THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
LATELINE WITH TONY JONES
WEDNESDAY, 23 APRIL 2014
SUBJECT / S: Australia’s relationship with Indonesia.
TONY JONES: The Opposition is backing painstaking evidence to get relations with Indonesia back to full strength after tensions erupted over asylum boats and revelations of Australians spying on the President and his wife. That phone-tapping operation happened under the Labor government's watch. The Opposition's Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek, is on her first visit to Jakarta and she joined me from there just a short time ago. Tanya Plibersek, thanks for joining us.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, OPPOSITION FOREIGN AFFAIRS SPOKESWOMAN: Hi, Tony.
JONES: Now Prime Minister Abbott has used the Navy to stop asylum boats without destroying or apparently severely damaging the relationship with Indonesia. Why couldn't Labor have done that?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's fair to say that Australia's relationship with Indonesia over the long-term is a very good and sound one. It's a close friendship and it's got a lot to offer both Australia and Indonesia. But it's also certainly true to say that we've seen some significant friction in recent times and one of the reasons has been that the Abbott Government made announcements about what it would do on Indonesian soil and what it would do in Indonesian waters without discussing it with the Indonesian Government. Labor, in contrast, when we were in government, had a very significant change delivered by the Indonesian Government when they stopped offering visa-on-arrival to Iranians who were transiting through Indonesia on their way to Christmas Island. We did that in co-operation with Indonesia and I'd say that that's one of the most significant elements of the reduced flow of asylum seekers coming to Australia using people smugglers coming from Indonesia. The changes to visa-on-arrival has seen a very substantial drop in the number of Iranians, for example, coming to Indonesia.
JONES: But Foreign Minister Natalegawa seems to have moderated any previous criticisms that he's had. Yesterday he said the Australian Government's clamp-down has reduced the number of asylum seekers transiting through Indonesia and the risk of deaths at sea. Is he now coming to acknowledge the benefits of the Abbott Government policy?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think there's been a variety of different reports that have come out of the conference that you're referring to yesterday. What I would say is that I would be delighted to see the relationship back on track as quickly as possible. The fracture in the relationship between Australia and Indonesia has gone on way too long. I'd very much like to see an Indonesian ambassador back in Australia as quickly as possible, I'd like to see the steps that have been agreed by the Indonesia and Australian governments pursued and settled as quickly as possible because our relationship is an important one for both of us. Indonesia's an important strategic and economic partner for Australia, just as Australia is an important strategic and economic partner for Indonesia. And we have a really good history between us. It's important to get the relationship back on to a much more normal footing as quickly as we can.
JONES: But in terms of friction, do you accept that in fact much more damage was done to the Indonesian relationship by spying, the spying operation that tapped the phones of President Yudhoyono, his wife and others in his circle, presumably with the knowledge of the then Australian Government, your government?
PLIBERSEK: Well Tony, I've said to you before that we don't discuss operational intelligence issues, but I think it's fair to say that the handling of those allegations that were made was less - less than it should have been. When you have misunderstandings between countries or periods of tension, the most important thing to do is rely on your people-to-people relationships. Pick up the phone, talk these things through, not let them fester. And what we've seen now is the relationship off track for a substantial amount of time. There's an agreed process for getting the relationship back on track. I'd really like to see that brought to a conclusion. We're running into a period now of presidential elections in Indonesia and I think it would be very important to get the relationship back on track before a new president is elected because any new president, whoever it might be, of course will be focused in the first instance on their domestic issues. So, really, the sooner the better.
JONES: Well once again the Indonesian Foreign Minister is saying quite clearly there is a process for a return to full diplomatic relations. He's saying that is contingent on both sides agreeing to this code of conduct which will govern future spying operations. Now, this has been going on for some time. What are the sticking points? Has he told you?
PLIBERSEK: Well, Tony, I don't know, I'm not the Foreign Minister. You'd have to ask the Australian Foreign Minister to give you a report on what the sticking points are from the Australian end. What I can tell you is that -
JONES: No, I'm talking about from the - sorry, I'm talking about what Dr Natalegawa, the Indonesian Foreign Minister has said and what are the sticking points from his end?
PLIBERSEK: No, Tony, we didn't discuss these issues and I certainly wouldn't tell you if we had because we had a terrific meeting about a wide range of issues, but we weren't focused on this. Australia and Indonesia have a lot in common. We've got a lot of -
JONES: I'm sorry, I'm just going to - sorry, I have to interrupt you there because the Indonesian Foreign Minister himself said yesterday publicly that the agreement must include a commitment to refrain from employment of intelligence resources in a manner that would be inimical or damaging to the other country. Now this seems to be the missing clause. He's saying if this clause is inserted in the document, he'll sign it and we can get the agreement back on track. Did he not talk to you about this?
PLIBERSEK: No, we didn't discuss that, Tony. You've got his quote. I mean, you can make of that what you will. You don't need me to talk about my discussions with him to interpret that. This - in fact the relationship between Australia and Indonesia was part of our conversation. We both expressed our hope that it would get back on track quickly, but that - acknowledging that we've got a long and strong and close history together as nations, that the - that recent friction that we've had we certainly hope as a Labor opposition is resolved as quickly as possible. And I said that to him. But we discussed a range of things. We discussed South China Sea, Crimea, Ukraine. It was a very good and wide-ranging discussion.
JONES: Well I'll just make the point that the code of conduct and the completion of this code of conduct agreement seems to be the key sticking point and this seems to be the line that he wants in it and I'm just wondering if he conveyed this message to you in any way?
PLIBERSEK: Well no, Tony, and I mean, I think it's a little unreasonable for you to be asking me about the negotiations between two other Foreign ministers. You really need to talk to Australia's Foreign Minister or Indonesia's Foreign Minister about their discussions with one another. It's not for me to be commenting on their discussions with one another.
JONES: Tanya Plibersek, we'll have to leave you there. Thank you very much for joining us.
PLIBERSEK: Thanks, Tony.
The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP
Deputy Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development
Transcript of Today Show ‘In the House’ segment
with Karl Stefanovic
Subjects: Arthur Sinodinos, WA Senate election
Karl Stefanovic: Welcome back to the show. As one Senator faces a grilling in New South Wales six more dig in for political survival as Western Australia heads back to the polls. Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek joins me in the studio and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull joins us as well. I guess you could say we have Malcolm in the middle.
Malcolm Turnbull: I'm in the middle of a very small cupboard in Melbourne, but anyway it’s good to be here.
Stefanovic: You look very big on the TV don't worry about that. Let's start with you Malcolm. Arthur Sinodinos, how did he go yesterday?
Turnbull: These things are always tough experiences. But I’ll just say this I have known Arthur for a long time, Australians have known Arthur for a long time. He was really one of the principal pillars of the Howard Government, one of the most successful governments in our history. He's been made an extraordinary contribution, he's having a tough period at the moment, but let's wait until this inquiry is over. Remember it's not an inquiry into Arthur, it's an inquiry into the water company and it's already been made clear by the Commissioner that there's no suggestion he's acted corruptly or anything like that. It is embarrassing, and would be, you know it's obvious no fun for him, but I don't think we should get overwhelmed by the rather - the circus that always attends these inquiries.
Stefanovic: It's not so much the circus so much, he did a good job of it yesterday himself?
Turnbull: Well, look, you know I didn't - I wasn't watching it, you know blow by blow, but these are very awkward and difficult environments to be in.
Stefanovic: Especially if you have done the wrong thing. He wasn't aware of an awful lot Malcolm: the lavish expenses, the extent of the political donations, the extraordinary salaries paid for by rate payers, nor could he remember warnings about the company's financial state. I could go on and on for about three hours.
Turnbull: Well don't do that, we will run out of time. If I may say, Arthur did the right thing and stepped aside while this is going on. Really the big issue now -- the big issue is the Senate election in Western Australia, the last federal election West Australians voted overwhelmingly for the Coalition, gave us a mandate to repeal the carbon tax and the mining tax and Labor is opposing that in the Senate. West Australians if they want us to deliver on what they asked us to do in September have got to vote Liberal on Saturday.
Stefanovic: I can see what you’re trying to do here but we’ll get onto Western Australia in just one second. But one more point about Arthur, the problem here for you is this guy was your Assistant Treasurer, it goes to your party's judgment. Do you concede now that you made the wrong call?
Turnbull: I'm not making any concessions. There should be no rush to judgment there. He's been in the box for a day. I mean look I used to be a barrister, barristers can be very - you can make people look unsure, uncertain, all of that stuff.
Stefanovic: Malcolm, he did a good job of it yesterday himself. He really did.
Turnbull: Karl, this is a very tough environment. Let's wait and see what the findings of the Commission are.
Stefanovic: All right, Tanya?
Tanya Plibersek: Can I just say a couple of things about this? This raises questions for the Prime Minister, because the Prime Minister has made Arthur Sinodinos Assistant Treasurer. That's the job that is responsible for corporate governance. Arthur Sinodinos was the person in Australia who was supposed to design the laws that make company directors and others responsible to their shareholders. I think it's very plain that that wasn't a good decision now. But what's even more curious is a couple of weeks ago when we were in the parliament one day Tony Abbott was absolutely backing Arthur Sinodinos, less than 24 hours he was happy to step aside. What did the Prime Minister know and when did he know it?
Stefanovic: Alright, they are trying to turn it into that Malcolm, your response?
Turnbull: Tanya is entitled to ask all these questions, the Prime Minister has dealt with them. Arthur, obviously was confronted with this. He thought about it, he made the judgment to step aside pending the conclusion of this inquiry. That was a very –that was the right thing to do, it was a very manly thing to do, if that's not an inappropriate adverb, and so he's done that, and we await the judgment of the Commission.
Stefanovic: This is a very difficult position, I gather, for the rest of the party, but I think Arthur, would you ever consider down the track allowing him back into something as serious as Assistant Treasurer, or is he gone, is he done, is he finished?
Turnbull: Well, you know the Prime Minister, who chooses the ministry, has said that he expects him to come back as Assistant Treasurer.
Stefanovic: He can't now, he can’t now.
Turnbull: Well Karl, that's your opinion. You're entitled to it. Let's wait and see the outcome of the Commission.
Stefanovic: Let's just go to WA now as Malcolm flagged before as he was trying to get us off topic. He's very clever that Malcolm, isn’t he Tanya?
Plibersek: He is.
Turnbull: It didn't work.
Stefanovic: You’re backing candidate Joe Bullock. This guy Joe Bullock is a very interesting guy, he described the ALP as an untrustworthy party full of mad members. This is the guy that you’re backing over there. He was recorded at a Perth function saying the party needs him in parliament or it would follow every weird lefty trend that you could imagine. He also said he would rather be expelled from the party than vote in support of gay marriage and abortion. This is the sort guy that you are backing?
Plibersek: That’s why we have a conscious vote on same-sex marriage and abortion and he’s got every right not to vote for it.
Stefanovic: What about the other stuff - an untrustworthy party?
Plibersek: Well I don’t know, he might have had a good dinner that night I'm not sure. He's someone who was worked for the working people of Western Australia for 30 years. I was just there a couple of days ago talking about penalty rates and the potential that people will lose up to a third of their take home pay, people who are cleaners...
Stefanovic: This guy is not your cup of tea, though, Jo Bullock?
Plibersek: We are a very broad party. We are, we’re a very broad party.
Stefanovic: Alright you two, finally very quickly because we are out of time, have you both started sucking up to Clive Palmer?
Turnbull: Can I just say Karl, leaving aside Clive for a second, our candidates in Western Australia, David Johnson the Defence Minister, Michaelia Cash an outstanding minister and Linda Reynolds at No.3, a brigadier general, a woman, a brigadier general in the Australian Army reserve...
Plibersek: The trouble is Malcolm...
Turnbull: We don't have to be apologetic to our candidates.
Plibersek: People don't want to send a message to Tony Abbott that what Colin Barnett has been doing for Western Australia is just fine for the rest of the country, health cuts and education cuts.
Stefanovic: Joe Bullock if he gets in, it is unlikely, but he will be an interesting member for you. Thank you very much you two. We’ll see you next time.
The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP
Deputy Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development
Transcript of ABC 720 Perth radio interview
Drive with John McGlue
2 APRIL 2014
Subjects: Penalty rates
John McGlue: Just three days now until the all-important Senate election re-run here in Western Australia. The major parties are pushing as hard as you’ve ever seen to get your vote in the Senate. All the big guns are over here pushing whatever issue they believe is going to swing your vote on the weekend. My next guest on Drive believes that a potential attack on penalty rates by the Abbott Government is something that should resonate with West Australians. She’s the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Tanya Plibersek, welcome to Drive.
Tanya Plibersek: Thank you, John.
McGlue: The Labor Party’s making a big play of this penalty rate issue, what hard evidence do you have that penalty rates are about to change?
