SUBJECTS: Newspoll; Energy policy; School funding; Discrimination in employment at schools.

PATRICIA KARVELAS, PRESENTER: My first guest tonight is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Tanya Plibersek. Welcome to National Wrap.


KARVELAS: Let's start with the opinion poll that stops the nation. Newspoll is going to drop tonight. Peter Dutton says we're heading for a Shorten Government. Are you as confident?

PLIBERSEK: I don't take anything for granted, Patricia. I think certainly we've got a very strong set of policies out there. We've been talking to the Australian people for the last five years about what a Shorten Labor Government would do. Bill's led a very united team and a very disciplined team so we hope that we might have the opportunity of implementing our agenda for the Australian people but we certainly don't take it for granted.

KARVELAS: On energy, do you want to see Liddell close in 2022?

PLIBERSEK: It's not a matter of whether I want it to or whether Labor wants it to or doesn't want it to, we've got a company that owns an asset that they say has reached the end of its natural life and they are managing a transition where they would phase out that power station and replace that energy generation with more gas, renewables, battery storage, and so on. I mean, I wasn't a supporter of privatising the energy industry in New South Wales but the New South Wales Government did that and certainly the Federal Liberals have traditionally been supporters of electricity privatisation. It seems a bit bizarre to me now that you've got the right wing of the Liberal Party with a five year plan for Liddell power station that looks something like a renationalisation of the electricity production sector. It's just a nutty kind-of concept. You've got an old power station that it's owners say is no longer fit for purpose, and the right wing of the Liberal Party think they know better.

KARVELAS: Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg has doubled down on the Governments’ support for its sale, saying it's in the public interest to keep it going beyond 2022. Is it in the public interest? Because you say you don't have a position but actually the Government does have the right to talk about what is in the public interest, doesn't it?

PLIBERSEK: Well they can make a case, sure. My understanding is that to keep the power station going you'd have to spend about a billion dollars upgrading it. Now if you're going to spend a billion dollars to keep it going for another five years, that means you've got to recoup that billion dollars in some way. It means potentially very much higher power prices because of that. Otherwise you're talking about, what, a billion dollar taxpayer investment? That just seems extraordinary to me. We've got the Liberals that wanted to get rid of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation that was co-investing in renewable energy and making money for taxpayers, they wanted to get rid of that because they thought that was an unfair subsidy. So we've gone from a Liberal Party that first of all had its Direct Action Policy, which was direct payments to polluters to keep polluting. Now they want to renationalise electricity production in some sort of Soviet-inspired back to the future-

KARVELAS: Sure that's the backbench, but Josh Frydenberg has all but confirmed, according to The Guardian at least, that he has personally lobbied board members of AGL Energy in an effort to force a sale of the ageing Liddell power plant. Do you think that's appropriate? I mean, that the Government do that?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's extraordinary, and I think it would be much better if Josh Frydenberg was focussed on a national plan for our energy market that saw cheaper power-

KARVELAS: Well he is, he's working on a National Energy Guarantee.

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, and what have we seen of the National Energy Guarantee now? We've got the right wing of the Liberal Party again, you've got people out there saying we support a National Energy Guarantee in principle but it has to make room for new coal. Well that's not letting the market decide least-cost production, and it's certainly, if you're saying that the National Energy Guarantee has to be structured in a way to encourage new investment in coal, then you're saying we're never going to meet our pollution reduction targets, the same targets that the Government signed up to with the Paris Agreement. And this is an energy policy mess still from the Government, five years in. They've had Emissions Intensity Schemes, they've floated a variety of different propositions. They're now talking about a National Energy Guarantee but we're no further down the track with real action at all.

KARVELAS: This morning you said that you thought the Commonwealth should commit more than 20 per cent towards public schools, but what percentage should that be set at?

PLIBERSEK: We should be getting every child in every school in every state and territory to their fair level of funding -

KARVELAS: So what would that percentage be from the Commonwealth?

PLIBERSEK:  - and we said, when we were in Government, we set that at 95 per cent of the schooling resource standard and we said to states and territories that we will work with you to get to 95 per cent of the schooling resource standard for every child in every school. What the Government has said is that we will only ever contribute 20 per cent of the cost of educating a child in a public school and 80 per cent of the cost of educating a child in a private school. What that means in effect is that places like the Northern Territory, that had a higher Commonwealth government investment, because if you look at Northern Territory public schools you see they need the extra help, and you look at the Northern Territory's capacity to raise revenue and it's very low.

KARVELAS: So we know those circumstances. What are you prepared to raise it to and will it be a consistent amount between states?

PLIBERSEK: The consistency argument from the Government is absolute nonsense. You could just as easily say every person in every state should get the same per capita distribution of GST funding. You could say well it's more consistent if every person paid 20 per cent-

KARVELAS: So you don't think consistency does matter, to be clear?

PLIBERSEK: No. I think what matters is that every child gets adequate funding and that the Commonwealth government and the states work together to ensure that happens and our agreement with the states was that we put in two dollars extra for every dollar extra that the states put in to get every child in every school to their fair funding level. Now our target was 95 per cent of the schooling resource standard for every child. The Government has got a target that's 20 percent for public school kids and 80 percent for private school kids. Now-

KARVELAS: But you don't know yet how much higher than 20 per cent the Commonwealth would invest under Labor?

PLIBERSEK: We're looking at getting to a fair funding level for every child in every school right across Australia and just as the Government has different trajectories to get to their of 20 per cent funding for every public school kid and 80 percent funding for every private school kid, we would have to work with the states and territories to get to those fair funding levels right across the country. Patricia, we do focus a lot on the funding mechanism. What really worries me is that the $17 billion that this Government has cut from school education, it's not just dollars, it's the capacity within schools to give individual attention to kids, to pick up kids who are falling behind and make sure that they catch up, to extend kids who are gifted and talented, to make sure that the curriculum is rich, that it of course covers the basics - reading, writing, maths, science, and coding - makes sure that kids have the opportunity to extend themselves with art and languages and music and so on as well. And that's what a rich curriculum looks like. It means giving principals more say about who's teaching in their school and how a great education is delivered, having principals leading learning in their schools. All of this is compromised, not just by the Government's funding cuts but by the fact they have completely, with those funding cuts, trashed Labor's agenda for reform in schools.

KARVELAS: Tanya Plibersek finally, with the Ruddock Review underway into religious freedoms, does Labor think that religious schools need the right to hire and fire staff as they choose, even on the grounds of sexuality?

PLIBERSEK: There's about 280,000 teachers in Australia and I reckon what principals are interested in and what parents are interested in is how good those teachers are at teaching kids in the classroom, not what's going on in their home lives. So I would be very concerned about schools letting teachers go because of what's going on in their home lives, but my experience in schools in classrooms right across Australia is that nobody's asking those questions. What principals want to know is what you can teach in the classrooms, and that's what's important to parents too.

KARVELAS: Tanya Plibersek thank you so much for your time tonight.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you Patricia.