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Pollie Graph with Tanya Plibersek, ABC Drive with Raf Epstein

E & OE

RAF EPSTEIN:
So who do you  believe? Countries kicking out Diplomats, NATO following other countries or the  Russian Ambassador? I will put that question to our Government and opposition  representatives and we'll get stuck in to the other issues occupying the minds  of those in Canberra.

Joining us now  in the Canberra studios is the Minister for Communications, he's part of the  Prime Ministers team of course, he is a Liberal Senator for the State of  Victoria as well, Senator Mitch Fifield, good afternoon.

FIFIELD:
Good to be with  you Raf.

EPSTEIN:
Tanya Plibersek  joins us as well, she is Deputy Leader of the Opposition. She is Shadow  Minister for Education, Minister for Women and she is the Labor Member for the  seat of Sydney, the centre of Sydney, Tanya Plibersek, thanks for coming in.

PLIBERSEK:
Hello Rafael,  hi Mitch.

FIFIELD:
Good to be with  you Tanya

EPSTEIN: 
Minister can I  ask you first? The um, the Russian Ambassador says the two Diplomats kicked out  of Canberra are not spies, do you believe him?

FIFIELD:
Well I guess he  would say that wouldn't he.

EPSTEIN:
Would he lie?

FIFIELD:
It's important  that we take collective action with our partners. Which we are doing. And these  have been identified as individuals who are unofficial operatives I think is  the language that's used. But there are two of them. They've been given seven  days to leave the country. We are part of a 24 country coalition that is  sending a clear and unequivocal message that Russia needs to follow  international norms. They also need to observe the domestic laws of the  countries that they are deployed in. What we saw in the UK, in Salisbury, was  an attempted assassination. That cannot go unanswered.

EPSTEIN:
Tanya  Plibersek, who do you believe? Um ASIO or the Russian Ambassador?

PLIBERSEK:
Well I don't  think countries that are running spies generally name them and you know, point  them out, so I don't think we would expect the Russians to agree that people we  had identified as spies are indeed spies, so it's no surprise, as Mitch says. I  guess there are a couple of things to say. I think it is very, very important  that global community show to Russia that we stand with the United Kingdom.  They have had attempted murders on their soil. From what Teresa May has said in  the British Parliament, there have been other incidents of substantial concern.  I think it is important for the world community to show unity in this and there  are consequences for this type of behaviour but there's a couple more things I  guess I'd add as well Rafael. You mentioned the concept of a hot peace and  there may not be war from or cold war or war, we actually are already seeing an  escalation of conflict in many parts of the world because of this autocratic or  aggressive behaviour. Certainly Crimea, the Ukraine spring to mind but also if  you look at what's happening in the Middle East at the moment particularly  what's happening in Syria. Syria has become a proxy war, for great powers  including the Russians to assert their authority in a way that is absolutely  devastating for the people who are the victims on the ground, innocent victims  that are having these kinds of geo politics played out with bombers above their  heads and the use of some pretty extreme weaponry as well. So we might be  spared direct conflict, to a cultural style conflict, but it's certainly not  the case that other countries.

EPSTEIN: 
No, I think  ‘hot-piece' is used to describe a far more asymmetrical threat, in the past the  USA were equal, I think a hot- piece is how you talk about a much weaker, much  poorer country tackling a much bigger one than US. Can I ask you both, I do  want to get into the politics, I'd like you both to address the evidence  question, I don't know if you read the comments online, but the texts come  through thick and fast whenever I mention, Theresa May the British Prime  Minister saying that Russia did this. I'll start with you Minister, why should  we trust the British if weapons of mass destruction intelligence was rubbish?  How do you handle that?

FIFIELD:
Well we trust  our Australian intelligence agencies. And we also trust their partner agencies  in the United Kingdom. It is important that we rely on those who are in the  best position to determine the circumstances and the facts. And that's what  we're doing. But also, look at the fact that Russia has a pretty ordinary track  record of recent times. Look at Ukraine. Look at Georgia. Look at Crimea. MH17.  There is reason to look very carefully at what Russia does, their motives. And  we should trust in the United Kingdom authorities.

