TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Parliament House, Tuesday 2 December 2014

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Subject/s: UN World Food Program, Aid Cuts, UN Environment Programme cuts, ADF wages.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: We’ve heard very disturbing reports todaythat the UN’s World Food Program has run out of money. Effectively, that means 1.7 million Syrian refugees are going into the worst part of winter with no help to buy food. At the moment, vouchers are provided to refugees in Lebanon, in Turkey, in Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, a very modest amount each month to help refugees buy food in local stores. There are about 3.5 million refugees displaced from Syria and about six million internally displaced. The burden on neighbouring countries has been enormous with over a million people, for example, moving to Lebanon which is a country of just over four million people. It is like a million people moving to Sydney and having to find accommodation, food, schooling, health facilities and so on for all of those refugees. The UN World Food Program was providing some assistance in the form of vouchers so that those families could go to local stores and buy food locally just to help them get by. The World Food Program's run out of money. They need $64 million to be able to continue supporting those 1.7 million refugees to the end of the year. Without that money, these people will go hungry. They will go hungry if you can imagine these countries going into winter, in some places snow-bound, in many places in very insecure accommodation, facing no ability to feed themselves. Unfortunately, Australia has been pretty poor in its response to the Syrian crisis. In the last year, we have provided around $35 million. When Labor was in government that figure was $100 million. So Australia's assistance to the refugee crisis in Syria has actually declined as the crisis has worsened. We see the effect of the cuts to the aid budget in our inability to provide a level of funding to these desperately needy people. When Labor was in government we doubled the aid budget. We went from around $2.9 billion to around $5.8 billion. Since the Coalition has been in government, they have cut $7.6 billion from the aid budget and in the last couple of days, you have heard talk that even more money might be cut from the aid budget. It shows up in our inability to meet the needs of Syrian refugees through the UN World Food Program and other appeals for funding. It shows up also in cuts like the one that has been reported today to the UN Environment Programme. This is a program that helps developing countries develop in a way that is environmentally sustainable. For example, one program in India that has helped 100,000 people in 18,000 households get access to solar power, obviously good for the environment but also good for the family budget to have those families relying less on very expensive fuels for electricity production in their local communities. So, you see the effect of the aid cuts to our inadequate response to the Syrian refugee crisis. You see the effect on programs like the UN Environment Programme which also incidentally helps countries around the globe measure how they are going in terms of carbon pollution reduction. It is pretty hard not to draw a link between Tony Abbott's spectacularly unsuccessful effort to keep climate change off the G20 agenda, the Government's refusal to contribute to the Green Fund that many of our partner countries have contributed to and this very petty cut to the UN Environment Programme that cuts 80 per cent of the funding of this organisation. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: The Government would argue that if it was to increase that target, the funding would have to come from elsewhere. Where would Labor get that extra funding from?

PLIBERSEK: If you mean specifically if it were to increase funding to Syria, where would the money come from? It should come from an aid budget that is not cut to the bone in contrast to the clear commitments made before the election by the Abbott Government. The Abbott Government said before the election that they would continue to index aid funding by the CPI, consumer price index, that it would continue to increase. They have cut to the bone, $7.6 billion cut, which is the largest single cut in the Federal Budget. So where should the money from? It should come from fewer cuts to the aid budget. If you're talking about more broadly this notion that Julie Bishop mentioned at the World AIDS Day meeting where she said well, if we can't get our cuts through the Senate then we will come back for another bite at the aid budget, then I think it is very important to say that Labor has already supported about $20 billion worth of measures that improve the bottom line for this Government. We have supported measures for example that tighten means testing on a number of programs. It is a bit rich for the Government to continue to blame everyone but themselves for the worsening state of the Federal Budget. We had before the election both Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey saying no surprises, no excuses. Joe Hockey saying very clearly, the Budget's our responsibility from day one, no excuses. I take full responsibility for the Budget. Now they are looking around for anyone to blame but themselves. But you’ve got to remember this is the Government that has basically doubled the deficit, they have given for example, almost $9 billion to the Reserve Bank of Australia. Money that the Reserve Bank didn't ask for, and didn't need, and is now repaying in the form of dividends. They have changed the Budget parameters to blow out the deficit. They have – [divison bells ring] is that a green or red bell? That is a green bell. Just let me start that section again. This is the Government that has doubled the deficit since coming to power. They have given, for example, $9 billion to the Reserve Bank, money that the Reserve didn't ask for and doesn't need and is now repaying in the form of dividends. They have made massive spending commitments like a $20 billion paid parental leave scheme and all the while they are looking around for someone to blame for their economic mismanagement.

JOURNALIST: Most of the Government's budget measures have delivered damaging political domestic political consequences for the Government. The aid budget cuts, despite being among the biggest, have barely caused a ripple domestically for the Government. Is cutting the aid budget a short of consequence-free option for any Government and if so what does that say about the Australian public's attitude towards aid and how much they actually care about it?

PLIBERSEK: I don't think it is a consequence-free cut because cutting the aid budget contributes to insecurity and instability in our region and around the world. Of course Australians have been extremely concerned when they see, for example, the girls that were kidnapped in - by Boko Haram in Nigeria. There is an outpouring of community response to events like that, to natural disasters and so on. Cutting the aid budget seriously compromises our ability to respond to those crises. So I think that the Australian community do want to respond generously and effectively to the crises they see around the world. The Australian community also understands that the best way that we can have a stable and peaceful environment is for countries that are dealing with poverty and instability to be lifted out of that poverty and instability and that Australia has a role in doing that. We have trading partners today, like South Korea for example, that used to be aid recipients from Australia are now countries we are signing trade agreements with because of the way that they have developed their economies over time. That is our hope for all of the countries that we have an aid relationship with. I think it is also very important to look at countries like the United Kingdom, where there has been very clear bipartisan support for reaching aid targets. There has been political leadership on both sides and I think sadly, we used to have that in Australia. It was John Howard who committed Australia to the 0.5 per cent of gross national income target for our aid budget. John Howard committed Australia to helping achieve the millennium development goals. That bipartisanship has been lost under Tony Abbott. Unfortunately, Julie Bishop looks like she is going to be rolled a third time in ERC when it comes to cuts in her own portfolio. It is disturbing to see how far backwards Australia has gone.

JOURNALIST: Labor wants to spend more on defence pay and more on the ABC and more on education and more on foreign aid. What priority do you give foreign aid in that mix?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it’s - there are certainly a number of calls that we will have to make closer to the next election. There have been a massive number of cuts under this Government, higher education, school education, hospitals, GPs, foreign aid is obviously a very serious one of those. But here is a couple of things to remember. I said earlier that Labor has supported the Government in improving their Budget bottom line by $20 billion. It is worth noting also that the Government has actually reversed around $20 billion worth of Labor savings and revenue measures from when we were in government. You look at things like the high income superannuation changes that we made and other savings measures over our period of government. The tax avoidance measures that we tried to introduce to prevent companies offshoring their tax liabilities. And these are savings that Labor was making in government that the Government, the now Government, has reversed. So it’s not-

JOURNALIST: So will you return that measure?

PLIBERSEK: I’m not going to start talking about individual measures. The point is, that we have supported tens of billions of dollars’ worth of the Government’s savings and they have reversed billions of dollars of savings that Labor made when in government.

JOURNALIST: You’re happy to talk about individual measures when it comes to government legislation that you don’t like, why won’t you speak about individual measures that you may bring back to pay for those things?

PLIBERSEK: Well, because we’re a long way from having those discussions right now.

JOURNALIST: The cuts to UNEP were actually announced in the budget -

PLIBERSEK: Sorry, the cuts that -

JOURNALIST: The cuts thatUnited Nations Environment Program were announced in the Budget. Why is Labor reacting to it now?

PLIBERSEK: Well because it’s been drawn to our attention amongst a number of cuts in the foreign affairs portfolio. It has been extraordinarily difficult to get straight answers out of this Government on where the cuts will be; $7.6 billion worth of cuts. We can get country by country figures, we’ve had extraordinarily difficult times getting program by program answers from this Government, we’ve had two lots of Senate estimates where we’ve put questions on notice, there have been delays and obfuscations from day one about the real effect of these cuts.

JOURNALIST: On Syria, the Government has announced some 4,000 positions for refugees from Syria and Iraq that arguably wouldn’t have existed under Labor’s policy where all those places went to people who came on boats-    

PLIBERSEK: That is simply not the case. The number of positions that the Government have announced, 2,200 from Iraq and 2,200 from Syria actually increase the number that came virtually not all. This is pretty close to the numbers that were coming from those countries in any case. They come as part of the existing 13,000 odd places, they’re not additional to the number of humanitarian entrants that the Australian Government is proposing to take. There’s some - fact there’s a decrease in the number from 20,000 under Labor to 13,000 or under this Coalition Government. So arguably there are fewer people coming from those countries.

