TRANSCRIPT - ABC News Breakfast, Wednesday 25 March 2015

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
TELEVISION INTERVIEW
ABC NEWS BREAKFAST
WEDNESDAY, 25 MARCH 2015

SUBJECT:  Germanwings plane crash.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: What was your reaction when you first heard this news?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Of course it's always shocking to hear about so many fatalities after a plane crash.  And the disturbing parts, in particular: the two Australians on board and the group of schoolchildren. I think a lot of parents will be imagining themselves in that position sending their kids off for a school trip and hearing news like this would be absolutely devastating.

ROWLAND: And what should the priority be of Australian consular officials at this moment as the search and recovery operation continues?

PLIBERSEK: Well, of course, we've been advised that there will be an Australian consular official on the ground there. If there's any assistance Australia can give in helping with the investigation of the causes of the crash, that's obviously a role that Australia should play.

ROWLAND: It's hard to sum up just the impact these continued air crashes have. It's been a very bad run, as we all know, for air crashes generally but of course Australians in those air crashes in the last 12 months, it's yet more bad news for the nation to grapple with?

PLIBERSEK: It's very, I think - affects people's confidence certainly when there's a series of planes going missing and crashes like this over the last year or so. But, yes I mean on the other hand so many people fly every day quite safely that we can get a slightly skewed view of the risks of plane travel.

ROWLAND: That's right and that's been the point exactly made by the aviation experts we've spoken to. Thousands of flights in the air at any given time. In fact last year, despite the Malaysian Airlines crashes were said to be the safest year for aviation ever.

PLIBERSEK: It's extraordinary because we do focus on the one-off. The reason that these things are so news worthy is because they're so rare but it doesn't change the way that people feel about plane travel and today in particular with these two Australians on board, a very sad day.

ROWLAND: There is a family, as you said, somewhere in Victoria deep in mourning this morning. What words have you got for them this morning?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think all Australians would be mourning with them. Two people, you send two people off at a happy time on a holiday and expect them to come home safe with stories of their adventures and to lose them in this way is so senseless and so tragic.

ROWLAND: It is deeply shocking. Tanya Plibersek in Canberra, thank you very much for your time.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Michael.

ENDS

 

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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Monday 23 March 2015

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 THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
DOORSTOP INTERVIEW
PARLIAMENT HOUSE
MONDAY, 23 MARCH 2015

SUBJECTS: Malcolm Fraser, Lee Kuan Yew; aid cuts; Abbott Government Budget chaos

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Parliament convened to farewell an Australian Prime Minister and we saw a great deal of bipartisan support for the legacy of Malcolm Fraser. He was a Prime Minister and later a commentator who spoke a lot about the importance of an independent Australian foreign policy. He was, of course, very personally committed also to Australia playing an active role in the world as a generous aid donor.

Just as Australians have farewelled a former prime minister, so, too, have our friends and neighbours. The people of Singapore farewelled a towering figure in Singapore's history, Lee Kuan Yew, as called by many people the father of modern Singapore. And just as Australians today are mourning Malcolm Fraser, many Singaporeans will be mourning Lee Kuan Yew.

Turning now to matters a little closer to home, we read in today's newspapers another leak from the Abbott Government about proposals for further cuts to the Australian aid budget. It seems that the Foreign Minister is once again in the dark about cuts in her portfolio. We read in the papers today that this will be the fourth lot of cuts to Australia's foreign aid budget. We've had two lots of mid-year economic and fiscal outlook cuts, one lot of budget cuts already and it looks like a second lot of budget cuts coming. You could see from the expression on the Foreign Minister's face when Joe Hockey started talking about the expenditure review committee, how disturbed she was about the proposals or the leaked proposals for further cuts in her portfolio area. This comes after more than $11 billion has already been cut from Australia's aid budget, taking it to the lowest, weakest aid budget that Australia has ever seen. Taking our region alone, the Asia-Pacific region, one year's lot of cuts is worth $110 million. That gives you some idea of the scale in our region. It means that even the poorest countries in our region, countries like Timor-Leste are experiencing substantial cuts of many millions of dollars. This comes at a time, of course, when the Foreign Minister is being kept in the dark about other issues in her portfolio area, too. She was kept in the dark about the replacement of her Parliamentary Secretary. She woke up one morning with a new Parliamentary Secretary that no-one had bothered to discuss with her. She was prevented in the first instance from going to Lima to represent Australia at climate change talks and later was only allowed to go when she was chaperoned by Andrew Robb. It is extraordinary that after all of the cuts made in the Foreign Minister's portfolio area, she is still prepared to go out and defend these vicious cuts and the effect that they have in reducing Australia's ability to be a substantial player internationally and in our region in the area of development assistance.

JOURNALIST: Ms Plibersek, speaking to Sky News this afternoon, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said that he was also surprised to hear about these supposed cuts in the paper today and he effectively ruled out that any cuts would take place. He said the Government has already done as much as they can in this area, in the Budget 2014 and in MYEFO. If the Finance Minister didn't know about it and the Foreign Minister didn't know about it, do you think these cuts might not be happening?

PLIBERSEK: Well, you can only ask yourself who knows what's going on in the Liberals' budget. We are only weeks out from the next federal budget. Many of the measures from the last federal budget have been repudiated by the Government. Some of them have been re-committed to, even though there is no chance of getting them through the Senate. We have further leaks today that there will be more cuts to the aid budget. It would be consistent with the fact that every time there has been a Budget or mid-year economic update, there have been cuts, taking Australian aid spending to its lowest level since records have been kept. You're saying that Mathias Cormann is telling a different story? Well, I mean, it's representative of the chaos that you see with this Liberal Budget and frankly the cruelty that you see with these cuts to aid that nobody knows what's going on.

