TRANSCRIPT: Radio, ABC AM, Wednesday 30 December 2015




SUBJECTS: Resignation of Mal Brough and Jamie Briggs; Newspoll; TURC


KIM LANDERS (HOST): Tanya Plibersek is the acting Opposition leader and I spoke to her a short time ago. Tanya Plibersek good morning.


LANDERS: Isn't it good that the Prime Minister has set a standard on ministerial behaviour? 

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it's appalling that the Prime Minister has waited until now to accept Mal Brough standing aside from his position. You've been focusing on Jamie Briggs this morning obviously because the news is newer, but I think the most significant announcement yesterday was actually Mal Brough's. Why has the Prime Minister stood by Mal Brough for so long, why has he defended him for so long? And more particularly, why did he appoint Mal Brough in the first place when there were flashing red lights around Mal Brough and his behaviour when the allegations that he had incited Mr Ashby to steal his own boss Peter Slipper's diaries - those allegations were already out there. 

LANDERS: Those allegations are still being investigated by federal police, but gone is gone - Mal Brough and Jamie Briggs have both been removed from the front bench for now.

PLIBERSEK: Well we've spent the final weeks of parliament hearing that Mal Brough had no cause to stand aside.

We had the Prime Minister showing an incredible lack of judgement in appointing him in the first place and then a stunning continuation of that lack of judgement not requiring him to stand aside or to resign when it became apparent that the federal police had in fact raided Mal Brough's property. 

LANDERS: Doesn't the public expect politicians to abide by high standards and the fact that the Prime Minister has now acted could show that he has been decisive? You might criticise the timing but as I said gone is gone.

PLIBERSEK: Well I don't think you can call it decisive when the Prime Minister first of all appoints someone with a cloud over their judgement and secondly defends that person for months and then finally waits until the quiet time between Christmas and New Year to try and slide out an announcement about the fact that what Labor and the public have been calling for for many months now has finally happened. 

I think this shows a critical lack of judgement in first appointing Mal Brough, secondly in defending him and it also shows with the timing of these announcements that what the Prime Minister's after is a quiet slide into government early in the New Year after an early election campaign, with a lack of scrutiny as his ministerial standards but also a lack of scrutiny for the critical issues for Australians like a GST and like getting rid of penalty rates. 

LANDERS: There are reports that in the Jamie Briggs case, a staffer attached to the Australian consulate general in Hong Kong was involved. As the Opposition's foreign affairs spokeswoman, do you expect a briefing on what exactly happened? Is there a duty of care to this public servant?

PLIBERSEK: Well I have asked and been assured that the young woman who's made a complaint has not been penalised for raising this issue. That's all I need to know - I don't need to know her identity, I don't think the Australian people have the right to know her identity or to see her identified. 

The critical thing is that proper procedure is followed and that her complaint is protected and I have been assured that that's the case. 

What is in question here is why it's taken so long, why the foreign minister hasn't made an public comment about this issue or any indeed the issue of safety of staff in our embassies in Baghdad and Kabul, which is also being reported in recent days as at some risk?

And why in particular with the case of Mal Brough, the Prime Minister has waited so long to take any action, why he appointed him in the first place and why he's taken so long to take any action.

LANDERS: You're being critical of Malcolm Turnbull's leadership and if you think his political honeymoon is over, do you now expect therefore Bill Shorten's poll numbers to rapidly improve? Because the last national Newspoll had him on just 14 per cent as preferred Prime Minister.

PLIBERSEK: Well I think this incident certainly shows a lack of judgement and that shows that the Government are very keen not to be scrutinised on not just their personnel but on really critical issues for Australians like whether there will be a 15 per cent GST on everything, whether penalty rates will be abolished for Sundays.

And some of these issues like we saw yesterday with the confession that the savings made from the Medicare review won't be going back to the health system and despite promising again and again that Labor and Liberals were on a unity ticket on the Gonski school education funding, that that is not the case....

LANDERS: Despite all those concerns though that the Labor party, sorry, despite all those concerns that Labor has been raising, Labor's primary vote has fallen below 40 per cent in every state so what is not going right for Labor to be getting across its message to the public?

PLIBERSEK: Well we've got a new Prime Minister who's replaced the most unpopular Prime Minister in living memory, so there's going to be a little bit of a bounce in the polls, a little bit of a honeymoon period from that.

But I'm convinced that having released more than 50 positive policies last year, having announced also how we pay for them, being unique in I think oppositions in living memory and having so much information out about our policies and about how we would pay for them so early in the electoral cycle and asking Australians to focus on whether they do want a second term Liberal government that will introduce the 15 per cent GST on everything; that will get rid of Sunday penalty rates, that will re-invigorate WorkChoices, that will continue their attacks on universities, TAFEs, school funding, healthcare cuts... when we ask people to focus on those questions, I think the answer will be a very resounding no.

LANDERS: The final report from the Royal Commission into Trade Unions is expected to be released today; will the Labor Party accept all of the recommendations without question?

PLIBERSEK: We don't know what the recommendations are and we've said for some time that the royal commission was set up to achieve a particular political outcome so...

LANDERS: You've seen the draft report though; there's been a raft of prosecutions recommended for example against union officials.

PLIBERSEK: When we were in government, we made three very important changes to increased penalties around poor behaviour by union officials.

We tripled the penalties for breaches of the Fair Work Act for example and made a number of other changes and we proposed further changes, in fact the Government - Brendan O'Connor wrote to Michaelia Cash earlier in December with a dozen suggestions for increasing the powers of ASIC to investigate contraventions of the Fair Work Act and a range of other suggestions that Brendan O'Connor made at that time- that Labor has made to the Government.

So we are absolutely 100 per cent committed to taking action against unions or union officials who do the wrong thing. They're not just doing something that's illegal, they're betraying the members that depend on them.

LANDERS: Alright Tanya Plibersek thank you very much for speaking with AM. 

PLIBERSEK: Thank you. 

LANDERS: And that is the acting Opposition leader Tanya Plibersek.