SUBJECTS: Election; Government wasting taxpayers’ money on advertising; overseas influence in politics; Adani mine; representation of women in the Labor Party; campaigning in Brisbane; funding for the NDIS; electric cars; reading.

RACHEL MEALEY, PRESENTER: Well, here we are on day two of the unofficial Federal Election campaign. Deputy Opposition Leader, Tanya Plibersek, joins me in the studio. Good morning.
MEALEY: Well thanks. Do you feel like the wombat?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I mean we did kind of expect there'd be an election called on Sunday. But really, I mean, we're not at the mercy of the Prime Minister in that sense. We are out campaigning, talking to people about Labor's positive vision for the future, and to be honest we’ve been doing that for months anyway-
MEALEY: So it doesn't matter to you when the election is called. You feel like you're under way?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's irritating. Well, it's irritating a lot of people because there's so much government advertising going on in the meanwhile - a million dollars a day of your taxes being spent telling you what a great job the government's doing. I think that's probably irritating for people but as for the election date itself, we're up to have the conversations about our positive vision for the future and we have been for ages. 
MEALEY: We keep hearing from you about how much government spending is going on advertising but their tactics are right here, aren't they? They're taking another week to sell the Budget and in doing that, they're hitting Labor where it hurts. They get a few extra days to hammer home their line that Labor can't be trusted with the economy. 
PLIBERSEK: Well I don't think I'm the only person who gets really irritated that every time I turn on a television set or go past a bus stop or a billboard, I see my tax dollars being spent talking about government spending. Now, I would much rather the government actually spend some money in schools than tell me what a great job they're doing in schools, using my tax dollars on advertising. And as for the Budget, I think people understand that Labor has the same or bigger tax cuts for ten million Australians, and we don't have to do it by cutting hospitals and schools because we're not giving those very high tax cuts at the upper income levels in ten years’ time. We can afford to invest in our hospitals and schools, do our cancer package, invest in TAFE because we are - and give bigger or the same tax cuts to ten million Australians because we're not doing those tax cuts at the top end of town and for big business. 
MEALEY: Do you think that ordinary people would get what you mean there? You're talking about these government-funded ads, the ones that say "Authorised by the Australian Government Canberra" at the end of it-
PLIBERSEK: You could get a second job doing that, you're very good.
MEALEY: Thank you very much. Well, you know last night people would have sat down and they would have watched 'Married at First Sight' say, and that's a huge audience. 
MEALEY: And so, to people who are watching a show, they don't know what, where money comes from for advertising. They just look at what the advertising is telling them and that might hit home. So -
PLIBERSEK: Oh, I think people are a bit more sceptical than that. I think, look, they know Scott Morrison is a dodgy ad guy. He's a dodgy ad guy who thinks he can advertise his way out of six years of cuts and chaos by spending a million dollars a day of your money telling you what a great job he's doing. I think it'll drive people nuts if they see much more of it.
MEALEY: Well for those who weren't watching 'Married at First Sight' last night there was there was an important episode of 'Four Corners' which looked at Chinese influence on Australian politicians. What's your response to what was uncovered there?
PLIBERSEK: I think it's deeply troubling. I mean, one of the reasons that Labor voluntarily stop taking donations from overseas two years before the government legislated to ban them was because we don't want to see the influence of other countries in our domestic political decision-making. It was - that's one of the reasons it was so concerning to see that One Nation went to the United States to try and get $20 million out of the National Rifle Association over there. What a shocking betrayal of Australia to go seeking the intervention of this quite malign group to weaken our gun laws here in Australia. I think it is troubling and I think it's very troubling to see the allegations that Santo Santoro was able to, essentially, take money to make introductions to Peter Dutton, the Immigration Minister, and that that Peter Dutton fast-tracked the citizenship of a family of a prominent political donor. 
MEALEY: This isn't just a problem in other parties though. You've said One Nation there and you've mentioned Liberal Santo Santoro, but Sam Dastyari resigned from Parliament and the Labor Party back in 2017 because of his ties to Chinese donors. Can you assure us that Labor has cut ties? We're not going to get down the track and realise that another member of your party has been wined and dined and been promising favours all over town?