EPSTEIN: 
Tanya Plibersek  how do you handle the WMD allegation against…..today?

PLIBERSEK:
Look I think  there were plainly failures in intelligence, and I think, deliberate misuse of  intelligence when it came to weapons of mass destruction with Saddam Hussein in  Iraq – I don't question that for a moment. What we're talking about now is a  nerve agent, that's been identified as one that the Soviets developed. And  frankly, if it was a one-off, you actually might be a bit more sceptical. But  we know that the Russians have sought to kill journalists who are critical of  Vladimir Putin and his government. That there've been multiple occasions where  this sort of action has been traced back to Russian secret service agents. I  don't think this is an area where you'd be in a great deal of doubt about  what's happened.  I think the other thing I suppose that is a really  interesting point to make, it is actually a really important time for us to be  reasserting democratic values. That if people, if governments have a problem  with criticism that the way you handle it is not to knock off your critics. And  we've seen in a number of countries around the world the development of kind of  a strong -man system of government – a return to autocracy. And I think it is  important for countries like Australia to restate, assert our love of the  benefits of democracy, I think it's probably a good time to be doing that.

EPSTEIN: 
Much rather be  a journalist here than in Russia, can tell you that! David in Essendon – before  we get onto corporate tax cuts and dividend plans – David, what did you want to  say?

DAVID: 
Good afternoon  Matt, I'm just interested, these two people that're being expelled, haven't  suddenly been discovered to be spies. What they're being expelled for is a game  that politicians play – it's purely a game. It plays into the issue that people  are sick and tired of hearing politicians and the other games they play. For  instance the persecution of refugees, is clearly just a vote-winning ploy, it's  a wench the Liberals have used to wedge the Labor…

EPSTEIN: 
You see the  asylum seeker issue as the same way you see countries all around the world not  kicking out every spy, when they know they're spies there? You see those as  equivalent?

DAVID: 
You can't tell  me that they discovered these people as spies yesterday?

EPSTEIN: 
No, we didn't.  Ten seconds on that Minister Fifield.

FIFIELD:
Just starting  with our border protection policy. Our policy of offshore processing is  actually one which our predecessors in government re-embarked upon. So there's  a fair degree of commonality there. We want to have secure borders. We don't  want to have people risking themselves on the high seas…

EPSTEIN: 
Tanya, do you  see – forgive me Minister, I want to move on some other issues – but Tanya, do  you sew any parallels there between the asylum seeker issue and the fact that  we know some diplomats are spies?

PLIBERSEK: 
Well I don't  particularly agree with the parallel, but the difference I'd say between Mitch  and I is that we don't believe in indefinite detention, and the people who have  been on Manus and Nauru have been there for too long.

When it comes  to what your caller said about the fact that we didn't discover these people  were spies yesterday; I think that to a degree that's a fair comment. We do  know that other countries have intelligence officers in Australia.

EPSTEIN: 
And we've got  undeclared spies in places all around the world…
Mitch Fifield,  you do communications and the arts, but the business tax cuts, the corporate  tax cuts are being negotiated in the Senate, are they dead? Is that just over?  You've been pushing that barrow since the last election, are they now dead  forever?

FIFIELD:
No. They're  certainly not. We've made very good progress over the last week or so. As you  know Raf, we only have 30 Coalition senators, we need 39 to pass legislation…

EPSTEIN: 
Did anybody  change their mind or did you just make progress because you've got new  senators?

FIFIELD:
No. We have  made progress. We have seven crossbench senators who have indicated that they  support the company tax cuts. We need another two crossbench senators to join  us. Those discussions continue. And Raf, I've lost count of the number of times  that people have said that we won't be able to achieve a particular reform.  Whether it be the ABCC reestablishment. Or in my own case, Media Reform, you  know that was written off time and time again…

EPSTEIN: 
Can I question  you on specifics, Senator, Tim Storer, who's ex-Xenophon, his comments today.  He seems to want like a massive complete tax overhaul, before he'll consider  what he considers your smaller version of the corporate tax cuts. You're not  going to announce a massive tax overhaul before the next election, that means  it's dead doesn't it?

