SUBJECTS: Labor’s announcement of a $280 million school education research institute; Prime Ministerial code of conduct; taxpayer funds.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning everyone, we are going to start with an introduction from Ged Kearney.


GED KEARNEY, LABOR CANDIDATE: Yes, good morning, I’m Ged Kearney, I’m the Labor candidate for the bi-election of Batman, and we are here this morning at Preston West Primary School, an absolutely wonderful school. And I’d like to thank the principal and the assistant principal and the whole Preston family for welcoming us so beautifully here, the kids and all. It’s just been a great experience this morning. And it is wonderful to see the work that is done in our state primary schools; and a great pity to think that the Turnbull government will cut $9.5 million of funding from the schools in Batman. This is a great tragedy, you know, some $400,000 from this school alone. And when you see the great work that’s being done here, you can just imagine how enhanced that would be with that extra funding. And, so, I am very pleased to be here with Tanya Plibersek, who, of course, is a great champion of schools right around the country. And, without further ado, I hand over to you, Tanya.


PLIBERSEK: Thanks very much, Ged, and it is really truly wonderful to be here with Ged Kearney, our candidate to Batman. You all know that Ged spent 20 years as a nurse. You don’t become a nurse because you’re not interested in helping people. Every day of her working life was spent looking after patients and helping them. Until Ged moved on to her role in the Union Movement, where, again, she was standing up for ordinary people, fighting Work Choices, fighting John Howard’s oppressive industrial relations laws. It’s so good for us to have a compassionate fighter in our corner, and, I’m really looking forward to welcoming Ged to Canberra. It’s also a real pleasure to be here with my colleague, Joe Ryan. I can’t tell you how great it is having the education portfolio, being able to rely on the wisdom of people like Joe, who spent many years as a principal, and, before that, a teacher. Being able to reflect on the way our policy, at a federal level, impacts on schools in a day-to-day way. So, thank you, Joe, for coming today. It’s been lovely to be welcomed so warmly by Cheryl and Mark, all of the teachers and the students here at the school. And we are also joined, of course, by representatives of teachers’ organisations, principals’ organisations, and research bodies and other school systems, for Labor’s announcement today of a $280 million school education research institute. Now, this institute will take what we know about best practice in schools and make it easily available to teachers. Teachers are bombarded constantly with new and evolving information, much the same way as doctors are bombarded with new research about how to best treat their patients. In the same way that doctors are committed to using that research to inform their practice, so are teachers. And we saw fantastic examples today. This school examining its own data and practices, teachers helping each other, challenging each other, classrooms full of active learners using evidence-based programs to make sure that every child is learning every day. This research institute, modelled on the UK Education Endowment Fund, is a way of making sure that we’re using what we know works in classrooms, and making it easier for teachers to apply that in their busy days. We’ve seen, of course, all sorts of crazy ideological battles in the classroom in recent years, where people who have never spent a day teaching in a classroom think they know what’s best for our kids. We’ve got shock jocks on one hand, politicians on the other hand, all with an opinion on what’s going on in the classroom. This institute is designed to take the heat out of those arguments, out of those ideological battles. And so, this is what the evidence shows. This is what the evidence backs; and this is the easiest way of making that widely applicable in our classrooms. Any questions?


JOURNALIST; So is there an actual shortfall in the current education system you’re hoping to plug? Everyone says you can improve education, I’m sure, but what’s actually wrong with the current system as it stands?


PLIBERSEK: Well, there’s a few things wrong, and the first is that the Turnbull government is taking $17 billion out of our schools over the next ten years. Resources matter, and there’s nothing in what I am saying today that diverts from the issue “Resources Matter”. And Labor has $17 billion more on the table for school education over the next decade than the Liberals. And this is a terrific example. This school alone, as Ged pointed out, will lose about $400,000 over the next two years. So, resources matter. But, we also know that – what we know about – teaching and learning is constantly evolving, constantly being updated. And if you compare, again, with health research, we spend about $600 million a year on Commonwealth Government support for health research, and guess what the equivalent is for education? About $20 million a year. So, it is about making sure that we are investing in more research. But, the job of this institute is not just to commission new research where there are gaps, but also to make that research – what we know – easily applicable in the classroom. Teachers are busy, teachers are under pressure, teachers shouldn’t be expected to plough through hundreds of pages of academic journals to reinvent the wheel as new information becomes available. We want to help by really providing that for them. Going through the strongest evidence we have about what makes the biggest difference in the classroom, and making that easily applicable through things like practice guides. And, the evidence of this approach, and the way that it’s been applied overseas, and, to a degree in Australia too, is that you can make huge gains. Any other questions?


