SUBJECTS: Labor’s commitment to Environmental Defenders Offices; NSW State Election; One Nation preferences; Labor’s Medicare rebate pledge.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well good morning everyone and welcome to my electorate of Sydney. It's such a great pleasure to have our Shadow Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus here with us and representatives of the Environmental Defenders Office. This is a wonderful announcement today that Labor, if elected, would restore $14 million of funding to Environmental Defenders Offices nationally. These organisations ensure that ordinary Australians have proper access to the law. We know that big corporations have deep pockets and their able to employ expensive legal teams but ordinary Australians - farmers, indigenous communities, ordinary citizens - should have just the same access to the law as anybody with the most expensive lawyers in the country. One of the very early actions of the newly elected Abbott government back in 2013 was to cut funding to Environmental Defenders Offices and it showed at the time and we've continued to see an almost allergic reaction from the Liberals to issues around the environment. Just today we see more reports that the Liberals and Nationals are trying to come to some false peace on the issue of coal-fired power stations. Just weeks ago Scott Morrison said he wouldn't be using public funds to fund coal-fired power stations and today reports suggest that in a so called 'peace deal' with the Nationals, that's exactly what might happen. 
This is just one of the ways in which the Federal Liberals and Nationals are completely out of touch with the values and the views of mainstream Australia. We've got a government at the moment that can't run on its record. We've seen power prices increase, childcare costs go up, health care costs go up, but wages flat-lining, the cost of living rising while wages fail to keep up. It's a government that can't run on its vision for the future because its vision for the future is so at odds with the views of ordinary Australians and it can't run on unity and discipline because all we see from the Liberals and Nationals is fighting over the available jobs and power structures within the Parliament. We even saw Barnaby Joyce and Trent Zimmerman fighting each other on election night, they couldn't wait till the TV cameras were off before they started going at each other about whose fault the New South Wales election was. 
So today's news is very good news and provides a sharp contrast to the Federal Liberals and Nationals and it's completely in line with Labor's vision for the future. A vision for the future that focuses on a strong economy and a fair society, that sees investment in health, in education, in the environment, in access to justice and supports and defends ordinary Australians' rights within our democratic system. I'm going to ask the Environmental Defenders Office to say a few words and then you'll hear from Mark Dreyfus, our Shadow Attorney General.
JO BRAGG, ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENDERS OFFICE, QUEENSLAND: On behalf of the Environmental Defenders Offices, we warmly welcome this announcement and we want to thank Mark Dreyfus, Tony Burke and Tanya Plibersek for recognising the crucial role legal services play in relation to environmental protection and community rights in Australia. Now every day Australians really do care about the environment. They care about ground water, they care about clean water, clean energy, they care about the reef, they care about the Murray-Darling basin but unfortunately, particularly in rural and remote areas, particularly farmers, land holders and less well-off members of our community, they don't have access to good quality, professional advice in relation to environmental law and their entitlements. So what Environmental Defenders Offices do is they provide those services and give those farmers, those community members, those conservation groups access to justice so they can stand up to big corporations and, on occasion, government when they're not complying with the law. So again, we warmly welcome this announcement of restoration of funding for Environmental Defenders Offices because it will enable us to provide much needed legal services to everyday Australians like community groups and farmers, services that they couldn't otherwise afford.
DAVID MORRIS, ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENDERS OFFICE, NEW SOUTH WALES: David from EDO New South Wales. We'd like to echo the sentiments that Jo has just expressed in terms of welcoming this announcement. EDOs are an important rule of law institution in this country. We provide access to justice for a wide range of client groups. They do, as Jo expressed, include farmers, traditional owners, community groups and individuals who are seeking to ensure that the laws of this country are upheld. Just by way of example, some of the EDOs around Australia provide thousands of clients every year with free or low cost services that allow them to access the laws of this country. This EDO is currently running some litigation proceedings in respect of alleged unlawful take of water from the Murray Darling Basin system. EDOs up in the Northern Territory often represent Aboriginal traditional owners in terms of accessing information from government and from companies to ensure that we have a more transparent and open society. This is a great announcement and we thank them very much for it.
