TRANSCRIPT - Sky AM Agenda, Thursday, 12 February 2015

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SUBJECTS:  Submarines; Report into children in detention; Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran; Abbott Government’s foreign aid cuts.


KIERAN GILBERT, PRESENTER: Joining me first this morning on the program, the Shadow Foreign Minister, Tanya Plibersek. It’s another disturbing reminder of the level of this threat at the moment, of course as if we needed it after December.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well it’s reassuring of course to know that our security and intelligence and policing forces are able to protect us in this way. We are of course expecting further briefings on the two men who have been arrested and the information that led to their arrest.

GILBERT: Sure, let’s, I want to discuss a number of issues with you this morning. The submarine issue, what is Labor concerned about here in terms of the process? Yesterday David Feeney asked the Prime Minister had he done a deal, or anyone on his behalf, with the Japanese leadership. Is that your suspicion as to what’s going on here?

PLIBERSEK: So there’s two things. It’s important to remember that the Government promised to build twelve submarines in Adelaide, before the election they said very clearly they’d build all twelve subs in Adelaide. What’s happened since then is a great deal of confusion about whether a deal has already been made with Japan, to buy the submarines in Japan. The proper thing to do when you’re spending tens of billions of taxpayers’ money is do a properly funded evaluation of what we need in our future submarines, the exact capacity that we need in those submarines, and then to go out to a competitive tender process where companies that believe they could supply that sort of capacity in submarines are able to tender. It was extraordinary that the Australian Submarine Corporation seemed locked out of the ability to bid for tens of billions of dollars of work to be done in South Australia.

GILBERT: Well they’re now back in though, they’re back into the process

PLIBERSEK: Here’s the thing. What a shambles of a process. It looks like, as Senator Edwards has said, it looks like on Friday, last Friday, they weren’t allowed to bid, and by Monday they were allowed to bid. How did that decision get made over the weekend when all these phone calls were going around about leadership challenges? It looks like the Prime Minister may have made a commitment to the Japanese but because his job was under threat in the leadership challenge he’s made a commitment to Senator Edwards. He’s now broken that commitment to Senator Edwards it seems. This kind of confusion is unacceptable when we’re talking about tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer funds and even more importantly, the defence of our nation.

GILBERT: And my understanding is from the National Security Committee, sources within the Government told me that no decision has been made on this so while the Prime Minister might have had a hand shake with the Japanese Prime Minister, no final decision from the NSC has been made on the submarine acquisition, any part of it.

PLIBERSEK: Is that how we make decisions about our defence equipment now? We do handshake deals at the side of international meetings? If it is the case that there is a handshake deal, that’s appalling. You actually need a proper, methodical process. We’ve got a defence white paper underway, you need to do a funded study that looks at exactly what we need from our submarines. The sort of distances they need to go, speeds, noise profiles, how they are able to operate with submarines and other defence equipment from other nations that are our allies - and none of that is being done. It is just an extraordinary shambles of a process.

GILBERT: Have you heard any, obviously you have connections with the diplomatic corps in Canberra, have you heard concerns from the Japanese, Germans, French or anyone else personally about the way that this is being managed?

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely.

GILBERT: Or is Labor whipping this up?

PLIBERSEK: No. Absolutely, I’ve had a number of representations by other nations that believe that they could make submarines that would meet our requirements. But none of this should be decided on the basis of lobbying or our diplomatic relations with other nations - or hope that we will make friends with other nations because we’re buying their submarines-

GILBERT: Have the Japanese been in touch?

PLIBERSEK: I’m not going to talk about individual approaches or discussions I’ve had, but what I would say is that when you’re making a decision about the defence of our nation worth tens of billions of dollars that these submarines will be one of our most important defences for the next three or four decades, you don’t just make it up as you go along.

GILBERT: The Bali Nine, this looks like a terrible situation, Jokowi, the Indonesian President, has again said he’s not going to show any clemency, he’s taken a very hard line. He’s in a very difficult position politically early on in his presidency, it looks like sadly this is inevitable, that the two young men will be put to death.