JOURNALIST: But wasn’t that quota filled with people coming by boat?

PLIBERSEK: And some of those were Iraqi and some of those were Syrian.

JOURNALIST: But 4,000 of them?

PLIBERSEK: I can’t tell you the numbers for the last year but I can tell you that from our Immigration spokespeople, the numbers are very little different to the numbers that were reported in any case and they are part of the existing quota, they are not additional to the quota. And you’re talking about 3.5 million people who are now displaced from Syria, 6 million internally displaced. Countries like Lebanon, with a population of 4.3 million with over a million refugees. Jordan, a population of something over 6 million, over a million refugees.

JOURNALIST: So, obviously the $7.6 billion in cuts in foreign aid over the last year or so have set us back considerably on reaching the 0.5 per cent of GNI target. What sort of trajectory would Labor be looking at in government to get us back on track for that target? What kind of years? How many years?

PLIBERSEK: It will depend on whether there are further cuts announced as we fear in coming days to the aid budget, but I can say that we are already very, very far away from anything near the 0.5 per cent of GNI. We’re looking at less than 0.3 per cent in coming years, perhaps 0.28 per cent or 0.29 per cent of GNI. We are a long way from 0.5 per cent and it will be difficult to reach that target.

JOURNALIST: So are we talking about another decade?

JOURNALIST: On another matter, can I just ask about the Greens? It’s very gender specific. [inaudible] As a parent, can you see any harm in girls playing with Barbies and boys playing with toy guns?

PLIBERSEK: I think parents can make  whatever decisions they like, I trust parents to make those decisions. What I can say as my experience as a parent is kids make up their own minds and you can try not giving guns to boys but they pick up any little bit of stick or lego or newspaper and use them to play gun games and it’s - good luck to parents who think they are actually going to change that.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

PLIBERSEK: Well if the reports are correct, I think any Australian would be absolutely appalled to think that that would be the case. I think any Australian would expect the full force of law to be used against anyone who has allowed or facilitated a nine year old girl being taken out of Australia for a forced marriage. There is no excuse, no explanation that is acceptable if indeed the reports are true. As to any government program, I haven’t seen the details of the proposal, but anything that strengthens the legal framework that would prevent such a thing happening, and anything that strengthens the hand of many people campaigning in our communities to ensure this does not happen of course would be welcome.

JOURNALIST: Finally, one more question. Defence pay - Labor's decided to [inaudible] why is that and is it going to go further?

PLIBERSEK: Well Labor has been saying all along that defence personnel deserve to have their wages at least keep pace with the cost of living. What the Government’s proposed is a cut to the leave and conditions of defence personnel and insultingly the wage increase that doesn’t even keep up with the cost of living increases that defence families are facing. We took yesterday a petition of 60,000 signatures to that effect in the Federal Parliament. Labor has been very strongly opposed to this completely inadequate pay offer to defence personnel, particularly when we know that those people are often facing the risk of traveling overseas, risking their lives, leaving their families behind at Christmas and difficult times like that. The bill in the Senate is a reflection of Labor policy which is that this pay offer was inadequate- Thank you everybody.


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TRANSCRIPT - PM Agenda, Wednesday, 26 November 2014

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Subject/s: Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank;David Johnston’s untenable position as Defence Minister.

DAVID SPEERS, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek joins me now to discuss this.


SPEERS: Labor is saying we should be part of this bank. What do you know that the Government doesn't?

PLIBERSEK:I would like to ask what the Government knows that they're not sharing with people. We have got a very strange situation in the Government. Apparently Julie Bishop is opposed to signing up, but both Andrew Robb and Joe Hockey are in favour of signing up. I think it would be a very good moment for the Prime Minister to show a bit of leadership and say let's get, obviously the transparency and governance right, but sign up.

SPEERS: We don't know a number of key things about this bank do we? China would control up to 50% of the share holdings and therefore would control where the money is spent, that's right, isn't it?

PLIBERSEK:What we do know is we have other international banks like the Asian Development Bank, like the IMF that we are part of. We have managed to have an influence in those international financial institutions. There are very clear rules for the governance of those. And we know...

SPEERS: But that's the point, they're transparent, we know the rules and know what is going on?

PLIBERSEK:Yeah, and that's why we should be in developing those rules and insisting on that transparency and governance in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. There is absolutely no reason - the Chinese have made it very clear that they are open to those transparency arrangements, that they want good governance.

SPEERS: Why not wait for a commitment before we join then?

PLIBERSEK:Why not try to influence it from the inside? It is absurd to imagine that the rules can be set and then after the rules are set we can amend them afterwards.

SPEERS: But the rules... China’s approach seems to be they would still have a 50% holding, so they would still make the decision wouldn’t they?

PLIBERSEK:It's actually a good thing that China wants to put $50 billion into a multilateral institution, they already have a lot of bilateral lending, they can lend that money all on their own. There is nothing to say it has to go through a multilateral institution like this bank. They can do bilateral arrangements all over the place, they do them already. The fact that they want to have a multilateral institution shows that they want to have the participation of other countries in setting those priorities, in making sure that things like environmental, labour and social standards are good and making sure transparency is there. Of course we should be part of setting the rules.

SPEERS: You don't think this would be Australia underwriting soft diplomacy on the part of China?

PLIBERSEK: China can do soft diplomacy on its own, that’s already happening. The Chinese Government is making very substantial loans, and indeed investing in aid in our region in a very substantial way. This is different. This is an institution where they are asking Australia to participate including help set the rules, help establish, build this from the ground up.

SPEERS: How much do you think Australia should contribute to it?

PLIBERSEK:I think that is something to be discussed much further down the track. None of the countries that have - there are 21 countries, as you say that have signed up already - they're not pledging particular amounts now. What they want to do is be there on the ground floor and help set the rules, the institutional rules for this new bank.

SPEERS: The US treasury has said, I'm sure you have seen, it will "fail to meet environmental standards, procurement requirements and safeguards adopted by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank including protection to prevent the forced removal of vulnerable populations from their lands." The US obviously has serious concerns.

PLIBERSEK: And that's why we should be in there right now, making sure that those protections, social protections, environmental protections and labour protections are strong. We can't do that from the outside.

SPEERS: Surely we can say when you're done that we will join?

PLIBERSEK: We should be in dialogue with the Chinese right now about those conditions, and we're not. We're standing aside in an extraordinarily self-defeating way. This is a $50 billion proposal from the Chinese themselves plus any additional money other countries put in. We know there is an $8 trillion infrastructure gap in our region. The Government says they want to see growth, the Prime Minister calls himself the infrastructure Prime Minister. And yet this opportunity to see $50 billion productively invested in our region is being passed up.

SPEERS: Well it will be invested regardless of what we do, won’t it?

PLIBERSEK:Well, it will be invested in better quality infrastructure if we have a say over how it is spent. We already have an infrastructure agreement with China, our Department of Transport and Infrastructure and their Department of Commerce signed an agreement, I think in 2012 that talked about how we could cooperate on infrastructure investment. That's a terrific opportunity for Australian companies to be involved with Chinese companies in building infrastructure. There is no reason that we would stand aside from this bank.

SPEERS: The suggestion, though this is somehow a point of tension between Australia and China, we have just signed what experts agree is the best Free Trade Agreement China has got from anyone.

PLIBERSEK: It would be good to know that from the actual text of the agreement. We haven’t seen that yet. We have seen a lot of pamphlets, we’ve seen a lot of press releases, I'm sure that we all welcome greater trade with China but it would be terrific to see the exact terms that we are signing up to. And I don't - my criticism is not that this is a point of tension with China, although indeed it is, I'm sure, a bizarre refusal in the eyes of the Chinese, my point is we’ve got an $8 trillion infrastructure gap in our region, the Government says they want to see growth and investment and opportunities for Australian companies, we have a chance of getting in at the ground floor - helping shape an institution that will spend $50 billion in our region in coming years and we are turning our noses up at it.

SPEERS: Labor today has been demanding the resignation of David Johnston the Defence Minister over the comments he made last night about our ship builders, the ASC. Do you accept though that ASC has been involved in cost over runs and delays and there are plenty of people frustrated with how they’ve performed?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it’s interesting that David Johnston's own colleagues have put him back in the box on his comments about the ASC. He's had a number of both named and unnamed senior and junior Liberals tell him to pull his head in on the ASC. But more importantly-

SPEERS: He has expressed regret now, hasn’t he?

