By Tanya Plibersek

23 February 2022




SUBJECTS: Ukraine; National Security; Federal Election; Visit to Queensland; Climate policies.

SCOTT EMERSON, HOST: And every week we are joined by the federal Shadow Minister for Education and Shadow Minister for Women, Tanya Plibersek. Tanya, obviously the big news today has been the Russian troops heading into Ukraine. The Prime Minister has announced today that we will be imposing sanctions and also warned there may be retaliation from Russia including potential cyber-attacks. Where does Labor stand on this? 

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN: Well, we've said from the very beginning that we completely support Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and will work closely with the government to make sure that Australia presents a united front on this. We want to make sure that Vladimir Putin understands that this is unacceptable to the international community, it’s certainly unacceptable to Australia and we're prepared to stand up against it. 

EMERSON: Peter Dutton has said that we won't be sending in troops. Can you see it escalating beyond just sanctions from Australia. 

PLIBERSEK: Look, I don't think it's helpful to engage in those sort of speculation - what if this, what if that - right now. We've heard limited information from the government about their intention to impose sanctions. We've said all along that we are supportive of working with the government to impose sanctions. We want to make sure that Vladimir Putin understands that there are consequences to this behaviour, that the global community will not tolerate the incursions into Ukraine's territory.

EMERSON: Given the nature of Vladimir Putin and what he's been saying on the record previously, do you think sanctions will be enough to drive the Russians out of Ukraine?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think he's obviously a leader presiding over a very unhappy population and he's trying to distract his unhappy population domestically with these extraordinary attacks on his neighbours. I think sanctions do make a difference because domestically they make life even more difficult for Vladimir Putin, for his cronies. We know that a lot of those very rich Russians have interests in Australia, and in other countries around the world. I think putting the pressure on is the most useful thing we can do at this moment and it's very important that we are united as Australians in taking this action.

EMERSON: Peter Dutton has spoken also about the possibility of China in a conflict with Taiwan. He hasn't ruled out military support in that conflict if that does occur. Where does Labor stand in terms of a possible conflict between China and Taiwan? 

PLIBERSEK: Well we don't engage in this sort of speculation. It’s actually highly irresponsible to do that. What you can know for certain is that we are committed to having a bipartisan approach that has Australian interests at its centre, that shows the world that we are strong and united on these issues. I think one of the most disappointing things we've seen recently is the Government trying to look for differences between itself and Labor when it comes to foreign policy when we know that what's in Australia's interests is for us to show a strong and united position on this. 

EMERSON: I'm talking to Tanya Plibersek, the federal Shadow Minister for Education and Shadow Minister for Women. Tanya, it is a federal election year. We've got the Budget coming up on March the 29th, and then probably a federal election in less than 90 days from now. This is a time for Labor to get it’s policies out, for Anthony Albanese to get into the media. Given what we're seeing in Ukraine and Russia today, how much harder is that going to make it for Labor to get it’s message out there when the news is going to be dominated by this clash between Russia and Ukraine?

PLIBERSEK: Well, of course people are interested in the clash between Russia and Ukraine, but Labor and the Government are united in our approach to our domestic security as a nation and our approach to these very difficult foreign policy issues. The biggest differences between us and the Government is we want to see life made a little bit easier for ordinary Australians. In contrast, we've got a government that's presiding over an economy that's going to see wages, by the Government's own prediction, decline by $700 next year. I've been travelling, I'm in Cairns today, I've been in Mackay, I've been in Rockhampton, I've been in Emerald and Brisbane the last few days. What people are telling me is that their biggest concern is they can't make ends meet. Their wages have been flatlining or going backwards, and the cost of everything is going through the roof. Labor's got a plan to make childcare cheaper, to make electric vehicles cheaper, to make sure that we've got a great health, education, aged care system that really cares for our most vulnerable Australians, and we've got a plan that says that if you work hard and your business is successful and productivity is increasing, then we want to see wages go up. Instead the Government has said very clearly that low wages are a deliberate design feature of their economic management. Well, we know what Australians want from their government. They want life to be a bit easier, not so much harder. 

EMERSON: You mentioned you've been in Mackay, you're in Gladstone at the moment, the seat of Dawson, the seat of Flynn, all target seats for Labor. Once again, I guess Queensland will be a battle zone for the federal election?

PLIBERSEK: Well, Queensland's always important in every federal election. We want to make sure that we're representing all Australians, and Queenslanders sent us a pretty strong message last election that they weren't happy with Labor's policies. We're focussed right now on making sure that life is easier for Queenslanders, that they can get a pay increase when they work hard, that they can afford childcare and healthcare and education, and I've got to say, everywhere I've been people have been saying to me that they don't feel like life is getting easier under Scott Morrison, they feel like it's getting harder. 

EMERSON: Do they ask you also, given the seats you've just mentioned there in Central Queensland and North Queensland, do they also ask you about Labor's stance on coal mines?

PLIBERSEK: And we've been very clear about that. If coal mines get the environmental approvals they need and people want to invest in them, you know, that's up to them. But we've also got is a plan to make sure we've got more jobs in more sectors of the economy by providing cheaper energy for businesses and, of course, cheaper energy for consumers as well. We've got a plan that is fully costed, very detailed, and I've got to say, Scott Morrison's had 22 different energy policies and not landed one and he criticised Labor's policy for about two days and then he dropped it because he knows that it's a good plan that will bring down power prices. 

EMERSON: Tanya Plibersek, always good to have a chat. Will catch you again next week. 

PLIBERSEK: Thanks so much.