JOURNALIST: What did Julie Bishop's reaction in the House say?

PLIBERSEK: Well, Julie Bishop's spectacular failure to keep a poker face shows that cuts have been inflicted in her portfolio area without consultation or without her agreement, but I would also say that Julie Bishop has been pretty keen to go out after the fact and try to make a virtue of these cuts by somehow claiming that they are good for the nation. The cuts to foreign aid aren't just bad for the countries that experience them as donors, they’re bad for Australia's standing in the world.

JOURNALIST: What does it actually mean in a practical sense about what the Australian aid program will be able to deliver in the region?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it means that programs don't go ahead. So if you look at the work of Oxfam, doing family violence work in Solomon Islands, for example, they talk about the impact that a 20% or 40% cut would have on reducing the number of people that they're able to reach, reducing the number of communities that they are able to affect. If you talk to Oxfam again about their work in Timor-Leste about improving the agricultural output of small farmers, the work they do in helping individuals in savings and loan organisations, saving small amounts of money and having lending circles that allow people to set up micro businesses, they say that their work in that area will be affected as well. And every country, that we have a relationship with, will feel the effect of these aid cuts if they haven't already, and as the cuts deepen over years to come, the impact will just get larger.

JOURNALIST: Exactly what proportion of GNI would you like Australia to be spending on aid and when by?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it used to be bipartisan policy that Australia would get to 0.5% of GNI which is of course 50 cents in every hundred dollars. We are now at a rate of 22 cents in every hundred dollars and we are tracking to go even lower than that, we’re looking at 18 or 19 cents in every hundred dollars. Countries around the world are doing much better than that. Countries who did much worse during the Global Financial Crisis are doing much better than Australia in continuing to be generous donors. The impact of that is important for the long-term. You look at a country like South Korea that was once an aid recipient country and is now one of our most important trading partners and you see the difference that aid can make to raising countries into prosperity, meaning that they can be good trading partners for Australia.

JOURNALIST: But when would Labor like to achieve that 0.5% of GNI by?

PLIBERSEK: Well, that will certainly depend on how much of the Government's aid cuts are implemented by the time we return to government, but we will be inheriting the most depleted, weakened aid budget in Australia's history.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible question]

PLIBERSEK: Sorry, I heard two different questions. Go on.

JOURNALIST: What is Lee Kuan Yew's legacy in the region?

PLIBERSEK: Well, Lee Kuan Yew was a very strong and patriotic voice. As the Prime Minister of Singapore, he implemented health and social policies in Singapore that many nations have looked to as models and of course provided a strong economic foundation for a country that- Singaporeans say their greatest national asset is the intelligence of their people. They are a tiny nation. They don’t have great mines or great farms like Australia, but they've managed to raise their people into prosperity through the efforts of Lee Kuan Yew and his generation.

JOURNALIST: Minister Bishop says that we wouldn't be here talking about the foreign aid budget had it not been for the fact that Labor isn't passing key budgetary measures that it itself proposed. What role does Labor have to play in this whole discussion?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it’s a ridiculous proposition that the Government is cutting the aid budget because of anything the opposition is doing. You can see the gleefulness with which members of the Government are boasting about these aid cuts, including a number of Dorothy Dix questions taken by the Foreign Minister boasting about the cuts to the aid budget. You must remember that Labor has passed more than $20 billion worth of measures to improve the bottom line, but we won't pass measures that are unfair, we won’t pass measures like a GP tax, like $100,000 university degrees because they are unfair and would hurt the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the foreign aid budget is an easy target?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think that the foreign aid budget doesn't have the support of many members of the Government and that the Foreign Minister is powerless to stop the cuts that have already happened and further cuts that have been leaked about today.

JOURNALIST: Would you reverse these cuts if you were to win the election next year?

PLIBERSEK: We will certainly be doing better in the aid area than the Liberals have done.

JOURNALIST: So you’d be putting more money back in, would you?

PLIBERSEK: Well we’ll certainly be doing better with the aid budget than the Liberals have done. You need to see that we have gone from being on track to get to 0.5% of gross national income when we were last in government, a target that both parties had signed up to as a bipartisan target, to now being at about 22 cents in every hundred dollars and on track down to 18 or 19 cents. I can tell you we will be doing better than that, and how much better and how soon we’re able to do it depends on when we return to government and how badly damaged the aid budget is at that time.

JOURNALIST: Ms Plibersek, you mentioned earlier the facial expressions of Ms Bishop during the Treasurer's comments in regards to ERC. Do you think that referencing her facial expressions might be trying to read too much into the tea leaves on this issue?

PLIBERSEK: Well I’ll let people make a judgment for themselves about how they interpret the facial expressions of the Foreign Minister when the Treasurer’s talking about the great job that the expenditure review committee is doing.

ENDS

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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Tuesday 24 March 2015

coats arms

THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
DOORSTOP INTERVIEW
PARLIAMENT HOUSE
TUESDAY, 24 MARCH 2015

SUBJECTS:  Aid cuts and Julie Bishop; cuts to DFAT; New South Wales election; polls; privatisation; workplace agreements.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Good morning. Yesterday we saw further division and dysfunction in the Liberal Party when it comes to preparing for this year's Budget. The Budget is just weeks away and we see a lack of clarity, a lack of direction. We saw Julie Bishop openly mocking Joe Hockey yesterday when he talked about the expenditure review committee. But Julie Bishop can’t just roll her eyes when it comes to further cuts to the aid budget. $11 billion has been cut from Australia’s aid budget.  And the Australian Council for International Development has said that if there are further cuts Australia’s aid program will not be credible, it won’t be effective. We’ve known that for some time. Of course there continue to be risks of further cuts, and it’s not just cuts to the aid budget that we are worried about in the foreign affairs portfolio. Despite coming to Government with a plan to increase Australia’s diplomatic footprint, Julie Bishop has presided over cuts of more than $400 million to the Department of Foreign Affairs with more than 500 jobs lost. Saying that she would expand the diplomatic footprint, in fact Australia’s diplomatic footprint has contracted. We’ve got the weakest, most depleted aid program ever, as well as substantial cuts to our foreign affairs portfolio more generally.

