TRANSCRIPT - Sky News Australian Agenda, Sunday 15 March 2015

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Subject: Cyclone Pam, higher education, superannuation, Budget, Middle East, IS, AIIB, Japan, NSW state election, asylum seekers.

PETER VAN ONSELEN, PRESENTER: And we’re joined as mentioned at the top of the program by the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party and Shadow Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Tanya Plibersek. Thanks for being here. I’d be keen in a domestic sense for us to get to the two issues in Paul’s editorial shortly but first, the situation in Vanuatu which obviously falls into the ambit of your policy, or policy area, I should say. Cyclone Pam has devastated North Vanuatu. Have you got any update or information that you can share?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well of course it’s a very serious situation. We believe 7 or 8 people have lost their lives, that’s confirmed, but up to 40 are feared dead. If you look at the images of the devastation, you see how very serious the damage is. Of course we would support any effort made by the Australian Government to get aid workers into Vanuatu as quickly as possible, particularly to make sure that people have enough to eat and to make sure that drinking water supplies are adequate. I believe the Queensland Government has also offered specific help as well, I think it’s very important to get that help there as quickly as possible.

VAN ONSELEN: In the domestic setting, Paul Kelly started by talking about higher education. Does Labor accept the proposition that at the moment is that the sector is caught between two outcomes? One is return to capped places to create more financial sustainability or a move to deregulation, even if Labor doesn’t support the cuts that are attached to that, a move to deregulation is in a way completing the reform agenda that Labor started when it removed the caps on places?

PLIBERSEK: We’re working very closely with the education sector and they feel they have a gun to their heads, that if they don’t agree to the Government’s proposals, that there’s nowhere else for them to get the support that they need for higher education and they’re particularly worried about research funding being held up now. A lot of these very important research institutes have got funding until the end of June this year and they’re already seeing staff leave because the Government’s holding research funding hostage to this higher education package. We are proud of the fact that there’s 190,000 extra students at universities today than when we took government. We think that Australia’s economic future depends on having a highly educated workforce and so we make no apologies for lifting the education standards of the Australian public. But of course we’re prepared to work with the higher education sector to see the most sensible way of funding that. Paul mentioned funding cuts earlier, those funding cuts were to make room for Gonski funding. I don’t think there’s anybody who doesn’t understand that those early years of schooling are absolutely critical to a student’s lifelong learning potential and that investment in those early years means we’ve got kids who are better prepared when they hit university.

PAUL KELLY: I guess the point there is though, that funds for higher education were cut for another purpose, which is one of the points that I was making. But just in relation-

PLIBERSEK: They were trimmed after massive expansion, almost a doubling.

KELLY: I understand. I’d just like to ask you though about Labor’s approach to this issue. Julia Gillard has said that one her achievements as Prime Minister was the deregulation of student numbers in higher education at the university level. Would Labor consider modifying this policy and putting some form of restriction or cap back on student numbers?

PLIBERSEK: Those details of future higher education policies are something we’ll announce in good time. What we’ve said all the way along is we’re happy to work with the higher education sector to ensure that funding is adequate and that we continue to have a higher proportion of our population able to access universities and to make sure as well that universities are there for working class kids who are smart enough to go there, not just the preserve of people whose parents who can afford to pay for $100,000 university degrees.

VAN ONSELEN: But do you accept that this sort of foundation principle that a lot of VCs are themselves saying, certainly Universities Australia is saying this, which is that having uncapped places without taking the next step to- for the deregulation, there’s a fiscal unsustainability about it.

PLIBERSEK: Well I can say that some of the university VCs are putting that case, and there are others putting other cases very strongly against a deregulated university sector because their concern is also for students and how they can afford very high university costs. If you look at the United States and the sort of student debts that people are graduating with in the United States, sometimes never paid off because the jobs that they’re trained for just don’t exist. So we need to make sure that we don’t have young people graduating with unsustainable debt, particularly at the same time in their life as they’re hoping to start a family or buy a home.

KELLY: But one of the great risks here, and I appreciate the point you’ve made that Labor hasn’t clarified its policy, but one of the risks of course is, are we in a position where because Labor is opposing fee deregulation, the consequence on the number side is that Labor will stop people going to university?

