JO LAVERTY, PRESENTER: Joining us now, one of the most popular politicians in the Labor Party. How do I know? Well there was this standout moment of jubilation during Bill Shorten's Budget reply.


LAVERTY: I am not kidding when I say jubilation. It was a standout moment and I'm looking at your face there, Ms Plibersek, and it's making you smile. What are your memories from that moment?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Oh it was a very good Budget reply speech. I think Bill really laid out our values and he did talk a lot about education, our extra investment in schools, in preschool - universal preschool for three and four year old's - in TAFE and university, and I just feel very grateful that I'm able to take on the Education portfolio in opposition and I hope in government because I think it is one of the best opportunities we have of making a real difference in people's lives. It's just such a privilege to meet teachers and early childhood educators every day who are literally changing lives and it's such an important thing to get right for our economy as well. Because if we want to be a competitive nation, if we want to be able to invent and discover and export and create jobs for our people then we need to have a highly-educated, highly-skilled workforce. 

LAVERTY: I want to get to the Labor Party pledge in just a moment, but the cheer that came in that moment during the Budget reply, and a standing ovation I believe as well, well, you mustn't have been expecting that? 

PLIBERSEK: Well, I mean, to be fair, the people who are in the galleries that evening were largely Labor Party supporters, so it is kind of playing to the home crowd a little bit, you know?
LAVERTY:  OK. Well that's very, very kind of you to say that. All right. Let's go to the pledge from the Labor Party, should you win the election. What are you promising for the Northern Territory? 
PLIBERSEK: Well there's the general commitment, which is better investment in schools and hospitals, higher wages, more secure work, compared with the cuts and chaos of the Morrison government, but the pledges are very local as well. We've made quite a lot. $41 million extra for Territory schools if Labor's elected, $69 million extra for Territory hospitals, and then, of course, our cancer pledge comes on top of that. We've got some very local commitments like the upgrade of the Palmerston swimming pool. Yesterday I was in Katherine with Warren Snowdon, and we committed $5 million to upgrading the Katherine swimming pool as well. We've got a new veterans centre here in Darwin that we've also committed to. Greater investment in roads and infrastructure. We believe that the old Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund should be changed to a Northern Australia Development Fund, and of course, you saw our announcement yesterday of the thousands of jobs that would come with the development of gas pipelines. We've also set aside money for upgrading tourism infrastructure - roads, airports, tourism facilities like at Kakadu, the visitors centre, just for example, we've made a $200 million commitment to upgrading Kakadu National Park - and with money flowing in our first term, not over 10 years as the government's committed. It's a very long list. I feel like I'm boring you with a shopping list. I'm sorry.
LAVERTY: No that's a lot. But I thought that being the 'Captain's pick', Bill Shorten's pick as the Education Minister, you would be particularly enthusiastic about the learning lab and this big pledge for 5,000 students, $14 million towards a learning lab. What can you tell us about that? 
PLIBERSEK: Well today I'll be announcing exactly what you've described with Charles Darwin University at Palmerston. We know that it's quite hard to attract a teaching workforce to teach in remote communities and that teachers who are working in remote communities would like ongoing professional development as well, to make sure that they are continuing to give their students the very best education. So we would work with Charles Darwin University, with Batchelor College as well, to make sure that we have a learning lab for remote and indigenous teaching that would teach the next generation and continue to upgrade the skills of existing teachers in remote communities too.
LAVERTY: All right. So this is for the teachers who then go into the remote communities? 
PLIBERSEK: Exactly so. That's right. And that's actually very important because we know that aside from a child's family background and home circumstances, the biggest difference that we can make is to continue to raise the quality of teaching in our classrooms. Teachers themselves say, “I sometimes struggle to know what to do with a particular child who has a particular learning difficulty, or kids who are gifted and talented, how do I teach this child to get the very best from this child”. By giving them really good initial teacher education that is focused on going out into remote communities, that's a very important step, but having that continuing professional development available as well for the teaching workforce and also the teacher aide workforce, that means that we can give every child a great education. 
LAVERTY: What about the problem of getting students to school in the first place? It's great to have top-notch teachers, but really one of the biggest problems that the most remote communities have is getting kids there to show up at all. 
PLIBERSEK: It is a problem and we have seen, in fact, some sliding in school attendance figures and that is very concerning. I think making sure that we've got the very best teachers with the very best supports and that schools have that little bit of extra money that they can use for student welfare programs, breakfast programs, school transport, employing local community people to make sure that kids are turning up to school. There are a range of strategies that we can follow. At times people have gone straight to punitive measures here. I don't think that is generally the response. I think making schools a place that kids love to be and want to be because they're being stimulated and cared for and taught appropriately. I think that's the best approach.
