THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
ABC 702 RICHARD GLOVER
TUESDAY, 13 MAY 2014
SUBJECT/S: THE BUDGET.
RICHARD GLOVER: Rebecca Huntley is social researcher and director of IPSOS Mackay Research. She’s here with me in Sydney alongside Cassandra Wilkinson from the Centre for Independent Studies, welcome to you, too. And in Canberra, Tanya Plibersek’s the Member for Sydney, of course and Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party. Tanya, welcome to you as well.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Hello Richard, and hi Rebecca and Cass.
GLOVER: Now, brave or mad? That’s the question that some people are asking about Tony Abbott. Is he? Yes, it’s true, break some promises about new taxes but arguably does it for the sake of the country’s long-term financial health. How do you think he’ll be seen after tomorrow’s tough Budget? Tanya Plibersek.
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it’s really clear that the Commission of Audit is the alibi for a budget of broken promises. Tony Abbott said very clearly before the election, no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no cuts to the ABC, no change to pensions, no new taxes, no tax increases. And it looks like every single one of those commitments is going to be broken on Tuesday.
GLOVER: Now, the guy who ran the Commission of Audit for them, he’s on PM tonight saying look, the main promise was to bring the Budget into surplus again and voters, he’s implying, voters will really see that as the main game and concentrate on that rather than anything else.
PLIBERSEK: I think that that’s completely untrue. You think about the way Tony Abbott behaved after Julia Gillard said “we don’t want to have a carbon tax, we do want to have action on climate change, we want to have a carbon pollution reduction scheme but not a carbon tax”, and then Tony Abbott spent three years saying “broken promise, broken promise”, I don’t know that people are going to cop from him that when he says no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no new taxes, no cuts to the pension, no cuts to the ABC and breaks all those promises, that that’s okay.
GLOVER: We are spending more than what’s coming in the door, this would be a problem if you were in government.
PLIBERSEK: Well, I can give you a terrific example of the wrong priorities that this Government’s got, because we suggested, we had legislation prepared for a $700 million revenue take, where we were closing loopholes that multinational companies were using to offshore their profits. Basically, we had ready to go, $700 million of extra revenue that we could get by preventing companies profit shifting off shore, and the Government’s knocked that back. We had proposals that would’ve reduced some of the very generous benefits that very high income earners get on their superannuation, again the Government’s knocked that back. When I was Health Minister, the Government argued against my savings measures to reduce the cost of older, generic medicines, money that we ended up spending on fantastic, new medicines. Of course, you always need to be looking at the money you’re raising and the way that you’re spending it. You need to make sure you get value for money and you need to make sure that when you’re raising revenue that you’re doing it in the fairest possible way. But you see the crazy priorities of this Government when they’re prepared to spend $5.5 billion a year on an over the top paid parental leave scheme at the same time that they’re cutting pensions, cutting health care, cutting education and putting up taxes that they promised they wouldn’t do.
GLOVER: Let’s come to some of those details of those rumoured changes tomorrow. But Cassandra, first to you. Will it be seen as just a series of broken promises as Tanya says?
CASSANDRA WILKINSON: Maybe, I mean, I think Tanya’s got a point, that if you have argued that you have got to stick to the letter not the spirit of your promises, he’s probably going to be hoisted on that petard in the coming days. But I’d say going back to your original premise, bravery is a term that we should reserve for the reformer and this is based on what we see in the rumours and leaks, not a reforming budget. It’s trimming, and it might cut deeply in a couple of areas, but there isn’t really structural change. When you look at the problem in the Budget it’s that the last couple of Governments of both stripes, have put a lot people on Government payments who don’t really need them. A lot of that’s gone to families, but a lot of it’s also gone to top up the superannuation of the wealthy, a lot of it’s gone into payments for growing treatment of the worried well in health. There’s all kinds of money being paid to people who don’t really need it. Now, that’s what this Budget so far, from what we’ve seen doesn’t get to grips with.
GLOVER: But they are going to tackle family benefit parts A and B in different ways though, aren’t they? That’s certainly the rumour.
WILKINSON: Somewhat. And that’d be a good start if they do. But they’re still going to leave people with very large incomes and supers sitting on the pension. And the idea that really poor people are disabled people or people who haven’t had the chance to save because they’ve been carers for disabled children throughout their lives, have got to compete for a bucket of money that’s got a whole lot of wealthy people’s fists in it, seems like that’s the kind of work that needs to be done, and if Abbott wants to be considered brave, then he’s still got a long way to go.
GLOVER: Okay, wealthy people you have to define of course and some people say things that family tax benefits which goes to pretty ordinary families who are trying to make ends meet, that that’s a way of trying to reduce inequality in Australia. A lot of people are worried about the growing gap between the rich and the poor, giving some targeted money to families might be some way of helping that.