PLIBERSEK: Kind of. He gave one of those apologies: if you are offended at anything I have said then I’m sure I'm sorry. He should be apologising to the highly skilled engineering and manufacturing workers that work on incredibly complex, highly skilled work at ASC. But take a step back, before the election, this minister stood outside the gates of Australian Submarine Corporation and said we will build 12 new subs right here in South Australia. Since then there's been fierce back pedaling, there’s been a virtual announcement that the submarines will be built in Japan, a very strong public backlash that's caused the Government now to feign some process. They have not made clear what the process is, we are 18 months down the track and we're not - we don't have any clearer answer on what type of subs, where they'll be built-

SPEERS: Let me ask you this, because Labor obviously feels passionately about this and the need to build it in Australia, right? If this Government does sign a contract with Japan or anyone else to buy the new submarines there, would Labor in government be prepared to break that?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it would be ideal if these submarines were built in Australia, but at the very least, at the very worst, this Government should engage in a proper open tender process, and this is completely -

SPEERS: So you would do that?

PLIBERSEK: This is completely topsy turvy. We’ve got a Defence White Paper coming up. What you do is identify the defence need you're trying to fill and then you go out and find the best submarine to meet that need and then you negotiate with the potential suppliers. You have a tender process with the potential suppliers. This is a -

SPEERS: So if that tender process did find -

PLIBERSEK: This is a nonsense process.

SPEERS: But if that tender process did find that the best option is off shore, would you be prepared to do that?

PLIBERSEK: I think that's a matter for much further down the track. As I’ve said, we believe -

SPEERS: You would abide by a tender process presumably?

PLIBERSEK: We believe that the Australian Submarine Corporation has done a very good job. We heard from their head at an inquiry in parliament just recently, that they believe they could build the submarines cheaper than the prices that have been talked about from overseas. Let's have a look at the local industry at least. Let's not rule them out by doing a side deal with Japan pretending there is no deal.

SPEERS: Just to be clear on this, if there is a side deal with Japan done under this Government after the next election would you abide by any such contract?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it is unreasonable to put a hypothetical like that to me. It is very difficult to know the state of any contract, how far advanced it might be, what penalties might accrue. This is a very substantial investment for Australia, not just in financial terms, we are talking about tens of billions of dollars, figures between $20 billion and $40 billion have been mentioned. It's not just a substantial outlay, there’s a substantial number of jobs that go into this picture, and you know, at the very heart of this is the question of how we defend our nation. That has to be the start of answering this question. And can I also say, David, it's not just about the Australian Submarine Corporation, this is a Defence Minister who wants to give defence personnel a below inflation pay increase of 1.5%, so he's happy to send people overseas to fight, you know, it is extraordinary to want to take away leave and pay our defence personnel less than inflation in terms of wage - an effective pay cut.

SPEERS: Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek, we’ll have to leave it there, thanks for joining us this afternoon.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, always a pleasure.


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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop, Sydney, Saturday 22 November 2014

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Subject/s: ABC cuts, Ebola.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: We’re here in Town Hall Square where in the next hour or so we’ll see a crowd gather to show its support for our national broadcaster, the ABC. The ABC and SBS provide a valuable service to Australians and they have for many years. Just as we’ve grown as a nation, so we’ve seen the ABC grow, from its early days with just a few programs and the unusual spectacle of Australian stories told in an Australian voice for the first time on our TV screens and on our radio bulletins, to now a very sophisticated media organisation that can compare well with the best in the world. Before the election Tony Abbott said as clear as day, no cuts to the ABC, no cuts to SBS. He didn’t say it once, he said it many times and Australians are shocked and horrified to think that this is another broken promise from the Abbott Government. Before the election Tony Abbott said “No cuts to health, no cuts to education, no change to the GST, no change to pensions, and no cuts to the ABC or SBS”, now every one of those promises has been broken. There is no promise that he’s made left to be broken. Australians want to defend the ABC and SBS because they value the ABC and SBS. Particularly at times of crisis when there are bushfires, when there are floods, when there are natural disasters they turn to the ABC for the information that keeps them safe. And when they’re overseas, if they wish for information from Australia, they tune in wherever they can to stories from home. Australians want to hear Australian stories told in Australian voices and they want a television industry here in Australia that tells those stories with Australian actors and Australian story lines. Stories like Redfern Now, and back in the day Sweet and Sour, so many programs that have reflected the way Australia has changed over the years. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Talking of these cuts, the Government explains them away as not cuts but as efficiency dividends, do you buy that?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think everybody knows a lie when they’re being told a lie. Before the election Tony Abbott said “no cuts to the ABC” and now we’ve seen, if you include the Australian network and the cuts in the previous budget, more than half a billion dollars cut from the ABC and SBS, now I don’t know how anyone can think they can get away with cutting half a billion dollars and then saying nothing to see here, no cuts here. A lie is a lie is a lie.

JOURNALIST: Do you think we’re going to see an impact on content?

PLIBERSEK: Well of course we’ll see an impact on content, I mean isn’t it extraordinary that you’ve got Christopher Pyne launching a petition in Adelaide because he knows that programming will be cut and he knows that jobs will go in Adelaide. And isn’t it extraordinary that you’ve got National Party members saying don’t touch programming in the bush. I mean these are the people who have supported these cuts and then they want their own patch of turf protected. If you cut half a billion dollars from the ABC and SBS, you can’t protect broadcasting, you can’t protect programming, you can’t protect Australian content. We will see all of these things negatively affected, jobs will go, 400 to 500 jobs are predicted to go, you can’t keep making fine quality TV and radio when you’re cutting hundreds of staff and half a billion dollars.

JOURNALIST: Do you think a rally like this will make any difference, isn’t it too late now?

PLIBERSEK: Well no, I think rallies like this are absolutely vital because the fact that Christopher Pyne and National Party members are out there saying to the Government ‘don’t cut my patch, hands off my ABC’ shows that they know Australians care for the ABC and care for SBS. In fact, the very fact that Tony Abbott made this promise before the election shows that he knows Australians want the ABC and SBS protected. The fact that he made the promise that he broke shows that he knows that people care. So I think rallies like this are absolutely vital and I think people should be contacting their Liberal Party and National Party MPs and Senators and saying hands off my ABC.

JOURNALIST: How seriously should we take the comments from the United Nations today about discrimination against refugees that have Ebola?

PLIBERSEK: Well isn’t it extraordinary to see our Foreign Minister at a Security Council meeting lecturing the world on Ebola when Australia has been so slow to act, dragged kicking and screaming to doing anything. It is an extraordinary scenario to have Australia lecturing countries that have done so much more than we have in terms of providing medical assistance and humanitarian support, and extraordinary to have Australia lecturing the world about discriminating against countries where Ebola is prevalent when the Foreign Minister and the Immigration Minister can’t even get their story straight about whether we’ve got visa bans or we don’t.

JOURNALIST: Do you think there has been a contradiction there from what the Minister said in terms of those visa applications from people coming from Ebola affected countries?

PLIBERSEK: Well Scott Morrison and Julie Bishop have said two completely different things. I don’t know whether this is part of their continuing turf war or whether they just don’t know – the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. But they’ve made two completely contradictory comments about whether we are or aren’t processing visas from Ebola affected countries.

JOURNALIST: Doesn’t the Government have a responsibility though to take precautions like this to protect their citizens?

PLIBERSEK: The first and most important responsibility of any government is to protect its citizens. What we’ve said all along is the best way to protect Australians is to fight Ebola in West Africa, at the source of where the virus is spreading. We know now that close to five and a half thousand people have died from Ebola. We’ve been told by the World Health Organisation, the Centres for Disease Control, the United Nations, the Security Council in the past, our own AMA, our own Public Health Association, the International Crisis Group, that the best way to fight Ebola is at the source, in the countries where most of the infections are occurring, and the best thing that Australia can do is help the international effort to contain the spread of the virus. We’ve got Julie Bishop saying that at the Security Council, but not doing it here at home. I think this is an example where deeds matter more than words and our deeds so far have been inadequate. 


