TRANSCRIPT - Capital Hill, Friday 31 October 2014

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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 24, CAPITAL HILL

FRIDAY, 31 OCTOBER 2014

 

Subject/s: Ebola; Climate Change.

JULIE DOYLE, PRESENTER: The Federal Opposition is continuing to keep the pressure on the Government over its response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Labor maintains the Government should send Australian health care workers to West Africa but the Government won't agree while there's no suitable arrangement to treat any workers who become infected. The Deputy Opposition Leader, Tanya Plibersek, has been in the United States this week for meetings with Government officials. She joined me from New York a little earlier.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: In all of the conversations I have had including with UN representatives today, with White House personnel, department personnel and the Ebola Coordinator - it is being made very clear that there is an expectation that countries like Australia that have strong health systems, that have personnel that are trained and willing and able to assist would make a greater contribution. Indeed the US ambassador to the United Nations has said very clearly that it's all very well to sign on to these resolutions but it's a bit rich then not to send medical staff or provide hospital beds once you've made these great pronouncements. I think it's very clear there is an expectation that countries like Australia should do more.

DOYLE: When she said it's a bit rich, what kind of language did she use there?

PLIBERSEK: I think the exact words were something like it's terrific to sign on to resolutions and to compliment countries like the United States and the United Kingdom for the contribution that they're making but then it's a problem if you don't then send docs and beds - I think were the exact words. So there is a clear expectation, the President of the United States has also said on a number of occasions now that what's really needed is a much greater effort from the international community, particularly in terms of sending personnel.

DOYLE: The United States has been looking at opening a field hospital in West Africa to treat any health workers who get infected. Have you received any update on the progress for that?

PLIBERSEK: Yes, I've been told that it's imminent. It should open in a matter of days, that it will be a facility that would take any medical personnel that were affected, that needed medical treatment. So a lot of doctors and medical personnel will tell you that with a virus like Ebola it is a relatively simple treatment. You need to keep up fluids and nutrition, keep the patient clean and comfortable and you can best do that as close to the point of diagnosis and as close to the time of diagnosis as possible so the establishment of these treatment facilities in-country for medical staff is a very important step. It certainly reduces the need for air evacuation, medivac arrangements, but at the same time as building these hospital facilities in-country, further planning is going on to give greater options for medivac as well.

DOYLE: On that field hospital, have you received any guarantees that any Australian health workers who were in West Africa and got infected would have access to treatment there?

PLIBERSEK: It was made very clear to me that Australian health workers would be absolutely able to use this facility, absolutely welcome there, on an equal basis with the staff of the United States. Now, I believe it's a 25-bed hospital. You have understand that there are potential scenarios where that hospital is full and someone would have to be transferred. I don't think in a case like this with a virus that's spreading as quickly with a situation that is as dire, anybody can give definitive guarantees about anything.

DOYLE: What we're talking about, though, is Australian staff being treated on the same basis as the nationals of the United States or other countries that are on the ground in West Africa providing this assistance. Given that, do you think that should be enough to satisfy the Australian Government's concerns about sending healthcare workers?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's up to the Government to answer what further impediments they see. The first furfy that they raised was this 30-hour evacuation time. Nobody has ever said that Australians who get sick should be flown back to Australia. That would be dangerous. It would be a nonsense to suggest that that is the best way to treat someone who gets sick in West Africa but we now have an increasing number of treatment options including the US field hospital, the UK are building a field hospital. The were some reports the UK may be sending a hospital ship as well. There are increasing numbers of evacuation options available. I think it is now getting to a stage, with this increasing number of options available to treat any Australian staff that get sick, that the Government really is running out of excuses.

DOYLE: Tanya Plibersek, just briefly I want to ask you about domestic politics and we've seen the Direct Action policy, the emissions reduction fund, pass through the Senate earlier this morning. From the Opposition's perspective, are you still committed to taking an Emissions Trading Scheme as a policy to the next election?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we introduced an Emissions Trading Scheme, we backed an Emissions Trading Scheme. You've got to understand Direct Action's a dog of a policy. There's not an environmentalist or an economist anywhere that will tell you that this will act to reduce carbon emissions. We have always said that you need to put a limit on the amount of pollution and that it makes a lot more sense for big polluters to pay for the pollution that they're pumping into our environment and for that money to be used as it was under our scheme to compensate people for any change in the cost of living - than for taxpayers to pay big polluters and for there to be no guarantee of an overall environmental benefit. I think this is disappointing to see this dog of a scheme pass through the Senate and we remain committed to real action on climate change not this window dressing.

DOYLE: That means an Emissions Trading Scheme, you'll face another election with that policy?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we're yet to make detailed announcements about our policies but we believe that the most sensible way is to put a cap on carbon pollution, have a market mechanism to provide environmental benefit in the cheapest possible way. What you see today is a scheme that gives away billions of dollars of taxpayers' money during a so-called Budget emergency - as the Government likes to keep pointing out they've got no money - giving away billions of dollars to big polluters for potentially no environmental benefit.

DOYLE: Tanya Plibersek, we'll leave it there. Thank you very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.

ENDS

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TRANSCRIPT - ABC Radio National Breakfast, Friday 31 October 2014

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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

ABC RADIO NATIONAL BREAKFAST

FRIDAY, 31 OCTOBER 2014

 

SUBJECT/S: Ebola Crisis; Iraq.

 

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Hello Fran.

FRAN KELLY, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, has America offered Australia the use of a new 25 bed field hospital that it is apparently about to open in Liberia?

PLIBERSEK: Well of course I don’t know what formal communications have been made between the United States Government and our Government but I can certainly tell you I’ve had very senior meetings here with the State Department, with the United Nations, with representatives of the White House and it was made clear to me that that facility would be made available for health workers not just Australian health workers but health workers of any nationality who are in West Africa fighting Ebola.

KELLY: Can you tell us any more about this field hospital? The Sydney Morning Herald today quotes the US Embassy spokesperson in Canberra saying that a 25 bed field hospital will be provided and it could be open within days. Have you been told the specifics of this field hospital? Has it been mentioned to you?

PLIBERSEK: Yes it has been confirmed to me that it will be open very shortly, that the treatment available will be of a first world standard, that it has been set aside for health workers to give health workers from countries around the world confidence to go to West Africa to fight Ebola. The treatment for Ebola is, in a way, quite basic treatment - you have to keep hydration and nutrition up for the patient, you have to keep them clean and comfortable. And beginning treatment as close as possible to where the diagnosis is made is actually often considered best practice in treating a virus like this.

KELLY: Do you know when this hospital will be open?

PLIBERSEK: I’ve been told very shortly. I haven’t been given a day, but within days.

KELLY: The Abbott Government has so far resisted calls to send Australian health professionals and other teams to West Africa because the Government can’t guarantee treatment for Australians who might get sick with Ebola. In your meetings with Ambassador Nancy Powel, Ebola Coordinator for the State Department did you determine whether or not the US has offered access to that facility to the Australian Government? The Australian Government is aware of it?

PLIBERSEK: Well she made it very clear to me that that treatment facility would be available to health workers of any nationality who are in West Africa working as volunteers fighting Ebola. I can’t answer for specifically what formal communication has been made to the Australian Government but I think the fact that this hospital was under construction was widely known and I certainly have known about it for a number of weeks. I’d be very surprised if the Australian Government hasn’t had specific conversations with the Government of the United States about it.

KELLY: You’ve been meeting with a range of high level people across a range of agencies, one of those is the Managing Director of the World Bank Dr Indrawati. We know that the IMF have been calling for improved contributions from Western countries. Are they calling on Australia to do more in West Africa? What message did you get in these meetings more broadly?

