SUBJECTS: International Women's Day;  equal pay for childcare workers; gender pay gap; Adani.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, PRESENTER: On the eve of International Women's Day the Federal Opposition has released a gender equality strategy. They say that progress on issues like the gender pay gap, women in leadership positions and female work force participation is too slow. Labor wants Australia to lead the world when it comes to cultural leadership and governance on women. So, how do they plan to do it? Tanya Plibersek is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Minister for Women. I spoke to her a little earlier.

Welcome back to RN Drive.


KARVELAS: In your Press Club address today you said that a Labor Government will take measurable action on the gender pay gap. What is that action?

PLIBERSEK: That's something that we need to work with employers and unions and others to determine but what we've seen is countries like Luxembourg, Belgium, New Zealand and others that have set themselves targets to reduce the gender pay gap have been successful, they've reduced the gender pay gap by between 40 and 60 percent. So, of course there's a variety of things we need to do, not one thing. We need to make sure that our industrial relations laws are working appropriately, I think the most recent childcare workers case would show you that there is still dramatic undervaluation of work that is mostly done by women and our industrial relations laws haven't quite caught up to that fact. But it's also things like gender segregation in the work force, it's making sure that young girls are studying STEM subjects and going into areas with higher pay, it's making sure that caring work generally is paid more appropriately, it's making sure that employers actually use the tools that we already have through the Workplace Equality Agency to have a look at the gender pay gaps within their own organisations. I think a lot of employers are actually surprised - they say to you we don't have a gender pay gap, then they use one of the WGEA gender pay gap tools and are surprised to find a 30 percent, 40 percent gender pay gap in their organisation. So, it's not one thing, it's a variety of things.

KARVELAS: Would you compel companies? Is that something you’ll consider?

PLIBERSEK: Well, compel them to do what Patricia?

KARVELAS: To report on it and to fess up?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I think it's not necessary in the first instance to get the big stick out. I think we've got a lot of tools at our disposal, we've got a lot of willingness from companies in the first instance, but you know, never rule anything out at such an early stage. We are determined to reduce the gender pay gap, it's a difficult thing to do, we know that it is affected by things, cyclical economic things such as, you know, when the construction phase of the mining boom’s come off, the gender pay gap has reduced a little bit, when we introduced WorkChoices in Australia the gender pay gap increased dramatically. So government policies can have an effect, cyclical economic circumstances can have an effect. We need to use all of the tools that we have at our disposal to actually make sure that women are paid fairly. It's just not acceptable that a woman working in a female dominated industry is paid $40,000 less than a man working in a male dominated industry.

KARVELAS: You talked today about the need for cultural leadership to drive change in the work place and in society more broadly, what does that look like from government? How do you do it without legislation?

PLIBERSEK: I'm not sure that, well first of all, there's some things that government can do and there's somethings that we ought to be asking other prominent employers to do. So, in government we can model best practice workplace behaviour by making sure that we see good progress for women into the senior ranks of the public service, that we give men and women flexible working opportunities. We can do simple things like not setting meetings for outside normal child care hours. You know if your boss loves to set the 7am meeting and child care drop off isn't until 7.30 you really are making life quite difficult for people who want to progress in their organisation and we can also, I mean government always has the option down the track of improving industrial relations laws. You would remember that when we were last in government we introduced right to request flexible work conditions, maybe you need to make those a little bit more attractive, a little bit easier...

KARVELAS: More enforceable, because you can ask but you don't get necessarily do you?

PLIBERSEK: Yes, that's right.

KARVELAS: On RN Drive I'm joined tonight by Tanya Plibersek who's the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Minister for Women. Our number is 0418 226 576 if you want to text in on any of these proposals, it is International Women's Day tomorrow and parties are outlining their ideas for how to increase women's participation in the workplace and improve women's role I suppose overall in Australia. You mentioned the GST which is charged on sanitary products, the tampon tax you know is how it's known in short hand, and that this should be easy to change. How will it be changed?

PLIBERSEK: There's two ways you can do it. You can get the states and territories to agree to give up the revenue or you can find a replacement source of revenue, and I think we should be up for either of those or both of those discussions. We've had Premiers in the past say that they're up for that, they don't see the logic in charging tax on tampons but not Viagra, and they're prepared to act, but you know the difficulty is that they're supposed to all agree, so if you can't get all of them to agree then we have to look at other options. But truly Patricia, I mean in 1999 when we made this decision, it was a stupid decision and almost  twenty years later it's still a dumb thing to be doing, surely we can find a solution, it's not that complicated.

KARVELAS: So are you serious about that proposal that you'd put a tax perhaps on Viagra and take it off the tampon tax?

