RAFAEL EPSTEIN, PRESENTER: Joining us from Canberra, is the Liberal Senator for Victoria, he is also Malcolm Turnbull’s Special Minister of State, his name is Scott Ryan. Scott, good afternoon.




EPSTEIN: Also with him in our Canberra studio is Tanya Plibersek. She is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition; she’s the Shadow Minister for Education. Tanya, good afternoon.




EPSTEIN: Scott Ryan, if I can just get some news out of the way. Sadly Peter Wreath, former Howard Government Minister, he was going to be in the running, I think, to be the leader of the party structure of the Liberal Party here in Victoria. He’s been hospitalised. I don’t know if you know anything about that, but just a response.


RYAN: Look, I only know what’s in the public domain. Peter’s been a friend and even a bit of a mentor to a lot of my generation, and definitely me, so, I only know what is out in the public domain, but I send my best to his family and wish him a speedy recovery.


EPSTEIN: Do you know if he’s still in the running to contest against Michael Cogan**.


RYAN: An email came out from our State Director a couple of hours ago informing, informing the Party that Peter had withdrawn from the race due to his sudden illness.


EPSTEIN: Is that a problem? Do you know? Is anyone else going to contest it? Or does that mean Michael Cogan** just goes on?


RYAN: Well, as I understand, nominations closed several weeks ago. So that would mean Michael is the only nominee.


EPSTEIN: You don’t have intimate knowledge of whether or not someone gets sick and pulls out and there’s a change?


RYAN: Well, I’m not sure how much this interests your listeners but I used to be Chairman of the Rules Committee and I don’t think that there’s that provision there. I don’t think that provision’s there but I, I honestly I haven’t looked. But that, as far as I know, no that’s not possible.


EPSTEIN: Ok let’s talk about the childcare changes, there’s a whole lot of details around the government trying to get some savings through the Senate. If we can try and keep it relatively simple. Are you confident your childcare changes are going to go through?


RYAN: Well, I’ve learnt not to be too confident about my chamber, Raf. I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch. We are, I am hopeful that they will. I think they’re very necessary changes. They redirect a great deal of support to families and particularly women at the lower end of the income scale. And they will make childcare more accessible and work more affordable for a great bulk of Australian families.


EPSTEIN: Tanya Plibersek, do you think those changes will go through? Just the childcare ones?


PLIBERSEK: Look, we have still got a lot of concerns about this childcare package. About a third of families will be worse off. We’re still opposed to the cuts that will pay for them. These are cuts that have been resurrected from the horror 2014 budget, and I’m particularly concerned as well about disadvantaged children. They’ll have their access to childcare cut from twenty-four hours a week to, under this proposal, twelve hours a week. Budget-based funded services, Indigenous services, services in remote communities are likely to lose funding under the proposal as it stands now. I believe there’s a lot of negotiation going on around some of these flaws which we’d like to see improve, but, a number of these things are still up in the air, including the fact that some of these savings are the same nasty savings we’ve kept saying no to, year after year.


EPSTEIN: Scott Ryan, if I can ask you about one of the nasty savings, as Tanya Plibersek calls them, is this correct? There was a, there’s a pause in the indexation of Family Tax Benefit Part B. So, it would no longer go up, say, with inflation? That, I think, was introduced when Tony Abbott was Prime Minister, in his first Budget. I just wanted some clarification; previously the cross-bench had rejected that. Has Nick Xenophon now said that he will accept that?


RYAN: Well, Raf, I’ll be honest with you, I’m not party to the actual negotiations. It not being my portfolio, but …


EPSTEIN:  I guess I’m asking if you think that there are signs of progress.


RYAN: Look, in the Senate this morning there was a change to the, the hours in which we meet. We’re sitting later tonight, tomorrow night and Friday. So, I’m hopeful that will give us the time to deal with it. But the pause that you mentioned, I mean, I actually think that’s particularly fair. It doesn’t take any money from anyone, it freezes indexation and it actually funds substantial redirection of resources, to people for whom childcare costs are a barrier. And that redirection unashamedly goes down the income scale, so people like the politician’s families will be worse off, but people who don’t have jobs that pay as well as ours will be better off.


EPSTEIN:  Is he right, Tanya?


