03 July 2019




SUBJECTS: Bob Hawke; Income tax cuts; Press freedom.

SHARRI MARKSON: I'm joined now by Tanya Plibersek. Thank you so much for your time today.


MARKSON: It's been a very emotional morning for you, there have been tributes in the House. This is an official Bob Hawke memorial day and there have been tributes on both sides of the House, from the Prime Minister, from Anthony Albanese and many other MPs. What are some of the memories that you've shared today about your time with Bob Hawke?

PLIBERSEK:Today's been a really emotional sort of day, because of course there's a great deal of sadness that we've lost such a great Labor legend and Australian icon in Bob Hawke, but there's a lot of happiness as well, there's a lot of funny stories being shared about what a character Bob Hawke was. I was talking about a dinner that he came down to Canberra for a few years ago, and I was on strict instructions not to let people mob him. His office knew that Labor members of Parliament, staffers and others would all want their photos, and Jill, who was a great, loyal PA to Bob, she said he's getting older, he's getting tired, make sure that people don't mob him, make sure that he goes home at a decent time. And there I was trying to stop people getting their photos taken, and there was Bob behind calling them over, saying come on, come on. And the night ended, I was exhausted, he was still full of energy - he was singing happy birthday to one of the people that worked at the National Press Club.He was just a man who thrived on contact with Australians.

He loved hearing people's stories. And it didn't matter if you were a world leader or the waitress at the Press Club, he had the same amount of time and attention and focus when he was talking to you. And I think that was just one of the things that we all loved so much about him. He made all of us, his friends in the Labor Party, even younger generations like me, feel that he was invested in our success and supportive of us and would campaign for us. He'd campaign in local government elections for Labor still. He never said that's beneath me, I'm too tired or too senior to do that. If he could help you, he would help you. And that was such a great thing to have a former Prime Minister, who'd achieved so much, who was still so available to be part of our campaigns and part of our lives.

MARKSON:You would've met Bob Hawke when you were young and first entering politics and the Labor movement, but you grew particularly close to him when you were Deputy Leader. Did you speak to him regularly? And what sort of advice did he give you?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I of course knew him for many years, I worked in Canberra before I was elected, and I was elected more than 20 years ago, so we've known each other a long time. But in more recent years we used to catch up together for lunch. I visited him just a few months ago for the last time at his home. And look, he was a really good source of advice. I often talked to him about some of the more difficult battles that he'd had, the policies that he'd pursued as Prime Minister.So there were many that people today think everybody agrees with, everybody supports Medicare. Medicare was a really hard fought battle, and really hard won.

And talking to him about how you built consensus, how you make a case - you know, he was the ultimate consensus politician in a sense, he was always bringing together business and the union movement, for example, to build the Accord, bringing together farmers and environmentalists to do something about land care.But he wasn't afraid to have a fight on an issue of principle either. So protecting the Antarctic from mining and from being militarised is a really good example of that. Everybody told him that the decision had been made, it was all over, but he was prepared to say no, it's not too late, until the battle's lost it's not too late. And he enlisted the support of the French Government and others to make sure that the Antarctic was preserved for future genetaions.

So I think getting that balance between working constructively, collaboratively with different elements of our society, and being prepared to stand on your principle - I think he was probably the best we've ever had at that balance.

MARKSON:You gave a few other examples of that in your speech to the House this morning about the popular reforms that at the time were very unpopular, that he drove through. You know, the Accord, Medicare, floating of the dollar, deregulation of the financial system. And you said that it's easy to forget just how unpopular so many of those reforms were at the time. Do you think we've lost the art, or the political class have lost the art, of taking people with them and mounting an argument for a case that might be good for the country but isn't popular?

PLIBERSEK:I think he was particularly persuasive. And the team of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating together were a very persuasive team. There were big economic reforms that needed to happen for Australia to set our economy on the right course, and between the two of them, they were able to persuade the majority of Australians that they were difficult but they were also necessary reforms. I do think they were a particularly persuasive Cabinet, the Hawke Cabinet. You had some towering intellects in that group.

But I don't think it's just that political skills or communication skills have changed on the side of parliamentarians, I think we've got a much less tolerant media environment for this sort of thing as well. I remember Paul Keating explaining the J curve on the front page of newspapers - now I'm not sure that you'd have too many newspapers today that would have the paitence to go through an economic argument in the way that the Hawke and Keating Governments used to step out an economic argument. Our media environment is -

MARKSON:I think the Australian and the Australian Financial Review would both explain a case -

PLIBERSEK:Which you can buy in all good bookstores, right? Well, I would not say that it is the case today that we have as many people buying newspapers daily, with the paitence to read through the big, complex arguments about the future of our nation. So I think I'd agree with you that our public debate is different -

MARKSON:And then have the time to think about them.

