SUBJECTS:  Uluru; Government in crisis; Manus Island. 

RAFAEL EPSTEIN, PRESENTER:  And the breaking news this afternoon of course the President of the Senate, kind of like the Speaker of the House, the person who presides over the upper house, Stephen Parry, he's a Liberal Senator from the State of Tasmania, he's found out he does qualify for British citizenship, he will have to leave the Senate as well. Joining us today is Tanya Plibersek, she's the acting Leader of the Opposition while Bill Shorten is overseas. She covers education and she's also Shadow Minister for Women. Tanya Plibersek, good afternoon.


EPSTEIN: Thank you for joining us.  Tanya's in our Sydney studio.  Alan Tudge is, and I'm sure he'll make a point out of it, as well as being a Liberal member in the suburbs of Melbourne, he's the Minister for Human Services in Malcolm Turnbull's Government and he's long campaigned on traffic issues which is why he's somewhere by the side of the road and not sitting with me in the studio.  Alan Tudge, welcome.

ALAN TUDGE MP, MINISTER FOR HUMAN SERVICES: G'day Raf, that's exactly right, there was an accident on the Monash, I think, which meant that I couldn't be there in person.

EPSTEIN: Well done answering the question without EastLink, that's good.

TUDGE: (laughs) I called it Monash, not EastLink.  I could talk about the EastLink if you'd like me to.

EPSTEIN: I'm sure you could. Let's talk about the other bit of breaking news this afternoon, I'll begin with you Minister Tudge. The traditional owners at Uluru have decided to ban anybody from climbing the rock in two years' time. Lot of callers very happy, lot of callers very unhappy Alan Tudge.  What do make of it?

TUDGE: I'm disappointed in their decision because I think a lot of people did enjoy climbing the rock, but, at the end of the day it's owned by the traditional owners and it's their decision and their call, and they've made that, so we have to abide by it.

EPSTEIN: So disappointed because people won't be able to climb it, is that what you mean?

TUDGE: Yeah basically, I think it's obviously iconic, it's part of Australia. Many people have enjoyed in the past climbing it, many international tourists have climbed it and would like to do so in the future.  But it is owned by the traditional owner groups in Central Australia, and it's their call at the end  of the day, and we respect their decision and we abide by it, but that's what it is.

EPSTEIN: Tanya Plibersek, what do you think of the ban?

PLIBERSEK:  Well I'm absolutely happy to be guided by the traditional owners on an issue like this.  I think it's very reasonable to give people who've booked a holiday a year or two years ahead the opportunity to climb the rock if they wish, but I really would hope people would respect the wishes of the traditional owners and not do that in the meantime.  You know, if a place has really strong, sacred significance for the traditional owners, you can understand why they've made this decision.  As a tourist you might want to have a cup of coffee while you're touring St Peters Basilica, but they idea that you have to allow someone to set up a coffee cart in the middle of it just doesn't hold.  People need to respect the cultural significance of this very important icon.

EPSTEIN: Minister Tudge is undoubtedly right though, there are people who are both angry and disappointed, Tanya Plibersek, what would you say to them?

PLIBERSEK: Just what I said. All religions and cultures have sites that are very important to them and being able to protect them and protect their sacredness should be allowed. These are the traditional owners, they've made a decision, they've given people a lot of forewarning about that decision.  Seems pretty reasonable to me.

EPSTEIN: Alan Tudge, if I can ask you about the Uluru Statement from the Heart.  It's poignant perhaps that ten year process, hundreds of meetings, real unanimity from Indigenous Australians. They wanted constitutional recognition of an indigenous advisory group. Your Government's decided not to put that issue to a Referendum. What do you say to people how are disappointed by that decision?

TUDGE: Oh, this is a very complex one. You probably know Raf, I'm in favour of  some sort of constitutional recognition of Aboriginal people.  The debate has always been around the form of that recognition and there's a proposal put to us and to the Opposition which was in essence to enshrine an Indigenous advisory body in the Constitution and part of our concern was that it may not have success in succeeding through the Australian public in getting constitutional change.  Very, very difficult to get constitutional change, so from memory it's only eight out of 44 referenda have ever got up. The last substantial one was actually the 1967 referendum on Indigenous voting right effectively.  Very difficult and I wasn't convinced that this would be successful

EPSTEIN: Tanya Plibersek, it's a good reason isn't it to be a little gun shy of that referendum, it's tough getting constitutional change?

PLIBERSEK: It certainly is tough to change the Constitution but we're both parties, or both sides of politics are generally agreed, we've had a much better chance of seeing referenda pass, so I thin itf there was a proposition to enshrine and indigenous voice that had bipartisan support, if we had a Prime Minister and a Leader of the Opposition who were prepared to go out and campaign together for it and to reassure Australians about it then I think writing off the proposal because we fear that it might not be successful, I don't think that's an answer.