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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop, Sydney, Friday 21 November 2014

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Subject/s: Julie Bishop’s attack on the United States, Peter Greste, Wayne Goss, the Great Barrier Reef, climate change, Palmer United, Martin Ferguson.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much for coming out. I just want to say a couple words first about Peter Greste and his family. There of course have been reports that there is a possibility of a presidential pardon for Peter Greste. Certainly those reports are encouraging, we hope for the sake of Peter and his family that those reports are accurate. I met with his parents just recently and of course his family are very concerned that Peter should be released from gaol in Egypt as soon as possible. Secondly, I wanted to mention that Wayne Goss’ funeral is on today. Wayne Goss was a great Premier of Queensland, he is a man who modernised Queensland after three decades of corrupt, conservative control. He will be sorely missed by his family of course but also by the broader Labor Party, his many supporters in Queensland and many friends and we’ll send him off today with all of our thanks for the incredible work he did in Queensland.

Turning now to international affairs, we heard Campbell Newman a few days ago criticising the US President Barack Obama for daring to say that he hoped that the Great Barrier Reef would still be there in 50 years’ time for his daughters and his grandchildren to be able to see. The Great Barrier Reef of course is one of the natural wonders of the world, it is an environmental treasure and also brings about $6 billion into the Australian community through tourism and so on. So you wouldn’t think that it would be such a controversial thing to say that we should protect and look after our beautiful Barrier Reef. But Campbell Newman took offence. Campbell Newman is no diplomat so I guess people might not be surprised that he’s gone the US President on this. What is more surprising is that the Abbott Government and our Foreign Minister are now also criticising the United States of America, our good and close friend, for daring to say that we should look after the Barrier Reef. This is an extraordinarily petulant performance that just shows how stung the Abbott Government is by the fact that they tried to keep climate change off the G20 agenda and they failed in that endeavour.

The whole world wanted to talk about climate change at the G20 because climate change is not just an environmental issue, it’s an economic issue. As the climate globally changes, we see more extreme weather events, we see degradation of our natural environments, we see drought and floods and these have economic as well as social consequences. During the G20 meeting when a number of global leaders were in Australia, we had all of them talking to each other and to the Australian people about the importance of taking action on climate change. Certainly President Obama's speech received a lot of attention but the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, talked about the importance of climate change, Prime Minister Modi talked about the importance of climate change. Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, talked to Tony Abbott, his friend, about climate change.

Australia is now behind the rest of the world. We're out on a limb. We're trailing behind. We're going in the wrong direction. We are on our own amongst developed countries in denying that climate change is real and reversing action that was actually having an effect. Carbon pricing in its first year saw the economy continue to grow, jobs continue to grow, but emissions from the national electricity market reduced by 7%. Since we got rid of carbon pricing we've seen carbon emissions rise again and they’re on a trajectory to rise by 2% in this year.  So we had a program that worked, we've replaced it with this so-called Direct Action which nobody thinks will work, we've made a change from taking money from big polluters and using it to reduce the effects of carbon pollution in our society and in our economy.  So instead of taking money from big polluters and spreading it through our community, we're actually taking taxpayers' dollars and giving those dollars to big polluters in the hope that something will change but with no clear plan for that change - no guarantee that pollution will actually reduce.

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop obviously took a swipe at President Obama over his speech. Isn’t she right to stand up for Australia on any issue?

PLIBERSEK:  Julie Bishop's not standing up for Australia. She's berating the President of the United States, a very good friend to Australia, because she's responding to his quite reasonable comment that we should protect our beautiful Barrier Reef. What an absurd situation where the Foreign Minister of our nation is insulting one of our closest friends because that friend wants to talk about climate change and the effects on our natural environment. Actually defending the pollution that will degrade the Barrier Reef, that's not standing up for Australia.

JOURNALIST: Tanya, why did Labor not stop dredging and dumping material in the marine park when it was in Government?

PLIBERSEK: We've made a commitment that if we return to Government, we will prevent dumping in the Great Barrier Reef.


PLIBERSEK: We've made that commitment already. You can talk to Mark Butler more about that if you want more details.

JOURNALIST: Canada this morning pledged $300 million to the Green climate fund. Obviously there's been similarities between their leader and Tony Abbott. Are we on our own now?

PLIBERSEK: We are completely on our own. Now, Tony Abbott is completely out on a limb. The world leaders that he is closest to, including Stephen Harper in Canada, Prime Minister Modi.  The United States, China, all of these countries are taking action both domestically and globally to reduce dangerous climate change. We're the only ones who are going backwards.

JOURNALIST: What do you make of the latest drama surrounding the Palmer United Party?

PLIBERSEK: The members of the Palmer United Party are delighted to talk to the media so I'll leave it for them to explain what's going on in their political party. What I would say is that I was very pleased to see the future of Financial Advice laws that Labor had introduced in government, that we had sought to protect, actually protected in the Senate with the support of a couple of Palmer United Party Senators so it's great to see those very good Labor initiatives defended.

JOURNALIST: So, how will it affect the workings of the Senate?

PLIBERSEK: Well, most governments have had to negotiate with Senates that they didn't control and usually that gives you an opportunity to fine-tune and strengthen legislation. I hope that that's the case now. We'll see.

JOURNALIST: A former colleague of yours, Martin Ferguson, appears prepared to take a swipe at the Opposition Leader John Robertson just today about the Baird Government’s privatisation plans for electricity assets. Is it appropriate for Mr Ferguson to be doing that four months out from the State election?

PLIBERSEK: I haven't seen Martin Ferguson's comments so I won't make any comment. Thank you.


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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Hobart, Thursday 20 November 2014

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Subject/s: Childcare; FOFA; Palmer United; UN Security Council; Ukraine; Privatisation

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Good morning. It’s great to be here at Lady Gowrie in Hobart. This centre has offered quality early childhood care and education for well over three quarters of a century. We have had a wonderful morning talking to the educators here and to the kids and of course it raises all sorts lots of issues about what the Government’s got planned for early childhood education and care. We know that the Abbott Government is undermining the national quality framework. The national quality framework ensures that all of these children get the quality care they deserve. We also know that the Abbott Government said that they want to expand access to nannies and in-home care but not spend any more on childcare. That means that long day care centres like this are under threat. Someone's got to make up the difference. It is also important to say that despite saying before the election that the Government would not make any cuts to education, over $1 billion has been cut from the childcare and early childhood education. You can’t take that sort of money out of this sector and not see the effects on parents, on childcare workers and on the quality of care that is able to be offered to children.

JOURNALIST: Are we running the risk of jobs and centres closing?

PLIBERSEK: Well of course if the Government keeps taking money out of the long day care the way they have then of course that puts pressure on childcare centres and puts pressure on childcare workers. People choose a career in childcare because they love kids but they deserve to be paid appropriately for the level of responsibility and dedication that they show in their work.

JOURNALIST: And in terms of the, I suppose, the gap that would be left in children's learning does that then put extra pressure on the primary school system to be making up the difference where the skills are being missed?

PLIBERSEK: Well we know that the years before a child goes to school are really critical in their brain development. They’re the years where the brain is just soaking up like a little sponge everything that is happening around them and if you give children a quality early childhood education through play, through experience, through adventure, like Lady Gowrie childcare centre, then they start school school-ready. They start school excited about learning and confident and those confident learners go on to have a great education throughout their school career, so investing in early childhood education, preschools, long day care centres, makes all the difference to a child’s school readiness and their future school achievements.

JOURNALIST: We saw Jacqui Lambie vote with Labor last night on financial advice laws in the Senate. Are you hopeful or is Labor hopeful that this rift in the Palmer United Party could potentially work in your favour in the Senate?

PLIBERSEK: Well look, I’m not going to talk about the rift in the Palmer United Party, what I would talk about is the future of financial advice laws. These were laws that were brought in by Labor when we were in government to protect mum and dad, mums and dads who are thinking about their future, their retirement, making sure that they have got some savings and they are designed to make sure that financial advice benefits the people who are saving their money and putting it aside. Now it seems like a very simple and obvious thing to do, that financial advice should benefit the person who is investing their money, it is not a big ask and I am very pleased that the Government’s efforts to remove these protections were overturned by the Senate last night.

JOURNALIST: The Palmer storm seems to be building momentum though, is it - are you hopeful that with the positions Jacqui Lambie has put forward so far this could be what you need in the Senate to be getting more opposition to legislation and seeing things for the Opposition's way?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I am delighted when any senator thinks about and considers the issues before the Senate and votes according to their conscience and to their best judgement and last night making sure that the financial advice that people are given is actually in their best interests so that is a great win for the Senate.

JOURNALIST: Is it tenable for Jacqui Lambie to still be calling herself a Palmer United Party given the latest development?