PLIBERSEK: I don’t accept that it’s inevitable. I think it’s very important that we continue to use all of our connections and all of our diplomatic efforts to plead for clemency for these two young men. Nobody thinks that they don’t deserve to be punished for what they did, what they did is very wrong and very serious. But we always oppose the death penalty and it’s been very important that Australia opposes the death penalty, not just for our citizens in other nations, but that we say in a principled way that we speak to our allies about the death penalty and say that it’s never right. We also of course want to give all our support to the two young men and their families. It looks like they’ve made efforts to reform themselves and we urge the Indonesian Government to take that into account.

GILBERT: It looks like hypocrisy from the Indonesia authorities as well given they lobby other countries to declare clemency, or give clemency, to their citizens when they’re on death row, and yet there’s no such clemency here.

PLIBERSEK: I think it shows that it’s important that Australia has a principled opposition to the death penalty wherever and for whoever it’s applied to.

GILBERT: Let’s finish up on the immigration detention report. Well, actually I want to ask you about aid as well. But on the immigration issue, this Human Rights Commission report has found some really concerning findings here, and largely around the time that Labor was in office, some 2000 children were in detention, now the Government’s got that number under 200, so that’s a good outcome isn’t it? The humanitarian dividend from their tough line on boats.

PLIBERSEK: There should be as few children or no children in detention. I think unfortunately we haven’t had an opportunity to read the report in its entirety. We’ve only just received it. The Government’s had it for several months but we’ve only just received it. But from the reports that I’ve read, and from my own understanding on this issue, I know that children shouldn’t be in detention, it’s bad for them and we should in the first instance make sure that we process people as quickly as possible, to determine their refugee status as quickly as possible. But I don’t think you need a report to tell you it’s not good for kids to be in detention.

GILBERT: But I guess the question is, the Government cops a lot of flak from some quarters for their hard lines, but when you look at the end result, there are less than 200 children in detention now, there was nearly 2000 in detention in July 2013 under Labor.

PLIBERSEK: And one of the very difficult decisions we made to reduce to number of adults and children in detention was the arrangement that we sought with Malaysia where people could live in the community, they could work, their children could go to school, they could receive medical treatment. Can you understand why the Liberals blocked that arrangement? I have never had it explained to me in any credible way why the Liberals stopped that arrangement with Malaysia that would have let kids live in the community and go to school.

GILBERT: Today you’re going to be giving a speech on the issue of foreign aid. Will Labor commit to reinstate the aid cuts that have been made over the last couple of years?

PLIBERSEK: There’s no way that we can replace everything that’s been cut in the short term. We’ll have to look at the medium term to repair the aid budget. This Government’s cut $11.2 billion now from the aid budget. At every mid-year economic update and the Budget last May, more cuts were made. In the Budget last May, $1 of every $5 of all the cuts that were made came from this one program, the aid budget. This means, say 2 million kids who won’t get to go to school, or 3 ¾ million kids who won’t be vaccinated. These are cuts beyond the- the magnitude of the cuts are really beyond imagining. So $11.2 billion in one go? That’s going to be next to impossible-

GILBERT: But didn’t Kevin Rudd give the Government political cover by delaying the increase when Labor was in government? You delayed the trajectory to meet the millennium development goals and that’s given the Government political cover?

PLIBERSEK: So while we were in government we doubled the aid budget and the growth slowed slightly during the Global Financial Crisis. We would’ve reached 0.5 per cent, the target, the bipartisan target that John Howard started, of 0.5 per cent of our Gross National Income going to the aid budget. We would’ve reached that in 2017/18, so very shortly we would’ve gotten to 0.5 per cent of GNI. Under the growth projections for the Liberal Government, we will never get to 0.5 per cent and in fact the share of our national income is the lowest that it’s been since records were kept.

GILBERT: But some of the goals that Labor had set were unrealistic, weren’t they? Because our aid spend was not the quality, how do you sustain the quality and our apparatus to shovel out the money, it was growing at that big of a rate?

PLIBERSEK: I think that’s a problem that our non-government organisations would be very happy to help with. The fact that we were putting money into aid and it was growing quickly is a much better problem to have than the problem they’ve got at the moment where they’ve contracted with partners on the ground and they’re having to cancel programs. Kids aren’t going to go to school, kids aren’t being vaccinated, babies will be born without skilled birth attendants, girls won’t be going to school because of these cuts. They will have a very serious impact on the real lives of people. I think that’s the bigger problem.

GILBERT: Tanya Plibersek, thanks very much for your time.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


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