SUBJECTS: Labor’s funding announcement for new playgrounds for children in remote communities and for whiteboards at Gillen School; Labor’s plan to improve educational outcomes in rural and remote areas; Abolition of the NAIF if Labor wins; Infrastructure and tourism investment; The Government’s water buy-back scandal; Liberal cuts to AEC; Representation of First Nations Australians in the ALP.

WARREN SNOWDON MP, MEMBER FOR LINGIARI: G'day, I'm really happy to be here at the Children's Ground with my great friend and colleague, Tanya Plibersek, who's the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, and will be the Deputy Prime Minister of this country, hopefully very soon. So Tanya's got some announcements to make, and I'd like to introduce her.


TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well thank you very much Warren, and it's a great pleasure to be here in Alice Springs with you, and to be here at Children's Ground, where we've met with some very highly skilled early childhood educators, and the beautiful children that they're looking after today. Children's Ground is a fantastic program that works with families long-term, from even before children are born, working with potential parents, right through a child's early years, making sure they're getting that great early education that is the foundation for strong learning, and working with families to help them be their child's first educator and greatest support when they start school. I'm really delighted today to announce that Labor, if elected, will contribute close to $600,000 to build seven new playgrounds, in cooperation with Children's Ground. Now these playgrounds are great for children's gross motor skills, their physical strength, their capacity to be confident outside. But there's another really important thing that these playgrounds will provide, and that's a place for families to come together, for early childhood educators to work with children to teach in the outdoors, teach early literacy, early numeracy, and to teach First Nations languages in an outdoor setting. These are, as well as being playgrounds, just terrific early learning settings in the outdoors.

We're also, of course, visiting a school shortly - we're visiting Gillen Public School, where we'll be making another announcement. As well as this school, Gillen being $360,000 better off in the first three years of a Labor Government, if elected, we're making a very special announcement today that we'll also be upgrading the whiteboard facilities at the school, with an extra $50,000 of funding for the school to do this really important work. Gillen's doing some marvellous work in early literacy. They're focusing on kids, making sure that they get one-on-one attention in small groups to get the foundations of their literacy right. To make sure that they understand the relationship between letters and sounds, and syllables and sounds, those really important foundations for learning to read. But one of the other things we need to do is make kids excited about reading, show them a little bit about the world so that they are excited to read more. And these whiteboards will really supercharge the ability the school has to do that. To make sure that reading is brought to life in every classroom.


We're talking today about early childhood education, and education, and this is one of the most important areas of difference between a Shorten Labor Government, if we're elected, and business-as-usual under Scott Morrison. Under a Shorten Labor Government, Northern Territory public schools would be $41 million better off in the first three years alone. And, in fact, in Warren's electorate of Lingiari, about $27 million better off in the first three years alone. Of course, this builds on our commitment to universal preschool access for three and four year olds, a better TAFE system, more university opportunities - all of these are choices that Labor, if elected, will deliver for Territorians. 


We also, of course, believe in better hospitals. We're making sure that the Morrison Government doesn't cut a further close to $70 million from Territory hospitals, on top of the millions of dollars of cuts that hospitals have already suffered in the Territory. There is a really clear choice coming up for Territorians. Do they want better schools and hospitals, or do they want bigger tax breaks for already wealthy Australians, and big multinational companies. Better schools and hospitals or bigger tax breaks - that's the choice between Bill Shorten and Scott Morrison on the 18th of May. If people want to see better investment in schools and hospitals in the Northern Territory, they've got to vote for Warren in Lingiari and they've got to vote for Bill Shorten to be Prime Minister of Australia. Any questions?


JOURNALIST: How much are you committing to these new playgrounds?


PLIBERSEK: It's close to $600,000. Just under $600,000 and that will build seven playgrounds. That will also, obviously, create jobs for the people who are designing and building those playgrounds and maintaining them in the future. But the most important benefit, of course, is for an outdoor learning opportunity for children who will really benefit.


JOURNALIST: And, I'm sorry, where will they be in Central Australia?


PLIBERSEK: We've identified seven communities. Warren will remember most of them.


SNOWDON: So, Hidden Valley and Whitegate Town Camps, Burt Creek, Sandy Bore and one other which has escaped my memory just for the moment, and two communities in Arnhem Land. So, they're a very - this is where Children's Grounds works in those communities - so we're investing with Children's Ground in those communities and to develop and care for those young children.