PLIBERSEK:Think about it, debate it. I mean, when was the last time you ever heard a parliamentarian, if you ask them a question, say I'd really like some time to think about that, I'll get back to you on it. I think we could do that once upon a time, and in the 24 hour news cycle, I think that becomes a lot harder.

MARKSON:When you speak about the media climate changing, I actually interviewed Blanche D'Alpuget in 2015 and at the time she said to me - and remember, this was well before the Barnaby Joyce scandal broke in 2015 - and she said to me that she actually doesn't know, or she questions, whether Bob Hawke would have made it as a politician today becuase of all the scandals involving his private life and he was such a larrikin. Do you think that's true?

PLIBERSEK:I think people loved the larrikin in Bob Hawke. I think it's one of the things that Australians adored about him. He said himself that it was the fact that he wasn't pretending to be a moralist or to be perfect that enabled people to relate to him, and I think there's a lot of truth to that. Look, I think it's a harder media environment for that sort of thing these days, but I still think by and large, we do respect people's privacy in Australia much more than some other countries do. I think the general view in Australia is live and let live. If you're doing your job properly, if you're not wasting taxpayers' money on doing something that's a bit dodgy, but it's your private life, I think most people say well private lives are private. And we do still try and leave peoples' families out of the public spotlight here. There are some notable exceptions as you pointed out, but by and large I think it's still right and proper to say if you're doing your job properly, you're not doing anything dodgy, then it's nobody's business what you do in your private life.

MARKSON:Just on a couple of other news issues of the day, where is Labor at the moment on the Government's tax cut package? So at the moment it's been a very wishy-washy position saying you'll put the amendments, try to get the amendments through the Senate. If you don't succeed, does it look like you will support the third tranche?

PLIBERSEK:Look, I don't want to get too much into the details of the issues of the day, because today is a special day where we're commemorating Bob Hawke and we'll be finishing the House of Representatives, we'll be suspending it, in order to pay proper tribute. But I'd just say in a very general sense, we believe that the immediate tax cuts are really important, and we've even said that we should bring forward some of the next lot of tax cuts, bring them forward sooner, because we need stimulus in the economy.But tax cuts that are off on the never-never, two elections away, years down the track - there's no reason to rush that through.

Picture this. You've got a house, it's got a few problems, someone says we need to spend some money fixing the roof, if we don't fix the roof, we're going to have real problems. Everybody agrees, we've got to fix the roof, we've got to get some stimulus into the economy now. What this Government's asking us to do is say yes, and by the way, we're going to spend money building a pool and doing some landscaping in six or seven years' time, and we want you to commit to that spending now. I don't think it's a fair thing for them to ask. So we are pushing them on it, and it's fair -

MARKSON: But given the RBA has moved twice now on cutting interest rates, surely it's irresponsible to vote against the tax cut package?

PLIBERSEK:No, no. The exact opposite is the case. Surely it is irresponsible for us to commit to adding to our national debt in years to come, when we don't know what the Australian economy is going to be like. We need the stimulus in the economy now, we support immediate tax cuts, we think immediate tax cuts should be bigger. What we don't want to see is us signing a blank cheque now for revenue that we will have to find in years to come. You know, we might be the Government in years to come, we're talking about two elections from now. Are we, right now, having to agree to those tax cuts years in advance? Why? Why do we need to rush this through?

Yes, the immediate stimulus, we should agree to that now, that's important to the economy. But we don't know what's going to happen globally, we don't know what's going to happen to our terms of trade that far ahead. I think it's irresponsible of the Government to be asking, not for a commitment to what they're going to do in this term of government, but what someone else, down the track, will do in years to come.

MARKSON:Just very lastly, the Cabinet last night agreed to have a press freedom parliamentary inquiry to look at whether there's overreach in terms of police and intelligence agency powers. Would Labor support this?

PLIBERSEK: We've actually proposed a broader-ranging inquiry on the same issue, I know that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition will be talking about this as one of the issues that they'll disucss. It is very important to have a proper look at what's happened in terms of the raids on Annika Smethurst and the ABC. But more broadly than that, a really well-functioning media environment is really one of the fundamental underpinnings of a sound democracy. We want to make sure that we're not just looking at these narrow issues, but that we're making sure that press freedoms are strong, are stable, and we think that a broader inquiry would do that better.

MARKSON:But not including defamation laws?

PLIBERSEK:Look, I actually haven't seen the terms of reference, so I can't answer that.

MARKSON:Thank you very much for your time, I really appreciate it.

PLIBERSEK:It's a pleasure.