TRANSCRIPT: Radio National Drive, Wednesday 16 September 2015




SUBJECTS: Liberal leadership, marriage equality, Syria, Breastfeeding in Parliament

PATRICIA KARVELAS, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek is Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development. She joins me now. Good evening.


KARVELAS: I’m good. Now the Prime Minister has changed and much of the Cabinet is likely to change on Monday. A Roy Morgan poll puts Bill Shorten behind Malcolm Turnbull as preferred leader even among Labor voters. How will the Labor Party approach the new order given already we’re seeing a bounce?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think there’s no surprise that there'd be a sugar hit after a change of leadership like this. But I think we’ve got Malcolm Turnbull’s measure. We saw him off once when he was the Leader of the Opposition, and I’m confident we can see him off again.

KARVELAS: Don’t you think this is a different Malcolm Turnbull? He certainly seems different, he’s very conciliatory with the conservative wing of his party already on several issues.

PLIBERSEK: Well that’s a real problem Patricia actually, because a lot of Australian’s thought that they were going to get a warmer, softer, cuddlier Liberal Party. But in fact they’ve got the same old policies sold by a different sales person. Malcolm Turnbull said in June last year that he supported unreservedly and wholeheartedly every element of that very nasty first Joe Hockey budget. And in the last couple of days when we’ve been asking him questions about his policies, he’s defended the aid cut, he’s defended Tony Abbott’s $150 million plebiscite for marriage equality and he’s defended a lack of action on climate change. I mean, the Malcolm Turnbull that people knew and liked was the Malcolm Turnbull who had the courage of his convictions and was prepared to stand up for real action on climate change. Today he was arguing in the Parliament against renewable energy.

KARVELAS: You raised the same sex marriage issue with him as well repeatedly. I remember when you used to have to argue against a position that you didn’t privately agree with. Isn’t that just part of politics? Don’t people accept that a part of the democratic process is that you ultimately arrive at a decision that your main party agrees with. And ultimately on same sex marriage he was also in favour of it, it’s not like he even has to argue that he’s against it. It’s just the time frame of the plebiscite and providing it in that form is the difference.

PLIBERSEK: Well on the 11th of August he was arguing in his party room against the position. He was arguing for in question time yesterday. It's $150 million of taxpayers money that’s the price of the conservatives in the Liberal Party allowing Malcolm Turnbull back into the leadership. It’s pretty extraordinary to spend $150 million of taxpayers money on something that you know is the wrong policy, simply to get the support of the conservatives in your party.

KARVELAS: Labor would have preferred to go to the election with Tony Abbott as leader, not Malcolm Turnbull though isn’t that right?

PLIBERSEK: Not really. I mean, we’re agnostic. Tony Abbott certainly had his failings but at least he had the courage of his conviction. Malcolm Turnbull, like I say, he stalked Brendan Nelson, he took over from Brendan Nelson, he thought he was going to become Prime Minister then. And he over-reached. His arrogance led him to the Godwin Grech affair, which was so very damaging to him, to his reputation. And now he’s stalked Tony Abbott, he’s finally knocked him off, and in this context has nevertheless adopted all of Tony Abbott’s unpopular policies.

KARVELAS: You say you’re agnostic. Do you think people will really believe that you’re agnostic? All of the polling points to the direction that he is a very popular individual. You can’t be agnostic about that. You’ve got to be worried about that?

PLIBERSEK: He’s been leader before and he wasn’t that popular. I think, you know, in small doses people will think ‘oh isn’t he erudite’. In large doses that just becomes smug. And I really think people have forgotten what it was that they came to dislike about the arrogance and the over-reach of Malcolm Turnbull.

KARVELAS: On RN Drive my guest is the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party Tanya Plibersek. What do you make of Labor’s casting of Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister? 041822765 is our number. Your portfolio of foreign affairs is one of the few that seems to be safe from a Government reshuffle. It seems that Julie Bishop will probably maintain the foreign affairs portfolio. Is this less than ideal? Would you have preferred someone else sitting opposite you?

PLIBERSEK: Oh no, I’m very happy for whoever the Government chooses to be the Minister for Foreign Affairs. That’s their complete right to make those choices about portfolios. So the Prime Minister will make his choice when he’s ready to. I think it’s, I mean, presumably Julie Bishop made it the condition of her support for Malcolm Turnbull that she would retain the portfolio that she speaks very enthusiastically about.

KARVELAS: Do you think she’s done a good job of the portfolio?

PLIBERSEK: I think we are adrift when it comes to foreign affairs Patricia. I mean we had the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper that laid out country by country, the approach we should take to make the most of being part of the fastest growing region of the world.  The Asian Century White Paper has disappeared without a trace. There’s been an electronic book burning. And I think that would be ok if the Government had a long term strategy of its own for Asia, our engagement in Asia and the rest of the world. I don’t really see that strategy at play there. Certainly I think that Julie Bishop has done well. She dealt with MH17 well at the Security Council. But you recall that the Liberals, including Julie Bishop had been very critical of the fact that Labor had pursued a spot on the Security Council. So I guess I’d give mixed reviews.

