SUBJECTS: Labor’s investment in TAFE; Cradle Mountain funding announcement; Braddon by-election; By-election date; Blackmail charges dropped against CFMEU officials; Banking Royal Commission; ALP National Conference; Australia-China relationship; Gaza protest deaths; Allocation of GST.

SENATOR ANNE URQUHART, CHIEF OPPOSITION WHIP IN THE SENATE: Thanks for coming. I'd like to introduce Tanya Plibersek, our Shadow Minister for Education. We've got Justine Keay here, the local candidate in the Braddon by-election, we've got Anita Dow who is a newly minted State Labor Member, and Jaeyden who has come along who is a student from TAFE. So I'm just going to ask Jaeyden, come forward and just tell me what the commitment that Labor's money will mean for you and your studies and people on the North West Coast just like you.

JAEYDEN WARDELL, STUDENT: I think it's definitely a really good commitment because a lot of the people on the north west coast really can't afford upfront fees for their education. It's a really good commitment.

URQUHART: OK, I'm going to hand over to Tanya.

TANYA PLIBERSEK MP, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thank you. Thanks so much Anne and thanks to Anita and Justine and of course Jaeyden for coming out today. I am delighted to be here to talk about Labor's commitment to ensure that 100,000 Australians have the opportunity of a TAFE education without upfront fees. This of course comes on top of our 10,000 apprenticeship taster courses and our 20,000 mature age apprentice places as well. What we've seen in recent years from the Liberal government in Canberra is about $3 billion cut out of TAFE and training right across Australia. And this most recent Budget had a further $270 million cut to TAFE and vocational education. That means that thousands of Australians are missing out on a TAFE education and we've seen the running down of TAFE facilities, even the privatisation and sell off of TAFE facilities, right across Australia. Now at a time where we continue to see many skills shortages on that skills shortage list for years at a time, it makes absolutely no sense to be cutting vocational education.

When you look at the electorate of Braddon alone, there are about 700 fewer apprentices and trainees in Braddon today than when the Liberals were first elected. Now where you've got high youth unemployment it makes absolutely no sense for the young people in this electorate and those older workers who retrain to take up opportunities in the changing economy, it makes no sense for those people to be missing out on an apprenticeship or trainee position. What we see with this Government is cuts to education - $17 billion cut from our schools; a continuing unwillingness to commit to long term preschool funding for four year olds; we've seen about $3 billion cut from TAFE and just before Christmas the $2.2 billion cut from universities which means about a $58 million cut for the University of Tasmania. So people in this electorate are facing a lack of access to preschool for their children, cuts to school education, fewer places for apprentices and trainees and fewer places at university. All in all there is a huge difference between Labor's commitment to invest in education and the Liberals’ continuing desire to cut billions from education and training. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: How much do you think this investment (inaudible)?

PLIBERSEK: The cost of the TAFE commitment is just over $400 million over the short term, the next four years, and about $700 million over the medium term. But of course that is only part of Labor's commitment to the TAFE sector. We've also said that we'll invest around $100 million in upgrading TAFE facilities because of course if you're trying to get an education that makes you fit for an industry you need to be using the most up to date equipment that industry is actually using. You can't do a commercial cookery course on the equipment from last century. So we think it's important to make sure that young people have the ability to get a TAFE education but also that our TAFE facilities are state of the art. We've also said of course that one in ten of the jobs on Commonwealth priority projects, projects that are funded by the Commonwealth Government, will be an apprentice. It just isn't right that it is so hard to get an apprenticeship these days.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) Prime Minister announce today $30 million for Cradle Mountain. Do you see pork barrelling in action?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it's terrific that the Prime Minister has finally found his way to Braddon. We know that he hasn't been here for some time in contrast to us. I was last here in February and Bill Shorten I think has been here three times since the last election. But it is good that he has finally found his way here and that he is finally committed to a project that Labor committed to in 2016; so we've been supporters of this project, we've committed $15 million. In fact it was Justine that first introduced me to the tourism promoters that are the main proponents of this project a couple of years ago and she's been a huge advocate of greater investment in tourism infrastructure in the north and the north west. So yes we're pleased that the Liberals have followed us and I'm delighted to be able to say today that we will increase the $15 million to the full $30 million.

JOURNALIST: That's just in direct response to today's announcement?

PLIBERSEK: We initially committed $15 million in 2016, we've been supporters of this project for some time, and at the time we made the commitment Bill Shorten said there would be more to say, and today I'm delighted to say that we will absolutely meet that full $30 million.

JOURNALIST: Is this just a matter of trying to compete with the Liberal Party in the by-election?

PLIBERSEK: We have been supporters of this project for some time. I think they are following us rather than the other way around.

JOURNALIST: When did you decide to give this extra $15 million? Was that just today's decision?

PLIBERSEK: It's something we've been looking at for some time. Justine has been a very strong advocate for tourism infrastructure in her electorate and I'm delighted that we've been able to meet her requests. 

JOURNALIST: So that's a $15 million announcement just now, so are you pork barrelling?