LAVERTY: Remote schools are in a constant struggle to attract teachers. Why would someone finishing or gaining their degree in Sydney or Melbourne choose to come to Darwin to then train again to go to a remote school?
PLIBERSEK: Because it's phenomenally rewarding work. So I've visited a few remote schools now. I've met with just absolutely passionate and committed teachers who tell me that they just love teaching their kids, but it is a big shift for someone coming from a city area. So there's two things, I think. The first is making sure that you've got a proper transition and training for initial teachers who are moving to a remote community. But secondly, it's making sure that we train more people who've grown up in a remote community or a small town to go into teaching. We see it with the health workforce, the teaching workforce, a range of people, they are much more likely, if they've grown up in a remote community, to return to a remote community than to get someone to move from inner city Sydney or Melbourne to a remote community – it’s a big jump. It does concern me that if you're, you know, a young person on the north shore of Sydney, you are four times more likely to have a university degree then if you're growing up in the Northern Territory. That's not because the young people here aren't as smart. Obviously it's because of aspiration and opportunity to go to university. So by uncapping university places, by making it easier to get a place in TAFE and vocational education, we train our own people here in the Territory who have often grown up in remote communities to go back to those communities and make the contribution they want to make to their own communities. We haven't got that right yet.
LAVERTY: That'll still involve some commitment for them to come to the city to attend some form of university. So what support services will be in place to encourage that move?
PLIBERSEK: Well, in fact the learning lab that we're talking about today, one of the really good things that Charles Darwin University does, and Batchelor College, is they're very good at supporting remote learning as well. So it often involves some time coming to a city to do a week of intensive work but not necessarily moving to the city and I think getting that balance right, we've got so much fantastic technology available to us at the moment and universities and higher education providers are getting much, much better at properly supporting students to complete a university degree remotely with some often, you know, some periods of intensive study for a week or so at a time. If we can get that right I think we've got the beginnings of a good solution. 
LAVERTY: Well speaking of technology, I actually recently spoke to a person who works with computers and in his spare time he's refurbishing all of these old computers which have been donated to him from various places, once they get them out and upgrade, and he's taking them into some remote schools that have one computer for the whole school to use and so it's taking someone in the community to donate his time and expertise, taking other members of the community to donate computers. This is a big problem, isn't it? That there is this technical divide between those in the big cities - and in big cities I count Katherine and Tennant Creek - compared with those much smaller communities. 
PLIBERSEK: Yeah. Absolutely. And one of the announcements I made with Warren Snowdon yesterday in Alice Springs was replacing all of the whiteboards in one of the schools because there's no excuse for kids in small schools or remote schools to get a second class education. We have to get that right and it's one of the reasons that Labor is so committed to a proper needs-based funding system and would deliver $41 million extra to Territory schools in the first three years of a Federal Labor government alone, because no child should get a second rate education in Australia. We're a modern, prosperous nation. And the reason I took on the Education portfolio is because I want every child to get the same educational opportunities as I want for my own children. That applies right across the Territory in the tiniest little schools. We need to make sure that the quality of teaching, that the physical environment, that the opportunities those kids get with the, not just the IT but opportunities for all sorts of enrichment is there.
LAVERTY:  Yeah, it's a great story, actually, you might want to follow it up so that the school took a day off to put a corroboree on for him as the computers were delivered. It's well worth having a look into. This is Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Leader of the Opposition, currently Shadow Minister for Education and Training, but if the Labor Party wins will be the Education Minister. Let's talk a little bit about the Labor Party. Your MP in Lingiari, Warren Snowdon, who you've mentioned just a few moments there. You've been travelling around the Territory with him, has been in the position for 20 years. What are his greatest achievements?
PLIBERSEK: Hundreds of millions of dollars extra for remote housing, for remote roads. He oversaw the Building the Education Revolution program in the Northern Territory, which meant every school got an upgrade of their facilities. Just yesterday, we announced $5 million extra for the Katherine swimming pool. He's been an extraordinary supporter and defender of better treatment of our veterans and our defense personnel. There are so many upgraded facilities, like Alice Springs Hospital upgrade was because Warren argued for it.
LAVERTY: Even just a moment ago we were talking about this one school that had one  computer that the community had to go and supplement.