JOURNALIST: How would you describe the role of [inaudible] former colleague Martin Ferguson [inaudible]?

PLIBERSEK: Well let’s just see if we’ve got any questions about aid and then I’m happy to answer –

JOURNALIST: The Finance Minister has effectively ruled out any further cuts to this year’s budget, he said that they’ve done enough in that space, are you just stirring things up a bit?

PLIBERSEK: Let’s see. Last year in October, Julie Bishop said that there’d be no more cuts to foreign aid and in December $3.7 billion was cut from the aid budget in the mid-year economic update-

JOURNALIST: The Finance Minister actually sits on the ERC.

PLIBERSEK: Yes, that’s right and the Foreign Minister last year said that there’d be no more cuts to the aid budget and then there was a $3.7 billion cut. So, the first thing we need to look at is if there are any further cuts to the foreign aid budget that will be a deep failure on behalf of the Foreign Minister to protect her portfolio, but we’ll also be looking for sneaky accounting tricks. We know that $400 million has already been cut from other parts of the portfolio, the diplomatic presence. And if we see instead of aid cuts, hundreds of millions of dollars cut again from DFAT itself then that’ll just be a sneaky accounting trick, so we’ve got to look for both.

JOURNALIST: Will Labor commit to restoring the aid budget to what it was in 2013?

PLIBERSEK: Well I can tell you that when we come back into government after $11 billion of cuts, we’ll certainly have a huge repair job to do. Unfortunately at this stage we don’t know how deep, how big that repair job will be, we don’t know whether there’ll be further cuts. But I can tell you this, we’ll be doing better on foreign aid than the Liberals have done.

JOURNALIST: If I could turn to Martin Ferguson, how would you characterise or describe his contribution to the state election?

PLIBERSEK: Well Martin Ferguson is a private citizen, he’s able to make any contribution he likes-

JOURNALIST: Sure, but he’s a former senior Labor minister. Is it damaging when he says what he says?

PLIBERSEK: There’s been plenty of times when Martin has disagreed with his caucus colleagues when he was here in Canberra and I’m sure there’ll be a number of his former colleagues who disagree with the position he’s put in the New South Wales state campaign. New South Wales Labor has gone to every election campaign with the position that they’ve got now, that the monopoly parts of the electricity business, in particular the poles and wires, should not be sold because it would push up electricity prices.

JOURNALIST: Is he a rat?

PLIBERSEK: I’m not going to go into that sort of commentary.

JOURNALIST: Today’s polls seem to suggest –

PLIBERSEK: I can tell you however that Tony Abbott is electoral poison and that when he appeared in the Liberals’ campaign launch the other day, it was like a mime artist, we didn’t hear much from him about what he’s done to the state of New South Wales. The billions of dollars of cuts to the health system and to the education system, the cuts that Mike Baird doesn’t have the guts to complain about.

JOURNALIST: Today’s poll would seem to suggest that the Coalition is getting a bit of a bounce, does it also seem to suggest that some of the windback in policy that they’ve been doing over the last couple of months is starting to work?

PLIBERSEK: We’ve said consistently that the polls are interesting but none of it matters until we get a lot closer to election day. I think it’s a pretty extraordinary situation where the Liberals are out there celebrating that they’re only trailing by a bit.

JOURNALIST: Tanya, can I ask, the unions have launched a new campaign in which people are accused of being xenophobic on the poles and wires. Do you think there is a bit of an anti-China sentiment being whipped up?

PLIBERSEK: No, I think there’s quite a lot of anti-privatisation sentiment that’s not being whipped up, it’s being expressed. There are many people in the New South Wales community who are opposed to the privatisation of the electricity industry.

JOURNALIST: I just wanted to ask on the penalty rates. There’s a story in today’s Oz suggesting that the South Australia Shop Assistants Union is prepared to weaken penalty rates in exchange for a slightly higher base salary, or base wage. Do you think that could spread to New South Wales and some of the other states?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I’ve seen those stories but I’m not going to start commentating on individual agreements that employees and employers strike in particular workplaces or in particular industries. I think that this shows that there’s flexibility in the system but I’m not going to comment on it beyond that.

ENDS 

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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Friday 20 March 2015

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
DOORSTOP INTERVIEW
SYDNEY
FRIDAY, 20 MARCH 2015

SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Fraser; Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank; Lindt café

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Thanks for coming out this afternoon. I wanted to start by saying how saddened all Australians are about the death of Malcolm Fraser. Mr Fraser never retired from public life. In recent decades he’s been a particularly strong advocate for human rights in Australia and around the world. As Prime Minister, he was a strong supporter of a multicultural Australia, of Asian migration; he was a strong opponent of apartheid in South Africa. In his later years, he’s had a very influential role in arguing for an independent Australian foreign policy. I know that he’ll be sadly missed by his family and many friends. Of course his prime ministership was not uncontroversial and many Labor people remember the difficult circumstances in which he came to the prime ministership. But over recent decent decades, he had repaired relationships with many of his former opponents and I know even his former opponents will miss him.

