The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP
Deputy Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development
Transcript of ABC 702 radio political forum
with James Carleton
Subjects: Party Reform, housing and homelessness funding, the Budget
James Carleton: Tanya Plibersek, the Shadow Foreign Affairs spokesman with us. G’day Tanya. In studio, in your electorate as well I might say.
Tanya Plibersek: That’s right.
Carleton: Mike Baird, NSW Treasurer, not far from your electorate. Caught the ferry across?
Mike Baird: Not this morning James, but it’s a very good commute that one.
Carleton: It’s a beautiful commute – one of the greatest in the world. Look, let’s start with an important topic – homelessness – because the Federal Government’s extended homeless funding for another 12 months. This was an issue because the money was running out, there was like three months to go, and a lot of the homeless service providers were worried it would run out by July, Kevin Andrews, the Federal Social Services Minister pledging $115 million. There’ll be a lot of relieved residents and staff in your electorate, Tanya Plibersek, as a result of this.
Plibersek: Well there will be a lot of relieved people but there’ll be some who are disappointed as well, because $115 million is an effective $44 million cut. It should be $159 million which is the funding this year that’s helping 3,400 staff across the country assist 80,000 clients at any one time and about 180 programs so it’s a big demand on services. We had, obviously when we were in government, a target of halving the rate of homelessness by 2020 and to continue the trajectory that we’ve got, which was a very successful trajectory, we do have to keep up the investment.
Carleton: Was there a successful trajectory?
Plibersek: Yes, there was. We certainly saw the rate of homelessness coming down and we also saw very importantly a very dramatic change in the way that homelessness services were delivered. So, we took an approach that made housing permanent in the first instance and then tried to give people the assistance they needed to stay housed. So quite often as you know, James, people who are homeless may have or may have had a mental illness, they might have had family breakdown, all sorts of trauma in their past. I know Mike’s family have been very involved in assisting people who’ve been incarcerated and as they’re coming out of gaol as well. And it takes more than a roof over someone’s head, that is a necessary first step but you also need services that go with that roof that deal with some of the underlying causes of homelessness. And that’s why this national partnership is so important and it’s why it was so successful because we started to address those underlying causes.
Carleton: Mike Baird, NSW Treasurer, the Federal Minister says he does intend in time to have a four-year funding plan so he can get all those sort of long term ambitions in a coherent sense. But at the moment there’s missing this capital component, this forty-odd million dollars in capital spending which as a State Treasurer is something you know all about – declining capital expenditure whilst maintaining you know, the services component.
Baird: What I think is important is, James- the positive news is that the Federal Government has committed to the extension and as Tanya said, it seems to me they’re reviewing the capital position before they bring forward a comprehensive plan. And one of the problems with the national partnership agreements is it creates this huge uncertainty when you get to expiry dates and I think a better funding model is to roll it into the base or a much longer term agreement so people get much more certainty. And listen I agree, I was pleased to see the extension, one of the service areas that I’ve spent time with is those working with those in the homeless sector and listen, it is a very tough sector. There are many stories that break your heart and the former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, he did make it his signature goal, if you like, to halve homelessness – we didn’t get there. Tanya might have different numbers than mine but I understood that the numbers are still increasing and they’re just the reported numbers, and of course they’re far larger when you start to include things like couchsurfing and others. And I also think we need to look at where the money is going, and is it making an impact, the sort of outcomes where we actually start to see the numbers coming down and which part of the service delivery we’re providing that’s improving it. That’s one of the things that government don’t do well, the assessment of the programs. So my hope is that the Federal Minister is doing exactly that and going to bring back a sustainable 4 year plan or if not longer term plan.
Carleton: And a new cohort amongst the population that we haven’t seen much of before – older people who simply get price stabbed of the housing market, especially in Sydney, because they’re on old age pension.