PLIBERSEK: That's why Sam Dastyari made the right decision in resigning. He's borne quite a high price for the relationships he had with Chinese donors. The difference is Peter Dutton's still a Minister.
MEALEY: You say that we need to be vigilant about foreign influence. But sometimes that influence can be really subtle. You know, you've got Members of Parliament around the country being lobbied perhaps without their, without their knowledge. Is everyone sort of alert to this problem?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I think people are certainly more alert after these revelations and the 'Four Corners' program plays a very useful role for that reason. I think - look people have, if you're a business person who's got business interests overseas and you want to see a good trading relationship between Australia and the country where you're doing business, I don't think there's anything wrong with that. What you're talking about is something more malign than that. It's actually trying to get government policy changed or to reduce, for example, the criticism of human rights in another country. Those things, we do have to be vigilant about and be careful of.
MEALEY: On AM this morning, Joanne Bragg from the Queensland Environmental Defender's Office, has said that any undue pressure on the Environment Minister to approve the groundwater plan for Adani could be challenged in the court at a later date. Do you think the Environment Minister Melissa Price is under a lot of pressure to make her decision?
PLIBERSEK: Well one thing I know for sure it's you can't get the Liberals and Nationals to agree on anything and this is another example of that. You've got, apparently, Liberals in Victorian seats saying that she shouldn't approve and make the approvals because it'll cost them seats like Kooyong, and you've got Nationals or LNP members in Queensland saying that she must or they're going to make sure she's hounded out of her job. The decisions ought to be made with the only thing, they ought to be made with only regard to the law. The only thing that should be influencing her decision is not political interests in Kooyong or threats from Far North Queensland LNP members. She should be making decisions based on the law and the best interests of our nation.
MEALEY: Do you want to see a decision on that ground water management plan before an election is called?
PLIBERSEK: I want to see a proper environmental consideration of all of the elements of this project. I think it's very important that there's no public funding that goes into it. There's been delay after delay from this company and I think that's why it's also important that we don't put all our eggs in one basket when it comes to jobs. For Far North Queensland, Central Queensland we need to make sure there are substantial infrastructure projects up there - roads, rail, port, airports - to make sure that we are creating jobs that come with the building of that infrastructure, but also improving our tourism potential in those areas, improving agricultural exports to markets in Asia in particular. We can export our high-value agricultural products more easily to markets in our region. That's the sort of investment that will create jobs in the long term.
MEALEY: You talk about the forces that are at play within the Coalition, but really, Labor is not immune to it either. It's a tricky issue for the Labor Party, this Adani one. What is your policy?
PLIBERSEK: Our policy is that it has to, this project has to stack up environmentally and economically. That we would not put a dollar of tax payers' money into subsidising this giant multinational to proceed with this project and that we need to follow the law when it comes to making these decisions.
MEALEY: Now you've woken up in Brisbane today, the first of many wake ups here-
PLIBERSEK: And it's a beautiful day, I've got to say.
MEALEY: We've turned it on.
PLIBERSEK: I went in for a lovely walk along the river this morning. It's a beautiful city.
MEALEY: That's good. Whether it will be the first of many you'll have here, I'm sure because Queensland, we keep hearing, it's a battleground state and there are a number of seats at play in Brisbane. Tell me what you did last night? You were at a function on the north side?
PLIBERSEK: I had a really great night last night. I had a night with Chloe Shorten and four of our Labor women candidates, Susan Lamb in Longman, Ali France in Dickson, Corrine Mulholland for Petrie, and Annika Wells for Lilley - and we had a fantastic night to promote those four candidates. Chloe Shorten made a terrific speech and what was really interesting about last night, as we worked out, that if those four women are elected Labor will reach its target of 50 per cent of our Parliamentary representatives being females, six years ahead of schedule.
MEALEY: Putting women in winnable seats. You don't know what this is going to lead to?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I'm very proud of the high quality of candidates that we've got in our seats and one of the other things I worked out recently, Rachel, is that after the next election it is possible that there will be more men named Andrew in the House of Representatives than there will be Liberal women. 
MEALEY: Oh stop.
MEALEY: I haven't heard that one. You've been in the Labor Party a long time. How has having more women in the Party room changed things?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I think there's definitely more of an understanding of policies that affect the day-to-day lives of Australian women. So our policy for universal access to three and four year old preschool for all Australian children, our reproductive and sexual health policy that makes long-acting reversible contraceptives more easily available-
MEALEY: I don't really mean just on policy. I kind of mean that, you know, you've been in the Labor Party for a really long time. 