Turning now to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. We’ve had overnight another leak from the national security committee of the Cabinet. This leak relates to the potential backflip on Australia’s support for an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Labor has been saying for many months now, indeed since last year, that Australia should be part of this massive Chinese investment in infrastructure around our region. Potential infrastructure investment runs to about $100 billion. Many of our most important friends and trading partners have already said that they will be involved. Yet despite this, last year, Julie Bishop, Prime Minister Abbott said that Australia shouldn’t be involved. It’s absolutely mystifying the argument for Australia not to be involved. The Government says on the one hand at the G20 meeting that Australia should be involved in supporting more infrastructure investment in our region, on the other hand, when there’s a proposed $100 billion to invest, Australia’s not going to be involved. This is a backflip, one way or another.  The chaos and confusion that we’re hearing from the national security committee of Cabinet is very concerning in itself.  What’s even more concerning is that the national security committee of Cabinet keeps leaking, and they may as well start broadcasting meetings. They seem to happen one day and leaked the next. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: If there is a backflip, is it in the direction that you think is the right one to make?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think it’s terrific if the Government now does decide to sign up with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, but it would’ve been much better for Australia to be involved from the very beginning. The Government has said that they’re worried about the governance mechanisms for the bank, well the best way to influence that was to get involved early on in setting up the bank including setting up the governance frameworks.

JOURNALIST: The leak, is it further evidence that there’s still a sort of campaign there to destabilise Tony Abbott?

PLIBERSEK: It’s just impossible to understand how the national security committee of Cabinet can keep leaking in this way. I don’t know whether this is about destabilising Tony Abbott. Certainly the reports early on were that Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott opposed Australia signing up whereas Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb were in favour. If there is going to be this chaotic backflip now, perhaps it is a sign that Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb have won the day. But it is perplexing that the way that this sort of policy would become public is through this sort of leak. Australia should’ve had an orderly process for signing up, we should’ve been in consultation with the Chinese government, making clear the sort of governance transparency and accountability arrangements that Australia would like to see. Instead of that, we’ve had one leak from Cabinet early on saying that Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott had prevailed and blocked Australia’s involvement in the bank and then a second leak now saying they’ve been rolled.

JOURNALIST: What are the Chinese to think?

PLIBERSEK: Well I can’t imagine what this makes us look like internationally.

JOURNALIST: If there is a leak from this committee, is that damaging to the work the committee is tasked with?

PLIBERSEK: There have been so many leaks from the national security committee of Cabinet that they may as well put the meetings on YouTube. They seem to no sooner meet than the contents of that meeting is leaked. It is certainly not the way for Cabinet to behave or any sub-committee of Cabinet, but when it’s the national security sub-committee of Cabinet, it’s particularly concerning.

JOURNALIST: And back to your thoughts on Malcolm Fraser, what can the rest of us take from the fact that he apparently became friends with Gough Whitlam in later life?

PLIBERSEK: Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam did repair much of their relationship and I think as Mr Fraser said himself that there was a great deal of conflict between them at one time but they found over decades that what united them was much greater than what divided them. They had a lot of agreement on human rights, both in Australia and around the world, and they had a lot of agreement about an independent foreign policy for Australia.

JOURNALIST: And do you as a politician take anything personally from that?

PLIBERSEK: Well I actually met Mr Fraser on a number of occasions. I went specifically to see him to talk to him about his views on Australia’s foreign policy and he was very welcoming to me, very encouraging, very generous with his time and with his views. I think certainly the way that Malcolm Fraser behaved towards his previous combatants and the way that Gough Whitlam accepted Malcolm Fraser’s overtures to friendship are a wonderful model.

JOURNALIST: And just a comment on the Lindt café opening today.

PLIBERSEK: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.

JOURNALIST: The Lindt café.

PLIBERSEK: The Lindt café siege is one of the most difficult and confronting periods in Australia’s history. It brought a conflict that has seemed a long way away right into the heart of our nation’s largest city. It was a tragic event for the families of those involved, particularly the two people who lost their lives and we should always remember what happened on that site. I think it’s very important that we have a permanent memorial to the events there, to the loss of the two lives of innocent people just going about their business. And it’s important that in building that memorial that the families of those involved are consulted.

ENDS

 

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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Thursday 19 March 2015

coats arms


 THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
DOORSTOP INTERVIEW
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
THURSDAY, 19 MARCH 2015

Subject/s: Foreign aid cuts; Double dissolution; Higher education; Budget; Terrorist attack

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Yesterday when the Prime Minister was meeting with Prime Minister of Vietnam, the Prime Minister of Vietnam raised the issue of Australian official development assistance, Australian aid. The Prime Minister in his press conference mentioned there had been modest reductions. Those modest reductions now total $11 billion in Australia’s aid budget. Indeed to Vietnam alone, there’s been a cut of about $14 million in one round of funding cuts alone. The Prime Minister said that he wanted to focus aid in our region, and yet from the Asia Pacific region there’s been a $110 million cut in that one round of funding cuts alone. So we now have a total aid cut of over $11 billion. This takes us down to the lowest proportion of aid in our budget since the 1950s, since records have been kept. Instead of tracking to 0.5 per cent of Gross National Income, GNI, we’re tracking to 0.2 per cent or possibly lower. It is extraordinary that our Prime Minister would call this a modest reduction and the question of course that it raises is are there further cuts planned for the Budget in May? Are there further aid cuts planned for the Budget in May? The interesting thing from the Government’s point of view when it comes to the aid budget is it doesn’t require legislation through the Parliament to further reduce aid and that means that when Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are looking around for further savings, this is an area that’s in great danger.

JOURNALIST: Does the argument that Vietnam’s economy is growing quite strongly have any merit?

