SUBJECTS: Tax policy; Reproductive services in Tasmania; Gender pay gap; Braddon by-election; Tasmanian state budget; NBN; Trump Kim meeting in Singapore; Denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

LOUISE SAUNDERS, PRESENTER: With me in the studios as we head to the by-elections, five of them around the country, is the Deputy Opposition Leader, Tanya Plibersek. Good morning to you.


SAUNDERS: I have to say we are a little surprised to see a politician make it down as far south as Hobart when there is a by-election in the north west. first of all, what brings you to town, why are you here?

PLIBERSEK: Well I was in Devonport yesterday with Justine Keay talking to a couple of women about the real financial pressures in their lives and about how Labor's bigger tax cuts would benefit them. So I had a great day with Justine yesterday and then I came down yesterday afternoon to talk to Rebecca White and her Parliamentary team down here, and particularly to catch up on this issue of reproductive health rights here in Tasmania. Of course, we were prepared to commit $1 million to a reproductive health hub here in Tassie, because of the restriction of availability of abortions in Tasmania. We don't think any Tasmanian woman should have to get on a plane at an incredibly difficult time in her life, so I did want to get an update on how things were going here.

SAUNDERS: It's becoming a bit of a political issue too, whether it's the politics of trying to squeeze the newly elected speaker of the Tasmanian Parliament into casting a vote or achieving real change. What do you see or what do you believe needs to happen then in terms of the provision of services for women in Tasmania?

PLIBERSEK: Terminations are legal in Tasmania, and as you and your listeners know, the problem is the availability of those services and we have had report after report of Tasmanian women having to get on a plane to go, usually to Melbourne, at what is an incredibly difficult time for most women. We wouldn't send someone to Melbourne for a hip replacement or a knee replacement. It is completely unreasonable for people to have to travel for a termination.

SAUNDERS: Should a public hospital be able to refuse to provide a legal service?

PLIBERSEK: I am troubled by the idea because it is difficult enough to get a termination in Tasmania, it seems that the proposal from Tasmanian Labor to provide these services in public hospitals makes a lot of sense. I think in the instances of individual doctors and so on you have to think a little bit more carefully about that. But at the moment the Government here in Tasmania keeps saying that these services are available, that normal operations have been restored and that just not the report we get from Tasmanian women.

SAUNDERS: When it comes to providing services, improving I guess opportunities for women, you mentioned the tax cuts, how do you gender or skew a bias on gender when it comes to providing tax? I think even the Treasury says that not really something that can really be achieved, is it?

PLIBERSEK:  Well yeah you can. You can say if high income earners disproportionately benefit from a tax cut, then that tax cut is disproportionately going to flow to men. We did a bit of an analysis that said that in the third and final stage of the Governments' tax cuts, $3 in every $4 will go to men, because men are generally earning more than women. This isn't just a problem with tax cuts. We have got a gender pay gap in this country that bounces around 18 per cent and that's including for full time working men and full time working women we still see a significant gender pay gap. Women are retiring with about half the superannuation savings of men. If we then pile on top of that more generous tax cuts that disproportionately benefit men, you see that we are asking women to do more of the unpaid work, more of the low paid work, more of the insecure work, earn less for it, retire poorer and now cop it in the tax cut department as well. Our proposal with the tax cuts, Labor's proposal with tax cuts, would see 210,000 Tasmanians better off because we say that we want to skew those tax cuts to low and middle income earners. We don't think people on $180, $200, $300, $500,000 a year need the help as much as people on $35 or $65,000 a year and we certainly don't think we need to give an $80 billion big business tax cut, including $17 billion to the big banks. Now we've got this banking Royal Commission at the moment that shows you story after story of the banks just helping themselves to peoples' hard earned. Malcolm Turnbull's proposal is that we give the banks a $17 billion tax cut over the next ten years instead of properly funding our schools, properly funding our hospitals and giving more generous tax cuts at the low end.

SAUNDERS: Why are tax cuts necessary when, as you mentioned, there we could more generously fund our schools, we could address gender gap issues such as superannuation, even the increasing casualisation of the work force. Is tax cuts the best option?

PLIBERSEK: Well tax cuts are important for low and middle income earners now because wages have been flatlining. We haven't seen any real wages growth for years now, despite the fact that companies are profitable, they're doing well. In the past you would have seen that turn up in peoples' pay packets, at least a share of it. That's just not happening anymore. We've seen wages growing at about inflation or even less than inflation so people are in effect going backwards. So we want to see tax cuts at that low and middle income end, that helps with the family budget it makes it a bit easier to make ends meet week to week, but it also helps our economy because people on low and middle incomes are much more likely to spend that tax cut in their day to day lives, they'll buy a cup of coffee on the way to work, they're creating a job.

SAUNDERS: Well something certainly is needed in the north west and of course the Braddon by election coming up on July the 28th, it's a seat that you've lost and held in the past. Do you believe you can retain it at this by-election?