Plibersek: Well, there’s the leaked terms of reference to the Productivity Commission inquiry into industrial relations which certainly include looking at penalty rates. We’ve heard just today from the West Australian Chamber of Commerce and we know that a very prominent business man here in West Australia who’s on the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council has also been in the media saying that penalty rates should be cut. So, the fact that the Government’s actually looking at cutting penalty rates and we’ve got this strong call from businesses in the West, I think would certainly be a call for concern for West Australians who rely on penalty rates to make ends meet.
McGlue: The Chamber of Commerce and Industry has suggested what it calls a sensible loading, one and a half times, what do you make of that? Is that something that you think is sensible?
Plibersek: Well, I think we need to be sensible at all times in industrial relations, of course. I’m not going to speculate about one particular rate, but I would say this: when you’re talking about workers who are relying on penalty rates to make ends meet, they’re not the high paid workers. They’re cleaners, they’re shop assistants, they’re people who work in aged care, they’re prison officers, they’re nurses, they’re paramedics. They’re the people who are, you know, cleaning the schools after kids have gone home until 10 o’clock at night. And a lot of these workers get up to a third of their take-home pay from penalty rates. So you take a cleaner, for example, that cleaner might be earning just over $17 without penalty rates, and say around, just over $22 with penalty rates. So, it’s all very well for people on very high incomes to be talking about the impost of penalty rates, but for many of these people it really is the difference between making the family budget meet at the end of the week.
McGlue: You talk about the difficulties for employees needing penalty rates, needing the income that comes from that to make ends meet. What about employers? By Labor’s own figures, that’s up to 30 per cent of the wage bill, can you understand how they feel, the employers?
Plibersek: Yes, I do and I think that it is really important we have a cooperative relationship between employers and employees. But I’d say again, that the people that we’re talking about are already some of the lowest paid workers in our community. If you’re talking about a cleaner who might be on $17 getting penalty rates taking them to $22, you’re not talking about highflyers. So yes, I have every openness to arguments that employers are making. What I’m saying is that if you’re taking our lowest paid workers, people who look after aging Australians in nursing homes and saying we want to take a third of their take-home pay away then that’s a very difficult thing for that person and that family.
McGlue: Do you know what it’s like to be an employer? Do you know what it feels like to pay wages, to be responsible for somebody’s wellbeing and for their financial situation? To lie awake in bed at night and wonder whether you’re going to make payroll? Have you ever been in that position? Have you ever employed anybody and run a balance sheet?
Plibersek: Yes I do. I have employed people and worked in small businesses before I went into Parliament. But I’m not saying that I’m an expert in this by any means. I think that there are millions of small business owners in Australia who do experience a great deal of stress every day and one of those issues is making ends meet, a lot of other issues around red tape and what it takes to- just in hours worked to run a small business are things that we can discuss and be open to and we’re already having those discussions with small business.
McGlue: But Tanya Plibersek, employing people isn’t a gaol sentence, it’s utterly discretionary. And in recent years in Australia we’ve seen a withdrawal of capital from productive investment. The banks will tell you that credit growth is growing modestly but deposit growth and term deposit growth are growing at considerably higher rates and essentially that’s capital gone on strike and if Labor is so determined to hold onto these high cost elements like penalty rates, how do you convince capital, how do you convince prospective employers to invest in new businesses and to employ the people who you, the Labor Party, professes to represent? How do you do that?
Plibersek: Well, about 3 per cent of Australian businesses employ more than 20 people. So if you’re talking about a drop in business investment and in fact there was a drop off the cliff in business investment at the beginning of this year. I don’t know that you can make a direct link between a worker being paid $22 an hour instead of $17 an hour and a drop in capital investment from businesses.
McGlue: But it’s all around the perception of the capital of businesses around the conditions in which they will operate, and the conditions and the backdrop against which they will invest. If they don’t think that business conditions are decent, they’ll hold back the capital which is what’s happening. That’s why businesses are so concerned about lobbying for changes on penalty rates.
Plibersek: Yeah and do you know what? I think that there is a real problem with business confidence in Australia and part of that is having a government that is telling business and the community all the time that there are big cuts coming in the budget, that our economy is in bad shape, when in fact we’ve had some of the strongest growth of any nation on earth. We’ve had some of the lowest debt and lowest deficits of any nation on earth. When we’ve continued to have 23 years of continuous growth in this country, by any measure our economy internationally is a very strong one and it would be terrific to have a government that wasn’t talking down our economy all the time.
McGlue: Well one of the concerns they’ve got of course is the fact is they’ve inherited such a big mountain of debt and they have also –
Plibersek: That is just nonsense.
McGlue: And they have also inherited a series of a budgetary position, a fiscal position which is at best parlous. And all of that happened under Labor.
Plibersek: That is just nonsense. If you look at Australian debt and Australian deficit compared to nations around the world you will see Australia’s position is better than most. It’s certainly better than the US its better than the UK, it’s better than Europe, it’s better than Japan, it’s better than most economies in the world. And what we’ve seen in the mid-year economic forecast from Joe Hockey is a cooking of the books. He has changed parameters in the budget so that debt looks bigger. He’s made a decision to make the budget look worse than it is. He’s got 68 billion dollars’ worth of parameter changes and that includes also an 8 billion dollar, over 8 billion dollars just given to the Reserve Bank. Money that the Reserve Bank doesn’t need, didn’t ask for, that’s just added to our deficit. Why? Because he wants to make the budget look as bad as possible so he can have the excuse he wants to cut programs, like cut education, cut health and cut all the programs that Australians rely on to live in a civilised community.
McGlue: Thanks for your time today. Thank you for coming in.
Plibersek: Thank you.
The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP
Deputy Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development
Transcript of ABC TV interview
Capital Hill with Greg Jennett
2 APRIL 2014
Subjects: WA Senate Election, party reform, free trade agreements, diplomatic appointments.
Greg Jennett: Tanya Plibersek let’s start with the Western Australian Senate election campaign, what does it matter to the balance of power in the Senate if Labor gets one or two seats? Doesn’t the ultimate fate of things like carbon or mining tax hinge on the assembly of cross-benchers there?
Tanya Plibersek: Well, Tony Abbott’s said that he wants to be the same sort of Prime Minister as Colin Barnett is a state Premier and I think sending a very strong message to Tony Abbott that the cuts that have happened here in Western Australia are not just unpopular here in Western Australia but are a bad thing for the rest for Australia as well, would be a good thing at this Senate election on Saturday. It’s important for Labor to have a strong showing and we’re working very hard to make sure we get good voter turnout. The biggest risk of course on Saturday is poor voter turnout. So I’m here and my colleagues have been here reminding people to vote.
Jennett: Now while this campaign is underway we’ve seen the emergence of a national conversation in Labor about its ties to the union movement with contributions coming from David Feeney and Simon Crean and others. What’s your view? Is there room to loosen those ties and make union membership for example optional?
Plibersek: Unions I think still have a very important role in the Australian community and the role that they play in the Labor Party is an important one too. But I think that there’s always room in the Labor party to talk about how we can modernise and how we can democratise and how we attract people that are not the natural constituency of unions.
Jennett: Alright let’s go to some issues that broadly relate to your foreign affairs portfolio. We’ve seen at least 500 job losses announced today at BP and at Phillip Morris all of them linked to Asia in some way and this comes at a time when the push for more free trade deals is intensifying. Is there a point at which these should be slowed down in the interest of Australian jobs?
Plibersek: Look I think a better trading relationship with our neighbours has actually been in the long run very good for Australian jobs, but it does mean our economy goes through readjustments and the government has a responsibility to help with those readjustments. To make sure that we’re looking into the future and we’re looking forward to see what sort of jobs Australians will be doing in the future.
Jennett: And just finally, the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program has reported that Alexander Downer had discussed but never actually received or asked for a $60 000 Success Fee for trying to get Australian property executive Matt Joyce out of jail in Dubai. Does that show sound judgement in your view? The decision not to accept it I suppose rather than the contemplation of it.
Plibersek: Well I haven’t read those reports I’m afraid, so I can’t comment on the detail of it and I’m not going to make any comments about the Matthew Joyce case for that reason. But what I would say about Alexander Downer is that it’s pretty extraordinary that we’ve seen very experienced former state premiers recalled from both New York and London to make way for Mr Downer and Nick Minchin.
Jennett: And do you suggest that Alexander Downer is not the best person for this London post?
Plibersek: Well, I think others can make that determination. But I’ve got to say, when Mike Rann and Steve Bracks were recalled from these posts it looked very much like it was very simple politics.
Jennett: Alright, Tanya Plibersek, we’ll leave it there and let you get back to campaigning in the West. Thank you.
Plibersek: Thank you.
The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP
Deputy Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development
Transcript of press conference, Western Australian Parliament House, Perth
2 APRIL 2014
Subjects: Penalty rates, WA Senate Election, cuts to health and education, jobs, whaling
Tanya Plibersek: I’m here particularly today talking with workers and young people about the effect of a possible cut in penalty rates for the workers of Western Australia. We know that the cost of living in the West is high, particularly when you factor in things like rent and a lot of families and a lot of individuals rely on penalty rates to make ends meet. Right across Australia there’s about four and a half million people who rely on penalty rates and the fear is those workers could lose up to $14 000 a year or around 30% of their pay if penalty rates are cut. Now the Productivity Commission is looking at the industrial relations system and the leaked terms of reference from that inquiry show that the Government is interested in cutting penalty rates. We’ve also heard from the Western Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Mr Cheney the representative on the Prime Minister’s Business Council here in the west, all calling for cuts to penalty rates. The sort of workers who rely on penalty rates are not your high-flyers. They’re your school cleaners, they’re prison guards, they’re nurses, paramedics, people who work in aged care, people who work in hospitality and the retail sector. They’re quite often people just earning the bare minimum of their award, you’re talking about people who might earn just over $17 an hour for example and their penalty rates might take them up to $22 an hour. You’re not talking about people on very high incomes. You’re also talking about people who have chosen to work nights, overnight, weekends, public holidays because their families are desperate for that income, because their families rely on those incomes and penalty rates to make ends meet particularly in places like Western Australia where the cost of living is very high. So I’m here today to stand with Louise and the workers from different industries we’ve met from different industries this morning to say that a cut to penalty rates particularly to these lower paid workers is completely unacceptable. Louise did you want to say a few things?
Louise Pratt: Right around the state this issue is resonating with people because if you talk to students in Western Australia who are studying, who are going to face to face classes, who are then having to do their assignments and then are juggling often two and three jobs in addition to that. Without penalty rates it’s almost impossible to contemplate actually being able to finish a university degree. You also talk to families who are often working different shifts, you’ve got two parents working different shifts and they need that extra money to make ends meet but also to make up for the fact that they’ve got parents who are working unsociable hours. So this is a vital issue right around Western Australia, people are raising with me that they want to see their penalty rates and their overtime protected.
Journalist: What sort of message are you getting from WA voters about the Carbon Tax and the Mining Tax?
Plibersek: Well in fact WA voters are not generally raising those issues with me. The things that Western Australian voters are raising with me are the fears of further cuts to services that they rely on. We see Tony Abbott saying he wants to be a Prime Minister like Collin Barnett is a Premier here in the West and we know that Collin Barnett has cut $183 million for the school education system here. We know that 350 teachers have been sacked and 350 teachers’ aids and all those programs that help kids with special needs and learning difficulties in the schools have been cut as well. So I think Western Australians are very worried about further cuts to education. I know they’re also very worried about further cuts to healthcare. We’ve got the Fiona Stanley Hospital here that’s running a year late. You’ve got a security firm that’s being paid $250 000 a week to keep open a hospital that’s got no patients. It’s like something out of ‘Yes Prime Minister’, this terrific, beautiful new hospital that cost a fortune to run but has got no actual patients in it. So when I’ve been travelling around Perth and other parts of Western Australia the things that people are raising with me is they don’t want Tony Abbott to get the message that he can treat Western Australia the same way Colin Barnett is treating Western Australia, which is cutting education, cutting health and cutting the services Western Australians rely on.
Journalist: What’s your response to the suggestion that the United Party are buying votes in this election?
Plibersek: Look, it’s obvious they’re outspending the other parties but that’s a decision for the party to make. We live in a democracy and as long as they abide by the rules they’ve got a right to run.
Journalist: Does that give you guys a disadvantage though?
Plibersek: Yeah, of course it puts us at a disadvantage, they’re outspending us by a fortune. But that’s democracy. As long as a political party declares all its donations and abides by the rules they’ve got every right to spend the money they raise.
Journalist: How are you feeling about how Labor will do this Saturday, particularly given you’re here with number two on the ticket Louise Pratt and Joe Bullock again isn’t at an event with a senior federal politician?