JOURNALIST: Other topics?


PLIBERSEK: Sure. We can move to other topics if you like.


JOURNALIST: Do you think the coalition Government’s in turmoil with the Barnaby Joyce saga?


PLIBERSEK: There’s no question that this government is divided and distracted. We’ve got a Prime Minister who is off overseas next year – next week – and, probably the most important job that the Deputy Prime Minister has, which is standing in for the Prime Minister when he’s not available; he’s not able to do. It’s a complete vote of no confidence in the Deputy Prime Minister that the Prime Minister has convinced him not to be the Acting PM next week. If he can’t be the Acting Prime Minster, he can’t be the Deputy Prime Minister. I also thought yesterday’s extraordinary press conference from Malcolm Turnbull was just – it’s just weird. When you’ve got a Prime Ministerial code of conduct that has not been adhered to now; we have shown all week that Barnaby Joyce has received a donation of rent free accommodation from a friend that he hasn’t declared properly; and that friend, it turns out, has benefitted from thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ funding through a department that Barnaby Joyce is responsible for. I mean, that doesn’t adhere to the Prime Minister’s code of conduct as it is. We’ve got questions about the creation of jobs; I don’t see how that adheres to the Prime Minister’s code of conduct when there’s such a conflict of interest. So, we have got a code of conduct that the Prime Minister’s not prepared to apply now, not prepared to enforce. And he does a press conference, saying, “Look over here, I’m going to change the code of conduct.” Ridiculous. He should at least apply the existing code of conduct, and, if he was applying the existing code of conduct, Barnaby Joyce wouldn’t be there anymore.


JOURNALIST: So, would Labor retain or expunge this Ministerial sex ban?


PLIBERSEK: Well, it truly is ridiculous and a complete diversion. People actually should be able to use their common sense and common decency to know that sleeping with their staff might be a problem. In most other workplaces, we have human relations departments and rules that are designed to avoid conflicts of interest like this. The Prime Ministerial code of conduct already says that conflicts of interest are a problem. He can’t enforce the existing code of conduct; he’s going to update it to have people – what – sitting outside people’s bedrooms with cameras? I don’t know. The whole thing is, I think, verging on the absurd. And, the other thing I found really quite surprising, is the Prime Minister yesterday giving a moralising sermon about Barnaby Joyce’s private life. When, on 2nd December last year, he was embracing him in public, up on stage, saying, “Barnaby Joyce is a hero. Barnaby Joyce is my friend. Barnaby Joyce is my colleague.” What did he know yesterday that he didn’t know on 2nd December?


JOURNALIST: If it’s verging on absurd, then why not commit to getting rid of this clause?


PLIBERSEK: I’m not even going to talk about the yes/no clause. People shouldn’t have relationships at work that are unequal, sexual harassment. They shouldn’t have relationships that make other staff feel uncomfortable. If there’s a conflict of interest in the workplace, that absolutely should be dealt with. But, does anybody genuinely believe that writing a clause into the Prime Minister’s code of conduct – which the Prime Minister’s shown he’s completely unable to enforce already – is going to make a difference to people’s behaviour in private? Anybody who genuinely believes this will make a difference to people’s behaviour is kidding themselves.


JOURNALIST:  And can you be certain that there’s not current Labor MPs or senators having interoffice affairs?


PLIBERSEK: Honestly, are we really the country that starts sticking long lens cameras in people’s bedrooms? What I want to know is that I work in a workplace that is safe, that is free from sexual harassment; that is free from unequal power relationships or anybody being pressured into having unwanted sex or unwanted relationships. I am determined that our workplace should be free of those things. What people do in their own time, in their own bedrooms, is none of my business.


JOURNALIST: Do you worry that we have entered this new, kind of, era of interest in these – what may be regarded as – private affairs?


PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it’s very important to note that Labor has not been pursuing Barnaby Joyce for his private life. We are not interested. It is not our business. I feel really sorry for all the women in his life, but that is not our business. What is our business is the fact that he’s spending taxpayer funds supporting the business of a mate of his. That mate of his has given him free accommodation. If that’s not a conflict of interest, I don’t know what it. He’s spent taxpayers’ money creating jobs where there were no jobs before, at quite high rates of pay, to solve a personal problem for himself. That is our business, because that’s about the expenditure of taxpayer funds. I think some of the intrusion into the personal lives of the people involved is really quite distasteful. I don’t want to live in a country like the United States, where you’ve got all sorts of – you know – moralising about people’s private lives. People will make their own judgments about this. This is a sad and difficult time for everyone involved. But that does not excuse the Deputy Prime Minister from being answerable for how he makes important decisions about the expenditure about taxpayer funds, and whether he can honestly say that there is no conflict of interests in the decisions that he has made.


JOURNALIST: A couple more. Can I ask Ged some questions? Just on this bi-election, considering the dropping that Labor copped in the state election, and – for no obvious, kind of, policy criticism of the Andrews government – do you think that the voters here have just switched off Labor, and they’re going to vote Greens anyway?


KEARNEY: Look, there’s no secret that this is going to be a challenge for me, and – but I am confident that I am up to the challenge. I have fought hard battles before, and I will fight this battle. And I think that, the important thing to remember is that, I will go out there, I will talk to the people of Batman, I will listen to their concerns. And I think that I’ve got a really good story to tell them.


JOURNALIST: What major policy areas do you think can decide Batman?


KEARNEY: Well, you know, I’ve been talking to voters for – what is it – about ten days now, and most of the issues that people raise with me are the issues that people across the country are concerned about. They’re worried about jobs for their kids; they’re worried about their own jobs; they’re worried about our schools, our local schools, and funding and education; they’re worried about health care. They’re worried about local issues that – you know – affect their everyday lives. So, the vast majority of people talk to me about those issues, and, you know, to be honest, they’re the issues that Labor delivers on. And only a government can actually deliver those things for the people of Batman.


JOURNALIST: Is Adani at all relevant?


KEARNEY: Adani does get raised, and I think that there is a concerted effort to make it the issue. The people of Batman, though – whilst climate is important to them – there’s a whole range of policy issues that they want to talk to me about.


JOURNALIST: Do you think that Jane Garrett should run for Lord Mayor of Melbourne?


KEARNEY: Oh, you can ask Jane what Jane’s up to. I am really focused on Batman, and I am determined that I am going to put every ounce of my energy and effort into winning that.


JOURNALIST: And if you don’t win Batman, are you intending to contest Brunswick later in the year?


KEARNEY: I have absolutely no views on what I’m going to do after this. I am hoping to be the Member for Batman, so I won’t have time to do anything else.


JOURNALIST: But how do you explain to voters who are expecting you to run in that seat later this year?


KEARNEY: It was a really hard decision not to run in Brunswick, but, when the Leader of the Opposition asks you to step up and run in a federal seat, you have to take that request seriously. And I’m really honoured to be fighting to represent the people of Batman in the federal arena. And I will put every ounce of my energy into that.


PLIBERSEK: Can I add a little something? Ged’s talking about the sort of issues that matter in this seat, and, she’s quite right to raise education as an issue. This electorate, Batman, losing $9.5 million over the next two years – people should not forget that the Greens in Canberra tried to vote with the government to make these funding cuts. We had the Greens doing their very best to find a way of supporting cuts. The only reason they didn’t is because Lee Rhiannon stood up bravely ad made sure that they didn’t, and, her reward for that has been to be disendorsed as a senator for New South Wales, because she stood up against education funding cuts. So, this electorate is a lot like my electorate. You’ve got very idealistic people who think that they’re being idealistic in sending a Green to Canberra. Well, this is the result, these sorts of education funding cuts that the Greens were prepared to vote for. I mean, I think that’s very disappointing. When people think they’re voting for a – you know – warm, fuzzy candidate, and then they get to Canberra, and they either go missing in action when it matters, or, worse still, they vote with the Liberals. Ok? Thanks.


KEARNEY: Thank you.