THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
TUESDAY, 11 DECEMBER 2018
SUBJECTS: Schools; Border protection; ALP National Conference; Newstart; Labor’s support for workers; the banks.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well thank you very much for coming out this morning on this absolutely sparkling, beautiful Melbourne day. It's wonderful to be here to, first of all be able to offer my congratulations in person to Daniel Andrews and his team for a magnificent election win recently, and secondly to thank Premier Andrews and Education Minister James Merlino for the very strong stand they’re taking to defend public school funding here in Victoria. We've heard from Premier Andrews and Education Minister Merlino that they're not prepared to allow Victorian school children to be used as pawns or bargaining chips in negotiations with the Commonwealth Government on education funding. Daniel Andrews is standing up and saying he will not accept the $800 million cut from Victorian public schools over the next few years by the Federal Government.
What we see is a Premier who is prepared to be strong in the face of federal cuts and say we won't allow our school children to be used in this way and I'm here today to reassure Daniel Andrews and to reassure Victorians that should a Labor government be elected federally next year we will ensure that every dollar of the education funding due to Victoria is paid and paid in full. The difference between federal Labor's proposed education funding and what the Liberals are offering is around $800 million in the first three years of a Labor government, if we are elected, and people can check what that means for their own individual schools by going to Labor's Fair Go for Schools website, where you can type in the name of your school and see what that translates to for your local school in terms of increased funding. We know what that funding buys. It buys more one on one attention. It means earlier detection for kids who are struggling. It means extra help for those children to catch up. It means more extension activities for kids who are gifted and talented. It means more subject choice, more specialist teaching, more coding specialists, science, maths, languages, arts, music, all able to be taught in our schools. It means our teachers will have more time to continue to upgrade their professional skills throughout their working lives. That's what extra funding buys in our schools and I want to thank Dan Andrews and James Merlino and their team for being such strong defenders of public education here in Victoria.
JOURNALIST: I've got a question on another matter if that's okay. You have called for the ALP's platform to be changed to enshrine doctor ordered medical transfers to Australia. Why have you made that call and why should the platform be changed?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think it is important that the platform reflect the discussions that we had in Parliament last week. Labor moved a bill several weeks ago to make it more certain that if children on Nauru need medical transfer at the doctor's suggestion that that could happen more easily and more certainly and in the last week in Parliament that suggestion has been built on with the co-operation of crossbenchers and minor parties. I think it's timely that we update the platform to reflect Labor's position in the Parliament last week.
JOURNALIST: Would that change in any way weaken the offshore processing regime or diminish the authority of the Minister?
PLIBERSEK: Well it certainly doesn't diminish the authority of the Minister in any way. We are a Westminster system of government and the Minister should have the final say on matters that relate to immigration law. But the Minister should also, in a Westminster system, be prepared to explain those decisions and to be transparent with the public about decisions that the Minister is making. I know that Peter Dutton and others are happy to run a scare campaign on this sort of thing. We've seen a different scare campaign from a desperate and divided government every single week. Labor is united, determined and thoughtful when we are making policy changes like this. We went through all of our normal caucus processes to support this change, and so the fact that the change should be reflected in our platform I think is unremarkable.
JOURNALIST: Are boat turn backs now an accepted part of Labor's policy platform or do you expect that policy to be challenged at the ALP conference on the weekend?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think boat turn backs, where it safe to do so, are clearly part of Labor's policy and we determined that at the last national conference.
JOURNALIST: So you don't expect to see any challenge?
PLIBERSEK: Well our party conference is always a lot of fun and I would be the last person to predict everything that's going to be debated at conference but I think it's clear that this is now part of Labor policy.
JOURNALIST: You used to be against boat turn backs why has your position changed?
