TRANSCRIPT: Doorstop, Sydney, Saturday 21 November 2015





SUBJECTS: Mali attacks, terrorism, President Tong of Kiribati and climate change, Darwin Port lease 

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well thank you very much for coming out this afternoon. I want to start by making a few comments about the tragic circumstances of the hotel siege in Mali, where it seems at least 27 people have lost their lives. It is shocking to hear again, so recently, about a situation where an extremist terrorist group has targeted innocent civilians with the hope of doing maximum damage. Of course our thoughts are with the family and friends of the victims of this terrible attack, but also more generally with the people of Mali.  It, of course, makes Australia even more determined to redouble our efforts to protect our own citizens, but also to be a good international citizen; to ensure that we work with other nations wherever we can to help them keep their citizens safe too.

Turning now to our meeting today with President Anote Tong of Kiribati. This is my second meeting with President Tong of Kiribati who has been such a strong and vocal advocate for genuine action on climate change. President Tong, of course, represents a small island state which is at the forefront of the effects of climate change. Climate change is not a distant future threat for the people of Kiribati – it is a clear and present danger today. When Bill Shorten, Richard Marles and I travelled recently to the Marshall Islands, to PNG and to Kiribati, we were able to see firsthand the effect that climate change is already having. In Kiribati you see the shoreline has moved; buildings that used to be on land, now the rubble of these buildings is in the sea – literally these buildings have been swallowed up by water – villages have been swallowed up by the ocean as it encroaches on the landmass of Kiribati. 97 percent of the landmass of Kiribati is less than 5 metres above sea level, and so of course they are worried about rising sea levels. But storm surges, cyclones, large waves are also threats. And the other threat that the people of Kiribati have identified are the changing weather patterns which have reduced the availability of fresh water, the rising sea levels and reduced rain mean that fresh water wells that used to supply villages with their drinking water have become brackish or salty, crops no longer grow. This is an existential threat for the people of Kiribati that they are dealing with right now. And President Tong will shortly go to Paris to make a strong case that countries, like Australia – wealthy countries around the world - actually do their fair share to address climate change. Australia hasn’t been doing its fair share, in fact, we had a system where we had a price on carbon pollution that was actually working to reduce pollution in Australia – we got rid of that. Clean Energy Finance Corporation: the Government has tried to get rid of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation that is helping us transition to a lower carbon economy. We had a Government that was uniquely, in the world, actually opposed to solar and wind energy. And now we have a new Prime Minister, but sadly we have the same, damaging climate policies as Tony Abbott had. Malcolm Turnbull took as the price of becoming Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s policies on climate change. So Australia – internationally regarded as laggard in this area, will continue to be laggard unless Malcolm Turnbull lifts his ambition when he goes to Paris; lifts his ambition for Australia and the acknowledgement that we need to do our share as the largest per capita polluter in the world.

I’m going to pass you on now for a few words from Matt Thistlethwaite, then I’ll answer any questions. Thank you.

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR IMMIGRATION & FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Thanks Tanya. It was indeed a privilege to meet with Anote Tong, President of Kiribati. A man that for decades has been a strong campaigner and advocate for the rights of citizens of low -lying nations, who campaigns for greater action by the international community on climate change. The President outlined the fact that in many villages in Kiribati and the wider Pacific, wells are now becoming salinised; stable crops like breadfruit and copra are no longer able to be grown and of course infrastructure is becoming inundated from sea level rise. This is the reason why his government has purchased land in the nation of Fiji, to prepare for the inevitability, unfortunately, of whole communities having to leave lands and islands that they’ve inhabited for hundreds of years to avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate change. Tanya and I also met with the President with many representatives of NGOs. And at the conclusion of the meeting with the President, one thing was clear: there was an agreement by those NGOs that Australia must be doing more when it comes to tackling climate change. As the lead economy in the Pacific, as the most developed nation in the Pacific, we have a moral and social responsibility to work with and to represent the interests of our friends in the Pacific nations. And to date, we haven’t done enough, and in the lead up to Paris there’s an opportunity for Australia to right some of the wrongs of this Liberal Government when it comes to climate change, and to step up and to now take solid action and to remember the interests of our friends in the Pacific when we go to Paris in a couple of weeks.

PLIBERSEK: Any questions?

JOURNALIST: It’s been a week since the terrible attacks in Paris, and here we are again discussing in Mali. It’s a unique kind of, global climate we’re dealing with at the moment, aren’t we?

PLIBERSEK: Well we’ve seen a series of attacks in recent weeks: in Beirut, in Ankara, of course just last week in Paris, today in Mali, of course the Russian passenger jet that was downed over the Sinai and it does feel like every day we open the newspaper to more reports of potential threats or in fact actual attacks. It does remind us in Australia that of course we continue to have threats domestically as well and our security and intelligence agencies, excellent as they are, have managed to foil a number of planned attacks here in Australia. But they do need the support of the Australian community to continue to do the work that they do. Our sympathies and our thoughts are with the people who have suffered in all of these terrorist attacks. We’ve seen the worst of humanity during the attacks, but we’ve also seen extraordinary acts of bravery in each of these attacks as well; civilians who have laid down their lives to protect the lives of others, security personnel, police officers who regularly risk their lives to protect the lives of others. So it is a sombre time as we see these terrible attacks, it does make us more determined to be – here in Australia to protect our own citizens – and it does force us to acknowledge the excellent work that our security and intelligence personnel in Australia and around the world are doing.

JOURNALIST: We heard Andrew Robb coming out speaking - almost criticising Scott Morrison - over the S Kidman & Co [inaudible]… what do you make of those comments?

PLIBERSEK: Well this is a Cabinet divided; this is the gang that can’t shoot straight when it comes to foreign investment in strategic Australian assets. We first of all hear that President Obama is forced to raise in his first meeting with Prime Minister Turnbull the fact that the United States first heard about the lease of the Darwin Port from reading the Wall Street Journal. And then we have the Prime Minster rushing to Darwin to try and fix the problem and apparently not knowing that in fact the Navy does use this facility. And then we have, as a sort of knee-jerk response to that, the Treasurer preventing a land sale and Andrew Robb criticising his own Government for doing so. I mean, this is a mess. We actually need a government that takes a methodical and strategic approach to these assessments and makes them based on a thorough examination of the case, rather than any sort of political motivation as Andrew Robb has made clear is the case. Alright, thanks everyone.