SUBJECTS: School funding; domestic violence; support for older women; gender pay gap; housing affordability and homelessness.

CHRIS HALLIDAY, PRESENTER: Good morning on 101.4 Territory FM. Chris Halliday filling in for Mal for another day. She’ll be back on Monday. This morning we are really honoured this morning to have the Shadow Minister for Education and Training and Shadow Minister for Women, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition Tanya Plibersek join us in the studio. Good morning Tanya.


HALLIDAY: It's great to have you here in Darwin, the dry season has come, you're here in a nice short sleeved blouse. Life is good.

PLIBERSEK: It's fantastic. I love visiting Darwin. It's a beautiful city.

HALLIDAY: The tourists start to come now and on the surface it looks like life is great, it’s a good time of year to be here, but actually we dig a little deeper and there are some really serious concerns in our community, people doing it really tough, particularly students, and that’s why it's so important that you're here visiting us here at Charles Darwin University.

PLIBERSEK: It's great to be at the university and to be talking to you, but I love visiting Charles Darwin University. It’s a fantastic thing to see the way it’s grown and continues to contribute to the population and cultural life here in Darwin, and also the contribution it makes, particularly with our neighbours in Timor Leste as well. I always think that’s a wonderful thing about this university. That’s why it’s so disappointing that this federal government has cut $15 million from this university. Just before Christmas they announced $2.2 billion of cuts to the university sector and Charles Darwin cops $15 million of that, which is a lot of money.

HALLIDAY: That’s takes a really big slice out of –

PLIBERSEK: It does. It really does compromises the ability of  the university to do the great outreach work it’s been doing, and very importantly from my perspective to encourage people who are the first in their family to attend university. You know, we’ve really tried over recent years to get more people from remote and regional communities, more indigenous Australians, more people from low socio-economic groups – basically more people who are first in family. My brothers and I were the first generation in our family to be able to go to university, because of the reforms the Whitlam Government made to higher education. We want that for more young Australians because we know that jobs are becoming increasingly complex. You’re going to need a TAFE education or a university education after school for a lot of the jobs that are being created in the future. So we've seen cuts to university, we’ve also seen cuts to TAFE and schools. That's the one I’m really concerned about. $70 million cut from Territory schools over the next two years.

HALLIDAY: Now that's really concerning for us up here because we know that our education outcomes are far and away lagging behind the rest of the country. And like you say, there are parents who are just trying to give their kids a go, perhaps parents who didn’t get the opportunities that we might have and really want their kids to get in and get a good education and try to make a success out of life, and we’re now faced with these incredible cuts at a time when we’re already falling behind.

PLIBERSEK: Education is the key to having choice in like isn’t it? Nobody’s saying you have to pursue a particular career or profession or you have to follow a particular path in life, but if you get an education, you have so many more choices about what you can do, and that’s what we want for kids right across the Territory, including in out there in some of our tiniest schools. I’m off to Yuendumu next and I’m really looking forward to visiting that school. But we know across the Territory we’ve got some pretty remote areas and we want those children to have every opportunity that life can offer them. You can't cut $70 million and do that. Actually the bizarre thing about the Turnbull Government's school education funding package is they have defined Northern Territory public schools as over funded. Because what they say is, they're the Federal Government, they only need to pay for 20 per cent of the cost of educating a child in the public school system. In the past the Northern Territory was getting about 25-26 per cent of their funding for public schools from the Commonwealth Government, so by definition, Northern Territory public schools are over funded under the new funding model. That's nuts.

HALLIDAY: Do you think there's a sense in places like Canberra, there's just a lack of understanding about what we're up against here. Some of the incredibly unique challenges around isolation and remoteness and some of the real issues we have with disadvantage. Is there a disconnect?

PLIBERSEK: The Territory sends some very strong representatives to Canberra. Warren Snowden has been telling us, all of us, his colleagues, for years about the way that policy in Canberra affects the lives of Territorians, and Luke Gosling more recently, Malarndirri McCarthy, they are fantastic advocates for the Territory. But unless people spend a bit of time here I don't think they get what the vast distances and sparse population mean for the delivery of services. So you've got a Federal Government that's cutting school funding, cutting university funding, cutting funding for TAFE and apprentices - 600 fewer apprentices in the Territory since they came into Government - aged care is under pressure, health is always under pressure, I used to be the Health Minister. I oversaw a substantial investment in the Palmerston Hospital, but this Federal Government is cutting about $16 million from our hospitals up here.

HALLIDAY: You don't need to go anywhere past the reception area of Darwin Hospital to know that we don't need more cuts up here.

PLIBERSEK: You need that support.

HALLIDAY: Now we're going to come back in just a moment. There's so much else going on and with this domestic violence another area where we've got to be paying a lot more attention to up here in the Top End because our rates are just far too concerning. We'll have a bit of a chat about that when we come back. Mornings with Chris, filling in for Mal here on Territory FM.




HALLIDAY: And we're back. Mornings with Chris, filling in for Mal this week. Really honoured to have Tanya Plibersek join us, Shadow Minister for Education and Training and for Women, Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Tanya, domestic violence, certainly an area of focus across Australia but particularly here in the Northern Territory, the rates are far too concerning, services are crying out for more support, women in many cases staying in homes where they and the children are being abused because there's just nowhere else to go. Now we know what the problems are, we know what the rates are. In the not too distant future there's going to be an election, you guys look very much could possibly being in Government. What could you do to help us up here in the Top End with what is absolutely a crisis?