PLIBERSEK: We’ve got 190,000 extra students, so our record is a record of increasing the proportion of Australians who are able to go to university, and we stick by that-

KELLY: But they’re not funded. But the whole issue is that the system can’t fund the extra numbers.

PLIBERSEK: I think we’re very prepared to work with the university sector to make sure that we can fund the number of students that are going to Australian universities. And what the Government’s proposing, $100,000 university degrees or even more, that’s not sustainable either. It means a smaller proportion of Australians going to universities and it means people self selecting based on ability to pay not ability to do the work.

VAN ONSELEN: What about pensions? You would’ve seen Paul Kelly’s article in the Australian yesterday, Morrison has a proposal with a review every 3 years. Does that open Labor up to discussing pension changes?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it’s meaningless. I mean, it’s a review every 3 years that will tell us that the newer, lower indexation rate means that the pension’s inadequate.  Then the Government may or may not accept that advice, and I can guess what the Government’s proposal will be if this independent body comes to them and says ‘pensioners are really struggling’, they’ll say ‘well, in forty years time we’ll go back to the higher rate of indexation’, it’s completely inadequate as a protection for pensioners. It is very clearly a broken promise. Tony Abbott said before the election that he would not touch pensions. He is now trying to move to a lower rate of indexation so that pensioners will always be worse off by $23 billion over the next ten years. And pensioners know that they’re being duded, that they’ll be $80 a week worse off in ten years’ time based on this lower rate of indexation. A group of people telling them that it’s inadequate isn’t going to fix that problem. If we are really concerned about the sustainability of pensions, what we should be doing is investing more in superannuation. Well, our policy was to move to 12%, the Government has of course delayed moving to 12%. They’ve also got rid of the low income superannuation contribution, which was helping 3.7 million lower paid workers contribute to their superannuation so that they would retire with a more adequate superannuation balance. If we are serious about taking pressure off the pension system, we should be investing more in the superannuation system and the Government’s done everything to move away from that, including getting rid of the low income superannuation contribution in favour of tax cuts for people with balances of more than $2 million in their superannuation. That’s nuts.

VAN ONSELEN: You don’t support Joe Hockey’s idea that perhaps young people could access their super to buy a home, you agree with Malcolm Turnbull that it’s an absurd idea.

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it’s a ridiculous proposition, and it’s even more ridiculous when you realise that Joe Hockey got rid of first home saver accounts, about 50,000 Australians had half a billion dollars saved in first home buyer accounts which we set up when we were in government, they did get a favourable tax treatment, similar to superannuation. Instead of taking money out of your super, we should be encouraging young people to save extra. The Government can help with that, as was happening with first home saver accounts. Why did Joe Hockey, if he thinks people should be allowed to use their super for their first home deposit, why did he get rid of first home saver accounts?

KELLY: The superannuation system though is fairly advanced. We’ve just had six years of Labor government policy in relation to superannuation, but one of the aspects of the intergenerational report is that it’s not showing much of a tradeoff at all between the pension and superannuation. So the point at mid century, while we’ll have this superannuation scheme, there is still going to be a lot of people on the pension. How do we address this problem?

PLIBERSEK: What the intergenerational report shows is that there’ll be fewer people on the full pension and there’ll be fewer people overall on the pension, and the way that you can speed that up is investing more in superannuation. So instead of retreating from that 12% target for superannuation, we should be getting to the 12% target as originally scheduled by our Labor government, and we should be encouraging, particularly people who are on low and medium incomes, to save more. At the moment, the benefits of superannuation are massively skewed to high income earners, we need to see better benefits for people on low and middle incomes. So it’s back to what I was saying earlier, Paul, if you get rid of the low income superannuation contribution and slow the mandatory progress towards the mandatory contribution of 12%, that’s a real problem.

KELLY: Now you just talked then about a tax concession for super. So as far as Labor’s concerned, given that there’s going to be competition for savings, you’ve got to find savings somewhere given the state of the Budget, to what extent is this on the table for Labor as a real and live option, that is, closing off some of these superannuation tax concessions for the higher income earners?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we’re not talking about those potential savings at the moment. I’m pointing you to our record, our record was that-

KELLY: I understand, I understand your point about your record. But I’m asking you a different question now.

PLIBERSEK: And we’re halfway through an electoral cycle, I’m not going to start announcing opposition policy halfway through an electoral cycle.