PLIBERSEK: No, we're here committed to making sure there are jobs in the north and the north west and we are very pleased to be able to do that. But you can't ignore that fact that we have been supporters of this project since 2016. We are not going to be diverted from supporting jobs in tourism in this area. But I’ll tell you something, if we want to make sure this community has a future in tourism and hospitality, and makes the most of the opportunities it’s got, then we need to be investing in TAFE as well. Because the training that young people will get at TAFE and the training that older workers will be able to pick up if they are changing careers, we need that sort of infrastructure but we also need the training to make the most of those job opportunities. 

JOURNALIST: Why didn't you commit to the full $30 million in the first place?

PLIBERSEK: We've been looking at our commitments for some time now and Justine has been making a case for us to increase our commitment and she has been successful. And it comes on top of the other successes that Justine has had as a local member. You might remember that Brett Whitley promised that he would do something about the mobile phone black spots in the area. Well the Prime Minister noticed today that there are a few black spots around. It’s in fact been Justine that's worked with Telstra to get new mobile phone towers across her electorate that Brett Whitley was never able to achieve, that Malcolm Turnbull, the guy who apparently invented the internet, was never able to achieve. It’s been Justine working with Telstra that's managed to do that. 

JOURNALIST: With your free TAFE courses, will you put on extra staff to ensure that they cope with the influx of students?

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely, that's part of the cost. The Federal Government doesn't run TAFE. We would work with the states and territories to make sure that the funding was available for them both to increase their staffing levels and to upgrade their facilities. 

JOURNALIST: Do you think the date of the super Saturday by-election being pushed back so that candidates, including the Liberal candidate for Longman, have enough time to clear up their citizenship status?

PLIBERSEK: I'm not really sure why the date isn't known yet. It is the responsibility of the Speaker of the House of Representatives to set the date in consultation with the Party leaders and the Australian Electoral Commission. It is not clear to me why an announcement of the date has not been made yet. 

JOURNALIST: Will it give them enough time to clear up their citizenship status though?

PLIBERSEK: Oh who knows? I mean, your guess is as good as mine why a date hasn't been decided yet.

JOURNALIST: Is it possible though that some candidates may not have had that cleared up by then?

PLIBERSEK: Yes it could be, I mean I don't know, it could be. 

JOURNALIST: How soon do you think we will see the by-election?

PLIBERSEK: Like I say your guess is as good as mine, I expected an announcement earlier this week, but it hasn't been forthcoming. I don't know why. 

JOURNALIST: Does the decision by Victoria Police to drop blackmail charges over Victorian CFMEU officials cast further doubt on the legacy of the Trade Union Royal Commission?

PLIBERSEK: I think it tells you a lot about this Government that they were so keen to do the Trade Union Royal Commission, hoping that it would take some paint off their political opponents but they were so unwilling to have a Royal Commission into the banks. The Banking Royal Commission has shown us, even in its very early days, the very wide spread poor behaviour in the banking and financial services sector. The fact that the Government had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the Banking Royal Commission tells you a lot about the Government, and I think it’s instructive that they have re-endorsed a banker, Brett Whitley, for the seat of Braddon. This is the party that didn't want to have a Banking Royal Commission, complained about it, said there was nothing to see here, had to be dragged kicking and screaming to have it. Then the Prime Minister admitted that he had made a mistake but only said that he had made a political error in not having a Banking Royal Commission earlier. This comes on top of the Liberals' desire to turn back the clock on the responsibility of financial advisers to have their clients' best interests at heart. Brett Whitley voted that financial advisers shouldn't have to have their clients’ best interests at heart and right now we have got a Government that thinks that it is more important to give $17 billion to the big banks as tax cuts than to properly fund our schools. Now the cut to our schools over the next decade is about $17 billion. The tax cuts that banks will get from the big business tax cut is about $17 billion. Now I really challenge any Australian to walk into their local school and talk to the principal, and talk to the teachers, and talk to the parents, and come out and say it’s more important to give the banks a tax cuts than it is to properly fund a local school. I just don't believe that the priorities of ordinary Australians think it’s more important to give the banks a tax cut than to properly fund their local school. That's what this Government is proposing. 

JOURNALIST: Has the validity of the Trade Union Royal Commission been called into question?

PLIBERSEK: We have said from the beginning that the Trade Union Royal Commission is a politically motivated witch hunt. We have said that from day one, and this is the Government that insisted that that Royal Commission was more important than the Banking Royal Commission, resisted the Banking Royal Commission. The Banking Royal Commission has shown, even in its early days of hearings, why it has been important to investigate the behaviour of some of the financial institutions. 

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned there are moves afoot Labor Right to try and limit the size of the Tasmanian Labor delegation to the National Conference? 

PLIBERSEK: I'm not going to start talking about National Conference so early. We have got a few months to prepare for that. We will see those proposals much closer to the conference. 

JOURNALIST: Does that concern you though?

PLIBERSEK: It’s very important that a state like Tasmania that has such a strong Labor representation in the Federal Parliament is properly represented at our national conference. 

JOURNALIST: Do you think Andrew Forrest is correct when he says Australian media reporting is harming our relationship with China?