PLIBERSEK: It wasn't a suggestion. I don't want to set the hares running or instil panic in the heart of men across Australia by suggesting that. I'm just drawing the comparison between something that most people would see as an absolute necessity and a product that many people would see as an interesting extra.

KARVELAS: Just a couple of other issues that have come up today. Catherine Marriott has put out a statement today. She's basically saying and just to remind everyone she is the one that's made the complaint against Barnaby Joyce that the National Party is dealing with, she's basically saying the WA state National Party had nothing to do with her decision to make a complaint against Barnaby Joyce and that she'd requested a private and confidential investigation and that it hadn't happened. Are you concerned that her name being made public, her statement today, that clearly other women in the same situation will become reluctant to put their names forward?

PLIBERSEK: I am very concerned about that because look I think someone who makes a confidential complaint should surely expect for it to be kept confidential but they should also expect the complaint to be properly investigated. So without talking about the details of the complaint or identifying the complainant, the National Party should be able to say what proper steps they have taken to independently investigate the claim that was made and I think actually the issue falls down on both of those fronts. She should not have been identified, she's collateral damage in a broader political move, who knows for what reason. It looks now as though it was all about putting extra pressure to get rid of the then Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce but that is a shocking thing to do, to identify someone who asks that their complaint be kept confidential, for that type of political end. I'm not going to comment further on her or the case, I just think any public organisation, particularly a large membership-based organisation like a political party should have clear procedures and absolutely should be able to keep its complaints confidential. No one should fear making a complaint.

KARVELAS: Now you were asked some questions on Adani too at the end of your Press Club address, there were some noises made, booing even I've seen reported. I know I've just seen a tweet from you where you've addressed this issue. There were some complaints about the male journalist asking about Adani and not questions on your speech or on International Women's Day. You've said you think it's okay, right?

PLIBERSEK: I'm completely relaxed about it. I truly am completely relaxed. We had a lot of good questions about the details of the content of my speech and I was expecting that there would be other questions on the issues of the day so, you know, completely relaxed. They were just doing their jobs.

KARVELAS: Tony Abbott said 'why should women just be asked soft questions?'

PLIBERSEK: Well none of the questions were soft, I’ve got to say, they were all excellent, tough and probing questions. The one's that were about Adani were tough questions but the ones about the women's policies that I've been announcing were good tough questions too and he shouldn't assume that because something is asked in the gender equality policy area that it's a soft question. There's some very tough economic issues when we are trying to work out how to reduce the gender pay gap, how to make sure women retire with something close to the superannuation savings of men, how we see better representation of women in public life in Australia. They’re not easy questions to answer.

KARVELAS: If you're in government what action would you take around the Adani mine? There is an inconsistency now in Labor's talking about this. Bill Shorten says he doesn't like the mine, he thinks it's a bad idea but won't tear up the contracts. Which one is it?

PLIBERSEK: There is absolutely no inconsistency in that. We've said all the way along, we've been saying for so long that I'm boring myself repeating it, that it has to stack up environmentally and economically. The more we see of this proposal the less it stacks up. Economically it made all sorts of claims about jobs, what we know now is that in a pit to port automated mine we are not going to see the jobs that Adani was originally claiming. We've got a better alternative for jobs, we've talked about investment in the Gladstone Port road, the Townsville channel expansion from the Townsville Port, the Rookwood Weir, so we’ve got a better plan for jobs than the chimera, job chimera that this plan is about...

KARVELAS: But you'd like it not to go forward, but if you're in government and it is going forward you'd have to keep it...

PLIBERSEK: I don’t think it is going to go forward, it can't get financing from anyone. Most of the world has caught on to the fact that yeah we'll have coal mines and we’ll coal-fired electricity for some time to come, but the trend globally is in the decarbonisation direction, so nobody says this - they can't get private sector backing, they're trying to rely on the Government for a billion dollar loan in the first instance...

KARVELAS: Why all these caveats then, why not just say you don't support the mine because you clearly don't.

PLIBERSEK: Because it's the wrong thing to do to tear up a contract if the project is already underway. We don't know how far it will be underway. We've got a Government that says they back it, they’ve tried to give it money from NAIF, they're now trying to give it money from the Export Finance Corporation. They're desperate to sink tax payers money into this project, we don't know how far along the way it'll be. Can you imagine the signal it sends to other international investors, including investors who might be wanting to invest in large scale renewable projects if we start tearing up contracts.

KARVELAS: Many thanks for your time.

PLIBERSEK: It's a pleasure, thanks very much for having me.

KARVELAS: Tanya Plibersek is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and she's the Shadow Minister for Women.