ABC News Radio










MONDAY, 21 JULY 2014     




MARIUS BENSON: Tanya Plibersek, good morning.


BENSON: The Foreign Minister we just heard there speaking in Washington, she’s now going to New York where an Australian drafted resolution will be put to the United Nations Security Council. That resolution demands that those responsible for this incident be held to account, and that all States co-operate fully with efforts to establish accountability, and we’ve also learned just in the last few minutes that the Prime Minister overnight has spoken with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Do you think the Australian Government is doing everything it should do in the aftermath of MH17?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think certainly our selection on the Security Council at the moment does give us an opportunity to take a leadership role in international efforts to ensure that there is an independent investigation, an independent international investigation into exactly what’s occurred with MH17.

BENSON: Do you think the Security Council will be effective? Because Russia obviously can veto anything, China often votes with Russia, so they can stall any action by the Security Council.

PLIBERSEK: Well look, I think it would be extremely unlikely for Russia to vote against a resolution calling for an international investigation. I think it would look absolutely terrible if they did that, I don’t think that that’s likely at this stage. How much co-operation Russia then gives in asking the pro-Russian separatists to allow access to the site is another matter. So there’s the formal agreement to the resolution, and then there’s the practical help that Russia can be, using their influence with these fighters that have been backed by Russia, to allow access to the site there’s really two things that are required here.

BENSON: Is there anything else the world should be doing, or Australia should be doing or can do, effectively beyond the Security Council action?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think the Security Council resolution is the first step. Retrieving bodies unfortunately is the greatest task before us at the moment, making sure that those bodies are kept and transported properly so that they can be returned to their families, their countries of origin, that’s the first and most important thing. Full access to the site for investigation is the next critical stage. That has to be an international team, it has to be a team that can identify, for example, missile fragments amongst the wreckage to ensure that we know exactly what has happened, what type of missile it was and so on. The third thing then is to establish who is responsible for firing this missile, and that will be a longer process. It will require the co-operation of Ukrainian authorities and the pro-Russian separatists who currently control access to the site. They will have to allow international investigators full and unimpeded access for some time.

BENSON: Should Vladimir Putin come to the G20 in Brisbane in November?

PLIBERSEK: Well I don’t think that we’re at the stage of having that discussion yet. I think it’s very important to focus step by step on retrieving bodies, investigating the site, being able to tell what type of rocket it was and so on. The next discussion is the discussion about who is held responsible and what the consequences of being held responsible are. I think it’s important that the Security Council resolution does have a clause in there that says the international community is determined to establish who is responsible. I think measures around the G20 are one possibility, further sanctions in Europe are another possibility but we really need to take this step by step.

BENSON: The world’s attention has been divided between MH17 and the action by Israel in Gaza, now 425 Palestinian’s dead and 18 Israeli soldiers have been killed. What should the world, what should Australia do in relation to Gaza?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it’s very important that we continue strongly to say to HAMAS that the rocket fire must stop, but it’s also important to say to Israel now that the death toll, the civilian death toll at over four hundred is extremely high, and there are serious concerns now about the civilian death toll. It is important to have an immediate ceasefire. Right now, the cost of this conflict has been extremely high and the only solution right now is an immediate ceasefire.

BENSON: Could I just quickly ask you a about a domestic issue. The carbon tax was repealed last week, a poll was conducted over the weekend, no improvements in the Government’s fortunes. Is that surprising?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think Australian’s understand that we need to take action on dangerous climate change. I think Tony Abbott as Opposition Leader did a very good job of frightening people about the effects of carbon pricing. Most Australian’s have not noticed a dramatic difference in their life because of it, and I don’t think anybody is going to notice a dramatic difference over the next few weeks because it’s been repealed. On top of that, I think many Australians understand that it is necessary to take action to reduce air pollution unlimited- the production of dangerous greenhouse gases that trap heat close to our planet, and are consequently changing our climate and changing our environment will have not just an environmental effect but an economic effect on generations of Australians to come, and most people I believe understand that we need to do something about that.

BENSON: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks Marius.

BENSON: Tanya Plibersek is the Shadow Foreign Minister, and she is also the acting Opposition Leader in the absence of Bill Shorten who is in the United States at the moment.


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Press Conference, 20 July 2014








SUNDAY, 20 JULY 2014

SUBJECT/S: MH17, United Nation’s Security Council; Saint Mary’s service for victims of MH17; International AIDS Conference; Russia and the G20; Repatriation of victims to Australia.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks for coming out this afternoon. The first thing to say of course is that the Prime Minister, his wife, the leader of the opposition Bill Shorten and I, the Governor-General, his wife, the New South Wales Governor, the Premier Mike Baird and a number of others attended a service this morning at Saint Mary’s cathedral to commemorate the shocking loss of life from MH 17 today. The service was a great opportunity to remind ourselves that in Australia the whole community is shocked by this act of extraordinary violence and the loss of human life that has come from it. We now know that at least 36 Australian citizens and permanent residents have lost their lives. Children, parents, grandparents, teachers, a whole range of people right across the Australian community, from all parts of our community there are many, many families grieving today and many communities grieving the loss of a community member. The service today was an opportunity to show that all Australians are united in their grief, and united in their support for the families who’ve lost a loved one, for the communities who’ve lost a member of their community.

Very shortly, Australian will be engaged with the UN Security Council in debating a resolution about granting full access to the site of this terrible crash. It is absolutely critical that Security Council members unanimously support the call for an investigation that is transparent, that is made up of investigators from a number of countries, so a credible, transparent,international investigation. Access to the site must be granted immediately and it must be unimpeded. I think every Australian would be outraged at the suggestions that there are paramilitary personnel on the site at the moment that are interfering with investigations, preventing investigation and it seems perhaps preventing the removal and retrieval of bodies. This is completely unacceptable. There is no explanation, no excuse for anything other than for authorities to have full access to the site to retrieve and remove bodies and also of course, to ensure that the site is not tampered with, that any investigation is thorough and is credible.
The third thing to say is that tomorrow I’ll be travelling to Melbourne to go to the International AIDS Conference. As well as the Australian citizens and permanent residents that were mourning for, we understand the grief of other nations, particularly the Netherlands who’ve lost so many of their citizens. We also understand the terrible grief being suffered by those attending the International AIDS Conference to have lost so many colleagues in this shocking tragedy. The people who are travelling to the conference in Melbourne are people who have spent their lives, dedicated their careers to helping others. We’ve got health campaigners, doctors, researchers, scientists, people who have made a huge contribution to saving literally millions of lives by ensuring better access to medicines in countries where the epidemic is most fierce. So as well as the terrible individual tragedies of these lives lost, as we think of the families and friends and colleagues of all of those on board, we also think of the cost to humanity of losing so many fine researchers and health activists at one time.

