SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan for cheaper child care; policy costings; cost of living pressures; Clive Palmer; education cuts; debates.


BARRIE CASSIDY, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, good morning, welcome.


CASSIDY: Is Bill Shorten and Labor treating this as a coronation?

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely not, but of course I'm not surprised by anything that Scott Morrison says. It's been a pretty desperate campaign for him, full of lies about Labor's policies and the reason he's lying about our policies and disparaging Bill in this way is because he's got nothing positive to say. I have been actually really worried that this campaign is probably the dirtiest and the most negative in my 20 years of politics and given that we have still got three weeks to go, I guess I'm worried about how much lower Scott Morrison will go. He's made all the cuts and chaos that we have seen in recent years and then in the last few days these deals with Clive Palmer, the National Party's doing deals with One Nation. So they're focused on running a negative line on us because they have got nothing positive to say about themselves. They can't run on record, it's cuts and chaos; they can't run on their vision for the future, they haven’t got one; they can’t run on unity and discipline because they have still got Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce waiting in the wings to be drafted back into leadership roles.

CASSIDY: We'll get back to certainly the Clive Palmer issue a little later on, but just on the way the two leaders are campaigning - far from a coronation, a lot of the analysis is that Bill Shorten hasn't been as sure-footed as Scott Morrison. In fact, it's Scott Morrison who has most of the energy in this campaign.

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think that's absolute nonsense. I have been campaigning with Bill not for the last two weeks, but for the last six years. We have been travelling all over Australia talking to people, listening to them, about what would make a difference to their lives. Throughout this campaign and throughout the last six years, people have been telling us that the biggest problem they have got is that their wages aren't keeping pace with the cost of living, they're really struggling to make ends meet. That's why we're focusing on better schools and hospitals, investment in child care, other policies that make life better for working people, not more taxbreaks at the top end of town. This really isn't a choice when it comes to the election between, yes, between Bill Shorten and Scott Morrison, but also between a Labor Party that wants to have the world's best schools and hospitals or a Liberal Party that wants bigger tax loops for the top - loopholes for the top end of town.

CASSIDY: If we look at the child care policy that's been announced today, of course, it does come down to that, doesn't it? It's your biggest spend, but it's paid for through higher taxes.

PLIBERSEK: It's paid for because we don't want to see the continuation of tax loopholes that disproportionally benefit people on really high incomes and big multi-national companies. Yes, this is about choices. We made some very tough choices. We have, of course, said that we'll restrict negative gearing, for example, to new properties while we're grandfathering people who have already existing - have properties already, we're grandfathering them. We made tough decisions in other areas as well. That allows us to invest in child care. It means that we can have the same tax cuts or bigger tax cuts for 10 million working Australians, it means we can invest in better schools and hospitals, our cancer package has been phenomenally well received. Everywhere I travel, people tell me stories about the out-of-pocket expenses they or a family member has faced. We can do all of that. We can pay down debt sooner because we're not going to continue with these unaffordable tax loopholes.

CASSIDY: You talk about offering a bigger tax cut but that's the lower end, have you done any calculations to work out whether those in middle and higher incomes would be better off with the Coalition's tax cuts rather than your child care subsidies? 

PLIBERSEK: For 10 million working Australians we have the same or a bigger tax cut. For people up to $48,000 a year, we have got a bigger tax cut under Labor. In addition to that, families up to $174,000 a year will be better off under Labor's child care subsidies as well, increased child care subsidies. We want to take the pressure off working families. We know that people are facing higher out-of-pocket expenses in health care, private health insurance is going up, power bills are going up, child care costs are going up, and wages have flatlined. Barrie, one of the biggest risks to our economy is the fact that wages aren't growing. It's really causing a decline in consumer confidence, there's less money in the economy. You know people aren't going to go to buy a cup of coffee on the way to work if they're not confident their wages are going to keep pace with inflation, they’re not going to take the kids out for pizza on a Friday night if they don’t know whether they are going to have a job next week or what they are going to be paid. This insecurity in our economy, the historic low wages growth are having an impact across the board and people are talking to us about it everywhere we go. They need relief from cost of living pressures, we need bigger tax cuts at the lower end. You know, in what world is it fair that under the Government's proposal, someone on half a million dollars a year will get an $11,000 a year tax cut and an ordinary worker on $40,000 a year will get $11 a week? It's not fair, it's not right.

CASSIDY: Can I just go back, one aspect of the child care policy that we discussed just previously - if you offer subsidies to 100 per cent, is that not an encouragement then to the child care centres to charge more?

PLIBERSEK: It's very important that we work with the ACCC, both to pick up individual instances of child care centres price gouging or inflating their prices unnecessarily, but we also want to work with the ACCC to look across the child care industry, to make sure that we make the reforms that are necessary to prevent inflation in child care. We have seen a 28 per cent increase in recent years under this government in child care costs. Families can't afford to see increases beyond that. We want to make sure that every dollar of this extra $4 billion that we're putting into early childhood education and care goes to families, not to child care centre operator profits.

CASSIDY: All right, just on your portfolio now, on education, can you confirm that given that you’re Deputy Leader, if you're to win the election, I think you get a choice of a portfolio, will you stay in education?

PLIBERSEK: Yes, I love it. It's a terrifically interesting portfolio because we get to make a huge difference to the lives of individual people, but it's also such an important economic driver of Australia's success. If we want to be a high wage, high skill economy, we need to have the best education system in the world.

