SUBJECTS: Sir Joseph Banks nursing home; MYEFO; The Liberals’ cuts to higher education; George Brandis; Bennelong by-election.

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, MEMBER FOR KINGSFORD-SMITH: Thank you everyone for joining us at the Sir Joseph Banks nursing home here in Botany. I'd like to thank my good friend and Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Tanya Plibersek, for coming along here today. We've just had a wonderful tour of these facilities and had a Christmas greeting with some of the residents and can I thank Amelia and the wonderful staff of Sir Joseph Banks nursing home for the top-notch job that they do in looking after the elderly in our community. Amelia has been the director here for close to twenty years, and I think that represents her dedication to looking after people in this area. It's a nursing home that has a strong relationship with the Prince of Wales Hospital and other welfare organisations in our community and it's such a shame that over the course of the last couple of budgets, that billions of dollars have been cut from aged care services. Nonetheless, Tanya and I were pleased to work with Amelia and the staff and residents of this fantastic facility, and I’ll now hand over to Tanya to say a few words.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks very much Matt, and thank you for inviting me to the Sir Joseph Banks residential care facility. It has been a real pleasure to meet with the residents here and meet with the staff and to be welcomed so warmly. Obviously as Christmas approaches there are a lot of people thinking about their friends and the broader community, people in this nursing home thinking about their friends and the broader community and it's a great time of the year to visit and to share a few stories. 

Later on today we'll be having a look at the Government's Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook update, the budget update, and it is a real shame that this budget update wasn't available before the Bennelong by-election. We have to assume that the Government has deliberately kept the MYEFO until after the Bennelong by-election because it's going to have a few nasties in it. We've already heard speculation about billions of dollars of cuts to higher education. Now, Labor worked with the crossbenchers to ward off billions of dollars of cuts in the Senate, and the Government's now coming around through the back door and taking billions of dollars out of higher education in other ways. We'll know in a couple of hours how that money will be taken from the higher education budget, but there is obviously speculation that we'll be looking at about a $3 billion cut to higher education. 

This inevitably means poorer quality education for Australian students. It probably means that some students who would otherwise get into university will miss out on a university education. And for all those young people who've been flogging themselves for the HSC and their final years of schooling, I'm not surprised that many of them today, and their parents, will be very nervous about what the future holds for higher education next year. There's obviously been speculation that the program that helps students from disadvantaged backgrounds, the HEPPP program, will also be cut in this budget. We're yet to see, of course, whether that's the case. What we know for certain are that billions of dollars’ worth of cuts to universities mean a higher cost education for students, or a poorer quality education, or probably both.

We also know, of course, that the Government's hoping to receive a big pat on the back for the fact that record high levels of debt will be at a slightly lower record high than they were predicted to be six months ago. And it is extraordinary: in 2014, the Government itself predicted a deficit for this year. It looks like the deficit is ten times higher than the Government's own figures predicted in 2014. We know that gross debt and net debt are at extraordinary levels. Gross debt has crashed through that half a trillion dollar figure, we see record high levels of debt and the Government wanting to be congratulated that the records will be slightly lower than they were anticipated to be six months ago. But they'll still be record highs. This is a government that campaigned on a debt and deficit disaster, and has blown the deficit and blown debt to record high levels, and now they expect to be congratulated for that. 

Any questions?

JOURNALIST: There's also speculation that the budget will return to surplus by the end of the decade, surely that should be a step in the right direction?

PLIBERSEK: It's taken an extraordinary period for the budget to return to surplus, from a government that has campaigned on debt and deficit. And as I say, they had a prediction for this years' deficit in 2014, it looks like the deficit is ten times higher than the Government's own figures predicted. We've got debt levels that have crashed through all previous records, and we're supposed to congratulate the Government for that. I don't understand in what planet they think they deserve a pat on the back for the levels of debt and deficit that we're seeing. We've been seeing spending increase at faster levels than under Labor during the Global Financial Crisis. So the Australian economy, the global economy, is doing better but we're actually seeing fast increases in spending and record debt and deficit.