FIFIELD:
One of the  things that has stood us in very good stead in the Senate leadership is that we  don't negotiate through the airwaves. We talk respectfully. And we allow our  crossbench colleagues to speak for themselves. And we would never seek to do  that on their behalf.

EPSTEIN: 
Tanya  Plibersek, do you think they've got a prospect of getting them through before  the next election?

PLIBERSEK: 
I don't know  the answer to that, but I can tell you we'll be fighting every day to stop that  happening. At the same time as this government's trying to give $65 billion  away to big business, 60 per cent of the benefits of that will flow to overseas  shareholders, they're actually increasing taxes on ordinary working Australians  to the tune of $40 billion by increasing the Medicare Levy.
Now, we had a  tale of two letters in the Senate last week. We had the letter that the  Business Council members were prepared to sign which was  two quick  sentences to say; “oh, if everything goes okay, maybe we'll do something about  jobs”…

EPSTEIN: 
This is the  press release that a lot of big companies signed up to last week?

PLIBERSEK: 
It wasn't a big  press release. It was literally two sentences that had quite a few signatories.  It was only two sentences. We have received, the public has now seen, because  it has been reported that the original version of the letter that had five  commitments include creating more Australian jobs, investing in more Australian  projects and ideas, preventing of offshoring of jobs, increasing wages when the  conditions are right and paying our tax, signing up for tax transparency. Now  the Business Council members one by one must have struck out these very basic  promises that you would think any business could particularly if they were  being offered $65 billion worth of tax cuts. But no they signed up to this,  puny, puny letter that, you know as sincere as the marriage vows on Married at  First Sight. This letter, ‘hand on heart, we're going to increase wages if you  give us $65 billion. Please believe me'.

EPSTEIN: 
Mitch Fifield,  is that the problem, they didn't want to sign a letter saying they'd pass the  money onto workers?

FIFIELD:
Raf you've  actually got to read the statement that they issued. And that was very clear,  that company tax cuts will put them in a position where they can be growing  jobs and growth in wages. That was crystal clear. And that's one of our  fundamental propositions. But I just have to pick up Tanya up on one thing Raf…

EPSTEIN: 
On her Married  at First Sight reference?

FIFIELD:
I'll leave that  be. But the $65 billion claim, that $65 billion going to big business'. Don't  forget that $30 billion of that figure relates to the company tax cuts that we  have already legislated for business with a turnover below $50 million…

EPSTEIN: 
Which Labor  will sign up to?

FIFIELD:
Well will they?  Labor say, look you know turnover of below $50 million we'll look at that in  government. Trying to give people the impression that they will keep that… But  the figure that matters is, is that Labor….

EPSTEIN: 
You haven't  said whether you will or you won't though have you?

PLIBERSEK: 
We will make  our position very clear before the next election, we want to see what's in the  next budget for a start. But I can tell you, this second lot of tax cuts that  they want to prosecute this week, absolutely we will reverse them, no question.

EPSTEIN: 
We'll press  forward, if I can.
Thomas has got  a query though in Eltham, what did you want to say Thomas? This goes back to  the discussion about Russia, what did you want to raise?

THOMAS:
Ah, yes, well  we've got the Russian diplomatic thing kicked out over the alleged murder of  two people in a foreign country. The United Nations, Save the Children and  Amnesty International have all reported on the 50,000 children that starved to  death last year as a direct result of Saudi Arabian war crime siege of Yemen.  So I'm just wondering when we're going to be kicking out the Saudi Arabian  diplomats.

EPSTEIN: 
Ok, Minister?