PLIBERSEK: Well I support Labor policy, and in fact, I wasn't in the debate at the last national conference. I think it is absolutely critical that we have a compassionate and humane response to refugees and asylum seekers around the world. We have 65 million displaced people around the world now. We have to be a more generous country and Labor, has at the last conference and now, continues to have a commitment to ensuring we bring more people to Australia from countries of first asylum, who've been processed by the UNHCR but we bring them here safely, on Qantas jets. We don't agree that just anyone should be allowed to come. The Greens position is if you get on a boat and you come to Australia, that's just fine. We worry about the risk to life that that involves. We think it is much better, yes to bring people, more people, safely to Australia, but to bring them here on an aeroplane, from the most desperate places in the world, bring them here safely, help them settle successfully in Australia.
I also have to remind people that there are two other elements of this. Our refugee policy has to be good, but our foreign affairs policy has to be one that makes it possible for people to stay safely in their home countries. We see what is happening in Myanmar at the moment with the Rohingya refugees. 800,000 people have crossed the border into Bangladesh, one of the poorest nations on earth. I think it's important that a country like Australia speak strongly to the Government of Myanmar about making it possible for those people, who in many cases have lived for generations in Myanmar, to be able to return safely to their homes.
We also have to have a strong aid policy. We know that some of the countries who are bearing the largest responsibility of the global movement of people at the moment, like Bangladesh, like Jordan and Lebanon, like a number of countries around the world that are countries of first asylum, are doing it with very little international assistance. And Australia, as a good global citizen, should increase our level of international assistance to those countries of first asylum as well.
JOURNALIST: Is the division over the issue damaging for the ALP?
PLIBERSEK: Do you know what? One of the best things about Labor Party Conference is that it is a genuine contest of ideas. Running the country is an important job. We should take it seriously. If we are seriously proposing ourselves as an alternate government, an alternate party in government - yes, we should have debates. There is nothing wrong with having different points of view. It's how we resolve those debates that's really important. You look in contrast at Liberal Party conferences, and it's just a bunch of people listening to the Leader's address and then everybody goes home. There is no genuine contest of ideas. We've seen that in the Parliament recently where the extreme right of the Liberal Party just make every policy decision themselves and then they let the Prime Minister of the day know what the party will be doing. On the other hand, you see the Greens' party conferences that are not even open to the media. They're secretive, Stalinist affairs. God knows what happens in them.
Labor Party Conference, in contrast, has debate, it has strong, convincing arguments from people of goodwill who have some differences of opinion, and then we resolve them. We also are open to the public. Anybody can come along, register to come along, we've got hundreds of people who'll be coming along as observers to this party conference. And if you're really having trouble sleeping, you can watch most of the conference on cable television if you want to. Any Australian, from anywhere in the world, can watch our conference. Any Australian, or anyone from anywhere in the world, can watch our conference online if they wish to. That's what democracy looks like. It's a healthy thing for our democracy that we have people, hundreds of people, wanting to participate in the debates that are important for our nation's future.
And I'll tell you what - we're very likely to have debates that focus on how do we make sure we see great jobs with decent pay and conditions for Australian workers. We'll have debates about strengthening our education system, about making sure we have a fantastic healthcare system. We'll have debates about the environment and climate change and energy policy and industrial relations. This is a good thing. It's not a negative in any way.
JOURNALIST: NSW Left figures and the SDA want the ALP to change its policy on Newstart. Will you support a push to increase Newstart at the conference?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think Newstart is too low and I think our commitment to having a review of the adequacy of Newstart is a very important commitment that we've already made.
JOURNALIST: And do you think members, I mean I guess you've kind of touched on this earlier, but members will pull any punches at National Conference with the election around the corner? Be a bit better behaved?
PLIBERSEK: Do you know what? Every now and again, it doesn't happen very often, but every now and again my husband and I disagree on something and I say to the kids - it actually doesn't matter that your father and I disagree, it's how we resolve the problem that matters. What matters is that the Labor Party has been strong and united for five years. We've been focused on what matters to people in their daily lives - their job, their pay, the conditions at work, bringing down energy prices and bringing down pollution, a great school for their kids to go to, an apprenticeship, TAFE, university, pre-school for their kids to go to, a health system where your Medicare card matters more than your credit card. The reason we have been united and disciplined is because we know that we have one chance next year of forming government and that depends on us remaining focused on the people we seek to represent. Not ourselves, not our internal fights - on the people we seek to represent. And I'm sure that's what people will see at our National Conference.