EPSTEIN: Can I move on at twenty minutes to five to issues of citizenship.  Your questions are welcome on 1300 222 774. The phone number's 1300 222 774. Alan Tudge, you're in the lower house, Stephen Parry's in the upper house. He didn't tell anybody he might have a British citizenship issue. He signed the form, I think, three times to swear that he does not have a citizenship issue. It's now been confirmed that he's British. Do you think he was either honourable or sensible to not bring that up until the start of this week?

TUDGE: I know Stephen Parry very well. He's a very decent person and he's great job as President of the Senate, he's a former police officer before coming to Parliament. My understanding is it was brought to his attention becuase of the clarity of the High Court decision, which took many people by surprise. 7-0 and a very, very black and white statement.

EPSTEIN: I don't think it actually took that many people by surprise, other than the Government and the Solicitor-General, Alan Tudge.

TUDGE: I still has taken many people by surprise and is contrary to the advice that we were receiving from the Australian Government Solicitor. So off the back of that, he has said listen, because of that decision I may be British also. His father was born in England but was an Australian citizen, he himself was an Australian citizen born here as well, so I don't think it crossed his mind until that High Court decision.

EPSTEIN: Can I interrupt again Alan Tudge, I mean, that's you believe him when he says that it didn't cross his mind? That's just nuts isn't it? That's all we've been talking about for months is people who've got a parent who is born overseas?

TUDGE: I haven't spoken to him about it. I do know though that he is an honourable person and a decent person. So now that it has come out that he is a dual national he consequently has resigned.  Sadly that's the end of his career for the moment and another person will be duly elected. This has taken a lot of people by surprise this issue and we've got to deal with it, the High Court was very clear in relation to it, that we want to be able to have the by-election for Barnaby Joyce, hopefully get him back in, and then put this behind us and focus on the things that matter to the Australian people.

EPSTEIN: Tanya Plibersek, Stephen Parry didn't think of it until the High Court decision.

PLIBERSEK: Look I actually like Stephen Parry a lot as well. I think he's actually a very nice man, but it doesn't seem credible does it that someone who is presiding over people referring themselves to the High Court didn't once think to ask whether the circumstances that led to their referrals might also apply to himself.  And of course the other question is, is it really likely that he didn't talk to anyone about it at any stage, that this has just come as a bolt out of the blue, that the Prime Minister didn't know, the Attorney-General didn't know, that nobody else knew.

EPSTEIN: Sorry are you raising the - are you saying that he must have told someone in Government?

PLIBERSEK: I'm not saying he must have, I'm just saying it seems unlikely that he didn't discuss it with anyone.

EPSTEIN: Les in Yarraville, what do you want to say Les?

CALLER: Alan, yesterday we heard the Prime Minister say he's never had so much fun in his life. Well let me assure you, people out here in the real world aren't having much fun at all.  We've seen your Government deliver a second-rate NBN, a second rate energy policy.  We've got the Deputy Prime Minister and now the Leader of the Senate not knowing what nationality they are, so they're gone.  We've got the Employment Minister who tried to stitch up Bill Shorten but that completely backfired all over her and if she had any decency she would resign.  

EPSTEIN: Is there a question there Les?

CALLER: Yeah, yeah, we've got Manus Island which looks like being chaotic and I haven't even mentioned Tony Abbott. Alan, your Government looks like it's a shambles. It's in chaos. I've never seen anything more dysfunctional than the last year of the Whitlam Government, and when the Acting Prime Minister came out and -

EPSTEIN: Sorry, if you can get to a question Les?

CALLER: Yeah, well, what are you going to do about it? I mean, you are a complete shambles at the moment!

EPSTEIN: Well I guess shambles is the accusation Alan Tudge?

TUDGE: Well he doesn't sound like a swing voter to me but I hear that accusations that's been made and there's a lot of issues which he's raised there. We're dealing with something which was unexpected in terms of citizenship issue. And the fact that it's effected the Greens that fact that its effected the Nationals Party and now effected the Liberal Party and we didn't want it to occur but the High Court’s been very clear, we're moving forward on it we'll have the by-election and then we need to get back to 100 per cent focusing on the things that that matter to the Australian public. And they are traffic congestion, they are the cost of living pressures, it is national security and it is issues like that which are of concern to everyday Australians and that's what we are going to be focused on that's what we maintain our focus on.

EPSTEIN: That's Alan Tudge, forgive me Tanya Plibersek, Alan Tudge is the minister for Human Services. We're about to hear from Tanya Plibersek. She's acting Leader of the Opposition while Bill Shorten is away it’s a quarter to five go for it Tanya Plibersek

PLIBERSEK: Well I've just think Raf it’s not just that these people have been found to be possibly citizens of other countries or eligible to be citizens of other countries that's the problem, it's the division and dysfunction that this whole process has exposed within the Government. So you've got the big fight over who's going to replace Fiona Nash, you've got Larry Anthony the president of the Nationals saying that the Coalition agreement holds, just for now-

EPSTEIN: The Liberal Party doesn't have a monopoly on internal tension does it?