PLIBERSEK:  It’s interesting that Mr Forrest's comments come following on from former Ambassador Geoff Raby’s comments about the relationship between Australia and China. It is important that we have a good, strong, close relationship with China, in many ways our most important [inaudible]. It is in Australia's national interests that, as much as possible, that is a bi-partisan relationship. I think it's very important that the Australian Government lift its game. It doesn't look great that it seems that Australian Government Ministers are not currently welcome in China. That is a real problem for our relationship.

JOURNALIST: Is Australian media reporting helping or hurting our relationship with China?

PLIBERSEK: I don't think it works that way. I think that our diplomatic relationships are normally much deeper and much franker than you see in media reporting and it would be very important for the Australian Government to get the relationship with China back on track. Certainly Labor is very eager to work in a bi-partisan way with the Government to help them improve a relationship that seems to have deteriorated substantially in recent times.

JOURNALIST: Does Labor believe that Hamas is responsible for the violence in Gaza?

PLIBERSEK: Labor believes very strongly that there needs to be a two-state solution and that moves that make a two-state solution more difficult, by increasing hostilities and tension, are counter-productive. We would urge all of the parties at the moment to de-escalate conflict.

JOURNALIST: And what impacts would we see in Braddon if we did receive the Tas TAFE funding?

PLIBERSEK: Braddon will be better off, the whole of the country will be better off after this investment - new investment with extra TAFE places and better TAFE facilities. I've been to Braddon TAFE before. I'm not usually allowed inside because the state Liberal Government don't like that so much, but I've spoken to many of the students of Braddon TAFE in the past, Jaeyden today, last time we were here we spoke to a young mum who was trying to upgrade her skills too. And what I'm told again and again is that people want to take control of their lives, step up, take economic responsibility for themselves. They just need a little hand getting the training that makes them more employable, particularly in an area of high unemployment. It is nuts for us not to invest to make these younger people able to get jobs, to become self-supporting, to become good contributors to the local economy.

JOURNALIST: The Finance Minister has said Tasmania won't be any worse off after the GST carve-up. Is that comforting?

PLIBERSEK: Really? So he's just saying 'trust me on this', is he? I mean, don't forget, this is the Government that initially wouldn't release the draft GST carve-up report before the Tasmanian state election because they knew, that to fix their problem with Western Australia, they'd be taking money off Tasmania. Now they've got another report, the final report, and wow, surprisingly, they don't want to release that before a by-election in Tasmania. You'll excuse me for being a little sceptical about any commitments that are made around this issue by this Government.

JUSTINE KEAY, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR BRADDON: Thank you for coming, I'd like to thank Tanya Plibersek for being here today. She's a huge supporter of the Braddon electorate and has been to Devonport a number of times to talk to our TAFE students here. What has happened to TAFE in Tasmania is 1,671 apprentices have been lost; $3 billion has been cut from TAFE and a further $270 million just in this Budget. That's having huge impacts on the ability for young people and for mature people who want to upskill to get into the job that they want. I've spoken to businesses here in the north west of Tasmania. I had one business in particular who was like' I've got this young person, I want to put him on as an apprentice, but TAFE won't offer the course anymore here in Tasmania'. This young person is just waiting here, waiting, he can't get the work that he wants because of these cuts to TAFE. So I'm really proud to be a part of Federal Labor who is committed to delivering for Tasmanians, delivering for the people of Braddon, investing in our TAFEs, and removing some of the barriers of costs for young people and mature people who want to upskill to get into courses here in Devonport and in Burnie (inaudible) and to make a difference, take responsibility for their future and become productive people in our community.

JOURNALIST: What difference do you think this will make to the unemployment rate in Braddon?

KEAY: It gives people in our community options. It gives them choice. We've got the University of Tasmania offering Associate Degrees; they're working very strongly with industry. We tend to see a very distinct (inaudible) between what industry and what training providers are providing and what young people and other people in our community want to do. So this announcement will allow people just like Jaeyden to get into a course they would love to do and into jobs that we know exist in our community here for them to stay in our community and be productive, to raise their families, send their kids to school. Because Labor will also be investing in our schools here in Braddon and across the country, and that for me, as a mum of three young kids, I want them to have that future where they've got choice and opportunity here on the north west coast. I've very proud of these announcements.

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister believes that this by-election should have taken place last year. He’s still maintaining that you should have resigned last year. What do you say to those comments?

KEAY: Let's not forget that Labor and the cross-benchers put forward a motion to refer everyone in the House of Representatives to the High Court in December last year. The one person that stopped that from happening was Malcolm Turnbull. The decision only came down on Wednesday where they've changed the rules. Thereby, this is unprecedented, and has resulted in these by-elections. I acted, I think, within a two hour window from the moment that that decision was handed down in the High Court to when I informed the Parliament and resigned. So if Malcolm Turnbull wanted the citizenship issue to be resolved he should have resolved it last year when we put that motion forward. But he failed to do that because he was running a protection racket for his own MPs, many of whom are still sitting in that Parliament today.