Plibersek: Well it makes sense for our senate candidates to be campaign in different parts of the state. It doesn’t make sense for us all to travel in a pack and I know that Joe Bullock today is talking to members of the Shop Assistants Union where he’s chairing a conference. The fact he’s stood up for working people here in the West for thirty years makes him an excellent candidate for the senate but I’m delighted to be here with number two on the ticket Louise Pratt who has made such a terrific contribution in Canberra and who has stood up for progressive causes here in the West for many years. I hope that both Joe and Louise will be elected and if we go to number three and four on the ticket as well that would make me even happier.
Journalist: But do you have a sense that Louise is in a better position than she was in September?
Plibersek: I think Louise is in an excellent position because the Labor party members here have been out working hard, because both Joe and Louise have both been just flogging themselves to talk to the people of Western Australia about what’s important for the West and why they can’t afford to send a message to Tony Abbott that the cuts are just fine, that the attacks on penalty rates are just fine.
Journalist: Just in your portfolio area, are you concerned that the whaling decision could impact at all on free trade negotiations with Japan?
Plibersek: I’m delighted to see the whaling decision. It is something that Labor in government began, this legal process, and to see it resolved so clearly in favour of Australia’s position that Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean is not scientific research makes me very pleased indeed. I don’t think it will have an effect on our relationship with Japan because we have such a long and close friendship with Japan. We’ve got a strong trading relationship, we’ve got very good lines of communication and we have had for many decades now. We’ve talked to the Japanese government about this in the past and we’ve always I guess, agreed to disagree. We’ve known that while we have so much in common and such a good relationship, this issue of whaling was one that we were not going to agree on so we sent that off to an international judicial process. Both the Australian and Japanese government agreed that they would abide by the findings of the court case and the Japanese government have indicated that they’ll do that. So I think that it’s certainly a terrific decision from Australia’s perspective. I’m delighted that this will end the slaughter of whales in the Southern Ocean but I don’t think it will negatively affect our very close relationship with Japan.
Journalist: Sorry, one more-
Plibersek: No bunny ears.
Interviewer: What do you think of the Phillip Morris announcement that they’re shutting down their plant?
Plibersek: Well, I’m very concerned at the job losses of BP in Brisbane which are very substantial. I’m afraid I feel very sorry for the workers of Phillip Morris because I feel sorry for any Australian who loses their job. But if the reason that a cigarette company is losing business is because people are smoking less, I’ve got to say I’m delighted by the fact people are smoking less. We know that smoking kills half of all regular smokers and our government took some very strong measures to reduce tobacco consumption in Australia. I think the bigger question really is, does this Government have a plan for the jobs of the future? We’ve seen the car industry close, we’ve seen SPC Ardmona in trouble, we’ve seen Alumina production in Gove in trouble, we’ve seen BP now in Brisbane closing. And it really feels like this government, the Abbott government, has no plans for where the jobs of the future are coming from. As our economy changes there will be opportunities for Australians to do new and different types of work but we have to plan for that and we have to make the most of our future opportunities. We live today in the fastest growing region of the planet. Asia has got the fastest growing middle class on the planet. Asia is making the most, making the most goods and producing the most services, but soon we’ll also be consuming the most here in Asia as well. And so, as a nation, we need to be able to take that opportunity and run with it. And I don’t feel like the Howard government has got a plan to take that opportunity and run with it.
Journalist: Just back on the Senate race, um the micro party that’s given-
Plibersek: Sorry I just want to say one more thing about the jobs thing?
The car industry is a really, really important case in point here because the government said “oh anybody could predict that the car industry was going to close down.” Well if that’s the case, if they did indeed predict the closure of the car industry, what do they think is going to take its place? What’s going to take the place of the 50 000 direct employed jobs there and the 200-250 000 indirect jobs. And we’ve got an announcement from the Abbott Government that they’re, you know, going to have this 100 million dollar car package, no details, no progress in months now and no clarity about how that money that they’ve said will be spent on helping workers and communities readjust, no detail on how it will be spent or when it will become available. So I’m concerned about any job that is lost but I also think that part of that responsibility of government is working out where the jobs of the future will come from. Where is the employment growth going to be and how do we prepare for that? How do we educate our workforce? How do we make sure our kids are ready for those jobs? How do we make sure our infrastructure here in Australia means that we can take up those opportunities that being part of the fastest growing region on earth gives us?
Journalist: Just back on the senate race, the micro party that’s given the best chance of winning a senate seat is the Hemp party whose party platform includes the legalisation of marijuana. As a former health minister, what’s your thoughts on that?
Plibersek: Well I don’t support the legalisation of marijuana. I think that it’s important to recognise that smoking marijuana has some very serious health consequences, and it’s you know, obviously there are some emerging links with mental illness and particularly early start to smoking marijuana but there’s also, of course, smoking anything is not good for you – it’s not good for your lungs and it’s not good for your body. So I don’t support the legalisation of marijuana.
The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP
Deputy Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development
Transcript of Sky News Australian Agenda
with Peter van Onselen, Paul Kelly and Simon Benson
Subjects: The Speaker, knights and dames, Racial Discrimination Act, Medibank Private, intelligence gathering, Russia, party reform, plain packaging
Peter Van Onselen: We’ll discuss some of this in a moment, right now in fact, with Tanya Plibersek, the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party. Thanks for joining us.
Tanya Plibersek: It’s a pleasure.
Van Onselen: Is it a serious issue, the Bronwyn Bishop situation? Because I put it in that package after the knighthoods and dames, which we’ll no doubt talk about as well, but Labor was accused of a stunt on this but Tony Burke was quite clear in his comments that this was something that your side took very seriously before moving the motion that you did.
Plibersek: I think it’s very well worth listening to Tony’s speech or reading it because it does lay out in quite a lot of detail why we took the action we did. We didn’t take it lightly. As your package showed there had been, I think, 98 people thrown out on one side by that stage, and 0 on the other side.
Van Onselen: But is the point there that you just needed a couple of token members of the Government thrown out and then it looks much like what a lot of parliaments have been like on both sides over the years.
Plibersek: Look I have to be very careful not to reflect on the Speaker of course. I think it’s fair to say that it has been a Parliament unexpectedly rowdy. We thought, in fact, that once Tony Abbott became the Prime Minister that some of the very hard behaviour would evaporate. We thought once he achieved his goal perhaps things would settle back into a more normal kind of Opposition-Government relationship, but that hasn’t happened.
Van Onselen: But Liberals would say it’s your side that is being rowdy, because of whatever reason. There was even accusations of misogyny of Labor men on the frontbench against Speaker Bronwyn Bishop.
Plibersek: I don’t think Bronwyn Bishop would claim that for a moment and I don’t think anybody in the Parliament would for a minute suggest that that in fact is the case. It is important that Members of Parliament don’t reflect on the Speaker in the Parliament or outside the Parliament. But it has been an unexpectedly rowdy Parliament. We’ve seen very many members from the Opposition thrown out, none from the Government. And it is unusual for the Speaker to participate in debate in the way that this Speaker has chosen to. In the past for example, Speakers have also chosen not to attend party room meetings because the role of the Speaker is by tradition always one that is independent, that doesn’t intervene in debate, that doesn’t take the side of a particular political party. And they go in of course with the support of their party but then they remove themselves from the day to day rough and tumble of political life. That’s the historical position.
Paul Kelly: But isn’t the truth here that Labor doesn’t have clean hands when it comes to the Speakership given that it traded the job for votes in the last parliament? I mean you’re hardly in a position to be holier than thou here.
Plibersek: Well, Paul I think you understand that when the numbers are as finely balanced as they were in the last parliament, having a Speaker from another party or from the crossbench makes it frankly, easier to govern. If you remove one of your own number from the count every single vote-
Kelly: Wasn’t it a mistake to make Peter Slipper Speaker? Didn’t Labor get that wrong given what happened to Slipper? Surely you’re not defending that.
Plibersek: No, I think if we all had twenty-twenty foresight as clearly as we’ve got twenty-twenty hindsight it would be a very different world, wouldn’t it?
Kelly: But it was a mistake though?
Plibersek: We had very, very finely balanced numbers in the Parliament, a hung Parliament, and having someone who wasn’t taking a vote away from the Labor Party every single time we stood up to vote. We passed 500 pieces of legislation in the last Parliament and in part that was because we could rely on each Labor vote to be a Labor vote.
Simon Benson: Do you expect now that you’ve made your point about the Speaker, and I understand you can’t reflect on the Speaker, on the Chair, Tony Burke reflected in depth the other day–
Plibersek: It’s a great speech, people should watch it.
Benson: It was an interesting speech, it led to an interesting outcome in the Parliament after that, but what do expect to achieve out of it? What’s going to happen now? You’ve made you point about it. It’s unlikely to change anything. What did you achieve by raising that in the way you did?
Plibersek: I think it’s very important that we have a Parliament where both sides feel that they can be heard and both sides feel that they are treated equally and that if they behave the same way they’ll be treated in the same way and I hope that in future our Parliament will be like that.
Benson: But it looked, from the look on the Speakers face after that speech, it’s unlikely that that will occur, I would have thought. You might be in for a rather cool winter, I would have thought.
Van Onselen: Yeah, I would have thought Bronwyn Bishop’s personality is not the kind where she’ll now take the six week break to reflect on her own role after you’ve tried to knock her out in a show of dishonour towards the way she’s done her job till now.
Plibersek: Well, what’s the alternative? Just sucking it up? I mean the alternative is just allowing the current situation or the way the House of Representatives has been functioning to continue and I don’t think that is an alternative.
Van Onselen: Well, I guess the question is, if she doesn’t change is the Opposition prepared to do it again?
Plibersek: I wouldn’t want to speculate now.
Van Onselen: I was just going to move to knighthoods and dames. I don’t know if you were going to do that Paul, but I just want to quickly ask you–
Plibersek: I think you mean Sir Paul, don’t you?
Van Onselen: Knighthoods and dames, do you consider it anachronistic to go down this path? Are you upset or are you just ridiculing?
Plibersek: I’m not upset. It doesn’t make me angry, it doesn’t make me sad or worried. I find it perplexing. I think it’s an odd choice to make. I think it’s an odd thing to do particularly without the Prime Minister speaking to his Cabinet. The Cabinet had apparently met the day that the announcement was made and he hadn’t mentioned it to his Cabinet colleagues. So I think if you want to get support from your own side for something like that it’s a wise thing to raise it with your Cabinet colleagues. And I guess the other thing I’d say is the people who are upset by it I think are upset because, you know, truly the highest honour I would think you can get is the citizens of the country that you serve to bestow an honour upon you. No matter what you feel about the Queen, she’s a long way away and she’s not engaged in the day to day political or social life of our country. If I were thinking about the greater honour I would think that having the citizens of this country support you for an AC, for example, would be a greater honour.
Van Onselen: What about the idea though that if a man is knighted and becomes a sir, his wife becomes a lady –
Plibersek: I hope not for the first time.
Van Onselen: Well said. But if he’s in a de-facto relationship there’s nothing, if he’s a homosexual there’s nothing. I mean there would be a distinction between Justice Kirby being knighted and another justice being knighted.
Plibersek: I think you’re pointing out a few of the range of things that’s wrong with the proposal but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. We have said that this is a distraction, it’s a side issue –
Van Onselen: You’d reverse it?
Plibersek: Yeah sure, but I’m not going to spend any more time thinking about it, campaigning against it, talking about it, it’s not going to keep me awake at night.
Kelly: I know that Labor Party has had a lot of fun with this issue but it does raise another question and that is for how long will the Labor Party run dead on the republic?
Plibersek: I don’t think we are running dead on the republic –
Kelly: Of course you’re running dead on the republic. You hardly hear anything from the Labor Party about the republic for the last six to seven years.
Plibersek: Well, I think the republic is a very important issue. Is it as important today as the one job being lost every 3 minutes, or the cuts to education or the cuts to healthcare? No, it is an important issue and we have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, but our focus, the focus of our work, the vast majority of time that we spend in public debate will always be on those issues of jobs, health, education, infrastructure… We should have a republic. What are you doing to support that? You’ve got a voice that’s stronger than most in this country Paul, if you write your next leader on it then I’ll come and support you.
Kelly: Let’s just come back to the Labor Party, we’ve had six years of Labor Government, they ran completely dead, will Labor in Opposition try and crank up the issue more?
Plibersek: I think our main focus will always be on jobs and health and education. But I don’t think there is a single Labor Member of Parliament who is not a republican. The question is, do we throw ourselves at an issue that is not a huge one for the Australian public at the moment or do we focus on the things that are our bread and butter? We are in Parliament to build a strong economy and a fair society and a republic I think is an important symbolic issue but it can’t be the main game for us. But I’m delighted to hear that you’re going to be backing it in The Australian and that you’ll be cranking it up as an issue.