JOURNALIST: (inaudible)


PLIBERSEK: I don't need an excuse to come to Alice Springs, I really love it here, and I was here just, you know, not so long ago for my last visit. We're talking about the investment in children, we're talking about preschool, universal access to preschool, extra school funding, extra investment in TAFE and university to make sure that all young Australians have the opportunity of a post-secondary school education. Last time I was here, we were talking about extra funding for STARS Foundation - making sure that girls have the opportunity of completing their high school education and increasing high school attendance. I'll go anywhere to talk about the importance of investing in young Australians and making sure that they've got a world class education. And really, what motivates me, what motivates Warren and Labor, is making sure that every Australian child gets an opportunity for a first class education. I want every child here to have the same opportunities as my kids have in Sydney. I want them to have as good an education in small, remote schools as they can get in a regional town or a big city - that's what this extra funding is about. It's making sure that every Australian child gets a world class education, a great opportunity to learn. I think that's important enough to go anywhere.


JOURNALIST: The recent NAPLAN results across Australia revealed that indigenous students in the Territory were far behind the Australian national benchmark. What will you do to improve reading, writing and numeracy skills for kids in rural and remote schools?


PLIBERSEK: Well, the first thing is invest properly in our schools, and we're going to Gillen next, that school will get $360,000 extra funding in the first three years of a Shorten Labor Government as well as the $50,000 we spoke about for the whiteboards to be upgraded. But making sure that we start much earlier is really important too. The Morrison Government has only funded preschools for one more year for four year olds. Labor has a commitment to make permanent funding available for universal access to preschool for three year olds as well as four year olds. We know that the earlier we invest, the bigger the pay-off in a child's life. We also know that having opportunities after young people finish high school is absolutely vital - nine out of ten jobs that will be created in coming years will need a TAFE or a university qualification to do. When Labor was last in government, we uncapped university places, we saw a very substantial increase in the number of young people who were the first in their family to attend university. The first generation to get that opportunity. We want that for more Australians. TAFE - we've seen the Liberal government in Canberra cut $3 billion out of TAFE, training and apprenticeships. There's 150,000 fewer apprentices today than when the Liberals were first elected. We need to make sure that after school, people get the opportunity of training or a university education that gives them job skills to do the jobs that are available. It makes no sense that we still have high youth unemployment, we've got skills shortages - people on temporary visas having to fill skills shortages and we're cutting TAFE and training places. It makes no sense. That's something that Labor wants to change.


JOURNALIST: Just in terms of the NAIF announcement this morning by Bill Shorten to completely replace it, if you were elected. What does Labor see as the failings of that fund and why do you want to replace it?


PLIBERSEK: Well, for a start, the NAIF fund has spent as much on meetings and wages and bureaucrats as it's actually dispersed for infrastructure projects. You're talking about 5 years now where they've barely spent a cent building anything but they've spent the same amount on bureaucracy as they've spent on actual infrastructure projects. It is really hopeless and one of the reasons if the board is just stacked with Liberal Party donors. They're not people who have particular expertise in this area. So they haven't done a good job. We think it's unsalvageable in the way that it's constructed at the moment. We want to see an effective board that can make really good quality investment decisions about job-creating infrastructure. We want that board to work well with indigenous Australians as well because there is no one that knows the Top End better. We've already said that the new fund would have a billion and a half dollars set aside for gas pipeline infrastructure. Australia is facing a looming gas crisis. We're paying more for Australian gas that we use in Australia than some countries overseas are managing to buy Australian gas for. This government has failed to keep enough conventional gas here in Australia for Australian uses - that endangers our manufacturing sector because of extraordinarily high gas and power prices. We want to make sure that we've got enough Australian gas for Australian uses to keep power prices low and to keep our manufacturing sector strong. We've also said we will set aside about a billion dollars for tourism infrastructure. Tourism is a great job generator. Australia's the most beautiful country in the world. We want more people from around the world coming here to appreciate our beauty and more Australians holidaying at home. So we've talked about local airport infrastructure upgrades. Of course, Warren's made a fantastic announcement about $200 million dollars for Kakadu and in the first term of a Labor government, not over 10 years into the never-never. We've got extra funding set aside for Tourism Australia to help promote Australian tourism destinations, upgrading existing tourism facilities at a more local level. And these are the sorts of things that will create and sustain jobs in the Top End rather than what the NAIF has done, which is create and sustain jobs in Canberra for bureaucrats.


JOURNALIST: Given that the investment is a pipeline, fracking is a huge issue here in the Northern Territory. It's a big election issue always. Is the Labor Party pro-fracking?


PLIBERSEK: Well, of course there's pipelines for conventional gas as well and we support the science when it comes to this stuff. It's all about the science and the law. We listen to the science and we obey the law. This doesn't change any of the normal environmental processes that have to be adhered too by state or territory governments. All of those have to be properly followed.