PLIBERSEK: I really have, haven't I?
MEALEY: I don't mean to emphasise the really but, you know, you've seen a big change in your Party?
PLIBERSEK: I have. Look I was at the National Conference in 1994 when we moved our first affirmative action policy, which was the 30 per cent of winnable seats policy and at that time, it was still controversial in the Labor Party. Should we set targets? Shouldn't we? I think the biggest change is that in the Labor Party, there is now a universal acceptance that having a party that looks more like the public that you're trying to represent - so that means 50/50 men and women - is beneficial for everyone, for men and for women. So, we don't have to keep re-prosecuting that argument that equality is good for everyone. It does have a policy impact. And I think the other thing it's done is we've got all these young men who are fathers with young families as well. I think it's a less hostile environment for balancing work and family. It's still hard -  we're away from home a lot, it's not a great job for work-family balance - but having more women and having different ages and different professional backgrounds, different ethnic and religious backgrounds, looking more like the general Australian community, I think, makes the workplace just a more normal workplace.
MEALEY: On ABC Radio Brisbane. I'm Rachel Mealey. I'm talking to the Deputy Opposition Leader, Tanya Plibersek, who's with me in the studio today. Just quickly Ms Plibersek, we might just have to go and check the traffic in just a minute, but can I ask you what you're doing in Brisbane today? 
PLIBERSEK: Oh yes. Well, I'm going to Wynnum-Manly Community Health Centre with Jo Briskey, our candidate for Bonner this morning to announce a $30 million commitment to a dedicated child and youth health centre and expanding services at Gundu Pa in Wynnum-Manly. I'm going to Loganlea TAFE. I'm going to the Grange Sports Club, to announce a half million dollar investment in more women's changing facilities. They've had a huge growth in women's football in that club. And then I'm visiting a childcare centre with Ali France in Dickson. So, I've got Paul Newbury in Brisbane for the sports club and Ali France in Dickson with the childcare centre this afternoon. 
MEALEY: I want to talk to you a little bit longer, if you don't mind sticking around. Just we'll hear about the traffic now.
(Traffic report)
MEALEY: Rachel Mealey with you on ABC Radio Brisbane. I'm with the Deputy Opposition Leader, Tanya Plibersek. Later on our program this morning, we're talking about the taxi subsidy scheme. It's coming to an end on June 30 and people who rely on it have been told it's over to the NDIS for them, but they're asking for more time because they say the NDIS still has its problems. Can you help with that shortfall if you were to win government?
PLIBERSEK: Look I can't make a commitment about the relationship between the state government's taxi scheme and the NDIS but what I can tell you about is the NDIS is actually having problems with the roll out, and the reason is there's been an under investment in staff. The staffing cap placed on the National Disability Insurance Agency by the Federal Government has resulted in this $1.6 billion underspend that the government's projected surplus is built on. Last year there was a $3 billion underspend in the National Disability Insurance Scheme. That's because there's not enough people doing assessments.
MEALEY: How long will it take to get on its feet?
PLIBERSEK: Well we have to get rid of the staffing cap. We have to make sure that service providers are being properly paid for their services. A lot of disability service providers were actually considering leaving the system because the payments from the National Disability Insurance Scheme was so low that they actually couldn't sustain their business model, even the not-for-profit ones. So getting the payments right, getting people's plans right - people who've got a really good National Disability Insurance Scheme plan say it's life-changing for them. It's been fantastic. There's many people who will tell you that they have had a great experience, but for every person who's had a great experience we hear from someone who's actually lost services or has the same disability as their friend but can't get the same package. Part of that is because the rollout of this scheme has been starved of resources by the Federal Government. The projected surplus is built on the back of starving the National Disability Insurance Scheme of proper resourcing and that's a tragedy because this should be life-changing for people. It should be and it will be when it's properly rolled out.
MEALEY: So but at the moment you're saying that's a state government responsibility that shortfall?
PLIBERSEK: Well the state government has to negotiate with the Federal government to work out the transition so that people are not disadvantaged.