Kelly: We always back it in The Australian.
Benson: One issue that isn’t bread and butter but is a big issue is 18C which we’re going to talk about later. Labor were accused of starting a class war with the Coalition when in Government, do you think that the Coalition now are trying to deliberately start a culture war with Labor over 18C and the knights and dame ships feeds into that as well, do you think it’s a deliberate attempt to start a class war over this issue? A culture war, I’m sorry.
Plibersek: I think it’s hard to say any of the last couple of weeks has been really deliberate. I think the Government has lurched from one mistake to another. I think the changes to the Racial Discrimination Act are designed to deliver on a promise to a very narrow sectional interest, you know a few journalists and a handful of commentators that have said that this is a terrible impost on free speech in Australia. We haven’t heard from the Government who has been so terribly imposed upon by the Racial Discrimination Act that their rights have been curtailed up till now.
Van Onselen: Andrew Bolt.
Plibersek: Well, we haven’t heard about anyone other than Andrew Bolt and I don’t think one instance makes their case for them.
Van Onselen: Is your biggest concern here a process one rather than necessarily the outcome? The fact that there’s one case that wasn’t appealed that this seems to be based on.
Plibersek: No. My concern is not mainly a process one, my concern is that Andrew Bolt versus some other person who’s got an ability to make their case in public, who can access the newspaper, who can have their voice heard in the public debate. I’m not concerned about those two people having a public argument and who gets in trouble there. What I’m concerned about is sending a message that racist speech, or bigoted speech, in public doesn’t matter anymore. It’s all within the bounds of what’s perfectly acceptable. You know, if you’re two strong people having a debate through newspapers and Parliament and so on, that’s one thing. If you’re the person being abused on the bus, if you’re the school kid being abused in the playground, if you’re the person who’s being shouted at on the soccer field, it’s a very different thing. Those people don’t have the ability to protect themselves, they don’t have as clear access to the law and they certainly can’t put their point of view in a newspaper column as Andrew Bolt can or on TV, or anywhere else.
Kelly: But what’s wrong with saying, as the Attorney is proposing in the changes, that community values be the test?
Plibersek: Well, I think community values are critical of the idea that it’s the racists that need protection, not the people that are the subject of racist speech. And I think it’s true to say that community values should be one of the most fundamental tests of any law that they keep in this country-
Kelly: But they put them in the statute. That’s the proposal now, that it become part of the law. The community values, that what an ordinary member of the community deems to be the situation be the test. What’s wrong with that?
Plibersek: I think that that’s a very generous interpretation of what this exposure bill does. I think that your panel will be speaking about it later, but the exceptions that this new approach allows will mean that almost nothing will be out of bounds to say.
Kelly: I understand the point about the exception. I understand that point and I think you’re right on that, but let’s go back to the community values test and I know we don’t want to proceed with this too much.
Van Onselen: No doubt our panel will have some strong views on this as well, but from your perspective?
Plibersek: Well, from my perspective there’s nothing wrong with saying community values govern our legal approach in any situation, but the practical application of the changes to this law as they were proposed mean that you can basically say anything to anyone in any circumstance. The protections become so narrow and so limited almost nothing is out of bounds. So cases like the Tobin case where you’ve got a holocaust denier saying that people who object to his holocaust denial are of limited intelligence would not be picked up by this new law from the legal advice that we have.
Van Onselen: We will come back to this issue on this program. Let me ask you about Medibank Private.
Van Onselen: You were Health Minister.
Van Onselen: Labor could have taken this off the agenda. The Government is able to do this without legislative change as I understand it because it’s been sitting there as an available mechanism for them, which Labor could have adjusted but you never did.
Plibersek: Are you suggesting we should have changed the law to make it harder for them to sell Medibank Private?
Van Onselen: Well, if you had a problem with it, it would have been prudent planning given where the polls were at for the last few years.
Plibersek: I don’t think that governments should try and circumscribe what following governments are going to do in that way.
Van Onselen: It would have put it back to the Parliament. I mean, I think that’s what’s interesting here. It would have meant that a new government would have had to receive Parliamentary support to sell Medibank Private, whether you agree or disagree.
Plibersek: I think it’s a curious proposition that we should be legislating for the next government. We are perfectly happy to defend the fact that we didn’t sell Medibank Private. I think the reasons for doing it are that it’s short sighted, that the capital they’ll realise is only a few years’ worth of receipts from Medibank Private, so it’s a short term approach to Government finances. But also I’m concerned that any reduction in competition in the private health insurance market means premiums rise. The last lot of premium rises when Peter Dutton became Health Minister were the largest premium rises I think in a decade, but certainly much higher than anything that any Labor Minister approved during our time, my time and Nicola’s time as Health Minister. You already see the private health insurance industry putting up premiums as often and as much as they can and you take Medibank Private out of the equation, reduce competition, I see that situation getting worse.
Benson: Could I just take you to one of your portfolios as foreign policy? In a nutshell, should Russia be coming to the G20 later this year in Brisbane?
Plibersek: Well, I think that’s a decision the international community has to make together. It’s not something that Australia as host should make on its own.
Van Onselen: But you must have a view?
Plibersek: Yeah and I’m not going to –
Van Onselen: You’re not going to share it with us?
Plibersek: No, because I think that foreign policy is an area where you don’t freelance and it’s an area where there is a large degree of bipartisanship and the only time when we haven’t had bipartisanship it’s because I think the Government has been freelancing.
Benson: That sounds like an accusation that Julie Bishop may have been freelancing, has she and on what issues?
Plibersek: Yes she has, but back to your G20 thing. That’s something the international community has to decide together. I think that we do have to have stronger sanctions on Russia than we’ve had at the moment but you don’t make it up as you go along in foreign policy you have to have a national position and then an international position that you negotiate. We’re in a very good position to do that as a member of the Security Council now, as a host of the G20, I think there is a degree of leadership expected from us but we need to make decisions like that, very serious decisions, this is a serious decision, not just for the next year or two but for the next decade or half century. The decisions we’re making now will be very significant for Europe in particular, but also if Europe becomes a zone of greater conflict, then the United States pivot to Asia comes under pressure, obviously. So these are significant issues for Europe but also for us in our region.
Benson: Can I ask you a question with your other hat on, I’m not sure that everyone knows that you’re also a member of the Security and Intelligence Committee at Parliament. The US only last week are introducing laws for data retention on surveillance and intelligence gathering, specifically around telcos retaining data for eighteen months. It’s very similar to a debate we were having a year ago, the intelligence agencies here wanted extensions to powers they already had. We shelved it, should we be looking at that again? Especially in light of the radicalisation of Australians over the Syrian conflict which is obviously a concern to intelligence agencies. Should we be revisiting that bill?
Plibersek: I think that there is a misconception in the Australian public about the sort of data that’s retained in these circumstances. I think some people imagine that security agencies can go back and listen to the phone call you made to your mum eighteen months ago about what time you’re going to be home for dinner. The information that is kept in these circumstances is basically you could describe it as the envelope that the message comes in, who called whom and when. That kind of information.
Plibersek: And I think that it is important to be able to- people describe it as keeping the haystack so you can go back and look for the needle afterwards. We have disrupted some very serious terrorist plots in Australia. We’ve done it because we’ve got a strong intelligence community here. They do a good job. There continue to be threats. Those threats may increase for reasons that you’ve described and I want to give those agencies the maximum ability to do their job well within the bounds that people would expect.
Benson: It sounds to me as though you don’t have a problem with that concept, extending those laws to require mandatory retention of metadata by telcos for a certain period, whether a year, eighteen months, two years.
Plibersek: I think we always need to balance the expectations people have of living in a democratic and open society. But I certainly want to make it as easy for security agencies to do their job of protecting Australians from threat as we can.
Kelly: Can I just move to the Labor Party? Is it your view that Labor members need to be trade union members?
Plibersek: I think a lot of Labor Party members aren’t trade union members.
Kelly: Are you trade union member?
Plibersek: I am, I’m a member if the CPSU, and I have been for, I don’t know, 20 years at least.
Kelly: Do you want a formal change to the rules or not?
Plibersek: I think that we need to recognise that there are plenty of people working in jobs, self-employed people for example, for whom union membership isn’t easy – there’s not a natural union for some people to join. I’m a proud union member, and I’m happy to be a member of the union, and I always have been since the day I started working.
Kelly: But you want this nexus broken do you?
Plibersek: Well, I think we need to be a party that welcomes new people in, and if the only barrier to someone joining the Labor Party is that there’s not a natural union for them to join, then that’s a crazy reason for not welcoming them into the Labor Party.
Kelly: So are you happy to see Labor MPs who are proudly not members of a union?
Plibersek: I can’t imagine a Labor MP who proudly stood up and said I’m not a member of the union – and I’m the exact opposite.
Kelly: Wouldn’t that be a good thing though for the Labor Party?
Plibersek: No, why would it be a good thing?
Kelly: It wouldn’t?
Plibersek: I think unions have done so many important things for our country: we’ve got the eight hour day, we’ve got extra pay for working anti-social hours, we’ve got the minimum wage, we’ve got a range of protections because of the union movement. And the union movement was key to defeating WorkChoices. The union movement in Australia does valuable things every single day, sticking up for workers who’d otherwise be kicked around.
Van Onselen: But it’s not a slight on the union movement, you just simply think that you should be able to have people join the Labor Party, also enter parliament, without being union members if they so choose.
Plibersek: Well, I’m not going to make that pronouncement now.
Van Onselen: But you’re the deputy leader of the Labor Party.
Kelly: But I thought you just said that? Isn’t that your position?
Plibersek: No, I said that people, if there’s not a natural union for them to join should still be able to be members of the Labor Party – that saying someone can’t be a member of the Labor party because of the job they do – if they work for themselves, if they’re unemployed, if they’re pensioners – there’s a whole range of times when it’s not natural for someone to be a member of a union, and should that bar them from being a member of the Labor Party? No, I don’t think it should, because we’re interested in increasing membership, opening up to people.
Kelly: I think that’s pretty clear. That’s sort of an indirect way of endorsing the change.
Plibersek: We had yesterday for example, the Newtown state seat pre-selection, where we had half of the votes from Labor Party members, and half from community members, so basically like a primaries pre-selection – a lot of those people they’re not members of the Labor party, they wouldn’t be members of their union, they’re just people who are interested in their community, and who’s going to be the Labor candidate for their community – those sorts of opening up of democratic pathways for people who are outside the Labor Party to participate in Labor politics. Our new policy proposal in the lead up to the next conference will be open to members of the public making submissions, and coming along to public events – that’s all good, that’s great.
Benson: It is important to make a symbolic statement though I suppose, and this is where the leader Bill Shorten is going to go in a couple of weeks I believe, we reported it this week in the Telegraph, that that’s the road he’s going to go down – remove this kind of anachronistic requirement that you need to be a member of the trade union movement to be a member of the Labor Party. Now a lot of branches don’t enforce that, of course, so you do have a lot of members of the Labor Party that aren’t members. But isn’t it an important symbolic message to send to the broader community that the Labor Party wants to broaden its membership? So, would you agree with the leader then?
Plibersek: Do I agree with the leader? [laughs] Yes, generally [laughs].
Kelly: You could disagree with him though if you wanted to.
Plibersek: I think it’s important that Bill makes the announcement that he wants to make when he wants to make it. We are an open and democratic party and the more ways we have of showing that and behaving that way, the better.
Van Onselen: Tanya Plibersek we’re almost out of time, but just one left-field final question. Indonesia is taking Australia to the WTO over plain packaging. That was something that obviously as health minister you had oversight for taking over from Nicola Roxon. They’re one of our biggest trading partners, is that an embarrassment?
Plibersek: No, I think it’s a strong symbol that what we’re doing is working. The countries that are fighting us in the WTO about plain packaging are doing it because they’re worried about sales of tobacco products. I’d be delighted if it means that Indonesian tobacco products are selling less, because it means people are smoking less, it means they’re getting sick and dying less. I’m very confident that our legislation will not be defeated in the WTO because we’re treating everyone equally, there’s no issue of trade here. Their issue might be one of intellectual property, and we’ve had plenty of legal advice that says that we’re on strong grounds here. This is a really important measure for people’s health in Australia and I’m proud of it. I think it’s one of the best things we did in Government.
Van Onselen: Alright, Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, we appreciate you joining us on Australian Agenda.
Plibersek: Thank you.
The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP
Deputy Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development
Transcript of ABC 702 radio political forum
with James Carleton
Subjects: Party Reform, housing and homelessness funding, the Budget
James Carleton: Tanya Plibersek, the Shadow Foreign Affairs spokesman with us. G’day Tanya. In studio, in your electorate as well I might say.
Tanya Plibersek: That’s right.
