By Tanya Plibersek

29 April 2021



SUBJECTS: NRL; Mike Pezzullo’s comments; China; COVID in India; hotel quarantine
SCOTT EMERSON, HOST: We always talk about politics, Tanya. But let's talk about the NRL just to start off with if that’s okay with you? How are you, today? 
EMERSON: I'm sensational. But what do you think about this idea of splitting the NRL into two conferences? All those Sydney teams in one group and everyone else in the other?
PLIBERSEK: I'm against it. 
EMERSON: Why is that, Tanya? 
PLIBERSEK: It's got 'national' in the title for a reason, and I want to see the Bunnies defeat people from every state and territory. 
EMERSON: See, I have a different view about this. I'm probably not supportive of it because it would mean that every year a Sydney team would be in the Grand Final. Why would anyone want that ever?
PLIBERSEK: I'd expect you to say that! That's fair enough too.
EMERSON: Peter V'landys, just one of the feedback there says “he's too smart for his own good there”. Well, he does have a lot of ideas. I'll be interested to see how long this idea persists. I spoke to Darryl Brohman a bit earlier in the program. He thought, well look, he didn't mind the idea, but did suggest maybe in the semi-finals, a bit more of a mixing between the two conferences. But he reckons it could be up by 2023, so we'll see what happens. 
PLIBERSEK: We'll see. We'll see whether the fans will cop it. 
EMERSON: The NRL always talks about the fact that the fans do rule the game. At least we'll see what does happen out of that. But let's talk about much more serious issues, and that we had the Prime Minister up in Darwin today, Tanya Plibersek. He made the announcement - $747 million to upgrade our training bases, but that came straight after Mike Pezzullo, the head of the Home Affairs Department put out this email to his own Department - talking about 'the drums of war are beating'. Obviously, that was a reference to China. What do you think about those comments by Mike Pezzullo? 
PLIBERSEK: I think it's very important that when we're talking about the defence of the nation – national security – that we speak soberly and maturely about those things. And when it comes to the announcement in Darwin, of course Labor supports it. We're delighted when there's any investment in defending our nation. What we are a bit troubled by is the fact that this announcement was actually made two yers ago. It was made two years ago, and it seems like the cost of this project has blown out by about half a billion dollars. It's three times more expensive than it was going to be. So you've got cost blowouts, you've got delays in the subs, the frigates, a whole range of projects. So we think it's very important that we do invest to support our serving personnel. It's important that we invest so that we can do the sort of exercises that they're proposing with the United States in the north of our region. What we're a bit worried about is that this Government seems much more interested in announcing things and photo opportunities, than actually landing the projects - getting them done. 
EMERSON: Just in terms of that relationship with China. How would you characterise Australia's relationship with China at this moment? 
PLIBERSEK: I'm not a commentator, and I'm not going to start doing diplomacy through the media. If I'm criticising other people for being irresponsible when they are doing that, then I'm not going to start doing it myself. What I would say that we need to do is keep open dialogue with China. China is much more assertive under President Xi Jinping. We can all see that. But we need to keep an open dialogue. China continues to be our major trading partner. In fact, that's actually got more intense during the last few years - they're a bigger share of our market than they have been in the past. So we need to continue to stand up for our values, continue to say: 'we're a democracy, we're proudly a democracy, these are our democratic beliefs', but keep an open line. Because whatever the future holds, being able to talk with China is going to be important. 
EMERSON: Let's talk about the language, you say about the language we've been using. I mentioned Mike Pezzullo's warning that the 'drums of war are beating'. But then we saw also Peter Dutton the new Defence Minister on the weekend talk about a prospect of a near-term war with China over the control of Taiwan should not be discounted. Is that Labor's view as well? That near-term war is a possibility?
PLIBERSEK: Like I said just a few minutes ago, we don't do diplomacy through the media. What we say is that we need to acknowledge that China has become more assertive under President Xi Jinping. We have to look for ways of keeping the lines of communication open. We need to stand by our values, continue to assert our values as Australians - but look for a way that we can do that constructively. 
EMERSON: But what do you think about - you say you don't want to diplomacy through the media, and commentate through the media there? But what do you think about those comments by Peter Dutton, is that responsible language from Peter Dutton?
PLIBERSEK: I thought what Peter Dutton said about being in peacetime and wanting to stay in peacetime is the thing that I thought was the right thing for him to be saying. It's very important that we don't exacerbate any difficulties at the moment by having lots of speculation from Government or Opposition Members of Parliament in the media. We just need to stay grown-up, and sober, and mature, and responsible, and keep working on keeping lines of communication open with China. We want to continue to have a good, open dialogue. They continue to be a major trading partner. We want to see that in the future. A lot of Queensland businesses depend on that. A lot of Queensland jobs depend on that. But that doesn't ever mean giving up on our values and our right to say that we're a democracy and that we support democratic values around the world. 
EMERSON: I'm talking to Tanya Plibersek, the federal Shadow Minister of Education, and federal Shadow Minister for Women. Tanya Plibersek, the big announcement, of course, coming out of the National Security Committee this week was the pause on the flights coming back from India. We've got about 9,000-10,000 Australians over in India at the moment. Was that the right decision?
PLIBERSEK: Look I think it is the right decision at the moment. We're very, very sad to see what's happening with COVID in India. So many deaths, so many new infections every day. It is a really troubling time. And we're very supportive of the Government sending extra help and resources to India. India is a very good friend of Australia. There's a huge Indian community in Australia that would be very worried about their friends and relatives back in India. So we support extra help for India, but we need to take a pause to make sure that when flights resume, we can look after people safely so that COVID doesn't escape back into our community – that would be devastating for Australia. We've sacrificed so much as Australians to keep this virus under control. We would hate to see it escape hotel quarantine again.
I think it is important that the Government now finally listen to the idea that we've been pushing for a while that we look at bigger quarantine facilities outside of our capital cities. At least a year ago, the Government's own experts were telling them that they should do it, that it was possible to do it. It's very disappointing that with thousands of Australians - about 40,000 Australians still stuck overseas, that we still haven't seen any action from the federal government on federal quarantine facilities. And I think the quarantine stuff up really does go along with the aged care stuff up, the vaccine rollout stuff up and the tracing app stuff up. These are things that the federal government should have done better. 
EMERSON: We've spoken about the Wellcamp Airport proposal, that quarantine camp there at Toowoomba - but I know when I speak to locals out there and including state and federal members, they have strong concerns about that proposal. They're not backing it at all.
PLIBERSEK: I'm not suggesting any particular location. I think it's important that you have a proper investigation about which locations work, where there would be local support for them. There are communities that are set up very well to do this, that have international airports or international-capable airports nearby. Let's look at them. Let's talk about them. It took such a long time to set up the facility just outside Darwin. We'd like to see whether it's possible to do that in other states and territories. Certainly, the federal government's advisors tell the federal government that it is. 
EMERSON: All right, Tanya Plibersek. Always a pleasure to have you on the program. We'll catch you again next week. 
PLIBERSEK: Anytime, Emmo. See you.