KELLY: No, no, I’m not asking for a detailed policy obviously, I’m just saying, might this be an area where Labor will give consideration to savings.

PLIBERSEK: Well, Chris Bowen said during the week that some of the incentives are skewed in the wrong place, that the greater incentives should be for low and middle income earners.

KELLY: And you think that it’s possible to market this electorally?

PLIBERSEK: I think that good policy is good politics, Paul. And as long as you’re doing the right thing, the task then is to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing and I think that’s our bread and butter.

VAN ONSELEN: Can I ask you a different question about super? There is a lot of focus on the taxing and structure of taxing on superannuation, but something that I’m interested in is whether you think that there is room for, or as part of superannuation reform, to have some sort of hand of Government over how you are able to use your super. Because there seems to be some evidence that people access their super, they get this lump sum, and its design purpose is to then support you over a lifetime of retirement. But if you use it up, you then end up on a pension or part-pension subsequently. Now, yes at one level it’s got a sort of certain amount of nanny stateism about it if you are going to dictate to them how to use their super, but by the same token, as the intergenerational report says, now that we’re living longer etc., is there an argument to at least have a debate about whether Government should have a role in how you can access your super, whether in part or over time?

PLIBERSEK: I think the example that people give is people get a lump sum and they go on a cruise. Well I reckon after a lifetime of work you deserve a nice holiday. So I’m not going to criticise people for taking a break. What I say is that we need to focus on adequacy of income in retirement and the most important things we can do there are move to that 12% over time and make sure that people on low and middle incomes have the opportunity to save more.

KELLY: Now if we look at the condition of the Budget, which will obviously dominate Labor policy making, we have the new Treasury Secretary, John Fraser, in his first speech taking a very different position to Labor. Fraser said that we have spent our way to our Budget deficit problem, and the fundamental defect lies on the spending side, which suggests that if we are to fix it, we’ve got to fix it mainly on the spending side. Does Labor agree or disagree with that proposition?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think you have to make sure that every dollar you spend is wisely spent. When I was Health Minister, for example, I means tested the private health insurance rebate saving many, many billions of dollars into the future. We introduced a system of paying less for generic medicines, many billions of dollars of savings. Both of those were opposed by Tony Abbott, by Peter Dutton as Shadow Health Minister at the time. We made about $180 billion worth of savings when we were in opposition, and if the Government proposed sensible savings, we’re prepared to back them. We’ve passed $20 billion worth of budget measures that improve the budget bottom line, including things like the temporary increase to high income earners’ taxation, but other means testing for family benefit, for example, as well. So yes if savings are sensible, we will back them, and indeed we’ve made many savings of our own over the years, many of which were opposed by the Liberals. Can I make this point as well about the private health insurance rebate? Tony Abbott said before the election that it was his desire to get rid of means testing for the private health insurance rebate. Well that would cost $100 billion between now and 2054 but it doesn’t appear anywhere in the intergenerational report-

KELLY: He hasn’t talked much about that recently.

PLIBERSEK: He hasn’t mentioned it recently, no, but I’m surprised it doesn’t appear in the intergenerational report which is of course supposed to be a full accounting for the expenses which are going to come up in the next 40 years, it doesn’t appear there.

KELLY: Okay, I’d like to ask you the question again, does Labor agree with Secretary Fraser that we spent our way to a budget deficit?

PLIBERSEK: We spent wisely during the Global Financial Crisis to keep 200,000 Australians in work-

KELLY: So you disagree? You basically disagree.

PLIBERSEK: I’m disagreeing with that because it’s a simplistic proposition about our Budget-

KELLY: Would you sack him as Treasury Secretary?

PLIBERSEK: You know what? We do have revenue write downs that we face in the Budget. Joe Hockey pretends to have just discovered this in the last few months when of course we knew and Wayne Swan was saying as Treasurer that these revenue write downs are a serious problem for us, that we have to readjust and that’s why at least in part a number of those very difficult decisions were taken by us when we were in Government.

VAN ONSELEN: We’re going to take a break in moment but just before we do, on this issue of spending, I have no problem with the inflated spending during the Global Financial Crisis to be able to stimulate the economy. My criticism of both sides of politics is that in the aftermath of that, spending not to the same extent but spending kept going up budget after budget after budget. And even the Government now, the Coalition, they were critical of that in opposition, but you look at their first Budget, spending went up, and it’s projected to keep going up year in, year out. Surely having insulated us from the GFC, both sides of politics owe us a kind of fiscal discipline that sees spending really contract hard after having perhaps necessarily gone up during it.

