SUBJECTS: Wentworth by-election; Liberal party dysfunction and chaos; Hung Parliament; HSC; Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse; Royal visit.

DEBORAH KNIGHT, PRESENTER: Deborah Knight with you, 26 minutes to 6, great to have your company. I'm in for Richard for the day here on ABC Radio Sydney Drive. Now, talk about an upset, I tell you what - what was considered the bluest of blue ribbon seats, the seat of Wentworth in Sydney, of course, everything changed over the course of the weekend, some major issues unfolding and the wash-up will be examined very closely, of course, over the next few days. It is the topic of our Monday political forum and we're joined by the 'dragon slayer' herself, Dr Kerryn Phelps who, according to our own Antony Green, will be the incoming Member for Wentworth and are you willing to claim it yet?

DR KERRYN PHELPS, INDEPENDENT CANDIDATE FOR WENTWORTH: I think I'm going to wait until the AEC declares it this time. 

KNIGHT: Okay, okay, you're not going to get gun shy on that, we've also got Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Shadow Minister for Education and Training, Shadow Minister for Women and Member for Sydney, she joins us in Canberra. Hello, Tanya to you. 


KNIGHT: And Dr John Hewson, professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy at ANU, and former Liberal Opposition Leader, hello to you, Dr John Hewson. 

KNIGHT: Good, now we'll have to go straight, of course, to you, Kerryn because, obviously, you claimed it on Saturday night - we've had to, sort of, pull back a little bit. But, you've talked about the surprise and the fact that it was such a big issue. Did you ever expect that you would be there with a 19 per cent swing? 

PHELPS: I didn't go into the campaign expecting that I would win - hoping that I would win, but certainly not expecting it because I knew the size of the swing that would be needed; but I'm certainly very delighted that the efforts of my volunteers and my supporters were rewarded with that swing because what we did was to have a pop up campaign, we put it together in three weeks and then we ran a campaign which I'm very proud of. We stayed with the issues, we focused on what it was that the people of Wentworth wanted and what was in the interest of the future of Australia. 

KNIGHT: And it was, I suppose, a perfect storm in terms of issues and events, there's a lot of disaffection from voters in Wentworth with the way that Malcolm Turnbull had been treated by his own party and a lot of issues that arose during the course of the campaign - and the dying days of it, as well. How much do you attribute to your own efforts but also to factors, I suppose, outside of your own control? 

PHELPS:I certainly outlined a policy agenda right at the very beginning, and they were the issues I authentically believed were important - being a local doctor in Double Bay, I'm in touch with what the people in Wentworth are interested in, what the issues are that concern them, both on a local, and a national - and an international level. And so, I was able to pinpoint the policy areas that I thought were deficient in the government. There was also a deep concern about the lurching of the Liberal Party to the right, and people wanting someone to bring that back to the sensible centre. And, of course, the issues that came to the fore during the campaign were largely around why Malcolm Turnbull was removed as Prime Minister and, therefore, resigned as the local Member. Wanting action on climate change and wanting a solution, particularly for getting kids of Nauru. Those three issues came through loud and clear. 

KNIGHT: And you want that to be your first order of business? 

PHELPS: I do, I think that's a very short term achievable.

KNIGHT: Tanya Plibersek, you very cheekily, in the Labor party, were calling for an election to be called straight away in the wake of this by-election. Obviously, you're looking very closely at the events and looking at the fact that the one seat majority is now lost.

PLIBERSEK: Well, look I think Kerryn's right. This really was a response to the Liberal Party lurching to the right and the fact that they're so out of touch with mainstream Australia now. I mean, I know you'll be talking to John Hewson in just a second but he has, very powerfully, made the case for real action on climate change. Kerryn ran very hard on climate change. This is just one example of where you’ve got a government being held to ransom by a small rump of people who are absolutely opposed to doing anything on climate change; and, sadly, Scott Morrison's the guy who carried the lump of coal into the Parliament to show his support for coal. I mean, you could not get more out of touch with the priorities of the voters of Wentworth and on top of that, I mean, the desperation and dysfunction that we've seen in recent weeks: more leadership talk, last week; we had the Environment Minister insulting Anote Tong, one of the most distinguished and dignified men you'll ever meet, one of the world's preeminent climate change campaigners; the government voting for this motion in the Senate which had the white supremacist language in it and then pretending they did it by accident despite the fact they were tweeting out support of it. I mean, it just looked like a mess last week.

KNIGHT: Well, John Hewson, do you throw your hands up in despair?

