THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
SHADOW MINISTER FOR WOMEN
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
ABC RADIO PERTH DRIVE WITH GEOFF HUTCHISON
TUESDAY, 26 FEBRUARY 2019
SUBJECTS: Trade union movement; School funding; initial teacher education.
GEOFF HUTCHISON, PRESENTER: So the Deputy Labor Leader Tanya Plibersek is in town, so too the ACTU boss Sally McManus, here for this big western conference meeting of this now super union and this is how the event was being sold to its members: "We're at the tipping point here in Western Australia. The federal government and the big multinationals whose arse they kiss have thrown everything to erode in the wages and conditions of workers here. They've used the mining downturn to justify cuts to wages and conditions across our whole industry but the tide is turning, workers in all sections are standing up, money is coming back into the mining and energy sectors and if we stand up and fight together we have a chance right now to win back fairness in our wages and safe working conditions and dignity in our workplace." So that was the message of today. Tanya Plibersek heard some of it, good afternoon to you.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It's a pleasure to be with you Geoff.
HUTCHISON: And nice to have you here. What do you make of those sentiments? They're a pretty plain speaking lot, but do you accept pretty much what they are fighting for?
PLIBERSEK: Well it's a very big and somewhat general question. I am a supporter of our relationship with the union movement. I think the Australian union movement is responsible for so many of the things we take for granted - the eight hour day, sick leave, holiday pay, superannuation - and these things were very difficult to win over very many years and all Australian workers now enjoy those benefits. And in recent times we've been looking at our economy and how it's operating for ordinary people and I think there is a story to tell there about flatlining wages, the fact that we've got the lowest wages growth in history, in Australian history at the moment, the fact that company profits continue to grow strongly, executive salaries continue to grow strongly and yet for people on low and middle incomes they just don't feel that they are receiving any of the benefits of the economic growth that we are so proud of here in Australia. So I think it is important that we have a union movement that continues to campaign for better pay and conditions and also for big and important social changes. I deal a lot with the Teachers Union, they're not just talking about their pay and conditions, they're talking about resources in classrooms. The Nurses Union, I dealt with them as Health Minister, of course they wanted good pay and conditions for their members but they also wanted good staff to patient ratios so they could better care for their patients. So the union movement is a really important contributor to the standard of living that we take for granted, but it's also a really important social contributor to the things that have made Australia great.
HUTCHISON: Let's play a little bit of Christy Cain who spoke ahead of today, the MUA boss.
HUTCHISON: Now when some people hear him speak they hear what they consider to be the worst of the union movement - aggressive, belligerent. Is that a voice a Labor government can listen to and manage? Or have to indulge from time to time?
PLIBERSEK: I think it's important that we listen to the breadth of the Australian workforce, from people who are working in mining, construction, forestry, energy, on our waterfront, around our coast line. But also into the jobs that are the caring jobs that have been, I suppose, so neglected in recent years when it comes to decent pay and conditions - childcare workers, aged care workers, disability workers - and I think it is important that people understand that the union movement is active in all of these areas, and fighting for decent pay and conditions in all of those areas.
HUTCHISON: A couple of years ago, ahead of delivering the Ben Chifley 'Light on the Hill' address, you stated "Give me a union leader over an investment banker any day." Do you feel that strongly?
PLIBERSEK: Yeah I do actually.
HUTCHISON: You do?
PLIBERSEK: I grew up in a working class household. My dad was a plumber, he worked really hard, six days a week. He was the leading hand where he worked, and he was a member of the union. He was the politest, mildest, most decent, gorgeous man living but always told me join the union, and it's not just for you, it’s for everybody in your workplace, so that you have the ability to negotiate as a team. I think that’s a really strong principle in Australian history and in what has made our country great. If you think about the other things that the union movement has done, I mention the eight hour day, that was stone masons in 1855, building the Garrison Church in my electorate in Sydney, some of the first action for the eight hour day in the world that was successful. The minimum wage, the Harvester Case in 1907 - we were decades ahead of most other countries in delivering a minimum wage, and really important social impact like the Green Bans in Sydney that protected The Rocks from just being bulldozed by developers, protected Centennial Park from becoming high rise towers. I think there is a really good story to tell about the involvement-
HUTCHISON: And will Labor tell that in this election because I know for certain that Scott Morrison will refer to them as "union thugs" at every opportunity, so there are two narratives that can be told. I wonder which will be absorbed by an audience with the greatest understanding and belief?
PLIBERSEK: I think it's really important that Labor is very clear that we have zero tolerance for threatening or aggressive behaviour and certainly zero tolerance for violence or law breaking. But the union movement is…people who are union members and their supporters are millions of Australians who basically just want to organise together to protect and improve their standard of living, their pay and conditions at work. And when you look at the history of the union movement in Australia you see those great advances that I'm talking about, I think people value those advances. It's like me saying "Oh look Alan Bond, Christopher Skase, that proves that the Australian business community is terrible." Of course we don't make ridiculous generalisations like that about other groups. I don't think we ought to make generalisations about the union movement either.
HUTCHISON: Tanya Plibersek is my guest. I'd love to hear from you 1300 222 720 and send a text 0437 922 720. I'm very conscious of the time that you've got Tanya. You're main portfolio is education, you're promising the biggest investment in public schools in this country's history. What is an extra $14 billion going to provide that they do not have?
PLIBERSEK: More one on one attention for our kids; more help with the basics; making sure that we pick up difficulties that children are having earlier and that we have the one on one attention from teachers to be able to pick that up; more extension for gifted and talented kids; more subject choice; more professional development for teachers because we know that the single most effective thing we can do is investing in our teaching work force. More development for principals as well because as educational leaders they can have a huge impact, a really good principal can add between two and seven months learning to a kid.
HUTCHISON: Let me just ask when it comes to teachers, have the education unions responded to you being pretty firm? It seemed like you were drawing quite a neat and well placed line in the sand that said unless you get a minimum ATAR score in the top 30 per cent you're not going to be a teacher.
PLIBERSEK: Well I want our best and brightest to go into teaching. I want-
HUTCHISON: Do the education unions accept that?
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I mean by and large teachers want the best-
HUTCHISON: You're smiling.
PLIBERSEK: I'm smiling because I don't always agree with my friends in the union movement about every little detail of Labor policy, it's true, that we have a robust relationship. I learned a very long time ago, you can't please all of the people all or the time. I can only do what I believe and say what I believe and this issue of getting the best and brightest to compete to get into teaching, the same way they compete to get into law or medicine or veterinary science or dentistry, I believe that so sincerely. This used to be one of the most prestigious jobs in our community. If you went to a country town it was the police chief, the head of the bank and the local principal that had the three most trusted roles quite often in any country town. I want to restore the respect that people have for the life changing job that teaching is.
HUTCHISON: Thank you very much for coming in this afternoon.
PLIBERSEK: It's a pleasure.
HUTCHISON: Tanya Plibersek, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, I'm sure we will be seeing her again.