PLIBERSEK: Well Vietnam is a country that is growing strongly, it’s taken 35 million people out of poverty. But when I spoke to the Prime Minister of Vietnam yesterday, and when Bill Shorten spoke to him, he emphasised to us what a huge difference Australian aid has made to his people, to the opportunity that children have to get an education, to the fact that university students from Vietnam can come to Australia, that the very driver of the growth that you mention is at least in part the Australian aid budget. Australia has been the most significant donor to Vietnam for some years and the Prime Minister of Vietnam emphasised how important that had been to the economic development of his country. The other thing I would say about the Vietnamese economic achievement is that not only have 35 million people been lifted out of poverty, a marvellous achievement, that economic development has been spread very evenly across the population. That’s a terrific thing for Vietnam’s future prosperity, because we know that countries that grow economically sustainably with the benefits of that growth spread more broadly across the population actually achieve better growth in the long term so there will come a day when Australian aid is not necessary for Vietnam but that’s certainly not the message that we got yesterday. If you look at a country like South Korea, South Korea received billions of dollars of aid after the Korean War, and now it’s become one of the most powerful countries economically in our region and a major trading partner for Australia. That’s what we hope for all of the aid receiving countries in our region, that they grow in prosperity, that they no longer need assistance. But that’s certainly not the view of the Vietnamese Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST: Would the Government be wise to go to a double dissolution election on the higher ed reforms?

PLIBERSEK: The Government would be wise to keep its promises to Australian people and if they want a double dissolution on $100,000 university degrees, we can throw in there cuts to pensions, so that pensioners will be up to $80 a week worse off, you can throw in there the GP co-payment, which still turns up in the intergenerational report as something that they want to do. You can throw in there any of the broken promises that were made when it comes to cuts to health, cuts to educations, cuts to pensions, increased taxes and let’s see if they want a double dissolution on that.

JOURNALIST: Just back to aid, what level would a future Labor government allocate to the aid budget and how would you intend to pay for an [inaudible]?

PLIBERSEK: It certainly won’t be the lowest spending since the 1950s which is what the Government’s on track to now but we’ll make further announcements about our aid budget much closer to an election.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] …are you happy that the Prime Minister’s planning on handing out a dull budget that [inaudible]…?

PLIBERSEK: Tony Abbott hasn’t yet dealt with the nightmare budget that was handed down last May so it may be his objective to hand down a dull budget. If that’s the case, he has to rule out $100,000 university degrees, he has to reverse the cuts to hospitals that are already in his budget from last May, he has to commit to further funding for the Gonski school education reforms that he’s walked away from, he has to reassure pensioners that the indexation rate of the pension won’t change to leave them up to $80 a week worse off. He hasn’t dealt with last May’s nightmare yet.

JOURNALIST: On the higher ed reforms, Christopher Pyne has reportedly offered to take funding away from universities that have a proportion of graduates that don’t repay their student debt. Is that something that Labor would consider supporting?

PLIBERSEK: Christopher Pyne is making it up as he goes along. This is a minister whose default position is angry and aggressive. He’s not sitting down and talking through with universities, with Labor, with, very importantly, parents and students, how the university sector can be made stronger. He wants to have a fight, he’s lost one fight, he’s looking for the next one.

JOURNALIST: And just lastly, what was your reaction to the attacks we've seen overnight at the museum in Tunisia.

PLIBERSEK: I think I need to get further information about that this morning but of course it’s very concerning to see any attack.

ENDS

MEDIA CONTACT: DAN DORAN 0427 464 350

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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Wednesday 18 March 2015

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
DOORSTOP INTERVIEW
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
WEDNESDAY, 18 MARCH 2015

Subject: Vanuatu; Cyclone Pam; Higher education; Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: I just wanted to start by saying a few words about Vanuatu. Of course, all Australians are still very concerned for the people of Vanuatu and what they’ve suffered after Cyclone Pam. Labor supports any efforts by the Australian Government to give greater assistance to the people of Vanuatu. It’s unclear still the extent of the damage, particularly in outer islands and sadly, it may become apparent that the toll of Cyclone Pam is even worse than we currently know. It may be necessary, in fact it’s likely necessary that we’ll have to give greater assistance than we’ve provided to date.

I also wanted to say a few words about higher education. Last night in the Senate, Christopher Pyne suffered another humiliating defeat. The Senate gave a very clear message that Senators won’t accept $100,000 university degrees. We know Australians won’t accept $100,000 university degrees. Nobody wants Christopher Pyne’s deregulated university sector, which means that ordinary kids won’t be able to afford a university education.

The third thing I just wanted to say a few quick words about today is the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. China has proposed a massive infrastructure investment focused on our region. This infrastructure is desperately needed in our region and it is absolutely beyond me why this Government is still dithering about whether to sign up or not. We know that there have been conflicts in Cabinet, we’ve had all sorts of leaks out of Cabinet about who supports signing up and who doesn’t support signing up. We now see that most of our trading partners and many of our friends have signed up, New Zealand obviously, the UK, a number of European countries have all signed up. And Australia had the potential to be one of the early signers, one of the countries that signed up to the AIIB from the beginning giving us the opportunity of influencing the priorities of the bank and influencing the transparency and accountability measures for the bank. It is beyond understanding why Australia has still not signed up to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: The US hasn’t signed up though, should we be concerned by that? Or should we take that into consideration?

PLIBERSEK: No, I think the decision of whether the United States signs up or doesn’t sign up is one for the United States. But it is absolutely within our capacity to have a good relationship with China and a good relationship with the United States. Many of our major trading partners have signed up to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and there is no barrier to Australia doing the same. Of course we need to get assurances about the governance of the bank, transparency and accountability but we are better off being involved in the bank and seeking to influence those parameters from within the group of countries involved in the bank rather than expecting to be able to do that from outside.

JOURNALIST: Ms Plibersek, do you believe that there’s a link between climate change and the intense cyclone systems in the Pacific?

PLIBERSEK: It’s not a matter of whether I believe it or not. Every credible scientist will tell you that climate change over time will cause more extreme weather events.