PLIBERSEK: It's a very marginal seat and we're fighting hard for every vote but we have got far and away the best candidate in Justine Keay. Justine is seventh generation Tasmanian, she grew up in the north west, she's raised her boys there, she's absolutely committed to the local community and she's in this unique position where she's got an opponent who I really didn't find anyone who's a big fan of her opponent. Most politicians if they've been in parliament before they say 'judge me on my record' - Brett Whiteley would not say 'judge me on my record' because his record is supporting a $20 GP co-payment, his record is supporting penalty rate cuts, his record is supporting an increase to the GST including on fresh food and his record is voting against the banking Royal Commission because he's a banker. So I don't know, if you put up Justine, and her real concern for the people of Braddon, and her opponent I don't think it's a hard choice for people to make.

SAUNDERS: You're talking to people on the ground, obviously you would have spoken to some yesterday, is there also a sense though that Justine Keay is somebody who perhaps stuck around a little longer than she could have knowing what she did about her own citizenship?

PLIBERSEK: Well not at all because Justine and the Labor MPs wanted to go the High Court at the end of last year. The Government voted against referring Justine to the High Court at the end of last year because they didn't want the same scrutiny applied to their members. Now it's a bit rich for the Government to be saying she hung around for too long when they voted against referring Justine to the High Court.

SAUNDERS: And the delay in allowing these by-elections when there's possibly the very real prospect of the whole nation going to the polls less than a month later.

PLIBERSEK: I think it is unprecedented to have such a long delay. With Barnaby Joyce's by election it was called, I can't remember if it was the same day or a couple of days after it became apparent that he was not eligible to be a member of Parliament. All of the previous by elections that we've had in conservative seats - Barnaby Joyce, John Alexander - they've all happened, they've been called almost immediately and happened in a very short time frame. I don't think it's much of a coincidence that this round of by-elections have been called on the very weekend Labor was supposed to be in Adelaide having our national conference and I think it's quite shocking that the Prime Minister would use the independent Electoral Commission in this way. I think it's very bad behaviour indeed.

SAUNDERS: We're heading into the State budget here tomorrow in Tasmania, Tanya Plibersek, and there's some concern that the Treasurer, Peter Gutwein, is making spending allocations not yet knowing of course what lies ahead when it comes to GST receipts for Tasmania. What does Labor make in terms of a commitment to GST revenue and a share of the pie I guess for this smaller state?

PLIBERSEK: Well first of all, it is outrageous that the Federal Government has refused to release the report of the Productivity Commission on the GST redistribution. It is outrageous because we know that when the Federal Government cut funding for schools to Tasmania the State Liberal Government, not a peep from them. When they cut $58 million from the university down here, not a peep from the State Government. So the Federal Government could very cheerfully cut GST funding from Tasmania and Tasmanians would not be confident that the Liberals down here would stand up against those cuts. Tasmanians deserve to know what the Federal Government's got in store. We have said that there is a problem in Western Australia but we don't need to fix that by taking money off other states. We can fix that from Commonwealth revenue.

SAUNDERS: The Tasmanian ambition, I guess, is to be a smart state, to provide an alternative place to live while doing business from here and with interstate, and as a listener notes this morning on AM, even the Solomon Islands has faster NBN than Tasmania or Australia does. How crucial is that as an issue, nation-wide I guess, to get right heading into another election?

PLIBERSEK: I can't tell you how important it is, and I know Tasmanians want their good NBN, they want their good roads, they want their good schools, TAFEs and universities. They want to be a clever state, but I live about 6 kilometres from the CBD of Sydney and my NBN is stuffed too. We don't have NBN yet. This is a national problem, and what a great irony that people thought Malcolm Turnbull, the guy who virtually claimed to invent the internet, was going to bring this faster, better NBN. He said it would be faster, cheaper and sooner. It's slower, it's been more expensive to roll out, and it's taken much longer than he promised. I think the NBN is an embarrassment to this Government and to Malcolm Turnbull in particular, given the claims he made.

SAUNDERS: Is it too late to fix it?

PLIBERSEK: It will be very expensive to fix areas that have already had NBN rollout. I hope we can fix the areas, start with the areas that haven't had NBN rollout yet.

SAUNDERS: Just finally on Donald Trump, Julie Bishop today is saying that the effort by Donald Trump has changed the course of the discussion. Do you support the approach that he's taken, meeting the North Korean leader in Singapore?

PLIBERSEK: I think if there is a possibility of denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula the international community should pursue that with every effort because of course the risk of nuclear conflict for our whole region would be disastrous, potentially millions of lives lost. Of course we need to do whatever we can to denuclearise the peninsula but I think we also need to be realistic about the fact that North Korea has made promises in the past that it hasn't kept. We need to make sure that the international pressure remains to keep up the sanctions, to make sure that any denuclearisation is verifiable, and I think Michael Kirby's comments yesterday about ensuring that we also address human rights in one of most, or probably the most repressive regime in the world, is very important as well.

SAUNDERS: And just finally then, as a regional power, is it something that has ongoing monitoring of it, implementation Australia needs to be part of?

PLIBERSEK: We would be very happy to work with the Government to support any efforts that Australia can make. Australia has been a leader in denuclearisation in the past, the Canberra Commission, an Australian initiative. Gareth Evans, when he was Foreign Minister in particular, leading role in supporting nuclear disarmament. Of course we would support that.

SAUNDERS: Tanya Plibersek, good to have you in the studio this morning. Thank you so much.

PLIBERSEK: Lovely to talk to you Louise.