PLIBERSEK: Other than the Global Financial Crisis, spending growth under Labor was consistently below 2%. It was very modest and I think it’s important to recognize that we made substantial efforts to keep that spending growth low and ministers, like me, every time we walked into the Cabinet room for an expenditure review committee meeting, if we had any new ideas, we had to come with a proposal for how we were going to pay for them with offsets in other parts of our portfolio. There was strong discipline there. I mean, I’m very pleased that Tony Abbot’s finally junked his mad paid parental leave scheme but you look at what they’re doing with greenhouse gas emissions, instead of actually doing what we were doing, fining large polluters for pumping out carbon pollution into the atmosphere, they’re paying polluters for some unspecified benefit that might accrue. It’s an irrational approach.

VAN ONSELEN: Alright, hold that thought. We’re talking to Labor’s Deputy Leader, Tanya Plibersek. We’ll move the conversation on into her portfolio area of foreign affairs when we come back.

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VAN ONSELEN: Welcome back, you’re watching Australian Agenda. Paul Kelly and I have been talking to Labor’s Deputy Leader as well as Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek. We’re joined now by the Foreign Editor for the Australian newspaper, Greg Sheridan and columnist, Troy Bramston.

GREG SHERIDAN: Ms Plibersek, I wonder if I could ask you first about the Middle East, which is going to be a big subject of controversy in Labor’s National Conference. The NSW motion which was passed called for an early recognition of a Palestinian state, and that implied even in the absence of a two-state solution. All the supporters of Israel regard that as a disastrous position for Labor to take and a sign of Labor distancing itself from its traditional support of Israel. Did you support that resolution and how do you think that will play out at National Conference?

PLIBERSEK: I think we have to be clear first of all that there’ll probably several different resolutions coming to the National Conference about the Middle East because this has been a subject at a number of state conferences. I go back to our position which is support for a two-state solution that of course means support for a strong Israel that can defend itself, but it also means inevitably a Palestinian state. There’s no two-state solution without an independent, economically viable Palestinian state with contiguous territory as-

SHERIDAN: Did you support the NSW resolution?

PLIBERSEK: I didn’t think the wording of the NSW resolution was something that I could support in its entirety, but I understand that there are very strong feelings on both sides of this issue and I think in particular in recent times the continued expansion of settlements has been a great concern, not just in Australia but you would see similar resolutions in a number of European countries as well. I think that this is at least in part a response to that continued expansion of settlements.

SHERIDAN: On another subject, could I just ask you, Indonesia has said it’s going to execute all 60 odd people on death row this year, of whom about 40 are foreigners. Do you think Indonesia is going to suffer a catastrophic damage to its international standing if it goes ahead with that program?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think it’s been clear from comments that a number of very senior Indonesian figures have made that this is a very controversial proposition in Indonesia itself. The Governor of Jakarta most recently has been very public, General Prabowo has been very public as well in his criticism of this lot of executions. I think it is a problem for Indonesia internationally because Indonesia has almost 230 of its own citizens on death row, including many, many in Malaysia as well and of course there are Malaysians in the group scheduled for execution in Indonesia. It is very difficult for Indonesia to make a plea for the lives of its own citizens when it’s putting to death citizens of other countries in Indonesia. So I think it certainly undermines their ability to protect the lives of their own citizens, to plead for clemency and as for broader implications, I don’t think it’s the right thing to comment on that.

TROY BRAMSTON: Can I ask about Iraq? The Opposition, the Labor Party, has supported the readying of troops for deployment to train the Iraqi army there. Now, this sort of strategy has not worked in the past. The United States army of course could not train the Iraqi army effectively. There’s a lot of criticism that this may not have the effect that is desired. What do you think about this preparation, I guess, for deployment? Do you have faith and confidence that it will make an impact against ISIS?