PLIBERSEK: Look at all those questions about the Palmer United Party are really questions for Jacqui Lambie and Clive Palmer. What I am pleased to see is that Labor’s initial legislation protecting Australians who are investing their hard earned money now has some protection, the original protections that Labor proposed, has been restored.

JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop has called for an international taskforce to target modern terrorism, what is your take on that?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think that terrorism is certainly something that we need to consider, all countries need to make sure that the primary responsibility, keeping their citizens safe, is discharged. We haven’t seen particular details of this call in the UN Security Council, so I’ll have to see more details to consider whether having a special envoy, I think she’s recommended, would make the difference she’s suggesting.

JOURNALIST: With the discussion focusing on social media and other modern techniques do you think it will carry a risk of censorship?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it is something we need to wrestle with as a community, what we’ve seen in recent times is young people radicalised very quickly because of what they’re reading and looking at online. Young people who have no previous signs that they are potentially violent have in some cases been radicalised over a matter of months by material they have been accessing over the internet. Of course that’s true.

JOURNALIST: Australia has begun its final presidency of the UN Security Council, do you think the Government has made the most of its position on the world stage?

PLIBERSEK: Well Labor pursued the presidency of the Security Council because we believe that we’re a country that has always punched above its weight in international affairs. I’m not sure you could say that our presidency under the Liberal Government has really delivered an enormous amount of change. Certainly the fact that there was a motion about MH17 was very important, it was a very important opportunity for Australia because 38 Australians of course lost their lives in that terrible tragedy. It was of course very important that we had an opportunity to say to Russia and to say to the world that we expected adequate investigation, access to the crash site and for those responsible to be held to account. Being able to do that on the Security Council was a very important opportunity for Australia. As for other achievements, I’m not sure you could say that it has been a year of extraordinary achievement.

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister had a phone conversation with the Ukrainian President overnight, do you think we should be focusing on efforts to stabilize the situation in Ukraine rather than securing the MH17 crash site?

PLIBERSEK: Well certainly I think it is very important that Ukraine is able to ensure peace within its borders. There’s a lot of trouble in the eastern parts of Ukraine and of course Crimea has already been lost. We support the right of Ukraine to determine its own future, to have whatever arrangements it chooses with Russia and with Europe, not to be held to ransom by either one side or the other. The situation in the Ukraine continues to be troubling we do have a particular interest in it because we do want answers for the victims of MH17, not just the Australians, but the almost 300 people who lost their lives in that terrible tragedy. So it is important that access to that crash site continues to be possible for international investigators, but beyond that there is a wider question of security within Ukraine and the necessity for Russian backed rebels to obey the law and to behave appropriately.

JOURNALIST: The latest policy announcement that we’re open for business from the Liberals is about potentially selling off Government assets, is it a different name for privatising?

COLLINS: Of course I would be concerned about the Government trying to privatise any assets that belong to the Tasmanian people without a proper process, without Tasmanians being able to have a say. We’ve of course seen Liberal Governments in the past try to privatise assets without having that conversation with the Tasmanian people and it cost them dearly at that point when it came to the hydro. So I do think it’s really important that they have the conversation with the public first and that it’s not privatisation by stealth.

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TRANSCRIPT - Sky News, Saturday 15 November 2014

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Subject/s: G20; Climate change; Inclusive growth.

DAVID SPEERS, PRESENTER: Joining me now is the Deputy Labor leader and the Shadow Foreign Minister, Tanya Plibersek, who was there watching Barack Obama’s speech and is still there at Queensland University. Thank you very much for joining us this afternoon. Can I ask, on this climate change announcement from President Obama, do you think Australia should now also be making a commitment to this green climate fund?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Well of course Labor supported a commitment to helping developing countries with climate change mitigation  when we were in government. Of course Australia should be part of this. It’s extraordinary that Tony Abbott in his opening remarks to world leaders today was boasting about the fact that Australia is the only country going backwards on climate change. We now have the United States and China, two of the world’s largest polluters and largest economies talking about the action that they will take, deeper cuts, faster cuts to carbon emissions and today’s announcement of course saying that developing countries won’t have to choose between economic development and climate change mitigation, or reducing their carbon footprint, they’ll be able to do both, of course Australia should be part of that.

SPEERS: Alright, but to what extent are you able to put a dollar figure or as some have suggested, a percentage figure? I think there are some suggesting Australia should make up 2.7% of this international $10 billion fund. Are you able to put any sort of ballpark figure on where you think Australia should land here?

PLIBERSEK:  Oh no, that would be something that would need to be thought through, discussed, I don’t have a particular number in mind. But here we- the very reason that Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd promoted the G20 as the premiere economic decision making body in the world was because there are some problems that are too big for any one country on its own to fix. At the time, the Global Financial Crisis required coordinated international action. Climate change is not just an environmental issue, it’s an economic issue and today President Obama said the world should act together to reduce the effect of dangerous climate change on countries that are bearing the worst brunt of it. Poorer countries, particularly in our region. He mentioned Asia and the Pacific region in particular as areas that are feeling the effects of climate change and will feel the effects of climate change in the future. This is an issue where global cooperation is absolutely vital and Australia has to be part of that global cooperation instead of being as we are now, an outlier. Not just behind the pack, but heading in completely the wrong direction.

SPEERS: Alright, but as you know, many have pointed out that China’s commitment here allows them to keep increasing emissions for another 16 years, in the meantime that could well and truly not just surpass entire Australian emissions but entire American emissions as well in that period. Is that good enough from the world’s biggest emitter?

PLIBERSEK: China is a country of well over a billion people, it’s not surprising that their emissions are higher in total than Australia’s. But Australia is one of the highest emitters per person in the world of carbon pollution. We can’t get away with doing nothing. Yes, of course China should act. They’re sourcing a greater proportion of their energy from renewables, they’ve made further commitments, they’ve gone further than any international observers expected. Now it’s time for Australia to do the same.

SPEERS: Well when it comes to doing the same, and you did refer to Australia as falling behind the pack, do you think we should match at least what the Americans have committed to now in terms of a post 2020 emissions reduction.

PLIBERSEK: Well I think our goals and targets should be a matter for discussion but at the moment we’ve got a government that has thrown out the window an emissions trading system that was working, a price on carbon that was working to bring down our carbon pollution. And they’re also trying to trash our renewable energy target and what we’re seeing because of that is job losses in renewables, we’ve slipped in terms of attractiveness as a destination for investment in companies that focus on renewable energy. We are going backwards as a nation on climate change mitigation and carbon pollution reduction, completely out of step with the rest of the world.

SPEERS: Okay, but let me ask you this, is it important to you that countries, when they make commitments like we’ve seen here, show how they’re going to deliver it? Because at the moment it is unknown how the Americans, how President Obama will be able to deliver on that commitment he’s made for 2025.

PLIBERSEK: Well can I say I’ve got an awful lot of faith in both the United States and China to be able to do what they say they are going to do. Unfortunately, what Australia says it is going to do is go backwards on climate change. I mean we’ve got the two largest economies in the world saying that they will take decisive action to cut pollution deeper and faster than anyone imagined. Today we’ve got an additional commitment that countries will help our region to reduce the effects of climate change and reduce carbon pollution in our region, that’s unequivocally a good thing.

SPEERS: Let me turn to some of the other elements of President Obama’s speech there today, he’s talked about an even deeper American military commitment in this region, the majority of its navy and air force will be in the Pacific by the end of the decade, do you welcome that?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think it was a very good opportunity for President Obama to reemphasise that the United States has a long and strong bond with Australia and with other countries in our region too. The President also talked about the areas of commonality with China and the work they’ve done for example on climate change more recently. I think the other very important message from today’s speech was the importance of inclusive growth, of aid and development, making sure that other countries in the region, poorer countries, have the opportunity to develop their people by investing in health, investing in education, investing in more productive agriculture. This was a speech that of course talked about US foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions but spoke about so much more, spoke about growth, but the quality of growth, saying that growth should be both environmentally sustainable but also inclusive and really that’s the bar that we set for this G20 meeting. We hoped that climate change would be on the agenda and President Obama has put it firmly on the agenda. We hoped that inclusive growth would be on the agenda and again President Obama has put it firmly on the agenda.

SPEERS: But he did talk about the need for the security, order of this region not to be based on spheres of influence, coercion or intimidation where big nations bully small and he talked about the need for international law norms to be upheld, peaceful resolution of disputes. Do you share all of those views? And are you concerned about China’s behaviour when it comes to some of these disputes?

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s always worth emphasising that we need to uphold international laws and norms. Of course all countries should expect to be held to account in that way. But I was also very, very pleased during the week that the United States and China could come to this agreement on climate change because it shows that the channels of communication are very open, that there is a lot of room for constructive negotiation and coming to agreement on the issues that matter to all of us.