JOURNALIST: And on Vanuatu, a lot of, or a good chunk of aid funding that Australia hands over goes towards disaster preparedness and response. Are we servicing those areas adequately at the moment?

PLIBERSEK: Of course the great frustration of Australia’s aid budget is that Vanuatu had its bilateral aid budget cut substantially, by around $6 million in last year’s budget. It would’ve received further cuts in last year’s mid-year economic and fiscal outlook but we don’t know the quantum of those cuts. So actually our initial $5 million aid support after Cyclone Pam was less than the money we had cut in the previous- the government in the previous budget from the Vanuatu country program. Of course we support the Government in its efforts now to help the people of Vanuatu after this terrible cyclone but we have to remember that the support we’re giving now comes after very substantial cuts, and those programs of course help the people of Vanuatu prepare for these sorts of disasters.

JOURNALIST: Has Australia done enough? Are you happy with the Government’s response?

PLIBERSEK: Well we’re very pleased the Government yesterday responded to Labor’s call to send Australian Medical Assistant Teams, AUSMAT teams. We called yesterday for the Government to do that, and they have done that. I’m pleased also that the Government has as I say, provided millions of dollars. I would say that it is a shame that it comes after a cut to the Vanuatu country program last year and that as more information becomes available about the extent of damage, it may well be necessary for Australia to do more. Vanuatu is a close friend and neighbour for us. We have got a strong history of providing support to Vanuatu for economic development, for disaster preparedness and that support should continue and it might be necessary to do more.

ENDS

 

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TRANSCRIPT - 4BC, Thursday 5 March 2015

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
RADIO INTERVIEW
4BC
THURSDAY, 05 MARCH 2015

Subject: Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran

LORETTA RYAN, PRESENTER: What was it like there at the vigil this morning, the show of support, but what was the feeling?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Look, it was a very sombre feeling. I think people feel now that the young men have been moved, we really- the feeling has very strongly intensified that the carrying out of the sentence might be imminent and I think many Australians feel quite helpless in the face of this.  And so coming together and being able to show that we are united across political lines and across the Australian community in saying that we hope that the death penalty won’t be carried out in this instance because these young men have reformed their lives but that also we are opposed to the death penalty as a matter of principle. I think it was a very important thing this morning.

IAN SKIPPEN, PRESENTER: Now you are the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and I know that you have dealt with the Indonesian government. This show of force yesterday, was it purely a chest beating exercise to the rest of the world?

PLIBERSEK: I can’t understand why it was thought necessary to have all of this military accompaniment. I actually- I can’t explain it to you. I think it was a curious decision.

RYAN: We’ve never seen that before, maybe it’s just the fact that we’ve never seen any drug runners being transferred before like that. Do you think though now with this prisoner transfer suggestion that Julie Bishop has mentioned, do you think that is likely to happen?

PLIBERSEK: I certainly hope it’s possible for it to happen. I think we need to continue to try every diplomatic method, every formal and informal channel we have, every opportunity for communication. Certainly that’s what I’ll be doing and I’m sure the Government has also been using any person they can think of that may be able to influence the President of Indonesia to make contact to plead for the lives of these two young men.

RYAN: But Tanya, why should we ask for a prisoner transfer for them when we didn’t do it for Schapelle Corby, for instance? I think it was brought up during her time there.

PLIBERSEK: Well, Schapelle Corby wasn’t facing the death penalty.

RYAN: She was still in there for a long time though, wasn’t she?

PLIBERSEK: That’s true and I think it’s very well worth having a more general conversation about prisoner transfer programs with Indonesia, but we are at a very critical stage now where two young men are facing the worst possible penalty and I think that really our focus needs to be on them.

SKIPPEN: Tanya you just mentioned before that you will do some work, do you work closely with for instance Julie Bishop, or are your lines of communication with people that you’ve had past dealings with in Indonesia?

PLIBERSEK: Well both, so Julie Bishop, Christine Milne and I, for example have written together to the Indonesian Foreign Minister. I’ve written and spoken separately to Indonesians in Australia who might be able to influence the Government. I’ve spoken to Indonesians in Indonesia who have relations with the President and his office. And of course to Australians, to people who have a long association with Indonesia to ask them, or anyone who might be able to influence this situation to use whatever influence they have.

SKIPPEN: So all of those words, all of that communication, going behind the scenes from all levels of Government, friends, religious organisations, still falls on deaf ears?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think we need to use every opportunity, exhaust every channel, and I’ve been saying for a while that while there’s life there’s hope. I think it’s important to use every opportunity we still have to try and influence the President of Indonesia to consider the fact that he’s got almost 230 of his own citizens on death row around the world. And that it makes it much harder for Indonesia to plead for clemency for its own citizens if it’s not prepared to show that same clemency to the citizens of other nations who are facing the death penalty in Indonesia. And the other thing of course we ask the Indonesian President to consider is that these two young men - have 100% done the wrong thing, they should be punished, but in that punishment, in the gaol that they’ve been in, they’ve been able to reform themselves and they’re playing a positive role in reforming other prisoners. They’ve been setting an example for people to turn their lives around. And I think that that is an opportunity that the Indonesian goal system shouldn’t miss, and an opportunity for these young men to repay their debt to Indonesian society that the Indonesians should accept.

SKIPPEN: Tanya Plibersek, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs speaking to us just now from the post-vigil in Canberra this morning.