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, and no one person can fix every issue that Australia faces or that the Northern Territory faces either, but Warren is so connected to his community. Everywhere I travel with him, he knows people in communities and in cities, he's taught half of them actually. I met two people yesterday that Warren taught when he was a teacher here and he's also, as well as all of those local commitments that he's achieved - the road upgrades, the remote housing and so on - he's also played a really important role in our central policy development processes, particularly around Indigenous health and around men's health as well. The rollout of the men's sheds when we were last in government, Warren was one of the strongest proponents of that project, and again on Indigenous health – Warren. I've worked with him on the mobile kidney dialysis vans and so on. He just is a terrific human being.
LAVERTY: You've mentioned the local defence industry there and well, according to the Prime Minister today that's tied to the Territory's weakened economy as, well it's the way to strengthen the Territory's weakened economy by promoting the defence industry. Today, according to Vote Compass, that's the one issue that Territorians care more about than any other is the economy. So does Labor agree? Is defence the key for the NT?
PLIBERSEK: Look I think defence is a very important part of the economic future for the Northern Territory and there's a couple of things I'd say. The first is, the government's been promising billions of dollars of investment in defence infrastructure in the Northern Territory since the 2016 White Paper and I don't think you've seen much of that since the 2016 White Paper, so I'd take the promises with a grain of salt. Labor has the same target of 2 per cent of GDP, gross domestic product, being spent on defence as the government has. We have, I think, a better procurement process that emphasises not just local content, although that's very important, but our large government projects also demand that one in ten of the jobs be filled by apprentices. We've actually got a 150,000 fewer apprentices and trainees in Australia today than when the Liberals came to office. So we've got to get local procurement right. We've got to make sure that we're training the next generation of workers and like I say, I think anybody who's been listening to the promise after promise that you've had from the conservatives when it comes to investment in defence since the 2016 White Paper would take this with a bit of a grain of salt.
LAVERTY: Just finally, Ms Plibersek, probably the most In question that you'll get today. Where do you stand on fairy bread?
PLIBERSEK: I'm outraged that anybody would criticise fairy bread. 
LAVERTY: Backlash!
PLIBERSEK: No, but I would say it is cake, it is not a sandwich as I say to the kids, there's no pretending that this is anything other than cake. I am very interested to know whether you do occasionally try and slip in the soft brown bread to see if you..? No?
LAVERTY: No that has no place.
PLIBERSEK: Has to be squishy white bread.
LAVERTY: It's a treat. Yeah, I'm certainly not presenting it as a nutritious sandwich or lunch.
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, my kids want it for their school lunch, right? That is not happening.
LAVERTY: Can you imagine being Tanya Plibersek, sending your kids to school with fairy bread for their lunches?
PLIBERSEK: So, great for parties, I agree, and I like the squishy white bread and I like the soft versus crunchy contrast. But I also like the sweetness of the hundreds and thousands contrasted with the saltiness of the butter. You have to use salted butter. None of this unsalted butter stuff, all right?
LAVERTY: Have you ever gone a little further and experimented with the chocolate hazelnut spread instead of butter?
LAVERTY: That's a revelation? 
PLIBERSEK: Oh my goodness, I've never thought of that.
LAVERTY: Don't bother, it's no good.
PLIBERSEK: OK. I have done chocolate sprinkles instead of hundreds and thousands which I do like, chocolate sprinkles instead of hundreds and thousands. Yeah. That's a confession.
LAVERTY: See now, before you came on, you know, when you've got high-profile politicians, you want to set up an opportunity to take a great photo, I thought, oh well, we will make some fairy bread, and then I thought no, I'll save her, but now I know that you are absolutely as enthusiastic as Bec-
PLIBERSEK: Can I tell you there is one terrible secret that I probably shouldn't confess on the radio, but I've got these Belgian friends and in Belgium, they have this spread, it's speculaas spread which is flavoured, like they've got these speculaas biscuits that are like, sort of like gingerbread spicy biscuits, but they've made it into a spread. There is actually nothing better than squishy white bread with speculaas spread.
LAVERTY: Oh my God.
PLIBERSEK: I don't know where you'd find it in Australia. 
LAVERTY: Can you pledge today that the Labor Party will find a way to bring that speculaas spread in, should you take government in May?
PLIBERSEK: I can promise you that if Customs allow it I will bring you a jar, one of these days.
LAVERTY: Good to speak with you and good luck for the rest of the campaign. 
PLIBERSEK: Thank you. That is Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and should the Labor Party take power, will be the Education Minister.