THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
RADIO 6PR PERTH WITH GARETH PARKER
WEDNESDAY, 27 FEBRUARY 2019
SUBJECTS: George Pell; Labor and the trade union movement; Unity and stability in the Labor Opposition; Labor’s plans for universities and TAFE; Youth unemployment in WA.
GARETH PARKER, PRESENTER: My guest in the studio is the Deputy Leader of the Federal Opposition, Tanya Plibersek. Good morning.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning Gareth.
PARKER: Your reaction first of all to the big news, of the world really, which is the Cardinal Pell verdict.
PLIBERSEK: Well I think it has been quite a shock for many people to see this verdict but I take a number of really significant, positive comforts out of this. The very first is that no Australian is above the law, that everybody is treated equally under the law in Australia. I think that's a very important principal for us. And the second thing I'd say is that a lot of people were sceptical when Labor first announced a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. They thought that this was not a big problem and they didn't really understand why there was a Royal Commission. I think what we've seen over the time of the Royal Commission and prosecutions like this that have come out of it is people's increasing ability to talk about things that they have in many cases kept secret for decades and we've seen a really significant change in our Australian community. I don't think there will ever be a child again who goes to their parents or goes to an adult that they trust and says this has been happening to me and that adult says "That's impossible, I don't believe you". We've really, I hope, changed the way that we protect children.
PARKER: Cardinal Pell is appealing, as he is entitled to. Do you believe the verdict is reliable?
PLIBERSEK: I trust our Australian legal system I think we have to, of course, take the verdict seriously. He is absolutely entitled to appeal and if the verdict changes on appeal, then I will trust that too. I think there is a very important principle here though. We have invested a great deal of time and energy to create a legal system that we can trust. We shouldn't turn our backs on it when get results that are uncomfortable or inconvenient for us.
PARKER: OK, whichever way that ends up. Just a little bit of breaking news about this, the Prime Minister's Office says that the Prime Minister Scott Morrison will consider stripping Cardinal Pell of his Companion of the Order of Australia, if he loses that appeal, so we will wait and see what happens with that obviously.
PLIBERSEK: I think the world has been watching this because it is such a, he is such a senior person in the Catholic Church and I am, and it is has been a terrible thing to understand how many children were hurt over so many years in so many institutions, not just the Catholic Church, but this does send a message to the world to, that in Australia no one is above the law.
PARKER: This case is confined to the specifics of these charges though isn't it, and I don't know, there is a sense that perhaps that there is a reckoning for the church, and I think that that is true. We have seen lots of evidence of that, but I think it is important to make the point that Cardinal Pell is charged with the crimes that he is charged with, and no others. Do you agree with that?
PLIBERSEK: Do you mean that this is not a broader evaluation on the role of the Catholic Church, is that what you are saying?
PARKER: No, not really. There is a lot of evidence out there about the culture of cover up that has been exposed.
PLIBERSEK: Oh look and not just in the Catholic Church, but in so many institutions, and including very recently. I mean one of the shocks for people is they might have thought this happened in the fifties, or the even the sixties, but we have heard evidence of institutions that were covering up child sexual abuse as late as the nineties, or even more recently in some cases. The scale of this, the recency of it, I think, has been truly eye opening for the Australian community, and I hope the result of that is that we better protect children.
PARKER: You are here to talk about a range of educational matters in your portfolio, but you were also here yesterday to help open the CFMEU conference. Kevin Rudd says the CFMEU is a blight on the Labor Party. He banned Kevin Reynolds the former state secretary here from being a member of the Labor Party. Why are they back in Labor's good graces?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think there are always individuals who come into conflict with Labor Party leaders, that is not really the point of the conference yesterday. There were hundreds of delegates from all over Australia and they are out on worksites everyday trying to make sure that people go home safe from dangerous workplaces, trying to make sure that they get decent pay and conditions for a hard day's work.
PARKER: Christy Cain can't even get a meeting with the Premier of WA. He is banned.
PLIBERSEK: Well, I'm not going to try and intervene in the relationship between Christy Cain and the Premier, I am sure they are big enough to sort that out for themselves. But I think it's important to recognise the importance of the union movement in Australia. We wouldn't have the eight hour day, we wouldn't have sick leave or holiday pay, we wouldn't have seen the big pay increases for the social and community sector workers who work in refuges and drug and alcohol counselling services without the work of their union. It's the union movement that made sure ordinary workers got superannuation, not just people on higher incomes, the eight hour day, minimum wage, all these things that we take for granted now happened because workers organised together to make them happen.
PARKER: What about the tactics of the MUA and the CFMEU who have a list as long as your arm of criminal issues on building sites, of threats, of intimidation, proudly militant, self-identify as militant. You would endorse that stuff?