ENDS

 

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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Friday 6 March 2015

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
DOORSTOP INTERVIEW
SYDNEY
FRIDAY, 06 MARCH 2015

Subject: Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: [audio cuts in] Myuran Sukumaran's continuing case in Indonesia. Of course, all Australians continue to plead for clemency for these two young men. I am heartened that there's been a delay of an indeterminate time, certainly for a few days, in the carrying out of the sentence. We've been told that there are some delays perhaps due to the ongoing legal cases that these two men have ongoing in Indonesia, one of an administrative appeal type and one of a judicial type. It is reassuring that these legal processes have been given a little more time. My call to the Indonesian Government is, of course, that any legal processes be given a full opportunity to be properly heard. We also, as Australians, continue to ask the Indonesian President to give clemency to our citizens and others in the same way that Indonesia pleads for clemency for their own citizens on death row around the world. Indonesia has just under 230 of its own citizens on death row in many countries around the globe. And Indonesia has been successful in seeing some of those citizens in the past taken off death row, and indeed, continues to plead for the lives of others. We ask that that same consideration be extended to Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. These are two young men who have unquestionably done the wrong thing. And they've spent 10 years in gaol already. And should their lives be spared, we understand that the Indonesian judicial system might require many more years in prison. But while they've been in prison for this last decade, they have made great changes in their lives, and not just their own lives, but the lives of other prisoners. They are a testament to the power of the Indonesian gaol system to allow people to reform and to rebuild their lives and to repay their debt to society.

JOURNALIST: What was your opinion of the photo of the police chief posing with them?

PLIBERSEK: I can't really understand why such a photo was taken and I can't understand why it was publicly released. I certainly thought it was in poor taste.

JOURNALIST: What about the use of force in transferring the men? Do you think it was disproportionate?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's very difficult to understand why such force was necessary. I think- it's certainly a contrast to the way that other prisoners have been transported in the past and it's difficult to understand why the Indonesian Government thought this show of force was necessary.

JOURNALIST: I know what you mean about the delay, that of course we're thankful that these men are still alive but do you think the constant delays are also making things emotionally more difficult, especially for the families?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think this is a more hellish time than any one of us can imagine, if you haven't gone through it. But I think for all of us and for the families of these two young men and their legal teams, while there’s life, there's hope, and however difficult the uncertainty and the delays may be, of course, the certainty of a sentence being carried out would be the worst possible outcome. This is a sentence that affects not only the lives of these two young men, but it's a sentence for everyone who knows and loves them. They will carry the grief and loss of this throughout their lives.

JOURNALIST: How do you see this impacting relationships with Indonesia?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think these are things for another day. Our focus at the moment has to be completely on finding any constructive suggestion that might cause this sentence not to be carried out. There's been a great deal of work over many years behind the scenes through successive governments, arguing that the sentence of these young men should be commuted. Now, there's also been, in more recent times, more public work, both diplomatic efforts, business-to-business contacts, person-to-person contacts. I think all of those approaches have to be tried and tried again. If there's anything we can do with the Indonesian Government, for example, prisoner swaps, of course we would support that.

JOURNALIST: It's often a tough thing… [inaudible]

PLIBERSEK: I think every Australian is united in supporting the Government in any effort they can make to spare the lives of these two young men. As I say, successive Australian governments have worked with the Indonesian Government to argue the case for these two young men. As the date of their sentence being carried out draws closer, those efforts have become more public. But of course, every effort that the Government has made has had bipartisan support and I think has had also very wide support among the Australian community.

JOURNALIST: Is there the anything you would suggest that the Government could do that it is not doing?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I've made a number of suggestions directly to the Foreign Minister about ways that we can continue to support these young men, options that the Government might not have thought of. Of course, people are continuing to write to me and email me with those suggestions, and when they do, I pass them on. I think it's most critical at this time, though, to take the advice of our diplomats. We have very experienced current and former diplomats who've served in Indonesia for many years. They have close personal contacts and friendships with senior members of the Indonesian Government, business community and so on. And so we need to take the advice of those people about how we best make these approaches and the most useful offers that we can make to Indonesia for cooperation.

JOURNALIST: And is the family, do you think, getting enough consular assistance on its journey to Nusakambangan?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think the families are very grateful for the support they've received so far from the consular services of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I've certainly- the family members I've spoken to have been very grateful for the assistance they've received, in some cases over many years.

JOURNALIST: When this spying controversy emerged some years ago, Indonesia withdrew cooperation in all sorts of areas, in security, in policing. Surely those types of sanctions must be on the table, you say you don't want to talk about that now, but surely those kinds of things must be on the table instead of just words?

PLIBERSEK: As I've said in the past, I think now is certainly not the time to have those discussions. Our total focus at the moment has to be on working cooperatively with the many Indonesians who also oppose the death penalty and have helped us in pleading with their government to spare the lives of these two young men and to work absolutely assiduously with all our focus on doing something productive for these young men. The time for any other discussion is much, much later.

JOURNALIST: Is that working though? Tony Abbott said he that hasn't heard back from President Widodo about his request for another telephone conversation. Julie Bishop says she has not received a response to a letter that was delivered to her counterpart yesterday. So words don't seem to be working.

PLIBERSEK: I think at the moment, open communication, frequent communication is the best approach that we have. I've written to the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Bill Shorten has written to the President, we're in frequent contact with the Indonesian Ambassador. We continue to offer all our support to the Government in making every effort they can to see the lives of these two young men spared. Thanks, everyone.

ENDS

 

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TRANSCRIPT - Sky News, Thursday 5 March 2015

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
TELEVISION INTERVIEW
SKY NEWS
THURSDAY, 5 MARCH 2015

SUBJECT/S: Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran

KIERAN GILBERT, PRESENTER: As far as you’re aware, where are things at? There’s just a fair bit of confusion here, isn’t there, out of Indonesia?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: The Foreign Minister and I are speaking regularly about what’s happening at the moment with the transfer and what that means in terms of timing. I mean, you’ve spoken to her already so I’m not going to repeat what she said. We have been in continual contact with Indonesia authorities. I continue to contact anyone who might influence the President in his decision making. A lot of Australians have been working behind the scenes, people who have got good relations with Indonesia to continue to plead our case and certainly to argue that the legal challenges that are still afoot must be completed.

