SUBJECTS:  Melbourne attack, Malcolm Turnbull’s horror year, childcare workers, energy policy, airport security, additional PBS listings.  

TANYA PLIBERSEK, ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well thank you for coming out this morning. I wanted to start by saying a few words about the death overnight of an elderly man who was one of the victims of the shocking attack recently in Melbourne. 

This attack was appalling but to now have this death as a result really worsens the tragedy of the attack. Our thoughts are with the man's family and friends and the families and friends of all of those who are injured. This has been obviously a very distressing time and I'm sure that all Australians send out their thoughts, their love, their prayers to the man's family and to all of those affected by the attack.

I want to say a few words about the year that's been, this is a time, this time of year for reflection and as the Prime Minister reflects on 2017 I don't think he is going to have a big smile on his face. 

This is a year where we've seen cuts to schools, to TAFE, to universities. Where we've seen an NBN that was promised to be cheaper, faster, delivered sooner but in fact is slower, second-rate and beset by delays and cost blowouts. We've seen the citizenship fiasco, a marriage equality vote that has been both expensive and divisive. 

We've seen Liberal versus Liberal wars, National versus National wars, Liberal versus National wars and a Government that has been constantly focused on itself- its own jobs rather than the jobs of Australians. 

We've got more than a million people underemployed, we've got 7 million Australians facing a tax increase and 700,000 Australians facing penalty rate cuts. We've got those tax increases for 7 million working Australians, the cuts to health and education, all in order to pay for a tax cut for millionaires and multinationals when we know that many of those millionaires and multinationals already aren't paying their fair share of tax. 

We've got an energy policy that was originally direct action, abandoned, an EIS, abandoned, CET abandoned and now an energy policy that continues to see prices increase, pollution increase, energy reliability down and an investment freeze on new renewables. All of this in the year past and what is the Prime Minister's solution for 2018? A new slogan - we've seen reporting over the last couple of days that all of this is going to be fixed, all of this is going to be turned around with a new slogan. It really beggars belief that the Government would think Australians are silly enough to believe that a new slogan will fix the problems facing us as a nation.

What do we need instead? We need strong job creation, decent pay and conditions so that ordinary working Australians spend a few extra dollars creating jobs for others because they've got a few extra bucks in their pockets that they're confident to spend. 

We need strong investment in healthcare and education, the sort of investment that ensures that Australians are well educated and healthy productive members of our community. We need strong investment in infrastructure, creating the jobs of the future but also improving quality of life for ordinary working people. We need an energy policy that reduces prices and that reduces pollution, that encourages investment in renewables. These are the things that the Prime Minister should deliver in 2018, not a new slogan. 

Any questions? 

JOURNALIST: Can I ask what your initial thoughts are on the education union's submission to increase the wages of teaching qualified day-care workers?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think anybody who's dropped their kids off at childcare knows what a fine job early childhood educators do and of course, both with teachers in schools and teachers in early childhood settings we want to encourage more people to take on the profession, we want the profession to be more highly valued. 

We want people competing to get into education degrees the same way they're competing to get into medical degrees because they can change lives. So we are very supportive of encouraging better recognition of the status of early childhood teaching and of course of all childcare workers. We know that ordinary childcare workers are earning, in most cases, much less than the average wage in Australia. It is one of the most important jobs in our community.

JOURNALIST: This morning the-

JOURNALIST: Do you consider it a gender issue, do you think it's a gender issue?

PLIBERSEK: Oh look, I think you don't have to be too imaginative to work out that jobs in fields like early childcare, nursing, jobs that are traditionally done by women are often undervalued. There is an expectation that caring jobs done by caring people, will be done for less pay and it's just not fair, it's never been fair. So, of course, there is a gender element to this. 

JOURNALIST:  This morning the ABC reported that Australia's most northern airbase was put on heightened alert earlier this month whilst strategic Russian bombers operated out of Indonesia. In your opinion how concerning is it that Russia is pushing so far south?

PLIBERSEK: I think it is very important that any country doing military exercises abides by laws and norms - international laws and norms. And the reporting suggests that that has been the case in this instance, so I'm not going to make comment on the usual operation of our defence forces. 

JOURNALIST: The Government will detail its plan to boost security at airports across the country within the coming weeks. There is some concern that a boost in security at regional centres will increase the cost of flying to those areas, is that a concern for you and how do you think that could be prevented?

PLIBERSEK: I think it is very important to ensure the safety of the flying public and we're very keen to work cooperatively with the Government to make sure that we can do both things - that we can keep people safe and that we can keep regional centres connected to our capital cities and to the rest of Australia to make sure that living in those regional centres is attractive and a great experience. 

JOURNALIST: In terms of the new cancer drugs that are being listed on the PBS, how will this latest one that we've seen - it's multiple myeloma, I think it is. How important is that and do you support that these ground breaking drugs are going to be offering so much hope for people?