KARVELAS: In question time you asked Malcolm Turnbull, and you’ve raised this already in this interview, if the foreign aid budget would be increased now he is Prime Minister. And then told him his answer was mansplaining, not a real answer. Here’s a bit of that response.

TURNBULL: I thank the Honourable Member for her question. And the answer which she again,  which she knows she will get, is that any decisions about the foreign aid budget will be made by the Cabinet. No Prime Minister is in a position, or should be in a position to make an off the cuff policy decision like that. That’s talking about enormous sums of money.

KARVELAS: Is that really mansplaining or is it just the truth? The leader can’t just make unilateral decisions about things about the foreign aid budget when he takes office can he?

PLIBERSEK: Well it had come after a series of answers in question time that all started with ‘the problem with the Labor Party is…’. I think it’s up to the Prime Minister to answer questions about his own policies, his own positions, rather than give the Labor Party advice about how we should behave.

KARVELAS: Australian forces have carried out airstrikes on Syria. You’ve said previously that the airstrikes are not a long term solution. Do you think they’re serving a purpose in the short term?

PLIBERSEK: Yes I do. This is a phenomenally difficult issue for many Australians because they remember the disaster of Australia’s involvement in the Iraq War of 2003. And so there’s a great deal of caution in most people’s minds and hearts when it comes to renewed involvement in the region. But on two bases, firstly on the international doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect, we do have a responsibility to protect civilians from imminent threat of mass atrocity crime. And secondly on the basis that Iraq has a right to defend itself, and has a right to ask other countries for assistance to defend itself, I think this is the right thing to do. This organisation, Daesh, is one of the worst that we’ve seen emerge in conflict zones around the world. It is particularly brutal in the way that it captures territory and treats civilians in the territory that its captured. It’s atrocities are well known, I’m not going to go through them again today. The Government of Syria should stop attacks mounted by Daesh against Iraq, attacks that are mounted from the territory of Syria. It is unwilling or unable to do that. Iraq therefore has a right to defend itself by hitting at Daesh bases in Syria that are being used to attack Iraq.

KARVELAS: Are you going to seek clarity from Malcolm Turnbull about the long term strategy? I know you’ve raised this, you raised it on Insiders that that is your concern.

PLIBERSEK: Indeed and I actually spoke about that in the Parliament this afternoon Patricia, because Kevin Andrews gave a Ministerial Statement which was very welcome about the specifics of our military engagement. But I said today, and you’re quite right I’ve said it in the past, we need  to put this in a broader context. There needs to be a political solution to the chaos in Syria. Half of its popular has been displaced either internally or externally. The humanitarian need there is extraordinary. Probably, we think 250,000 to maybe 350,000 have lost their lives in Syria now. The majority of those at the hands of Syria’s own Government, the Assad Government. There needs to be an international effort to bring to the table not just the Syrians, but the backers of the different factions - Iran, Russia, the US and its allies, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region, to reach a political solution.

KARVELAS: Sorry just before I let you go Tanya Plibersek, on something a bit different but I found quite interesting. It was reported that Kelly O’Dwyer, Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer at the moment, was told by the office of the Government’s Chief Whip to express more milk, she’s recently had a baby, so she wouldn’t miss votes to breastfeed. Is that alarming that that was even suggested and is it time that we kind of look at all the Parliamentary rules around new mothers and breastfeeding and children?

PLIBERSEK: Look I don’t want to talk about Kelly personally because she hasn’t confirmed the story. But I’ll say it this way in general terms. There is the provision for breastfeeding mothers to miss divisions and for their vote to be counted. We argued for that a few years ago and that change was won. And I hope that the Government Whip is aware of that. Certainly our Whip…we’ve got two nursing mums, Amanda Rishworth and Kate Ellis are both still breastfeeding. And they are allowed to miss divisions and their vote is counted while they’re breastfeeding so they don’t have to leave their crying baby. It is very very important that we make this provision  in the Parliament. Breastfeeding is wonderful for babies, and it’s very good for mothers as well. And we need to send a strong signal that we are supportive of mothers breastfeeding their babies. So I certainly hope that the story about Kelly is not correct, and if it is correct I certainly hope that her Whip now understands that she has every right to prioritise caring for her baby, feeding her baby, and that we are happy for her vote to be counted should she miss a division.

KARVELAS: Many thanks for joining us Tanya Plibersek.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you it’s a pleasure.

KARVELAS: And that’s the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. She’s also the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development. You’re listening to RN Drive. I’m Patricia Karvelas.


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