TRANSCRIPT: Radio ABC, Victoria, Thursday, 28 April




SUBJECTS: Suicide and mental health; asylum seekers; Labor's Climate Change Action Plan; Tanya's visit to Castlemaine

PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek is a former Health Minister. She is also the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and she’s in Castlemaine today. Tanya Plibersek, good afternoon. 

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Hi, it’s a pleasure to be with you.

PRESENTER: What is it about this society that we’ve created that leads so many people to take their own lives?

PLIBERSEK: Look, you’re talking about a phenomenally troubling area, and we certainly have seen some communities in particular that have very high suicide rates. One of the things that we’ve said we’d do if we return to Government is actually try exactly the sort of regionally-focused approach that the Mayor of Benalla - you were talking to - was talking about. Because we know that there are a lot of services that aren’t linked up; we know a lot of people approach one service and get a referral but they never follow through on the referral because it’s confusing or intimidating for them or they get lost in the system. So we need to work out how the organisations that are already there can be better linked to support people. And of course we need to make sure that our local, primary health networks and hospitals have the capacity to respond when people come and they report that they’ve got suicidal thoughts or that they’ve made an attempt on their life. We have issues around under-resourcing still across the mental health area. Look, there's not a simple answer; it’s a very, very challenging problem.

PRESENTER: But that’s all after the fact. What is it about this community that we have created that drives so many people to such despair that they feel they have to take their own lives?

PLIBERSEK: I can’t answer that, I really can’t. I think for a long time people have struggled alone with mental health issues and in a previous generation you might have had many people who struggled with depression who never admitted it to a single soul. So I think we do know that up to 3 million Australians report mild episodes of mental illness in a given year and up to 65,000 people actually try to commit suicide. So you are talking about very large numbers, I don’t know whether the numbers are actually larger or whether we are talking about this more now than perhaps we did in an earlier generation. Either way, those numbers tell you that there are a lot of people in extreme distress and we need to do better as a community to support them.

PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, your asylum seeker policy, there are conflicting reports in the press today within Labor. One tranche of Labor says that this is a sick game that needs to end. Richard Marles, however, was on AM this morning saying that this, your offshore detention policy is a policy which has saved people from drowning. Here is the Shadow Immigration Minister speaking on AM.

[Clip of Richard Marles’ AM interview plays]

PRESENTER: 3 MPs now – 3 Labor MPs in your Left Faction have broken ranks and are calling for the 900 asylum seekers on Manus Island to be processed here and settled in Australia. And Melissa Parke says that the offshore detention policy is, quote, “a sick game that needs to end.” So which is it?

PLIBERSEK: Well, you know people at the extremes of an argument never tell the whole story. And this is an enormously complex area of policy. We don’t want people drowning at sea – 1,800 people drowned at sea during our time in government. There are 60 million displaced people in the world and we don’t want to say to those 60 million the best chance they have of coming to Australia is to pay a people smuggler to get on a boat. On the other hand, the way these centres are being run is shocking: the fact that processing times have doubled to around 445 days for asylum seekers in the Australian system is shocking, the fact that organisations that blow the whistle on suspected child abuse or mistreatment on Nauru get, the organisation gets sacked and maligned by the Government instead of having that sort of whistle blowing behaviour welcomed. And these centres are being run in a way that is contributing to people’s extreme distress and they should not be run this way, there’s no question. The Government absolutely has dropped the ball on resettling the people who are on Manus Island and Nauru – these centres were only ever supposed to be temporary places where people would be assessed and then resettled. That’s not what has happened under this government. People have been sent there in a way that is almost indefinite.

PRESENTER: It was your government that set up offshore detention, it was Kevin Rudd.

PLIBERSEK: Yes, but we never expected Manus Island and Nauru to become places of indefinite detention. This government has completely dropped the ball on resettling people in our region or elsewhere, that is one of the expectations we had. If you look at the proposal that we made for resettling people in Malaysia, our arrangement with Malaysia was that for every person that we asked Malaysia to take, we would take 4 people who had been determined to be refugees and those people who went to Malaysia would have right to work, healthcare, education for their children, they would not have been living in camps. The Liberals and the Greens combined to stop that Malaysian agreement that would have been the start of a genuine regional resettlement. We’ve also said – Labor has said – that we need to much better support the United Nations High Commission on Refugees to do the work that they need to do in the region to properly resettle people.

PRESENTER: Sure, look, but Melissa Parke, a Labor MP, says that this is a “sick game and it needs to end”. Now she’s not talking about winding back the processing time; she’s talking about resettling people in Australia and detaining people in Australia, not offshore.

PLIBERSEK: We believe that we should resettle more people in Australia – we believe that we should double our humanitarian intake to 27,000 people a year, that’s already Labor policy. But we need those people to come to Australia safely.

PRESENTER: So you’re still supporting offshore detention?