PLIBERSEK: Every meeting I have had, whether it’s been with the World Bank, with the United Nations, with people in the White House or the State Department - it has been made clear to me that there is a very strong view that the United States, the United Kingdom, to a degree France, are bearing most of the responsibility for fighting this outbreak and that there is a disappointment that countries such as Australia are willing to sign on to UN resolutions calling for people to do more, to send equipment, personnel and so on, then simply there is not the follow through. There is a critical window, this virus is doubling its number of infections every twenty days or so. The Centre for Disease Control estimates are that there could be a million people affected by early next year. Even more than a million people affected by early next year. So there is a very strong sense of urgency here. Countries such as the United States are making very large contributions because they understand that containing Ebola in the three countries where it is most active now is in the interest of the entire world.

KELLY: Of course but given the formal statements that have been made by some of the people at the agencies did you get informally – what kind of commentary did you get about Australia’s reluctance to send in teams. Were people voicing frustration?

PLIBERSEK: Well certainly there is an expectation that a country like Australia could do more. We are considered to be a country with a very strong health system. We know that we’ve got health professionals who are willing to go. We have been very prominent on the Security Council this year and we have cosponsored a resolution that calls on countries to do more to send people, send supplies and equipment, to help with logistics. The US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said something along the lines of “you’ve got countries that are signing up to these resolutions and then not sending doctors or providing beds, that’s a bit rich really.” That’s the sense that I’ve had from each of the organisations and people that I’ve spoken to here, that it’s all very well to have kind words in the United Nations and the Security Council and so on, what they are missing is practical support on the ground. And yet the Government has not yet put in place any measures to support and assist these people to do what they want to do.

KELLY: You’re listening to RN Breakfast, our guest is Tanya Plibersek Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, joining us from New York. On other issues, you’ve been also meeting with US National Security Officials talking about the situation in Iraq, did you get any clarity on what the mission is in terms defeating ISIS, or a progress report? What was the atmospherics there?

PLIBERSEK: Well certainly I’ve had conversations about Iraq and Syria, of course, the two are so closely linked. And slightly different views from different people but I’d say a strong sense that push back against IS is starting to have effect, that the more inclusive Iraqi government has certainly given people confidence that the Sunni tribes can join the fight against IS, that there is a greater opportunity now of pushing them back or at least halting their progress in Iraq.

KELLY: Can I just interrupt you on that front because we’ve just had an interview earlier with Kym Bergmann from a defence magazine here in Australia, we’ve been talking about on the face of it the more inclusive cabinet but actually realising the interior minister is from a group with links to the Badr Brigade which is a Shiite militia that has been accused of violence against Sunnis in the past. I notice that Shadow Defence Minister Stephen Conroy is now demanding to know is Australian Defence Forces, when they are finally allowed to go into Iraq, could end up working with either Iranian forces or Iranian backed forces, he says this could be a game changer. But it is inevitable isn’t it? Everybody knows that Iranian defence leadership has been in there working with Shia militia and are partly responsible for the success some have had against IS.

PLIBERSEK: Well one of the conditions that Labor put on its support for the involvement of Australian personnel in this mission, in Iraq, was that the Iraqi Government would continue to behave in an inclusive way. We are of course watching very closely, not just the formation of the new government and the fact that it is representative, but there have been concerns expressed in the past about the use of militia, that’s something that we’ll continue to look at very closely. Australia absolutely has a responsibility to protect those civilian communities that were under imminent threat of mass atrocity crime, but this is not a blank cheque. We need to see and Iraqi government –

KELLY: But what does that mean? If Iranian military leadership is in Iraq, is working with the militia who in turn are working with the Iraqi army, is that a red line then for Australian forces in your view?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think we need to have more information before we make any assumptions about what type of involvement, or whether there is Iranian involvement, of course there have been reports but those reports vary a great deal about the scale and the type of involvement that Iran has. Iran has a very strong interest in fighting IS. They are concerned themselves about the prospect of a chaotic state on their border, of Iraq falling apart but to make any more assumptions about the likelihood of Australians coming into contact with Iranian forces we’d need a lot more information.

KELLY: Tanya Plibersek thank you for joining us on Breakfast.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you Fran.

ENDS

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TRANSCRIPT - ABC Newsradio, Friday 31 October 2014

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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
ABC NEWSRADIO
FRIDAY, 31 OCTOBER 2014

 

Subject/s: Ebola crisis; Climate Change.

MARIUS BENSON, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek the issue of Ebola is under discussion, the United Nations ambassador, the US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power saying it is now the greatest public health crisis the world has faced and the world is not doing enough. Is that the impression you’re getting from your discussions in the United States, the world is not doing enough?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Well I’ve had a number of discussions here in the United States on Ebola with the United Nations, the World Bank, representatives of the White House and the State Department and the message could not be clearer. It’s important of course for countries to make a financial contribution, but much more is needed. We know in Australia that we have skilled medical personnel who want to help. They’ve trained all their professional lives for situations where they can offer care for people who desperately need it and they don’t have the support of their Government to do so. We also have heard from the last few days in the United States that the field hospital they are building would be available to Australian medical personnel should they become sick in West Africa. It’s really up to the Government to explain what further impediments remain to Australians joining the first against Ebola in West Africa.

BENSON: Is there any awareness in the discussions you’re having in the United States about Australia’s response? Any assessment from officials there of it?

PLIBERSEK: Well people are too polite to be very direct but we’ve heard a lot of comment about countries – you would have heard Samantha Power, ambassador to the United Nations say words to the effect of you have countries that are at the UN signing pledges and signing up to resolutions and complimenting countries that are sending personnel and then not doing it themselves. Not sending docs and beds I thing were her exact words. We are one of those countries. We’re signing up to resolutions saying that the world has to do more. This is a critical time. Getting Ebola under control in the next month is absolutely critical, and yet we’re not doing all we can or all we should.

BENSON: Samantha Power was saying that no country can afford to stand on the sidelines, is Australia seen as standing on the sideline with Ebola?

PLIBERSEK: Well I don’t want to put words in the mouths of other nations about Australia. What I would say is that as an Australian I know we have a strong health system and excellent, dedicated, highly trained staff.  You've got for example the Nurses and Midwives Association telling us that they’ve got more than 300 nurses who have said that they are willing to go to treat patients in West Africa, to do that vital work and yet they’re not being facilitated by our Government.

BENSON: So exactly what does the Government need to do, do you believe?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it is absolutely clear that we have Australian personnel who are trained, who are willing to go, who understand the risks because of course this is a highly risky thing to do, it’s certainly not risk free. Knowing that, they see it as their humanitarian duty to use the skills they have to help treat patients in West Africa. It is up to the Australian Government to facilitate that contribution. We’ve got countries like the United States and the UK sending medical teams, supplies, equipment, transport and other logistic equipment. We’ve got a number of other countries now making contributions, field hospitals being built, they need to be staffed and we’ve got the people who say that they are able and willing to go and I think that’s the very first step.

BENSON: And just returning home briefly, overnight the direct action legislation from the Government on climate change has passed the Senate. It will now become law it will certainly pass the House of Representatives. Will Labor stick with carbon pricing, will you take carbon pricing to the next election as your climate change policy?

PLIBERSEK: The first thing is to say something about Direct Action. This is an absolute dog of a policy. Our carbon pricing policy was to charge big polluters for the pollution that they were pumping into our atmosphere and that money was used for programs that reduce carbon pollution, it was used to compensate households for any increase in prices. What’s the Government doing instead? They are taking billions of dollars of tax payers' money and giving it to big polluters with no guarantee that it will actually reduce pollution across our country or our society, our economy. There is not an environmentalist or an economist anywhere that tells you that direct action is going to be a success. We will continue to work to have meaningful action on climate change and that certainly means keeping a price on carbon.