WILKINSON: I reckon that those of us who live in Sydney have got a bit of a distorted idea about what doing it tough actually means. When the average income in Australia is really more like fifty grand than the hundred that we’re talking about in terms of the thresholds here, it’s not really a deep, deep cut. And when we’ve still got to find money for the NDIS, for all those people who really do need the help of their neighbours and friends and other tax payers, you’ve got to say, if the first thing you need to do is make sure the disabled are taken care of, then maybe PPL and maybe family payments and maybe a whole lot of other stuff have got to wait.
GLOVER: Rebecca, let me come to you. Because there’s really two competing ideas here, one that Australians care so much about sustainability over time, that they’ll cop any sort of pain if you can convince them it’s necessary for the good of the country and for the good of the economy. The other is the sense that they’re sick of politicians bloody lying to them all the time. Now you talk to average Australians in their homes, which is the sort of dominant feeling of the two?
REBECCA HUNTLEY: There’s definitely tension. I think what we’ve felt in our research up until this is some anxiety about what is really going to be cut and is the burden of this kind of idea of a contribute and build budget, which is what Joe Hockey is calling at, is going to evenly distributed. I think that the Government’s been reasonably clever in their politics of this, talking about you know, the big end of town will have to deal with it, people on high incomes, the issue around the petrol excise. But it really hinges on an ability to tell an interesting story and also to convince people that the debt is as much of a problem as the Government is saying. Now, I think that if they over emphasise that, and people really feel like, basic things like Medicare are being chipped away at, people will start to, you’ll see voters start to rebel. I think the interesting thing about Medicare co-payment, for as long as it’s been floated, there is quite a lot of anxiety in the population about that. That’s because Medicare is so strongly supported, not only as a public policy question, but also almost as a sense of nationalism. Australians think that Medicare is the thing that distinguishes us from other countries. Now, there is an acceptance that the Medicare system, the medical system in general is under a lot of pressure by the ageing society as well as by issues in relation to things like obesity related diseases and all the rest of it, so they might cop that co-payment if they think there’s a basic commitment of the Government to keep Medicare going, that this is about making sure the longevity of Medicare.
GLOVER: Rather than chipping away at Medicare.
GLOVER: So, your advice to Joe, is sell it as saving Medicare, not chipping away?
HUNTLEY: Absolutely. It’s very important. If they think for a moment that this is the beginning of a series of reforms that will move us more into an American style kind of health care system, that will be a real problem.
GLOVER: Can I bring you in here, Tanya Plibersek? Let me play devil’s advocate for a second. Say, at six dollars with suitable safeguards in place for poor people, everyone can afford a couple of cups of coffee to go to the doctor, can’t they?
PLIBERSEK: Well, Richard, the reason that Australians love Medicare, is because they know that it delivers high quality health care for a reasonable price. Not just to individuals but to our national budget. Australians are already contributing to the cost of Medicare through their tax system and what you are in fact asking people to do is not pay six dollars to go to the doctor, you’re asking them to pay the thousands of dollars that they’ve paid through the tax system and then pay a co-contribution. What this will mean is the end of Medicare as we know it, because doctors will lose the incentive to bulk bill. When I was Health Minister, we got GP visits up to 82% of those GP visits were bulk-billed. As soon as you start charging co-payments, what will happen is doctors will start charging any fee they like, the fee that the AMA is suggesting is closer to seventy dollars or over a hundred dollars for a slightly longer consultation and then they’ll ask their patients to get some of that back from the Medicare office. So you’ve lost universality, you’ve lost the reasonable prices that we’re paying through the health system. And the trouble is, you look at the American system, which is what the Government’s taking us to, it actually ends up costing the Budget more as well. Individuals are paying more and it’s costing more, costing the nation more. The way to keep health costs down, this is the last thing I want to about this, the way to keep health costs down is to keep people healthy and out of hospital. Going to see your GP when you need to is part of that. Organisations like Medicare Locals that focus on preventative health, keeping people healthy and out of hospital is another part of that. The Government is doing everything they can to get rid of the things that keep us healthy, like the front of pack labelling that they knocked back, that gives people better information about the food they’re eating.
GLOVER: But if we’re so price sensitive that six dollars is really going to hurt then surely we’re price sensitive enough to make sure that doctors don’t then go to a full payment system.
PLIBERSEK: It hurts the poorest and the sickest people. The people who are sensitive to a six dollar co-payment, or a seven dollar or fifteen dollar as the Commission of Audit suggested, the ones who are most price sensitive are the sickest and poorest and they’re the ones who end up in hospital emergency, they’re the ones who will put off treatment until they are very, very sick. They’ll cost the health system more, and the cost to them as individuals, the cost in sickness and in misery is much greater.
GLOVER: Cassandra Wilkinson, do you agree with that?
