Transcript: Press Conference - Friday, 8 November 2013

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

PRESS CONFERENCE

FRIDAY, 8 NOVEMBER 2013

Tanya Plibersek: Australians aren’t getting the Tony Abbott they voted for, in recent days we’ve seen the lie of the budget emergency scare campaign that was used before the election with the government almost doubling the debt ceiling and adding 50 per cent to the deficit in the few months they have been in office. We’ve seen also a range of other areas where Tony Abbott said one thing before the election and another thing after the election. In particular I want to talk today about the fact that Tony Abbott has taken an axe to the CSIRO and a number of other expert advisory groups. It looks like the CSIRO could lose up to a quarter of its staff. The CSIRO is the preeminent scientific organisation in Australia. It’s internationally recognised for the terrific research it produces and now it’s under threat. Before the election Tony Abbott said he would not touch health and medical research. He said, even since the election, science is absolutely critical to progress and scientists are the explorers and adventures of the modern age. We are lucky here in Australia that our scientists are the best in the world. He said I’m pleased to pledge the incoming government will continue to support science to the fullest extent possible. What’s changed in a week? I’d like to know.

First of all, Tony Abbott refused to appoint a minister for science that rang alarm bells for people in the scientific community. Now we see these huge cuts to CSIRO because of the reductions in public service mean up to a quarter of their staff may lose their jobs. That will impact scientific research in Australia. I also want to talk about the expert advisory groups Tony Abbott has announced he wants to disband today. Again, this is an example of saying one thing before an election, and doing something completely different after an election. Take the housing supply council for example. Tony Abbott said before the election he was concerned about the cost of living for families. Well housing affordability is one of the biggest impacts for ordinary families.

The housing supply council has done excellent work since it was established reporting on how we can increase housing supply. It has experts on it from the building industry, from finance, academics and others looking at how we can boost housing supply and consequently improve housing affordability in Australia. Many Liberals like Kevin Andrews, Marise Payne and others have used the work of the housing supply council to make comments on housing affordability and housing supply and yet on the same day we have a report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare about housing affordability and the stress it is placing on families we get rid of the very body that is being used by local government, by state governments, by industry itself to help boost housing supply. There are a number of other expert bodies as well, the expert body on firearms. Right here in New South Wales and in other parts of Australia too, we have significant problems with gun crime right now and the Abbott Government getting rid of the expert body that was set up, coming out of moves from John Howard to restrict firearms, to help us control firearms in Australia.

We’ve got an expert advisory group on ageing. Today we read in the papers that Australians might live to an average of 100 years and the body set up to help encourage active ageing is being disbanded by this Government. You see a pattern of saying one thing before the election and doing something completely different after the election. But you also see an even more worrying trend which is ignoring the advice of people who are expert in their field, who are working in the field day to day.

I want to talk for a minute about what is happening in climate change as well. We hear today that Australia will not send a minister to the talks in Warsaw. This is extremely concerning; I think one commentator said today if you’re not at the table in these discussions, you’re on the menu. I think that is extraordinary that neither the climate change minister Greg Hunt nor the minister for foreign affairs who has taken over responsibility for climate change negotiations will be going. It is usual at these discussions to have at least ministerial representation, if not prime ministerial representation. The only possible explanation for this absence of Australia from the table is that we don’t take climate change seriously. I think that Tony Abbott knows, Julie Bishop knows, Greg Hunt knows that we would be laughed off the international stage because we are the only country that is going backwards when it comes to controlling pollution. This is a further indication to the international community that this new government does not take climate change seriously, that they are not interested in the economic or environmental consequences of climate change and they are not interested in putting a global cap on pollution and working to limit the effects of climate change.

The other thing worth mentioning when it comes to climate change is of course the pricing impact. Joe Hockey has been claiming for some time now prices will fall if the carbon tax is repealed. We hear now from experts in industry, in business, in energy production that prices are not likely to fall.  So what we’ll have is a dangerous lemon of a policy from the Government, we won’t see prices fall, we won’t see pollution fall, the only falls we see are in the production of renewable energy and the jobs that go with the clean new energy industries.

Finally, I think it’s worth saying when you look at the attacks on expert advice and the way the Government is sticking its head in the sand on climate change in contrast with the way they have found $360 million to provide superannuation benefits for high income earners, you get a schizophrenic approach to what the most important issues are facing Australia today. I think if the Government continues to go down this path we’ll be able to save a whole lot more money, we’ll just get rid of all expert advice and Wikipedia everything like Greg Hunt did when it came to climate change. Any questions?

Journalists: Just in regards to the CSIRO, the CSIRO said only 300 jobs have gone, are certainly not the number reported this morning, is that a bit more of a relief?

