By Tanya Plibersek

05 July 2024







SUBJECTS: Senator Payman, Parliament House protest, Hunter Valley protest, cost of living relief

CLINTON MAYNARD, HOST: It's eight past four. Well, the winter recess of Parliament in Canberra is now underway and I'd suggest that most politicians, particularly after such a turbulent week and really few months, are glad that parliament is not sitting for a little while. The Federal Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, who joins Chris on the program regularly, is our guest this hour. Hello, Tanya.


MAYNARD: Are you pleased that you're not returning to Canberra next week?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Oh, look, I really do love my job, but I really like the part of the job that brings

me back to the electorate. I was in the new part of my electorate this morning. Balmain is going to come into my area after the redistribution, so it's good to be back on home soil. I was at a really lovely school assembly in Glebe this morning as well. It's great. It's great to be back in the electorate.

MAYNARD: It has obviously been difficult, though, for your particular side of politics over the past week or so. With the Senator Fatima Payman now officially leaving Labor, you were, I guess, one of the very few MPs to show a little bit of emotion towards her in Canberra this week. Do you feel, and I know the Prime Minister has denied this, but do you feel she was intimidated by Labor?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, no, not at all. And she certainly hasn't said that. She said that the conversation with the Prime Minister was firm but fair. And I saw her again on the TV last night, you know, clarifying that she didn't feel there was any effort to intimidate her. I know it's been a difficult time for her and of course it's a difficult time for us.

We would much rather be talking about the tax cut. The tax cut that everybody would get from the 1 July and the $300 energy bill relief and the pay increase for $2.6 million low paid workers, the third one that they've had under our Government that the Government's backed every time. We'd much rather be talking about cost of living because that's really front and centre for most people. I think most people are kind of looking on who's part of which party in Canberra that doesn't really interest most Australians. What they want to know is what's happening in the hip pocket around the kitchen table.

MAYNARD: It's suddenly become a story to though that perhaps she's in breach of the citizenship rules for politicians. We know this blew up a few years ago with politicians left, right and centre being revealed to be dual citizenship, citizens in breach. The fact that she is also an Afghan citizen that's been well-known for some years. Is this some sort of Labor ploy to try to sort of force her resignation or her departure from the Senate now?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: No, and I don't have any idea where the stories come from. It's really, I mean, the questions are for her to answer. But my understanding was that she went to the Afghan Embassy here in Australia and has, you know, made a request for renunciation. And when you got the Taliban in charge in Afghanistan, particularly helpful with the paperwork. So that really is a matter for her to answer.

MAYNARD: Do you think it's time to change the system, particularly for the Senate, where we see politicians, and it's not only now affected the Labor party, it was the Greens last year with Lidia Thorpe, Cory Bernardi a few years ago with the Liberals, where members of the upper house, the Senate, can quit their party but continue to serve in the chamber as independent. Do you think it's time we change those rules?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Look, I do think that senators who resigned from a political party need to think about whether it was, you know, whether they were voted in because of the party or because of themselves as individuals. I think it's more a question for people's conscience than about changing the rules. I know in Western Australia, the Senate election, well over half a million people voted for the Labor party and Senator Payman individually got about 1600 votes. So, I guess you've got to, you know, you've got to ask your own conscience, were people really voting for me or were they voting for the party whose banner I ran under? And that's true. I'm not making a point particularly about her. I'm making a point about all senators who run as part of a party and then, you know, go on to say, I don't want to stick around the party anymore. They need to ask themselves, is it fair to the people who voted?

MAYNARD: It's not. They're now not being represented. Their intention, 511,000 people intended to vote Labor and for three candidates. In the end, I know she was lucky to win the seat. In the end, it wasn't pretty expected, but that was the democratic system.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah. And I think the other thing to say is, you know, we put a motion in the Senate that was absolutely representative of Labor Party policy, which is that, yes, we support the recognition of a Palestinian state, but as part of a peace process and a two-state peace process. I think, you know, it is strange to me that Senator Payman couldn't vote for that, but neither could the Greens or Liberals to say that this should be part of a peace process. The Greens political party would find that so objectionable.