I want to just, before we move into questions, mention another tragedy that’s happening today. We now know that the death toll in Gaza is over 300. We need to find a peaceful resolution immediately to the military conflict that’s occurring in Gaza. Of course the rockets must stop, Hamas must agree to a ceasefire and I also urge Israel to ensure that any response to that rocket fire is proportionate and spares the lives of civilians. We are hearing of a lot of civilian casualties at the moment and I am full of concern for those people also.

JOURNALIST: On MH17, the Prime Minister this morning said on television that Russia can’t wash its hand of the situation. What are your thoughts on the way that Russia and President Putin are handling this so far?

PLIBERSEK: The priority for Australia has to be getting on to the crash site and retrieving Australians from that crash site. The second most important thing to do is ensure an international investigation into exactly what’s happened here. I am extremely concerned, however, about reports that Russian backed separatists are engaged in preventing access to the site and preventing the investigation that must happen. We need to establish what type of rocket this was, who fired it and where they got it from, but that’s the next step for us.

JOURNALIST: I suppose for a lot of the families, of let’s say the Australian victims, they’d be wondering whether or not President Putin should be allowed into Australian for the G20 Summit, or should attend the G20 Summit. Can you understand some of these families and more broadly the Australian community believing that he shouldn’t be here in person?

PLIBERSEK: I absolutely support [inaudible] concerned about the, what President Putin has said. Certainly his first response in seeking to blame Ukraine for this terrible tragedy is completely unacceptable.  He has the opportunity now, in the Security Council, to back the full international investigation and he also has the opportunity to send a very strong message to Russian backed separatists in Ukraine that they must cooperate with an international investigation. They must cooperate in allowing bodies to be removed from the site and repatriated, taken home, brought home to Australia and to all of those nations that are sharing in this tragedy with us. President Putin has the opportunity of showing leadership on this by backing that investigation and ensuring that Russian backed separatists allow the international team investigating and removing and repatriating bodies to do their work in [inaudible].

JOURNALIST: But about him coming to the G20?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think that that’s something that we need to consider when it becomes clear what type of rocket this was, where it came from and who fired it.

JOURNALIST: And the Sister Tiernan, she was from your electorate?

PLIBERSEK: No, she was from a neighbouring electorate I believe, but I was able to meet this morning at Saint Mary’s with a number of her fellow Sisters of the Sacred Heart and a number of other Orders were also represented there. There were a number of young women from Kincoppal who were at the service this morning and I know that they are feeling a great deal of grief at this time. We were able to offer our condolences to those other nuns, but of course it’s a tragic time for them as it is for all of the families, friends and colleagues of those Australian citizens and permanent residents.

JOURNALIST: Just back on to Russia, do you think that the broader international community and countries like Germany and Britain also need to do their bit to try and encourage Russia or force Russia into supporting an independent and international inquiry?

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely. I think any nation, any world leader that is in contact with Vladimir Putin with any nation that has any influence with Russia should be using that influence right now to ensure that Russia supports a UN Security Council resolution to allow a credible, independent, international investigation. And that, also on top of that, that Vladimir Putin urges Russian separatists very clearly to ensure that the site is accessible, that there is no tampering with the site.

JOURNALIST: But are you concerned that Germany and Britain might be tempering their comments because there’s an economic imperative for both countries?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think, no I couldn’t say that now, I don’t see any evidence of that.

JOURNALIST: Okay, and also Julie Bishop has been finding it difficult to get on to her Russian counterpart and Tony Abbott still hasn’t been able to speak to Vladimir Putin. What do you think that this sort of stuff signals?

PLIBERSEK: I think it is extraordinary that the Russian foreign minister apparently is on holidays and not contactable and that President Putin, at a time like this of international shock and horror, is not available.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any concerns that the MH17 incident could inflame tensions here regarding the Ukraine/Russia conflict?

PLIBERSEK: No, I don’t share those concerns. I believe the Russian community and Ukrainian community here in Australia are both shocked and appalled at the loss of life from MH17 going down, and I’m sure that as good Australian citizens they will be as shocked and as horrified as any other Australian citizen at this loss of life.

Thanks everyone.


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ABC News Radio with Steve Chase









FRIDAY, 18 JULY 2014                 


SUBJECT/S: MH17; Middle East

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: I think it’s very important that we establish exactly what’s happened here.  It seems beyond doubt that there’s been a missile involved.  But it’s very important that we get a crash scene investigation team, an independent international team to the site as quickly as possible, so that the exact circumstances of this tragedy can be established.

STEVE CHASE, PRESENTER: You’re being kept up to date I understand it by the Foreign Affairs minister, as is the Opposition Leader about developments?

PLIBERSEK: Indeed, the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has been speaking with the Prime Minister Tony Abbott, I’ve been speaking to my counterpart Julie Bishop.  We are very eager, as the Opposition Leader and the Shadow Foreign Affairs spokesperson, to offer every support to the Australian Government.  Twenty-eight Australians at least have been killed in this terrible tragedy, and we are as eager as the Government to ensure that there is very quickly an independent international investigation into the circumstances.  We also, of course, at the very front of our minds are the families and friends of those Australians and all of the passengers on board, and of course also those people who are coming to Melbourne for the 20th international AIDS conference – that was particularly tragic to have people who’ve spent their lives seeking to help others, killed in this senseless way.

CHASE: It is your understanding that things may get a little bit clearer this weekend, when the United Nations look in detail and indeed press Russia on what has actually gone on here?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it’s extremely important that when the UN Security Council meets, that there is a unanimous and binding resolution from the United National Security Council members and that should include Russia urging and confirming that there will be an independent international investigation into this tragedy.  I think it’s very important that we get a crash scene investigation team into there straight away.  There are reports that there are people picking over the wreckage, it’s very important to secure the site, and to make sure that it can be examined forensically for any evidence of who is responsible.  When it’s establish who’s responsible I think there’ll be a very strong international response to whoever is responsible for this horrendous crime.

CHASE: And in tandem with that, once the perpetrators have been identified, obviously moves to settle what’s been going on for a long time now between Russia and Ukraine should be settled?

