SUBJECTS: Citizenship; Budget; Aged care.

SABRA LANE, PRESENTER: We're now joined by Tanya Plibersek, the Deputy Opposition Leader.


LANE: Good morning. You just heard the Prime Minister then. Bill Shorten gave a rolled gold guarantee last year that no Labor MPs were going to be caught up in the dual citizenship fiasco. Can Australia trust him now, given that he was so wrong?

PLIBERSEK: We gave the information that was right at the time. The High Court have come back with a newer, stricter interpretation in the Gallagher case, and so our MPs have resigned subsequent to that because there is a new precedent. They've resigned based on the new precedent. But we gave our responses at the time based on the case that had always existed, 25 years of interpretations of the High Court said if you took all reasonable steps you were fine. And Sabra, I think it's a bit rich for the Prime Minister to be lecturing when Barnaby Joyce remained as Deputy Prime Minister, despite the fact that the Prime Minister knew he was actually a New Zealand citizen. He had taken no steps to renounce his citizenship. Our people have taken all reasonable steps and they were assured by our legal teams that they were fine because they had taken all reasonable steps. Of course we regret this now. Of course we regret having to have these by-elections now, but based on this new interpretation it is necessary. We are sorry for the inconvenience that it will cause people, but this new interpretation does make it necessary for them to resign.

LANE: Constitutional experts say there isn't a new test here, unless the foreign government refuses to issue a renunciation like in Sam Dastyari's case, that there's no excuse. Has Mr Shorten’s credibility taken a hit?

PLIBERSEK: This is the thing about lawyers. We've heard people like George Williams, Anne Twomey, Kim Rubenstein - professors all - say that they were surprised by this newer, stricter interpretation, so I guess that's why people employ lawyers. There is more than one interpretation of these sorts of things. We accept the High Court's newer, stricter interpretation of the law. It has made it necessary for our people to resign and to face by-elections. We're sorry for the inconvenience, but our position was always based on the best legal advice that we had.

LANE: Are you sorry that given apparently some of these MPs actually wanted to refer themselves off to the High Court earlier but that the Labor leadership team insisted last year that they stay in place to pressure the Government over this issue?

PLIBERSEK: I don't accept that interpretation at all. We made every decision based on the legal advice to us that our people had no problem, that they had taken all reasonable steps, and that the Court would accept that they had taken all reasonable steps. Don't forget, we had people like Barnaby Joyce, John Alexander and others who had taken no steps to renounce their citizenship of other countries. Our people had made these efforts and we believed that, based on the legal advice we had, that they would be fine.

LANE: The Prime Minister's point, none of these MPs have actually resigned, they are still drawing salaries and they're using MPs entitlements. Why? Why haven't they resigned?

PLIBERSEK: They will resign this morning. They've gone back to their electorates to hand over constituent cases to their staff to make sure that any outstanding work continues, so that their constituents are properly served during this time, but they will be resigning this morning.

LANE: Will Labor contest every seat?

PLIBERSEK: And by the way, just incidentally, Barnaby Joyce was Deputy Prime Minister as a New Zealand citizen. I mean, honestly, it is a bit rich of Malcolm Turnbull to be pointing this out.

LANE: Normal voters are completely over this issue. There may be some people that are really disappointed that Labor has stuck it out for so long and eight months on, now you finally find all these MPs are having to go to the polls. Will Labor contest every seat?

PLIBERSEK: Yes. We haven't got a candidate yet for the seat of Mayo so we're looking at that one closely, but our three existing candidates who have resigned were all re-endorsed by our National Executive last night.

LANE: Do you think there needs to be a referendum on Section 44 of the Constitution or that MPs who just want to be MPs ought to do their homework?

PLIBERSEK: I think political parties will be much, much more careful now about the candidates they are selecting, making sure that every single candidate has ticked every possible box and I think that's a good thing. I think a referendum is an expensive way of fixing a problem that affects very few people. It is obviously inconvenient and expensive now to have these by-elections and that is very regrettable, but by and large this is a problem that very few people will face in their lives. I think having a national referendum on it is much less effective than just making sure we do our jobs properly and do our paperwork properly.

LANE: All right. Bill Shorten, he outlines his Budget in Reply tonight. Will Labor match the tax cuts for middle Australia, low income Australia, tonight, and better it and will that be outlined tonight?

PLIBERSEK: We've already told the Government that we're willing to vote for the first elements of their tax package that start on the 1st of July.

LANE: You heard Malcolm Turnbull there saying no.

PLIBERSEK: How ridiculous is this? If Malcolm Turnbull actually wants to give tax relief to low and middle income earners from the 1st of July, why would he hold this to ransom for a tax cut that doesn't come for seven years? And Sabra, how embarrassing is it, that yesterday in Question Time when we asked again and again: “what do the individual elements of this tax package cost?” The Prime Minister and the Treasurer refused to answer. Why is it a secret from the people of Australia what the individual elements of this tax package cost? We're up for voting for the ones that start on the 1st of July straight away. The ones that start in seven years’ time - are we allowed to examine them properly as a people? As a Parliament? It's ridiculous to say that we're not.

LANE: Onto tonight, will Labor announce its entire package tonight, how it will better the Government's offering?

PLIBERSEK: People will have to tune in for tonight's announcements tonight.

LANE: So could be yes, could be no, you might have to wait until next year.

PLIBERSEK: We've said that we will back tax cuts for low and middle income workers. The Government has a green light to go ahead with those. But we will be talking about more than tax. We'll be talking about tax of course because we don't agree with the Government's $80 billion giveaway to big business, the $17 billion that will go to the banks over the next ten years, but we'll be talking about fairness, like we always talk about fairness. We don't think it's fair that this Government can find $16,000 to give someone on one million bucks a year a tax cut, but it can't find seven dollars a week to give a pensioner support for their clean energy supplement. We'll be talking about schools and TAFE and universities and hospitals and all of the services that Australians rely on for a decent quality of life.

LANE: Many Australians would be pleased to know though, under the Government's plan, that they'll be paying less tax in the long run and the tax system will be simplified. What's wrong with doing those things?

PLIBERSEK: I think low and middle income earners paying less tax is a good thing. They've had a wages freeze, they haven't seen wage increases, 700,000-odd of them have lost their penalty rates. Of course we think that people on low and middle incomes deserve more money in their pocket, and it's good for the economy too, because they will spend it. When it comes to people on high incomes, which are always the priority of this Government, well we think it's important that they pay their fair share, because this country relies on the tax that people pay - wealthier people - and businesses pay to make sure that every Australian has a good quality of life.

LANE: Labor has been very critical about the aged care plan that the Government announced. The Government is putting in additional money for home care places-

PLIBERSEK: Well it's not additional is the point.

LANE: It's saying $1.8 billion for 14,000 more places, which are 3,500 places per year. Will you better that?

PLIBERSEK: The point is it's not additional money. It's come from another part of the aged care budget, so there will be less residential aged care for more home care. Of course we support more home care places. There are more than 100,000 people on the waiting list. 20,000 people joined the waiting list in the last six months of last year. Now weeks ago we had all the fanfare from the Government saying this is going to be a great Budget for aged care. They've moved money from one part of the aged care budget to another - pea and thimble trick - and 3,500 extra places a year for a waiting list that is growing at faster than that rate. It's a very disappointing outcome.

LANE: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much for joining AM this morning.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you Sabra.