CASSIDY: Well, can you help sort this out because I think the public get very confused with what they hear. You say the Government is actually cutting education funding. The Government insists funding is at record levels. How can that be?

PLIBERSEK: Well, in fact, the Government says they're cutting funding to education. If you look at the 2014 Budget paper, page 7 of the Budget overview, they have got a graph that shows $30 billion difference between what they're proposing to spend.

CASSIDY: That’s going back five years.

PLIBERSEK: Yes, okay well 2017, Malcolm Turnbull's changes to education funding, the document he distributed to journalists shows a $22 billion difference between Labor's spending and what the Government was spending. Of course, they have restored funding to Catholic and independent schools so the cut exists now for public schools. There's a $14 billion difference between what Labor will spend over the next decade and what the Liberals will spend and people can check on our website, Fair Go For Schools funding website, what their own school will get, how much better off their own school will be.

CASSIDY: But that’s not the same thing,

PLIBERSEK: It is the same thing though.

CASSIDY: Just to give that Malcolm Turnbull example, to say that they're not spending as much as you planned to spend is not the same as cutting?

PLIBERSEK: It's not the same as what we plan to spend, it's what they promised states, what they promised parents. When they said you could vote Liberal, you could vote Labor, there’d be not a dollar difference in your school funding. States and territories had signed agreements with the Federal Government that this Government walked away from. The cost of that is $14 billion over the next 10 years. If they had stuck with what they promised states and territories, schools would be $14 billion better off over the next 10 years. That's what Labor will restore. And Barrie when you say in your budget paper that you have got a $30 billion saving, or when you distribute a document to journalists that says you’ve got a $22 billion saving, a saving is a cut, is a saving, is a cut. When the Government describes changes to education funding as a saving, they are saying that they have cut school funding.

CASSIDY: All right. If we can get on to Clive Palmer now, that you mentioned a little earlier.


CASSIDY: Clearly it seems that even perhaps at an unofficial level, but there were approaches from the Labor Party to Clive Palmer?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I don't think a couple of SMSs is what you'd call a formal negotiation and Bill's made it very clear that we would never have had a formal arrangement with Clive Palmer while he owes his workers $70 million. Don't forget he's now confessed to his own candidates that he will probably spend $70 million promoting himself on the side of every bus, on the side of every building around Australia. He can find the money to put his own face on any billboard that's vacant for - and available, but he cannot find the money to properly pay his workers in Queensland Nickel. The problem is not Clive Palmer, we have always known that he is lazy, that he only turned up to 25 votes out of the 400 last time he was in Parliament, that he fell asleep in Parliament. We know all about that for Clive Palmer. The real problem is why is Scott Morrison doing a deal with him? Why isn't Scott Morrison saying that Clive Palmer should pay back his workforce and pay back the taxpayers that had to bail out his workforce.

CASSIDY: Sure but aren't people entitled to say why a couple of text messages, anyway, why were they sent in the first place?

PLIBERSEK:  Because parties talk to parties all through election campaigns constantly.

CASSIDY: With the intention of getting their preferences and so are you in a position to criticise?

PLIBERSEK:  And sometimes with the intention of finding out just what your opponents are planning to do. I don't think a couple of text messages is the same as entering into a formal negotiation with Clive Palmer and doing a deal. What's in it? What's in it for Clive Palmer. You know that Clive Palmer is only ever about Clive Palmer. What has he extracted from Scott Morrison to get this deal? Scott Morrison is so desperate in this campaign. He's lying about Labor policies and he is doing deals with minor and right-wing parties that will cause chaos - chaos - in the Senate if they're elected.

CASSIDY: Do you think, though, they now have an advantage of some of those Queensland seats?

PLIBERSEK: Well, that's yet to be seen. I think Clive Palmer will come under increasing scrutiny during this campaign and people will ask themselves why they would vote for a man who dudded his own workers. I don't want to see him do to the Senate what he's done at the Hyatt Coolum. The last time he was in the Parliament he started with, what was it, three members in Parliament but he ended up with three different political parties. This man is a walking disaster when it comes to democracy and why Scott Morrison would allow Clive Palmer to take his hopeless work ethic and his questionable policies back into the Australian Senate, well, you'd have to ask Scott Morrison what exactly he's been offered.

CASSIDY: Just finally on the debates - two agreed to, one is on Channel Sevens' second channel. The other one is on Sky. And the one that might go to air on free-to-air is at lunchtime. Is this some kind of unity tickets with the leaders to try to take the pressure off themselves?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's just a bit hard to schedule all the debates you get invited to.

CASSIDY: What about one at primetime, that everybody can watch?

PLIBERSEK:  Well I think with streaming services, Barrie, you'll find most people watch TV whenever they want. But we're talking about three debates, that's the same as the last election campaign. And don't forget - Bill Shorten's doing full court press conferences every single day. He's done more than 80 town hall visits. We're out talking to people every day of the week in electorates right across Australia. I think you'll find that he'll answer many, many questions during this election campaign, as no doubt will Scott Morrison. One of the questions I'd ask is why Scott Morrison's Ministers aren't allowed to participate in debates? I wrote to Dan Tehan, the Education Minister, months ago asking for a debate. He's refused that. Melissa Price, the Environment Minister, she's not allowed to do press conferences anymore. She's well-hidden during this campaign. So yes, I mean it's great to see as many leaders debates we can schedule but I'd like to see some ministerial debates as well.

CASSIDY: Thanks for your time this morning.

PLIBERSEK:  Thank you, Barrie.