PLIBERSEK: Well I certainly have faith and confidence in our armed forces. I think we need to be very, very careful about our involvement. In 2003, Australia was involved in Iraq and it was a disaster, it turned out to be a disaster for the people of Iraq and I don’t think you can claim that we made a positive difference at the time. I see a number of differences now. The first difference is we’ve being asked by the Iraqi government, a democratically elected government for help to protect themselves from an invading force that is particularly brutal in the conduct of its invasion. Nevertheless, I think it’s important that Australia puts some very clear parameters around our involvement and that we continue to refer back to those parameters to see whether our involvement is making a positive difference. The Labor Party has said all along that we support involvement only in Iraq, certainly not in Syria. Our involvement should only last as long as it takes for the Iraqi government to be able to protect its own territory and its own citizens, that we don’t support sort of formed up combat battalions on the ground and that we need to continue to monitor the behaviour of the Iraqi government and of course that goes for their armed forces as well, that it’s the sort of behaviour that Australia can support and be involved in.

KELLY: But there are already reports of Sunnis being killed. How concerned is Labor about that and is there a risk that the conditions that you just talked about that Labor laid down of governing its support for this intervention are close to being breached?

PLIBERSEK: Look there have been some very concerning reports of Shia militias involved in human rights abuses and potentially massacres. That’s why I say our involvement is conditional and it has to be tightly monitored, we have to have an exit strategy, we have to be very clear about what success looks like, what failure looks like and what happens on either of those paths. But I would say that our defence personnel as part of their training of the Iraqi army do include in that training, right throughout their training, training that includes rules of engagement, how to protect human rights in armed conflict situations and our defence personnel of course as part of their own responsibilities, if they heard of any behaviour that is questionable, have to report that up their chain of command.

VAN ONSELEN: Isn’t it a truism though that Australian involvement increases the likelihood a terror threat at home? I mean, ISIS focus on the near enemy not the far enemy which is what Al-Qaeda does, so you intervene in relation to Al-Qaeda, sure, because at the end of the day part of their script is to wreak terrorism outside of that particular local. But ISIS is really only doing more of that or advocating more of that since Western involvement on the ground in the area where they’re trying to build a caliphate.

PLIBERSEK: I understand why people make that argument. I think I’d start from a different position, which is that a democratically elected government has asked us for help to protect civilians from massacre in the first instance. And we thought very carefully about this. Our national security sub-committee of the Shadow Cabinet met on a number of occasions and the reasons that we have set the parameters that we have is that we do believe after this request that Australia should participate in a responsibility to protect type mission.


PLIBERSEK: There are a number of other countries involved, it’s not unilateral action. I understand the question you’re asking-

VAN ONSELEN: I’m not saying that’s not a reason to do it. But presumably, it’s just a truism, that by being involved, the greater good of involvement as what you’re outlining, is reason to be involved even though involvement does increase the likelihood of a terror threat at home.

PLIBERSEK: Well I think the decision making, the decisions we took focused on our responsibility and I don’t think Australia has ever been a country that’s just stuck its head in the sand and said we don’t have a responsibility to other nations.

SHERIDAN: Ms Plibersek, a broader question about Iraq. Are you worried about this incredible Shia/Sunni hostility and all of the fighting in Iraq is not being led by troops trained by America or troops trained by Australians, it’s being led by Iranians. Iranian professional soldiers are leading Iranian trained and backed Shiite forces to beat a Sunni force. Aren’t we in effect lining up in the great Shia/Sunni intra-religious civil war in Islam on the Shia side and making the Middle East safe for Iranian influence which will be as bad for our interests as Islamic State?

PLIBERSEK: I think the last thing in the world that we should get in the middle of is a Shia/Sunni conflict. And I think during the Iran/Iraq war, Australia played a very straight bat and certainly wasn’t perceived to be on either side, if you want to put it that way. And that’s why I say, Greg, that it is important that we are very closely monitoring the progress of the conflict and if it moves to being a straight out Shia/Sunni conflict, I don’t think Australia has any part in that. If we can help protect civilians from an invading force at the request of a democratically elected government, that is one thing-

SHERIDAN: They’re not all invading though, are they? There’s a lot of local support for Islamic State, there’s former Saddam generals, Sunnis who live in Tikrit and Mosul and so on. I mean, they’re not all invaders.

PLIBERSEK: No, I agree with that and I’d also say that a number of the minority communities that have been worst affected by this conflict would probably say to you that they hadn’t felt particularly safe even before Daesh, ISIL was invading either. So, it is a complex situation, quickly changing, and we need to be alert to getting dragged into an insoluble problem.