HEWSON: Yes, I can understand Tanya's enthusiasm here because it's all been given to them really by a succession of events and people which, you know, I think to any election pundit would just be staggered at the way it's unfolded. Yeah, look, I'm somebody who’s spent his life in public policy, trying to get good, evidence-based public policy; and I haven't seen too much good government in the last, you know, five to ten years in this country. The big issues are being left, kicked down the road and climate's a classic example of that, so, when you come to the circumstances as Kerryn's described them - a perfect storm for a protest vote, and a lot of good reasons to make a protest vote - nobody should be surprised but what worries me is that now the government is not prepared to listen to some of those messages. I mean, they're telling us that their climate action strategy, which doesn't exist, is a complete policy response. I mean, Josh Frydenberg said that yesterday; he wouldn't have said that a couple of months ago when he was the Energy Minister battling to get the NEG through the COAG process or the party room process. So, I just think they've got to stop and listen, I'm, as a Liberal leader, I'd be looking to rebuild from the bottom up, I mean, I think you need a new beginning and that goes basically across most areas of public policy. 

KNIGHT: So, how do you achieve that, though, what? Completely clear the slate from a policy point of view? 

HEWSON: Yes, I think leadership - I mean, if I was Morrison now, I mean, he's got very little to lose, they're not going to run on him between now and the next election. 

KNIGHT: Well, you never know. It is Australia after all.

HEWSON: Yeah, I know well...

PLIBERSEK:The Nationals are playing up. I mean, you can't guarantee anything. 

HEWSON:Well, the Nationals are - the Nationals are playing up but, I mean, he has a unique opportunity to set the agenda, a clear policy agenda and I think the electorate would cut him a lot of slack if he did; but that would involve making some pretty strong leadership moves in areas like: climate and refugees and tax and, you know, other big challenges - cost of living generally. These issues are very big issues and people are saying; "Oh you can't take a lesson from Wentworth because it doesn't apply across the rest of Australia." There are a lot of messages in this election outcome that are applicable right across most seats in this country. So, only a fool would ignore that. 

PLIBERSEK: Well, John, I think you're quite right about being in a position to do something a little bold but I just take you back, we actually did have a price on carbon in place that was driving down pollution in this country. The problem is for the last five years, the Liberals got rid of that. The last five years, there has been a complete vacuum and we've said, as a Labor party, we'll work with you to introduce a Clean Energy Target or an Emissions Intensity Scheme or a National Energy Guarantee for goodness sake, let's just get something through. Now the National Energy Guarantee, it's gone through the Liberal party room, it's actually got their support, they've done all this work on it. Why can't Scott Morrison have the guts to back his own party's policy, they've given up. They've given up on this. 

KNIGHT: Yeah, well, there will be, as you say, the recriminations will be continuing and the finger pointing for quite some time in the wake of this but, Kerryn Phelps, in terms of working with the government because, you know, they'll need numbers. What's your position, how - have you got a clear view? Will you take every policy issue on face value? Or what are you telling the government?

PHELPS: I think the important thing for an Independent on the crossbench is to hold the government to account and you would do that on an issue by issue basis, so to look at legislation coming forward, to support good legislation, to amend legislation that needs to be amended, like the My Health Record legislation that's been proposed and where there was a Senate Inquiry and to reject bad legislation. 

KNIGHT: Will you guarantee supply, though? 

PHELPS: I've said that I do not think that governments should be removed before the end of their term and I would like to see the government complete the term; and hopefully, see the light on a few of these issues so that the Australian people can see some movement in the issues that are of concern to them. And one of the real problems that I saw during this campaign in Wentworth was the government far more interested in its own survival than in the survival of either the people of Australia, or the planet. 

KNIGHT: The issue, I suppose, that has emerged, you know, apart from individually in Wentworth, there's a lot of spotlight being shone now, on the place that Independents could play within the Parliament, overall, and obviously there has been a focus on Tony Abbott's seat, as well, and questions as to whether there might be some strong Independents that could run in that seat. Have you fielded any inquiries for any Independents about how you might help them out with their campaigns? 

PHELPS: No I haven't, but I'd be very happy to sit down and talk to them about my experience and...

KNIGHT: And what would you tell them? What would you bring to bear from Wentworth and how that's all played out? 

PHELPS: Well, during the campaign, I actually had visits in Sydney from Cathy McGowan and Rebekha Sharkie, and I really welcomed that because...

KNIGHT: And what advice did they give you? 

PHELPS: Well, they talked to me about how the crossbench can work constructively and I really welcomed that. And they told me about some of the tricks that would be played against me during the campaign which was also very handy preparation for what I might face in terms of those tricks during the campaign. And I just remained focused on the issues, I would talk to Independents about what it takes to build a campaign team, they have six to eight - well, six months to prepare and that they really would need to start now if they were considering that. Talk to them about crowd funding, talk to them about developing policy; and I think that it could well be the dawning of a new era of Independents. 