PLIBERSEK: Look I think this is the most tragic illustration we could possibly have, that the conflict between Ukraine and Russia will benefit no one – it’s a tragedy for the people of Ukraine, but it’s a tragedy for the people of the world.  It is so important that peace is brought to the region, that there is a diplomatic resolution to any conflict that exists between Ukraine and Russia, and that we see an end immediately to the violence.  It has gone on long enough, it has cost way too much.

CHASE: I imagine too, that as far as your portfolio responsibility is concerned, you’d also be keeping a close eye this weekend on what’s happening in Gaza?

PLIBERSEK: I’m extremely concerned about what’s happening in Gaza. I think again, this shows that it is so important that we resolve differences by negotiation and peaceful means.  There are well over 200 people who’ve lost their lives already in Gaza.  It is absolutely vital that Hamas stops firing rockets, and Israel, it is absolutely critical that the Israeli response is measured and seeks to protect civilian lives.

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Sky News Interview with Celina Edmunds









FRIDAY, 18 JULY 2014                 



CELINA EDMUNDS, PRESENTERTanya Plibersek thanks for your time. It’s hard to digest 298 lives lost among them 28 Australians it’s very, very hard to find the words with such a tragedy.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It is indeed a shocking tragedy and our first thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims of this shocking tragedy. The 28 Australians obviously but those of all nations who’ve been affected and those of course who were on their way to Australia for the AIDS conference in Melbourne. People who have devoted their lives to helping others killed in this senseless tragedy.

EDMUNDSOf course our attention turns to what happened and particularly this meeting the Russian ambassador and the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop this afternoon. The Prime Minister has described the response from the Russian ambassador blaming the Ukraine as deeply, deeply unsatisfactory.

PLIBERSEK: Well indeed, if the Russian Government is blaming Ukraine or if the Russian ambassador is blaming Ukraine that would be completely unacceptable. The next stage is for there to be a full, international, independent investigation and Australia will use its role on the Security Council to insist on that. Julie Bishop has assured me that she will. It is vitally important that there is an international investigation, because any investigation done by just one country would not have the same strong credibility that an international investigation, including Australian investigators would have. We have a concern in this, we’ve lost 28 Australians and it is important that we have the opportunity of contributing our expertise to finding exactly what’s happened here.

EDMUNDSBill Shorten indicated this morning that he appreciated the level of bi-partisanship that the Prime Minister was offering and the briefings he was receiving. Are you likewise receiving similar responses from the Foreign Minister?

PLIBERSEK: Indeed, I’ve spoken to the Foreign Minister this morning and I expect I’ll speak to her again over the next few days. I’ve offered to her, as Bill Shorten has to the Prime Minister, full support and cooperation and we are very concerned to know exactly what’s happened here and support the efforts of Australia on the Security Council to demand a full, international, independent, transparent investigation. It is critically important that we find the black box and any other evidence that can tell us exactly what’s happened. Securing the site will be very difficult. It is in rebel-held territory at the moment. And it is extremely important that Russia uses its influence with these pro-Russian separatists to allow an international team in to investigate the site.

EDMUNDSHow appropriate would it be that the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, was welcomed to Australia for the G20 in November?

PLIBERSEK: Well let’s just see what this investigation determines. I think it’s pretty clear that the surface-to-air missile has been fired off by pro-Russian separatists. That seems to be the consensus internationally, but the next step of determining how and where they received such a sophisticated weapon is something that needs to be investigated.

EDMUNDSIf it is and that weapon has come from Russia what action should Australia take?

PLIBERSEK: Well I’m not going to speculate on that now, but I would say this is an excellent opportunity for Vladimir Putin to use any influence he has with these rebels to allow an international team into the crash site. And more particularly to use any influence he has with these rebels to ensure peace in Ukraine. This conflict has gone on too long and it has cost too much.

EDMUNDSTanya Plibersek, at times of conflict it is very hard to find out the truth isn’t it?

PLIBERSEK: It’s extremely difficult to find out the truth in a situation like this because the area is held by pro-separatist rebels. I have spoken to our honorary consulate in Kiev, so I have had some first-hand descriptions of the difficulties of emergency and rescue teams trying to get into the area. They have had some success in approaching the site but they have not been able to get from these reports I’ve had from Kiev to the, I guess you’d call it epicentre of the crash site up till now. It is extremely important that there is access, that the black box is recovered and that the site is undisturbed until investigators are able to make it onto the scene.

EDMUNDSAnd yet the pictures would indicate that people trampling over the site, that pieces of the wreckage have indeed been moved. It’s hard to see how if investigators are allowed in there and there is some type of transparent investigation just what they are going to find.

PLIBERSEKIndeed, and that’s why it’s so important that Australia, now with a position on the Security Council, uses all of our influence to ensure that there is a transparent, international investigation. It would certainly be completely inappropriate for Russia to suggest anything else and I hope that the outcome of this emergency meeting of the Security Council sees a resolution from all of the Security Council members to support such an investigation.

EDMUNDS: The Prime Minister just in that news conference a short time ago said it was hard to have confidence in a transparent investigation involving Russia.

PLIBERSEKWell I think involving Russia is one thing, I think run by Russia is another. That’s why it’s important that it is an international investigation. Australia has very skilled experts who certainly could offer help. The Australian Government has offered that help. For our own interest in this I think it would be appropriate for Australians to be involved in the investigation. But certainly it needs to be an international team beyond either Ukraine or Russia involving experts from several other countries. Either because of their expertise or because of the interest they have because they’ve lost citizens.

EDMUNDSYes it would be appropriate wouldn’t it that Ukraine and Russia were removed entirely from this investigation but unfortunately that wouldn’t be likely would it?

PLIBERSEK: I don’t have a view on whether they should be removed entirely but this needs to be an international investigation to give all parties confidence.

EDMUNDSWe spoke about the bipartisanship on this disaster and the response to the tragedy of MH17. What do you think it’s important people remember as we try to come to terms with the number of lives lost around the world, the 28
Australians who have been lost and as this investigation unfolds and the response from the likes of Russia and the Ukraine?

PLIBERSEKWell I think the first and most important thing for us to bear in mind is the grief and suffering of the family and friends who are affected. Secondly, we need to remember the ongoing suffering of the people of Ukraine who are experiencing this conflict now for much too long. Our attention has been captured in this most tragic way today by this plane being shot out of the sky but we need to remember too dozens of Ukrainians have lost their lives in recent times. It is important there is immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and immediate peace and trust building in Ukraine. And I think the third thing perhaps to keep in mind as an international community is, and Australia with our position on the Security Council at the moment, it is important that as an international community that we repudiate the use of force. That we support negotiation, the rule of law and international norms to settle territorial disputes.