Plibersek: One of the largest groups that was entering homelessness when we took government in 2007 were older, single women, so often women who had experienced marriage breakdown and their husbands went onto continue to be employed and on higher incomes. And the women couldn’t, with what they had left the marriage with, afford to buy and found it tough to rent. And obviously women also generally had smaller superannuation balances even when they’d been in the workforce because they had often taken years out to care for their children or other family members. And the biggest single difference actually to that group was the very substantial increase to the age pension that Jenny Macklin oversaw when she was the responsible minister, biggest single difference. And we were talking about the capital component of the homelessness program, building in our capital cities Common Ground facilities where you had half homeless people, half people on low income, fantastic new facilities, like one we built was Mission Australia in Redfern $16 million facility for frail, aged, homeless people and of course the big investment in public housing that came out of the stimulus, the National Rental Affordability Scheme that Mike’s friends in Canberra are trying to destroy the reputation of now, it’s 14,000 new homes built and 24,000 in the pipeline and they were all big investments but really, really needed in Australia, James. Because you’re pointing out quite ordinary people are also feeling housing stress and falling into homelessness as well.
Carleton: And your former colleague David Borger, who was NSW Labor Housing Minister, he used to be very keen not just on blending homelessness services with public housing but then blending the public housing with normal market private housing so it would integrate communities in a way that didn’t ghettoise populations or areas-
Plibersek: Absolutely vital to do that. It’s really important for the people who live in the public housing because if you’re mixed right throughout the community, you’ve got better opportunities for jobs, transport, all the services that people rely on. But also very important for our community as a whole not to be the sort of cities that we see in other countries where wealthy people can live in the centre of town and the further out you go, the worse the services and that’s where we put people who rely on social housing. I think that’s a very poor model for the design of cities.
Carleton: But it’s one we necessarily have with housing prices the way they are I guess. Mike Baird, I mean, is there anything apart from the interest rates not going up tomorrow if the reserve bank predictions are to be believed that can prevent Sydney’s housing prices continuing at their rate?
Baird: I think the challenge for every policy maker is to bring supply, supply, supply, I mean that is the long term solution to housing affordability. Unfortunately, in Sydney for the best part of fifteen, twenty years, supply has not kept up with demand which is why we have the affordability issue. But I’ll also come back to the point with the existing federal government. I mean, the pleasing aspect to me is that a lot people are depicting the federal government as mean and tricky and all types of words but the fact that Kevin Andrews has extended this Homelessness National Partnership, albeit looking at the capital side, I think it’s a good sign because ultimately you need to have a sustainable budget to look after those who are most vulnerable and it has to be part of your priority measures in any fiscal setting. And it seems to me they’ve done that here.
Carleton: Fifteen months guaranteed with a view to a four year plan following it.
Baird: And that’s a positive despite obviously the budget challenges they’re under.
Plibersek: I can’t let that stand. Budget challenges- we’ve got a government that is claiming that there’s a budget emergency so that they can make all these sorts of cuts and in fact, more than half of the four year projected total deficits are because of parameter changes that the government’s made themselves, or because they gave a big, fat, almost nine billion dollars to the Reserve Bank, that the Reserve Bank didn’t need. So sixty-eight billion dollars of projected deficits are of the Government’s own making and they’ve got rid of the debt cap. They did a deal with the Greens to get rid of the debt cap. So they’re out there saying “budget emergency, budget emergency”, but they’re adding to debt, they’re adding to the deficit and they’re softening up for some very nasty cuts and this homelessness, the National Rental Affordability Scheme, the cuts to health, the cuts to education are all done in this context where they’re trying to convince people that unless we cut hard and we cut deep, you know, the whole economy is going to fall to pieces. It’s just not the case.
Baird: But I think, just a last rebut on that point, is that, I mean I was with the Treasurers last Friday and federal treasury, Martin Parkinson and team presented the economic picture, presented the fiscal picture and those deficits are reality. They’re presenting them hundreds of billions of dollars that are coming in the foreseeable future. So you have to be in a position that, yes at the moment structurally the budget is in significant deficit.
Plibersek: And this government has added to debt and added to deficits since coming to government very substantially and they’re using that to soften people up for the nasty cuts that are coming.
Baird: Well, the only point is, and I make this in order to look after those most vulnerable, you have to have a sustainable budget position in the long term.
Plibersek: I agree with that. I think we all agree.
Carleton: Let’s look at this proposal that’s been mooted to abolish the rule in the ALP that you no longer have to be a member of a union before you can join a branch if you’re working. This has been a rule that’s been there for as long as the ALP has been around. What’s your reaction to this Tanya?
Plibersek: Look, Bill Shorten’s raised this and other suggestions at the National Press Club last week and I certainly think it’s something we need to be open to. I’m a big supporter of the union movement. I’m proud to be a union member-
Carleton: If the rule is removed would you resign from the CPSU?