PLIBERSEK: Well, a third of families will be worse off. I think one and a half million families, from the last information I had, will be affected by the Family Tax Benefit changes. So, in one sense, you’re robbing one group of families to pay benefits to another group of families.    


EPSTEIN: Can I ask you to address that point because Scott was saying that you’re not robbing because it’s a freezing and you’re redistributing. Do you accept that argument? 


PLIBERSEK:  Well, no. We’re very concerned about the cuts that supposedly pay for the childcare package. We’ve said no to these cuts before, I don’t know why the Government thinks that we would change our views on the cuts now. You asked the right question; perhaps they’ve got cross-bench support to make these cuts to family payments but, that’s yet to be seen. There’s still a couple of days of negotiations, from what I can tell in the Senate.


EPSTEIN: Yeah, furious negotiations, from the look of it. I’m finding it hard to follow. 1300 222 774 is the phone number. That’s Tanya Plibersek you can hear. She’s the Deputy to Bill Shorten. Scott Ryan helps get the Cabinet agenda together, so if you’ve got a question for them, 1300 222 774. On the Changes to 18C, Scott Ryan, so you know we had a chat to Colin Rubenstein from AJAC at the top of the hour. Can I ask you a question on this? The two most often cited cases: Bill Leake’s and the QUT student’s, almost certain, to not get anywhere if you change the process. So, why go further than simply changing the process? Why change the law as well?


RYAN: Because, as the Prime Minister’s made clear, and there are other cases as well, I think what we saw with the QUT case wasn’t just about the procedure. It was also about the low bar that existed in that case. Let’s be honest, we’re not just talking about the QUT case, something that people might hear about. It was four students who were put through the ringer about a couple of years, some of them had tens of thousands of dollars of debt. They had a ‘go-fund-me’ site to pay their lawyer’s bills; they had to find pro-bono lawyers. The process there was indeed a profound punishment. Even though, there was no real prospect of it going on and it didn’t go on. But we believe that the words: ‘insult’ and ‘offend’ and ‘intimidate’ can be replaced with a meaningful word: ‘harass’, which has a meaningful word, a meaningful definition at law, because we do use the word ‘harass’ and that will do several things. It will make the law entirely workable, it will make the law fair, and it will still leave a strong law in place for conduct that no Australian really wants to see in our community.


EPSTEIN: Why didn’t the Prime Minister make that argument? He was asked five or six times last year if he wanted to change it, before and after the election, he never put forward the argument you just put forward. Why not?


RYAN: Well, I think, as the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General did make clear that the QUT case was underway for a couple of years, and even once we thought it had been concluded. There was a final process that those students, former students by that point, were put through. The Bill Leake case, they are developments that have happened over the last year and the processes, in some cases, have wound up since the election. The Prime Minister, actually before he was Prime Minister, made the point that he thought ‘insult and offend’ was too low a standard and he didn’t, he never said that this was going to happen.


EPSTEIN: He said it wasn’t a priority though. He did say a number of times ‘we have no plans.’ He said that numerous times.


RYAN: But, he also made clear yesterday. He explained why this is something the Government thinks we need to do.     


PLIBERSEK: Well Raf, he said just a few months ago that he wasn’t going to proceed with these changes because he hadn’t taken them to the last election. I think the fact that the Prime Minister keeps referring to two cases that would have been unsuccessful is pretty telling. Last year, there were seventy-seven complaints, more than half were conciliated, some were thrown out, only one actually proceeded to court. So we’ve gone through all this rigmarole. All this public debate, angst, a Prime Minister saying to people that it’s OK to offend, humiliate and so on their fellow citizens, and all for what? For one case that ended up in court last year.


RYAN: That’s complete crap. To say that we, that anyone has said it’s OK to do that is completely unfair.


PLIBERSEK: That is the message that this Government is sending. That it is OK to be a bigot, as your own Attorney-General said.


RYAN: No, he didn’t say that at all. 


PLIBERSEK: He said that people have a right to be a bigot. He did say that.


RYAN: Be very precise with your words, Tanya. There’s a very big difference between ‘the Government has said it’s OK to insult’ or ‘the Government has said it’s OK.’ That’s very different to what you just said when you corrected it. 