MAYNARD: The other big issue in Canberra the last couple of days or yesterday was the protests, the ability to scale the top of the building. And I know that the investigation is still ongoing. Do you think security in Parliament has been adequate? Because I know millions of dollars have been spent in recent years.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Do you know, Clinton, this is one of the saddest things for me. When I first worked into Parliament House, you know, I was working for a Senator in those days. It's close to 30 years ago now. I felt so proud to be part of Australian democracy. And in those days, you could walk right across the roof of Parliament House on the grass. The building designer designed it that way symbolically because he said democracy is about the people being above the Parliament, that it is symbolic that the people of Australia are on top of their Parliamentarians. And you can barely get up there now. There's all sorts of fences and things now. It's much harder than it used to be. And that's a real sign of what happened after 911. And, you know, the sort of protests that we had yesterday really feed into that as well.


I find it heartbreaking, actually, that we've become a society where we're asking each other, is the security adequate? Instead of saying, people shouldn't behave like this, you know, it shouldn't just be about putting up more fences and hiring more security guards and putting more police on and asking, you know, why is, why is the security like this? It should be about asking one another, are we, are we being good citizens when we protest in a way that is so aggressive, that is dangerous for themselves and for other people? That's not good citizenship. That's not making a political point, that is behaving like a criminal.

MAYNARD: Well, on that, I know this isn't your jurisdiction, but day after day, we have seen in the Hunter Valley in NSW, protesters Blockade Australia. Protesters literally blocking train lines, potentially putting train drivers and their rigs at risk. Day after day we've seen arrests. The courts have allowed these people off with fines despite the fact that the NSW Government has penalties in place of up to two years jail. It happens continuously. You are the Federal Environment Minister, so it's not directly under your watch, but they're protesting issues of climate change. How do you react to their protest?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I support free speech. I support the right to protest. I don't support the right to break the law or endanger yourself, or others while doing so. I don't support the sort of protest that puts people's lives at risk or puts other people, gives other people the responsibility for keeping them safe. You say, what about the train drivers? Imagine if you were one of those train drivers. Imagine if you accidentally hit a protester. You'd never forgive yourself. But it is not a fair thing to engage in this sort of lawbreaking to make a point, I don't support. I don't support it at all.

MAYNARD: So, what concerns me is that the NSW Government was the former government, the former Coalition Government, but they were supported by Labor in the house. Introduced penalties of two years prison, $22,000 fines. They've not been used once yet, those maximum penalties. But day after day after day, the law breaking continues. Surely it's time for a magistrate or a judge to actually send a message as a deterrent.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah, well, I'm not going to start telling our courts what to do.

MAYNARD: No, it's not your responsibility that these.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Because I don’t like issues where the government tells the courts what to do. But if you're asking my opinion, my opinion is people should make their point in a way that is constructive, that brings Australians together, that focuses on the issues, that makes, you know, explains why they feel or believe what they do. But beyond that, glueing yourself to things, defacing property, endangering your own life or the welfare of others, I think you lose support with that sort of behaviour.

MAYNARD: You mentioned Tanya at the start of our chat, that the actions this week of Fatima payment have taken away from what the government wanted to explain to the public, the cost of living measures that you have in place. And that includes the $300 energy rebate that now applies. I just have a question, though, from one of our listeners. This is coming on the text lines from Ros. And Ros says, "can you ask the Minister why pensioners were getting a $125 a quarter energy bill relief? It's now going to be $75, which is under that $300. So, Labor can give relief to multimillionaires and their wealthy families. Because, of course, the $300 isn't means tested.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, the $300 is for everyone who's got a bill and it depends where your listener's from. But in some places, state governments were also supplementing that. So, it may be that your listener was getting supplementation from the State Government as well.

MAYNARD: And would that supplementation may have ended because she was getting $125?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah. Look, I can't answer about individual cases.

MAYNARD: Well philosophically though, how does it- I mean, I know you're from the left of the Labor party, how does it sit with you that the $300 is not means tested?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Well, we wanted to get the money into people's bank accounts as quickly as we could. The idea of what you'd have to do is get the energy company to tell you the income of their customers. Can you imagine how complicated it would be to set up that system?

MAYNARD: Potentially. Potentially messy. Tanya, you are going to have a break in the next couple of weeks.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I'm going to spend a bit of time with my family, but I'll be raring to go very soon.

MAYNARD: Okay. Thank you for your time, as always.

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Great to talk to you. Thanks very much.