BENSON: Tanya Plibersek thank you very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.

ENDS

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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop, Sydney, Friday 24 October 2014

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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, 24 OCTOBER 2014

 

Subject/s: Ebola, Gough Whitlam

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Reports overnight that the Ebola virus has spread to Mali are of substantial concern. On the 1st of October, the World Health Organisation said that if we didn’t get Ebola under control within 60 days, the consequences of the spread of the virus would be completely unpredictable. There would be a situation that there were no plans for. We know that the virus is spreading quickly, about 4500 people have died so far, about 10,000 are infected. But reports suggest that the number of infections is doubling about every 20 days. That means that if the Ebola virus continues to spread in the way that it’s spreading, it will be very difficult to contain it to West Africa. We’ve had calls from around the world for Australia to send in personnel to help, we’ve had calls from the US President, from the Prime Minister of the UK, from the United Nations, from Medicins Sans Frontieres, from Oxfam, from our own Australian Medical Association and our own public health association all saying that Australia has highly experienced staff willing and able to go and that they should be sent. Today there are also reports that the Chief Medical Officer has joined in saying that Australian medical assistance teams should be sent to West Africa. Of course, any such mission is not without risk. This is a dangerous part of the world now with a virus that is spreading quickly. But what President Obama has said, and what our own health professionals are telling us, is that the best way of keeping Australia safe, of keeping Australians safe, is to stop this virus in West Africa. If this virus continues to spread in the way that it does, if it moves to other continents, if it moves into our own region, the consequences are potentially catastrophic. Indeed the World Health Organisation has pointed to the fact thata densely populated region like Asia could have very severe consequences from an Ebola outbreak. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: What do you [inaudible] Minister’s statement that you’re playing politics with Ebola?

PLIBERSEK: There’s nothing to be said about that. This is one of the most critical issues that he has faced as Health Minister. We heard in Senate Estimates this week that Peter Dutton attended the weekly meeting of chief medical officers for the first time last Friday. This is a group that’s been meeting since August. There has been a lack of clarity about Australia’s preparedness. In Senate Estimates we’ve heard different stories from the health department, from the Chief Medical Officer, from defence, all giving different accounts of the level of Australia’s preparedness. And we hear also that Scott Morrison has been after the job of Ebola coordinator. So I think it’s very important that the Health Minister focus on his responsibilities, which are ensuring that Australians are kept safe, that we are prepared domestically and that Australia does its share to halt the spread of Ebola in West Africa.

JOURNALIST: We’ve been told that careful consideration is being given to sending our medical personnel over to help. The thing is- it deserves careful consideration doesn’t it? You can’t rush these things.

PLIBERSEK: This is absolutely something that needs the most careful consideration and the most careful planning. What concerns me is that that consideration and that planning is not happening. We heard different accounts just two days ago about whether Australian staff were being trained and readied to go. It is clear that this Government has not put effort into talking to our allies like the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union to make arrangements for Australian staff, should they need medical back up or evacuation in West Africa. I’m pleased to hear that consideration is being given but I think that that’s rather late in the piece. As I said earlier, we heard from the World Health Organisation on the 1st of October that if we don’t get this virus under control within 60 days - and that means 70 per cent of people being treated in hospitals or a treatment centre, and 70 per cent of dead bodies buried quickly and safely - then we risk seeing this virus spiral out of control - this becomes a global problem. The estimate is that on the current trajectory 1.4 million people will be infected by January next year. We have to stop this in West Africa, and Australia must be a part of that international effort. If Ebola gets to Asia it is very difficult to guarantee Australia’s safety.

JOURNALIST: There has been a case of the New York doctor who has contracted Ebola. Doesn’t that underscore the serious danger of sending medical teams there and how would you explain that to Australians if there was a similar case here in Australia after sending medical teams to West Africa?

PLIBERSEK: There is no question that it is dangerous for medical staff to go to West Africa - no one has ever denied that there is a danger, and that we have to do everything we can to make it as safe as possible for our medical staff. But it comes with risks. What I say to people who are worried about this story of the doctor who has come back to New York is - I understand those fears, I understand those concerns. But we can’t protect Australia if this virus gets out of control. Medical staff who volunteer to go to West Africa know the dangers. The Nurses and Midwives Association have told us that within 12 hours they had 135 nurses ring them to volunteer, to say they were prepared to go to West Africa. Nurses know the dangers of going, doctors know the dangers of going. Why then are they going? They also know that the best way they can contribute to keeping Australia and Australians safe is to go to West Africa and fight the disease there. They have trained all of their professional lives to serve humanity and that’s what they are asking to be allowed to do. They’re asking for the support of their Government to do what they are trained and equipped to do, what they know they must do to help keep Australians safe. It is not without risk, that is clear. But we have medical personnel who are prepared to take that risk with their Government’s support - to keep not just Australians, but the globe safe.

JOURNALIST: You can’t knock the Australian Government however for being unwilling to send Australian personnel into dangerous areas - can you?

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s very important to say that if this virus continues to spread in the way that it has, it will become difficult to keep Australians safe.  I’m asking the Government to look ahead to the worst case scenario. The Centres of Disease Control, a very authoritative organisation in the United States is saying on current trajectories we’ll have 1.4 million people infected by the beginning of next year. How does the Government keep Australians safe if that comes to pass?

JOURNALIST: In Senate Estimates, it was revealed that Australian diplomats have been talking to partner countries about treatment plans. Doesn’t that indicate the Government has been preparing a response [inaudible]?

 

PLIBERSEK: What was revealed in Senate Estimates is that in September we had official requests from the United States and from the United Kingdom – two of our closest friends and best allies, for Australia to send personnel.  It shows that despite those requests the Government has progressed very little.

 

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask – there will be a state memorial service held for the former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam on the 5th of November. Obviously that will be an extremely special day for the Labor party and millions more Australians.

 

PLIBERSEK: Well I think you saw an outpouring of national grief on Wednesday for a great man who represented a great Labor tradition.  The 5th of November will be a sad day for many Australians, and of course for our Labor family.  But it will also be a day of celebration – celebrating a great legacy – a legacy that changed Australia for the better, and changed Australia forever.

ENDS

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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Parliament House, Thursday 23 October 2014

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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

 

THE HON CATHERINE KING MP

SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH
MEMBER FOR BALLARAT

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW

PARLIAMENT HOUSE

THURSDAY, 23 OCTOBER 2014

 

Subject/s: Ebola

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Today in Question Time we heard for the first time the Prime Minister admit that our friends and allies have been calling on Australia to do more to help fight Ebola in West Africa. We have heard over the last 24 hours that the Prime Minister has spoken to President Obama, who has been urging Australia to do more, we know that the Foreign Minister has previously spoken to the Prime Minister of the UK who has also asked Australia to do more. This comes on top of requests from many international organisations including the United Nations Security Council, including organisations like Oxfam, Medicins Sans Frontieres, the International Crisis Group and others. All of them say that countries such as Australia should assist with personnel as well as money. Now we know that any such mission would not be without risk. Of course it’s dangerous to go into an area where a virus like Ebola has taken hold. We also know that not acting is simply not an option. President Obama has said very clearly that the best way to protect Americans from Ebola is to fight it in West Africa. The same goes for Australia, the best way to fight Ebola, to protect Australians from Ebola, is to fight it in West Africa. I am going to hand over to Catherine King in a moment to talk about the chaotic stories that have been coming out Senate Estimates over the last 24 hours about Australia's preparedness in the area of Ebola, but I want to finish by saying this - there is absolutely no time to lose in fighting Ebola. We have heard that there could be up to 1.4 million cases by January next year. It is reported that the number of people infected by Ebola is doubling around every 20 days. If we do not get a hold of this virus in West Africa, the chances of it spreading into our region grow. If Ebola reaches our region, we are in big trouble. The World Health Organisation has said that Ebola reaching Asia is potentially catastrophic. We have got some very strong health systems in our region but we have also got some that would be overwhelmed by a virus that spreads so easily. I am going to ask Catherine to make a few comments about domestic issues.

CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks very much, Tanya, and I too just want to reiterate very clearly that it is in Australia's absolute and best interests - the way that we protect Australian citizens from Ebola is fighting this in West Africa. We have some of the best public health systems in the world, we have some of the best health services staff in the world, in fact it is actually why we have been saying that they need to use that expertise volunteering internationally. Now, yesterday at Senate estimates we quite deliberately asked the question as to whether any volunteer personnel, any AUSMAT personnel had been trained ready for Ebola. The reason we asked that question was specifically that we know that should the Government reach a great arrangement with other international countries in relation to treatment or evacuation of health services personnel, we know that it will take two to three weeks for a team to be ready to go. So we wanted to find out whether there was one ready. Now the chaos that occurred yesterday where we had different accounts coming from different officials and then finally late at night a statement made and statements made from the Minister for Health show that there has been a lack of command and control on this issue. It is clear that the first time the Minister for Health has attended one of the chief medical officer and state medical officer meetings or teleconferences was last Friday, when this was first raised or began to get raised in the media. Labor has been calling for months now for the Government to engage with the international community on this issue and to send medical personnel. It should not have been up to Labor to force the Minister for Health to actually start for the first time to go and meet with the chief medical officers and state medical officers. I think that the Minister for Health has something to answer to here and certainly it has not filled me with great confidence in his efforts to actually make sure we are domestically ready, but I do have enormous faith in our health services personnel to deal with the unfortunate circumstances should there be a case of Ebola in Australia. I think we’ll take some questions now.

JOURNALIST: Minister, given that there is so many moving parts, different ministries involved, Scott Morrison’s apparent proposal to have everybody- to have him take charge of the whole response, does not that idea have some merit?

KING: Do you want to take that one, Tanya? You can have that one. I’m happy to answer it.

PLIBERSEK: Well, what we’ve heard today is another land grab from Scott Morrison. He’s now tried to take interest in about half a dozen portfolios. I think it is important that someone is in charge and at the moment we’ve got a Health Minister, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Immigration Minister that all seem to be competing for who is in charge. This is a very serious issue for us domestically. It is a very serious issue internationally. And instead of getting on with the job, making it clear who is responsible, we’ve got internal competition within the Liberal party.

JOURNALIST: But there's a sort of a conglomeration of public service departments that was announced today, I think nine or ten departments put together at a public service level, so why shouldn’t there be the same sort of thing at a ministerial level?

PLIBERSEK: Well, look I'm not going to make comments about the internal arrangements of the Liberal Government. My responsibility and Catherine King's responsibility is to make sure that we hold the Government to account. To make sure that they are confidently preparing Australia should the worst happen and we see a case of Ebola in Australia. And it's our responsibility to say loud and clear that the best way to protect Australia is to fight Ebola in West Africa, and that Australia must be part of that global effort. We've got our very close friends and allies, the United Kingdom and the United States, asking Australia to do more. We've got the United Nations, and international organisations like Oxfam and Medecins Sans Frontieres and the International Crisis Group, and others saying that Australia should be involved with sending personnel to West Africa to help fight the Ebola crisis there. It is unacceptable that a month after these first formal requests have come from our allies, that the Government is still not able to answer whether it will be sending Australian personnel and what arrangements it has put in place for the safety of those personnel.

JOURNALIST:  Do you think that Scott Morrison can do a better job than the Health Minister? If he can stop the boats he can stop Ebola?

KING: Well I think surely it's obvious the Immigration Minister thinks he can do a better job than the Health Minister. I'll leave that for people to conclude.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that the Government has been complacent about the threat that Ebola poses?

KING: I don't think that they've been complacent, I think they've been missing in action, is really what's happened. And you know it's as though because this wasn't on the front pages of our newspapers that they have been very, very slow to the case. The fact that we've been calling for weeks now for there to be a response, the fact that the Health Minister for the first time came in on the teleconference that the chief medical officer and state counterparts have been having for several weeks now, is pretty extraordinary, frankly.

JOURNALIST: Just in regards to the response of Peter Varghese from DFAT today said that there have been talks with allies, the United states, the United Kingdom for instance,  but there isn't an agreement yet. The fact that there isn’t an agreement, doesn’t it make it risky to launch ourselves to promise that we will send medical teams if we still don't have that agreement in place?

PLIBERSEK: Any mission like this has its risks, and it would be completely irresponsible of the Australian Government to send people if there was no support measures put in place. What we know though is that these requests came in a month ago. The Prime Minister admitted today that requests from our friends and allies came in one month ago. We've had all sorts of excuses from the Government about why they can't make arrangements for our personnel. What we haven't heard from them, is the effort that they've put into making those arrangements. Of course we need to protect and support Australians who go to West Africa to fight Ebola but we also need to know that our Government is actually making an effort to join that international mission, not sitting on its hands.

JOURNALIST: You say the Government is complacent, isn't it in fact the entire world, the entire world has been put on the hop by this deadly virus?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it's fair to say that there are a number of countries that are shouldering the greatest responsibility at this time. We know of course that the disease is particularly affecting Sierra Leone and Guinea and Liberia. Those countries are bearing the brunt of the Ebola virus outbreak. And assistance is being provided most generously by the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany and a number of others. It is absolutely critical that Australia become part of that international effort. It's no good now saying the world was caught off-guard. We have a very limited time to act, we heard on the first of October that we have sixty days to act, and that means 70% of people in treatment centres or receiving treatment and 70% of bodies buried appropriately and quickly. If we don't act within that sixty day window, the World Health Organisation cannot tell what will happen. They say that there will be a crisis that is unprecedented and that the world is not prepared for. We have a limited window of opportunity to act, and we must be part of that global effort to act.

JOURNALIST: Does this make you all the more curious about the conversation between Barack Obama and Tony Abbott yesterday?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it's plain that the President of the United States has been saying for a month to countries around the world, we all need to lift our game. And the President has been saying that the world has come late to the assistance of West Africa. I obviously can't say what happened in that telephone conversation, but it's been made clear by the White House that a request for greater assistance, including personnel, was made by the President of our Prime Minister. And it's up to the Prime Minister to answer now whether he will refuse that request from our friends and allies.

ENDS

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TRANSCRIPT - Capital Hill, Thursday 23 October 2014

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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

TV INTERVIEW

ABC CAPITAL HILL

THURSDAY, 23 OCTOBER 2014

 

Subject/s: Ebola

JULIE DOYLE, PRESENTER: We've heard evidence from the Department of Foreign Affairs at Senate Estimates today that there's now been requests from the United Kingdom and the United States for Australian people to be sent to West Africa to help fight Ebola. If they're asking for us to send people, should they be agreeing then to evacuate Australians if they do become infected?