WILKINSON: The thing about co-payments is that there’s a whole bunch of them in the system already. There’s co-payments on medication, if you want to see a specialist in any short amount of time, you’ve got to pay out of your own pocket as well and plus in a normal public hospital, the co-payment’s called a car parking price that you pay when you turn up. I think there’s a reason that over the years lots of Labor and Liberal people have said “look, this might not be the perfect way to do it” but there’s got to be some price signals in the health system. Because at the moment, Medicare over services the wealthy, it over services the cities, it’s not providing the service that it needs to to people who are in poorer suburbs and outside the big cities. There’s a whole lot of, and this is what I mean about, let’s not call someone brave if what they’re doing is whacking on a couple of payments without dealing with the major structural problems. Australians are paying twice as much in out of pocket health care costs as the British and the French. We’ve got add-on costs already, but they’re currently happening in a way that’s pretty ad hoc.
GLOVER: Okay, but that’s partly because of what Tanya said, generic medicines and not being tough enough on the suppliers, isn’t it?
WILKINSON: Well I’m absolutely for putting in generics in NSW there was a fight for years and years and one of the biggest problems is that clinical discretion stops you from brining cost down in generic medicine. It stops you from mandating cheaper kinds of things like artificial hips. You have all kinds of costs with the system which are completely indiscriminate and again the Government’s not doing the serious reform needed to bring down the price of healthcare in Australia.
GLOVER: Tanya, Cassandra makes a point about support on Labor ranks in the past. It’s true that Bob Hawke tried to bring in exactly the same thing. It’s hard for you to argue that it’s confronting Labor Party principles, isn’t it?
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I think about three decades ago, or two decades ago we talked about a dollar or a two dollar co-payment and that was very quickly dispensed with for the very reason that it’s bad policy. People are paying for Medicare through the tax system. There isn’t evidence of over servicing, in fact where doctors are over servicing they are picked up pretty well by the systems that we have in place that see that some doctors are seeing too many patients in a day or too many patients in a week and those doctors are quite often disciplined in a variety of different ways where they’re doing it. I think the fact that you’ve got the head of the Business Council of Australia deciding that we’re seeing the doctor too often doesn’t give me any reassurance that these decisions are being made on the basis of what’s good for our health, not what’s good for the bottom dollar.
GLOVER: I guess his point is that we value something more if we pay something for it, even if it’s only a little bit, we might listen more assiduously to the advice, we might be a bit more cautious about going for no good reason.
PLIBERSEK: I just think the notion that there’s a whole lot of people out there who’ve got nothing better to do with their day than sit in a doctors surgery for an hour waiting to see the doctor, or put their names down to see the doctor in three weeks time because they’ve got nothing better to do, I just think it’s fanciful.
GLOVER: Those magazines are good!
HUNTLEY: I’d have to say Richard, you really want research to back up the idea that six or seven dollars would make people listen to the doctor, more than they would listen to them when they’re not- I think that’s an assumption that people make, I think that you would need to check that thoroughly in terms of research.
GLOVER: And unlikely, you’re implying…
HUNTLEY: Well I think it’s questionable.
GLOVER: Rebecca Huntley, Cassandra Wilkinson and Tanya Plibersek are here. Let’s talk about some of the other things briefly, the sale of the Royal Mint, that seems to be on, together with the sale, maybe, of defence housing etc. How do people feel about privatisation these days, Rebecca? Do they see it as selling off the family silver or what?
HUNTLEY: Not so much, they’ve had years of privatisation of public assets by both sides of politics. But I think that what you do get from voters is a question about are we getting as good a possible deal from this as whatever organisation is going to buy it and I think that you’ve seen voters become more and more scrupulous and critical about that when they’ve seen some of the perhaps uneven deals in public-private partnerships. So, they do ask questions about privatisation, they don’t necessarily dismiss it. I think the interesting thing about the privatisation of Australia Post is, is it going to lead to more expensive, for example, cost of sending packages? Everybody is obsessed with online shopping, if you’ve noticed in your street the Australia post guy who runs from one house to another and so there’ll be questions about that. Is it going to put greater pressure on retail, on smaller business, on internet businesses that are domestic internet businesses?
GLOVER: And Cassandra we seem to be constantly talking about natural monopolies being privatised these days. Sydney Airport is one example, the port in Newcastle was privatised by the NSW government last week. Well, if you’re a coal miner in Newcastle, you don’t have a choice, these are not competitive things, you have got to put your coal through this particular coal port. Because they’re natural monopolies is it sensible to privatise them? Don’t you just end up with price gouging by the new owner?
WILKINSON: Well, two things, one the old saying that only thing worse than a public monopoly is a private monopoly is worth keeping in mind. I think Australia Post is a good example of a service where there’s heaps of competition, most of us don’t use snail mail anyway, and when we do send a package there’s half a dozen great and cheaper providers of packaging. Whereas say, the mint, is something where it’s hard to imagine who else is going to produce your banknotes, but I guess we’ll find out. The general way that governments deal with having a natural monopoly, say a port, is that you have an IPART or similar body does a regulated pricing, which means you wind up paying to regulate the asset that’s run by someone else and you wind up with some quite complex challenges in terms of incentivising the private owner properly to run it efficiently.
GLOVER: Well, look at the electricity system, which we’ve basically encouraged them to gold plate the system at an immense cost to all of us.
