SUBJECTS: Parliament resumes; NEG; Education; Liberals’ tax cuts for big business; Emma Husar; Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thank you very much for coming out this afternoon. Of course, Parliament resumes tomorrow, and my Labor colleagues and I are excited to get back to Canberra, excited to be working on the policies that will make life better for ordinary Australians: a job with decent pay and conditions, strong health and education systems, an energy solution that does something about prices but also protects our precious environment. These are the issues that'll be concerning Labor next week, and always. 
In contrast, we've got a government that continues to be focused on itself. We've got the National Energy Guarantee being debated this week in Coalition party rooms. We don't know, who knows what the result of that debate will be. Predictably, there will be more uncertainty. You've got a former Prime Minister and a former Deputy Prime Minister openly saying that they're prepared to cross the floor against their own party's policies. It's chaos. But the worst thing about this chaos is that it continues to undermine investment in new energy production and it continues to undermine investment in renewables. 
In the education area, of course, my own portfolio, we see debacle after debacle from the federal Education Minister. We've got a federal Education Minister who's responsible for making parents pay more for childcare, for children missing out on preschool, cuts to school funding, cuts to TAFE, cuts to universities. Just this week, we’ve seen the NAPLAN online debacle and today, the federal Education Minister has written to the states and said what are you going to do to help me do my job. The federal Education Minister is responsible for universities and he's written to state governments saying what are states going to do to ensure that universities are taking graduates with higher marks, higher ATARs, into teaching degrees. 
Look, I've been saying since I took on this portfolio that we want the teaching profession to be as sought after a job as being a doctor. We want young people competing to get into teaching degrees the way they complete to get into medical degrees. Parents want to know that their children are being taught by the best and brightest. We've said that we believe that people going into teaching degrees should come from the top 30 per cent of ATAR marks. Instead of proposing a solution, Simon Birmingham is saying not my problem, what are you going to do, to the states. Teaching has always been a highly respected profession. We want to maintain and protect the status of teaching and the trust in teaching, and that means making sure that people who are taking on teaching degrees are amongst our best and brightest. Instead of squibbing it, instead of shoving responsibility onto the states, perhaps the federal Education Minister should do something about it. 
JOURNALIST: How concerned are you with the revelations that students with quite low scores are being accepted into universities?
PLIBERSEK: I'm concerned about that, and I've made those concerns clear to the Deans of Education in the university faculties. Simon Birmingham is the Minister that's responsible though. I'm concerned that the Minister who's responsible seems to be looking elsewhere for someone else to solve this problem. Simon Birmingham is the federal Education Minister, he has responsibility for universities - what is he doing?
JOURNALIST: Would the Gonski quality assurance process, though, help tackle some of those problems?
PLIBERSEK: Look I think we don’t need to overly complicate this. We need to be taking people into teaching degrees who are going to be good teachers. That means they are academically qualified, it means they've got the personality, not just the intellect but the passion for teaching that makes a good teacher. This should be a first choice for students, it shouldn't be a fall-back. And when you are seeing those very low marks for some of these courses, you have to think this is a fall-back option for some people. Now, Simon Birmingham is the federal Education Minister, he's got responsibility for universities - what is he doing?
JOURNALIST: You talk about the resumption of Parliament this week. The Coalition party room is going to consider and probably endorse the energy guarantee policy on Tuesday. If it does and with no significant changes, will Labor fall in behind the policy?
PLIBERSEK: Well we have grave concerns about this policy. We've been prepared to work with the Government all the way through, though the Emissions Intensity Scheme, the Clean Energy Target, we've even said we're prepared to talk with the Government about the National Energy Guarantee. But the emissions reduction targets in this National Energy Guarantee proposal are so low that Australia will not be doing its bit to reduce the threat of climate change. We are very concerned by the lack of ambition in the National Energy Guarantee and we are very concerned that this lack of ambition will see no new investment in renewables over the next decade. A plan that doesn’t give the certainty needed to invest in more renewable energy production is something that we would be very concerned about. Now, there is also - 
JOURNALIST: So you formally oppose it?
PLIBERSEK: Well let’s see what comes out of the Coalition party room, because of course, one of the other concerns we have is the Prime Minister and the Environment Minister say one thing, they describe their policy in one way, but we've got a former Prime Minister and a former Deputy Prime Minister talking about crossing the floor against this policy. Who knows what kind of Frankenstein's monster will be delivered by the Government later this week. 