Plibersek: Well I think any jobs losses at the CSIRO are a concern, it’s always important that organisations are as efficient as they can be, but the CSIRO like most government organisations has been facing quite regular reviews of its capacity, capabilities and its efficiency. 300 jobs is a lot of jobs, I’ve seen 550 reported, I’ve seen one in four reported, this is all speculation. What we know is there is a cap on hiring and renewing contracts and a large number of CSIRO staff are on contracts of two years or four years, of course they feel their employment is threatened and the top quality research that they produce is consequently threatened and this is, I’ve got to say, in absolute contrast to what the Prime Minister said before he was elected which was that he was a supporter of science and health and medical research.

Journalist: [inaudible]

Plibersek: Look, I can’t answer what type of research will be hit hardest but anyone of the hundreds and thousands of Australians, for example who used the CSIRO wellbeing diet, knows the research the CSIRO produces is really important in our day to day living in Australia. It has real impact on ordinary Australians, the choices they make, the decisions they make. But the other thing the CSIRO does is not just that very day to day applied research, they also do some very important basic research, the sort of research that underpins industry development here in Australia, the sort of research that underpins major scientific discoveries right across all the areas of science in Australia.

Journalist: Isn’t it actually true there has been no cut in funding by the Government, they have just said there will be a hiring freeze in place and they will be no cut in funding at all?

Plibersek: Well, they have said they are sacking 12,000 public servants, it seems like a large number will be coming from the CSIRO. When they sack those public servants that is a saving to the Government, that’s why they are doing it. So it’s not clear how much of the burden of that the CSIRO will bear but we hear they will bear a particularly large proportion of the burden because they have so many staff on contract.

Journalist: Isn’t it true that a large part of funding for CSIRO comes from external sources and has been dropping for some time?

Plibersek: It’s very important that the CSIRO partner with industry. That’s why I say that they are one of the best organisations in the world for applied research, research that transforms the everyday lives of Australians and partnership with industry is an important part of that. There is no criticism of that, it’s a good thing. What we can’t do is loose the experienced researchers employed at the CSIRO for short-term savings in staffing costs.

Journalist: [inaudible]

Plibersek: I think the fact this Government has added 50 per cent to the deficit including measures like giving $9 billion to the Reserve Bank of Australia they didn’t need nor want, shows the nonsense of this argument that deep cuts are necessary. The Government’s able to find $360 million to give 16,000 high income earners a superannuation tax break, they can afford to fund science properly too.

Journalist: Channel 10 last night aired some pretty severe allegations regards to a navy ship and abuse on that ship, how concerning are those reports form a Labor point of view?

Plibersek: Of course any report of any abuse or assault on any naval vessel is something that must be absolutely thoroughly investigated. We of course support a thorough investigation of all the allegations but I won’t comment on the details until the investigation is complete.

Journalist: [Inaudible]

Plibersek: I’m not going to comment on allegations until there has been a proper investigation. What I will say is in the past when these instances have been alleged and subsequently been proved, I think it’s been very important Navy has taken them seriously; they have taken them seriously in recent years. I think there is culture change in the Navy because of the increasing openness and encouragement to people to report allegations of abuse, but on these specific allegations I won’t comment any further because it is important to have a proper investigation take place.

Journalist: [inaudible]

Plibersek: Well I’d say Peter Varghese is an extraordinarily talented and highly regarded bureaucrat but it is extraordinary that we should have a head of a department explaining Australia’s relationship with Indonesia rather than the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It is the job of the Minister for Foreign Affairs to manage that relationship, she’s in Indonesia at the moment, she should be the one who is accountable for the decline in diplomatic relationships with Indonesia and she should be the one explaining the steps she has taken to repair that rift.

Journalist: [Inaudible]

Plibersek: I would say it’s a relationship that Labor handed over in fine working order that in just a few months has come under strain. I’ve said over the last few days that is very important that the Minister for Foreign Affairs seeks to rebuild that relationship. Indonesia is an important trading partner for us, an important security partner, our good relationship with Indonesia is good for us, good for Indonesia and good for our region buts it’s a relationship that’s not at its best today.

Journalist: Why do you think that is the case? Is that because if the way the boat issue has been handled? What do you see as the cause of the problem?

Plibersek: Look I think there have been a number of missteps by the incoming government. They started before the election with announcements made about what the Australian government would do in Indonesian waters and on Indonesia soil that were not discussed with the Indonesians. They were compounded when the Prime Minister went there for his first trip and excluded Indonesian journalists from his press conference. I think that it’s very clear there have been a number of missteps that have put the relationship under strain and that it’s a relationship that’s imperative the Foreign Minister now re-build and account to the Australian people for those missteps and how she will repair the relationship.

Journalist: Qantas has let go 300 workers today closing their Avalon operations. Do you think the Abbott Government should have stepped up to offer assistance?

Plibersek: Well I think it’s terrible, a tragedy when any Australian worker loses their job and particularly when you see the closing of a major workplace like this. I think the important thing today is to focus on the needs of those workers and their families, for the Government to work closely with Qantas to ensure that as many workers are transferred to other jobs as possible and provide assistance to those who can’t be transferred to find new employment quickly. I think the focus for today has to be on supporting those workers and their families find ongoing employment as quickly as possible. Thanks everyone.

ENDS


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