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SUBJECTS: Queensland election; Liberals’ cuts to universities and TAFE; Government citizenship chaos; Question marks over Ministerial decisions.


AARON STEVENS, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, good morning.


STEVENS: Welcome back to Rockhampton.

PLIBERSEK: It's always such a pleasure to be here.

STEVENS: It was only a short time ago, at least within the last year that you were here last.

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I actually don't remember but pretty recently. And every time I come I see evidence of upgrading right outside your studio here and it’s going to look lovely, isn't it?

STEVENS: It sure is. And of course you've arrived, we're in election mode, it's go, go, go.

PLIBERSEK: There you go. It's an additional surprise today, I wasn't sure that there'd be an election this week but it's great, I think it's a great opportunity for Queenslanders to have their say.

STEVENS: Isn't in interesting. I mean, they're calling it possibly the most hotly contested election in Queensland for many years. The minor parties and independents really are raising a challenge aren't they?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think there's obviously an issue with minor parties but the thing that makes it very unpredictable is the changed number of seats, the very big boundary changes as well. So I think it will be a close election, but a lot of Queenslanders remember it's only three years since Campbell Newman was in charge and Tim Nicholls, his right-hand man, running now - I'm not sure that peoples' memories are quite so short.

STEVENS: You'll have the chance today to spend some time with the Rockhampton candidate, Barry O'Rourke, and also with the Keppel candidate, Brittany Lauga. Is there a little bit of you that has some sympathy for Barry O'Rourke - gets appointed on Friday and he's into an election campaign?

PLIBERSEK: It is not a long time to get your feet under the desk, is it? But no, I'm sure that Barry will do a terrific job and we know Brittany is just an incredible person. She's been working hard as the local member, she’s just had this beautiful new baby so she's got a couple of challenges on her plate, but I've got every confidence that she'll knock it out of the park. 

STEVENS: Are you surprised to see the Adani protesters coming out of the woodwork so quickly?

PLIBERSEK: No, look I understand that this is a very controversial issue in Queensland. You've got some very deeply held views on both sides. You've got people who are very concerned about the environmental impacts, and from the Federal Government's perspective, giving a billion dollars to an Indian billionaire. On the other hand, we know that Central Queenslanders are desperate for jobs, and that's why Annastacia Palaszczuk has been so very focused on making sure that she is building jobs. One hundred and twenty-two and a half thousand extra jobs since she's been in government, the unemployment rate has fallen and from our perspective as Federal Labor we're very keen to invest through measures like our billion dollar tourism infrastructure fund and also our billion dollar manufacturing investment fund, because we know you've got some big employers up here who are looking at losing jobs. We want to make sure we're still a country that makes things. We need to make that transformation.

STEVENS: Still major concerns though. We're on the verge of another mining boom and there's a massive skills shortage. Major concerns on a federal level to try and get people trained up. What would Labor do?

PLIBERSEK: This is actually one of the things that drives me crazy. We have seen, just in this area alone, about 14,000 fewer apprentices and trainees in recent years because of federal government funding cuts. Now, we want kids to have the opportunity to go to university, if that's their heart's desire, if they're prepared to work hard and study hard and go to uni, that's great. But we also know that we will always need plumbers and electricians and hairdressers and chefs. And we've seen massive funding cuts from the Federal Government when it comes to TAFE funding and this loss of apprentices and trainees, that is so short-sighted. Because we've seen this cycle before. We don't train enough Australians, we have to rely on short-term overseas workers, we've got young unemployed Australians and we can't seem to put these two things together.

STEVENS: It doesn't match.

PLIBERSEK: It's crazy. 

STEVENS: Don't know why.

PLIBERSEK: It's just incredibly short-sighted planning from the Federal Government. Central Queensland uni is a terrific example, I'm going there later today - 

STEVENS: Going to spend some time there, yeah.

PLIBERSEK: I am. I'm spending some time there today. And the great thing about CQU is it's a joint venture between a university and a TAFE. That means we can really prepare young Australians for the changing workforce of the future, because we know that traditional sort of thing - you finish school, you do an apprenticeship, you stay in the same job forever, or you finish school, you go to uni, you stay in the same job forever - that just doesn't exist anymore.

STEVENS: That's right.

PLIBERSEK: We've got fewer and fewer business taking on apprentices. We really need these educational institutions to respond to that by offering a variety of different courses. So combinations of university learning and skills that you get in TAFE, doing your apprenticeship and then maybe doing a bit more and getting a bachelor degree on top of it. That's why I'm so excited to go to CQU today, and I'm so disturbed that they've lost $30 million of funding cuts in the uni cuts, and they're also under attack from the Federal Government cutting skills and training investment.

