SUBJECTS: Batman by-election, Adani, Company tax cuts, Polls, Senator Molan.


KELLY: Well the federal opposition continues to be accused of lurching to the left to save its skin in the upcoming Batman by-election. The Prime Minister says the ALP’s opposition to tax cuts and its shifting position on the Adani Carmichael Coal Mine will make it impossible for the voters in inner Melbourne seat to tell the difference between Labor and the Greens.

TURNBULL CLIP: Those people will see through the Greens and they’ll see through the Greens right through to the Australian Labor Party because the Australian Labor Party has now taken up this left-wing, anti-business, anti-free enterprise approach which is calculated to destroy thousands of jobs, thousands of opportunities.

KELLY: That’s the Prime Minister in full-flight in Question Time yesterday, piling the pressure on Labor ahead of an expected announcement by the opposition on the Adani Carmichael Coal Mine. Tanya Plibersek is the Deputy Opposition Leader and she joins us in our Parliament House studios. Tanya Plibersek, welcome to breakfast.

PLIBERSEK: Good morning, Fran.

KELLY: The PM has been hammering the Opposition for days now as anti-business, anti-jobs, Labor swinging hard to the left to defeat the Greens in Batman. Is that your only chance of beating the Greens in the seat? Imitating them?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it’s interesting that the Prime Minister should be criticising us for swinging to the left. I’d say two things about it: first of all, if he wants to offer people a real choice, why doesn’t he stand a candidate in Batman. All the talk at the moment is that the Liberals aren’t prepared even to stand a candidate so if he thinks people don’t like our discussion about very low wages being a problem, they don’t like us raising cuts to healthcare, and cuts to education, why doesn’t he stand a candidate and give people a real choice.

KELLY: It’s a fair point though isn’t it, Labor pushed for Royal Commission into the banks, you want changes to negative gearing, you want a National Integrity Commission. These are all policies pinched from the Greens.

PLIBERSEK: I don’t think that’s fair at all. Labor has had more than a century of history of standing up for working class and middle class people. That is the reason we exist as a party - to stand up for ordinary people and make sure that they’ve got jobs, that they’re pay and conditions at work are decent, that they’ve got a decent health system to rely on, that their kids can get a great education. That’s what we’ve always been about, and we’ve always been a party that has combined our social justice focus with a focus on a strong economy because a strong economy does deliver increased employment opportunities for people. We do want that, we just don’t think that the Prime Minister’s recipe which is big business tax cuts that are supposed to trickle down to ordinary peoples as wages sometime, perhaps, in the future is a recipe for economic success. We know that what creates jobs in our economy are people with money in their pockets, spending that money, buying goods and services, creating work for other Australians.

KELLY: And that’s why it’s going to be tricky for you this Adani issue, isn’t it, because workers in Queensland might jump at the chance of getting jobs and money in their pocket, whereas the Adani Coal Mine is very unpopular in the inner-city seat of Batman. There were, I think, 300 people protesting outside Parliament House yesterday about the Adani Coal Mine. Shadow Cabinet met last night; will Labor formally oppose the Carmichael coal mine?

PLIBERSEK: I think the first thing to say is we do need to have an answer for the people Northern Queensland and Central Queensland about the sort of jobs they’ll be doing, and that their kids will be doing in the future. These are areas with high unemployment, but the more we see of this proposal, the less it stacks up. We have seen inflated jobs figures from the company and frankly from the Government as well. We continue to have concerns raised about the impact on the Great Barrier Reef, which itself is not just an environmental icon, it is a generator of tens of thousands of jobs. Most recently, over the weekend, there are suggestions that environmental tests were perhaps falsified. The more we see of the project, the less it stacks up, both economically and environmentally.

KELLY: OK, so you need to have an answer on jobs for the people of Queensland, what about for the people of Batman? Will Labor formally oppose the Adani coal mine?

PLIBERSEK: We’ll make up our mind, we’ll work slowly and methodically through all of the issues and when we do, we’ll make an announcement.

KELLY: Didn’t it just go through the Shadow Cabinet last night?

PLIBERSEK: We’ve got more than one opportunity to consider new information. And as new information comes in, we need to take our time and examine it properly. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect us to make snap decisions on issues as important as this.

KELLY: Bill Shorten says he’s “increasingly sceptical about the mine”. Anthony Albanese says he’s been “sceptical right from the start”. What’s your position -  do you support the mine going ahead?

PLIBERSEK: I made my position clear in the Shadow Cabinet meeting yesterday, as we all did. And when we make a collective decision, we’ll make a collective announcement. I don’t think it’s a mystery or a surprise from what I’ve said publicly up until now that I am deeply sceptical about both the environmental elements of this proposal and the economic - overstated jobs figures and so on, have been deeply troubling.