KNIGHT: John Hewson, do you think that we might see some more Independents putting their hand up and willing to - to make a run?

HEWSON: Well, I think so, if you look at the last federal election, one in three people didn't vote for either the two major parties; and I think that dissatisfaction, disenchantment has continued with both sides of politics, sorry Tanya but I think it has, and so, the field is ripe, I think, for Independents - strong Independents - particularly where individuals stand out as a particular object. I mean, I think Tony Abbott, for example, will get a real contest in Warringah for example, if Jane Caro was announced in the media today as a possible candidate ... 

KNIGHT: Well, she has to deal with the issues of citizenship first. 

HEWSON: Well, Deb, there are issues that they all have to deal with but having said that, I think, you know, the more contestability you can get into our political system at the present time, the better. And if that's got to go to Independents because parties won't move then that's where it will go and you'll find that the electorate will go with it. They will - they're looking for people who will govern in their interests - not play games, not be self-absorbed, not score points from each other, not shift blame - just get down and govern the country; and we haven't had that for the best part of ten or fifteen years. 

KNIGHT: So, Tanya Plibersek, how do the major parties then deal with this, with the fact that there are strong Independents, they are giving you, the major parties, a very serious run for your money. 

PLIBERSEK: Well, they're certainly giving the Liberals a very serious run for their money, at the moment. I think that John's right, we went through a bad stage towards the end of our last government. I said more than once that I gave us nine out of ten for governing the country but one out of ten for governing ourselves. That's the reason we changed our rules to give the stability and certainty that people expect so that we can focus on what matters. You know, good jobs with decent pay and conditions, restoring our health and education system, real action on climate change, pushing down power prices and pollution at the same time, I mean, these are the things that people talk to us about. These are the policy issues that we're focused on. We're not fighting amongst ourselves, we're not focused on ourselves. We're...

KNIGHT: Really what, Anthony Albanese and Bill Shorten are best mates are they? There's no question about any leadership tussles going on there? 

PLIBERSEK: I don't think you could fairly say that we've had any leadership tensions for five years, we have been serious about policies that make a real difference to people's lives and I think people are beginning to see that, they still remember that we had a bad period towards the end of the last government but they're seeing the stability and the focus on real issues from us in the last five years as a great improvement. 

KNIGHT: And did you make a concerted effort to run a dead campaign in the seat of Wentworth?

PLIBERSEK: I am profoundly insulted by that. I was there all the time, what are you saying about my campaigning abilities? I was there, like, five times, I think, during the campaign including making some important announcements there. So, as I said to the media when I was last out and asked this; "what am I? chopped liver?" Kerryn knows I was campaigning hard. 

KNIGHT: Did you think that Labor campaigned as hard as they could have? 

PHELPS: No look, I saw Tim Murray at every railway station, in every shopping centre, at every event and I have to say he's thoroughly a gentleman, as was Dave Sharma.

PLIBERSEK: He's a very nice guy - Tim, he's a great candidate. 

PHELPS: He really is. 

KNIGHT: Well, I think the voters of Wentworth - you know, all candidates were very strong. 

PHELPS: Any very, very mutually respectful of each other. And as I said, you know Tim campaigned hard. I saw him everywhere that we went and he was getting a really friendly reception from everybody and so, you know, I don't know where this thing came from, either. 

KNIGHT: All right, now, one of the other big issues, of course, today - red letter day really with the apology being issued in Canberra by the Prime Minister and Bill Shorten, the Opposition Leader to the victims and survivors of institutionalised child sexual abuse. There are questions of 'where to from here?' I suppose and the first order of business for the government in terms of creating meaningful change. An apology is one thing, but how you then set about change into action. Do you think, Kerryn Phelps, that tax free status should no longer be awarded to some of these institutions if they don't agree to provide compensation? 

PHELPS: I think the most important thing that we need to see coming out of this apology, today, is the beginning of a healing process for the victims of institutional child sexual abuse; and part of that, is going to be looking at the outcomes of the Royal Commission and making sure that the recommendations of the Royal Commission are actually carried out. I think that, probably, the most important thing to come out of it would be mandatory reporting by priests and clergy. And I would like to see a response by the institutions to that particular recommendation, I'd also like to see some more funding for psychological care for the survivors of child sexual abuse by institutions; and that is something that the health system could certainly do with because, you know, the fact that people can get just six or ten visits to a psychologist under Medicare with a Mental Health Care Plan is not going to be enough to overcome a lifetime of trauma from child sexual abuse. 

