FRIDAY 25 MAY 2018

SUBJECTS: By-election date; By-elections; Border protection.

ALAN JONES, PRESENTER: Look I said earlier, I don't think you've got to be on one side of politics or the other to find this quite odd, which I have to confess I do. These by-elections have been called for July 28. Now that's 79 days that these people will be without MPs and they could have been called by, the earliest date you could have had them is on June 30. Now advice has been provided to the Speaker who announces the date, Tony Smith, I understand in consultation with the Australian Electoral Commission and the Government, for July 28. Just so happens to be the weekend of the Labor Party conference. The Labor Party are pretty angry, Tanya Plibersek is the Federal Deputy Leader, she's on the line. Tanya, good morning.


JONES: I know you've got a bit of a cold so don't worry about that. Sorry to drag you out on all of this but what do you make of all of this?

PLIBERSEK: Well I just think it's extraordinary to leave these electorates unrepresented for such a long period of time. I mean, yes, of course we are irritated, it’s inconvenient for us - it will be very, very expensive if we have to move our conference, but that's not the main thing that we're worried about. Why would you put these electorates, first of all why would leave them unrepresented for so long, and secondly does anybody really living in these electorates want to face a 79 day campaign with people knocking on their doors and ringing them campaigning for all of that time. It's a very difficult to understand decision given that other electorates like North Sydney when there was a by-election, the writs were issued within three days, Bennelong within two days, New England the same day, Batman six days, and they were pretty speedy campaigns after that. This contrast sees people basically unrepresented for close to three months.

JONES: Penny Wong, your Leader in the upper house, has accused the Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers of making a partisan call, saying the timing will prevent ALP members from campaigning on the ground. Now are you saying first on the one instance you're going to have to cancel the ALP conference, I mean you've already surely booked hotels and convention centres and air flights and all the rest of it - will that have to be cancelled?

PLIBERSEK: Look we haven't made a final decision yet. Our National Executive will discuss it today, but Alan I don't see how Labor Party members, who will want to be campaigning for our terrific candidates, will feel about being stuck in a convention centre in Adelaide instead of out on the streets doorknocking and campaigning. I think it would be very very difficult to convince people not to be focused on the election campaigns. They will want to be campaigning. My guess is our most likely course of action is we'll have to cancel it and that will, as you can imagine, cost us a fortune.

JONES: Just on these by-elections, Bill Shorten, is there an embarrassment here for the Labor Party? Bill Shorten declared nine months ago, there was quote 'no cloud over any of our people' and yet Susan Lamb, Justine Keay and Josh Wilson had been found to have been dual citizens. How can that be?

 PLIBERSEK: Well, all of our people took reasonable measures. The old decisions of the High Court, 25 years ago, said that if you've taken all reasonable measures to renounce other citizenship, then you'd be fine. The High Court decision in the Gallagher case recently said that wasn't enough. The fact that these people had renounced their citizenship but the paperwork hadn't been processed by the UK Home Office, for example, meant that they were barred from standing, so as soon as we knew that we resigned, our people resigned. But don't forget Alan, we also offered to refer all of our people to the High Court at the end of last year and the Government voted against that because they didn't want their people in similar circumstances to be similarly referred.

JONES: Are there people in the Coalition that you believe still have question marks over their right to be in the Parliament?

PLIBERSEK: Look a number of people have been mentioned as potentially having question marks over their parents’ or their grandparents' citizenship and the effect on their own citizenship, but I don't think it's productive for us at the moment to be getting into that. I think our focus will be on making sure that we win the seats that are in contest at the moment. We've got terrific candidates and my focus is on making sure that they are re-elected.

JONES: Longman, you've only got a margin of 0.8 of a percent. One Nation preferences will be crucial, won't they?

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely, and in fact we wouldn't have won Longman last time without those One Nation preferences, it's a very tough seat, but people have had more time to get to know our member, our candidate up there Susan, and she really is a terrific person you know. People have seen her in operation now, Susan Lamb, they see that she is very compassionate, but very tough, and a real fighter for her local area. They've had the opportunity of seeing her at work and I think she's got every chance of retaining that seat.

JONES: You're the Deputy Leader. You must be concerned though about the fact that no matter where you turn everything is being said about border protection. Now your draft ALP Platform, which was to have been debated that weekend, calls for asylum seekers to be shifted out of mandatory detention after 90 days. Can you understand that asylum seekers would be saying “well, we'll cop 90 days in Manus Island and Nauru - where do go then?"  Where do they go then if the Platform says they'll be shifted out of mandatory detention - to where?

PLIBERSEK: Our processing objective was always 90 days when we were last in Government. We mostly achieved that. But of course if you don't know someone's identity then you can't achieve that 90 day objective. When it comes to Manus Island and Nauru, we think that the arrangement with the United States is a good one, and we certainly hope that that will continue to take people from Nauru, in particular, to the United States. We think that New Zealand has offered a similar arrangement - we don't know why the Government hasn't taken that up.

JONES: But Donald Trump said that was a rotten deal.

PLIBERSEK: But he's honouring it.

JONES: Yeah but would he honour a new deal?

PLIBERSEK: Well we don't know, we'd have to negotiate. And Alan don't forget, when we were in Government, we had a similar arrangement with Malaysia, where we would have sent people to Malaysia, and the Liberals and the Greens got together to block that one. Now I don't know, it doesn't happen very often, but when it does you always smell a rat, when the Liberals and the Greens get together.

JONES: But border protection, it's obviously a big issue whether we like it or whether we don't. Now can you guarantee that your party would not dismantle what Abbott and Turnbull and Dutton have put in place?

PLIBERSEK: Well Alan, we don't have any plan to close those offshore detention centres. We have said that we would turn back boats where it's safe to do so. But we've also said that we want a more compassionate approach to the people who we fly here on Qantas planes and look after because we've got a responsibility to the world as well, to do our fair share. Now-

JONES: But Ged Kearney has said that the detention centres at Manus Island, in her maiden speech, and Nauru should be closed.

PLIBERSEK: We'd like to see no need for them. We'd like to stop the boats coming, and in that case we wouldn't have to process people on Manus Island and Nauru. That would be ideal – if we could stop the boats then we wouldn't need Manus and Nauru.

JONES: But there are people there, there are people there. Now if you're going to say you'll shift them after 90 days, where would they go? You mentioned America. Do they come to Australia, that's the point? Peter Dutton says Labor policies will see the return of asylum boats and drownings - sorry?

PLIBERSEK: No we've said very clearly that they won't, Alan. We don't want to send any signal that would give people smugglers any hope at all because they are wicked people who are running the biggest criminal enterprise in the world right now, which is moving people, desperate people, illegally. We won't be any part of that. We will not restart their business. Their business is evil.

JONES: Good. That's an excellent assurance. Just one final thing before you go. I mean this is a very expensive business this five by-elections. Why not have a general election? Why not have a general election, sort of - are you people ready to go to a general election?

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely we are. And I'll tell you, really, the reason for this very long delay, Alan - you don't have to be Einstein to work it out - is that the Prime Minister doesn't think he's got a good chance in these by-elections and what he would like to do, mark my words, this is my prediction, for free, Alan, for your listeners, the Prime Minister wants to dump his toxic big business tax cut. You'll see that in the next few weeks. There'll be a few pea and thimble tricks - and they're delaying the by-elections as long as possible so they can dump the tax cuts and try and sweeten the deal so that the Prime Minister can save his own skin. That's what's happening here.

JONES: Alright good to talk to you. You go and get a few lozenges into you. I'm grateful for your time at this rather ridiculous hour of the morning. Thank you for talking to us.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you so much.