Carleton: Mike Baird, NSW Treasurer, not far from your electorate. Caught the ferry across?
Mike Baird: Not this morning James, but it’s a very good commute that one.
Carleton: It’s a beautiful commute – one of the greatest in the world. Look, let’s start with an important topic – homelessness – because the Federal Government’s extended homeless funding for another 12 months. This was an issue because the money was running out, there was like three months to go, and a lot of the homeless service providers were worried it would run out by July, Kevin Andrews, the Federal Social Services Minister pledging $115 million. There’ll be a lot of relieved residents and staff in your electorate, Tanya Plibersek, as a result of this.
Plibersek: Well there will be a lot of relieved people but there’ll be some who are disappointed as well, because $115 million is an effective $44 million cut. It should be $159 million which is the funding this year that’s helping 3,400 staff across the country assist 80,000 clients at any one time and about 180 programs so it’s a big demand on services. We had, obviously when we were in government, a target of halving the rate of homelessness by 2020 and to continue the trajectory that we’ve got, which was a very successful trajectory, we do have to keep up the investment.
Carleton: Was there a successful trajectory?
Plibersek: Yes, there was. We certainly saw the rate of homelessness coming down and we also saw very importantly a very dramatic change in the way that homelessness services were delivered. So, we took an approach that made housing permanent in the first instance and then tried to give people the assistance they needed to stay housed. So quite often as you know, James, people who are homeless may have or may have had a mental illness, they might have had family breakdown, all sorts of trauma in their past. I know Mike’s family have been very involved in assisting people who’ve been incarcerated and as they’re coming out of gaol as well. And it takes more than a roof over someone’s head, that is a necessary first step but you also need services that go with that roof that deal with some of the underlying causes of homelessness. And that’s why this national partnership is so important and it’s why it was so successful because we started to address those underlying causes.
Carleton: Mike Baird, NSW Treasurer, the Federal Minister says he does intend in time to have a four-year funding plan so he can get all those sort of long term ambitions in a coherent sense. But at the moment there’s missing this capital component, this forty-odd million dollars in capital spending which as a State Treasurer is something you know all about – declining capital expenditure whilst maintaining you know, the services component.
Baird: What I think is important is, James- the positive news is that the Federal Government has committed to the extension and as Tanya said, it seems to me they’re reviewing the capital position before they bring forward a comprehensive plan. And one of the problems with the national partnership agreements is it creates this huge uncertainty when you get to expiry dates and I think a better funding model is to roll it into the base or a much longer term agreement so people get much more certainty. And listen I agree, I was pleased to see the extension, one of the service areas that I’ve spent time with is those working with those in the homeless sector and listen, it is a very tough sector. There are many stories that break your heart and the former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, he did make it his signature goal, if you like, to halve homelessness – we didn’t get there. Tanya might have different numbers than mine but I understood that the numbers are still increasing and they’re just the reported numbers, and of course they’re far larger when you start to include things like couchsurfing and others. And I also think we need to look at where the money is going, and is it making an impact, the sort of outcomes where we actually start to see the numbers coming down and which part of the service delivery we’re providing that’s improving it. That’s one of the things that government don’t do well, the assessment of the programs. So my hope is that the Federal Minister is doing exactly that and going to bring back a sustainable 4 year plan or if not longer term plan.
Carleton: And a new cohort amongst the population that we haven’t seen much of before – older people who simply get price stabbed of the housing market, especially in Sydney, because they’re on old age pension.
Plibersek: One of the largest groups that was entering homelessness when we took government in 2007 were older, single women, so often women who had experienced marriage breakdown and their husbands went onto continue to be employed and on higher incomes. And the women couldn’t, with what they had left the marriage with, afford to buy and found it tough to rent. And obviously women also generally had smaller superannuation balances even when they’d been in the workforce because they had often taken years out to care for their children or other family members. And the biggest single difference actually to that group was the very substantial increase to the age pension that Jenny Macklin oversaw when she was the responsible minister, biggest single difference. And we were talking about the capital component of the homelessness program, building in our capital cities Common Ground facilities where you had half homeless people, half people on low income, fantastic new facilities, like one we built was Mission Australia in Redfern $16 million facility for frail, aged, homeless people and of course the big investment in public housing that came out of the stimulus, the National Rental Affordability Scheme that Mike’s friends in Canberra are trying to destroy the reputation of now, it’s 14,000 new homes built and 24,000 in the pipeline and they were all big investments but really, really needed in Australia, James. Because you’re pointing out quite ordinary people are also feeling housing stress and falling into homelessness as well.
Carleton: And your former colleague David Borger, who was NSW Labor Housing Minister, he used to be very keen not just on blending homelessness services with public housing but then blending the public housing with normal market private housing so it would integrate communities in a way that didn’t ghettoise populations or areas-
Plibersek: Absolutely vital to do that. It’s really important for the people who live in the public housing because if you’re mixed right throughout the community, you’ve got better opportunities for jobs, transport, all the services that people rely on. But also very important for our community as a whole not to be the sort of cities that we see in other countries where wealthy people can live in the centre of town and the further out you go, the worse the services and that’s where we put people who rely on social housing. I think that’s a very poor model for the design of cities.
Carleton: But it’s one we necessarily have with housing prices the way they are I guess. Mike Baird, I mean, is there anything apart from the interest rates not going up tomorrow if the reserve bank predictions are to be believed that can prevent Sydney’s housing prices continuing at their rate?
Baird: I think the challenge for every policy maker is to bring supply, supply, supply, I mean that is the long term solution to housing affordability. Unfortunately, in Sydney for the best part of fifteen, twenty years, supply has not kept up with demand which is why we have the affordability issue. But I’ll also come back to the point with the existing federal government. I mean, the pleasing aspect to me is that a lot people are depicting the federal government as mean and tricky and all types of words but the fact that Kevin Andrews has extended this Homelessness National Partnership, albeit looking at the capital side, I think it’s a good sign because ultimately you need to have a sustainable budget to look after those who are most vulnerable and it has to be part of your priority measures in any fiscal setting. And it seems to me they’ve done that here.
Carleton: Fifteen months guaranteed with a view to a four year plan following it.
Baird: And that’s a positive despite obviously the budget challenges they’re under.
Plibersek: I can’t let that stand. Budget challenges- we’ve got a government that is claiming that there’s a budget emergency so that they can make all these sorts of cuts and in fact, more than half of the four year projected total deficits are because of parameter changes that the government’s made themselves, or because they gave a big, fat, almost nine billion dollars to the Reserve Bank, that the Reserve Bank didn’t need. So sixty-eight billion dollars of projected deficits are of the Government’s own making and they’ve got rid of the debt cap. They did a deal with the Greens to get rid of the debt cap. So they’re out there saying “budget emergency, budget emergency”, but they’re adding to debt, they’re adding to the deficit and they’re softening up for some very nasty cuts and this homelessness, the National Rental Affordability Scheme, the cuts to health, the cuts to education are all done in this context where they’re trying to convince people that unless we cut hard and we cut deep, you know, the whole economy is going to fall to pieces. It’s just not the case.
Baird: But I think, just a last rebut on that point, is that, I mean I was with the Treasurers last Friday and federal treasury, Martin Parkinson and team presented the economic picture, presented the fiscal picture and those deficits are reality. They’re presenting them hundreds of billions of dollars that are coming in the foreseeable future. So you have to be in a position that, yes at the moment structurally the budget is in significant deficit.
Plibersek: And this government has added to debt and added to deficits since coming to government very substantially and they’re using that to soften people up for the nasty cuts that are coming.
Baird: Well, the only point is, and I make this in order to look after those most vulnerable, you have to have a sustainable budget position in the long term.
Plibersek: I agree with that. I think we all agree.
Carleton: Let’s look at this proposal that’s been mooted to abolish the rule in the ALP that you no longer have to be a member of a union before you can join a branch if you’re working. This has been a rule that’s been there for as long as the ALP has been around. What’s your reaction to this Tanya?
Plibersek: Look, Bill Shorten’s raised this and other suggestions at the National Press Club last week and I certainly think it’s something we need to be open to. I’m a big supporter of the union movement. I’m proud to be a union member-
Carleton: If the rule is removed would you resign from the CPSU?
Plibersek: No. No, they’ll carry me out of there in a box. But I think our society has changed. Now, we’ve got a lot of people who work for themselves, the jobs of today are very different to the jobs of yesterday. We want to appeal to people who are students and pensioners and-
Carleton: Well most ALP members are concessional members.
Carleton: So you have no problem appealing to students and pensioners in the ALP.
Plibersek: But I think it’s terrific that we’re talking about how we can increase our membership because it’s about broadening the appeal of the ALP. We had, on the weekend, two community pre-selections where we had not just ALP members voting for who would become the Labor candidates in the seats of Newtown and Campbelltown but also just interested members of the public being able to vote. We’ve got a direct election for the leader by the ALP membership. We’ve had a lot of democratic reforms in recent years. I noticed today in the paper, Mike, and you might be able to comment more on this, the Liberal party are still fighting about whether local branch members should be able to choose their local candidate.
Carleton: What’s your position on that, New South Wales plebiscite? This is the idea that local Liberal party members get to choose their candidates for federal and state elections.
Baird: Yeah, Tanya can’t get away with that, the Liberal Party is considering real reform and I absolutely support that. Providing members an opportunity to be more engaged, to participate in the election of Parliamentary Members is absolutely a sensible thing. The reform process is underway. But you know, I’ll say this, far be it from me to tell the Labor Party how to run their business, but it seems to me this is just window dressing because it’s only going forward, so at the moment the unions still dominate the executive, they still dominate the conference floor. I think the bigger problem that they have is this leadership, what they’ve done with the federal leadership, because I know that everyone is now desperate for Tanya to take over-
Baird: And they can’t do it under their rules so they have to wait till Bill loses the next election before Tanya can get in. So that’s the bigger problem.
Plibersek: Mike, I think last time you had democratic reform in the Liberal Party, Mike, you ended up in the Supreme Court didn’t you? Not you personally of course, I’m not suggesting that.
Carleton: Well there’s nothing wrong with availing yourself of the judicial process.
Baird: But on a serious point, I think that’s what- the Liberal Party is trying to do it in a considered way and I think what the Labor Party did was a knee jerk response in an election campaign in terms of that Federal leadership issue.
Carleton: Which never would have got up unless Kevin Rudd was there, mind you, and now that he’s gone. But seriously, does Mike have an important point, Tanya, when he says that allowing non-union members to join ALP branches is window dressing while so long as unions control executives and conferences lock stock and dividend stream.
Plibersek: I don’t- I really don’t think that’s the case. We’ve got a policy development process underway at the moment where branch members, union members and members of the public can contribute.
Carleton: Policy, but not machine. The machine remains in control of the factions. No non-aligned members of the National Executive. No non-aligned members of any state administrative committee. No non-aligned members get a say in any Senate or upper house vote in any jurisdiction.
Plibersek: And how is the leadership of the Liberal Party selected, James? It’s the same small group of people making the same decisions.
Carleton: Mike Baird, two wrongs make a right.
Baird: Well, Tanya didn’t answer the Labor party question. I didn’t even notice that but I mean-
Carleton: Well, Labor has its union problem. The Liberals have their lobbyist problems. Well, you’re State President, when he’s not being honorary president, is the head of the Wagering Council the Chief Lobby for corporate bookmakers.
Baird: I mean, what we have said across the Liberal party, is it’s time that we reform the party, and from beginning to end, and that’s exactly what we are looking at, and it’s in relation to lobbyists I mean, the O’Farrell Government was the one who moved strong amendments to lobbying, banning things like success fees and others – we are taking a stand on those important issues, but in terms of the party reform, my simple point is this: if you are going to undertake party reform, don’t window dress, do it properly and comprehensively and that’s exactly what the Liberal party’s doing at the moment.
Carleton: That would be your message to both parties.
Baird: I think that’s exactly right.
Carleton: I should take this moment to welcome Cassandra Goldie, the Chief Executive Officer of ACOSS Australian Council of Social Service. Great to have you. We were talking about homelessness before because the Federal Minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews has announced that this funding will come through. The funding that was due to expire 1 July for homeless services, you’ll be very happy to hear that it’s come through.
Goldie: Look, we’re happy with, it is a short term fix for a really terrible problem that we have. We had over 183 services and thousands of workers and tens of thousands of clients not knowing where they stood from one July and we have to avoid this happening. It is simply unacceptable for us to be providing really important vital services where people have invested huge amounts in really effective work. It’s working, this money, you know, it’s really changing people’s lives and it was unacceptable that we had this situation, such a cliff hanger. Mind you, there are a lot of other services that are in the same boat and we don’t have any certainty on that front so-
Carleton: How do you mean?