PLIBERSEK: Well both the US and the UK are making a decision to treat their own medical staff in-country. That means wherever possible they'll treat people as quickly as possible on the ground in Liberia or Sierra Leone where they are building hospitals with first world health standards. The UK's also said that they are potentially sending a hospital ship. They're making a different decision about their own health staff in the first instance to treat in-country. But of course, the proposition remains that Australia should be able to get an agreement with the United States, with the UK or one of our European allies to provide health facilities on the same basis, or health treatment on the same basis, to our personnel as they would to their own.

DOYLE: Does it surprise you that we've had confirmation - that we have had these official requests from the United Kingdom, United States amongst others, but this agreement as far as the evacuation of Australian personnel hasn't been sorted out?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it’s very significant that we've had the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the President of the United States make formal requests of our government for extra Australian commitment to fight Ebola in West Africa and those requests haven't been met. These are two of our most important allies. They are bearing a huge share of the responsibility of fighting Ebola in West Africa. We've now got a situation where the President of the United States is ringing the Prime Minister of Australia. The Prime Minister of the UK has spoken to our Foreign Minister, and still the Australian Government is not making arrangements to support Australian personnel who are trained, who are willing, who are able to fight Ebola in West Africa to go.

DOYLE: But don’t they need some way if requests are coming and they want people to go there, isn't it fair enough that the Australian Government says there must be a way to evacuate or treat Australian people if they get infected?

PLIBERSEK: Well, of course it's fair enough to say that there must be a way of treating Australians. What's in question is what effort has the Australian Government made to put those arrangements in place? And the Prime Minister says that it's impossible, it’s just too hard. For weeks now we've had the Health Minister saying it's just too hard and we find out that, in fact, the Health Minister’s only for the first time on Friday joined the weekly meeting of chief health and medical officers to manage the Ebola crisis. So we've got a chaotic 24 hours in Senate Estimates where there's three different stories about Australia's preparedness in Australia and in our region and we have further evidence now saying that Australia has been requested by the United States, by the United Kingdom, joining requests from the United Nations, the UN Security Council, the International Crisis Group, Medecins Sans Frontieres, the World Health Organisation, our own AMA, Public Health Association - all of these organisations saying that it is important to have personnel on the ground in West Africa, people who are trained and willing and able to go. We're knocking back the requests of all of these health and security organisations. Now we're also saying no to some of our most important allies.

DOYLE: Looking at some of the measures closer to home to deal with any kind of outbreak in the Asia Pacific region or with people coming back here from West Africa, now there's been reports about some tension in the Cabinet when it comes to the role of the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. Now as far as quarantine measures at the airport for example, for people coming back from West Africa, wouldn't it make sense, doesn't that require Customs and Immigration to have a greater role there?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it absolutely requires that Customs and Immigration are aware of what they should be telling passengers who are coming back into Australia. It's very important that they have very clear instructions, that they obviously tell passengers that if they have any of these symptoms that they should go to a hospital and so on. I think the problem here is after 24 hours of chaotic answers in Senate Estimates we now have Scott Morrison making a bid to expand his portfolio responsibilities further. To be honest, it doesn't matter to me so much who is in charge within the Government, there needs to be someone in charge.

DOYLE: Wouldn't it make sense then to bring all this under one umbrella?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think that's a matter for the Government.

DOYLE: Alright, Tanya Plibersek, we'll leave it there. Thank you very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.

ENDS

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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Parliament House, Thursday 23 October 2014

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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

THURSDAY, 23 OCTOBER 2014

 

Subject/s: Attack on Canada’s Parliament, Ebola, RET.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: This morning all Australians are thinking of our friends in Canada, the extraordinary attack on their Parliament Houses - our thoughts are with the Canadians.  We share much with Canada. Our democracy, our institutions, some of our history - we fought together in wars passed, we have a great deal of friendship and affection for the Canadians and our thoughts are with them today.

I also wanted to say a little bit about Ebola today. We have heard from Senate estimates in the last 24 hours essentially three different stories about Australia's preparedness to fight Ebola. And we have heard one story from the Chief Medical Officer, a completely different story from the head of the health department and a different story again from our defence force personnel. We need a government that is prepared to take charge of protecting Australians from Ebola, and as we have said in the past, the best way to protect Australians from Ebola is to ensure that it is stopped at its source in West Africa. There are reports that President Obama spoke with Prime Minister Abbott about Australia making a greater contribution to the international effort to fight Ebola. So we have now heard pleas from President Obama, from Prime Minister Cameron, from the World Health Organisation from the Secretary General of the United Nations, from the UN Security Council with a motion that Australia signed up to, organisations like Oxfam, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Red Cross, all of them doing their very best to help stop Ebola in West Africa, to get this terrible virus under control and asking the Australian Government - urging more international effort - for Australia to be a part of the international effort to get this virus under control. And the Australian Government still unwilling to act. There is chaos at home it is clear now with Scott Morrison saying that he should be in charge. Well, someone should be in charge of the domestic response. We heard that the Health Minister participated for the first time just last Friday in a weekly crisis meeting that Chief Medical Officers and health officers around the states and territories have been participating in since August to ensure Australian preparedness. It’s taken our Health Minister until October to participate in our weekly meeting. And we hear that a crisis team is ready to fly, isn’t ready to fly, is trained, isn’t trained, is waiting in Darwin, is prepared, isn’t prepared, it’s simply not acceptable.

JOURNALIST: In light of the attack on the Canada’s Parliament, how safe do you feel coming into work today?

PLIBERSEK: I feel perfectly safe.

JOURNALIST: Is the Government doing enough, I mean do you feel perhaps that security has backed off in the last couple of days?

PLIBERSEK: I am sorry, are you talking about Parliament here?

JOURNALIST: Yes, sorry.

PLIBERSEK: I feel perfectly safe here.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe that more needs to be done to protect MPs here and workers?

PLIBERSEK: I think our security is excellent here, but I would say this  there were very brave people in the Parliament buildings in Ottawa today and it makes me appreciative again and again for the excellent, dedicated staff at the Parliament.

JOURNALIST: Could there be a role here for mandatory quarantine to counter any Ebola threat?

PLIBERSEK: The very best way of getting a handle on this virus is to stop its spread. The number of infected cases is doubling on average every 20 days. If we do not get the virus under control, 1.4 million people are estimated to have it by January next year. It is impossible when you have got those large numbers of people infected to protect Australia effectively. The best and most effective protection for Australia right now is to be part of an international effort to stop the spread of the virus. If this virus gets to Asia, the World Health Organisation has described that as potentially catastrophic. We live in a densely populated region of the world. We live in a region where some countries have excellent health systems, like Australia does, and some countries have very poor health systems. So the best protection for Australia is to fight Ebola in West Africa.

JOURNALIST: Would you like to see an investigation into the alleged [inaudible]

PLIBERSEK: Unfortunately I do not have further details of that so I will not comment.

JOURNALIST: Just from Senate Estimates yesterday, we heard from the Chief Medical Officer who obviously expressed concerns about Australia’s preparedness if an Ebola case were to happen here, but then we heard on Monday from the Health Secretary, Martin Bowles, who said that there were a team of around 20 specialists,  who’s right?

PLIBERSEK: Well this is the point, we have got a Government that is telling Australians that we are prepared and yet government officials have given three different stories about Australia's preparedness. You have to ask the Government who is right. But the problem is the Government should be all over this. The Health Minister, Peter Dutton, should have been attending those weekly meetings of health officials and he should be able to confidently answer this question. There shouldn’t be three stories, there should be one story, and the Health Minister should be confidently able to explain to Australians what measures are in place to fight Ebola in Australia and in our region and more particularly, what effort Australia is making to stop Ebola in West Africa, at the source.

