FRIDAY, 3 MAY 2019

SUBJECTS: Funding for local schools; Luke Creasey; Racist remarks by former Liberal Candidate for Lyons; Climate change; Adani; Peter Dutton.

ALI FRANCE, CANDIDATE FOR DICKSON: Well good. Is it good afternoon yet, or is it still good morning?

JOURNALIST: No it's good afternoon.

FRANCE:  Good afternoon everybody. It's really great to be here at Lawnton State School with Labor's Deputy Leader and Shadow Minister for Education, Tanya Plibersek, Queensland's Minister for Education Grace Grace, the State Member for Kurwongbah Shane King and also the head of the P&C here, Bobbi-Jo. This beautiful little school community has recently been running a fantastic campaign to encourage their kids to dream big and I know that the school community here has been dreaming big for some time about more funding and better facilities for their growing school. This region is one of the fastest growing areas in Queensland and as a result this school, their student population has more than doubled in the last six years. So they're bursting at the seams. The good news is that they will be $480,000 better off under a Labor government. And we're here today to make an announcement that will also help them with their facilities here for their growing school. So I'm now going to hand over to Tanya to talk a bit more about that.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thanks Ali. Look, it's been lovely to meet with the students and the staff and the P&C of the school today and to be here with my colleague Grace Grace, the Queensland Minister. This is a gorgeous school and it's gone through an extreme period of growth. A few years ago it had just over 200 students; it's now around 600. And of course the facilities are struggling to keep up with that. On top of the $480,000 extra that this school would get under Labor's better needs based funding across the board, this school will be $480,000 better off. The electorate of Dickson would be $16 million better off in the first three years of a Federal Labor Government. The state of Queensland would be close to $650 million better off over the first three years of the Federal Labor Government. But with this school, we're also proposing that a Federal Labor Government, if elected, would contribute $2.5 million to the cost of building a new school hall. We met with the children this morning who have written to the Minister, Grace Grace. They've written to their state MP. They've written to Ali saying that they need a place where they can all come together. At the moment they're doing school assemblies in shifts. They're doing the younger kids one week and the older kids the following week. It's just a shame not to be able to have the whole school community together in one place and so the plan is for a fantastic multi-purpose centre. We've just seen the location, just outside the library here, that would allow school assemblies, that would allow indoor sports, that would allow the before and after school care kids to use it and the broader community to use it as well.

We are able to do this because we're not wasting money on tax loopholes for the top end of town. Labor is able to invest in schools and hospitals, in pensioner dental care, in free childcare for thousands of families, in better cancer care packages, in preschool for three and four year olds, in better TAFE and university funding. We are able to do all of this because we're not wasting money and protecting tax loopholes for multi-millionaires and multi-national companies. In contrast, of course, Scott Morrison can't invest in projects like this because his priority is the top end of town. He also can't campaign on projects like this because he's cut funding to schools and he's cut funding to hospitals. He's got a team behind him that are still fighting each other about jobs for themselves. Again today we hear that there's an attack on the Deputy Prime Minister by other members of the National Party, saying that Barnaby Joyce is going to be back in the top job after the next election. We've seen already from Scott Morrison a very negative campaign. We've seen a lot of criticisms of Labor policies, lies and scare campaigns about Labor policies. Scott Morrison has gone negative because he's got nothing. He can't campaign on his record because it's a record of cuts and chaos and he can't campaign on his plans for the future because his plan for the future is more of the same. He's got no plan to bring down power prices and bring down pollution. The Coalition's had 13 different energy policies and not one of them has stuck. Scott Morrison's got no plan to deal with cost of living issues: the cost of everything is going up and wages aren't keeping up. We've got the lowest wages growth in history, since records are kept, and Scott Morrison's got no plan to lift wages. And all he's got is these crazy deals that he's doing with Clive Palmer and One Nation to cling desperately to power.

So I'm going to ask Grace Grace, the State Education Minister, to say a few words about this school and this project now. Thanks.