KELLY: Just switching to China, the Abbott Government decided several months ago on competing positions from Julie Bishop and Joe Hockey on not to sign up to the China regional infrastructure bank and there were pressures from the Americans on that front, there are signs now the Government may reassess the position. What’s Labor’s position on this and is Labor at all concerned about pressure from the Americans on this front?

PLIBERSEK: It’s interesting to see the UK has recently said that they’ll sign up and look, my position at the time was that we should have signed up and we should’ve done it with the understanding that we expect transparency and good governance from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. This is a sign, I think, that the global arrangements or architectures that were set up particularly after the Second World War haven’t taken account of a China that is growing in economic power as well as strategic power. And if you could have an IMF or World Bank that made room for China or an Asian Development Bank that made room for China in a better way it would be ideal to have China join the existing architecture. But I think this is an expression of China’s frustration that that architecture hasn’t made room for China. We need make sure that this bank is governed in the same- similar transparent ways, with similar accountability mechanisms, but of course we should be part of it. Our region desperately needs new infrastructure investment. It’s a very important step to lifting countries and people out of poverty.

KELLY: Are you aware of much pressure from the Americans on this issue?

PLIBERSEK: I had my own discussions with a number of quite senior US figures shortly after we had said Australia wouldn’t be part of it. Their view to me was that they were relaxed about Australia joining up. I think it’s important for our own accountability mechanisms that we describe what we expect of our involvement, the way that we think the AIIB should be run but of course we should be part of it.

SHERIDAN: Ms Plibersek, a sort of a flip side of that, the Abbott Government has gone into a much more intimate, strategic partnership with Japan than anything we’ve seen before. Does Labor have any concern about a potential militarisation of a Japan/Australia relationship? Bill Shorten expressed some concern about Japanese submarines, made reference to World War 2. Does Labor feel uncomfortable with this new strategic intimacy between Shinzo Abe and Tony Abbott?

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s very important that we have a good and close relationship with Japan but we should also have a good and close relationship with China. It’s in our interests not to be choosing best friends but to have strong relationships-

SHERIDAN: And can we have the strategic alliance with Japan without hurting our relationship with China?

PLIBERSEK: I think that we can have a good relationship with both Japan and with China and with the United States and with the ASEAN nations and that is the job of Australian diplomacy.

BRAMSTON: Can I ask you about another topic? Bill Shorten has said 2015 will be the year of ideas for the Labor Party. It’s nearly April so at best, it’s going to be nine months of new ideas. Can I ask you about the criticism that there is significantly, in not only in the media and in the Government but increasingly within the Labor Party about why Labor doesn’t have a more proactive agenda, so can I ask you about your response to the criticism of that and can I also ask what are you doing in the foreign policy space to refresh Labor’s policy agenda?

PLIBERSEK: So last week, last parliamentary sitting week, we announced two very substantial policies. One of them was in the area of domestic violence, that included almost $50 million of funding for legal services and just under $20 million for safe at home programs, so victims of violence are able to stay in their homes, perpetrators move out, security is upgraded so it’s safer for the, usually women, to stay at home. And the other policy of course was about multinational company tax avoidance. Two policies; important, significant ones in one week. I think it’s a bit rich, we’re about halfway through an electoral cycle for people to be criticising that we haven’t got all of our policies out there. Before the last election, Tony Abbott had this kind of thin blue pamphlet called ‘Real Solutions’, that was it, and that was released just days before the election, and that was the whole policy agenda for the Liberals, you know the famous mantra ‘no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no change to pensions, no new taxes, no cuts to the ABC and SBS’, but they were the policies of the Liberals and every one of those has been repudiated since coming to government. We will methodically lay out our policies, and our National Conference is in the middle of the year. We actually have a democratic policy making process as well so I’ve been going around the country to ask about foreign affairs, I would’ve had well over a dozen meetings with party members that they’ve been able to come to, put their views about our foreign policy. You know that I’m meeting constantly with people who want to talk to me about Labor’s foreign policy. We’ll be very clear before the election.

BRAMSTON: Just one other thing, we are in the middle of a NSW state election campaign, obviously the key election issue is the privatisation of the electricity distribution network which Labor opposes yet there’s a number of significant Labor figures, past and present, who think Labor should support that policy. What’s your view about this and is there a danger that Labor’s economic credibility is at risk by opposing this plan for privatisation?