EDMUNDSAnd just finally before we let you go you mentioned you will be speaking again with the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop today.

PLIBERSEK: The Foreign Minister has told me that she’ll keep me up to date I will wait for her to contact me to give me further updates. This is something that is demanding her attention, but she has called me once today and I expect she’ll keep me up to date as further news becomes available.

EDMUNDSTanya Plibersek I do thank you very much for your time on Sky News.


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Doorstop Interview












Subject/s: Julie Bishop’s china comments; Climate change; Indonesia.


TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everyone and thanks for joining me here this morning. I was a bit dismayed this morning to wake up to a front-page newspaper story in the Sydney Morning Herald from the Foreign Minister suggesting that we needed to move away from one of our friends in the region to be closer to the other. This has been a continuing theme in the Government's foreign policy recently - this zero-sum game approach to our friendships in the region. I think it's very important to understand that when talking about Australia's foreign policy interests, it's very clear that our best interests are served by having a close relationship with China and a close relationship with Japan. Our best interests are reflected in close relations with both of our good friends, China and Japan, and also by efforts on our part to ensure that China and Japan better understand one another and that the relationship between those two very significant partners is a good one. I think it's very important to understand that Australia's foreign policy has to put Australian interests first and Australian interests are best served by having a good relationship with China and a good relationship with Japan, not by choosing one friend over another. I think the comments today reflect loose language that is quite counterproductive. It's important to understand that there's a big difference between being a foreign policy commentator and being the Foreign Minister of Australia. The role of the Foreign Minister of Australia is to shepherd our relations with all of our neighbours, to ensure that Australia's best interests are served and, as I've said, Australia's best interests are served by having good and close relations with both these neighbours. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Any thoughts on Clive Palmer's comments today, his push to amend the bill in the Senate before he will allow it to go through?

PLIBERSEK: It's pretty hard to keep up with what's going on in the Senate. It seems to be changing daily. What I would say is that it's good news that Clive Palmer understands that climate change is real and that as a nation we need to do something about it and that an Emissions Trading Scheme is the best design at the least cost for tackling climate change. It's important that Clive Palmer has supported Labor's climate change architecture, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and so on. What is really quite perplexing is why Tony Abbott won't make clear that the claimed savings from abolishing carbon pricing, the $550 a year he claims families will save, Tony Abbott won't say where this money is coming from and he's unclear about whether he'll end up supporting Clive Palmer in demanding that companies pass on savings. So far today we've heard already that Woolworths, Qantas, Virgin won't pass on any price reductions so where are these savings that Tony Abbott keeps talking about, and is he prepared to actually confirm to Australians that they will save the $550 that he's claiming? So far, Tony Abbott's made lot of big claims about his policies but he's failed to deliver on any of them.

JOURNALIST: What are the biggest challenges that Australia faces when working with China?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think that the relationship between Australia and China is one full of opportunity. China is a major trading partner for us, a major export destination and also a major source of imports. The relationship with China has improved over many decades and is one of our closest and most important relationships now.

JOURNALIST: So, obviously we need to establish some good relationships, there’s going to be some challenges. What would you say the challenges would be?

PLIBERSEK: Well you know, Australia, no matter how close we are to our friends and neighbours, will not always agree on 100% of the issues that we have in common. There have been times when Australian leaders have, for example, raised human rights issues with China; Julia Gillard did that, Kevin Rudd did that. And within a respectful friendship there’s nothing wrong with doing that. But I think it’s very important, first of all, to focus on what a good and healthy relationship with China we have, what the relationship can deliver for Australia in the future and certainly not to play these zero-sum game politics where we have to move further from China to become closer to Japan.

JOURNALIST: One last question, so are you concerned that the election stalemate in Indonesia could lead to any civil unrest?

PLIBERSEK: I’m full of admiration for the Indonesian system of democracy. This is a country that has really only– a very young democracy, and yet close to 200 million people will vote at almost half a million polling booths around the country. I think it’s been a very interesting and closely contested presidential election. Of course Australia takes no view on which candidate we hope will be successful. That’s a matter completely for the Indonesians. And I’m very confident that the incredible advances we’ve seen in Indonesian democracy in recent years will deliver a sound result for the Indonesian people. Thank you.


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ABC Lateline










WEDNESDAY, 9 JULY 2014                 



TONY JONES, PRESENTER: To discuss the situation with those Sri Lankan asylum seekers and other developments in the region we were joined just a short time ago in the studio by the Deputy Opposition Leader and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Tanya Plibersek.

Tanya Plibersek, thanks for joining us.


JONES: Do you agree with Senator Hanson-Young that the 153 asylum seekers held in limbo on the high seas is Tony Abbott's Tampa?

PLIBERSEK: Well look, obviously we have concerns for the welfare of these people. They have been at sea for some weeks now.

And what concerns us too is the culture of secrecy that's developing from this Government. We need to find out details about these people from the High Court, from the governments of other countries. It's completely unacceptable.

JONES: What about this analogy with the Tampa?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I'm not sure exactly what Sarah Hanson-Young means by that. I am concerned about the people, the fact that they're still at sea. And if she's alluding to the fact that India has said that they won't accept these asylum seekers and that perhaps they will be returned to Sri Lanka, then I think, you know, there are some very serious concerns about the type of processing that's been done.

The lack of detail about the type of processing, the lack of detail of the condition of the people onboard, who's onboard, whether they do have a claim for asylum or not: all of these are questions that, really, our Government should be sharing with the Australian people.

JONES: Is it clear to you, as a statement of principle, that if they have been in India - Sri Lankans living in India and they've gotten on a boat to try to reach Australia - that they cannot be sent back to Sri Lanka if they have sought refuge from there in the past?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I really don't want to get into a legal discussion about this. This is something that our courts are deciding at the moment.

JONES: But non-refoulement is a pretty basic international principle, isn't it?

PLIBERSEK: Well, non-refoulement is a pretty basic international principle. But if people don't have a valid claim to asylum then, of course, we have returned people who have been seeking asylum and be found not to have a valid claim - if they have been properly processed.

JONES: But that's only if they've come from the country that they're being returned to, like Sri Lanka, for example: you did return 1,000 Sri Lankans to Sri Lanka. But if they'd come from India, would you have returned them to Sri Lanka?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I can't answer questions that are now currently being decided by our courts, Tony. If I knew the answer to that, I don't think we'd need to have this issue being decided by the courts.