MEALEY: Let's talk about electric vehicles. Scott Morrison says you want to end our weekend by taking away our four-wheel drives. 
PLIBERSEK: Yes as we're opposed to the weekend-
MEALEY: Are you surprised?
PLIBERSEK: -and apple pie and motherhood and all those things. I hate puppies. I hate kittens.
MEALEY: You're taking away our SUVs, he says?
PLIBERSEK: It's just so tiresome, isn't it? I mean, look, at the moment Australians have less choice about their vehicles than people in the United States and Europe. If you wanted to buy an electric car, if you didn't have a lazy hundred grand you probably couldn't afford it. In Australia today, we have only four electric vehicles on the market that cost less than $60,000. In the UK, there's one retailing for about $35,000 Australian. What we are trying to do is give people more choice and help them save money on their petrol bills. You know how much it costs. Every time you pull into a servo cost you a hundred bucks to fill the tanks. We think with our car policies, well the experts are telling us we can save $7,000 in the course of the life of a vehicle. We've got emission standards in Australia that mean we are the junkyard of all the cars that Europe and the US don't want and now the government, this Liberal government, is trying to stop us getting access to cheaper electric vehicles as well. It's just nonsense. We believe in more consumer choice not less choice. 
MEALEY: Are you surprised by the government's tactics on this? You've got pretty similar electric vehicle policies?
PLIBERSEK: Yes. Isn't it incredible that there's all these government ministers out there spruiking electric vehicles until Labor has an electric vehicle policy and then suddenly it's you know, devil spawn, to have an electric vehicle. It's ridiculous. Truly it is ridiculous. Am I surprised that the government will reach for a desperate scare campaign just weeks out from election? No because Peta Credlin told us that the carbon tax scare campaign that Tony Abbott ran was a lie, and that's just retail politics. This is back to the Tony Abbott playbook of trying to frighten people. We want people to have choices in Australia that people in Europe and the United States take for granted - cheaper cars, cheaper electric vehicles that can save them money on their petrol.
MEALEY: I saw that Bill Shorten tour bus yesterday hit the road-
PLIBERSEK: Not electric. 
MEALEY: No, it's not electric?
PLIBERSEK: I don't think so. No.
MEALEY: Is it, you know, a good idea when you're talking about electric vehicles. Couldn't you find an electric bus?
PLIBERSEK: But this is part of the problem in Australia. Seriously, this is part of the problem. We don't have the same choices in cars or other vehicles that they have in Europe or the United States. We don't have the charging stations. We don't have the infrastructure. We need to boost our number of charging stations. We need, of course, to make sure that our grid can cope with that. That's why we've got a $5 billion modernisation plan to boost the capacity of the grid around Australia and we need to give consumers the option of getting an electric vehicle, if they want one, that costs them less than a hundred grand.
MEALEY: So might that take one more election cycle for election vehicles to be electric?
PLIBERSEK: Oh please don't say that. I honestly, I can't bear the thought of another-  
MEALEY: Election campaign?
PLIBERSEK: Morrison Government.
MEALEY: No I'm talking just about another election campaign. But before I let you go and I know that you are busy, but I'm compiling a recommended reading list for our listeners who might be having a few days off in the next few weeks – Easter, Anzac Day. Have you read a good book lately? 
PLIBERSEK: I've been reading a series of great books by a Canadian author called Louise Penny. They're detective novels and they're set in a little village called Three Pines and they are the best escapism that I've read in ages. I can recommend them very thoroughly.
MEALEY: That's good. I might have to hunt them down. Do you read on planes?
PLIBERSEK: I read - when I'm going somewhere, I read all my briefings, but if it's like eight o'clock, nine o'clock on the way home, then I read a book for sure, and I read every night before I fall asleep. 
MEALEY: Yeah, it's your wind down?
PLIBERSEK: My idea of the best holiday is sitting in the shade, under a Norfolk Island pine, on the grass with a book. Perfect. I can't imagine anything more lovely than that.
MEALEY: It might not be in your future, your near future. Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek. Thanks very much for joining me here in the studio today.
PLIBERSEK: Thank you Rachel. Lovely to talk to you. 
MEALEY: Thank you.

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  • Rebeccah Miller
    published this page in Transcripts 2019-04-10 09:19:32 +1000