Goldie: Well, we’re doing a survey right now to try and get a really good picture of the number of services that are funded by government where their contracts are up on the 30th June. There’s a lot: financial counselling services, emergency relief, important services for young people to help them to get into jobs. We don’t know what’s going to happen and obviously this is a very particular May budget, we’ve got a lot of air time on it being hard budget and that happens every budget but I think we’re dealing with particular circumstances on this one, so we obviously want to push the government to make announcements, get out from under the sort of cover of budget discussions and obviously we have to have budget in confidence at a certain point in the work but we’ve got really important services and clients that need to know what’s happening and obviously we’re very concerned that we don’t cut where we don’t think we should be doing that. I guess, maybe if I can just come back to the earlier chat around political parties, I do have a bit of a comment on it which is I think we do need to be a bit concerned when we see so many young people now who are really questioning the value of democracy, like full stop.
Carleton: Yeah absolutely, I’ve seen surveys where you’ve- it’s extraordinary, like 40% of the people say they’re not democrats.
Goldie: Well it is and it isn’t. It is and it isn’t because what we watch is this, you know, ball going over the, you know, the fence and all of a sudden everything one government committed to is now no longer popular because it’s a new government and instead of us visibly seeing much stronger collaboration across the major parties to value the work that was done by one for the other coming in.
Carleton: I can understand young people being pissed off by politics but that doesn’t mean that they have to be communists or Nazis.
Goldie: No, I think we have to demonstrate why democracy is so important. And it is obvious though, of course it is.
Carleton: Well, it used to be self-evident but-
Goldie: Of course it is, and it should be. So what are we doing to fix that picture for young people. And I don’t buy the argument that young people don’t understand what’s going on, I think they do understand what’s going on.
Carleton: Mike Baird, Tanya Plibersek, why are so many people under your watch turning to extremism?
Goldie: I’m not sure that’s what I’ve-
Plibersek: I’m not going to blame Mike, he’s not going to blame me, because that would prove a point-
Goldie: I think there are great young people thinking about how to form their own political parties and good on them for thinking about that and we can also see this, you know, move towards more independence in, you know, both the Senate and the lower house and I think that’s a trend we’re going to see more of. And I think we have to think about a government machinery and how we can really make this work and deliver on the best of democracy.
Baird: The only point I’m going to make is that I think it’s, I don’t necessarily believe it’s a loss in faith and democracy, I think it’s more, particularly the younger generations are focusing more on issues, and then the issues is what gravitates them, not political parties, it’s what is the issue most dear to them and yes they’ll start to look at who are the people within government or opposition that are reflecting those. But I’ve certainly seen an uptick in terms of the engagement of youth in particular on these issues.
Goldie: I agree, Mike. I think that’s really important. This is not the message that young people are disengaged, but that they’re desperately looking for the best way to get effect of action on some of the big issues that we do face and climate change is obviously one of them, I mean the idea that that’s come and gone as a moral challenge is not true. And young people get it better than anybody, and I also think that, it was delightful to watch the young students when they put those questions to the Prime Minister about the issues that really mattered to them and they were really core issues about human dignity, about values of the nation, and good on them and more young people should be speaking up. And obviously this is a challenge for the major parties, is how to encourage young people into the machinery of government so that they can have a say in both within the parliament and also at the polls.
Plibersek: I actually meet a lot of incredibly inspiring and engaged young people. I met, you know, another group in Parliament House last week that just, they knock your socks off. So the intellectual ability and the moral clarity of purpose they bring, as Cassandra was saying, the questions that they ask of us. I think there is an issue with political parties and young people and I think a bit of that is the hyper partisan nature of politics in recent years. Cassandra is quite right, the idea that you can’t ever admit the other guy’s done anything right in the history of the universe. So I think that that is a problem. But I think that the antidote not just us changing our ways as major parties, that’s part of it, but accepting and celebrating the fact that young people are engaged on particular issues and that’s how they choose to express their political involvement.
Carleton: Well you’re Shadow Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs. A) Do you think that young people will be excited about the fact that Alexander Downer is our new High Commissioner to London and B)-
Plibersek: I think there’ll be dancing in the streets. Almost certainly.
Carleton: And B) will you take this opportunity in the spirit of bipartisanship to salute Australia’s longest serving Foreign Minister to such an important office, in continuing in the role of his father, Sir Alec?
Plibersek: I think it’s extraordinary that someone as skilled as Steve Bracks when he was appointed to New York to be brought back in favour of Nick Minchin-
Carleton: Sent to Rome though, finished his time in Rome, not a bad punishment.
Plibersek: No, this was the Steve Bracks New York appointment-
Carleton: Oh, I’m sorry.
Plibersek: And then Mike Rann coming back from London, same thing, why would you bring Mike Rann back from London? But I had a look at the figures, James, in government, the Howard Government made 15 appointments of ex-parliamentarians to diplomatic posts and every one of them was a Coalition MP or Senator. In Labor we made 6 appointments, and more than half, 4 of those were Coalition MPs or Senators. So yeah, I think we have to get rid of the partisan nature of this stuff. But you know, without spending too much time pointing the finger, I think there’s a pretty big difference between what we did in government and what the previous Howard Government and now Julie bishop as Foreign Minister has decided with these diplomatic postings.
Carleton: Mike Baird?
Baird: No, listen I agree with Tanya. I think you have to look for the best of the people with the best skills and the political badge should become second. You know the number of-
Carleton: Alexander Downer? Kim Beazley?
Baird: Well, Alexander- I think that as a general point, that sons shouldn’t follow their father into anything.
Plibersek: Oh no, we wouldn’t agree with that, Mike. We wouldn’t agree with that.
Baird: That’s just a general point. But listen, I mean, Alexander Downer is unbelievably qualified but in the end-
Carleton: Ben Scare, brilliant ambassador of the Holy See.
Baird: But if you’ve looked at some of the activities we’ve done, we’ve done a lot of work in the ports base. And Nick with them has done a fantastic job for the government here in relation to the ports base. So the political badge-
Carleton: You could say the same of Tanya’s husband as your Director of the Department of Family and Community Services.
Baird: He does an outstanding job for us, there’s no doubt.
Carleton: See, we have fraternal cross party-
Plibersek: A breakout of bipartisanship, it’s a beautiful thing.
Carleton: It should be. Cassandra Goldie, why are you complaining about the Budget when here we have a Liberal and a Labor-
Plibersek: If only your listeners could see us all holding hands here, James, it would be beautiful.
Goldie: We haven’t got the budget discussion quite yet, hopefully we will have a little bit of time. But I think on this particular issue, I think these are very important symbols of the earlier issues we were talking about. I think when people look up and they see that actually the best person, they can see the merit in the appointment, that it’s across parties, that there’s not this sort of die-hard fixation with we’ll appoint our guys, and some women would be good, and on the other side we’ll appoint our team. I think the more of this we can see where it’s genuinely recognition of significant expertise that they’re the right person for the job is the way we should be doing that.
Carleton: Can we all agree on that?
Plibersek: Yeah, I think we can agree on that.
Carleton: I can’t.
Goldie: Can we get onto the budget now?
Carleton: I disagree. Loyalty is an important quality. Well, we’ve got 30 seconds left. What’s your budget take? You’re worried that it’s going to be a killer.
Goldie: Yeah absolutely, I mean we’ve got the Treasurer out today saying everybody’s got to do the heavy lifting, everybody equally, and I’m going well actually, hang on a minute, we’ve got a real divide here in Australia with people who are living on, you know, $35 a day for an unemployed person and then we’ve got some incredibly wealthy people in Australia. I think we need to have a honest discussion about where the cuts should be made which are based on some pretty clear principles that the treasurer did set out. Government should be where they’re needed and we shouldn’t be pulling back from those funds. We should be looking at to create a more equitable picture-
Carleton: Cassandra Goldie, Tanya Plibersek, Mike Baird, I’m James Carleton, 702 Drive.
The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP
Deputy Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development
Transcript of ABC Radio National interview
with Fran Kelly
26 MARCH 2014
Subjects: Knights and dames, Racial Discrimination Act, Peter Greste
Fran Kelly: Tanya Plibersek is the Deputy Opposition Leader, she is now in place in the Parliament House studios, and Labor has been critical of both those announcements of the Abbott Government yesterday the changes, or proposed changes, to the Racial Discrimination Act, and the revival of knights and dames in the Australian honours system. Tanya Plibersek, good morning, welcome to breakfast.
Tanya Plibersek: Hi Fran, how are you?
Kelly: I’m well thank you. Tony Abbott bringing back knights and dames of the Order of Australia, what does Labor think about the PM’s definition here that it’s important to appropriately honour people, like Governor-Generals, whose service has been extraordinary and preeminent? Is there a case for a special category for preeminence?
Plibersek: Look I think it is important to honour people who’ve served our country well and I was delighted to go to the function farewelling our Governor-General last night and pleased to join with people in thanking her for her service. But I really do think this knights and dames thing is just basically a distraction. I’m not going to lose any sleep over it but we’ve got one Australian losing their job every three minutes, we’ve got big cuts to health and education, we’ve got troubles overseas, I think this kind of back to the future stuff is a distraction more than anything else.
Kelly: Governments do need to do many things at the one time across many fronts that’s what makes running a country so difficult. So perhaps it’s less relevant to criticise a government for doing this you can’t really say their ignoring jobs while they’re doing this. But what do you think of these things and what would Labor in office do? Would Labor abolish them as Whitlam abolished them, as then Bob Hawke abolished them when he came into office.
Plibersek: I just think the focus on this right now shows that the Government has their priorities all wrong. We’ve got some really serious issues in the Parliament, it is true you have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, but they’re not doing much of either and the fact that they’re focusing on distractions like this when we’ve got cuts to health and education, jobs being lost, you know, cutting benefits to orphans of war veterans, I don’t know it just strikes me as really missing the main game and I think –
Kelly: Would Labor abolish them?
Plibersek: Look I don’t know, we haven’t had a discussion, we haven’t given it any thought, this is not the sort of issue we’re going to waste our time debating, when the real issues are about jobs and the economy and the cuts to health and education this Government is making. They came in with all sorts of promises about what they were going to do. People didn’t get the Government they thought they were going to get, and now after saying no excuses no surprises we’re getting surprised with all of these distractions.
Kelly: Why do you think the Prime Minister has done this?
Plibersek: I think he’s had a bad week in Parliament, he’s been talking more than he would like to about Arthur Sinodinos, about future of financial reforms, regulations that make it possible for financial planners to sell products to people that are not in the best interests of their client. He’s got the Attorney-General who you were just speaking to out saying bigotry is a free right for Australians and none of these things are I think going quite the way the Government had intended. So they do a quick ‘look over here’ distraction.
Kelly: Let’s go to the Racial Discrimination Act, it’s nine minutes to eight, we’re speaking with Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek in our Parliament House studios. The PM told Australia yesterday in the Parliament that this is the freest, fairest and most decent country on earth and the Attorney-General as we heard him say again say these changes to the Racial Discrimination Act are the most protective in terms of against vilification of any law that this country has ever had. What’s your response to that?
Plibersek: I don’t think there’s anyone in Australia who agrees with them. I think it’s… It is a sad thing that one of the first priorities of this new Government is to make it easier to racially abuse people. Now I am a great supporter of free speech, that’s why I’m a great supporter of the ABC and I notice that this Government whenever the ABC says something that the Government doesn’t like they’re very quick to hop in and say that it’s not justified that the ABC should have the same right to free speech that they say they’re defending with these legal changes. But why would you make this a priority? Making it easier for people to racially abuse one another, why would you make that a priority for a government?
Kelly: Do you accept that this is an exposure draft and there’s thirty days now for people to propose changes to the Government? Do you accept as some, even though some critical of the draft as it now stands suggest that twenty years on these laws could do with a bit of a rewrite? And perhaps we don’t need the notion of insult and offend to be including in section 18C? That the so called hurt feelings provisions perhaps could do with a little bit of tweaking?
Plibersek: Look, I don’t think there’s any harm in re-examining any of our legislation, but I would like the Government to point out where this law has been misused in its current form. I’d like them to point out why it’s so broken that it needs to be interfered with. I think what happened is George Brandis went too far in his comments the other day saying that bigotry is a right of every Australian. He’s been pulled back into line, he’s been told to go out and say alright we’ll do it slowly, we’ll do it with an exposure draft, but my understanding is that the exposure draft that they’ve put out, has as our Attorney-General said, holes big enough to drive a truck through, our shadow Attorney-General said it’s got holes big enough to drive a truck through and that seems to be the consensus of lawyers and others who are interested around the country and I think it is very interesting that neither the Prime Minister, nor the Attorney-General can say that the sort of Holocaust denying hate speech that we had from Frederick Tobin would in fact be captured under the laws as they’ve drafted them. Why can’t they say that?