WILKINSON: Yeah, so what we should have had which was competitive pricing of electricity and cheaper prices for customers, because the government overregulated as well as partly privatising we wound up with the worse of both worlds, which was too high standards and customers paying too much for things they didn’t need. Which is why in the end these sales are not necessarily good or bad per se, it’s about the rules that are wrapped around them and fundamentally about what the government does with the money that it gets for them. If it take that money and builds new infrastructure that communities need, and that can generate increased economic activity, that’s great. If they spend it on filling recurrent payment holes then we’re all in a lot of trouble.
GLOVER: Does the government need to manufacture our coins, Tanya?
PLIBERSEK: I would have thought that selling off a licence to print money would be pretty popular.
GLOVER: Especially if you allow the new owner to choose the faces on the coins. So, you’d have the Clive Palmer two dollars.
PLIBERSEK: It would be like personalised number plates, but on our ten dollar notes. Look, Richard, I think the thing is that you have to decide on each of the potential privatisations on a case by case basis. There’s some that have been raised that would concern me a great deal. I am opposed to the sale of Medibank Private, I think Medibank Private has played a very important role in keeping competition in the private health insurance market. Snowy Hydro was another one that I think the environmental concerns that come along with something like that are very substantial. There are a range that are obviously poor policy, but there’s a lot of privatisations that have been proposed, we’ll have to look at the details as they come up.
GLOVER: What about the mint? What’s your feeling there? Because that does seem to be on the likely list.
PLIBERSEK: It just seems like an odd thing to do. I don’t understand, really, what the benefit of it could possibly be. It’s like Cassandra was saying, who’s going to provide competition to the mint? How do you keep prices low once you’ve sold it off? How do you guarantee that this is going to save taxpayers any money and not in fact cost them more in the future? I don’t know how you can answer any of those questions confidently.
GLOVER: Someone was saying, the school tours will be a lot more popular once they start giving out the free samples. That’s the main business model. We have on the Monday political forum Rebecca Huntley, a social researcher from IPSOS Mackay, Cassandra Wilkinson from the Centre for Independent Studies and the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, Tanya Plibersek who also of course is Member for Sydney.
Five to six, just a quick one, no explanations even required if you could whisper one small thing into the ear of the Treasurer, save something from the cuts what would it be, Rebecca?
HUNTLEY: Anything to do with preventative health. So important for public policy, but also a priority for Australians.
GLOVER: And we’ll save money in the end?
HUNTLEY: Yeah. Anything to do with preventative health.
WILKINSON: National Disability Insurance Scheme for sure, absolutely.
GLOVER: Long way coming, don’t delay it.
GLOVER: And Tanya?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I was going to say preventative health.
HUNTLEY: I can imagine Tanya whispering in Joe Hockey’s ear, it’s an odd thing!
GLOVER: No, she’s going to whisper ‘give up the cigars’!
PLIBERSEK: I was going to whisper, just don’t smoke. Look, health and NDIS are both excellent ones and I’d have to say one of the worst broken promises of this Government is the betrayal of Australian school kids with the broken promise on the Gonski education reforms. But it’s going, I’m sad to say, going to be very hard to narrow down our focus to just a few areas. It’s going to be a budget full of atrocities.
GLOVER: Let me just ask finally, and rather more lightly, Mr Hockey has been mocked for taking refuge in a cigar after completing the budget. When you want to reward yourself what do you tend to reach for, Tanya?
PLIBERSEK: Jane Austen.
GLOVER: So, you’d be photographed over the hedge with your Finance Minister both reading Austen?
PLIBERSEK: A well-thumbed copy.
GLOVER: A well-thumbed copy, Mr Darcy and all of that. Why don’t we go to Cassandra, what about you?
WILKINSON: That’s easy, I watch Dr Who with the kids.
GLOVER: Is that right? Totally relaxing.
WILKINSON: Totally relaxing. Takes you a thousand universes away.
GLOVER: A mental Tardis in which to slip with the good Doctor, and Rebecca Huntley?
HUNTLEY: Well, if I could watch Game of Thrones while getting a pedicure. But they only have girly movies at the salon, they don’t have Game of Thrones.
GLOVER: Do they have movies at the salon, do they?
HUNTLEY: Well, they sometimes do.
GLOVER: Is that right?
HUNTLEY: Usually some kind of terrible Sandra Bullock film, but I think they should show Game of Thrones.
GLOVER: So, that is a fresh horror I did not realise. I’ve seen of course the pedicure salons, I’ve walked past them, but I didn’t know there were people consuming Sandra Bullock movies at the same time.
HUNTLEY: It’s quite an extraordinary good business idea if this career I’m in doesn’t work out. Just basically the ability to have a Game of Thrones constantly playing whilst getting your pedicure.
PLIBERSEK: And if someone could be reading you Jane Austen at the same time.
HUNTLEY: There’s an Austen Room. There should be an Austen room at the back, an Austen waxing room.