MARK DREYFUS QC MP, SHADOW ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thanks very much. It's great to be here with Tanya Plibersek at the EDO New South Wales and here with Jo Bragg from EDO Queensland and with David Morris from EDO New South Wales. We're announcing today a commitment from Labor of $14 million to go to the Environment Defenders Offices of Australia and including in that the Environmental Justice Australia Group which is formerly known as EDO Victoria. The reason we are doing this is to restore Commonwealth funding to the Environment Defenders Offices of Australia. One of the more disgraceful cuts of the Abbott government, an early cut in October 2013, was to completely withdraw all of the funding that the Commonwealth had been providing for many years to the EDOs of Australia since they were established in 1985. That included continuing funding right through the 11 and a half years of the Howard government, but for the Abbott government they wanted to harm the work that was done by Environment Defenders Offices across Australia and they did so by complete withdrawal of Commonwealth funding. As you've heard from Jo Bragg and from David Morris the EDOs of Australia do excellent work in protecting our environment and in making sure that all Australians have access to the law, making sure that the scales of justice are levelled so that it's not just large corporations and the big end of town that have access to lawyers, but all Australians can have access to lawyers. That's what the legal assistance sector is for. I think of EDOs as very like community legal centres who provide legal advice to ordinary Australians across a whole range of legal areas. The EDOs of course are specialised. They provide advice, they provide assistance with litigation to raise, to ensure that there is compliance with our environmental laws. Without it, the scales of justice would not be level and without it, many issues would go unraised and we would not have the rule of environmental law which I think is essential, which Labor thinks is essential. I am very much hoping Labor can be elected at the next election because this, along with the many other commitments we've made is an important one to restore and make sure that the Environment Defenders Offices of Australia flourish. Thanks very much.
PLIBERSEK: Thanks. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: Obviously we've seen some significant environmental issues here in New South Wales recently. How would that additional funding have helped perhaps empower communities to take action against, particularly what we've seen around Menindee?
DREYFUS: The Environment Defenders Offices have continued to exist. They've struggled in some ways but they've been able to continue their work with the assistance of philanthropists, generous philanthropists, from small donations sometimes from ordinary Australians and from some, but not all, state governments. Because they have struggled there is a range of cases that have not been able to be taken. There is work that they could have done but they have had to turn away when people have approached them to say "We'd like to take on this big case" or "We'd like you to see if you can explore whether action can be taken" in the example you've mentioned about the Menindee Lakes under the New South Wales Environmental law. I'm going to throw to David because he might be able to say more on that specific case.
MORRIS: So our office has been obviously very involved in issues related to water management in the Murray Darling Basin. It's a vast area, as you can appreciate. It covers four of Australia's jurisdictions and we have one solicitor who is able to specialise and work in that area and we've, with that, have managed to represent numerous irrigators, farmers and communities that live along that river. But there remains much to be done and as I said before, we have one civil enforcement case currently in the courts, but that amount of work – the amount of work required just to deliver that one case is astronomical. And so additional resources you would expect would see a greater level of enforcement action being brought by CLCs like EDOs. And that goes around the country. In terms of my perspective, in the Northern Territory, clients donated art to the office at the EDO to keep the doors open because of how valuable they found that assistance and that service. And for many Australians, environment and planning laws are omnipresent in their day to day lives. And that’s an important fact that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
JOURNALIST: Ms Plibersek, do you think, just on the New South Wales election, do you think Michael Daley should step down?
PLIBERSEK: Oh look, the leadership of the New South Wales Labor Party is a matter for the New South Wales Branch, and of course there will be the normal democratic processes to go through to determine who the leader will be.
JOURNALIST: But would you be concerned about your Federal prospects given a cloud might be looming over you guys as you head into a federal election?
PLIBERSEK: I think if there’s a cloud over anyone, it’s over a Prime Minister who’s not allowed to appear in public until hours after the polls have closed in New South Wales. I think it’s very telling that Gladys Berejiklian didn’t want to be seen anywhere with Scott Morrison during the New South Wales election campaign. And he literally wasn’t allowed to speak until hours after the booths had closed for the day. I think the division and dysfunction that we’ve seen at a Federal level in the Liberal Party and between the Liberals and the Nationals has been significant, and a significant factor in New South Wales and around the country.
JOURNALIST: Why do you think you didn’t get the swings here, compared to those seen in Victoria? Why do you think Labor didn’t feel that swing here?
PLIBERSEK: I think it was not a terrific last week of the campaign for the Labor Party, and you’ve got a Liberal Government that’s been in for two terms. I don’t think there was a significant ‘it’s time’ factor so far. It is a disappointing result for Labor at a state level but I don’t think anybody was actually expecting Labor to win the state election. The idea that we could have picked up 13 seats and taken government in New South Wales is not one that many people subscribe to. We hoped that we would do better than we did. But it’s the way of democracy, you don’t always win ‘em.
JOURNALIST: Have people moved on from the federal leadership spill?