PLIBERSEK:  I’ve said to you we absolutely believe that the way that the Government is running Manus Island and Nauru are completely inappropriate. That they have dropped the ball on resettlement, that the conditions, the secrecy -

PRESENTER: No, I’m asking about Labor’s policy. I’m asking: you still support offshore detention of asylum seekers?

PLIBERSEK:  Yes we do because we saw 1,800 people drown on their way to Australia and we can’t see people thinking that their best way to be able to come to Australia is to pay a people smuggler and risk their lives. That is absolutely the case. However, we don’t believe the way that Manus Island and Nauru are being run at the moment is appropriate; we don’t believe that the very long processing times are appropriate; we don’t believe the secrecy is appropriate; we don’t believe the punishment of whistle blowers is appropriate. We believe that there should be an independent children’s advocate to protect and defend the rights of children. We believe that temporary protection visas should be got rid of because the refugees -

PRESENTER: You're clearly at odds with people within your own party, though?

PLIBERSEK:  Well, I’m just telling you what Labor’s policy is – we determined that at the National Conference in Melbourne. Our policy is to take more people, but to bring them here safely and to treat people better while they’re being assessed.

PRESENTER: Peter Dutton says that Labor has been unable to get to an election campaign without once again being at war within itself.

PLIBERSEK: Well Peter Dutton would say that. I mean, he’s the man who has said that he knew that this issue with PNG was coming a year ago and yet he doesn’t have a plan for what to do to find a permanent home for the people on Manus Island.

PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, there’s also complaints today from the Prime Minister who says that your plans for an emissions trading scheme are effectively another tax. Julia Gillard famously said that, “there would be no carbon tax under a government I lead”, and then introduced one. The Prime Minister now says that we’re heading towards another tax if Labor was elected. Is this history repeating?

PLIBERSEK:  Well I think the old Malcolm Turnbull wouldn’t have said that! This is the Malcolm Turnbull that’s been a fully paid subsidiary of the right wing of the Liberal Party that’s now saying that we don’t really need to take real action on climate change. The policy that we announced is a very comprehensive policy that does a number of things: it of course takes us to 50% renewable energy by 2030; it has a very high ambitious target for reducing carbon pollution – 45% emission reduction target by 2030; and zero net pollution by 2050. They’re very important targets for us to set because that’s what will really drive the investment in renewables in Australia. We’ve actually seen investment in renewables in Australia go backwards since the election of a Liberal Government, including during the time that Malcolm Turnbull – the once great friend and supporter of climate change action – has been Prime Minister. So we’ve said sensible things like we should improve the emissions of vehicles in Australia – we sell dirtier versions of cars that are sold in Europe and America. We’ve said that we need cleaner power generation, including by increased investment in renewables. We’ve said, of course, that we want to make sure that our trade-exposed industries are able to trade on the international carbon markets so that they can reduce their emissions at least cost. We’ve said that we’d invest in more carbon capture by using the carbon farming initiatives that we've seen in the past and by reducing land clearing.

PRESENTER: Is this a carbon tax by stealth, as the Prime Minister implied?

PLIBERSEK:  No. Look, we were absolutely prepared and could have predicted with 100% certainty that Malcolm Turnbull would try and run a scare campaign on this because he is so ashamed probably in his heart of hearts that he’s given up on real action on climate change. But we know we have to act. We’ve seen, you know people have seen, the huge coral bleaching event on the Barrier Reef for example. That’s not just an environmental disaster; there are 65,000 jobs that rely on tourism on the Reef in those regional communities. We’ve seen extreme weather events, we’ve seen bushfires, floods and so on that really affect not just our environment but our economy as well. We need to act on climate change – we’re the only country that went backwards with our commitments at the Paris climate talks. When we tried to join up more recently during the signing process with a group of ambitious nations they snubbed us because we’re not a nation that is actually doing its best on climate change; we’ve had a completely half-hearted and ineffective approach. The direct action policy that is now Malcolm Turnbull’s policy he once described as a “fig leaf” – an excuse to do nothing on climate change. Well that’s his policy today.

PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, why do we find you in Castlemaine today?

PLIBERSEK:  Well, I always love to come to Castlemaine!

PRESENTER: It is a beautiful part of the world.

PLIBERSEK:  It is very beautiful. I’m in the regional art gallery, which is a fantastic art gallery. Look I’m here – I did a forum about Labor’s foreign affairs policy most particularly about aid and East Timor and the Government’s $11.3 billion cuts to the foreign aid budget and our announcement of course that we’d finally resolve the sea border issue with East Timor. But I’m also talking to people, for example, about the $200 million cut from schools in this electorate and the almost $500 million – more than $470 million – that’s been cut from the health system in this area and the effect that that’s having on the local community.

PRESENTER: Great to talk to you, as always. Thank you so much for joining us this afternoon.

PLIBERSEK:  It’s so very good of you to have me, thank you very much.