GLOVER: Get your fingernails done with Austen and toes done with Game of Thrones. Brilliant business ideas every day. We’re out of time but thank you to Rebecca Huntley, Cassandra Wilkinson and Tanya Plibersek. Thank you very much.
THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
ABC AM WITH CHRIS UHLMANN
MONDAY, 5 MAY 2014
Subjects: Indonesia, the Budget, ICAC
CHRIS UHLMANN: Tanya Plibersek is the Foreign Affairs Spokeswoman for the Opposition. She’s recently returned from Indonesia. Welcome to AM.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Hello, Chris. How are you?
UHLMANN: Good, thanks. Tanya Plibersek, what do you make of Tony Abbott’s decision not to attend the Open Government Partnership in Bali?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it’s quite concerning. We understand that the President of Indonesia has issued a personal invitation to the Prime Minister and ironically it’s to attend an open government forum but we don’t know the reason the Prime Minister is not attending. It’s not credible to suggest that he is required in Australia for Budget preparation. The Budget would be basically at the printers now unless there’s a great deal more chaos than you’d normally expect around Budget time. So, I think it does put light to the claim that the Government make that the boat turn-backs policy is not affecting the relationship with Indonesia.
UHLMANN: You’ve just come back from Indonesia. How would you describe the relationship?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I think overall our relationship is a strong one, but it is absolutely off track at the moment and Labor wants to see it back on track. We still don’t have an Indonesian Ambassador here in Australia. It’s been more than a hundred days since the Australian Government said that they would sign a document with the Indonesians that would set out some terms around our relationship that would get it back on track. It means cooperation is suspended in a number of very critical areas, that’s not good for Australia’s long term relationship with Indonesia, it’s also not good for Australian businesses wanting to do business in Indonesia. It’s an important trading partner for us, it’s an important strategic partner for us, it’s growing and strengthening importance as Indonesian prosperity increases – we need the relationship back on track.
UHLMANN: So, how much responsibility do you take for the poor state of that relationship given that what really annoyed the Indonesian President was the bugging of his phone which took place on Labor’s watch in 2009?
PLIBERSEK: Well, when Vice President Boediono was here just a few months ago, he said to Bill Shorten and I that the relationship between Australia and Indonesia, until a few months ago, had never been better and he gave –
UHLMANN: Of course that wasn’t revealed until after you left government.
PLIBERSEK: Well, what I’m talking about is after we left government, the visit was when we were in Opposition and it was very clear then and it was very clear in the warm meetings that I had in Indonesia, including with the Foreign Minister, there’s a great deal of affection for Australia in Indonesia, that there’s a desire there to get the relationship back on track. I think it does require the Prime Minister to make a greater effort than he’s made up til now to see the relationship restored to what it was.
UHLMANN: People have been talking a lot about broken promises in the lead up to the Budget, but surely the most often repeated promise by the Coalition was to stop the boats, and that’s what it’s done.
PLIBERSEK: You know, there was a substantial decrease in the number of people making the dangerous journey to Australia by boat –
UHLMANN: But they hadn’t stopped.
PLIBERSEK: - after Labor worked with Indonesia to stop visa on arrival arrangements for Iranians transiting through Indonesia to Australia. There was a substantial drop after the arrangements were made with Nauru and Manus Island. And, Chris, if you’re really interested in asking the question about why those numbers didn’t drop earlier, it would be worth asking Scott Morrison when he’s contemplating sending asylum seekers to Cambodia, why the arrangement with Malaysia that Labor proposed, that would’ve allowed asylum seekers to work, that would’ve allowed their children to attend schools, that would’ve allowed people to receive medical attention in Malaysia, was unacceptable. Scott Morrison talks a lot about 1200 people who died trying to make the journey to Australia. 800 of those died after that Malaysian arrangement was proposed.
UHLMANN: Now, just on another issue. There was a report in The Australian this morning that the Government is poised for asset sales in the Budget. What’s your view on that?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think that it’s extraordinary that a week out from the Budget, there seems to be so much uncertainty from the Government about what’s in and what’s out. We hear them ruling things out, the previous story was talking about the mining companies are able to get an assurance that there won’t be an increase to the cost of diesel fuel, but ordinary Australians aren’t able to get an assurance that their health costs won’t go up. I think there’s a great deal of concern that if Medibank Private, which is the one that’s being speculated about for example, is sold, that health care costs will go up. We know that Peter Dutton’s already ticked off on the highest private health insurance premiums increases in a decade, if Medibank Private is privatised, then there is less competition, the Government would have to show how this would improve health competition and prices for ordinary Australians. And my understanding is that it doesn’t hit the bottom line, what we lose is the income from Medibank Private. It’s just an ideological decision if it happens, it’s not an effort to improve the Budget.