PLIBERSEK: So, meanwhile, unemployment’s as high as it was in the GFC. Meanwhile underemployment’s at 1.1 million.



EPSTEIN: Tanya Plibersek, I’m interested in getting onto why issues …


PLIBERSEK: I mean, these are the real issues, aren’t they?


EPSTEIN: I’m interested in that, Can I just ask you both, Scott Ryan, your party clearly feels like it is a restriction on freedom of speech. Are there going to be more things said that have not been said in the past? As a result of the law change?


RYAN: I don’t think so?


EPSTEIN: Then why change the law?


RYAN: Let me read you words from another judgment and this was words from Justice Bromberg in the judgment he delivered. ‘People should be free to fully identify with their race without fear of public disdain or loss of esteem for so identifying.’ I don’t think anyone think anyone thinks that loss of esteem should be a bar by which we threaten people with legal action. The conciliation process Tanya talks about can be quite a gruelling process. If imagine suddenly you’ve received, effectively a summons, to say you have to come to this and you have to go through this process.    


EPSTEIN: So you don’t think what goes into debate, is actually going to change. It’s just whether or not people get sanctioned after that debate.


RYAN: I think that most; I think we have to have a law that is perceived to be fair by the entire community and a law that doesn’t …


PLIBERSEK: Well, the people who’ve experienced discrimination don’t really like the idea that it’s going to be easier to offend or insult them.


RYAN: Neither do people who have been dragged through two years of processes like the QUT students.  


PLIBERSEK: So fix the process. I mean, there’s widespread agreement that the process could be a better process.


RYAN: And that cannot be abrogated by how low the bar is.


EPSTEIN: Tanya, do you think what is said in public will change as a result of this?


PLIBERSEK: Yeah, of course I do. I think this gives the green light to a whole lot of things that don’t make us a more cohesive or a more united community and I think, frankly, a time when we want a strong and united  and cohesive community for national security reasons, if no other, that’s not a good thing. That’s a backward step.


EPSTEIN: Look, 13, Scott …


PLIBERSEK: I thought it was really, It was really telling that Ann Aly, when she asked this question of the Prime Minister yesterday, they made the point that it’s OK for people, like the Prime Minister, who have never experienced this sort of hate speech, to say that the protection’s not aren’t necessary.


RYAN: That’s one of the most dangerous things to say in our community, that somehow laws should be crafted and opinions should be offered, solely by those who can, who have experienced. I’m not dismissing any of that …


PLIBERSEK: I’m not saying any of that …


EPSTEIN: Scott Ryan, Tanya Plibersek, let me…


RYAN: That’s what it is, an attempt to dismiss others…


EPSTEIN: Let me insert a caller into the conversation, it’s fourteen minutes to five o’clock. You can hear Scott Ryan there, from the Government. Tanya Plibersek’s from the Labor party. Tas, is from Warrigal. Tas, what did you want to say?


TAS: Thanks Raf. Thanks for taking my call. I just want to ask a question to Mr Scott Ryan. Why Government is trying to change the Racial Discrimination Act 18C. Is it a priority for the Government at the moment? Or what are the key priorities that they should get on to make sure that all Australians are having a fair go in terms of job, employment prosperity - number one. And number two, as you know and as you have picked up from my accent …


EPSTEIN: Keep it brief if you can, Tas, yep. 


TAS: Yeah, yeah, as you’ve picked up from my accent, I am coming from a different background. I am new Australian, going to be, and I really feel terrified when they are changing that, you know, racial, you know, vilification, hatred, into so-called, you know, harassment and trying to water down the law.




TAS: Why? Why? Have they truly considered? What is going on? … 


EPSTEIN:  The impact …


TAS: The impact in the minority community


EPSTEIN: Understood, look Tas, if I can …


TAS: No, no, no, let me ask this last question. Do they have any real connect with the community, at all? 




TAS: Sitting at the Ministry, sitting in the Government. I mean, what’s their roles and responsibilities …


EPSTEIN: Look, Tas, I want to try and … it’s not, it’s not a chance, sadly, to get everything that you want to say. Scott Ryan, he’s terrified and he wants to know what your Government’s priorities are.