Kelly: The, ah, as I say thirty day consultation period, how hard is Labor going to fight these changes because I’ve read in the Sydney Morning Herald today that Labor is planning a blitz on Liberal held marginal seats to warn migrant communities about these plans to water down the race hate protections. Is that true? Is there a grass-roots campaign already planned and about to be unrolled?
Plibersek: Well, I’ve certainly been talking to my community groups already and to anyone who’s contacted me about this about my views on these proposed changes. I don’t think that it’s a top priority for a government to make it easier to promulgate the sort of hate speech that we gave examples of yesterday in the Parliament. And can I tell you it’s not us contacting community organisations, it’s community organisations contacting us with their concerns. There have been dozens of organisations that have contacted me and the Labor party more generally talking about their concerns about these changes and the idea that it would make it, would make our society a place where it is more acceptable for people to abuse one another racially.
Kelly: And can I just ask you finally and briefly as Shadow Foreign Minister about the plight of Australian journalist Peter Greste. He’s been denied bail, I think yesterday you suggested the Prime Minister should be doing more now.
Plibersek: I think it is very important to say first of all that Peter and his family have been in regular contact with Australian consular officials. That our people in Cairo are doing the very best they can. This is no criticism at all of the consular assistance that’s been given but at the end of the day this is a man who has been accused of doing his job. He’s a journalist who has been accused of doing his job and I think it is very important particularly from a Government that talks so much about free speech for us to say loudly and clearly that we would expect him to be released now - he has served more than 3 months in gaol already. No substantive allegations have been made, no substantive evidence, and I think it is really time that we say very clearly he and his colleagues need to be released.
Kelly: Tanya Plibersek thank you very much for joining us.
Plibersek: Thank you, Fran.
THE HON BILL SHORTEN MP
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG
THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
THE HON MARK MCGOWAN MLA
WA STATE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
Shadow Minister for Regional Development, Economic Reform, Public Sector Management
MEMBER FOR ROCKINGHAM
TUESDAY, 11 MARCH 2014
SUBJECT/S: WA Senate Election; Abbott Government Hiding its Commission of Audit report; Abbott Government cuts to health care in WA; Trades Training Centres; Jobs; National Affordable Housing Program; Resignation of WA Treasurer.
MARK MCGOWAN, LEADER OF THE WA STATE OPPOSITION: First of all can I thank Bill and Tanya for coming to Western Australia, and in particular Bill for meeting with the state parliamentary Labor Party, addressing us and answering questions, and I think a very warm environment was there between the state party and the federal party.
I’ll just say a couple of words about the federal election, and then I’ll hand over to Bill and to Tanya, and then we’ll have questions at the end. I don’t know if you want to ask me about any events of the day, but you may well want to at the end of that.
First of all, I think this Senate campaign is an excellent opportunity for West Australians to send a message that they don’t like the style of government of Mr Barnett and the fact that Mr Abbott has said that that is the style of government that he wants to emulate, I think gives that chance for West Australians to say no. I think what we’ve seen in Western Australia is a shambolic and chaotic government at a state level, and I don’t think West Australians want to see that replicated at a federal level.
This government has been dysfunctional, divided, and dishonest over a long period of time, and I think West Australians increasingly are becoming disenchanted with the style of government we have in this state. I’ll hand over to Bill.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Mark. It's great to be here with Mark McGowan, it's great to be here with Tanya Plibersek, my deputy, to talk about the West Australian Senate election. It's my third visit since becoming Leader of the Opposition and one thing's become clear to me as I talk to West Australians - they are very concerned about the cuts to education and to health care here in Western Australia.
There is a real opportunity in this West Australian Senate election, the first of its kind we've seen in the history of the Commonwealth, to send a clear message to Tony Abbott that Western Australians don't like the cuts that Colin Barnett is doing, and the fact that the Abbott Government is refusing to release its controversial 900 page report which will cut the quality of education and health care services in the west until after the Senate by-election, is a mean and nasty trick on West Australians.
This Senate election is about sending a message to Tony Abbott and to Colin Barnett. West Australians love their quality of life here, they want to make sure that their families can get access to the best quality health care and they want their kids to get the best quality education. We've just very met with Scott and Abraham, two very talented teenagers who are studying trades training at their Trades Training Centre.
There are 49 trades training centres covering 150 schools in Western Australia. It is really important that our education system doesn't just train children for university, it trains our future apprentices, for our future trades jobs in the west. The Abbott Government has said they're not going to go any further with trades training centres and that is the wrong way to go. That is not the correct direction for Western Australia to be heading in.
This Senate Election is all about making sure that we don’t have cuts to education and health care, it's about making sure we stand up for issues which go to cost of living and it’s about opposing the Abbott Government’s GP Tax. It's also about making sure that the middle class of Western Australia don't feel squeezed and that there are jobs in Western Australia, there's the opportunity to have quality education so that children and kids can get the best apprenticeship, so they can go and have the best jobs in Western Australia.
I might ask my colleague Tanya Plibersek to specifically talk about some of the concerns around housing and health care.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Bill. It's great to be here with both Mark and Bill today. This is a very important election, the upcoming Senate Election, because it's an opportunity for West Australians to send a very strong message to both Colin Barnett and to Tony Abbott that the cuts that Colin Barnett is inflicting on the people of Western Australia shouldn't be repeated at a federal level.
We know that right now sitting on Tony Abbott's desk is a Commission of Audit report that has some very nasty surprises in store for the people of West Australia, and people of the whole of Australia. The fact that this report's being kept secret until after the election should tell you how nasty its contents must be. Of course, as a former Health Minister, one of the areas that most concerns me are the cuts that have been made right here in Western Australia already to the health system, and the cuts that Tony Abbott has in store for the people of Australia.
When you look at what’s happened in the state health system here you've seen some very serious cuts already. We see, for example, the Fiona Stanley Hospital a year late, it's been a quarter of a million dollars a day to run an empty hospital. It's like something out of 'Yes, Minister.' On top of that comes reneging on the agreement to redevelop the Royal Perth Hospital. It's a $400 million redevelopment that the State Government has pulled out of. More than $180 million as well cut from upgrades to regional health facilities right around Perth. These are very serious cuts already and what we can't allow is for Tony Abbott to have open slather on further health cuts, for the people of West Australia.
You have got to remember that Tony Abbott as Health Minister is the man who was responsible for doctor shortages in Western Australia. When Tony Abbott was Health Minister he put a cap on GP training places and Western Australia has taken years to begin to recover from that decision of Tony Abbott as Health Minister. But wait, it gets worse. Tony Abbott's now proposing a fee to go to the doctor for every Australian, a GP tax.
When I was Health Minister we did everything we could to increase bulk-billing rates around Australia. We saw increases in bulk-billing rates here in Western Australia and Tony Abbott wants to chuck that out the window to chuck away all of that hard work to increase bulk-billing rates by trashing the whole idea of being able to go to the doctor when you need to without putting your hand in your pocket.
On top of that Tony Abbott’s also cut $10 million from a cancer outreach service that was negotiated with the West Australian State Government well before the election, the money was in the budget, this shows up as a cut in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, a $10 million cut to regional oncology services for Western Australia. We know one of the most serious consequences of the vast distances in this State is that people find it hard to travel for their medical care. The idea of the regional oncology outreach team was that people could stay closer to home for their treatment. That's another $10 million cut. The exact opposite of what Tony Abbott promised before the election.
I believe that Tony Abbott's in town today making some announcement about medical research. Of course, medical research funding is always welcome, but you look at his short history on this as PM, he's cut $12 million from the Millennium Institute, $10 million from the Westmead Children's Medical Research Institute. It is a history as a Health Minister and now as a Prime Minister, of cutting education and if West Australians care about – sorry, of cutting health - and if West Australians care about investment in their health system and having access to good health services, then they should send a very strong message to Tony Abbott and to Colin Barnett during this Senate election about health services for West Australians.
SHORTEN: Are there questions?
SHORTEN: The resources sector is very important to Western Australia. What we also see in Western Australia is that a lot of West Australians are feeling the squeeze. We've seen a slight increase in unemployment, cost of living is a challenge for West Australians. As we see a bright future for resources in Western Australia but what we also recognise is that what makes the quality of life in Perth and throughout Western Australia so enviable to the rest of Australia is having quality education and quality health services.
So the big issues in this election are having a strong West Australian Senate team who will stand up to Tony Abbott's cuts to education and to health care. We recognise that people are increasingly concerned about jobs, especially as you get investment easing up in some parts of the resources sector. And what West Australians want to see is a plan for jobs in Western Australia which is not been forthcoming so far from the Abbott Government. This Senate by-election is a chance to send Tony Abbott and Colin Barnett message - don't cut vital education and health care services.
REPORTER: Do you think losses in Tasmania and South Australia could damage Labor’s chances in the Senate election?
SHORTEN: What amazes me is the cynicism of the Abbott Government not releasing their clearly nasty proposal of 900 pages of nasty surprises and cuts to health care and education. I think it takes a high amount of cynicism to receive a report in early February and then make sure and sit on it and smother and hide the report until there's been state elections in Tasmania and South Australia.
But they really run out of excuses by holding on to this report till after the West Australian Senate by-election two months after they received a report. If it's 900 pages of nasty surprises that doesn't take two months to read, so I'm very concerned that West Australians aren't being told the truth by the Abbott Government and that they're not finding out what the Abbott Government is really proposing.
REPORTER: Has the Woolworths bailout indicated the Government position?
SHORTEN: The Victorian – if you’re referring to SPC - the Victorian Government stepped into assist SPC. I'm pleased that there is good news at any point about jobs, I was appalled that the Abbott Government had no plans about SPC jobs. What makes their position so inconsistent is that a chocolate factory in Hobart can get Abbott Government taxpayer money, but a fruit processing factory in the Goulburn Valley doesn't. There's no consistency to what the Government is doing.
Since the Abbott Government was elected 63,000 full-time jobs have gone. I want to make sure that these very bright kids we’ve just met today, Abraham and Scott, that they can learn their trade, the Abbott Government is not interested in investing in that, and also I want to make sure that when they learn their trade there are jobs to go to. It isn't good enough that the Abbott Government is turning its back on apprentices, it isn't good enough that they have no plan for Australian jobs.
REPORTER: You raise some state-based issues, is that confusing the message to voters considering it’s a federal election?
SHORTEN: Tony Abbott said on March the 5th, with a twinkle in his eye, said that he wanted his Government to be the sort of Government that the Barnett Government is in [West Australia]. None of us asked Tony Abbott to use the Barnett Government as a role model for the sort of Government we wanted. Mr Abbott opened the door on comparing the Barnett Government to the national Government. We’re just following through and saying that the Barnett Government is a ‘mini-me’ version of the Abbott Government and what West Australians want is a strong Senate who is not focussed on agreeing with Tony Abbott, but is focussed on standing up for the quality of life and for jobs in Western Australia.
REPORTER: Do you have any comments to make on the resignation of the State Treasurer and the implications on this election?
SHORTEN: I understand that there are reports of mental health issues are involved in this, so I really wouldn’t want to comment too much. I suspect that there's questions for the Premier of Western Australia to answer. I might hand over to our colleague, my colleague, Mark McGowan, Leader of the State Opposition the deal with that matter.
MCGOWAN: Sorry, Emily, what was the question?
REPORTER: The implications of the resignation of Tory Buswell, do you think it has derailed the Senate campaign here in WA?
MCGOWAN: I just say a few things about that. First of all can I wish Mr Buswell, as I said yesterday, can I wish Mr Buswell the best, some things transcend politics I hope his personal health is on the improve and is under control.
Having said that, I do think there are further questions that need to be answered by the Government. We learnt today in the newspaper, that it appears there was at least one staffer who knew about the circumstances of the accident. I want to know whether other Government staffers, particularly in the Premier's office, were informed about what went on. I want to know whether or not people in the Premier's office, the Police Minister's office and the Treasurer's office were aware of all of the circumstances, yet didn't reveal them. I think that is a very important matter that goes to the heart of this matter.
The second point I’ll say is this. It's clear the Government is in chaos. We have a shambolic Government in Western Australia. For so long there has been crisis after crisis, failure after failure, dishonesty after dishonesty. And these events have with the departure of another treasurer have shown that at the heart of Government in Western Australia it's chaotic and dysfunctional.
Its impact on the Senate campaign, I don't know, but I do know this - when you have a dysfunctional and chaotic State Government, it can't help - sorry I do know this - when you have a chaotic and dysfunctional State Government, it can't help the Federal Liberal Party when they said they're going to model themselves on that same state Government.
REPORTER: Do you think that there needs to be a formal inquiry into the circumstances of the resignation and what people knew?