PLIBERSEK: You've got Barnaby Joyce saying that the Liberals should be grateful to the Nationals or they would have lost last time round. You've got Julie Bishop getting ready for what looks like a run at the leadership, you've got the brawl over who should be the acting Prime Minister. So there is all this difficulty and tension that it has exposed and it’s also I think fundamentally a question of Malcolm Turnbull's judgement I mean he said that people were eligible -

EPSTEIN: It’s Stephen Parry's judgement he's the one who didn't tell anyone.

PLIBERSEK: This latest problem certainly that’s the case but remember Malcolm Turnbull first of all said when he was talking about the Greens that it was ‘incredible sloppiness’ ‘extraordinary negligence’ and then he found out that some of his own were under attack. He then allowed Fiona Nash and Barnaby Joyce to stay in Cabinet while there were questions about their eligibility while Matthew Canavan had to stand aside. Matthew Canavan's been found to be OK and Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash have been found to be not OK and the judgement ‘ the High Court will so find', that sort of stuff just doesn't sit well with people. People understand- 

EPSTEIN: - Something the Prime Minister said in Question Time, I do want to ask about audits but I think Craig in Narre Warren has a query about the same thing.

CALLER: [Asks about possible citizenship audit for sitting politicians.]

EPSTEIN: So you want an audit. Can I just ask who would you like to do the audit?

CALLER: [Suggests an independent body.]

EPSTEIN: Some sort of independent – maybe a retired judge or something like that. Tanya Plibersek I'll go back to you, I don't think either of the major parties are keen. Why not have an audit? Eric Abetz who is now effectively a backbencher, a Liberal senator from Tasmania he wants an audit. Tanya Plibersek why not have one?

PLIBERSEK: Well because we are confident of our processes and we don't live in country that has a reverse onus of proof.

EPSTEIN: Alan Tudge why not have an audit?

TUDGE: Well Tanya and I are on a unity ticket on this one-

PLIBERSEK: Don't tell your friends Alan it won't be good for my reputation.

TUDGE: With a lot of what you are saying beforehand Tanya I will let you go very respectfully, but I agree with Tanya on this. In essence it would change the onus of proof. Now people have declared themselves to be single nationals when they run for Parliament and unless someone provides the evidence to the contrary or they themselves come forward like Senator Parry did, then I think we leave it at that.

EPSTEIN: Feel free Alan Tudge to respond to any of the things that Tanya Plibersek said but maybe if I put it in this way, you now that people don't trust politicians we've now had five of them kicked out by the High Court, you've had a Government representative, in my terms, not fess up that they might have an issue. Wouldn't Alan Tudge, wouldn’t an audit help restore a bit of trust?

TUDGE: There is a general issue in terms of trust of politicians and there is no doubt and the trust of large companies and other institutions outside more broadly, and we need to be cognisant of that and be aware of it. I just don't think we should be fundamentally changing the onus of proof [inaudible] if someone had evidence that there is a member of Parliament that may be a dual citizen then of course they can present that evidence. To say we've had a lot of individual members of Parliament come forward off their own volition to say 'Hey I actually may be I hadn't even thought of it, hadn't crossed my mind before but I'll get it checked out' and I just think that [inaudible] rather than changing that onus of proof.

EPSTEIN: We'll get some more with Alan Tudge and Tanya Plibersek in a moment.

Traffic report

EPSTEIN: Tanya Plibersek is with us for Pollie Graph and so too is Alan Tudge. Tanya is Acting Leader at the moment she is Shadow Education Minister, Deputy Labor Leader. Alan Tudge is the Minister for Human Services. Minister if I can ask you about Manus Island. Your Cabinet colleague Peter Dutton says there are places for the men to go to on Manus, the centre they have been in has been closed, new facilities are being built but Minister people there say it’s not safe to go where you and the PNG Government want them to go, it’s not safe, how would you respond to that?

TUDGE: Well from what I understand there is the people from the Manus Island facility who have been travelling to this other destination on a very regular basis sometimes to do their shopping, sometimes they've already been staying in that new facility and returning at a later stage to the traditional Manus Island facility where they've been more permanently based for the last little while. So I think we've got to take that with a grain of salt and what we have, the position-

EPSTEIN: You think they are not genuinely afraid?

TUDGE: Well at the end of the day this is a decision of the Papua New Guineans to close down the Manus Island facility and consequently other arrangements have been made. Now if people weren't a refugee, they've gone through the process they are not a refugee they've obviously been asked to return back to their home country and we'll help facilitate that. If they are a refugee then there are options available to either stay on Manus Island and there is accommodation there available there's options in Nauru and of course they can apply for the United States as well. But that's what we are dealing with that's what the Papua New Guinea Government is dealing with them, and handling quite appropriately.