JOURNALIST: Are you comfortable with Labor's negotiating position on the RET?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I certainly think that the Government is not negotiating in good faith. They have come to the table with a 40 percent cut, something that represents a 40 percent cut in our renewable energy target. I think that it is important that Labor is open to working with the Government if they have got a fair proposal. But I would like to see a fair dinkum proposal to start with.

JOURNALIST: What does the Government's offer mean for green jobs?

PLIBERSEK: Well, this Government has presided over the greatest uncertainty in the renewable energy sector that we have seen for some time. We have gone from being a preferred destination for a renewable energy investment to falling way down the list. Thank you.

ENDS

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TRANSCRIPT - AM Agenda, Tuesday 21 October 2014

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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 AM AGENDA

TUESDAY, 21 OCTOBER 2014

 

Subject/s: Gough Whitlam.

KIERAN GILBERT, PRESENTER: I thank you Tanya Plibersek for honouring your commitment to come in this morning on a sad day for the Labor Party.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Thank you Kieran, it certainly is a sad day for the Labor Party. Gough Whitlam was a giant, a Labor Giant, and we feel for his family and of course it is a great loss to the nation also.

GILBERT: Indeed the Prime Minister this morning issued a statement, I’ll just read a little bit to you. He describes Gough Whitlam as a giant of his time, uniting the Australian Labor Party, winning two elections, establishing diplomatic relations with China, the first Australian Prime Minister to visit China, an enduring legacy the Prime Minister describes that as. Also this which is something Matt Thistlethwaite referred to earlier and that I guess is one of those seminal images of the Whitlam era the Prime Minister said that Gough Whitlam recognised the journey our country needed to take with Indigenous Australians the image of soil passing from Gough Whitlam’s hand to that of Vincent Lingiari’s a reminder that all Australians share the same land and the same hopes.

PLIBERSEK: And I think one of the most phenomenal aspects of Gough Whitlam’s time as Prime Minister is that he did things that were so controversial at the time that have become absolutely embedded in our Australian history and character. That image of passing the soil into Vincent Ligiari’s hand starting a process of giving land rights to Indigenous Australians who had waited so long and worked so hard. Introducing Medibank that’s become Medicare, an absolutely fundamental part of our nation’s character now, accessible healthcare for all Australians. Making university education free so that people like my older brother, first in our family ever to go to university, but the experience of so many Australians, that idea that access to university should be based on your intellect and your ability to work hard and not whether your parents are wealthy. These are things that have become part of our national character. The Prime Minister has very generously talked about the establishing of diplomatic relations with China when Gough Whitlam said that he would do that as Opposition Leader, very controversial thing to do, and yet it has been so critical to Australia’s economic and security success in decades following that. And so I think that the lesson I suppose is that those brave policy decisions that have set Australia on a better course should inspire us to bravery today as well. To make those tough decisions, to stand up and argue for the things we believe in, things that we know can make our nation stronger and stronger.

GILBERT: On the foreign policy front that you referred to there he visited in 1971, China, before Kissinger, before Nixon, so not just leading the country in that sense but leading the world as well.

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely and I think now that seems like an uncontroversial thing to do. Most Australians now would acknowledge that our relationship with China is important for us economically and strategically, certainly that we have nothing to fear from China. At that time you’ve got to understand how controversial it was, to be opening up relations with a communist nation. The other great foreign policy achievement is of course returning our troops from Vietnam, bringing back the last of our troops from Vietnam. Again now looking back it seems like the only obvious thing to do and yet at the time incredibly controversial, a very brave move.

GILBERT: A very modern figure, wasn’t he, in the Lodge along with his wife Margaret they were powerful, national leaders and figures weren’t they?

PLIBERSEK: They were great modernisers, making sure that no fault divorce, social security payments for sole parents, reducing the voting age from 21 to 18. These were all big steps on making Australia a more modern nation. But it was something more than that it was actually the relationship between Gough and Margaret, the influence that Margaret obviously had. The fact that she was prepared to speak her mind and the fact that she said she made a decision when she became the wife of the Prime Minister that she could sit quietly in her gilded cage and say nothing or she could use this position to do some good. And she used it to do some good. She speaks very eloquently in a biography that is written about her about the empathy and connectedness that she felt with those women that lived in the western Sydney seat that Gough represented, the work that she did in establishing libraries and swimming pools and arguing for those services in the suburbs of Sydney. But more than that the type of woman she was, she was so utterly herself. Full of intelligence and integrity and with this beautiful close loving relationship with her husband there was a real model of an equal relationship.

GILBERT: Indeed it was and I guess as we reflect on this contribution from Gough Whitlam dying at 98 a rich life, a long life we have to look at their legacy in terms of their impact on the modern Labor Party. Many Labor, senior Labor figures over the last few decades were inspired to enter politics because of his contribution and not a long prime ministership in you know historical standards I guess but three years made a huge lasting legacy as you said social policy but also on the impact in subsequent generations of your party leadership.

PLIBERSEK: He is the iconic figure for making a brave policy stand on a whole range of different issues so he is an inspirational figure in that way. He is inspirational also because there is a whole lot of us who would never have gone to university but for the university changes that he made and he was incredibly generous with his time as well. I noticed the statement from his family talked about him as a loving and generous father. But he was a loving and generous figure in the Labor Party as well. I know many of my colleagues as I did would occasionally visit him in the office or have a cup of coffee in Double Bay and he was so generous with his time and his advice. I mean it always felt like a real thrill as a young person moving into a position of responsibility in the Labor Party actually to be able to go and see Gough Whitlam and say what do you think about these issues, can you tell us a bit more about the history of what were you thinking when you made this decision, how did you come to that position. And he was just phenomenally generous, intellectually and with his time.

GILBERT: A great orator as well wasn’t he?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, terrific.

GILBERT: And Parliamentary performer.

PLIBERSEK: Although- he was a terrific orator, he had a wonderful turn of phrase. Sometimes he tended to you know make speeches that were a little on the long side and I always I thought it was hilarious Margaret would sit up the front sometimes with a walking stick as they got older and she’d beat, you know bang her stick on the ground and say ‘come on, Gough they have heard enough now’. But again just such a beautiful sign of their relationship.

GILBERT: Jim Middleton my colleague earlier described Gough Whitlam as a flawed genius. I guess it was a tumultuous period the most tumultuous in Australian political time, I suppose arguably with the last few years, but I mean 75, such a tumultuous end to his Prime Ministership. The social policy of course it was against the economic policy, was the vision caught up with the focus so much so that the other things sort of fell away in terms of priority?

PLIBERSEK: I think it is completely unreasonable to expect perfection from our leaders. All you can hope for is that a person honestly does their very best for their country and there is no question that Gough Whitlam was a patriot, that he did exactly what he thought was right for his country. Will people find flaws with some of the decisions he made? Of course they will. In the same way that any Prime Minister will have a review of their time in office that includes the successes, great achievements for our nation and things that might have been done differently but I think you know in the relatively short time that Gough Whitlam was Prime Minister our nation changed for the better. He left a lasting legacy in so many areas and I mean I have always been proud to be part of the party that he had such an impact on.

GILBERT: Well thank you I appreciate your time this morning. Thank you. What a difficult day for you and for the Labor Party.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.

ENDS

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TRANSCRIPT - Insiders, Sunday 19 October 2014

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP

DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

 

E&OE TRANSCRIPT

TV INTERVIEW

INSIDERS, ABC

SUNDAY, 19 OCTOBER 2014

 

SUBJECT/S: Ebola, Iraq, Indonesia, Vladimir Putin, Ban on facial coverings in Parliament.