It is complex and one of the things that is most troubling about it is that we don't know any of the details. We don't know who these people are, whether they've made a claim for asylum, how that's being determined, what their claim is, whether they themselves say that they fear persecution if they're returned to Sri Lanka. We don't know any of these details.

JONES: What do you actually think should happen to them? Should they be sent for processing, as some are suggesting, immediately to Christmas Island?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think, given the slim reports we have suggest that the boat was near Christmas Island, it would have been a more sensible option to process them on Christmas Island.

I think, you know, there's probably a degree of Scott Morrison not wanting to land a boat on Christmas Island behind some of these extraordinary decisions that we've seen to take unprecedented steps of... I mean, processing en masse by videoconference is one rumour we've heard. Who knows what's actually happening here?

JONES: But what do you think should happen to them? Where should they go?

PLIBERSEK: I just said to you that, given the boat was near Christmas Island, it seems that that would have been a more sensible option.

JONES: Now would it be...

PLIBERSEK: It's reported it was near Christmas Island. Again, I can't say that definitively. None of us know.

JONES: Would it be logical for them to be sent to one of the two Pacific detention centres which the Labor government itself set up in Nauru or Manus Island?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think offshore processing has been part of our immigration system for some time now and given the boat was apparently near Christmas Island it would make sense to process them there.

JONES: What about the fact that there are apparently 30 or more children onboard?

PLIBERSEK: Of course, Tony, it troubles me or anyone that there are children whose lives are at risk making a very dangerous journey. If it is indeed true that they have made the journey from India, it's a very long and a very dangerous journey. And nobody wants to see parents risking the lives of their children like this.

JONES: But would it be appropriate, given that they're already at sea, for those children to end up in one of those two detention centres, Nauru or Manus Island, both of which have seen violent riots?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think you do have to ask some questions about how detention centres are being run at the moment.

I think it's very clear that the Government have been very focused on deterrence. And some of the conditions that we would expect people to be held in when they are in the care of Australians, or where Australia has some responsibility: the basic level of treating people with dignity, being able to ensure their safety; I think it's fair to say that not all of these conditions are being met at the moment.

JONES: Scott Morrison makes the point, the Minister makes the point that they are the conditions inherited from the previous government, from the Labor government?

PLIBERSEK: Well, that's simply not true. Scott Morrison has been the Minister for many months now and he has responsibility for the day-to-day running of these centres.

JONES: You mentioned turning back the boats. And after stumbling around the question of what Labor's view of turning back boats is this morning, your Immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, was pressed again today on this issue.

He said, "We've got an open mind in relation to any step that will be taken in the future which helps save lives at sea." Is it now the case that Labor has an open mind about turning back boats?

PLIBERSEK: You know, Tony, the problem with turning back the boats to Indonesia is that it has fractured our relationship with Indonesia.

At the moment we don't have a fully operational relationship with Indonesia. We have suspended cooperation in people smuggling, in military areas, in a whole range of areas. Our businesses are reporting that they're finding it difficult to do business in Indonesia because we've made announcements about what we're going to do - Australia.

When I say "we", I mean Australia has made announcements about what it's going to do on Indonesian soil and in Indonesian waters without talking to the Indonesians. There have been incursions - accidental incursions, we hope - of the Australian Navy into Indonesian waters because of this.

So it is a very serious thing to say.

JONES: You've made that point but I will quickly go back to what Richard Marles says because he was pretty clear about it. "We've got an open mind about what we do, whether we do this sort of thing in the future." Is that a major shift of policy from the Labor Party?

PLIBERSEK: Tony, I think you're getting well ahead of yourself. We're two or three years away from an election. We're in the middle of a...

JONES: It's Richard Marles that said he had an open mind. He's the one who made this case.

PLIBERSEK: And what you're trying to do is dissect every word of a shadow minister and you're not even asking Scott Morrison why he voted against Malaysia.

JONES: Well, Scott Morrison has yet to do an interview on this program since he's been Minister. So we will come to those questions when we get a chance.

PLIBERSEK: So you're going to ask the Opposition...

JONES: Right now we're interrogating the Labor position so I've got to ask you: will Labor's position change?

For example, if the argument against turning back the boats is only that the government is against it in Indonesia, what about Sri Lanka where the government is in favour of it? Would Labor support boat turn-backs to Sri Lanka, where the government says "Yes, that's fine"?

PLIBERSEK: Tony, what we would support is people who aren't found to be refugees to be returned quickly. What we're seeing from the Government now is a culture of secrecy. We don't know whether we're turning back people who have made a claim for asylum. I think it's very important that we focus on what's happening today and what the Government's doing today rather than trying to get an answer from me about what Labor would do potentially in three years' time.

JONES: Well, obviously it looked like there was a shift to... It looked like a shift had been made, at least, in the language about which you talk about boat turn-backs. And so I'm wondering if that's reflected in any policy shift?

PLIBERSEK: I think it would be really important to hold the government of the day accountable for what the government of the day is doing on our seas and in our name.

JONES: Let's continue with questions to you, however, for the time being. Amnesty International claims that all ethnic groups in Sri Lanka continue to face risks of torture in police custody, especially sexual violence where it is pervasive. Do you take their assessment seriously?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think anybody who has been watching the more than three decades of conflict in Sri Lanka would be very glad that the civil war is over. But I think everybody who is watching Sri Lanka would continue to say that it is very important that we see more progress in the upholding of human rights of all of the people of Sri Lanka.

It was a very bloody and brutal conflict. There were allegations of human rights abuses and, indeed, war crimes on both sides.

JONES: Yes, but we're talking about now. Amnesty International is talking about what's going on now with returnees.

PLIBERSEK: Well, I'm getting to it now. I'm halfway through a sentence, Tony.

JONES: I'm sorry. Well, we're running out of time so I'm sorry to do that to you.

PLIBERSEK: All right. Well, Tony: 30 years of conflict. The UN human rights committee says, and Australia has supported in 2012, 2013, resolutions under Labor calling for an independent investigation into those allegations of abuse.

There are still claims at the moment that there are arrests, irregular arrests and so on. And so of course I think it is very important that we acknowledge that it's very good that the civil war is over but say that the international community continues to watch Sri Lanka for evidence of real progress on human rights.