PLIBERSEK: Sorry, have people moved on from…?
REPORTER: Do you think people in New South Wales have moved on from the chaos that we saw in the Federal coalition and are not concerned about re-electing a coalition government?
PLIBERSEK: No, I think what we saw at a state level was a quite disciplined Liberal Party. It’s a sharp contrast to the Federal Liberals that are at each other’s throats. Even on election night, we saw Trent Zimmerman and Barnaby Joyce going at it on TV. Before the cameras stopped rolling they were trading insults between TV stations about whose fault all of this is. We see today some sort of weird made-for-TV meeting between the Liberals and the Nationals on what’s going to happen to coal-fired power in Australia, trying to pretend that they’ve come to some settlement, that I suppose involves Scott Morrison completely capitulating on the commitment he made several weeks ago not to use taxpayers funds to fund new coal-fired power stations. We continue to see a Prime Minister that flat-out refuses to put One Nation and other extremists last on Liberal Party how-to-votes. This is a government that is now presiding over the lowest wages growth in history, the highest underemployment in history, the highest national debt in Australia’s history – that’s cut health, cut education, that continues now with its twelfth energy policy – still to have no plan to lower prices and lower pollution in Australia. This is a government that is divided, dysfunctional, has no vision for the future, and no record to be proud of.
JOURNALIST: So you’re not concerned that the comments made around Asian immigrants will have an effect on federal Labor in electorates with a large Chinese constituencies?
PLIBERSEK: I think those comments were unfortunate. And I said last week, when I heard about the comments, that it was quite right that Michael Daley apologised for them. But there’s no connection here with Federal Labor. Bill Shorten leads a united and disciplined team. There’s only one leader at the moment that refuses to repudiate racism in Australian politics, by putting One Nation at the bottom of the Liberal Party how-to-vote. How can it be that Scott Morrison is still, in the face of all of this debate about One Nation and about extremists like Fraser Anning, refusing to say that he will put One Nation last. We’ve now got Members of Parliament like Ken O’Dowd saying that they want to put One Nation number two on their how-to-vote. It’s extraordinary that we’re even having this conversation. We’ve got a Government that tried to change the Race Discrimination Act to make it easier to racially vilify groups of people, that has been cosying up to One Nation, that is refusing to put One Nation and Fraser Anning last on Liberal Party how-to-votes, that has Liberal and National MPs defending One Nation and saying they’re not as bad as the Greens. If anybody has to answer for the discussion about race in politics at the moment, it’s the Prime Minister that refuses to put One Nation last.
JOURNALIST: If we could just move on to the Medicare rebate pledge made by Labor, is this a carbon copy of the Medicare campaign before the 2016 election?
PLIBERSEK: We’re saying that doctors shouldn’t be asked for five years not to receive any increase in the rebates that they are paid to see patients, particularly when they are bulk billing. And we know that doctors are struggling to provide the quality of service they would like to their patients because this freeze has gone on now for more than five years. The Government likes to talk about scare campaigns in Medicare, or in relation to Medicare. It’s the truth that’s scary about this Government’s attitude to Medicare. The Liberals have always tried to talk a big game on Medicare but they’ve refused to back it in substance. What you’ve seen is constant cuts. Not just the Medicare freeze that’s been drawn out now for so many years, but more than $700 million cut from our hospitals, hundreds of millions of dollars cut from primary care and from prevention. The health services that keep people healthy and out of hospital are also cut. This is a Government that refuses to properly fund our hospitals, refuses to properly fund our GPs, and the results are there for everyone to see - greater out-of-pocket expenses for ordinary Australians.
JOURNALIST: So is that a scare campaign?
PLIBERSEK: No – it’s the truth. And if people are scared by the truth, they should elect a Labor government, not continue to vote for the Liberals that cut Medicare every time they have a chance. Don’t forget – Tony Abbott said, just the day before the 2013 election, that there would be no cuts to health. And we’ve seen year after year, cuts to health resulting in greater out-of-pocket expenses for Australians who need to see a doctor.
JOURNALIST: We’re now weeks away from the Federal Election. Why won’t Labor say when negative gearing changes will be introduced?
PLIBERSEK: Well we’re having a look at the final budget figures and we’ll make an announcement well before the election. But if you’re talking about how close the election is, maybe the Prime Minister should come clean on whether he’s going to preference One Nation or not? That’s the debate we’re having nationally at the moment. And you’ve got a Prime Minister that pretends it’s not important to come clean on whether his preferences will help elect One Nation candidates or other extremists to the Parliament of Australia. Okay thanks.

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