the NBN documents are embarrassing for Malcolm Turnbull does not give him the right to raid Labor offices. Thanks.