BARRIE CASSIDY, PRESENTER: Now we’ll go straight to our program guest, and this morning it’s Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek. Good morning, welcome.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Hi, Barrie, how are you?

CASSIDY: Very good. Apparently Julie Bishop and Peter Dutton have written to your party calling for a return to bipartisanship on the Ebola issue. How will you be responding to that?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it is a bit rough to call for bipartisanship when the Government's plainly doing the wrong thing. We were briefed at the beginning of October about all of the impediments to Australia sending volunteers to West Africa to assist to get this virus under control and, in the weeks subsequent, it appears that the Government has made little to no effort to overcome those impediments. I think it's obvious that if we don't contain Ebola in West Africa, this becomes a greater risk not just to the African continent but to the world more generally. The best way that we can protect Australia and protect Australians is to help stop Ebola in West Africa.

CASSIDY: But the letter, though, accuses your party of having a reckless disregard for the safety of health workers and points out that you are ignoring advice that there is no current capacity to evacuate Australians if anybody catches the virus. Now that's a key point, surely?

PLIBERSEK: A number of health workers have been evacuated to different European countries. We know that the UK and the US are building hospitals specifically for health workers in West Africa. The UK is apparently sending a hospital ship. It is beyond me why other countries are able to make arrangements for their health workers, including now Japan - are able to make arrangements for their health workers and the Australian government is not able to do that. I've got absolute faith in our health officials, our foreign affairs officials and our defence force personnel. I believe if the Government tasked them with finding a solution to this, that they would be able to do it.

CASSIDY: Yeah but the Government points out that the responses they get at the moment is "we'll help out if they can", but that's not good enough. They want ironclad guarantees and until they get the guarantees, nothing will change.

PLIBERSEK: Well, we are getting advice from organisations like the AMA, like the Nurses and Midwives Association, that they have got people who want to go who would go with a bit of extra support from the Government. A bit of- less discouragement and a bit of facilitation. We have international organisations like Medecins Sans Frontieres saying that arrangements have been made for the nationals of other countries, they have been evacuated to European countries for treatment when it's become necessary. I think it is plain that the Government are putting up all sorts of furphies. They are saying "we can't air lift people for 30 hours back to Australia". Nobody is suggesting that. What I'm suggesting is that if the Government made this a priority and asked their public servants to find these solutions, they could be found. I would be interested to know whether the Prime Minister, for example, has spoken to Prime Minister Cameron or to President Obama directly and said "What support can you give our Australian medical personnel who wish to go to West Africa to help?". You’ve got to remember that President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron, the World Health Organisation, the United Nations have all said - and Australia has signed on to a Security Council resolution with 130 other countries - saying that money is fine but what's really needed are expert medical personnel, supplies and equipment and Australia is not prepared to send those.

CASSIDY: When you raise the issue of volunteers, that's where it becomes a bit of a phoney issue, doesn't it? Because you say they are being discouraged but they are not stopping volunteers from going. They say that they won't direct those who they can direct, that is the military personnel.

PLIBERSEK: But Barrie, the thing is Medecins Sans Frontieres are at capacity. They can't support other volunteers, but we have arrangements that Australia can make. We have got, for example, Australian medical assistance teams which are groups of volunteers that are on standby in case of natural disasters, for example, that could be sent in. So you've got self-contained teams of doctors, nurses, depending on the situation, other types of professionals including logisticians that could be deployed. Peter Dutton is saying "We’re going to hang on to them in Darwin in case Ebola comes to Asia, then we'll deploy". The point is, if Ebola gets to Asia, if Ebola gets to the borders of Australia, we have lost control of this. On some estimates, the Centre for Disease Control think that there will be up to 1.4 million Ebola cases by January next year if the disease continues to spread in the way that it has. The World Health Organisation said on 1 October we've got 60 days to get this under control or we don't know what will happen after that, we don't have the capacity to handle what will happen after that. So we have a very small window of opportunity. Australia should be involved in stopping Ebola in West Africa, getting it under control in the three countries most affected. If we are waiting for it to come to our borders, then we are in big trouble.

CASSIDY: Let me quote something that Phil Coorey wrote in the Financial Review, "If an Australian dies a horrible death in a far off land due to lack of medical care, it is the Government that gets it in the neck". Now that's the reality, isn't it?

PLIBERSEK: You know, no humanitarian mission like this is without risk. It is absolutely right for the Government to be upfront about the risks involved. In the same way that when we send Australian Defence Force personnel to northern Iraq on a humanitarian mission, we are upfront about the fact that there are risks involved. But in the same way that our defence personnel are highly trained and highly experienced and in many instances are wanting to go into situations like this that they know are dangerous because they choose this work because of their commitment to helping on a global scale, so, too, our health personnel that are highly trained, highly skilled, have chosen this work because they feel they can make a difference to humanity. So, too, they should be supported by their Government to give the help they know they can give.

CASSIDY: Can I then go to an issue where there is bipartisan support, certainly to this point, and that is on the approach to terrorism and Iraq. Do you find it, though, at least curious that the SAS, the Special Forces, are still waiting to be deployed, the legal work still hasn't been done?

PLIBERSEK: I'm a bit perplexed about why it's taken so long, but I think it's an interesting comparison to make. We pre-deployed Australian Federal Police to Europe to be ready to go to Ukraine to help in the search for MH17 and the recovery of Australians from that crash site. We have pre-deployed SAS to United Arab Emirates to be ready to go into northern Iraq. The Opposition supported both of these important missions. It's a bit mystifying why you wouldn't, in the same way, say to medical teams "We are trying to put in place the arrangements that you will need to keep you safe, be ready to go". On the issue of the SAS, it is absolutely vital to have those legal arrangements in place for our personnel if they are assisting the Iraqi Army. We need to know very clearly the arrangements that that assistance is provided on. I don't blame the Government at all for insisting on having those arrangements properly in place but it is a bit perplexing it is taking so long.

CASSIDY: Okay now on Indonesia, what do you make of the words from the incoming Indonesian President who is warning Australia not to stray into Indonesian waters? This seems to be an old issue. They've already conceded that they inadvertently strayed and they have sorted it out and it won't happen again.

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's quite telling that this has been in the first interview that Jokowi has had with an Australian media outlet. It is obviously, as we said all along, a very big deal for Indonesia that the Government is making announcements about what happens on Indonesian soil and in Indonesian waters without ever talking to the Indonesian Government. And we think that the Navy have inadvertently entered Indonesian waters around six times perhaps. I think the Navy has been put in an extremely difficult position by the Government and the cost of that is to our very important strategic and economic relationship with one of our closest neighbours. Indonesia of course is important to us strategically but it is also a fast-growing economy with a very fast-growing middle class and will become increasingly important as a trading partner for us as well. It is not a very good start.

CASSIDY: Okay just a couple of other quick issues. Julie Bishop did manage to button hole Vladimir Putin in Milan and she won an agreement from him. He says he will use his influence with the Russian rebels in Ukraine to open up access to the site of the plane crash. Does that seem like a good outcome to you?

PLIBERSEK: Look I certainly hope that there is an improvement for Australian and other personnel who are wanting to get or needing to get access to the crash site to undertake their very important work. Unfortunately, I mean we heard that at the Security Council, we heard that the outcome of the Security Council resolution that Australia sponsored was that investigators would have unimpeded access to the crash site, that proved not to be the case. So I mean, I think all we can hope for is that there is an improvement now.

CASSIDY: A good enough outcome to negate the need for Tony Abbott to shirtfront Vladimir Putin in Brisbane?

