DOORSTOP: Monash University, Monday 19 September 2016





SUBJECTS: The backpacker tax; marriage equality 

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thank you very much, Vice-Chancellor, [inaudible] it's a real pleasure to be here at Monash University at the Woodside FutureLab with my colleague, the Member for Bruce, Julian Hill. Julian is a great booster of Monash University; he's been telling me what a fantastic university it is, in part because he of course is a graduate of Monash University. So, he's reflecting on his own excellent education here. But the work we've seen this morning here in the FutureLab is so very exciting. We're seeing, really, 3D printing being used in a way that suggests all sorts of possibilities for the future: being able to manufacture objects much closer to where they're needed, much closer to the time when they're needed. But also using alloys, shapes, that weren't previously available in the old sort of manufacturing techniques that we’ve had in the past. So it is wonderful to see the work that is happening here at Monash. Of course Labor is very concerned about the cuts to higher education that mean Victoria alone will lose $1.2 billion from its higher education sector in years to come. We want to ensure that students are able to have fantastic new facilities like this. Of course in partnership with industry, but also properly funded with taxpayers' support. We want to make sure that young Australians can get a great education, not $100, 000 university degrees. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: What is Labor's position on the backpacker tax? Do you support it in its current form?

PLIBERSEK: We have great concerns about the backpacker tax because of course we're hearing from farmers that it is dampening the number of young people who are willing to work fruit picking, vegetable picking, and so on. We believe it's up to the Government to come back with a much better and clearer proposal than the one that they rushed out at the time of the last budget. It is curious, of course, that George Christensen seems to be calling the shots on the backpacker tax, just as he has on the plebiscite; just as he has on the relationship between the LNP in Queensland and Pauline Hanson's One Nation. It is about time that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer took control of the nation's direction and the nation's finances, rather than farming it out to backbencher, George Christensen.

JOURNALIST: What changes would you like to see the Coalition make to the same-sex marriage plebiscite for Labor to support it?

PLIBERSEK: We are gravely concerned about the plebiscite. We think that the plebiscite is an enormous waste of money - we're talking about $170 million cost of running the plebiscite, plus an extra $15 million for a 'yes' and 'no' case. So, the cost is one thing that the Government can't really reassure Labor on. That’s something that, come what may, will be an enormous waste of money given that we know that this is just a glorified opinion poll that Liberal members of Parliament won't even have to respect once the plebiscite is complete. We're also worried about the precedence this sets - I mean, the Attorney General made the point very eloquently today that this is an unusual approach to something that is not a change to the constitution - that it is in fact highly irregular to farm out difficult decisions instead of getting the Parliament to do its day job, which is to make those decisions that we as parliamentarians are expected and required to make. We make difficult decisions all the time in the Federal Parliament; we have made decisions about changes to the Marriage Act before; we've made decisions about euthanasia; we make decisions about how to raise taxes and how to spend the money that we raise; we send Australians to war; all of that without a plebiscite and there is no question that we could make this decision - we could tale this decision in the very next week of Parliament if we chose to. We've also expressed concern about the divisiveness of this debate: the fact that young Australians, particularly those who are just coming out, will hear a whole lot of extremely negative messages about there being something wrong with them, or something wrong with their relationships, during this plebiscite debate. So, I'll be very interested to hear what the Government has to say on all three of those issues.

JOURNALISTWill Labor's position on the plebiscite soften if the plebiscite is self-executed - if it doesn't have to go back to the Parliament?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we're now talking about how to put lipstick on a pig. This is a fundamentally flawed approach to a decision that the Parliament should be making. So any suggestions that the Government has, I expect will be tinkering around the edges. George Christensen - the man who is in charge of absolutely everything in the Government at the moment - is already saying, for example, that public funding of the 'yes' and 'no' cases is a bottom-line requirement for him. Well, that's a real problem for us. We don't think that the plebiscite itself is good value for money, and then you throw $15 million extra on top of the already extraordinarily high cost of the plebiscite, and it just shows you what a waste of taxpayers' funds this is. I mean, this comes at a time when we are cutting services: we're cutting children and family centres, family violence prevention, legal services, in my own electorate a health service that has been serving the needs of homeless Australians for 40 years has closed because the Government can't find $900,000 a year to run it. When we are cutting health and education, legal services, all sorts of things, why on earth does anybody think that spending close to $200 million of taxpayers' money is a good idea on something like the plebiscite?

JOURNALIST: Are you aware of any Labor MPs or Senators who actually favour the plebiscite?

PLIBERSEK: No. I haven't spoken to a single one of my colleagues who thinks the plebiscite is a good idea. And the more we hear about it from the Government, the worse it seems to be. We've seen reports in the Guardian - we're yet to have the Government confirm these - that there will be, for example, what's called a conscientious objector clause, which would mean that people would be able to refuse service perhaps to same-sex weddings. And there are all sorts of unanswered questions about the plebiscite as it stands now.

JOURNALIST: Just finally back to the backpacker tax, why can't Labor find [inaudible]?

PLIBERSEK: We're very interested to hear what the Government's position is in the first instance. This is something that was announced in the budget in May. We are close to the end of the year now and we still don't have a clear position from the Government about what their proposal is. We can't say whether we agree or disagree with what the Government is proposing until we know actually what it is that they’re proposing. We’ve had Scott Morrison say that it's on, Kelly O'Dwyer say that it's on, we’ve had George Christensen say that it's completely off, we now have Scott Morrison saying that they're looking for some compromise arrangement. I mean it really is well and truly time that the Government simply tell us what their proposal is, and then we’ll give them an answer on whether we can support it or not. Thanks everyone.