JOURNALIST: Okay, but in terms of Labor, what will you do? Will you formally oppose it, given the problems that you've identified?
PLIBERSEK: We'll make a decision when we've seen the final policy. We need to see what comes out of the Coalition party room. The idea that the Coalition party room will fall meekly behind the Prime Minister and the Environment Minister's proposal; I think there are people who are sceptical about that notion. So let's see what comes out of the Coalition party room, and then we'll make a formal response based on that.
JOURNALIST: Now the Government's expected to put its company tax package back to the Senate, where defeat seems inevitable. It's widely expected the Coalition will then radically alter the policy. Where would that leave Labor's tax cuts for the big end of town attack?
PLIBERSEK: We're not concerned about the political strategy coming out of any changes the Government might make. What we're concerned to see is that businesses at the top end don't get the billions of dollars in tax cuts that ought to be spent on our hospitals and schools. Our priority is making sure that scarce public money goes to where it does the most good. That means proper investment in our preschools, childcare, schools, TAFE, universities, healthcare, hospitals, aged care, all of the things that make life better for ordinary Australians. This is a government that wants to give a $17 billion tax cut to the big banks at the same time it's cutting $17 billion from our schools. So if there are changes to the tax policy, we'll be first of all surprised, because it is the only economic policy of this government, the one-point economic plan that Malcolm Turnbull has for the nation. We'll be a little surprised, but we'll be pleased if the investment that the Government has cut from important public services is restored at the same time. 
JOURNALIST: Have you been a bit too reliant though on that policy on the last couple of years, on that attack?
PLIBERSEK: No. Not at all. Our plan for the nation: proper investment in our schools, our hospitals, creating jobs with good pay and conditions that pay people a living wage so they can make ends meet. These are the things that matter to Australians. They'll be our focus as they've always been. 
JOURNALIST: Now Emma Husar has been on leave, will she be in Canberra this week, do you know?
PLIBERSEK: I'm not expecting Emma this week, I think she's still on leave. I don't doubt that she'll be back shortly.
JOURNALIST: Having got her to declare she'll walk away at the next election, are you certain her detractors will stop at that?
PLIBERSEK: Well I hope so. I mean, this has been a horrific experience for Emma and for her family, particularly for her children who've been harassed at school and online. I certainly hope that people understand that many of the claims that were aired in public about Emma's behaviour have been disproven by the investigation undertaken by Mr Whelan. So I certainly hope that there's an end to this now. People have really gone through the ins and outs of this sufficiently now I think.
JOURNALIST: I've just got two questions. One, I was hoping to get your thoughts on the Great Barrier Reef Foundation grant. What questions does the Government need to answer?
PLIBERSEK: It is extraordinary that the Government has handed over almost half a billion dollars of taxpayers' money to an organisation that didn't even ask for it and doesn't really know what to do with it just yet. It's an extraordinary lack of process that really does make you question how this Government makes decisions. And to have a Minister defending it this morning saying that there's nothing unusual in this process makes me even more concerned. If this is not unusual for this Government, then they have a profound dysfunction at the centre of their decision-making. 
JOURNALIST: The other one was, to get back to Parliament getting back tomorrow, how do you think things are looking for Bill Shorten now compared to how they were before the winter break?
PLIBERSEK: I think the fact that we have retained four out of four of the seats we held in our by-elections, I think the fact that we have continued to focus on the issues that matter around people’s kitchen tables, their take-home pay, the conditions that they're working under, a great school system for their kids to go to, health care that they can rely on when they need it, addressing energy bills and pollution from our energy system - I mean, all of these things mean we've got the best policies, we've got the best people, we are focused on what Australia needs and what would make life better for ordinary Australians. 
JOURNALIST: What is the feeling within the Labor Party following those by-elections?
PLIBERSEK: We're delighted to be welcoming our colleagues back to Canberra and to be joined by Patrick Gorman from Western Australia. We're very pleased that Susan and Justine and Josh have been re-elected, they're great people, very strong representatives of their local community, so we're delighted to have them back. And we're delighted that we've managed to focus on the issues that matter. We keep talking about what matters - health, education, jobs.