PLIBERSEK: Well look, I think the problem here is - we have said all along that many Australians will find it difficult to welcome Vladimir Putin to Australia but we also understand, as an Opposition, that this is not Australia's meeting alone. Australia is hosting the G20. We are not in charge of invitations and uninviting people. If Tony Abbott - Tony Abbott can't uninvite Vladimir Putin, if he is embarrassed by the fact he doesn't have the capacity to stop him coming to Australia, he should just explain that to the Australian people, that this is an international meeting, he was unable to stop Vladimir Putin coming. He shouldn't overcompensate with this sort of sandpit language.

CASSIDY: And just finally, Parliament sits tomorrow and still the presiding officers' segregation decision stands. Does that bother you and is the Opposition doing anything to try and overturn it?

PLIBERSEK: We wrote to the presiding officers on the day that the announcement was made. It is an absurd suggestion. Anybody who is in the galleries in Question Time has been through two security checking points. It is a ridiculous - just a ridiculous position that anyone should be segregated. Our Parliament is one of the few in the world that actually has these open galleries. Many other Parliaments have galleries behind glass. It is one of the signs of our strong and healthy democracy that Australian citizens are invited in to watch their parliamentarians at work. Whether they are doing a good job or a bad job, they are invited in to see it first-hand. And it is, I think, profoundly,  deeply insulting and stupid to say that women wearing coverings should be further segregated.

CASSIDY: Thanks for your time this morning.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.

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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Saturday 18 October 2014

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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

SATURDAY, 18 OCTOBER 2014

SYDNEY

Subject/s: Ebola, President Putin, Mathias Cormann’s comments, Indonesia.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: [audio cuts in] It’s an enormous concern that $10 million that the Government has promised to the United Nations has actually not reached the United Nations in order to be distributed to where it’s needed. I can’t stress highly enough how critical time is in managing this Ebola outbreak. We hear from the Centre of Disease Control in the United States by early next year, we might have as many 1.4 million people affected by Ebola. We hear that by the end of this year, it could be 10,000 new infections every week. At the moment there are about 10,000 people affected by Ebola and about 4,000 have died. But this number is growing exponentially. And if we don’t contain and control Ebola in West Africa, the risk to Africa and the globe and of course to Australia, continues to grow. We’ve also heard in recent days, health specialists warning that should there be an Ebola outbreak in Asia, there would be some health systems very ill-prepared to deal with it. Of course our Australian health system is a very strong health system. We have many experts who are ideally placed to help control a virus like Ebola. And we’ve got excellent hospitals with very professional staff here in Australia. But we cannot wait, we cannot afford to wait until Ebola reaches out to Australia before Australia becomes part of the global effort to control this virus. It’s very important that we support our doctors, our nurses, our health professionals who are willing and able to go to West Africa to do that work, that work that they are trained to do, that work that they are committed to doing. We see that world leaders like President Obama, like David Cameron, are saying that all countries have to be a part of this global effort to contain Ebola in West Africa. That it’s easy for all of us to keep our nations safe if we all contribute to the international effort to get this virus under control while it’s still concentrated in three main countries in West Africa. We’ve seen that countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Cuba, China, Japan, South Africa, are all putting personnel on the ground, sending supplies and equipment. They’re all making provision for their personnel to be able to go safely to volunteer, to treat affected patients in West Africa. It cannot be beyond the capability of our Australian government to make arrangements for Australian volunteers who wish to go, to have the confidence that they can safely go to do the work that they’ve been trained to do and that the Government’s got their back. Okay, any questions?

JOURNALIST: The Government has said that the UN has confirmed that that funding has been received and that the website just hasn’t been updated. Are you assured by that?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I hope that that’s the case. I know that the West Australian is a fine newspaper and I’m sure that they’ve got the most recent, publicly available information and I hope that is the case, that the Government has in fact transferred the money and that the website is yet to be updated.

JOURNALIST: What more should Australia be doing?

PLIBERSEK: Well, Australia should be sending skilled, willing Australian personnel with the support of the Australian Government to help fight Ebola in West Africa. We have, for example, Australian Medical Assistance Teams that are groups of volunteers - doctors, nurses, sometimes firefighters for example, who have the logistic capability and others - self-contained teams that are especially set up to go to disaster areas to provide medical assistance. That’s one example of what we could be doing to help. We also know from the Australian Medical Association, from the Nurses and Midwives, that they have people, nurses and doctors, contacting their professional associations saying ‘I am willing to go, I am willing to volunteer, how can my government help me get there?’. That’s one example - and Australian volunteers, who just need government assistance, and government backing to get there, rather than the discouragement and road blocks they’ve received to date.

JOURNALIST:  Just in regards to the MH17 crash, are you happy that Julie Bishop received assurances from President Putin that Russia’s influence will be used to allow investigators near the crash site or to the crash site?

PLIBERSEK: Well, it’s very disappointing that the investigations have been thwarted to date, that of course fighting continues in Eastern Ukraine, and it would be a very good thing if President Putin used his influence with Russian backed separatists to allow access to the crash site. It is important that Australian, Dutch and other investigators can have their safety guaranteed in an area where conflict continues.

JOURNALIST: What’s your response to the Finance Minister calling Bill Shorten an ‘economic girly man’?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it’s extraordinary that we’ve got a Prime Minister who talks about shirt-fronting leaders of other nations and we’ve now got a  Finance Minister who thinks he’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. What Mathias Cormann is missing is that this Budget hurts vulnerable Australians. It’s Australians who have rejected this Budget, they’ve rejected the cuts to health, rejected the cuts to education, rejected the cuts to pensions. Mathias Cormann is acting all tough. What he should be doing instead is going back to the drawing board and finding a budget that is economically responsible and socially fair.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that the comments are sexist and that an apology is required?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think we’d be in a different environment if we had a few more women sitting around the Cabinet table.

JOURNALIST: Just back on Russian President Putin, are you- is Labor happy that his staff have indicated that he will indeed be attending G20?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think that as Bill Shorten has said on more than one occasion, Australians will find it very difficult to welcome President Putin to Australia. Australians have been devastated by the shooting down of MH17 and the 38 lives lost, Australian citizens and residents. And of course also the citizens and residents of other nations that were also affected in that terrible tragedy. So we will find it very difficult as a nation to welcome President Putin here because it’s pretty clear that he hasn’t to date used his influence with rebels to allow access to the crash site and so on.

JOURNALIST: Do you believe his assurances then that he will try to facilitate that?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I hope we see a change in behaviour.

JOURNALIST: On the $2 million [inaudible]

PLIBERSEK: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the beginning of your question.

JOURNALIST: The $2 million [inaudible]. Is it somewhat disappointing [inaudible]

PLIBERSEK: Oh look, I’m sorry, I don’t enough about the details of that story to comment fairly on it.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] relations with Indonesia [inaudible] for the Australian Navy to enter Indonesian waters. What’s your response to that?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think the first interview of the new President of Indonesia, with media- Australian media – is very telling indeed. I think it’s very clear that President Joko Widodo is very concerned about the way the Australian Government has been making announcements about what’s going to happen on Indonesian soil and  Indonesian waters without ever having discussed it with the Indonesian Government and is of course very concerned about the six or so incursions into Indonesian waters by Australian naval vessels in the last year or so. It’s not surprising that the new President of Indonesia is sending a very strong message to Tony Abbott, that the President of Indonesia sees the sovereignty of Indonesia as a very important issue for him. This certainly shows that despite the claims that Tony Abbott has made, the relationship with Indonesia has not been repaired, it’s not in the healthy state that it was before Tony Abbott came into government, and there is still a work of repair job to be done. Thanks, everyone.

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