JONES: Your former foreign minister, as you know, Bob Carr, says such claims from the "refugee lobby", as he puts it, are unsustainable. They're urban mythology. The previous government couldn't find a single case of a returned asylum seeker being abused by authorities. Is he more credible? Is his view more credible than Amnesty International?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I'm certainly not going to sit here and defend what Bob Carr has said. He can come on the show and defend himself if he wants to do that.

I think it's clear that Sri Lankans have been found to have credible claims for asylum in Australia. We have Sri Lankan asylum seekers today in Australia who have been found to be refugees. So for anyone to say that there have not been human rights abuses there is... it's just not credible.

JONES: So it's not a mythology?

PLIBERSEK: Well, Bob was saying, I think if you listened to him on the radio this morning, that asylum seekers that Australia had returned had not told Australian authorities that they had then suffered ongoing abuse. I can't answer for that. That's a matter of fact whether that has happened or not.

But if you're asking me, in a more general sense, have there been human rights violations in Sri Lanka? Yes, of course there have. There was a very brutal three-decade civil war that saw very serious human rights abuses on both sides.

JONES: All right. Okay. We've got a little time left and we'll move subjects. Given China's deep suspicions of Japan and its motives, is Japan's move to abandon its key commitments in its constitution likely to heighten tensions between Japan and China?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it's impossible to suggest that tensions haven't been higher in the last few years than they were 10 years ago.

I think that it is important, when the Japanese Government say that they're reinterpreting their constitution so that they can play a stronger role in peacekeeping missions and so on: I think it's important to take those statements at face value.

JONES: Except China is not. I mean, China was invaded by Japan in World War II. Much of its territory was occupied by the Japanese. Japanese troops routinely committed massacres and other war crimes in China. Why shouldn't China be suspicious of Japan's motives?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's fair to say that many Australians also suffered during the Second World War and we don't whitewash that history. We don't paper over it, we don't ignore it. But we have moved to a focus on today and a focus on the future.

Our relationship with Japan has been a very good one for many decades now. We've cooperated on international nuclear disarmament movement....

JONES: I'm sorry to interrupt you but you're talking about Australia and I'm talking about China.

PLIBERSEK: And I'm making the point that Australia has also had difficulties in its history with Japan and we have formed a very good friendship, a very good trading partnership, a good partnership in nuclear disarmament, a good partnership in aid.

JONES: But are you saying, as Prime Minister Tony Abbott appeared to be saying, that China effectively should get over it because it's a long time, 70 years ago? Because the Chinese media have reacted, the official media have reacted very strongly to those statements this evening. They've accused him of crossing the moral bottom line, whatever that means?

PLIBERSEK: Yes. I read those reports in the Chinese media as well and I think what they were taking particular offence at was the suggestion that the Japanese, we admired the efficiency of the Japanese soldiers during the Second World War, or words to that effect. I don't think they were well chosen words.

But I think it is very important from Australia's perspective that we look at what's in Australia's foreign policy best interests. And what's in our best interests is for us to have a good relationship with Japan and a good relationship with China and for us to play whatever role we can in improving the relationship between those two friends of ours as well.

We have some good fora in the Asia Pacific region and Australia has played a role in the past in making sure that our friends are talking cooperatively with one another as well.

JONES: So finally, because we virtually are out of time, what did you make of Hillary Clinton's claim that Australia's economy is too reliant on China and that Australia is two-timing the United States over its relations with China?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's a very interesting thing to say that our economy is too involved in China. Obviously we have a terrific trading relationship with China and it's something that I welcome and celebrate. We've got a very good trading relationship with Japan, too. We've got a very good trading relationship with the United States.

JONES: This is the woman who might well be the next president of the US accusing Australia of two-timing the US over its relationship with China.

PLIBERSEK: Well, I will be delighted if Hillary Clinton as president of the US opens American markets to even more Australian goods and that we can, you know, spread our trading relationship more evenly.

JONES: No, seriously: what did you make of her comments, though? We can address exactly what she said. I mean, what did you make of her comments?

PLIBERSEK: I think what's in Australia's best interests is to have a good relationship with the US and a good relationship with China and I don't think we should be forced to pick. I don't think any of our friends should be asking us to choose.

JONES: Tanya Plibersek, learning diplomacy by the day, evidently. Thank you very much for coming in to join us.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you Tony.

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Sky News AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert










SUBJECT/S:  Peter Greste.

KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me live now here in the Studio the Shadow Foreign Minister, Tanya Plibersek. Tanya Plibersek thanks for your time are you satisfied with the Government’s response in this case?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Look, I think it’s very important that both government and opposition join together now to focus on the needs of Peter Greste and his family and his colleagues. I am pleased that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister have been speaking to their counterparts. I think speaking directly with the Egyptian ambassador today is a good move, it’s going to be important that those lines of communication stay open and also that we enlist our friends internationally also to put pressure on the Egyptian Government.

GILBERT: So you think suggestions of sanctions are misplaced given the need for those lines of communication?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it’s very important now that we focus on Peter Greste and his immediate chance now for an appeal to this sentencing and conviction and I think the most productive thing is to continue to have diplomatic links and frank conversations at senior levels.

GILBERT: When we’re talking about the US and now a relationship with the United States, of course, and I spoke to the Foreign Minister about this, they provide hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Egypt every year. Why can’t Washington, why can’t the United States leverage that funding to have some sort of influence here?

PLIBERSEK: And indeed when I say that we should ask our friends internationally to help that’s one of the examples of a friend helping that I would hope we would see. It is important though to understand that our words and our actions have to be very carefully chosen now and the focus has to be on what will help Peter Greste and his colleagues in their appeal processes if they should choose to appeal and I expect they will.

GILBERT: Because of course this country has had a fairly turbulent, to say the least, period in the last couple of years, is that the context in which Australian leaders, Government, needs to see it? And I suppose hence the need to tread, to tread carefully.

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think there’s a couple of things to say. The first is this is a relatively new government and so we need to speak at senior levels with the new Government and hope that because they’re a new Government they’ll see a way through this that actually respects the fact that Peter Greste and his colleagues were working journalists in a country reporting on the news not in any way involved in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood or any other organisation. The fact that it’s a new government gives me some hope that there’s room for movement there. It is important now to offer Peter Greste and his colleagues every help and support in any appeal that should go forward and I think it’s premature to start talking about things that actually fracture the relationship between our two countries and make it harder to offer that support.

GILBERT: It’s hard to have any faith though in any subsequent appeal process given the travesty that we’ve seen in the current verdict and the sentencing announced yesterday in the trial process. It was a debacle.