Plibersek: No. No, they’ll carry me out of there in a box. But I think our society has changed. Now, we’ve got a lot of people who work for themselves, the jobs of today are very different to the jobs of yesterday. We want to appeal to people who are students and pensioners and-
Carleton: Well most ALP members are concessional members.
Carleton: So you have no problem appealing to students and pensioners in the ALP.
Plibersek: But I think it’s terrific that we’re talking about how we can increase our membership because it’s about broadening the appeal of the ALP. We had, on the weekend, two community pre-selections where we had not just ALP members voting for who would become the Labor candidates in the seats of Newtown and Campbelltown but also just interested members of the public being able to vote. We’ve got a direct election for the leader by the ALP membership. We’ve had a lot of democratic reforms in recent years. I noticed today in the paper, Mike, and you might be able to comment more on this, the Liberal party are still fighting about whether local branch members should be able to choose their local candidate.
Carleton: What’s your position on that, New South Wales plebiscite? This is the idea that local Liberal party members get to choose their candidates for federal and state elections.
Baird: Yeah, Tanya can’t get away with that, the Liberal Party is considering real reform and I absolutely support that. Providing members an opportunity to be more engaged, to participate in the election of Parliamentary Members is absolutely a sensible thing. The reform process is underway. But you know, I’ll say this, far be it from me to tell the Labor Party how to run their business, but it seems to me this is just window dressing because it’s only going forward, so at the moment the unions still dominate the executive, they still dominate the conference floor. I think the bigger problem that they have is this leadership, what they’ve done with the federal leadership, because I know that everyone is now desperate for Tanya to take over-
Baird: And they can’t do it under their rules so they have to wait till Bill loses the next election before Tanya can get in. So that’s the bigger problem.
Plibersek: Mike, I think last time you had democratic reform in the Liberal Party, Mike, you ended up in the Supreme Court didn’t you? Not you personally of course, I’m not suggesting that.
Carleton: Well there’s nothing wrong with availing yourself of the judicial process.
Baird: But on a serious point, I think that’s what- the Liberal Party is trying to do it in a considered way and I think what the Labor Party did was a knee jerk response in an election campaign in terms of that Federal leadership issue.
Carleton: Which never would have got up unless Kevin Rudd was there, mind you, and now that he’s gone. But seriously, does Mike have an important point, Tanya, when he says that allowing non-union members to join ALP branches is window dressing while so long as unions control executives and conferences lock stock and dividend stream.
Plibersek: I don’t- I really don’t think that’s the case. We’ve got a policy development process underway at the moment where branch members, union members and members of the public can contribute.
Carleton: Policy, but not machine. The machine remains in control of the factions. No non-aligned members of the National Executive. No non-aligned members of any state administrative committee. No non-aligned members get a say in any Senate or upper house vote in any jurisdiction.
Plibersek: And how is the leadership of the Liberal Party selected, James? It’s the same small group of people making the same decisions.
Carleton: Mike Baird, two wrongs make a right.
Baird: Well, Tanya didn’t answer the Labor party question. I didn’t even notice that but I mean-
Carleton: Well, Labor has its union problem. The Liberals have their lobbyist problems. Well, you’re State President, when he’s not being honorary president, is the head of the Wagering Council the Chief Lobby for corporate bookmakers.
Baird: I mean, what we have said across the Liberal party, is it’s time that we reform the party, and from beginning to end, and that’s exactly what we are looking at, and it’s in relation to lobbyists I mean, the O’Farrell Government was the one who moved strong amendments to lobbying, banning things like success fees and others – we are taking a stand on those important issues, but in terms of the party reform, my simple point is this: if you are going to undertake party reform, don’t window dress, do it properly and comprehensively and that’s exactly what the Liberal party’s doing at the moment.
Carleton: That would be your message to both parties.
Baird: I think that’s exactly right.
Carleton: I should take this moment to welcome Cassandra Goldie, the Chief Executive Officer of ACOSS Australian Council of Social Service. Great to have you. We were talking about homelessness before because the Federal Minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews has announced that this funding will come through. The funding that was due to expire 1 July for homeless services, you’ll be very happy to hear that it’s come through.