FIFIELD:
Well, obviously  you can look at any nation in the world and any individual citizen has a  perfect right to look at the circumstances of that nation and their policies.  But what we're talking about here is a very specific set of circumstances where  one nation has gone into another nation to deploy nerve agents in an attempted  assassination. And also bear in mind that Russia is a member of the UN Security  Council they've got an obligation to support peace and good order.

EPSTEIN: 
Tanya Plibersek  I think we've had a training exercise with the Saudi Arabian, I think it was  the navy? Are you comfortable with the relationship with them?

PLIBERSEK: 
I think it is  very important to continue to raise issues of human rights when we have  relationships with many countries. When we have dialogue with them, we raise  human rights concerns with them. And I think the balance between having  diplomats from those countries, if we have human rights concerns, our  relationships that are sometimes under stress in Australia that it's very  important in most circumstances to have diplomatic representation between  countries, so that those communications can be directly made and not  misunderstood. The purpose of expelling diplomats in this instance, yes, it's  to send a signal. It is to… we're not asking the whole delegation to leave  we're do still want to have open channels of communication. But it is important  to send a signal that if a country attempts extrajudicial murder on the soil of  another country, there are consequences to that.

EPSTEIN: 
Can I ask you  Tanya Plibersek, your policy to change the way pensioners can get a tax credit  on their dividends. Labor tore strips off the Government when they announced a  super policy and then adjusted it. I was trying to amass a list of quotes. The  best is Bill Shorten said the Prime Minister had quote, “made a dreadful hash  of it”. What you've criticised the Government for, that's exactly what you've  done with your dividend credits policy.

PLIBERSEK: 
Well, not  really. We said from day one…

EPSTEIN: 
You've adjusted  in the last two weeks.

PLIBERSEK: 
No, we've  adjusted it once. But we said from the beginning that we'd look after  pensioners. And we've done that. Let's go back to basics on this Raffy, I think  a lot of people don't particularly get this policy because so few Australians  benefit from it. 93 per cent of people don't do this, they don't get any  benefit.

EPSTEIN: 
But a lot of  pensioners do, I suppose the query would be why you didn't tell the pensioners.

PLIBERSEK: 
But we did tell  the pensioners.

EPSTEIN: 
But why didn't  you tell them that in the beginning?

PLIBERSEK: 
Well, we said  we'd look after pensioners and we made clear yesterday exactly how we'd do  that. It means that a quarter of the people who would've been otherwise  affected won't be affected but we keep about 94 per cent of the revenue. And  what that tells you is that the biggest benefit of this continues to go to the  wealthiest Australians. About 86 per cent of the total revenue raised comes  from the 10 per cent of wealthiest Australians, it is a benefit very highly  skewed at the upper end of income levels.

EPSTEIN: 
Minister, are  you happy with that?

FIFIELD: 
Well, no. Bill  Shorten said this was a well-designed policy. Tanya herself said it was a  well-designed policy and that once people understand the detail of the policy  they would be relaxed about it. Well, they're not. The policy didn't last two  weeks. Yesterday Bill Shorten came out with his supposed Pensioner Guarantee.  That guarantee itself didn't last until this morning. Bill Shorten has admitted  that there will be pensioners who will be worse off.

EPSTEIN: 
It's been  grandfathered hasn't it? So if you're a pensioner until Thursday and you're  already receiving the money, you will.

PLIBERSEK: 
No, no that's  not right. (laughs) This is why it's confusing for people isn't it.

FIFIELD: 
It's clear from  the policy…

PLIBERSEK: 
And what Mitch  is saying is not right either.

FIFIELD: 
It's clear from the policy that anyone who is a pensioner or receives an  allowance who enters a self-managed super fund, from today, will not be a  beneficiary of Labor's supposed Pensioner Guarantee. So you've got to ask  yourself how many people this week, next week, next year will not have the  benefit of Labor's Pensioner Guarantee. 
And Bill Shorten himself has already  admitted that… 

PLIBERSEK:
This is the way it works right? (laughs) 

EPSTEIN:
You'll get a chance Tanya, let him finish.

FIFIELD: 
Bill Shorten has already admitted that - he said there's a small group of  pensioners who will still be affected. Well, he needs to tell us how many.