SPEERS: Final question Tanya Plibersek, when you talk about growth and I hear that you share, and certainly the President does as well, the need for inclusive growth in this region and around the world. Do you give the Abbott Government a tick for at least being able to drive on this G20 agenda this two percent target to boost growth adding two trillion dollars to the global economy?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think everybody would agree that economic growth is good.  But economic growth has to be environmentally and socially sustainable and inclusive as well. What we’ve heard recently from the IMF, from the OECD, from economists like Joseph Stiglitz is the firm evidence that countries that have a smaller gap between the richest and the poorest have longer and stronger and more durable economic growth. The proof is there in the numbers that inequality is bad for growth. Inequality within countries and inequality between countries is bad for growth. So it’s terrific that the G20 is talking about growth but from the President’s speech today, from the comments of other world leaders including people like Christine Lagard from the IMF we know that it’s also the quality of growth. Not just the number in front of the percentage point.

SPEERS: Shadow Foreign Minister Tanya Plibersek, thank you for joining us from Queensland University, we appreciate that.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you very much.


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TRANSCRIPT - The Today Show, Friday 14 November 2014

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Subject/s: Russia; Putin; Climate change deal; Palmer United.


KARL STEFANOVIC, PRESENTER: Joining us now is Federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek. Good morning to you two, thank you for being with us.



STEFANOVIC: Malcolm, it doesn't look like you are sweating bullets.

TURNBULL: No, and I think that we want to be careful about using words like "intercept". I mean, you know, navies, countries have navies for many reasons and one of them is to project force and in the case of Russia, clearly force and grandeur and the Russian navy is in our part of the world as part of an international relations exercise showing that Russia’s still on the map and still a powerful country and-

STEFANOVIC: So it is provocative? It is a show of force then? We should be worried?

TURNBULL: Well, no we shouldn’t.


TURNBULL: We should not be worried at all. But I mean, the navy is part of every country's defence force and when like you send it out to sea in a group like this, you are projecting force and saying "Here I am, I am still on the map, I am still strong and important."

STEFANOVIC: Like we didn't know that anyway.

PLIBERSEK: Karl, I think it is very important, Karl, that we don't overreact to this incident because of course the Russian ships are in international waters, they’ve got every right to be where they are, it’s not unusual that they are where they are. It would be a lot more unusual if they were sitting in the Brisbane River. At this stage I think people just need to take a chill pill, just as Malcolm has.

STEFANOVIC: Alright okay, Malcolm, we all need to take a chill pill but you’re sending a third ship out there, just to what, observe?

TURNBULL: Well, of course, this is all part of the - I mean, I am not privy to the latest naval maneuvers. But Karl, as Tanya says, this is all very normal. This is what navies do - join the navy, see the world and they get around. And I don't think this is you know – despite the desire to beat it up, I'm surprised frankly that up there in Brisbane the Courier Mail isn't promoting some good fishing spots on the Brisbane River, inviting the Russians to come in and throw a line in.

STEFANOVIC: Well they do that anyway, the Courier Mail, it is a fine publication.


STEFANOVIC: Just on the Courier Mail, it is asking for an apology this morning. Tanya, should we get an apology from Vladimir Putin?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think the families of those who lost their lives when MH17 was shot down certainly deserve an explanation and an apology. It is not about what the Australian Government needs, it is about what the families of those who lost their lives need. And they need someone to be held accountable for what happened. And they need answers why this happened. And of course, for those nine people whose bodies have not yet been recovered, those families in particular need access to the crash site for authorities to recover those remains. So there is still a great deal that should happen and we believe that Vladimir Putin has the key to many of those things.

STEFANOVIC: Okay, next up, China and the US –

TURNBULL: Can I just say that is absolutely correct. I mean the one person who knows exactly what happened is Vladimir Putin. So he is in a position to set out the facts, clearly, cogently and accept responsibility for the actions of a group of rebels, insurgents, whatever you want to call them, who were being supported by Russia operating within the Ukraine as part of a separatist movement there. I mean he really - he should set out those facts, take responsibility, express his compassion and condolences and apologise for this terrible event. And Tanya and I are unusually in complete agreement on this.

STEFANOVIC: Let's talk about something that you don't agree on, and that is China and the US have made a climate change pact to agree to work together on reducing emissions. Malcolm, you can't be happy with where we are sitting given that potential deal for China and also the US to cut emissions?

TURNBULL: Well, the Government has welcomed this agreement, number one. Number two, Australia does have an ambitious emission reduction target. The- our reduction by 2020 is comparable to the targets described by China and America. Can I say, it is very, very encouraging, in fact something of a relief to see at long last agreement between China and America. It is early days yet, but China is making a very concerted move against burning coal. It is determined to reduce emissions in China, not just for climate change reasons but because of general atmospheric pollution, as anyone who has been to a big Chinese city recently would know. That is- environmental issues are becoming a very, very important topic and agenda in China. That is one country in the world that is able to move quickly.

PLIBERSEK: Karl, can I –

STEFANOVIC: Just quickly, Tanya. Very, very quickly.

PLIBERSEK: Well I’ve got to say, our excuse- the Liberals’ excuse was always that the rest of world wasn't acting, Australia shouldn’t act. You have now got the world’s two largest economies, two largest polluters taking substantial action on climate change. Malcolm always said that the Liberals’ policy was just a fig leaf to cover up a determination to do nothing, he is right then. Australia needs to be part of this world move. We have already lost, for example, 100 jobs of people who were creating the towers for wind farms just recently because we have taken this step backwards when it comes to tackling climate change. We are losing those clean green jobs and we are being left behind.

STEFANOVIC: Alright, we do have to go. Malcolm, unfortunately I can’t ask about the impending divorce between Clive Palmer and Jacqui Lambie. I really wanted to find out from you how Clive is, I’ve been worried.

TURNBULL: I didn’t even know they were married, actually. That’s a –

PLIBERSEK: They can probably speak for themselves I think, Karl. They’re doing a pretty good job.

STEFANOVIC: Well, Malcolm’s stuck in the middle!

TURNBULL: I’m not going to offer a - sort of a reconciliation meeting at the Wild Duck. But if Tanya wants to do so, there’s a booth there that I’m sure is available.

STEFANOVIC: Nice. I love the maneuverings. Thank you, you two. We’ll see you very soon.


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TRANSCRIPT - Doorstop Interview, Monday 10 November 2014

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Subject/s: Wayne Goss, Ebola.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: Well, thank you for coming out this afternoon.  I want to start by saying a few words about Wayne Goss. Of course, a very sad loss of a man still in the prime of his life. Wayne Goss made a huge contribution to the state of Queensland. He took a state that had been moribund after 32 years of corrupt, conservative rule and he brought it into the modern age. He reformed the electoral system, he increased the role of women in the state, the first female cabinet minister, the first female governor, he decriminalised homosexuality, he made a number of enormous changes responding to the findings of the police royal commission. So he will be sadly missed no doubt by his family but also sadly missed by our Labor family and by the people of the State of Queensland. I wanted to say a few words too about the continuing Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Today we hear that the US National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, has criticised Australia for not doing enough. This of course accords with what Labor has been saying, that the small efforts that the Government has made are of course welcome, but that a country like Australia could do much more. The place to fight Ebola is in West Africa. The people to fight Ebola are our skilled health professionals, volunteers who want to go and use their skills for the benefit of the people of West Africa and to contain this disease where it started. The time to do that is right now. We know on the- at the beginning of October we were told by the World Health Organisation that if we didn’t get Ebola under control within 60 days there was no plan for what would happen after that. This is a virus that is spreading quickly, that is- has infected about 13,000 people so far. On some reports, the number of people infected is doubling every 15 to 20 days. This is a virus that is spreading quickly and that is lethal. We know that many Australians have volunteered. The Nurses and Midwives Federation told us that in 12 hours they had more than 350 nurses ring up to say that they would be willing to go to fight Ebola in West Africa. We know from the Australian Medical Association that many doctors are also willing to go. We have Australian Medical Assistance Teams, AUSMAT teams, there’s no indication about why those AUSMAT teams have not been deployed and we hear from the Government that the hiring of private firms discharges our responsibilities. Well of course any contribution is welcome but as we hear from Susan Rice, Australia is not doing its fair share, it is not doing enough. We have skilled personnel that have trained all of their professional careers to treat people when they’re sick, to train others in very important measures like infection control - these people are willing to go, they want to go, and our Government is not assisting them or facilitating that in any serious way. To be told off by the United States, our great friend and ally, for not doing enough in West Africa is particularly embarrassing. The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, other European nations are all making a substantial contribution when Australia's contribution is limited at best.