UHLMANN: One last thing briefly, the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption shining a harsh light on political donations. Should they have limited it to individuals, not business groups or trade unions?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I think that the first thing that it’s important to ensure is that there is proper transparency and the reports today about this secretive organisation that is directing money to Joe Hockey’s campaign, I think shows that there’s people making a great deal of effort to get around the rules that already exist. So the first thing is to thoroughly and transparently apply the rules that already exist. And the second thing, Chris, that I think we really have to look at, for Federal campaigns, is looking at the amount that we’re spending on political campaigning. Whileever there’s an arms race, where parties are trying to outdo each other during a campaign, there will be pressure from parties to raise money. So, as well as properly applying existing rules, so that there is transparency and accountability, we should look at what we’re spending.
UHLMANN: Tanya Plibersek, we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you.
PLIBERSEK: Thank you.
THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
SATURDAY, 3 MAY 2014
SUBJECT/S: Australia’s relationship with Indonesia; Budget.
REPORTER: How embarrassing is this for the Government that they’ve had to cancel the visit to Bali?
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I'm very concerned that the Prime Minister at this very late stage has decided not to go to Indonesia. This was a personal invitation from the Indonesian President and it does look rather odd that at this late stage the Prime Minister has cancelled the trip.
REPORTER: You don’t believe that that it’s to do with budgetary issues?
PLIBERSEK: Well if they are still working on the Budget to the extent they need the Prime Minister here, this shows it's a government in chaos. The Budget is just weeks away and at this stage should virtually be at the printers. I mean it is an extraordinary claim, if it's true, that the Prime Minister, that the Budget is in such a bad state at the moment or such an early draft that the Prime Minister has to be here to hold the hand of the Treasurer to get it ready for Tuesday week.
I mean I've been around for the preparation of a Budget or two and I would amazed if they are at such early stage of the development of the Budget that the Prime Minister still needs to be here. I mean, phones do work in Indonesia. If there were a few late questions still to be tied down in the Budget, surely they could give him a call.
REPORTER: What kind of opportunity would this have presented, considering Indonesia is to have elections in July, and that President Yudoyono won’t any longer be the President anyway?
PLIBERSEK: I think we have said before that it's very important for Australia to get the relationship with Indonesia back on track. Indonesia is a very important neighbour to us. We've got a good friendship with Indonesia, it's an important economic and strategic partner. The sad fact is that for many months now, the relationship has been under pressure. We still have no Indonesian ambassador in Australia. There are a number of areas of co-operation between the Indonesian and Australian Government that are suspended at the moment. It is very important that we get the relationship back on track. I think in fact it would better to do it with Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has been a very good friend to Australia over the years. Any new President elected in these presidential elections will of course in the first instance focus on their domestic concerns. That happens whenever you have got a new Government. The danger is that after presidential election, we will see further delays to restoring state the relationship to the healthy state that it should be in.
REPORTER: Do you think that it was Tony Abbott's office that declined the invitation or do you think it perhaps came from the Indonesians, that they requested he not attend in light of the reports about boat being intercepted?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I can't begin to speculate on that. That is obviously a question for the Government. But if the case is that the Prime Minister's not visiting Indonesia because, as we've seen reported today, it may be that a boat has been intercepted and will be returned to Indonesian soil, it shows that what the Government has been saying about the relationship with Indonesia not being affected by boat turn backs is not true. This Government came to office - excuse me for a second - this Government came to office having made election commitments about what would happen in Indonesian waters and on Indonesian soil without ever having discussed that with the Indonesian Government. Then they claimed that those announcements that they have made had no effect on the relationship with Indonesia. If the reports are correct that the reason that the Prime Minister's not going is because an orange life raft might turn up on Indonesian soil while he's there and that that would embarrassing and difficult, it does show that the claims that the Government has made, that this is having no effect on relationship are simply not true.
REPORTER: The way things stand at the moment, it does show, though, their boat turn back policy is working. Is there any point that Labor would start to support that policy and is it just inevitable that a policy like that, the fact it's working, that there will be Indonesia some strained relations with Indonesia as a consequence?
PLIBERSEK: Sorry, it's the wind. Look, there are several factors that have reduced the number of people attempt to make the dangerous journey to Australia by sea. The first is getting rid of –
REPORTER: Sorry, Tanya.
PLIBERSEK: You tell me when you're ready.
REPORTER: Is there a point where Labor support it in the future and is it an inevitable part of the boat turn back policies are strained?
[Break in audio]
PLIBERSEK: There are several factors that have reduced the number of people coming to Australia by boat. The first is the end of the visa on arrival arrangement for Iranians in Indonesia. The second is of course the weather is particularly bad at this time of year. And of course the offshore processing arrangements of Nauru and Manus Island have also contributed to that.
[Break in audio]
The difference between those earlier things, the visa on arrival and the offshore processing, is that Labor introduced those in cooperation with our neighbours. We didn’t make unilateral announcements about what would happen in Indonesia, we did that in cooperation with Indonesia.
