TRANSCRIPT: Doorstop, Lismore, Thursday, 14 April





SUBJECTS: Tanya's visit to page; the Liberal Government's cuts to education and health; breastfeeding; Malcolm Turnbull's trip to China.

JANELLE SAFFIN, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR PAGE: I’d like to welcome Tanya Plibersek here to the seat of Page, but particularly to Southern Cross University. Southern Cross University means a lot to our community and we’ve just been able to take Tanya on a tour of the School of Environmental Science and Engineering and also this fabulous learning centre where we are. And Tanya has come here to see what’s been happening in the seat of Page, to meet with people at lunchtime to talk about international aid and development and to visit Lismore Base Hospital, and these are areas where the previous Labor Government had invested in. Invested in Southern Cross University, invested in hospitals and health services: Lismore Base Hospital, Casino Hospital, others in the region. So it's good to have Tanya here - she’s no stranger to our area - and to have her to come and meet with our local communities. So welcome Tanya, over to you. 

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Look it's such a pleasure to be here with my friend Janelle Saffin in the federal seat of Page. Page was very well represented by Janelle when she was the federal member and we're standing in just one of the fruits of her labour. I'm very pleased to be at Southern Cross University and to see this beautiful new learning centre that Janelle secured $28 million of funding to build. It's really wonderful to be able to walk around and see how well used that money has been for the benefit of the students and the local community. We also went to the engineering section and saw what the upgrades there have meant for students; again, a wonderful new facility for this university. I'm here today to work with Janelle to tell the story of what investment in education means for the people of Page. When Janelle was the local member here she always prioritised investment in education and in health. We've got a Prime Minister today who says that we need to be more innovative. But what we know for certain is that you can't have innovation without education. The best investment we can make in our changing economy, in our changing society, is investment in education from the earliest days of schooling right through vocational education and tertiary education. One of the great frustrations of recent years is the cut to school education funding. We're talking about around $600 million cut from the Northern Rivers area when it comes to primary school and high school education. A $30 billion cut across the nation from the Liberals and Nationals and the contrast could not be clearer: a Labor Party prepared to invest $37 billion in school education in coming years. You can imagine how that would transform every school in the Northern Rivers area and, most particularly, how it will transform the life opportunities of the children who will benefit. But it's not just about school education. If you look at vocational education we've seen $2 billion cut from TAFE and vocational education. And in this area, in Page, the electorate of Page alone, that translates to a loss of 553 apprenticeships over the course of the last year. That’s 553 young people in an area of high youth unemployment that won't have the opportunity to pursue a trade. That's devastating. It's not just devastating for those individual young people; it's devastating for this region that needs those tradespeople trained for future years. And then you look at this beautiful campus of the Southern Cross University, you couldn't see a sharper contrast than the $28 million that was invested in this facility compared with almost $60 million cut from Southern Cross University over the next four years by the Liberal National Government. We believe that we should be funding education properly - not just for the benefit of individual students but for the benefit of our nation. The Government is right in saying that our economy is in transition. The best way to deal with that transition is to have a highly skilled, highly educated workforce that can make the most of the opportunities of the future. Just very briefly on health, because we're going to Lismore Base Hospital shortly. I'm very proud of the fact that, not just facilities like this, but Janelle secured about $60 million to upgrade facilities at Lismore Base Hospital. And I'm deeply disturbed about more than $700 million of health cuts in the region that mean despite these new facilities, you see waiting times for elective surgery blowing out in Lismore. It is devastating because we know that a health system is more than just the buildings and the beds; it's the care you get inside those buildings. And if the Federal Government - and the State Government - continue to cut health funding, you will continue to see longer waits in emergency and longer waits for elective surgery, despite the building and investment that occurred under the previous Federal Labor Government.

JOURNALIST: That $60 million that you mentioned, Tanya, are you going to reverse that? Is the Labor Government going to reverse that if they get in? 

PLIBERSEK: The $60 million of cuts to Southern Cross University, well we've got a plan to invest $21 billion in higher education. We will restore the funding cuts, we’ve already said that we give a student funding guarantee so that we will continue to see growth in higher education - not just in the number students graduating, but in the funding that we give for each of those students to graduate. We’ll see substantial increases for every student at every university.

JOURNALIST: So Tanya, in regards to the Coalition’s announcement this morning, in regards to $13.8 million co-op program to be run out of SCU, what's your response to that? 

PLIBERSEK: Look I think anything that invests in the farming sector or agricultural sector is a good thing. But it is ironic that they’re not even restoring a quarter of the funding that has been lost from this university. It is one thing to cut around $60 million and then to replace $13 million and expect a pat on the back. I mean it's a bit sad for the students that rely on this university. It's a great project, no doubt, it will provide some benefit. But in the face of $60 million also of cuts, it really doesn't cut it.