JOURNALIST: Do you support Kelly O'Dwyer's plan to let casuals become permanent workers after 12 months of continuous employment?
PLIBERSEK: You'll forgive me for taking anything Kelly O'Dwyer says on improving conditions for casuals with a grain of salt. This is a government that snuck in some regulations at the end of last week to try and reduce conditions for casuals, and now we hear that she's about, sometime in the future, improving conditions for casuals. And this is a government that has done everything it can to keep wages low to protect insecurity in our industrial relations system, insecurity for workers that is, and to continue to put all of the power into the hands of employers. So of course we will have a look at what Kelly O'Dwyer is suggesting but if people want a government that actually provides certainty for casuals, they should vote Labor. Labor has already proposed that we have a clearer definition of what it actually is to be a casual. We are looking at ways to reduce what we see with rolling contracts, year after year, people staying on insecure contracts. We have already committed of course to restoring penalty rates that casuals rely on. If people want to protect casual workers, I wouldn't trust the Liberals with that.
JOURNALIST: What about proposed regulation that a court could order casual loadings to be offset against any orders to back pay?
PLIBERSEK: I mean, this is my exact point. You've got Kelly O'Dwyer sneaking through regulations to actually disadvantage casuals and then realising that given how many people in our workforce today are casual, they are today are making vague unspecified future announcements that there might be a right to request a move from casual to permanent full time or part time work. Why would you trust them? I mean, how can anyone take that to the bank?
JOURNALIST: How much of a problem is security of employment for casuals?
PLIBERSEK: Sorry I didn’t hear the question.
JOURNALIST: How much of a problem is security of work for casuals?
PLIBERSEK: Look insecurity in our labour market is actually, I think, at very troubling levels now. So it's casuals or zero hour contracts. It's people on contracts that are temporary contracts but rolled over. I spoke to someone just this week who has been on a yearly contract for 15 years. It's problems with, you know, insecurity in the labour market flows on to insecurity of people's homes. You can't get a car loan, you can't get a home loan if you don't know what you are going to be earning next week or next month, and if you look at the national accounts figures that were realised just last week. What the national accounts tell you is that company profits are strong, Australian companies continue to be profitable but wages have flatlined. Wages have stagnated, families are living on the credit card. Living standards as measured by real net disposable income, are going backwards. The government say they want an election based on better economic management. I say that any government that continues after five years to preside over a system that is seeing wages and living standards for ordinary Australians sliding is not a government that is doing its job, it's job to make living standards of Australians better.
JOURNALIST: So how many workers do you think are 'double dipping' on casual entitlements?
PLIBERSEK: I couldn't answer that.
JOURNALIST: Sorry just to go back to the asylum seekers issue. So do you support changing the platform to reflect support for the Phelps bill that was in Parliament last week?
PLIBERSEK: Well I'm not going to start going into wording here but Labor had a bill some weeks ago that would make it easier to bring children from Nauru to Australia for medical treatment if their doctors recommended it. We worked with the cross bench, we extended that to adults also and I think something that reflects those principles should be reflected in our platform.
JOURNALIST: How many asylum seekers would be given permanent residency if Labor abolishes Temporary Protection Visas?
PLIBERSEK: Well abolishing Temporary Protection Visas has been Labor policy for many, many years now, and I know the government are desperate to come up with today's scare campaign, but it's pretty hard to come up with a new media story and scare campaign based on something that has been Labor Party policy for many, many years now. I think it's a sign of their desperation that they've gone to this issue now.
All right? Oh just before we finish off. I notice that there's a lot of commentary today about the behaviour of our banks and the fact that it looks like they've managed to extract another $1 billion out of long suffering bank customers. I think it's very important to recall that Scott Morrison voted against the banking Royal Commission 26 times and the idea that we could trust Scott Morrison and his government to deal with these issues in the banking industry, well I think you have to be a real optimist to believe that this government has any desire or any capacity to stand up for ordinary bank customers in the face of this sort of behaviour.