GRACE GRACE, STATE MINISTER FOR EDUCATION QUEENSLAND: Can I say that I really welcome Tanya here today with Ali and Shane, the local member for Kurwongbah, and Bobbi-Jo. We know that when it comes to education, any extra funding will be well spent, making sure that we deliver world-class education to all children throughout Queensland and I look forward to the additional $650 million over the first three years that I can spend as state Education Minister together with Tanya Plibersek, here right in Queensland. But we also need the facilities, the world class facilities for the future and I really welcome the $2.5 million investment in a new hall at the site just outside, and the State Government looks forward to working with Tanya Plibersek to deliver this fantastic facility. We will match that amount of money. We will make sure that we will deliver a state of the art hall for these children. They did a fantastic job writing to me and I wrote back to them all you'll be happy to know and Shane has also been a very strong advocate as well as a school community for the facility and I look forward to delivering this fine piece of infrastructure this wonderful hall together with Tanya Plibersek.

PLIBERSEK: Bobbi-Jo, do you want to say a few words?

BOBBI-JO IVES, P&C PRESIDENT: I would just like to say that the Lawnton P&C would love a new hall. It would be great for our community. It would help not only our students but our families as well and here at Lawnton we do value the communication between and the connection between community, family and students. That's the best thing to help our students go to that next level, and of course dream big. Thank you.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Luke Creasey's comments about lesbians, Catholics on social media - how can the Labor Party stand by?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I've only just seen the reports that have come out about more recent comments. So we do have to review those comments. I actually haven't seen the comments, so the Labor Party has to review the comments and we will have more to say about that later.

JOURNALIST: The comments that we have seen though, this is a candidate who has joked about sexual assault. As the most senior woman in the Labor party, are you comfortable with him remaining your candidate in Melbourne?

PLIBERSEK: Well, those comments were absolutely completely inappropriate and it was quite right that he apologised for those comments. They, I mean, they were made many years ago when he was in his early 20s, but...

JOURNALIST: But does that excuse those comments?

PLIBERSEK: No, no, no there is no excuse ever for joking about rape. But, he has very, very clearly apologised for those comments and they were made many years ago when he was a much younger man. I don't think many people would be happy to have their whole life judged on the basis of social media comments they made in their very early, very early twenties. But, as I say, there have been additional comments that have just come to light. I haven't seen the content of those yet, so I have to review those and the Labor Party has to have a closer look at that.

JOURNALIST: But surely 22 is old enough to recognise that rape jokes aren't appropriate?

PLIBERSEK: No, they are completely inappropriate. They are always - it doesn't matter what age you are. I would hope that my 14 year old son would know that they're inappropriate. So, all I can say is that I haven't seen the more recent ones. He apologised for the initial ones very sincerely, and said very clearly that he doesn't hold those views and that they were wrong too - that he was wrong to share that content. It was many years ago.

JOURNALIST: Does he deserve a second chance or is it too soon to be able to say that?

PLIBERSEK: I honestly haven't - I haven't seen the more recent comments. We really do have to look at those comments before I can answer that question.

JOURNALIST: Yesterday, you were at pains to call out racist comments, as you described them, by Jessica Whelan.


JOURNALIST: Isn't it the fact that these are sexist comments, pure and simple, and that if we draw a line under racist posts, we should do the same with sexism?

PLIBERSEK:  I agree that neither racism, nor sexism, are acceptable from candidates. I'd say the difference with the candidate for Lyons was that she was lying about having made the posts and she plainly also lied about referring them to the police, and Scott Morrison was backing her in, in that obfuscation. I think that is very serious and it's quite appropriate that she's stood aside.

JOURNALIST: Are you comfortable or happy with-

PLIBERSEK: Also I would actually also add that her racist rants were very recent and the fact that she had those recent comments and lied about them, was very serious - a very serious issue.

JOURNALIST: Are you happy with the level of vetting that's been done here? Because you've got many Labor members who would put up their hand to run for Parliament. You've got lots of good candidates who might not have been chosen and yet, you've got somebody here who was chosen and has got this problem. So are you happy with the vetting?

PLIBERSEK: It's very disappointing and I honestly can't comment any further until I've seen the comments that he's made more recently.

JOURNALIST: It's not going to go away. I mean should you just do the right thing, even if it's not necessary in your eyes, but should he resign as the candidate for Melbourne?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I can't answer that until I'm aware of the content of the comments. But it is a very serious thing. I think the initial comments were completely inappropriate. He was right to apologise for those. We need to examine what has come to light more recently and I'm sure we will be able to make further comments later in the day.