RYAN: Well, firstly, on the priorities, we’re going to be here in the Senate until midnight tonight and tomorrow night and probably some of Friday, dealing with the key priority we were talking about earlier, childcare, because we know that makes a meaningful difference to people trying to get jobs. We’re preparing a budget which will come out in May, which is going to be focused on delivering our election promises and making it easier for business to employ more people…


EPSTEIN: And how he’s feeling about the law change?


RYAN: So, in response to that issue – what I would say is that, the law as it stands doesn’t do what it was said it was going to do when it was introduced in 1995. And Australia’s most successful record, globally on immigration success and multicultural society was very successful before this law existed. Because this law came into place in 1995. I don’t think Australians have a reason to feel afraid of one another. I think that’s a dark side of what Labor are doing. They are trying to stoke fear…


EPSTEIN:  And he wants to know what your connections are. He doubts your connections to the community; I suppose that would sum up Tas’ fear. He doubts, he thinks you’re stuck away in Canberra and not connected to the community.


RYAN: I get away from Canberra as often as I can and come home. So, that’s something that’s levelled at a lot of politicians. We do our best, we have to travel a lot, we all spend twenty-six odd weeks, if not more, on the road or in Canberra. But I think that Australians have faith in one another and this is what I’m concerned about. The Labor party’s approach, it is to stoke fear, it is to tell Australians that they can’t trust one another. They did it on the Plebiscite, where, the reason they offered was ‘some Australians will say terrible things,’ rather than the 99.9% who will repudiate them.


EPSTEIN: Tanya Plibersek, just briefly, you’re stoking fear.


PLIBERSEK: Well, look, I think it’s very easy if you’ve never been the subject of the sort of hate speech that we’re talking about to say that these fears are unreasonable or exaggerated. It’s not until you’ve experienced it that you understand the deep and profound effect that it can have on you, on your life, on your family. But I agree with the other Scott, Scott Morrison who says these changes won’t create a single other job. That’s the other thing, it’s extraordinary to me that a Government that’s seeing unemployment rise, wages fall, debt rise, deficit rise, is actually focused on this instead of their day job.


EPSTEIN: The Deputy Leader of the Labor party, Tanya Plibersek, is in our Canberra studio. So too, is Scott Ryan, Malcolm Turnbull’s Special Minister of State, some of your texts. This is from Kat, ‘they just don’t get it, the Libs, they are a gang of privileged, rich Anglos,’ and someone else saying ‘it’s nice to know that Tanya Plibersek thinks so little of the Australian people.’ I just read those ones out because they were pithy. A lot of the other texts are longer. Tanya Plibersek, you’re Shadow Education Minister as well I know you’re keen to prosecute arguments on Gonski funding. Can I just ask you, Ken Boston spoke recently on the Gonski Review, he says that the ALP and Government ignored their key recommendation that funding needed to be sector blind and needs-based. I suppose the simplification of that is, you should have taken the money away from the wealthy private schools and given it to poorer private schools. Is he right?


PLIBERSEK: No, he’s completely wrong. The program we signed up to was a sector blind needs-based funding program that sought to reach schooling resource standard for every school across Australia. Now, Ken and others have criticised the fat that we didn’t cut harder at the upper end like we’ve said to the Government, if they want to come to us with a proposal that brings over-funded schools down to a fairer funding level more quickly, well we’re open to that. But the real issue here …


EPSTEIN:   So you’ll only propose it if the Government agrees with you?


PLIBERSEK: Well the real issue here is the $30 billion that this Government is cutting from schools right across Australia; it’s an average of $3 million per school for every school across Australia over the next decade and we’re not going to get diverted by the archaeon side-issues. The real issue is that in the 2014/15 Budget on page seven of the budget overview, it shows that school funding will fall compared with funding under Labor by $30 billion over a decade. That means all the reforms we want to do: improving teacher quality, better initial teacher training, more support for our teachers to increase their skills and knowledge all the time, more individual attention in the classroom, better maths, literacy, science specialist programs, more help for kids who are falling behind, extension for gifted and talented kids, none of this can happen without some extra support, some extra funding. And it’s extraordinary that we now have a Government, only a Government that’s cutting $30 billion in funding would try and say that extra funding in our schools wouldn’t make a difference. 


EPSTEIN: Scott Ryan, is she right?