PLIBERSEK: Of course I welcome new listings of medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule and I am very pleased that when we were in Government we changed the system so that Government subsidies for older generic medicines that have come off patent were dropped so that we could afford to list new medicines. I am always delighted that Australian patients gain access to new medicines. 

We are one of the best countries in the world for listing new medicines and we're able to do that because of the changes Labor made in Government- paying less for older medicines so that we can list new medicines. I think one of the most exciting things about being Health Minister, when I had the portfolio, was hearing about the fantastic new drugs that companies are working on, discovering, inventing, all the time and to be able to afford to list those new drugs. Making those changes, paying less for generics, was absolutely critical.

JOURNALIST: Just back on the childcare issue as well, there is the argument that it could perhaps raise childcare fees, the counter argument, of course, is that it's only a select number of people who have teaching degrees in day care centres. What would you say to parents who are perhaps concerned that this would see a spike in childcare fees?

PLIBERSEK: Well that's where the Government needs to come to the party. I mean, saying that we can't pay people working in early childhood care and development decently because it makes life for working families harder is just completely unfair. 

We know that there are childcare workers who are still living at home with their parents, they can't afford their own mortgages, they can't afford to put their own kids in childcare because their pay is so low. How is that fair, how can we say that we're going to keep underpaying, mostly women, in areas like early childhood care and development because the Government's not prepared to step up to the plate? It's unsustainable, it's unfair and unsustainable we need all of our teachers, in early childhood and in schools to be decently renumerated, to be regarded highly because these jobs are some of the most important jobs in our society. We need to reflect that in the way we value them.

JOURNALIST: And sorry if I could bounce back to the cancer drug- from your time in that portfolio how life changing is it in terms of cost. I mean I don't think people understand truly the full cost of some of these treatments, how life changing is it for it to be listed on the PBS?

PLIBERSEK: Look, we are so lucky in Australia, we have drugs that cost $10,000 a year, $15,000, $100,000 a year and when those drugs make it onto the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule an ordinary patient can buy them for less than $40 for a prescription or just under $7 if they're on a health care card and of course that's life changing. And you look at countries around the world that don't have our strong Medicare system and you see that patients miss out, they actually miss out on essential treatments and medicines. 

That is why Labor will always fight to defend Medicare, instead of trying to put up the price of medicines as the Government has in previous budgets, we will defend patients access to drugs at an affordable price because these drugs change lives and save lives. 

JOURNALIST: The ACCC has today issued a warning about cutting power bills or more jobs will be lost, what do you think is going wrong with energy at the moment, what needs to be done?

PLIBERSEK: Well jobs are already being lost there's a report in today's paper- in one paper we've got the Energy Minister out boasting about what a great job he's doing. In another newspaper, we've got a report of jobs being lost at Port Botany, ten minutes’ drive from here- workers being laid off on Christmas Day. 


Would you like me to start that answer again?

We've got two newspapers, in one newspaper we've got the Energy Minister boasting about what a great job he's doing and in another we've got a report about jobs being lost at a local business, right down here in Port Botany because of high energy costs. We've got a Government that promised to cut energy costs, we continue to see increases. 

The most important thing they could have done is pull the gas trigger and they squibbed it when it came to pulling the gas trigger. We should be keeping more Australian gas at home in Australia to put downward pressure on energy prices, we should be providing an environment when investors can invest with certainty. Instead, we've had direct action, we've had an EIS proposed then dumped. A Clean Energy Target proposed then dumped, now we've got a National Energy Guarantee that doesn't even start until the middle of this [coming] year. Of course, businesses are horrified by the energy cost increases they're seeing, but on top of the energy cost increases, we're also seeing increasing pollution. 

I mean what kind of Government actually manages to push up prices and push up pollution with the one poor policy.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned the Prime Minister's slogan for 2018 a bit earlier, how do you think this morning fits in with that slogan?

PLIBERSEK: The slogan is not the problem, the slogan has never been the problem- the policies are the problem. An energy policy that pushes up prices, causing jobs to be lost, that's the problem. An energy policy that chokes investment in new renewables causing job losses, that's the problem. Government policies that cut penalty rates, that see wages growth at historic lows, that see tax increases for seven million low and middle-income Australians - giving big business and millionaires a tax cut: that's the problem.

This is not a recipe for economic growth in Australia. A recipe for economic growth looks like decent pay and conditions for ordinary working people so they've got the confidence to go out and spend a few bucks, creating jobs for other Australians. 

A policy that invests in vital infrastructure, creating jobs and improving quality of life. An energy policy that provides certainty for investment and lower prices because of the investment in new renewables - that's the sort of policy that the Prime Minister should be pursuing. New slogans don't make any difference at all, new slogans aren't what we need in Australia, real action is what we need. 

Okay thanks everyone, have a lovely new year.