JOURNALIST: Does something need to change in the vetting process to look at people's social media history?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I don't think it's just a matter of a vetting process, isn't it? People shouldn't be sharing offensive content online. It doesn't matter if you are going to be a candidate for public office or never be a candidate for public office. People shouldn't share sexist, racist rubbish online or in any forum. They shouldn't be sharing sexist, racist rubbish.

JOURNALIST: And, if they do, should they be made to be held account for that, regardless of how long ago it was?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think we need to - I honestly cannot answer without knowing the content of the comments.

JOURNALIST: Would you prefer that he stood down?

PLIBERSEK: I'm not going to start speculating.

JOURNALIST: Just a change of subject to climate change. Ali, there's a demonstration outside your office or it was there 20 minutes ago, with people with 'Stop Adani' signs and arguing for stronger action on climate change. What's your position on Adani? I think those people would like to know in terms of whether you believe it should go ahead or should not go ahead.

PLIBERSEK: Do you mind, I will absolutely hand over to Ali in a minute, but I'd like to make a few general comments about Federal Labor's position on this. We have consistently, from the very beginning, said that this project has to stack up environmentally, as well as economically for it to go ahead. We've also consistently said that we understand that there is a need for jobs in central and north Queensland, but that we shouldn't be relying on this one project to solve all of the employment needs of Central and North Queensland. That's why we have set aside hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure funding to invest in roads, rail, port, airports, water projects - because those big projects, of course, have thousands of jobs during their construction phase. But they also make it easier to grow our tourism industry, to grow our agriculture industry, particularly agriculture that's focused on export. We need to make sure that we have strong and diverse economies in central and northern Queensland, and that's why it is so very disappointing that the government announced a Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund years ago - was it 5 years ago now? - and so little, I mean, essentially nothing has come of it. There has been no serious support for jobs in central and northern Queensland from the Liberals or from the Nationals. They're very good at complaining. They're very good at telling lies about Labor's policies and running scare campaigns. What they're not good at are delivering jobs for Queenslanders and delivering pay rises for people who have jobs. Ali, do you want to add a little but about the local stuff?

FRANCE:  I've been door knocking and talking to people for well over 12 months now. It is really clear that people want cleaner, cheaper energy. They want their electricity bills reduced, but they also want a reduction in pollution. So, we have a plan to address all of these things. I'm really proud of Labor's plan to address - delivering cleaner, cheaper energy and also reducing pollution.

JOURNALIST: What do you say to people in the local area, because I know they're out there on the street now, who would like a Labor government to just stop the Adani project going ahead? Could a Labor government stop it if you were elected? Would you argue in Federal parliament to stop it?

FRANCE: Well, I just back up what Tanya has said all along and what we've said all along, which is that we won't put one cent of taxpayers money into the project. It needs to stand up environmentally and financially and we will follow the letter of the law and that's what we've said continuously.

JOURNALIST: And is this position - a question for both of you - is this because you're worried that there'd be legal challenges to a Labor government if it declared a hard-and-fast position now on that coal mine?

PLIBERSEK: We've said consistently that we need to follow the law and we're not going to be swayed by people on either side of this argument saying that we should ignore the law. We can't be swayed by opponents of the mine to say we should ignore the law when it suits us or by proponents saying we should ignore the law when it suits us. We need to behave in a consistent, predictable way. And what I would say is that this project has missed deadline after deadline and their claims of employment numbers have been, I think, judged by most people to be wildly optimistic. So we can't rely on one project to answer all of the employment needs of central and northern Queensland, and I'd add to what Ali said - climate change is a very serious issue in this election. There is only one Party that has a serious plan to address climate change. The Liberals - the LNP - have had 13 different energy policies. Not one of them has stuck. They are disastrously divided when it comes to energy policy and climate change policy in this country. Queensland feels this more than many places. The impact of drought, natural disasters is felt acutely by Queenslanders. Queenslanders are concerned to protect the fantastic tourism opportunities driven by the Great Barrier Reef. It is important that we act to reduce our contribution to climate change and it's absolutely vital that we get power prices and pollution down.

JOURNALIST: Just wanted to ask a local issue, just to Ali's candidature. She's been very busy. I just wanted to get your perspective-

PLIBERSEK: A local issue? Oh OK. Yes. Excellent.