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it’s clear to anyone who has been watching this that the evidence that was presented to the court is not one that should sustain a conviction, and on top of that, I’m very surprised that there was a conviction in the first place, but the length of that sentence is really quite extraordinary also. I hope that means that there are strong grounds for appeal because the legal case was a very weak one.

GILBERT: We obviously have great focus on this because of Peter Greste, an Australian, and a journalist you know, from our fraternity in the media, watching this very closely but there are tens of thousands of Egyptians facing a similar fate. I suppose we should be cognisant of that as well.

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely and the thing to always remember in these situations is that it was the Egyptian people themselves who rose up against an autocratic government. Many of them marched in the streets at risk to their own safety, many were injured, some were killed. Egyptians have spoken very strongly about the fact that they want a democracy, and a free press is an integral part of any democracy. I am sure that there are Egyptians who are shocked by this outcome as well and we need to make sure that we can convey our shock as Australians to the Egyptian Government and hope that the Egyptian people themselves express to their government that they believe in a free press and that they’ll support any action to uphold freedom in the press of their country.

GILBERT: And you spoke earlier in an interview about your view and hope, and I guess it’s the Government’s hope as well, that the new government will come to this with fresh eyes and hopefully with a result that we want, but is the presidential pardon the only option that as far as you can see a positive outcome here?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, well I’m not an expert in Egyptian constitutional law but my understanding is that all of the legal processes have to be exhausted and when all of the legal processes are exhausted, there may be an opportunity for a presidential pardon. We need to focus in the short term immediately now, on concentrating on giving a high level of consular support to Peter Greste, and I think the Department of Foreign Affairs has done an excellent job in offering consular support and secondly, should he and his family decide to appeal, whatever support we can give to that appeal process.

GILBERT: I want to ask you one more question, this relates to East Jerusalem, we’ve seen a lot of controversy about the Government’s position on whether it is occupied or it isn’t, with a capital O or not, what is Labor’s stance when it comes to East Jerusalem?

PLIBERSEK: Well, the first thing to say is, this is the problem with George Brandis freelancing at 11 o’clock at night in Senate Estimates. It is- there is a historical fact that there was a war in 1967 and that East Jerusalem, the West Bank, were occupied at that time. There’s no controversy as far as Labor’s concerned, we support a two-state solution, we hope that the peace talks that seem to have run into some difficulties at the moment are resolved positively. We believe that Israel has a right to secure internationally recognised borders but there must also be a viable Palestinian state, and the two must live side by side.

GILBERT: There’s no split within Labor on this issue?

PLIBERSEK: Certainly not.

GILBERT: Okay, Tanya Plibersek, thanks for your time.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


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ABC News Radio with Marius Benson










SUBJECT/S:  Peter Greste.

MARIUS BENSON: Tanya Plibersek, what should the Australian Government be doing now to assist Peter Greste and the other journalists condemned to gaol yesterday?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well, I think the most important thing at the moment is to continue to provide the high level of consular assistance that Peter Greste’s been receiving and to stay in touch with him as often and as thoroughly as possible. Then talking to Peter and his family make a decision about whether there’ll be an appeal to this sentence, what form that appeal will take, and then give him support through that appeal process. Of course it’s also absolutely vital that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the whole of the Government stay in contact with their counterparts in the new Egyptian Government. It’s apparent that the Prime Minister has called his counterpart, the Foreign Minister has also been in touch with her counterpart, that those high levels of communication will continue is very important also. The third area that we need to work on as a nation is using our friends around the world to also speak with the new Egyptian Government and point out to them how highly inappropriate it is to be gaoling journalists who are just doing their jobs.

BENSON: So, the Government’s got it right?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think now is a time for us as a nation to focus on Peter Greste and his needs.

BENSON: And the Greens are calling for sanctions against Egypt, is that the right way to go?

PLIBERSEK: I think the most important thing is actually getting Peter Greste out of gaol and I would say that continued diplomatic approaches are the, what we should be focused on right now.

BENSON: So, you’re not in favour of sanctions at the moment?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think the most important thing is putting Peter Greste and his needs and the needs of his colleagues at the centre of any decisions that we are making. What do I think will help him most? I think that the thing that will help him most is to have continued high level open dialogue between Australia and Egypt and between our friends and our allies and the new Egyptian Government as well.

BENSON: Do you think you understand why Peter Greste is being sentenced in this way and the other journalists, what’s going on in Egypt? Because it seems a very complex picture that involves Saudi Arabia as a big funder of Egypt, Qatar with tensions with Saudi Arabia is the home of Al-Jazeera, it seems fairly complex.

PLIBERSEK: Look, I am concerned that there are some elements of geopolitics being played out here but I’m not going to focus on that at the moment or talk about that at the moment. I think what we need to focus on and talk about now is the illogical case that was run against Peter Greste and his colleagues and the fact that as a democracy, Egypt needs a free and functioning press, and this has sent a very wrong signal about the commitment of Egypt to a free and functioning press.

There were many, many Egyptians who went out to protest on the streets about the old form of autocratic government that Egypt had, many were hurt, some lost their lives. In that struggle for democracy, was implied an absolute commitment to a free and functioning press and I think it would be distressing for those Egyptian democracy fighters as it is for us watching in Australia.

BENSON: Turning to Iraq, John Kerry, the American Secretary of State, has been holding talks. He says it is time for Iraq to have a government of national unity. Is it time for the Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, to go?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I’m not going to comment on whether the Prime Minister should go, but I think it’s plain to most observers that post-conflict Iraq has not emerged as a multiethnic, multicultural state and that it cannot hang together as a nation unless all of the ethnic and religious groups are properly represented in the Government.

BENSON: Turning to domestic issues, it’s been reported in the Daily Telegraph that Arthur Sinodinos has stood aside as the Assistant Treasurer while corruption proceedings were conducted in NSW at the ICAC hearings that he is not going to be found guilty of any corruption but that he may be criticised by ICAC. Do you believe Arthur Sinodinos should return to the Ministry under those circumstances?

PLIBERSEK: Well, he wouldn’t be top pick for me but this really is a matter for Tony Abbott. He’s made a lot of his ministerial standards and so far he’s lost Arthur Sinodinos to this corruption inquiry, he’s been embarrassed by a number of other Ministers including the Assistant Health Minister dumping front of pack labeling because of her Chief of Staff’s conflict of interest in representing the junk food industry and that these are standards for the Government to explain.

BENSON: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Marius.