KELLY:  You’re listening to RN Breakfast, our guest is the Deputy Labor Leader, Tanya Plibersek, we’ve just heard you mention the Government’s position on tax cuts, company tax cuts. And we’ve just heard Scott Morrison on AM saying that lower taxes means businesses can grow their operations, seven out of ten new jobs last year were in the private sector. He says it’s common sense. I want to know what Labor’s argument is here. Are you arguing about no company tax cuts for businesses over $2 million or are you arguing for no company tax cuts for businesses over $50 million?

PLIBERSEK: We’ll make those thresholds clear before the election. But I’d say this to Scott Morrison: his assumption is that as companies have a tax cut that he’s promised them, they’ll pass that on as greater numbers of jobs or increased pay to their workforce. Neither of those things is borne out by our recent history. Our recent history is that Australian companies are very profitable; they’re not passing that on as wages increases. The big problem in our economy at the moment is that record-low wages growth will continue to depress demand in our economy. People who don’t have five bucks in their pocket won’t stop on the way to work and buy themselves a cup of coffee, they won’t take the kids to the movies on Friday night if they don’t know that they’re going to have a decent pay packet next week. Demand is the job creator in our economy, and without wages increases, we cannot have demand in our economy.

KELLY: Yes, but it is fair to say that we had more jobs produced last year than we have for a long time. And is it fair to say that the Government’s decision to cut the company tax for businesses under $50 million is the reason for that? We know that small and medium business is the job generator.

PLIBERSEK: Thankfully, the global economy is recovering, that’s a good thing. We are the first to celebrate addition of new jobs in the Australian economy. But we know that a growing number of jobs in Australia are low-paid and insecure. We need to guard against that, we don’t want to be a nation of people who are insecurely employed, and worried about whether they’ll get a pay packet next week, or the size of that pay packet when they receive it. So, we are very happy when we see extra jobs added, but we need to also be thinking about the type of jobs that we want to see in decades to come in Australia. And that means decent pay, decent conditions, and it means high-skill, high-productivity jobs. So, as well as making that sure wages growth is strong, we need to make sure that we’re investing in training and education and that’s one of the areas where this Government continues to cut and cut.

KELLY: Meanwhile, while people want to hear their politicians talking about how to create jobs, Parliament is once again diverted by the citizenship issue. The Government is piling the pressure on your colleague Susan Lamb to resign. Christopher Pyne says it’s an open and shut case that she remains a citizen of the UK because she didn’t provide the paperwork necessary to complete her renunciation. If she hasn’t completed that satisfactorily, doesn’t that make her a British citizen still?

PLIBERSEK:  Our legal advice is clear that she has taken all reasonable steps. But Fran, we know that people are sick of this, I’m sick of talking about it too. We offered at the end of last year to refer all of the Labor MPs that the Government says has a problem as long as they refer their own MPs who are in similar circumstances to the High Court. Let’s do one job lot, let’s get it over and done with so we can just stop talking about this. We say for example, that Jason Falinski is a Polish citizen because his parents came here as Polish citizens in the late 50s.

KELLY: And they say their legal advice is that he’s not, which is the same argument as yours.

PLIBERSEK: Sure, sure, so let’s refer them all. Why wouldn’t we? We’re happy to refer Susan Lamb; Bill Shorten has written to the Prime Minister again offering to refer Susan Lamb as long as the Government will refer its own MPs who are in similar circumstances. We’ve got Nola Marino who has refused to provide the same documentation that David Feeney’s got caught up with. Yes, people are sick of this, they want it finished. We are prepared to refer our people - we tried to do it at the end of the last session of Parliament but the Government voted against referring Labor MPs because we said they should refer their own people in similar circumstances at the same time.

KELLY: This has put the pressure on Labor at the end of last year and the start of this year; and as Parliament returns, Newspoll has tightened, Labor is still ahead of the Coalition but Bill Shorten is going backwards in the popularity stakes. You are more popular than your leader according to the Newspoll, 25% support you, compared to 22% for Bill Shorten, and Anthony Albanese outpolls Bill Shorten, too. Is Bill Shorten the right person to be leading Labor?

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely, and the reason we have consistently been leading the Government, I think we’re at 26 polls now, fast approaching that 30 poll mark that Malcolm Turnbull set out for Tony Abbott, is because we are united, we are disciplined, we are focused on the things that matter to ordinary families: their jobs, their pay and conditions, a great education system for their kids, a decent health system where they’re not sticking their hands in their pocket to afford basic healthcare. That’s what matters, that’s what we’ll stay focused on.

KELLY: Can I just ask you finally and briefly because we’re going to be speaking with the brand new Liberal Senator, Jim Molan after eight. He says he’s got no regrets about the anti-Muslim videos that he posted last year on social media. Do you accept his view that sharing this material doesn’t mean he’s endorsing this material, it’s all about debate?

PLIBERSEK: I think I’ll let him answer for himself. I think it is pretty unusual to share material that you don’t agree with or endorse, unless you were actually posting it and saying “I disagree with this, look what idiots these people are.” I think the assumption is that you have posted something because you agree with it.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much for joining us.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek is the Deputy Labor Leader and the Shadow Education Minister.