GILBERT: We’ll get onto a bit of that detail in a moment. I want to ask you, I guess to start off with, this morning there was another show of solidarity, of unity of the Parliament, wasn’t there, this morning with that candle light vigil on the forecourt of Parliament.

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s a very powerful thing to say that despite all of our differences, as Australian parliamentarians and I think as Australian citizens, we are united in saying that we oppose the death penalty for whomever and wherever it might be applied. But for these young men, we say they’ve spent 10 years in Indonesian gaol, they have made a great effort to rehabilitate and reform themselves. They’re playing a very important role in rehabilitating other prisoners. They show the success of the Indonesian gaol system when it comes to rehabilitation. They can continue to play a role in rehabilitating other prisoners and that is, I think, a very strong argument to commute their death sentence, for the President to show them clemency. There continues to be the argument about legal challenges still afoot. And I think there is an overriding argument here as well, that as Australian parliamentarians, we don’t support the death penalty anywhere. This is not just about our citizens in Indonesia, it’s about anyone, anywhere, to whom this penalty may be applied.

GILBERT: And I guess the point that’s been made as well by the Foreign Minister this morning and others over recent weeks is that the Indonesians themselves seek clemency for I think it’s nearly 200 of their own citizens on death row around the world.

PLIBERSEK: Almost 230, in fact, 229 was the most recent figure. And they’ve been successful in getting many, many of their own off death row in other countries. They do, the Indonesians do exactly what we’re doing at the moment. They are, all the time, pleading with other governments for their citizens to be shown clemency. We make the same plea for our own citizens and I have said to the Indonesian Ambassador that it surely must weaken their case when they  are pleading for the lives of their own people if they do not show the same clemency to the citizens of other nations.

GILBERT: President Jokowi has only been in the job for a couple of months. You’ve spoken about the representations made to people that might have some influence over him. Sadly, according to those I’ve spoken to, including experts, Indonesia experts, who say that basically there’s a brick wall around the President. He does not want to hear, he’s made the decision and that’s it.

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it’s very important that our thoughts, our comments, our speech at the moment is focused on these two young men and making a case for them. I think analysis and so on is better left for another day.

GILBERT: I guess though, to start the relationship of this Presidency without, you know Australia-Indonesia bilateral relationship on this footing, is the worst possible scenario.

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s very important for us to continue to say to the Government of Indonesia and to the new President to look at the long sweep of our history with Indonesia. Australia has supported Indonesian independence, we’ve had a good relationship over many years with Indonesia. And there have been times of tension, of course, but the long sweep of our history with Indonesia is a mutually respectful, close relationship, and there are many people in Australia and Indonesia who have been working for many years to continue to bring that relationship closer. That should be the focus of our relationship at the moment.

GILBERT: And you say you’ve been in constant contact with the Foreign Minister over developments here, it does seem the Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs are doing everything they can, including this 11th hour prisoner swap offer to try and secure the freedom, well, not the freedom, but at least clemency for those two individuals.

PLIBERSEK: Indeed successive governments have pleaded for the lives of these two young men. Of course, it’s a more urgent task of diplomacy at the moment but for 10 years now, successive Australian leaders have spoken to successive Indonesia presidents and made a case for clemency to be shown to these young men. And of course, we’ll continue to do that over coming days. All Australians, I believe, are united in saying that we don’t want to see this penalty applied.

GILBERT: I don’t think you want to speculate on any possible diplomatic response that might happen in the wake of the executions because as you and others point out, while there’s life, there’s hope, but I guess that’s something Australia’s got to turn its attention to, given we have many other consular cases in Indonesia, so if you remove an ambassador, then you instantly jeopardise the success of those particular cases, those individuals, don’t you? Potentially.

PLIBERSEK: I think our whole conversation at the moment has to be on using every diplomatic means, every formal and informal channel, to focus on pleading for clemency for these two young men. And I think any other conversations are better left for another day.

GILBERT: What about the use of, the show of force around the transfer, that was quite bizarre, wasn’t it?

PLIBERSEK: It was very difficult to understand why that was necessary.

GILBERT: It certainly was. The barbaric, armed vehicles, and these are two reformed individuals as you’ve pointed out.

PLIBERSEK: It’s difficult to understand why it was thought necessary.

GILBERT: And finally, I know that you reflected on this in the Parliament, but you are well aware of the success of what rehabilitation can do to an individual so for you, there’s a much more sort of poignant emotion, I guess this –

PLIBERSEK: Indeed. I think one of the saddest things about this story, one of the saddest things on a human level, is that these two young men have obviously, of course they’ve done the wrong thing and of course they should be punished, but they have made such an effort not just to reform themselves, but to improve the quality of life, and to give hope to other prisoners. Carrying out the death penalty robs these two young men of life, it robs their families and friends of the opportunity of seeing them pay their debt to society.

But it also robs Indonesian prisoners, who they’ve helped, who they’ve become role models for, it robs them of hope and the understanding that reform is possible in their own lives. I think that the Indonesians should think about using these young men as an example of what reformation can do in the life of a person, how you can do the wrong thing, turn your life around and then spend the rest of your life repaying your debt to society.

GILBERT: Let’s hope so, let’s hope there’s a show of mercy from the Indonesian leader. Tanya Plibersek, thanks for your time.

ENDS

 

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TRANSCRIPT - Sky News Australian Agenda, Sunday 15 March 2015

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY

 

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
TELEVISION INTERVIEW
SKY NEWS, AUSTRALIAN AGENDA
SUNDAY, 15 MARCH 2015

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.

[Ad break]

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.

VAN ONSELEN: But I-

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.

ENDS

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