JOURNALIST: We get the feeling that Page is becoming a really important seat to both sides – we’ve had Barnaby Joyce obviously here this morning and now yourself. You know, you guys kind of going neck and neck with these appearances. What's the strategy?

PLIBERSEK: Well, Page has always been an important seat. I think Page is a seat that helps us form government and it's a seat where you've got a lot of need: you've got a lot of young families moving to the region, you've got a lot of retirees and older people requiring upgraded health services, and so it needs a very active local member and here I am with Janelle Saffin. When she was the local member she was able to secure funding for facilities like the one we’re standing in, like the one we’re going to visit next. And then we've got a National MP who has not stood up against health cuts, he's not stood up against education cuts - even though he used to work in a school and he would know what those education cuts mean - he hasn't at all stood up for the people that he’s supposed to be representing. What Page needs is a strong and active local member that can bring the resources, the facilities, to the region. 

JOURNALIST: But just to elaborate a bit more, why has there been so much attention being put on the seat?

PLIBERSEK: Well because it's a very important seat for any party that wants to form government. But I’d have to say it's more than that in the case of Janelle. Janelle had a record of achievement as local member that really stood out, even amongst marginal seat members, for her activity and her success. She gets right in with the community, works out the needs and pursues solutions until she achieves those solutions. When we were in the engineering area, one of the reasons that this university is now teaching engineering is because Janelle noticed that you couldn't employ engineers locally - the local council was advertising- advertised three times and couldn't find an engineer. Well we know that people who study in a region are much more likely to stay in that region. We know that a lot of students at Southern Cross are mature age students, so you don't want to pack your whole family up and move to Sydney or Brisbane to pursue an education. If you can get that education locally, of course, you're much more likely to take on study later on in life. She saw a problem; she pursued a solution working cooperatively with the council, with the university, with the local community. It's a really unusual person that is able to do that and Janelle is that person. 

JOURNALIST: Just one more question - this is completely out of left field, it's got nothing to do with policy but it's got to do with one of the stories that's been going well on our website in the last 24 hours. It's related to public breastfeeding. The reason why we thought to ask you a question on this is because there has been an issue about breastfeeding in Parliament lately. Now obviously you're a woman, and a local café owner was criticised by one of his customers because he apparently made a disparaging remark about her breastfeeding in his café. Do you have any general comments on the issue of, you know, public breastfeeding? Obviously it's a right, it’s a legal right.

PLIBERSEK:  I absolutely do and I'm sure Janelle will want to add. I'm a mother of three and I breastfed each of my children until they were about a year old. It was not always easy to fit that in with the parliamentary schedule but I loved doing it because it is so good for children – it gives them the very best start in life. There is very clear evidence that breastfeeding is best for babies: it helps with their immune system, it helps prevent obesity later on in life and I was very, very lucky to be able to breastfeed my three children. And of course I did do it at times in company and in public and I think if people more generally understood what a benefit it is to young children - and even I must say to their mothers as well, there's health benefits for mothers too - they would be celebrating and supporting breastfeeding rather than making it more difficult for already pressured mums. 

SAFFIN: Breastfeeding is best and if bub is hungry, wherever you are whether that be in private or public, then you feed bub, you know, bub comes first - it just makes sense. And for people to talk about, you know, where we breastfeed, women breastfeed and don't, it's just ridiculous, simply ridiculous. Because it's about health, it's about what's in the best interest of the bub and women, you know if they can, it's best to breastfeed.  

JOURNALIST: Totally off-topic. So Malcolm Turnbull is in China at the moment not willing to talk about steel. Can you tell me if Labor is wanting to secure metal manufacturing, can you just, talk a little about that?

PLIBERSEK:  Absolutely. Look, we think it's a good thing of course that the Prime Minister is visiting China. It continues decades of tradition where Australian governments have sought closer economic relations with China, closer diplomatic relations - of course started by Labor more than 40 years ago and upgraded most recently under the Gillard Government when we established leader-to-leader dialogues. One of the things that we would hope that our Prime Minister raises on this trip to China is the overproduction of Chinese steel that is having a significant effect on global steel prices and what that means for our steel industry in Australia. We must ensure that there is a steel industry - and a manufacturing industry too - in Australia. It's a very tough environment for that industry at the moment because of very low steel prices and how quickly those steel prices have fallen. This is a great opportunity for the Prime Minister to speak with his Chinese counterparts about what's going on in the global steel industry and I'd be very surprised and a little disappointed if he didn't take up that opportunity.