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ABC 24 News Breakfast with Michael Rowland











MICHAEL ROWLAND: For more on the Peter Greste verdict, we're joined by the Shadow Foreign Minister Tanya Plibersek. She is in our Parliament House studio in Canberra. Tanya Plibersek, good morning to you. What was your first reaction when you heard that shock news?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: I think, shocked, appalled. I was very surprised first of all that Peter Greste and his colleagues were found guilty given the very weak evidence that was presented in court, and secondly I really was - just unspeakable, the length of the sentence was truly shocking as well.

ROWLAND: What does it say to you about this so-called transition to democracy in Egypt? Where is that at now?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's very important that Australia and other nations continue to say to the new government of Egypt that a free and fair press is an absolutely intrinsic part of establishing a democracy. We know that a lot of Egyptians fought, some were injured, some even died to end the autocratic rule that Egypt had seen for many decades. They had very high hopes of their own democracy, and they will expect, as we do, the world community, that the new government of Egypt respect not just the democratic traditions of people being able to vote at the ballot box - very, very important - but a democratic ethos in society which requires a free media.

ROWLAND: This time yesterday the Prime Minister Tony Abbott fresh off a phone call to the Egyptian President said he was confident the Egyptian President had listened to his concerns about the Greste case and was adherent to the rule of law. Do you believe the Prime Minister was being a bit too premature with those comments?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I really don't think now is the time to focus on any criticisms of the Australian Government. I think that we need to focus on helping Peter Greste and his colleagues. The next stage, we expect there may be an appeal. We need to make sure that they have adequate legal and consular support during that appeal process, and that the lines of communication between the Australian Government and the Egyptian government remain open, and also that we enlist the friends that we have internationally also to help press the case for Peter Greste and the other journalists who have been jailed.

ROWLAND: The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says the Egyptian ambassador has been called into the Department of Foreign Affairs this morning. Given the severity of this sentence, do you believe that Julie Bishop should personally be a part of that meeting?

PLIBERSEK: Look, it's not for me to micro manage those issues. I think it's very important that the Australian Government make very clear to the Egyptian Government that Australians are appalled by the fact that Peter Greste and his colleagues have been convicted and shocked by the length of the sentence. I think it's quite appropriate to speak to the Egyptian ambassador to express those views. I'm sure that those views are being made, known also by our ambassador, our Australian ambassador in Egypt to the Egyptian authorities there.

ROWLAND: I want to play you a tape now, firstly to get your reaction and also Tanya Plibersek, perhaps you can take a glass of water, your throat is getting a bit croaky there. This is what the former Labor leader Mark Latham said on Q & A on what he believed the form of action the Australian Government should take, let's listen.

[Recording] MARK LATHAM: In Australia generally we make very poor use of our former prime ministers, and there are other countries in similar circumstances they would send a former national leader in this case to Egypt as a special emissary to plead the case and seek reviews and the like, and it just strikes me as an instance where a Paul Keating, Bob Hawke, John Howard could play a useful role in bringing a special status to Australia's appeal on behalf of Greste and it might get a better result than just sending diplomatic cables.

ROWLAND: What do you reckon, Tanya Plibersek about that idea of a Prime Ministerial special envoy?

PLIBERSEK: I think that's certainly something that the Government could consider. I think it's very important that we continue to raise Peter Greste's case at the highest levels, and whether that's a diplomat, a distinguished diplomat, another distinguished Australian, and also, as I said earlier, making sure that we enlist the help of our friends internationally to also continue to press the case for these journalists. All of those things should be under way or considered.

ROWLAND: Finally, others including the Greens are calling for sanctions to be on the table. Would you favor at least looking at sanctions against the Egyptian Government?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think the most important thing now is to focus on what will help Peter Greste most, and I think what will help him most is continued strong diplomatic representations to the Egyptian Government, using everything at our disposal. I think it's important, very important indeed, not to prejudice Peter Greste's appeal case, and I think staying in touch in a respectful way at the very highest levels is the most efficient and most likely to succeed.

ROWLAND: Tanya Plibersek, I appreciate your time this morning. Thank you so much.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


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ABC Lateline with Emma Alberici









MONDAY, 23 JUNE 2014



EMMA ALBERICI: Just a few minutes ago, the Opposition's Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek joined us from Canberra.

Tanya Plibersek, thanks for being there. Now Peter Greste's been jailed for seven years after a serious lobbying effort by the Australian Government. In fact, Tony Abbott recently spoke to the new Egyptian President. What more can the Australian Government do?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it's important that the Australian Government stay in contact with the new Egyptian government. I know that both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister have spoken to their counterparts. Of course that's welcome. The Department of Foreign Affairs have had consular staff assisting Peter Greste in jail. It's obviously very important that they keep up that effort. This is a case, I think, that has shocked us all. The length of the sentence - first of all, the idea that a journalist would be jailed simply for doing his job, and now the length of the sentence, have been quite shocking to Australians.

ALBERICI: Now clearly, diplomacy hasn't worked thus far. Should there be any retaliation against Egypt from Australia - sanctions or reprisals against the Egyptian ambassador in Canberra?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think the first decision that Peter Greste and his family will need to make is whether they take further legal action, whether there is an appeal against the conviction and sentence. I think the focus really needs to be on those next legal steps.

ALBERICI: But does Australia have the capacity to hurt Egypt in some way with sanctions or in fact sending some sort of a message via the ambassador?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I don't think that's a discussion for tonight. I think the most important message to send tonight: that the Australian Government, the Australian Opposition are united in saying that journalists, not in Egypt, not anywhere should be jailed for doing their job, that we are appalled by this sentence, that we strongly support the immediate release of Peter Greste and his colleagues and that Egypt as a country moving towards democracy must understand that a free press is a very important part of establishing that strong democracy, which Egyptians marched in the street for, which Egyptians actually suffered and even died for.

ALBERICI: John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, made a surprise visit to Cairo on the eve of this verdict. He talked there about press freedom, and on that trip, he actually released half a billion dollars worth of military aid to the Egyptian presidency, which we understand they're using to buy 10 new Apache helicopters. Was that premature, do you think, on behalf of the US Government, given the way this new Egyptian leadership has thumbed its nose at democracy and press freedom?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it's an indication that the United States is hoping to have a close relationship with the new Egyptian government. And it is important that we keep the channels of communication open. Our thoughts tonight, though, are with Peter Greste and his family, his colleagues and his friends and our focus really needs to be on solving this individual case at the moment.

ALBERICI: Tanya Plibersek, thank you so much for joining us tonight

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Emma.

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