Goldie: Look, we’re happy with, it is a short term fix for a really terrible problem that we have. We had over 183 services and thousands of workers and tens of thousands of clients not knowing where they stood from one July and we have to avoid this happening. It is simply unacceptable for us to be providing really important vital services where people have invested huge amounts in really effective work. It’s working, this money, you know, it’s really changing people’s lives and it was unacceptable that we had this situation, such a cliff hanger. Mind you, there are a lot of other services that are in the same boat and we don’t have any certainty on that front so-
Carleton: How do you mean?
Goldie: Well, we’re doing a survey right now to try and get a really good picture of the number of services that are funded by government where their contracts are up on the 30th June. There’s a lot: financial counselling services, emergency relief, important services for young people to help them to get into jobs. We don’t know what’s going to happen and obviously this is a very particular May budget, we’ve got a lot of air time on it being hard budget and that happens every budget but I think we’re dealing with particular circumstances on this one, so we obviously want to push the government to make announcements, get out from under the sort of cover of budget discussions and obviously we have to have budget in confidence at a certain point in the work but we’ve got really important services and clients that need to know what’s happening and obviously we’re very concerned that we don’t cut where we don’t think we should be doing that. I guess, maybe if I can just come back to the earlier chat around political parties, I do have a bit of a comment on it which is I think we do need to be a bit concerned when we see so many young people now who are really questioning the value of democracy, like full stop.
Carleton: Yeah absolutely, I’ve seen surveys where you’ve- it’s extraordinary, like 40% of the people say they’re not democrats.
Goldie: Well it is and it isn’t. It is and it isn’t because what we watch is this, you know, ball going over the, you know, the fence and all of a sudden everything one government committed to is now no longer popular because it’s a new government and instead of us visibly seeing much stronger collaboration across the major parties to value the work that was done by one for the other coming in.
Carleton: I can understand young people being pissed off by politics but that doesn’t mean that they have to be communists or Nazis.
Goldie: No, I think we have to demonstrate why democracy is so important. And it is obvious though, of course it is.
Carleton: Well, it used to be self-evident but-
Goldie: Of course it is, and it should be. So what are we doing to fix that picture for young people. And I don’t buy the argument that young people don’t understand what’s going on, I think they do understand what’s going on.
Carleton: Mike Baird, Tanya Plibersek, why are so many people under your watch turning to extremism?
Goldie: I’m not sure that’s what I’ve-
Plibersek: I’m not going to blame Mike, he’s not going to blame me, because that would prove a point-
Goldie: I think there are great young people thinking about how to form their own political parties and good on them for thinking about that and we can also see this, you know, move towards more independence in, you know, both the Senate and the lower house and I think that’s a trend we’re going to see more of. And I think we have to think about a government machinery and how we can really make this work and deliver on the best of democracy.
Baird: The only point I’m going to make is that I think it’s, I don’t necessarily believe it’s a loss in faith and democracy, I think it’s more, particularly the younger generations are focusing more on issues, and then the issues is what gravitates them, not political parties, it’s what is the issue most dear to them and yes they’ll start to look at who are the people within government or opposition that are reflecting those. But I’ve certainly seen an uptick in terms of the engagement of youth in particular on these issues.
Goldie: I agree, Mike. I think that’s really important. This is not the message that young people are disengaged, but that they’re desperately looking for the best way to get effect of action on some of the big issues that we do face and climate change is obviously one of them, I mean the idea that that’s come and gone as a moral challenge is not true. And young people get it better than anybody, and I also think that, it was delightful to watch the young students when they put those questions to the Prime Minister about the issues that really mattered to them and they were really core issues about human dignity, about values of the nation, and good on them and more young people should be speaking up. And obviously this is a challenge for the major parties, is how to encourage young people into the machinery of government so that they can have a say in both within the parliament and also at the polls.
Plibersek: I actually meet a lot of incredibly inspiring and engaged young people. I met, you know, another group in Parliament House last week that just, they knock your socks off. So the intellectual ability and the moral clarity of purpose they bring, as Cassandra was saying, the questions that they ask of us. I think there is an issue with political parties and young people and I think a bit of that is the hyper partisan nature of politics in recent years. Cassandra is quite right, the idea that you can’t ever admit the other guy’s done anything right in the history of the universe. So I think that that is a problem. But I think that the antidote not just us changing our ways as major parties, that’s part of it, but accepting and celebrating the fact that young people are engaged on particular issues and that’s how they choose to express their political involvement.