PLIBERSEK:
You can be a pensioner and own shares directly or you can be a pensioner and  own shares through your self-managed super fund. If you own the shares  directly, you get this full benefit all the time forever. What Mitch is trying  to confuse people with is saying if you're a pensioner and you buy shares  through your self-managed super fund you will no longer get this benefit. And  that's right. But what really worries me…

FIFIELD: 
Tanya said that's right! 

EPSTEIN:
Let her finish… let her finish, forgive me Minister. 

PLIBERSEK:
Just wait… what really worries me about this debate is people just switch off  when you start talking about self-managed super funds, and you know blah, blah,  blah. This cash payment is costing about $6 billion a year, it's working up to  $8 billion a year which is more than we spend on every public school in  Australia. It's more than we spend on child care, it's three times what we  spend on the Australian Federal Police! We are saying of all of the things that  we can spend taxpayers' money on, do we really want to be paying a cash refund  that's supposed to be a tax refund to people who aren't paying tax. Now  dividend imputation was introduced so that company profits were not double  taxed. The effect of giving a cash payment to people who are not paying tax is  that no one pays tax on that company, on that company profit. So that's just  not affordable in today's day and age when we actually want to properly fund  health, we want to properly fund our schools, we actually want to pay down the  massive blowout in debt and deficit that the Liberals have presided over. We  can't afford it anymore. 

EPSTEIN:
Minister, just a 10-second response if you can keep it that brief. 

FIFIELD: 
Well, Tanya admitted that if you hold shares through a self-managed super fund  and you're a pensioner or in receipt of an allowance and that is the case for  you, from today, then you will be subject, you will be subject to this. 

PLIBERSEK:
But you can buy them as a pensioner, you don't have to put them in a  self-managed super fund (laughs). Why do you have to put them in your  self-managed super fund? 

FIFIELD: 
Because we believe in freedom of choice. 

PLIBERSEK:
That's just ridiculous. (laughs)

FIFIELD: 
And the truth is pensioners do not have a guarantee under Labor. Tanya  Plibersek has admitted that. And the background to all of this… 

PLIBERSEK:
This is just absurd. You can still buy shares. You get the dividend. If you're  a pensioner, a part-pensioner or an allowee you can still get the cash payment.  What you're complaining about is that you can't additionally put them into your  self-managed super fund. What a nonsense complaint. How ridiculous?

FIFIELD: 
The Labor Party know better than individuals how they should invest their  money. 

EPSTEIN:
Ok, I'll leave the argument there. Can I ask you both, I'll start with you  Tanya Plibersek. Are you still going to watch the cricket? Are you still going  to love watching cricket given what's happened? 

PLIBERSEK:
I'll watch the cricket every bit as much as I was previously watching the  cricket. (laughs)

EPSTEIN:
Which was not much? 

PLIBERSEK:
Look, people shouldn't cheat. Absolutely they shouldn't cheat. I'm not an  expert on the cricket or anything related to cricket, but people shouldn't  cheat and it's embarrassing for our nation and it's a bad example to our kids. 

EPSTEIN:
Minister, are you going to watch it with as much fervour? 

FIFIELD: 
Look, I've never been a huge cricket fan I've got to confess. Occasionally,  occasionally, I don't mind sitting on a lounge if it happens to be on. But I  would not describe myself as a cricket tragic. But this is a very, very, very,  sad period in the history of the game. These individuals should be role models.  Yesterday, I was at a breakfast where we were acknowledging fantastic  professional sports women. And I tell you I think some members of the  Australian cricket team should look at some of those great articulate,  intelligent women as role models…

PLIBERSEK:
Successful, very internationally successful. 

FIFIELD: 
Very internationally successful. We have a wide range of role models. 

EPSTEIN:
Sure, sadly Meg can't take Steve Smith's job. Thank you both for your time. 

PLIBERSEK:
Thanks Raffy. 

FIFIELD: 
Thanks Raf.

[ends]