PLIBERSEK: Well Labor already announced that we would restore $88 million of funding for crisis accommodation, largely targeting women and children fleeing domestic violence because they are some of the biggest users of emergency accommodation across Australia. We actually, when we were in government last time around, I was the minister that was responsible for the national plan on violence against women and their children and also on the homelessness strategy, I was the housing minister in the last government too, and we were putting millions, tens of millions of dollars extra into crisis accommodation. Tony Abbott came to government and cut that in that 2014 Budget, so we have to put more money into building emergency and crisis accommodation, but we also have to have affordable rental, because we're not going to meet the whole need, and to be honest with you, some women don't want to take their kids into crisis accommodation. They want a permanent safe place so they can get the kids settled into school and life back to normal, and we also have to have programs that allow victims of violence to stay safely at home and perpetrators to be removed from the family home too. It's not fair that the person who is the victim of the violence and kids have their lives disrupted and the perpetrator gets to stay in the family home. So you need programs across emergency accommodation, affordable rental, safe at home programs, but you need great policing and we're getting much, much better at that. It used to be that violence was considered a private matter within the family. We understand now that this is 100 per cent a crime that has to be dealt with by police and our courts as a crime. But taking a step back we need to do so much more to prevent violence in the first place, yes, victims need a safe place to go, our courts, our police have to support them, our family and domestic violence crisis services need to be properly funded. We know all of that. But if we can prevent violence in the first place, how much human misery do we save and that really does require working with kids from a very early age to talk to them about respectful relationships and very importantly model respectful relationships for them, and I think there are some really good efforts out there to teach kids about respectful relationships. We've got to make sure we are backing them.

HALLIDAY: And it ties in again to cuts to education and support, actually it's the whole picture we need to look at here.

PLIBERSEK: And we expect so much of schools these days. We can't expect schools to do this on their own. We actually have to have resourced community organisations partnering with schools and families on violence prevention.

HALLIDAY: Now you talk on housing affordability, and really important, particularly for women who are, like you say, wanting to settle into a nice stable home when they've left a relationship, but also for older women. We know, thanks to an Anglicare report this week, that once again, there are no vacant properties for low income earners in the Northern Territory. Not one. And we know that senior women in particular are being left without incomes that they can survive on, so we've got this absolute epidemic where many people on low incomes, but particularly single senior women are left with literally nowhere to afford to live. Now again I want to ask the question, if you guys form government after the next election, what can you see to actually bring, because this is a two decade old problem. Many governments have come and gone. Anglicare have been talking about this now for over 20 (years). What can we do?

PLIBERSEK: It is an ongoing problem but when we were in government we did start to tackle this problem. Like I, when I was the Housing Minister, built 21,600 new public housing dwellings and 36,000 national rental affordability scheme dwellings, and I know that's the tip of the iceberg, but nobody's done it since and we've only seen cuts since then. So we need to refocus on the programs we know work, like building accommodation, but also changing our planning and land release policies, making sure that we build fit for purpose accommodation. Darwin and the Territory more generally, has always been particularly hard for affordable rental and I think it is important that the Federal Government works with the Territory Government to make sure that there is investment with regard to affordable rental. I think one of the reasons why you're seeing population pressures in Darwin, you're seeing more people leave actually, is because it is hard to afford to live here, and housing is a huge part of that, rental accommodation. The other thing about housing affordability for older women - we've got a lifetime gender pay gap, we've got right now still a 16 per cent gender pay gap right, so many of these women have had a lifetime of lower earnings, or they have been home caring for families, doing unpaid work, so despite a lifetime of hard work they don't have the superannuation balances that their husbands do, a lot of women are divorcing later in life and end up living in poverty, so doing something about the gender pay gap and the superannuation pay gap is absolutely critical too.

HALLIDAY: Now you talked about some bricks and mortar stuff there, so when you were last in government building houses, but we know that across Australia there are enough vacant properties to actually meet the need of our homeless crisis, in fact tens of thousands of properties that are left vacant, with investment incentives that could be made available to people. Anglicare points out that we're spending $14 billion on capital gains and negative gearing. It would take a fraction of that to turn around this absolute epidemic. Is there something we can do within the system to try to bring some more justice to this crisis?

PLIBERSEK: There's two very important things. We've already proposed changes to negative gearing and Capital Gains Tax that would mean that if you're already getting the benefits of that as an investor that that won't change for you, but from the time when we are elected you will have to actually be investing in new property if you want those tax benefits. And so you're adding to the stock of rental property, you're not just bidding up the cost of existing property. But the second thing I think is worth investigating, and some jurisdictions are already going down this pathway, is a vacant property tax, and our housing Shadow Minister, Senator Doug Cameron, has been talking to the states and territories about whether there needs to be some uniform national approach. It doesn't make sense, you're quite right, it doesn't make sense that there are so many vacant properties. Investors don't mind the property being vacant because they're benefiting from the loss, it's a bizarre kind of incentive-

HALLIDAY: And with homeless people walking past these empty homes.

PLIBERSEK: So there are quite a number of jurisdictions overseas who have done something similar, so there are precedents that I think are worth looking at.

HALLIDAY: Tanya it's so good to have you in the studio, and it's actually great to have you up here in the Top End. We do sometimes feel a little bit forgotten up here by your fellow-

PLIBERSEK: Chris you don't have to ask me twice to visit the Territory. I love visiting. It's a beautiful part of Australia.

HALLIDAY: Well you are welcome back here at Territory FM at Charles Darwin University any time. Tanya Plibersek, thanks for joining us.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks Chris.