JOURNALIST: Is there anything else they should do other than allowing these volunteers to go over?

PLIBERSEK: Well, the Government should be facilitating those volunteers, should be helping them do what they can do best which is treat people who are sick, train health workers locally, construct health facilities, engage transport and logistics. It is also I think important for the Government to explain now why AUSMAT teams, Australian Medical Assistance Teams, have not been engaged. We know that these are people who volunteer to work in these teams at times of crisis. They have been deployed on a number of occasions in the past into crisis zones. They would be, have all of the skills that would be most useful at a time like this in the countries that are worst affected. It is up to the Government to explain why they haven’t engaged AUSMAT teams to do this work. It is also I think, very worth looking at what the Government said about the reasons that Australians haven’t been sent. They said that it was just a matter of working out good evacuation protocols for Australians. Well, we now find out, we found out in the last few days that the European Union and the United States offered to help with treatment of Australian personnel and evacuation if that should become necessary and that offer was made several weeks ago. So it’s really unclear why the Government has sat on its hands in this way and why they continue to not support Australians who want to travel to West Africa to fight the virus there. We have heard indeed from the Prime Minister that it is possible that even with this new arrangement with Aspen Medical it’s possible that no Australians will be engaged to do this very difficult work. It is a very curious thing that when, for example, in a country like Sierra Leone, you’ve got only 100 doctors to treat 6 million people before this crisis, the idea that they will be able to engage all of these staff over there is farfetched.

JOURNALIST: Why do you think the Government is holding back from helping?

PLIBERSEK: Well it’s really a question for the Government and it’s clear that we’ve been asked to help by our great friend and ally, the United States, by our great friend, the United Kingdom, by other countries including France and Germany, the countries that are worst affected, their Prime Ministers and Presidents have written to Australia, we’ve been asked by the World Health Organisation, by the International Crisis Group, by our own Australian Medical Association, by our own Australian Public Health Association, the Nurses and Midwives Federation. I mean, so many countries, so many organisations saying to Australia please help, saying please do more, and still very little movement from the Government. It’s really up to them to explain why that is.

JOURNALIST: What do you think it’s doing to our international reputation?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think it’s certainly not good for our international reputation. Australia thinks of itself as playing an important role internationally and we do. We were very quick to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. We were very quick to agree to send Australian troops in a train and assist role in Iraq. It’s incomprehensible why we were so quick to respond to one humanitarian disaster and why we’ve been so very slow to respond to another.


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TRANSCRIPT - Press Conference, Sydney, Wednesday 5 November 2014

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SUBJECT/S: Gough Whitlam Memorial; Ebola; Abbott Government cutting real wages of Defence Personnel

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks for coming.  We both had the honour today, along with thousands of Australians to go to the State Service to commemorate the remarkable life of Prime Minister Edward Gough Whitlam. His was a truly Australian life and had a life lived for Australia. Gough Whitlam reminded us all about the importance of vision and ambition for our nation. He spent his entire political life trying to make sure Australia could reach for higher ground. Today was a fitting tribute to a remarkable Australian whose like we will not see again.

I also wish to make some brief comments about the Government’s response to the Ebola crisis and I will be asking my colleague to add some more details after I finish. We are pleased that the Government is finally making an overdue first step to provide greater support for the victims of this dangerous and lethal disease which has broken out in West Africa. Labor has long said that the best way to deal with the crisis of this deadly and dangerous disease is to fight it at its source. Now we acknowledge that the Government is moving to try to take up Labor's advice and the advice of the AMA and, indeed, advice from other nations around the world, to join an international coalition to tackle Ebola. There are many Australians who have the skills to help prevent this suffering. There are many Australians who wish to volunteer to use their skills, committed and capable doctors and nurses who wish to help in the fight against Ebola.

However, we believe that the Government, whilst this is a welcome, overdue step, has not gone as far as it should to help tackle the scourge at the source. It is long overdue for the Government to ensure it can put in place propositions which will allow our skilled and capable volunteers to be able to assist defeat this deadly disease at the source. I might ask my colleague, the Shadow Foreign Minister, to talk in more detail about the Ebola announcement

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Thanks very much, Bill. Look, of course Labor is very pleased to welcome extra assistance to fighting Ebola in West Africa. But we are also a little surprised at the way that this assistance will be provided. There have been suggestions overnight and yesterday that perhaps several hundred Australians would be going to help fight this virus in the three West African countries most affected.

We hear today that in fact a private firm, Aspen medical, which has a very good international reputation, will in fact be engaging staff locally in Sierra Leone. It could be that the 240 or so staff that are required to run the medical centre that Australia will be responsible for, may all be engaged overseas. It's possible from what the Prime Minister has just told us that no Australians will actually be involved in providing those vital services. Now, of course, there are very good and dedicated staff around the world and I\'m sure that there are many in Africa who would be willing to help, but it's worth remembering that Sierra Leone is a country that before this is crisis had just 100 doctors for a population of six million.

So in the first instance, it is a little difficult to understand exactly where these locally-engaged staff will be coming from, and it is also a little surprising that given trained, how many hundreds of highly-trained, highly-specialised, very dedicated brave Australians have said that they wish to go to West Africa to help, that they have the skills to help and the desire to help, that none of those people will be facilitated in going. We have heard from the United Nations Security Council, indeed Australia co-sponsored a resolution saying how important it was for countries to send supplies, medical supplies, but also personnel to the affected countries. We co-sponsored that resolution in the UN. We have heard from the United Kingdom, we have heard from the United States, we have heard from the World Health Organisation, we have heard from organisations like the International Crisis Group and Oxfam. We have heard from doctors without borders, Oxfam, our own Australian Medical Association, and nurses and midwives association, that personnel are necessary in West Africa. We know that we have hundreds of Australians who have said that they would go if they were facilitated by this Government.

In fact, the nurses and midwives association said that in just 12 hours, they had 350 nurses that said, rang up to say they were willing to go. The Australian public health association, the Australian Medical Association have both said that they have been contacted by medical personnel that would go to West Africa if they could, that have the skills and the desire to go. So it is a little surprising to know that despite the availability and the desire of these Australians to go to West Africa to fight this virus at its source, that they won't be facilitated by this announcement. It also continues to be a little surprising that the Australian medical assistance teams, those hundreds of Australians who have signed up for this type of dangerous work overseas, have not been called upon. I think it's up to the Government why the Australian Medical Association teams have not been part of this response.

SHORTEN: We are happy to take any questions people might have.

REPORTER: Just on the question of having Aspen involved in this, would you prefer that the Government had sent over its own medical teams?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think there is absolutely no problem with Aspen Medical being involved in this. I think the important thing is having people who are skilled at providing this sort of medical assistance, in very difficult circumstances. They are already, I believe, on the ground in West Africa, so that makes sense. What is a little confusing about this decision is that the many hundreds of Australians, skilled personal have said they wish to help, continue to be knocked back by this Government.

REPORTER: So would you prefer to see perhaps a quota introduced or something like that as part of the package as to how many Australian personnel can be sent over?

PLIBERSEK: No, I don't think a quota is the way to deal with it. What is perplexing about this is the suggestion that the majority, indeed perhaps all, of these staff will be locally engaged in Africa, or nationals of other countries. Now, what we have been asked for by the world community, what we have been asked for by the United Nations, the United Kingdom, the US, the World Health Organisation, Medecin Sans Frontier, Oxfam, all of these organisations are making the very strong point that medical services are overwhelmed in the three countries worst affected by ebola. They started off with poor medical services, a very small number of doctors and nurses for the size of the populations that we are talking about. It is difficult to understand when we know that we have highly skilled, highly trained passionate Australians who are desperate to help, why they are still not being - their offer is still not being accepted by the Government.

REPORTER: Does it actually matter? The Prime Minister said some Australians will go.

PLIBERSEK: The Prime Minister says some Australians may go. The point is all of the international organisations, all of our partner countries, have said the difficulty is finding the trained personnel who are able to go. I think there is - of course, it's wonderful to have professionals from Africa, from around the world in West Africa fighting ebola. But what we know is that Australian health workers are some of the best and most dedicated, most highly skilled in the world. We also know there are hundreds who have said they want to go. This announcement, while welcome, doesn't answer that call.

REPORTER: (Inaudible) do you think it was appropriate the Prime Minister was booed?

