SUBJECT: Schools’ funding; Gender inequality; Nick Xenophon.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thank you very much for coming out this afternoon. I wanted to make a couple of comments about two stories that I've noticed in the media today. The first one, of course, are reports from Victoria that confirm what Labor has been saying all along, showing that some elite private schools will receive millions of dollars of extra funding under the Government's new funding model, while public schools across the country will lose billions. Again we see the story that schools that take the majority of their students from high income earning families, who have more advantages already at their disposal, will actually receive millions of dollars extra in coming years, while public schools across the country will lose billions. We know that 85 per cent of public schools across Australia will never reach a fair funding level under this Government's proposals. It's just not fair - further confirmation today. 

The second issue that I wanted to briefly comment on today is the fact that we've seen an OECD report that confirms what we already knew - that the gender pay gap in Australia is stubbornly high. Since 2013, Australia has fallen from 24th in the global rankings of gender equality to 46th in the global rankings of gender equality. We are going backwards in this country. And it is extraordinary, at a time when we are going backwards on gender issues, that we actually have a Prime Minister that - I don't know who he's taking his advice from - he was on the radio saying that he had the highest number of women in Cabinet of any government in Australian history. Well, I mean it's not that long ago that I was part of a Cabinet that actually had more women in it than the Cabinet that Malcolm Turnbull is part of. Perhaps the reason that the Prime Minister is getting such bad advice on gender equality issues is because you've got the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Julie Bishop, who goes out of her way to say that there is no structural inequality, she's not a feminist, it's all about individual merit. I saw Julie Bishop commenting at a conference in the last couple of days about how lonely it was, being the only woman in the Abbott Cabinet. Well perhaps people in positions of authority, who have the opportunity that she has, as Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, to call out the inequality in the Liberal Party, should actually do that. And there is a reason that Labor has about 45 per cent of its MPs and Senators being women, and the Liberals are only just over 20 per cent. There's a reason for that. There are actual, structural inequalities in political parties that have to be addressed directly, and Julie Bishop with her authority, and Malcolm Turnbull with his, ought to do something about it. 

Any questions?

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] wanted to hear something about Nick Xenophon. 

PLIBERSEK: Well of course it's no surprise that Nick Xenophon will make whatever decision he thinks is in his best interests. I'm not sure whether the fact that he is moving to, or seeking to move to a state political arena is anything to do with the uncertain status of his citizenship. But at the end of the day, I think South Australians will remember this is the same Nick Xenophon who refused to stand up for properly funding South Australian public schools. He is the same Nick Xenophon who's taken the axe to penalty rates for South Australian workers. People know Nick Xenophon, and the more they see of him the more they know he'll always do what's in the best interests of Nick Xenophon.

JOURNALIST: Just last thing on the gender gap as well, do you think- you sort of touched on it with it being about or should be about merit or certain things. Do you think that merit shouldn't come into it? Or do you think it's very important to have, you know, 20 per cent of women and then, you know, 20 per Asians or anything like that? Is that the case?

PLIBERSEK: I think the old chestnut about it should be all about merit is a pretty funny one. Because you look across the Australian community, we know that women have half the smarts, half the hard work, half the capacity, half the brains, half the application - or at least half - the reason that women aren't represented in the same numbers is because of exactly the sort of sexism that Julie Bishop was describing - sitting around the Abbott Cabinet table where she would come up with an idea, she'd present the idea, the blokes around the table would ignore her, then one of the blokes would have the same idea and they'd all say "great thinking, good on you." I mean, you have to understand that although merit is equally spread across the Australian population, opportunity is not yet equally spread across the whole of the Australian population. Our Parliaments are better, stronger, make better decisions that are good for more people if we have a representation in our Parliaments that better reflect the whole of the Australian community.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Nick Xenophon's only doing this to save his political career while waiting on the outcome of the High Court decision? 

PLIBERSEK: Look I can't speculate about Nick Xenophon's reasons for jumping from Federal to State Parliament. What I'd say is there will be reasons that are in the best interests of Nick Xenophon. He's not thinking about the people of South Australia, he's putting number one first. 

Thanks everyone.