PLIBERSEK: No. I never support the use of violence, threat or intimidation. I absolutely never support or endorse or tolerate or condone in any way the use of threat or intimidation. But we do have –
PARKER: Because there's a sticker going around at the moment with the CFMEU, little cartoon and a shotgun on it.
PLIBERSEK: Someone mentioned it to me yesterday, I haven't seen it. I never condone the use, the threat, or any hint of violence, but we do also have to address the issue of very low wages growth at the moment. Wages growth is flatlining, the cost of everything is going up, we've got the highest underemployment on record, we've got living standards actually going backwards because wages are flatlining, but the cost of living continues to go up -
PARKER: But CFMEU members are all on six figures, aren't they? $150,000 plus?
PLIBERSEK: What I'm saying is it's bad for individuals when their wages flatline. It's also bad for the Australian economy, because if people aren't confident that they've got a dollar in their pocket, they don't buy a cup of coffee on the way to work, they don't take the kids out for pizza on a Friday night, so there is still a very important role for the union movement. I don't support any sort of threatening or intimidating behaviour at all but that should not lead us to...you've got Christopher Skase and Alan Bond. Do we say the whole business community, we shouldn't associate with the business community? That's ridiculous to generalise on the basis of the behaviour of a few people.
PARKER: But the CFMEU have, for a long time, they've been proudly militant. I mean they self-identify as this and so, you say you don't support those tactics but you've spoken at the opening of their conference.
PLIBERSEK: I don't support any tactics that use threat or violence or intimidation but I also think that it is very important for us to recognise the role of the union movement. I work with the teachers unions all the time now. What have they been campaigning on? They've been campaigning on extra funding for students with a disability. Of course I'm happy to work with them on that. They've been campaigning for higher standards for entry into teacher education courses at university. That's the reason we've got policies in this area.
PARKER: OK I don't want to get bogged down on this, I want to move onto other issues but last question. You don't believe that by opening their conference you're endorsing their tactics?
PLIBERSEK: No I don't. I speak at many, many conferences all the time and I disagree with plenty of the things that other people say at those conferences.
PARKER: I'll just ask you to pop those headphones on for a moment. Michael, good morning.
MICHAEL, CALLER: Morning, how are you going?
CALLER: Hi Tanya, how are you?
PLIBERSEK: I'm very well Michael, how are you?
CALLER: Good, I want to be very quick. I've always voted Liberal. If I could vote you, Tanya, as the Prime Minister, I would vote for Labor. That simple because you make the most sense, you're very level headed and you always have been. It's just a shame that you can't be the Leader of the Opposition.
PARKER: Jeez, Michael.
PLIBERSEK: Now, this is actually not my Dad or brother OK. Thank you, Michael, that's very sweet but, Michael, you know, the most important thing for us is our unity and discipline and what matters to me and what matters to my Labor colleagues is seeing a Labor Government that can implement policies for the people that we care about - better schools, better hospitals, better aged pension, better aged care, investment in the roads, ports, rail - the things that make us a more productive economy, that's what counts.
PARKER: You are here to talk about education, you're also making a speech tomorrow in Canberra about education and it's focused on a review that you've already announced about the education system. One of the things that listeners have been telling me for two years is that the TAFE system's not working.
PLIBERSEK: You're right, and they're right. It's true and it's not just in Western Australia. We've got 140,000 fewer apprentices today than when Labor left office - apprentices and trainees. And the state governments and federal government have been kind of pushing back and forward on who's responsible for the real crisis we've seen in vocational education. We've already said we'd commit, immediately, $100 million to upgrading TAFE facilities - that's an important first step; but we really need to tackle, in a much more substantial way, how we have proper funding for TAFE, how it becomes a system that is as good as, equal to, considered equal to, our university system. I don't want parents saying to kids "Look if you're not clever enough to go to university, don't worry, you can go to TAFE." I want them saying to kids "You can get a great education if you go to university, you can get a great education at TAFE, you choose what suits you, your personality, your desires for a job."
PARKER: Because we've got to do something about this youth unemployment problem.
PARKER: In this state it's 18 per cent, it's dreadful. 18 per cent. Those kids need a future.
PLIBERSEK: And Gareth, I know you've talked about this before but what happens is when there's a boom in the west, you import workers from interstate or overseas - short term.
PLIBERSEK: The downturn comes along and we stop investing in training, those workers go home - but we're not training people up for the next boom. And I've seen that cycle over...
PARKER: It doesn't make any sense.
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, it really doesn't make any sense. We need to keep our training system strong, we need to work with employers to do that. I think it's very important that TAFE has a very close relationship with employers in their local area so that they can be training people for the jobs that exist in that local area.
PARKER: I know you've got to get to your next event, I appreciate you've made some time for us this morning.
PLIBERSEK: It's always a pleasure.
PARKER: Tanya Plibersek, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.