JOURNALIST: - if I can. I know that, oh how to put it politely, there's not a lot of love lost between you and Peter Dutton-

PLIBERSEK: We're in a school and I'm very happy to give Ali an A+ or if I could give her an A+++ I would do that. She's a phenomenally hard-working candidate. She has door knocked thousands of homes. She's made thousands of phone calls and spoken directly with thousands of voters. She's explained her background, her beliefs, her values and she's talked about the Labor policies that matter to them - better schools and hospitals, pensioner dental, free childcare, jobs with decent pay and conditions, and she's getting a very good response everywhere I go with her when I campaign with her. She's also been really successful in winning a number of investments for the local community that she hopes to represent. So if Labor is elected we are able to deliver here, on the ground, health facilities, training facilities, school upgrades and so on. I have to say her background before becoming a candidate I think is very impressive to people, so her media and communications background, the fact that she worked in palliative care before, the fact that she is a champion athlete - all of that, I think, makes her uniquely well placed to represent this community and the fact that she has lived experience of living with a disability, I think gives her a great insight into the lives of many, many Australians as well.

JOURNALIST: Can I just quickly follow up on that with Ali?

PLIBERSEK: With Ali? Go ahead.

JOURNALIST: What do you think your chances are?

FRANCE: I think it's going to be really close here in Dickson. It's a really hard slog. I'm up against somebody who's been in the seat for 18 years. He's a senior Minister. I think he'll spend over a million dollars in this electorate on this election campaign. But what we've got going for us is a fantastic local team, ground team. It's the biggest grassroots campaign that we have ever conducted in this seat.

JOURNALIST: How do you measure that? Is there a number of people?

FRANCE: Numbers of people? We've had got a couple of hundred volunteers that are out every single day door knocking and making calls and I'm attending community events constantly. I was at the Pine Rivers Men's Shed this morning. But also we're just, we've been on the ground for more than 12 months, more than 12 months talking to people about our positive plan for the future. So yes, I think it will be close in Dickson but we've put in a lot of hard work here and we've got some great local commitments that I think people will be really pleased with if I'm fortunate enough to be elected.

JOURNALIST: What is Peter Dutton's biggest weakness?

PLIBERSEK: Can I answer that?


PLIBERSEK: Well, how long have we got?

FRANCE: I think that he, the fact that he blew up the government is something that people are still very conscious of. I think though as well, when I'm going around door knocking people, people say that they want an end to the chaos and the cuts that are tied to this Government. But also that they feel neglected, that their local issues feel, that they feel neglected and that he's probably been a bit more focused on furthering his own career rather than furthering the issues that people really are concerned about here on the ground.

PLIBERSEK: Well I'd add to what Ali said about Peter Dutton. He's not a victim of the chaos. He's a creator of the chaos. He still has not explained why Malcolm Turnbull is no longer the Prime Minister. People do hold it against him and having caused all this chaos, he can't even count to, what was it, the 43 votes he needed? So the country has gone through this upheaval all for Peter Dutton's own vanity, and he didn't even have the numbers to achieve his goal. He is selfish and hopeless. When he was the Health Minister he was voted by doctors to be the worst Health Minister in living memory. He is aggressive. He is, I think it's fair to say, he is a bully in Parliament. He is a uniquely unpleasant person and all of this has always been about him, about his vanity, about his desire for a promotion. I find it very difficult to think of anything that he has done in this local community that you could genuinely say is selfless or for the local community. I think he is a uniquely unpleasant person and most people who meet him probably share that view.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask just one follow up just to that earlier question? Kevin 07, the big sweep in Queensland, it didn't really have an impact in Dickson. He hung on by a couple of hundred votes. Last year the swing was on again. He just hung on. How do you rate his chances this time around?

PLIBERSEK: Well as Ali has said it's going to be a very close contest. I don't think it  would be easy to match the sort of spending that he's putting into this seat. He is one of the largest spending lower house MPs, I'd imagine, and that does make it tough. But I'm so confident that we have the better candidate. I'm so confident that we have the better policies. I'm also hopeful that people will see that, as an architect of the chaos that the Liberals have experienced in recent years, he should not be rewarded. He should not, he's the guy who tried to leave his seat for a safer seat and was unsuccessful. He tried to, well, he got rid of the Prime Minister and tried to replace him and was unsuccessful. It's always been about his ambition for himself, not his ambition for the Australian people. Not his ambition for the kids who go to this school, but his ambition for himself that should not be rewarded.
Thank you.