The other question of course for Scott Morrison is that when he says when he sees offshore processing on Nauru and on Manus Island has been successful how does he justify the fact that he opposed the arrangement with Malaysia? Scott Morrison talks a lot about the 1200 people who have died at sea and of course that is the thing that has always driven Labor’s policy, seeking an end to people risking their lives to come to Australia. But 800 of those people drowned after Scott Morrison rejected the arrangement with Malaysia that Labor had proposed.
REPORTER: I’ve just got one more that was texted through to me from Channel 10, are you able to comment on the talk about no dole before the age of 25?
PLIBERSEK: Can I just make one other comment about the trip to Indonesia. It’s ironic that the invitation to Indonesia was to a conference on open government but our Prime Minister won’t tell us why he’s rejected the invitation at this late stage. Indonesia is an important friend to Australia, the relationship is under stress at the moment. Labor has offered bipartisan support to the Government to get the relationship back on track and rejecting this invitation at this late stage really does put extra strain on the relationship. It’s very important that the Prime Minister discloses the reason that he’s really not going because Australians deserve to know why he’s putting further pressure on the relationship with such an important neighbour.
REPORTER: And do you have any comment on the reports that the budget will contain measures to curb the dole under the age of 25?
PLIBERSEK: We’ve seen a lot of budget speculation over recent days and all of it has been pretty nasty. Tony Abbott came to government saying that there’d be no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no change to the pension and no new taxes. He’s already broken every one of those promises. Now with the Commission of Audit we see that he’s got a lot worse in store for Australians. Today’s reports are of course saying that young people will be left to fend for themselves if they’re unfortunate enough to be unemployed and not studying. Of course we’re concerned, but it’s all in the piece of what we’ve seen in the Commission of Audit. The Commission of Audit’s saying $15 to go to the doctor, higher costs for medicines, it’s saying essentially the end of Medicare for ordinary Australians. More expensive private health insurance that you’ll be forced to take out. The Commission of Audit is also saying higher taxes including a state based income tax system, so you won’t just pay income tax to the federal government, you’ll pay income tax to the state government as well. And of course the Commission of Audit is saying cuts to minimum wages. If the Commission of Audit’s suggestions were accepted right now, a worker on minimum wage would be about $140 a week worse off than they are now. This is Commission of Audit is a blueprint for a budget of broken promises. Thanks everyone.
THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
FRIDAY, 2 MAY 2014
SUBJECT/S: Commission of Audit Report Release; The Abbott Government’s Twisted Priorities.
Lisa Wilkinson: We are joined now by Education Minister Christopher Pyne, and Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek. Good morning to both of you. Christopher Pyne, I will start with you, the government has had access to these recommendations for some time now. How much influence have they had over the budget we will see in 11 days’ time?
Christopher Pyne: Well Lisa, I agree with the introduction to the segment that this is a report to the government, it's not a report of the government and therefore it is a shopping list if you like of all the various things that a government could do if it wanted to. Some of these things that the government will adopt, others it will reject. But the overall theme of course is that we have to get our spending under control. We have to start living within our means again, we have had years of rising deficits and ballooning debt and it isn't sustainable. And I think the Australian public know that. They know it's going to be a tough budget, and they are ready for that. And they changed the government last September because they wanted a group of people in charge of the budget who would make those tough decisions, who wouldn't keep living beyond our means. So it is going to be a difficult period for a little while but there is a light on the other side of the tunnel and that is if we can do the necessary things to get our spending under control we will be able to grow our economy again, provide the jobs that are necessary and set the country on a sustainable path into the future.
Wilkinson: You're right, the Australian people did vote you in in 2013, but it was on a promise from the Prime Minister that there would be no cuts to health, pensions or education. He did that many times on the show. Let’s have a listen.
FOOTAGE - Tony Abbott: The only party which is going to increase taxes after the election is the Labor Party. No country has ever taxed its way to prosperity. A) I'm not going to break election promises but if I change my mind I will go and seek a mandate for it.
Wilkinson: Christopher, these will have to be broken promises, won't they?
Pyne: Well, I think you will find in the budget that there won't be overall cuts to education and to health and to welfare but we will obviously reprioritize within our spending. The programs and projects that the Coalition thinks are more important. But obviously...
Wilkinson: The problem is the Prime Minister said no cuts.
Pyne: Well, there will certainly be cuts to some Labor programs.
Wilkinson: So, we are talking broken promises.
Pyne: No, because we always said overall spending on things like education in my portfolio, let's take education, the overall spending on education will continue to rise but there will be cuts within education to Labor’s program. You don't change the government and then simply keep the government's programs before and add your own. Obviously the public change the government because they knew that we would reprioritize spending, but spending will increase, it's just that we have to stop the rampant increases in spending that were occurring under Labor. Labor left us with $123 billion of accumulated deficits, and debt rising to $667 billion. But, of course, the government will need to keep spending money, governments always do, the question is whether we can afford the rampant increases of spending that Labor proposed and obviously we can't.
Wilkinson: Tanya Plibersek, your response?