STEVENS: $30 million dollars!

PLIBERSEK: $30 million is what the Federal Government wants to cut from the university. They've got legislation in the Parliament at the moment, it's gone through the House of Reps, the Senate is going to be looking at it soon. And great projects like the health clinic -

STEVENS: Which we raved about when it all happened. It was terrific, it was a great innovation.

PLIBERSEK: It's brilliant. And they'd like to do stage three but the fund, the Education Investment Fund that that money would come from, the Federal Government's trying to kill that too. So very short-sighted, because we know if people train in a place like Rocky, then they're much more likely to stay on here.

STEVENS: In an area we're desperate to keep people, we lose people all the time. So you'll be at the uni today?

PLIBERSEK: I am. I am going to the uni today and I'm going to Mount Archer school as well, so very excited about all the kids I'm going to meet today.

STEVENS: Absolutely. So just around the corner from me, drop in for a coffee afterwards.

PLIBERSEK: Good, alright warn the family I'm coming over. 

STEVENS: Let's talk about the High Court decision on Friday. Obviously we'll see the Deputy Leader recontest that by-election. People still confused about how it all works, but are we going to push to see a change to that in our Constitution?

PLIBERSEK: Look the Constitution, section 44 of the Constitution says that you can't be a dual citizen. And Barnaby Joyce was. And a number of others were too. And I guess if you were writing the Constitution today, maybe you wouldn't have written it quite that way, but the law is the law. And to change the Constitution we would have to have a referendum. Now I'm not really sure that Australians want us to be focusing on a referendum to make it easier to become a politician.

STEVENS: Well there you go. Well said, well said.

PLIBERSEK: You know, we need to be focusing on jobs, on health and education, on things that really matter to people, and people who want to stand for Parliament ought to check that they're eligible to stand for Parliament. That's the bottom line.

STEVENS: So tell me about the process. So you're looking at running on a federal level, do you have that question put to you? 

PLIBERSEK: Of course you do. I've done this seven times, you know. Each time that I've been the Labor candidate for the seat of Sydney I have had to verify that I'm not a citizen of another country. We all do.

STEVENS: And do you ring up family and say "hey, is there anything I don't know about?"

PLIBERSEK: [Laughs] Is there anything you can tell me? Well no, but you do need to check….my parents were born overseas, but they're Australian citizens. Of course I had to check. We all have to check. If you want to run the country, you need to be able to get your paperwork right, and I think it is pretty significant that it is the smaller parties that have generally fallen foul of this rule, because they don't have the same sort of checking and vetting processes that we have.

STEVENS: Sure. So there's questions now about whether we're going to go back on every decision that Barnaby Joyce has been a part of. Is that realistic?

PLIBERSEK: Well it's not every decision it's been a part of, but if he has made decisions as a Minister under his ministerial authority and he wasn't even eligible to be in the House of Representatives, of course, there are legal questions around whether those decisions are valid. And even if Labor didn't object to those decisions, there will be aggrieved people. You know, he's making decisions about water usage, he's making decisions about quarantine issues, appointments where someone got a job and someone else didn't get that role. There will be a lot of people there who are thinking this might be their opportunity to square up for something that's made them unhappy. Same as Fiona Nash, between then they've got well over a hundred decisions that they're responsible for as Ministers that are potentially brought into question. 

And from our perspective, the Labor Party's perspective, there are two very significant votes that the Government won by just one vote. One was to rip penalty rates off 700,000 workers, of course we're going to have a go back at that. We don't think 700,000 Australians should have lost their penalty rates and when you win that vote by one and it's Barnaby Joyce's vote, well of course we're looking at what we might do in that area. And the other one's the banking Royal Commission. You would have listeners who have experienced pretty poor behaviour from the banks. You would have listeners who would have thought they were doing the right thing by taking out insurance and then when they've gone to claim have found it impossible to claim, all sorts of bad behaviour. 

STEVENS: Especially in this region.

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely. And that was another vote that the Government won by just one, preventing the banking Royal Commission. Barnaby Joyce's vote made the difference in preventing the banking Royal Commission. So again, we'll have a look at what we can do in that area.

STEVENS: Certainly some challenging times ahead. As we said right at the beginning, we're in election mode here and it won't be long before we start thinking about the future at a federal level too. So thank you very much for your time this morning, and people can see you around town today, and also the Labor candidates for the State election. We'll see them around plenty.

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely you will, and I'm looking forward to campaigning with them and to spending a lot more time up here. I love it up here. 


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