JOURNALIST: A lot of people think that Senator Brandis will be posted to the UK next year. What's the reaction from yourself and the Labor Party about that likely position?

PLIBERSEK: I just wish that the Government would spend as much time worrying about the jobs of Australians as they spend worrying about the jobs of inconvenient Cabinet ministers, being shuffled off to appointments overseas. Diplomatic posts, important ones, shouldn't be used to solve Cabinet staffing problems. 

JOURNALIST: When you say inconvenient, he's done a pretty good job though, hasn't he, in regards to same-sex marriage and some of the other issues that have come up this year?

PLIBERSEK: I don't know whether that's in the press release that the Prime Minister has prepared to send Senator Brandis off to London, but I don't think that there's any interpretation that would say that the Attorney-General has been a successful Attorney-General. Same-sex marriage happened despite the Government, not because of it. It happened despite Malcolm Turnbull and George Brandis, not because of them. The wasteful, divisive plebiscite was designed by the opponents of marriage equality to delay the inevitable and I don't think either Malcolm Turnbull or George Brandis can pat themselves on the back for that one.

JOURNALIST: Some speculation it could be a Western Australian that replaces him in that position. What do you think the Cabinet reshuffle will say about his leadership?

PLIBERSEK: The Cabinet reshuffle will tell you what every Australian know about this government: that they spend a lot more time thinking about their own jobs than worrying about the jobs of Australians. Now we know that we still have incredibly high rates of underemployment, unemployment's not terrific, and 700,000 Australians have had their penalty rates cut by this government. We know that wages growth is at record lows. That is not just a burden on every ordinary family's budget, it also means that there is a drag on the Australian economy. People don't have the confidence to spend. They don't have the few extra dollars in their pocket that would make them confident to spend up and create jobs for other Australians. 

JOURNALIST: You campaigned in Bennelong as well, how disappointing was it that Kristina Keneally didn’t get across the line?

PLIBERSEK: It was a fantastic campaign in Bennelong and Kristina should be very proud of the campaign that she ran. It was always a long shot, to see an almost 10 per cent swing, which was what was required for Labor to win Bennelong. But I think the Government shouldn't be too delighted with the results that they've achieved. I congratulate John Alexander on being re-elected but if I were the Prime Minister I'd be pretty worried about the number of voters that switched their vote from the Liberal Party to Labor at this last election. I hope the Prime Minister pays some attention to what voters are telling him, instead of the triumphalism we saw on Saturday night where the Prime Minister seemed to be taking this “scraping back home” win as some sort of endorsement of the job he's been doing. I think the Prime Minister ought to look at the fact that so many voters changed their vote from Liberal to Labor in this by-election.

JOURNALIST: Would you like to have seen something bigger than five per cent though, a stronger swing?

PLIBERSEK: I think five per cent is a very strong result given that the sitting member was recontesting the seat.

JOURNALIST: As a member in NSW, will we be likely to see Senator Keneally? What's the discussion?

PLIBERSEK: There's a long way to go before we make any of those sorts of decisions. We've got internal processes that the NSW branch of the Labor Party will go through over coming weeks.

JOURNALIST: Would you like to see her in the Senate yourself?

PLIBERSEK: She did a great job in Bennelong and I'm not going to comment beyond that.

JOURNALIST: And just finally, I guess it’s just given the Prime Minister a bit of buoyancy going into the new year and not so much for Mr Shorten…[inaudible].

PLIBERSEK: I think this has been a nightmare year for Malcolm Turnbull. It has been disaster after disaster: the citizenship debacle, the stupid English language test that he tried to inflict on people hoping to become Australian citizens, the cuts to health and education, the $17 billion cut from our schools that we'll continue to campaign on day after day, the Ministers that he's lost. It has been a terrible year for Malcolm Turnbull and the fact that in by-elections he's won back a safe National seat and a safe Liberal seat, I don't know that I'd be reading too much into that if I were Malcolm Turnbull.