PLIBERSEK: I think decisions about privatisation have to be on a case by case basis. And Luke Foley’s made clear, for example, that he was comfortable with the privatisation of the ports. It’s the electricity and natural monopoly, the electricity poles and wires that he’s opposed to the privatisation of. I think the bigger question is for Mike Baird, how does he pay for all the promises he’s made if he a) can’t get the partial privatisation through a new parliament or b) if he doesn’t get the price that he hopes.

SHERIDAN: Ms Plibersek, on another topic, Labor supported the Prime Minister’s National Security statement overall, but in that the Prime Minister made the remark that he would like Muslim leaders more often to say that Islam is a religion of peace and mean it. Do you think Australian Muslim leaders have done enough to denounce the whole world view behind IS, not just the terrorism but the sense of Islamic grievance, and the persecution of Islam by the West? Are you satisfied with the level of commitment by Australian Muslim leaders on that area?

PLIBERSEK: I think Australian Muslim leaders have been very loud and vocal in their denunciation of this terrorist organisation. Of course there are some outliers in the community here and most particularly online who are spruikers for Daesh, or organisations like it. I don’t think you can take them to be mainstream voices.

KELLY: I think I’m correct in saying in relation to the arrival of asylum seeker boats, that Labor’s firm position is it won’t tolerate turn backs or tow-backs. Given that situation, how confident are you that under a Labor government, we’ll see no boat arrivals?

PLIBERSEK: You know, Paul, one of the questions that I’m amazed that no one has ever asked Tony Abbott is why Tony Abbott voted against the Malaysia proposition that Labor put. We had an arrangement with Malaysia where asylum seekers could live in the community, had work rights, they had access to healthcare, their children could go to school and Tony Abbott said it was cruel and unusual. Joe Hockey cried in the parliament and said over his dead body would he be part of that. We had a proposition that would have worked, that the Liberals blocked. I am confident that if we are to form government after the next election that we could continue to keep people safe and to make regional arrangements with our neighbours. There are about 50 million displaced people in the world, this is a problem that is bigger than Australia and that we need to continue to work with the international community-

KELLY: Can I just clarify that you won’t accept turn backs though? That’s clear, isn’t it or not?

PLIBERSEK: We certainly have been opposed to turn backs. We think that the issue with Indonesia, I mean, Tony Abbott can’t get a phone call returned from the Indonesian President. It has affected our relationship with Indonesia in the past. It’s not being good for it.

SHERIDAN: But you’re not suggesting the lack of the phone call is because of asylum seeker boats?

PLIBERSEK: No, I’m saying that the relationship hasn’t been good in recent times.

KELLY: Is Labor determined if it comes back into government to avoid a repeat of the Rudd/Gillard years when what we saw when Labor came in, there were no boat arrivals, and under Labor there was a resurgence of boats. So my question to you is, is Labor determined if it comes back into government to ensure there are no boat arrivals?

PLIBERSEK: We introduced a quite difficult policy of diverting people to Manus Island and Nauru. We saw numbers falling substantially after those decisions were made. That could have happened many months earlier if the Liberals had accepted that our proposal to send people to Malaysia instead-

KELLY: I understand that argument completely. I’m asking you about the future.

PLIBERSEK: Of course it’s our intention to continue to see as few, or no boats, coming to Australia as possible but we also say that it’s important that we treat people with respect and dignity when they’re on Manus Island and Nauru and that we do all we can to prevent deaths at sea.

BRAMSTON: Tanya Plibersek, you mentioned the ALP National Conference coming up in July, before that there’ll be a race for the ALP National Presidency. We reported in the Australian this week that Mark Butler is going to run and he’s the lead candidate from Labor’s left faction, you’re a key person in the left, do you support Mark Butler?

PLIBERSEK: He’s a terrific candidate but I don’t want to start picking winners when we don’t know the full field. But Mark’s great. I think he’s doing an excellent job as a Shadow Minister, he’s making a very strong case on climate change and he’d be a very good candidate.

BRAMSTON: Do you think he would make a good National President of the party?

PLIBERSEK: I think he’d make a terrific National President, but let’s see the full field.

VAN ONSELEN: Tanya Plibersek, you’ve been very generous with your time, we appreciate you fronting up for a live interview here on Sky news. Thank you.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


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