EPSTEIN: Tanya Plibersek it does look like new facilities are being built on Manus Island for these men do you accept that facilities will eventually be available for them?

PLIBERSEK: Well, there was an interview with Fran Kelly this morning, I'm not sure if you heard it Raff, with Nat Jit Lam the deputy regional representative of the UNHCR, that’s actually currently on Manus. And in that interview it suggested that the new accommodation is not ready, it doesn't look as though its ready, it’s difficult for me to tell from here what the case is, but it looked like from that inspection there's a short fall of a couple of hundred - accommodation for a couple of hundred people, I can't confirm that that's just the report from the UNHCR -

TUDGE: No that's not right this came up in the Senate Estimates as you may know Tanya where by the officials did confirm that there was enough places available for everybody there. And indeed they have confirmed as well that many of the people who have been based in this facility which has since been closed have already been travelling backwards and forwards to the East Lorengau refugee transit centre where there is accommodation there and shopping there and other things-

EPSTEIN: Tanya Plibersek you've got public servants in Estimates saying it’s ready do you believe them or do you believe the UNHCR on the radio.

PLIBERSEK: I think people will have make their own judgement about that there's also of course the reports...

TUDGE: What are you saying though Tanya, I mean the public servants are under oath when they're making their statements so surely...

PLIBERSEK: So was Michaelia Cash.

TUDGE: And she clarified the matter afterwards when she was made aware. So I'm not sure what you're saying.

PLIBERSEK: She spent all day saying one thing that was completely untrue.

TUDGE: Don't divert here Tanya, you either believe the public servants or you don't.

PLIBERSEK: Well I am concerned when UNHCR representatives say that the facilities aren't ready. Of course there's a report from the mayor that the local community haven't been consulted. I am worried about what looks like a developing powder keg and I won't pretend that I'm not worried. I'm worried both for the refugees and asylum seekers on the island. I'm worried that the local community feel nervous about the large group of men that are moving. It seems to me an incredibly poorly handled situation. We've got a minister who has completely abrogated his responsibility to find third country resettlement options for these people. I'm worried about reports that healthcare has not been properly made available. Yes, I have serious concerns about what is going on there at the moment.

EPSTEIN: Alan Tudge and Tanya Plibersek are with us Peter is with us as well, he is in Coburg. What did you want to say Peter?

CALLER: [Says there is no alternative – says that this is an attack on innocent people] 

EPSTEIN: Okay Peter, let me get a quick response from both people. Tanya I'll start with you.

PLIBERSEK: Well I think I just explained the difference between the Government's position and our position.

EPSTEIN: Peter clearly thinks you are part of the problem for locking them up in the first place, it changed before you lost government under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

PLIBERSEK: Well it just gets- I think people like Peter like to deliberately suggest that there is no difference when we have said, for example, that by 2025 we would double Australia's refugee intake, we've said that we would end the secrecy allowing journalists to have access to asylum facilities, we've said that there should be independent oversight of facilities and an independent children's advocate, we've said that we would restore references to the Refugee Convention in the Migration Act, we've said that we would get rid of Temporary Protection Visas and give people found to be genuine refugees a permanent Australian visa. Remember this wasn't our first choice, we wanted an arrangement with Malaysia that would have been a proper regional resettlement arrangement that would have allowed people to live and work in Malaysia, their children to go to school, proper healthcare provided to them and the Liberals stopped that. After they stopped that 600 people drowned at sea. That's the difference.

EPSTEIN: Alan Tudge you got both barrels from Peter there including calling your government fascist for the way you've dealt with people on Manus Island and Nauru.

TUDGE: I just think it is absolutely offensive to say that these are concentration camps over there and it's offensive generally and particularly offensive to those who have actually suffered in concentration camps or have had family members in proper concentration camps and they are nothing like it. These are open facilities where there's education, there's healthcare, people are free to move about. Now the real problem here emanates from many years ago when the Labor Party opened the borders again, let the people smugglers trade occur and we have thousands and thousands of people coming to our shore on leaky boats, hundreds and hundreds drowning at sea. We're still dealing with the consequences. Thankfully we have now closed down Tanya 17 centres across Australia. 17 have now closed down. Not a single child is in detention anymore and the last children were taken out of detention two years ago, and now we've got no longer any boats coming to these shores and that means that in the future we'll have fewer and fewer people in detention and we can get more people from the genuine refugee camps.

EPSTEIN: Alan Tudge and Tanya Plibersek I need to end it now, I'm sorry. I know there is a lot more you could both say. I need to thank you both for your time. It's been an enjoyable Pollie Graph but I need to get to Peter Newham at the bureau.