Tanya Plibersek, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well Lisa, I think what you see with the Commission of Audit is the blue print for a budget of broken promises. You are quite right; the Prime Minister said no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no changes to the pension before the election. And now you have seen an array, a smorgasbord of cuts to those very things. You see an ordinary family on $100,000 a year set to lose $8,000 in family benefits. You see pensioners not only waiting longer for the pension, you see the pension growing more slowly and you see means testing of the pension to include the family home, $500,000 family home. Now, I don't know there are many homes particularly in those older suburbs in Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane that wouldn't hit that $500,000 mark. You see as well further cuts to health. This is basically the end of Medicare for anyone on more than $88,000 a year. When it comes to education, Christopher is talking about how - he's trying to rewrite the promises he made. He said before the election that you could vote Labor or you could vote Liberal and your school would get the same funding. Now he's back-pedaling, he's running from that promise as quickly as he can. He's trying to implant a false memory in the psyche of the Australian people.
Wilkinson: The problem is we can't keep spending the way we have been spending, there have to be cuts.
Plibersek: Actually, I really have to take Christopher on this one as well. Since coming to government, this government has more than doubled the deficit. They have added $68 billion to the deficit. Now, if they are so concerned about runaway spending, why does the Prime Minister have a $5.5 billion paid parental leave scheme? $5.5 billion a year and he's saying that's a budget emergency? People just don't believe it. The government is trying to amp up or hype up the idea of a budget emergency to justify the cuts they’ve wanted to make. They have never believed in Medicare, they’ve never believed in decent funding for public schools, never believed in the aged pension. This is just a set of excuses to make the cuts they have always wanted to make.
Wilkinson: Christopher Pyne, last night on the 7:30 Report the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann all but confirmed that that deficit tax will go ahead. Is that now confirmed?
Pyne: Well, in the budget you will see everything that the government is going to do and I don't think that the Australian public are mugs, Lisa, in fact I’m absolutely certain they are not. And they know that the Coalition of course supports the aged pension, they know that we support Medicare. They know we are the best friend Medicare ever had because we want to make it a sustainable health system.
Plibersek: You are getting rid of it, Christopher.
Pyne: What rubbish, Tanya. That's just nonsense and the public know that’s nonsense. You can't say things that are palpably untrue and expect the public to believe them.
Plibersek: So, people on $88,000 a year will no longer have access to Medicare.
Pyne: Well, the Commission of Audit is a report to the government it is not a report of the government and the Australian public are not crazy. They elected a new government last September because they knew that the unsustainable budget position that Labor had given us wasn’t something Labor was ever going to address, they wanted a government of adults who were going to address it, and we will keep that commitment.
Plibersek: Why do you want to spend $5.5 billion on paid parental leave every year if there is a budget emergency, Christopher? Is that the most important spending there is, is it more important than the aged pension?
Pyne: Well Tanya, I didn't realise you were the hostess of the program asking all the questions but nevertheless -
Wilkinson: I'm very happy for two to have a conversation. Happy to deputise to both of you.
Pyne: Lisa, that's what I thought you got paid to do but anyway, the truth is that the paid parental leave scheme is a workplace entitlement, it’s not a welfare entitlement. Tanya being from the left of the Labor Party sees everything through the prism of welfare and government spending. We see the paid parental leave scheme being a workplace entitlement for women.
Plibersek: It is still $5.5 billion a year, Christopher. And only a fraction of that, Lisa, is raised by the levy on business. Taxpayers will be paying for it and pensioners will be paying for it with a cut in the aged pension.
Wilkinson: The Prime Minister did make it clear that this was his signature policy, and it would not be touched. Is that another broken promise?
Pyne: We took the paid parental leave scheme to two elections it was endorsed last September.
Wilkinson: So, why back down so easily on it?
Pyne: Well, we haven't backed down so easily as you say. What we are doing...
Wilkinson: The Prime Minister has said the capping will go from $150,000 down to $100,000.
Pyne: Well, what we are saying is that women need to have a generous paid parental leave scheme, they a fair dinkum one so they can participate in the work force, they want to have children because we need to boost our population, and because that's good for productivity in the Australian economy. But it also has to be affordable and sustainable and I think the program that’s being placed before the Australian people by the Prime Minister is a sustainable one that will be supported. But the most important thing is that Labor can't really try now wear the clothes of economic responsibility when they came to government in 2007 they had money in the bank, there was no deficit, there was no national government debt. Six years later there was $123 billion of deficits, and debt rising to $667 billion. And this government is setting about fixing the mess that Labor left us and I think the Australian public expect us to do that.
Plibersek: We left such a mess when we came into government Australia did not have three AAA credit ratings. When we left government, we did. We had three AAA credit ratings. The world judges us as having a miracle economy, having survived the GFC in the best shape of any advanced economy.
Pyne: You keep believing that, Tanya.
Wilkinson: We will have to leave that there. Thank you to both of you. 11 days to go, it's going to be very interesting 11 days of speculation for sure. Tanya Plibersek thanks very much and thanks to you, Christopher Pyne.
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 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 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 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.