TRANSCRIPT - Television Interview, ABC News Breakfast, Thursday 22 January 2015

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SUBJECT/S: Questions for Julie Bishop and Alexander Downer over party at London diplomatic residence; political donations; Campbell Newman and Tony Abbott’s cuts; Abbott Government chaos and in-fighting; Manus Island.

BEVERLEY O’CONNOR: To another story now, it's emerged that the Australian High Commissioner's taxpayer owned London home was thrown open last year for a party hosted by a hedge fund billionaire and President of the Liberal Party. The Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop says it was all above board.

But her Opposition counterpart Tanya Plibersek says there are many questions to be answered and she joins us now. Tanya Plibersek, thank you for your time this morning. Now we've heard from Julie Bishop already today, she insists that it had nothing to do with party political matters, DFAT has confirmed that the function was paid for quite separately. What are the issues as you see it?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Well I think it's highly unusual for the High Commissioner's personal taxpayer-funded private residence to be used in this way without the High Commissioner present. Of course it's perfectly appropriate for the High Commissioner to host businesses that might be interested in investing in Australia or Australian businesses that are looking to do business in London. But why not be there to spruik the benefits of those businesses doing business in Australia if that's what the function was about? And as for the expenses being picked up, of course catering is one thing, but we're talking about staff time, security, all of those other expenses as well.

O’CONNOR: So you would have no issue had the High Commissioner been there and taken advantage of what was a private function?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I'd like to know what the benefits are for Australian taxpayers in having a taxpayer-funded residence made available in this way. I think it's important for the Government to answer questions about what the benefits have been for Australian taxpayers.

O’CONNOR: So you are happy to accept the explanation that it wasn't a party political fundraiser in any way?

PLIBERSEK: Well, no, I'm not convinced that that is clearly established by the facts. You have got the President of the Liberal Party inviting a substantial donor to the Conservative party in Britain and making a, I believe, very nice residence available for a private function. It's not really clear what the purpose was of the function and indeed what the benefits have been to Australian taxpayers of hosting it in this way.

O’CONNOR: What are your thoughts if we go to the Brisbane election in terms of a topic like this that has the become quite an issue, that is fundraisers being used and being cash for access to the politician, both by the LNP and by Annastacia Palaszczuk, something that Anna Bligh had outlawed?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's very important to note that Labor in Queensland had tightened electoral funding laws and Campbell Newman as one of his first acts has been to make it easier to donate in secret to the LNP or to any political party in Queensland. I think political parties will always seek to raise funds to run election campaigns, what's very important is that voters have the opportunity to know who is donating to those political campaigns as soon as possible, as transparently as possible and not at those very high rates that you see conservative parties trying to introduce. I think there should be lower disclosure thresholds than we see in Queensland, and the principle should be low disclosure thresholds, fast disclosure - not months after an election is called, and personally I'd also be interested to seeing caps on spending in elections because while ever you have an arms race of electoral spending, there will be pressure on political parties to raise funds to meet those requirements.

O’CONNOR: What do you make too of the Federal side of politics being really asked on both sides to stay out of the Queensland election, it looks like Campbell Newman really wants this to be fought on home turf issues only?

PLIBERSEK: I've been in Queensland quite a bit this week in Brisbane, surrounding areas, up in Townsville and so on and I can tell you Queensland voters like most people around Australia don't differentiate between State and Federal issues in terms of service delivery. What they see is larger classroom sizes, fewer teachers, they see almost 5,000 people lost from the Queensland health system, their hospitals understaffed and they actually expect Tony Abbott and Campbell Newman to work together to provide decent services to Queenslanders. What we see is a Queensland Government that's cut funding from health, education, infrastructure and a Federal Government that has doubled down on that and made the provision of those services worse for Queenslanders. I think the reception that Bill Shorten's got, and I have and my Federal colleagues, has been very warm in Queensland, because Queenslanders feel the effects both of Federal cuts and Campbell Newman's cuts and they certainly don't have Campbell Newman standing up to Tony Abbott, when Tony Abbott cuts $10 billion from the hospital system up there or $6 billion from schools they don't have Campbell Newman complaining about that, they have him explaining Tony Abbott's cuts to Queenslanders and justifying them.

O’CONNOR: Talking of Tony Abbott, Tanya Plibersek, we know that he certainly exploited Labor's leadership divisions when you were in office, are you planning to do the same to Tony Abbott now we are hearing rumbling from his backbench?

PLIBERSEK: With friends like Tony Abbott's got, I don't know if they need the Labor Party to exploit divisions. Of course, it's pretty concerning that you've got people leaking out of the expenditure review committee of Cabinet and defending their own positions, you got a former Health Minister and a Treasurer saying it wasn't us, it was the Prime Minister. But what I'd say is more concerning than this sort of exercise of undermining of Tony Abbott by his colleagues is the actually substance of the matter. The substance of the matter is you've got a Government that is determined to destroy Medicare and particularly determined to destroy bulk-billing. When I was the Health Minister I saw it as one of my key performance indicators how high I could get bulk-billing rate, I wanted people to be bulk-billed, I was happy when the rates went up. What you have now is a Government that thinks too many people are already being bulk-billed and that we should lower the rates. It's a completely perverted view of the benefits of Medicare. We have one of the best health systems in the world, we have fine dedicated health workers across Australia, who want to be free to look after their patients, not worry about fighting with the Government. The real concern is not the infighting in the Government but the chaos that that's causing in health policy, in education policy and across the board.

O’CONNOR: If I could also ask you one final question and of course it was a policy started by Kevin Rudd in the dying days of that Government, the policy to send refugees to Manus Island and Nauru. What are your thoughts as you see these stories of attempted suicides and great disruption at Manus?

PLIBERSEK: I'm extremely concerned at the reports that are coming out of Manus Island at the moment. I believe most Australians would be. We saw the shocking loss of the life of Reza Berati almost a year ago and it is completely unacceptable to see the secrecy that surrounds what's happening on Manus at the moment.

O’CONNOR: So is it a policy you would abandon if in Government now?

PLIBERSEK: It's certainly the case that we wouldn't see people treated in the way that people are being treated on Manus Island at the moment and we wouldn't accept the culture of secrecy that this Government has shrouded the events on Manus Island with.

O’CONNOR: Tanya Plibersek, thanks for your time.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


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