JOURNALIST: And in terms of tourism investment, is there a certain tourism project or area that you've got already in mind for this?


PLIBERSEK: Well we've already made a very substantial announcement about Kakadu and I'm sure there are many great opportunities to invest in other local tourism infrastructure in the Top End. The Northern Territory is a beautiful place to visit. We want more people to be able to appreciate that and to leave some of their hard earned dollars behind.


JOURNALIST: And just on another matter, Federal Labor frontbencher Tony Burke who says that the Party may support a Royal Commission into this water buy-back deal that's been getting a lot of attention. So do you want a Royal Commission?


PLIBERSEK: Well we've asked the relevant Department to provide a lot of information. We've given them some time to do that. We've seen some documents already released. They are very heavily redacted documents. There's a lot of information missing when it comes to how this $80 million dollar decision was made. We want to give the opportunity to the government to make that information available. If it's not made available, if the information isn't provided then we are open to taking further action. We are really concerned that taxpayers money was provided for a water buy-back that seems to be at an unusually high price for a water resource that's only available during flood times. It just doesn't make sense. So let's see what the Department comes back with and if they don't come back with adequate explanations of how and why this decision was made then we're open to further action.


JOURNALIST: What sort of measures are in place in terms of ensuring that remote communities are enrolled and actually voting in the upcoming election. We've seen concerns about that over the years. What's been happening in that space?


PLIBERSEK: Well I do know the Electoral Commission have taken some steps to increase enrolment but Warren's been on the road visiting a lot of communities. I might let him answer some specifics.


SNOWDON: Yep. You ask what's been done? Not enough. The AEC I think has dropped the ball dreadfully and when the election was announced their own figures showed that only 67 per cent of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory were enrolled to vote, and only 63 per cent of Aboriginal people in Western Australia. Now I've met with the Electoral Commission. I've made it very clear over a number of months, in fact last year, that the performance of the Electoral Commission leaves a lot to be asked for, particularly as the Federal government cut their funding. They've effectively closed their office in Darwin. They've got no remote teams working so it's almost impossible for Aboriginal people who live in remote parts of the country to be engaged in the education and election process without the AEC doing its job properly. Without the AEC doing it, it's been up to political parties, individual enrolments and exercises taking place. I think it's an absolute shame. We live in a democracy where everyone's got a right to vote. Everyone's got a right to be enrolled to vote so they can vote, and voting, as we know, is compulsory. So I think this is, the cynic might even argue that this has been a ploy by the Federal Government to deny Aboriginal people the vote.


JOURNALIST: As we are quite close the Federal election I just wanted to get your point of view, you know, Aboriginal people have been calling for a long time in terms of having that engagement and moving forward. In a Shorten-led Labor Government, would Aboriginal Affairs be a priority?


PLIBERSEK: I'll make a few comments and I'll ask Warren to add as well. Absolutely. And I think the fact that we've got such a strong representation of First Nations Australians in our Caucus is the most important sign that we take this engagement really seriously. A Shorten Labor Government has already said we accept the recommendations of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and that we will work respectfully and cooperatively to deliver on those recommendations. The Voice to Parliament, the Makarrata Commission, treaties and so forth. Also in our policy development processes, when you look, for example, at the Indigenous health package - $155 million - that we announced just days ago, you see the priorities of communities reflected in the way that spending has been allocated. Co-designed, working in partnership respectfully, is at the very core of what we want to do in health, in education, infrastructure, economic development, not in a punitive way as we've seen with the CDP and other programs that are all about punishing people rather than empowering them.


SNOWDON: I will, thank you. There are a couple of obvious things to consider, one of which is Bill Shorten, when he was on the Tiwi Islands last week, made it known that he expected Pat Dodson, Senator Pat Dodson for Western Australia, someone who lived here in Alice Springs for many years, to be the next, if Labor is elected, to be the Minister responsible, a Cabinet Minister. Now that is really very important because for the first time in Australian history, we'll have a First Australian responsible for looking after the interests of First Australians in the government. We've also made it very clear, and Tanya's pointed to the health policies that we've announced, which reflect community priorities - that's important - and we've said already, and again, Tanya has referred to the Voice from the Heart, we want to see what this Voice would be. We're committed to a referendum. Those things are already laid out and we've said we're going to scrap CDP as it currently exists and create a new program which will look like, we hope, it will look a lot like the old CDEP which people and communities have been calling for. This will be about resetting the relationship. This whole business of Aboriginal people having things done to them has got to finish, got to stop, it's no good. We've got to have Aboriginal people at the table, being responsible for the decision-making, in partnership with government, and that's what we intend to do.


PLIBERSEK: Thank you.