MCGOWAN: We're going to ask some questions today in the parliament in relation to these issues. We'll hold our judgment on whether or not there should be a bigger or a higher level inquiry in these matters until we get proper answers out of the Premier. But there is new information today according to the state's newspaper. There was at least one staffer who knew, that is different to what we were advised yesterday. I also understand that staffer spoke to the Premier's chief of staff on the first day that these issues came out, and I would expect the Premier to give a full explanation of the knowledge of his chief of staff and other staff members in his office about this series of events.
REPORTER: I have a question for the Deputy Opposition Leader about the social housing story on the front page of The Aus today. I wonder if you feel that it’s gone off track and needs to be revised or dumped?
PLIBERSEK: The National Rental Affordability Scheme is a terrific program. It's already delivered 14,000 now homes and another 24,000 in the pipeline. The vast majority of people who live in National Rental Affordability Scheme properties are people on very low incomes. Sole parent, pensioners, the whole range of people on low incomes including most particularly key workers. This is a scheme that was designed to bridge the gap between social housing, public housing and the private rental market by increasing the stock of affordable rental properties and it's done just that.
I think Tony Abbott needs to answer whether he's got a commitment to keeping this program going. This is a scheme that state housing ministers including Liberal State Housing Ministers have adopted enthusiastically. But the housing industry has taken up enthusiastically, that social housing experts have said is a success. So I think it's a very well designed scheme that is meeting its objectives, and what I'd like to see is a commitment from Tony Abbott that this isn't one of the secret cuts in that 900 page Commission of Cuts, because without additional investment in affordable housing we will continue to have people locked out of the housing market and we'll continue to see problems with homelessness.
The other question for Tony Abbott today is will he answer calls from around the country including from the Liberal Premier of Western Australia to renew the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness that expires on 30 June this year? We know that there are homelessness organisations that are already very worried about whether they'll be able to keep staff on, indeed I've heard reports from people who work in the homelessness sector that they're considering lay-offs already.
Tony Abbott's got a few questions to answer when it comes to housing: what are his plans for housing affordability? What are his plans for this National Rental Affordability Scheme? Is it one of the secret cuts in the Commission of Audit? And what’s he going to do about homelessness, is he going to go back to the situation that existed before 2007 when Liberal Governments, state and federal, said homelessness was in the too hard basket?
SHORTEN: Thanks everyone.
THE HON. BILL SHORTEN
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG
THE HON. TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MONDAY, 19 JANUARY 2015
SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s 500 days of lies; GST on fresh food; Business confidence at 23 year low; Tony Abbott’s unfair Budget; Tony Abbott’s GP Tax; Death Penalty; Manus Island; Great Barrier Reef.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It’s great to be in Yeerongpilly, supporting our Labor candidate Mark Bailey for the upcoming state election. It’s also great to be here in my first event for the year, with Deputy Leader, Tanya Plibersek, and also Graham Perrett, our hard working Federal Member for Morton. Today is 500 days since the Abbott Government was elected. 500 days of broken promises, of lies, and increased pressure on families cost of living. Families are now $6,000 a year worse off because of the Abbott Government. Pensioners are seeing the real value of their pension effectively cut in the future because of the Abbott Government. Students, worse off because they are going to have to pay two and three times what they once paid to go to university with the prospect of $100,000 degrees. Sick people worse off with the ongoing confusion and debate about the GP Tax and charging sick people more to go to the doctor. Our Defence Force is worse off, because they’ve had a real pay cut since the Abbott Government got elected.
Tony Abbott won't come to Queensland, he won't come on his 500-day anniversary. Queenslanders have got legitimate questions to ask about education, health and jobs. The economy is simply worse off than it was when Tony Abbott got elected. We see business confidence in the High Street down, and we see the ranks of the jobless increasing. Tony Abbott should come to Queensland before the end of the Queensland election, and he should explain to Queenslanders why he wants to put a GST on fresh food, why he wants sick people to pay more to go to the doctor, why he wants to take $10 billion from the Queensland hospital system, why he wants to cut and slash the funding to Queensland schools.
We know that Tony Abbott doesn't want to come to Queensland, yet I remember that in 2012, when Tony Abbott was introducing Campbell Newman when Campbell Newman was heading up the LNP team in Queensland, Tony Abbott was all over Campbell Newman then. But Tony Abbott famously said words to the effect that the people of Queensland have got the opportunity when they vote, to send a message they don't want bad Governments anywhere in Australia. Well, to quote Tony Abbott again, Queenslanders at this up coming State election have got the opportunity to send a message that they don't want bad Governments in Queensland or in Canberra.
Happy to just ask Tanya to say a few words about what she’s seen on the campaign trail and then we'll take questions.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks. That’s good, you've got a fan club Bill, that's terrific. It's terrific to be here with our leader, Bill Shorten, who has been received terrifically well here in Queensland. We have also got Mark Bailey, terrific local candidate. I have been this morning with a couple of other local candidates, with Joe Kelly and Di Farmer. And as I have gone around to the shops as Bill's been on this trip as well, we have got a very strong message from shopkeepers, from locals who are shopping, that they don't want a GST on food. As a former Health Minister I know one of the most important things you can do to keep our population healthy, is to keep the cost of fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and so on, affordable for families. So on top of the $6,000 dollars that the ordinary families lost after Tony Abbott's cuts, they simply can't afford to be paying more for doctor’s visits, paying more for medicine, paying more for education, and now on top of it, Tony Abbott's proposing an extra cost for fresh fruit and vegetables, and fresh food generally. A very strong message that Queenslanders don't want that.
SHORTEN: Thanks, Tanya. Are there any questions for us?
JOURNALIST: Mr. Shorten what do you make of Mr. Hockey’s comment that children are going to live to 150?
SHORTEN: Yes Joe Hockey has been kept in the basement over summer and now he's burst out of the basement. Now I genuinely think that he's had a brain snap here. He's almost had what I'd call his Sarah Palin moment, ‘I can see Russia from my house’. This proposition to justify his 2014 Budget, based on a not yet born baby's 150th birthday in a century and a half’s time, just shows that I suspect our Treasurer's simply lost the plot.
If you want to have serious policies about growing old in Australia, you don't freeze superannuation at 9 and a half per cent. You certainly don't make less well-off Australians pay more tax in their superannuation. You don't cut pensions. But in the meantime, we have got a Treasurer who has been engaged behind the scenes and finger pointing against the Prime Minister, a Prime Minister against the Treasurer over the GP Tax debacle. And in the meantime the healthcare of Australians being jeopardised by this absolutely over the top behaviour of the Government.
JOURNALIST: The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has a survey out today that said that business confidence was at a 23 year low and a lot of that is due to the uncertainty in Canberra. Isn't Labor contributing to that a bit?
SHORTEN: 500 days of the Abbott Government. It's their 500 day birthday and things are getting worse in Australia. And it's not good enough for the Abbott Government to simply blame everyone else. Families are worse off up to the tune of $6,000. Pensioners are facing cuts in their pensions. Our Defence Force has had a real pay cut. Sick people have had to worry about can they afford to go to see a doctor, the confidence is down as you observed in the business world and we’ve got more people in the jobless queues. Every day gets worse under the Abbott Government and every day means that this is a Government who are gradually more and more just losing the plot in terms of what they are going to do for Australians.
JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) making more of a contribution to see a doctor?
SHORTEN: I think we have got a very good system, the Medicare system. The Australian health system - let's get some facts on the table before we see the Government just attack GPs as they have been doing shamelessly in the last few weeks. Our health system, we spend about 9 per cent of our GDP on healthcare in Australia compared to about 17 per cent in the United States. If you look at what our GPs do, they are less than 30 per cent of the Medicare costs in the system, yet they look after 80 per cent of the patients and medical work. We need to see a government who stops fighting with the doctors, stops fighting with nurses, stops fighting with the patients, and starts working with people.
We pay our Medicare taxes to help pay for our healthcare system. This is a Government who is going to attack and keep attacking, bulk billing, and the only thing they did last week was due to the Queensland election where they backed off their crazy $20 fine to go and see a doctor. But the truth of the matter is the Government may have changed its tactics, but they haven't changed their mind on what they want to do with Medicare. We have got an invisible Prime Minister, but unfortunately his policies are very visible and he should come to Queensland and account for his policies and positions.
JOURNALIST: But should a person earning $100,000 be able to walk into a GP and get bulk-billed the same was as an electrician can?
SHORTEN: This argument that Australians don't pay for their Medicare does Australians a great disservice. Australians already pay a Medicare levy, so they are already paying for it. Many Australians have private health insurance so they are already paying for it. This is a Government who wants people to triple dip. This is a government who thinks the only way you cure the sick is by discouraging them from going to the doctor. We know and you know and reasonable people around Australia understand that all this Government wants to do is play our budget and political games. No-one thinks their latest backflips and contortions on Medicare is based about treatment of the sick, it's all about an untidy race to charge more people and raise more taxes by going to the doctor.
JOURNALIST: What should the Government do if the two Australians in Bali are executed – should they withdraw Ambassadors?
SHORTEN: This is a very difficult set of circumstances, and one which appropriately is above the political debate. Let me state very clearly, Labor believes that the death penalty is abhorrent whenever and wherever it occurs. It demeans all of us as human beings. We haven't given up and I'm sure the Government hasn't given up the prospect of achieving clemency for these two Australians. I understand that these Australians have broken the laws and they have broken the laws in Indonesia. We understand that they have to pay a penalty. But the death penalty simply won't discourage the crimes. It doesn't work, and Labor is at one with the Government to try to save the lives of these Australians.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the Government is doing enough?
SHORTEN: Well, again, I'm not about to make this a political issue. There is one task at hand today, ladies and gentlemen. It is to do whatever we can to achieve clemency for these two Australians. So the lawyers of the families, the families, the Government, ourselves, are of one mind, we oppose the death penalty.
JOURNALIST: What should the Government be doing with regards to the situation on Manus Island?
SHORTEN: Well first of all the Government - the reports there are very troubling now. Whatever one's perspective about these matters, I think that all Australians are unhappy that there's a culture of secrecy. These people are directly or indirectly in the care of Australia, and the Government just needs to come clean with what is happening. Australians are a fair minded people. We believe in making sure the right thing is done by people within our care both directly and indirectly. The first step to doing that is to make sure we actually know what's going on and I don't think anyone outside of a few people in the Government actually know what is really happening.
JOURNALIST: What can we expect from the Queensland election campaign launch tomorrow from Labor?
SHORTEN: Well you'll have to wait and to the launch tomorrow. But I think it's fair to say that Annastacia Palaszczuk and her state team ably represented the flag being carried in Yeerongpilly by Mark Bailey, have had a massive mountain to climb from three and a half years ago. Three and a half years ago, the electorate returned only 7 Labor MPs out of 89. There have been two by-elections since then, with Anthony Lynham and Yvette D’Ath joining the ranks, but that’s still only 9 out of 89. It's been a mammoth task for Annastacia Palaszczuk to get Labor back to competitive and I think they are competitive. I think it's not so much what we expect from the launch tomorrow, but it’s about the issues, isn't it. This is a Labor team in Queensland determined to see that the assets of Queensland are put to best use for Queenslanders. This is a Labor team talking about health and education and jobs. These are coincidentally issues which transcend state and federal boundaries, that is why Tanya, Graham, myself and all our team are so keen to be here because the health and education of every Queenslander, the employment prospects of every young Queenslander are a matter of great importance to all levels of politics.
JOURNALIST: It sounds like you are lowering expectations. Can Annastacia Palaszczuk pull off a victory?
SHORTEN: The arithmetic is very difficult. I'm not an election commentator, I’ll leave that to the ladies and gentlemen of the press, but what I do know is it's a steep climb and Labor, I think, has exceeded expectations so far, it is a very difficult climb. But what matters is the future of Queensland. What matters is jobs. What matters is making sure your kids can get a good education, what matters is making sure that your parents when they need to see a doctor can see a doctor. These are the matters which unite Labor and unite Labor with Queensland and that's what we stand for. One more question.
JOURNALIST: The Great Barrier Reef is under massive attack at the moment from the Abbott Government, are we going to see a lot of developments on that from incoming Labor governments, both federally and at a state level? [inaudible]
SHORTEN: Well, I think what's been very clear in this election is there's only one mainstream political party with any policies for the Great Barrier Reef, and State Labor's made it very clear they will move heaven and earth to protect the pristine nature of the Barrier Reef. In Canberra, we see a Federal Government currently in power who deny the impact of climate change, you can see them being dragged with their fingernail marks across the concrete to have any debate about climate change. And even we saw the dramatic report released this weekend which shows we have just gone through the hottest year. And yet you still have the Abbott Government stuck in the past. So if people care about the Great Barrier Reef, we don't just have to rely on President Obama to tell us about its capacities and its importance, we should do that at the ballot box. Thanks, everyone, lovely to see you.