Carleton: Well you’re Shadow Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs. A) Do you think that young people will be excited about the fact that Alexander Downer is our new High Commissioner to London and B)-
Plibersek: I think there’ll be dancing in the streets. Almost certainly.
Carleton: And B) will you take this opportunity in the spirit of bipartisanship to salute Australia’s longest serving Foreign Minister to such an important office, in continuing in the role of his father, Sir Alec?
Plibersek: I think it’s extraordinary that someone as skilled as Steve Bracks when he was appointed to New York to be brought back in favour of Nick Minchin-
Carleton: Sent to Rome though, finished his time in Rome, not a bad punishment.
Plibersek: No, this was the Steve Bracks New York appointment-
Carleton: Oh, I’m sorry.
Plibersek: And then Mike Rann coming back from London, same thing, why would you bring Mike Rann back from London? But I had a look at the figures, James, in government, the Howard Government made 15 appointments of ex-parliamentarians to diplomatic posts and every one of them was a Coalition MP or Senator. In Labor we made 6 appointments, and more than half, 4 of those were Coalition MPs or Senators. So yeah, I think we have to get rid of the partisan nature of this stuff. But you know, without spending too much time pointing the finger, I think there’s a pretty big difference between what we did in government and what the previous Howard Government and now Julie bishop as Foreign Minister has decided with these diplomatic postings.
Carleton: Mike Baird?
Baird: No, listen I agree with Tanya. I think you have to look for the best of the people with the best skills and the political badge should become second. You know the number of-
Carleton: Alexander Downer? Kim Beazley?
Baird: Well, Alexander- I think that as a general point, that sons shouldn’t follow their father into anything.
Plibersek: Oh no, we wouldn’t agree with that, Mike. We wouldn’t agree with that.
Baird: That’s just a general point. But listen, I mean, Alexander Downer is unbelievably qualified but in the end-
Carleton: Ben Scare, brilliant ambassador of the Holy See.
Baird: But if you’ve looked at some of the activities we’ve done, we’ve done a lot of work in the ports base. And Nick with them has done a fantastic job for the government here in relation to the ports base. So the political badge-
Carleton: You could say the same of Tanya’s husband as your Director of the Department of Family and Community Services.
Baird: He does an outstanding job for us, there’s no doubt.
Carleton: See, we have fraternal cross party-
Plibersek: A breakout of bipartisanship, it’s a beautiful thing.
Carleton: It should be. Cassandra Goldie, why are you complaining about the Budget when here we have a Liberal and a Labor-
Plibersek: If only your listeners could see us all holding hands here, James, it would be beautiful.
Goldie: We haven’t got the budget discussion quite yet, hopefully we will have a little bit of time. But I think on this particular issue, I think these are very important symbols of the earlier issues we were talking about. I think when people look up and they see that actually the best person, they can see the merit in the appointment, that it’s across parties, that there’s not this sort of die-hard fixation with we’ll appoint our guys, and some women would be good, and on the other side we’ll appoint our team. I think the more of this we can see where it’s genuinely recognition of significant expertise that they’re the right person for the job is the way we should be doing that.
Carleton: Can we all agree on that?
Plibersek: Yeah, I think we can agree on that.
Carleton: I can’t.
Goldie: Can we get onto the budget now?
Carleton: I disagree. Loyalty is an important quality. Well, we’ve got 30 seconds left. What’s your budget take? You’re worried that it’s going to be a killer.
Goldie: Yeah absolutely, I mean we’ve got the Treasurer out today saying everybody’s got to do the heavy lifting, everybody equally, and I’m going well actually, hang on a minute, we’ve got a real divide here in Australia with people who are living on, you know, $35 a day for an unemployed person and then we’ve got some incredibly wealthy people in Australia. I think we need to have a honest discussion about where the cuts should be made which are based on some pretty clear principles that the treasurer did set out. Government should be where they’re needed and we shouldn’t be pulling back from those funds. We should be looking at to create a more equitable picture-
Carleton: Cassandra Goldie, Tanya Plibersek, Mike Baird, I’m James Carleton, 702 Drive.