KNIGHT: And John Hewson, it was very emotional to hear both the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader, and we know that there were tears, there was raw emotion from the people in Canberra and around the country who heard that apology being delivered. 

HEWSON: That's right and it was, in a sense, the apology was a long time coming but the point you made in the question is important, I mean, what comes next? And Kerryn's just outlined a couple of key things, I think also the recommendations as terms of levels of compensation. I mean, I'm staggered that wasn't put in place immediately quite frankly. And why it's still being debated and some are ducking their responsibilities in that respect I think is an absolute, you know, disgrace - it adds more pain to those who already suffered enough, if you like, but you know, and I do think that generally, mental illness is underfunded - the treatment of mental illness is underfunded and, in this specific case, where the need is identified and much greater than what you can claim on Medicare - I think something needs to be done in that area, as well. 

KNIGHT: Yeah and it's interesting, Tanya Plibersek, we know Prince Harry, being in Australia for the Invictus Games, he's made a real point of highlighting issues to do with mental illness and speaking publicly about it being an illness and requiring real change. 

PLIBERSEK:Yeah look, absolutely, we do need to continue to look at the supports available for people who are suffering mental illness but back to the redress scheme - I think making sure that we get the redress scheme right is absolutely critical, the apology was very, very important today and a very important step in healing but the redress scheme will be the next important step so, there are questions being asked as John said about the level of the maximum payment, indexation of past payments, access to counselling and support and also, this issue of redress for people who have - are in prison. 

KNIGHT: And how important was today, though. How crucial was it to have those words being uttered? 

PLIBERSEK: I can't tell you, Deb - it was so incredibly moving to be in Canberra, today, and to see the faces of people sitting in the Parliamentary galleries who had been waiting such a long time to hear that they were believed, that they were let down as children, that we, as a nation, are sorry. 

KNIGHT: And that they're not to blame, as well. 

PLIBERSEK: They're not to blame and I went out on to the lawn, Bill and I went out on to the lawns of Parliament afterwards. So there was something in the House of Reps Chamber and there was another function in the Great Hall that had about 800 victims and survivors of child sexual abuse; and then out on the lawns, afterwards - even more people and just so many people coming and hugging us and crying with us about, you know, sadness but also relief there. It was such a cathartic experience for so many. 

KNIGHT: And as a GP, as well, Kerryn, you would know full well that, you know, mental health is an illness and it's a disease which is largely arising from a lot of the treatment from these victims. 

PHELPS: As a GP I'm very well aware of the devastating effect of child sexual abuse and, particularly, of not being believed and of not being rescued from the situation. If we can do anything to stop institutional, child sexual abuse, it must be done which is why the outcomes of the Royal Commission must be heeded. 

KNIGHT: Now, the HSC continues for Year 12 students across the state this week. Today's exams include: legal studies, Arabic continuers, Hebrew extension, visual arts, Korean and Indonesian - a lot of focus on languages, obviously today, but the High School Certificate, do you think that it's still serving us as an end of school assessment tool - I suppose, Tanya Plibersek we'll go straight to you, Minister for Education, do we need to shift it? Change it? 

PLIBERSEK: I’m not only the Shadow Minister for Education, I've got a daughter who’s doing the HSC as we speak.

KNIGHT: Is she? How's she going? 

PLIBERSEK: Look, pretty good actually, she's ... 

KNIGHT: How are you going?

PLIBERSEK: Well. She's very self motivated so she's taking herself off to the library and studying hard and so on but, I think the thing that concerns me most that she's telling me is that she's got friends and girls that she knows who are self-harming, they're cutting themselves, they're on antidepressants, they're on sleeping tablets because they can't sleep, the anxiety.

KNIGHT: Because of the stress.

PLIBERSEK: I just don't remember it being like that when I was a teenager. Now, what we say to our kids is "try your hardest." I mean, part of respecting yourself is doing your best, having your best shot at it but at the end of the day, you know, universities are looking for a lot more than a high ATAR these days, there's a lot of pathways into university. We want to improve the provision of TAFE as well after high school, we need to make sure that young people see a future for themselves that isn't based on one mark from one exam, that they have the opportunity of continuing to play their sports and do their volunteering and do all the things ... 

KNIGHT: Have a balanced education...

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, they're a balanced human being at the end of it. Yep. 

KNIGHT: You're nodding there, Kerryn.

PHELPS: Well, we've just completed the HSC in our household. 

KNIGHT: Have you?

PHELPS: Yes, our youngest daughter, Gabi, is now studying Commerce/Law at Sydney University and she... 