SHORTEN: No, in an ideal in world you treat Prime Minister and former Prime Ministers at a State Memorial Service with some degree of decorum. But on the other hand I think the funeral was fantastic, I thought that the speakers presented their views of Gough Whitlam powerfully, the artists who performed there reminded us of the contribution that Gough Whitlam made to the arts. I think today was a very moving day and I wouldn't unduly focus on the hurly-burly outside in terms of average politics. It was an amazing service.

REPORTER: In relation to the pay deals for the Australian Defence Force personnel, was that something you would like to see increased?

SHORTEN: I think the Prime Minister should be ashamed of this pay decision. It just goes to show how out of touch Tony Abbott and his Cabinet are, when they offer what is effectively a real pay cut to the people in Australia who wear our uniforms and make us safe.

Families of the military still have to go shopping every weekend and they have still got keep up with the cost of living. I think it is breathtaking we have a Prime Minister who talks so much about his love of the military, except when it comes to ensuring that they don't get a real pay cut. In addition, let’s not overlook that fact that for people serving overseas, they’re going to receive less leave as a result of this decision. Working away from your family is hard at the best of times. But when it's the military who can go anywhere at any time, to lose leave conditions and have a cut in their real rate of pay is disgraceful.

I, for one, believe that what's motivated this decision hasn't even been the military, it's been a decision of the Abbott Government to try and force down all public servants' wages and I certainly do not believe they should have been using the military as some sort of pawn to argue about how they can or can't manage their employee relations. One thing everyone knows about Tony Abbott and the Liberals - you can't trust them with the conditions of ordinary men and women in Australia, whether or not they wear a uniform or they have don't.


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TRANSCRIPT - RN Breakfast, Wednesday 5 November 2014

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Subject/s: Ebola, Gough Whitlam.


FRAN KELLY, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek is Deputy Labor Leader and the Shadow Foreign Minister. Tanya Plibersek, welcome to RN Breakfast.


KELLY: The Federal Government has, the details we know so far are a little scant, but we understand they will pay for these healthcare workers to go to Sierra Leone, but the work will be contracted out to a private firm. Is that type of arrangement satisfactory? Are you happy? You’ve been pushing the government to do more, are you happy with this plan as you understand it?

PLIBERSEK: Well, Fran, as you say the details of the plan haven’t been confirmed, so I don’t want to talk too specifically, but what I would say is if the reports are correct and that Australian volunteers who want to go to West Africa - to help fight Ebola in West Africa, if they are able to go, then that is a good thing.

KELLY: And is that kind of support enough? You’ve been calling for the government to support Australian health workers who want to go, what sort of support did you have in mind? You’ve been talking to people about this.

PLIBERSEK: Yes, well certainly, in fact I have just returned from a trip to the United States where I spoke not just to the US State Department, to the White House, but also to the United Nations, to people leading the effort there and I think what we need to ensure from my discussions with them is that Australian volunteers who have the right skills are able to go, that their travel is facilitated and that they have a backup should the worst happen and they become sick. A number of countries now have made arrangements for their staff to be, and their volunteers, to be treated in field hospitals in West Africa. The medical advice that I got from the experts is that the sooner the treatment starts, if there is a suspected case of Ebola, the better the chance of recovery. And if you have high standards of medical treatment the recovery rate gets to about 80 percent so it is important to treat as close to where the diagnosis is made and as soon as Ebola is suspected. So think if we have got adequate health treatment in the country, then that is a very good first step.

KELLY: And it does suggest- that’s been the holdup for the government, it wasn’t prepared to risk the health of Australian workers without some kind of evacuation plan and taking them back to Australia was not feasible. It does appear as though this agreement that we’ll get the details of today includes an agreement with the UK to medivac any infected Australian health workers to Britain for treatment or even to Germany to a German hospital for treatment.

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it is very important to make a case by case assessment on the best course of treatment and it is really not a good idea from the distance of Australia to be making assessments about treatment. What we need to do is give a range of options to any health worker or volunteer who might be affected. We know- I know from my discussions with Medecins San Frontieres that they have managed to have a number of options for each of their health workers that have become sick so they’ve been- had more than one choice of country to medivac them to.

KELLY: I guess what I am asking though, is it important that the Federal Government got this agreement with the UK in place, that was the sticking point? Does this justify the holdup given that they now seem to have this agreement with countries like the UK and Germany?

PLIBERSEK: It has been clear for many, many weeks now that the UK, the US, the UN, the WHO - the World Health Organisation - and others have been pushing for Australia to become involved. All of those countries and organisations have made adequate provisions for their health workers in the past. I am not sure why it has taken Australia so long but I am delighted if the reports are correct today that Australian volunteers who want to go and join this international effort to contain Ebola in West Africa, I will be delighted if they are able to go. These people are highly skilled, they know there are risks involved and nevertheless they have been desperate to participate in this international effort. We have been contacted by doctors, by nurses, by logisticians saying that they want to go to help, this is what all of their training, all of their skills and experience leads them to do and if the reports are correct, that the Government will finally facilitate that, then that’s a good thing.

KELLY: Nevertheless, as Michelle used the term at arm’s length, the way it’s going to be set up as contracted to a private contractor, a group called Aspen Medical is what we think, which is based in Canberra, has global experience, already operates an Ebola clinic in Liberia apparently. But why that option and why not, what some people have been talking about, the deployment of what is called the Australian Medical Assistance Teams, which are still volunteers I think, but have experience and expertise in dealing with overseas crises. Why wasn’t that activated or would you have preferred that option?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I can’t answer why Australian Medical Assistance Teams, or AUSMAT teams, weren’t deployed. They are, as you say, volunteers but they’re people who have been particularly selected to be part of a team that has a cross-section of skills so that the team can be deployed quite independently into troubled areas. They were set up to go into natural disaster areas and I thought all along that that would have been a good option. I can’t answer why the government decided against that but I don’t think that the- I am certainly not going to be quibbling now about why not AUSMAT teams and I think the important thing to recognise is that we have had Australians who have the skills to go, who want to go, they see this as an enormous humanitarian challenge, they want to be a part of solving it. And if it is true that the Government will be facilitating their travel now, then that is a good thing.

KELLY: It’s 12 minutes to 8 on Breakfast. Our guest is the Shadow Foreign Minister, Tanya Plibersek. On term- in those terms of course, it is risky, we know that it is risky, we know the number of health workers who have contracted Ebola is quite high so there is risk to this. Is there any concern that by contracting these volunteer teams to run this hospital out to a private contractor, that those people aren’t- don’t have the protection they may need if their Government was the direct contact?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think it is absolutely vital that we give the best possible support and protection to health workers, Australian health workers and others from around the world that are in West Africa and indeed to the local workforce as well. The three countries worst affected already had a health workforce that was under enormous pressure, very few doctors and nurses to the size of their population, so making sure that all of the health workers are protected is important. I do not think you can fairly make a distinction between who is providing the logistic support on the ground in the way that we have done.

KELLY: Okay, on another matter you are the Deputy Labor Leader and a long time obviously member of the Labor Party. You’ll be attending Gough Whitlam’s Memorial today at the Sydney Town Hall. By all reports, it is shaping up to be one of the biggest public farewells in recent memory, I wonder what your thoughts are this morning.

PLIBERSEK: Well, obviously today is a day of great sadness because we have lost a great man, but we’re also, I think, at our best in the Labor Party when we come together to celebrate the sort of achievements that Gough fought for and delivered, free education, Medicare, land rights, a greater place for Australia in the world. And at the same time it will be sad today, I think it is a gathering that we all draw enormous strength from.

KELLY: The reports suggest that tens of thousands of people will actually be on the streets of Sydney for this and also out in the parks of Parramatta and in Federation Square in Melbourne. In the fortnight since Gough’s death, have you had a lot of people, Australians talking to you about Gough?

PLIBERSEK: I have had a lot of people just coming in off the streets to talk to us in the office. We actually had on the Saturday after Gough died, we had a gathering of Labor Party members where people just took turns speaking about the difference that he’d made to their lives, the difference that the Whitlam Government had made to their lives, a lot of people talking about the fact that they were the first in their family ever to go to university, but a lot of other things as well. People talking about how they or their parents had been able to have a no-fault divorce instead of going through a horrendous court process as previous generations had. People really wanted to talk about the impact that the Whitlam Government had on their lives, so it’s a very emotional time for many Australians and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if many thousands more people than can fit in the Sydney Town Hall wanted to commemorate the day.

KELLY: I think there’s no doubt about that. Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much for joining us.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Fran.


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