RYAN: Well, it wasn’t one deal, it was twenty-seven. It was a deal that saw some students in some states go up $1500 more than some students in other states. It’s not us saying that, it’s one of the authors of the plan, who also said ‘providing the so-called last two years of Gonski funding will not deal with the fundamental problem facing Australian education.’ …


EPSTEIN: I can make the same point to you Scott Ryan …


RYAN: There is no cut. Funding’s going up. Labor made promises which they didn’t have in their Budget. Funding has gone up from 16, it will go up to $20 billion, and it is needs-based, as Ken Boston has said, both sides have but he has also criticised other aspects of both sides of politics. 


EPSTEIN: But don’t both sides, Scott Ryan, you both need to take money away from, and agree to take money away from the over-funded private schools, so that you can give it to the under-funded private and public schools. I mean that’s what the Gonski Review recommended and neither side of politics has embraced that.


RYAN: Well, we’re not the ones running a misleading campaign, saying that we have when we signed a deal…


PLIBERSEK: The reason. Can I just address this Raf, the reason there’s a number of different arrangements is because every state and territory started in a different position. Some were funding their schools better. Then you’ve got agreements with the Catholic Sector and the Independent Sector, it is misleading to pretend that the reason there’s a whole lot of different deals is because there was, you know, special side deals. Every state and territory started in a different position. Western Australian system, for example, was better funded; it was already closer to the schooling resource standard than some of the other states who I might mention that’s why we’ve got different trajectories, because there’s different starting points but the end point is the same. And we say the poorest schools need the fastest increase in the fastest time.


EPSTEIN: Do you agree on that Scott Ryan? Poorer schools, fastest increase over time?


RYAN: We are actually ensuring there is needs-based funding.


PLIBERSEK: That’s not true


RYAN: The problem we had was that no money was provided for this. It’s like what the Labor party did on the universal access for kindergartens. It led to dramatically different levels of Commonwealth funding for people in different states which has a real fairness issue. And we know, from the last few years, even just recently, that we need to focus on other things in our schools - teacher training, ensuring teachers have correct skills to go into the classroom, Labor’s got this Gonski slogan that doesn’t reflect what they did in Government, when they had these separate deals. They funded students very differently in different states. They’re trying to hide that record


EPSTEIN: Can I end or can I?


PLIBERSEK: Look, two things …


EPSTEIN: If I can, if I can, if I can, Tanya. If I can just try and end on a totally different note. If I can, a quick comment …


PLIBERSEK: Except there’s two things that are wrong with what Scott said …


EPSTEIN: Look, I’m sure, not everyone gets to reply to every point, forgive me. Do either of you think that Pauline Hanson’s policies are racist. If you’re banning Muslim immigration and calling it a totalitarian ideology, do either of you think that is racism? Scott Ryan?


RYAN: I think to say that ‘we were being invaded by Asians’ is racist. I’m not sure on a technical level, whether saying that about Muslims, I profoundly disagree with it whether it’s racist, it qualifies as a prejudice that I am not comfortable with, I’m not trying to pick, I agree with you. But, it has been put to me that you can’t say it’s racist because it’s not about a race, it’s about a religion, a culture.


EPSTEIN: Tanya Plibersek, is it racist? Is Pauline Hanson’s party’s policies racist?


PLIBERSEK: I think you’d have to say ‘yes’. It’s not that they’re, that’s not the only problem with them. Here’s a party that says Vladimir Putin’s a ‘good guy’ that is prepared to overlook the fact that he’s ultimately responsible for the downing of an aircraft that cost hundreds of lives including thirty-eight Australians. They’re prepared to say that vaccinations should be optional for parents, that they should do their own investigations. They’re the people that say that Port Arthur was a hoax. That 9/11 was a hoax. We had one of their Senator’s, just a couple of days ago; say that sexual harassment laws should be weakened. I mean, there’s a string of extraordinary policy pronouncements from this party. A string as long as your arm.


EPSTEIN: Tanya Plibersek, Scott Ryan, thank you for your time today.


PLIBERSEK: Thank you


RYAN: Thanks, Raf


EPSTEIN: Tanya Plibersek is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Scott Ryan is Malcolm Turnbull’s Special Minister of State.