KNIGHT: So, you've been there.

PHELPS:I have, and we put in place a number of preventative health strategies right at the beginning of Year 12 - encouraged Gabi to continue on with her sport, to continue on with her volunteering, to continue on with her extracurricular activities that just gave her life that balance but, bearing in mind, that it is a stressful period of your life but, you know, it is the way you get to the next stage of your life. 

KNIGHT: Well, I mean, there has to be marker, doesn't there? 

PHELPS: There does. 

KNIGHT: There has to be some sort of way of working out how people are going, there's got to be an exam of some way, shape or form?

PHELPS: But, I think sort of managing expectations for a student is really important, as well, and thinking about where they want to go and giving them a number of different pathways to achieve their goals and their dreams. I think that's really important, too. HSC is one way of doing that but there are other forms of entry and, of course, I think making sure that TAFE is properly funded for people who don't want to go to university or where that's not the appropriate pathway for them. That's very important, as well. 

KNIGHT: John Hewson, do we need an assessment of the HSC, do you think?

HEWSON: Well, look, we need - performance does need to be assessed and I think, through our lives, we need to be - have our performance assessed in various ways of different standards. I think this is one test, it may not be the best, it perhaps, can be improved from time to time but I think there's also this, sort of, joint responsibility of schools and parents to give that balance. To explain to their kids the significance - okay, this is important but it's only one element of moving forward - there are many pathways forward, whether it's to university or TAFE or whatever, some other form of vocational training and there are other aspects to your life that are important where you need to get the balance and doing some charity work or volunteer work, or pursuing your sporting interests or theatrical interests or whatever they are. And I think there's that joint responsibility, so we don't want to put too much weight on it but it's important that there is a performance assessment at various points in your life. 

KNIGHT: And just finally, of course, royal fever in Sydney - the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in Australia for the Invictus Games, and we've seen Harry and Meghan arrive in Queensland, today, on Fraser Island; and businesses on the Fraser coast are very excited by the focus and the global attention on that gorgeous part of the world but, we thought we'd play a bit of 'Spot the Royal' before you head off. Kerryn Phelps, have you had a bit of a - any interaction with any of the Royals along the way? 

PHELPS: Well, I have actually, I flew over to India to meet with His Royal Highness, Prince Charles to discuss the future of global health and he's particularly interested in integrative medicine, which is an interest of mine, he's been interested in sustainability for a very long time; and I asked him to write the foreword to my book on cancer recovery which he did. 

KNIGHT: Wow, more than an interaction then. He's contributing to your authorship, that's fantastic. 

PHELPS:And, he is a great patron of integrative medicine and he is very interested in the environment, as well, so there's some common interest there.  

KNIGHT: Tanya Plibersek? 

PLIBERSEK: I've met the Queen, I've met Prince William, I've met Prince Charles and Camilla. 

KNIGHT: You're just bragging now aren’t you?

PLIBERSEK:I've met the King and Queen of Norway. It's one of, you know, it is one of the pleasures of the job that we get to meet a lot of visiting dignitaries but, the really special thing for me was I got to introduce my Mum to the Queen and my Mum, at that time, was caring for my Dad, he was dying of cancer at the time so it was very special to have a day out, full stop - and she got to meet the Queen who she just adores, despite the fact, I mean, she's from Slovenia my Mum originally so it's not like she's had a - you know, generations of attachment to the British Royal Family but she really admired the Queen and she just, my Mum cried all the way home saying who ever would have thought that a girl with my background, someone who had, you know, came from really nothing, would get to meet the Queen of England. So, that was, it was special to be able to do that for my Mum.

KNIGHT:That's a wonderful interactionJohn Hewson?

HEWSON: Oh look, as a child, I remember standing on the Pacific Highway waiting for the Queen's car to go by or Carlton railway station to see her - a glimpse of her as she stood at the back of the train.

KNIGHT: She but passed by - yes. 

HEWSON: Yes, I've met the Queen and Charles and spoke with Andrew, last year. Hosted Camilla at an event on osteoporosis in Australia because she's, I think she's President of the Osteoporosis Foundation in the UK, I am here. Princess Mary used to work for us - one of our companies. 

KNIGHT: Goodness me, you are all great. I haven't met any of them so I'm behind you all but look, it is great to have you in and great to have the Royals in town, as well. Thank you so much, Dr Kerryn Phelps,  Dr John Hewson and Tanya Plibersek in Canberra, thank you so much. 

HEWSON: Thanks

PLIBERSEK: Thank you. 

KNIGHT: And congratulations, again, Kerryn Phelps, a wonderful result. Well fought. 

PHELPS: Thank you