SUBJECTS: Barnaby Joyce; Government division; Labor’s Evidence Institute for Schools; Chinese students.

MICHAEL ROWLAND, PRESENTER: This morning we are joined in the studio now by the Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek. Tanya Plibersek good morning to you.




ROWLAND: Will the Opposition follow the Prime Minister's announcement and ban Shadow Ministers having sex with their staff?


PLIBERSEK: Well a couple of things. I think the Prime Minister's code of conduct isn't worth the paper it’s written on. He's already not imposing it on his Deputy Prime Minister. The fact that the Deputy Prime Minister has accepted a gift of accommodation from a guy who apparently has benefited to the tune of thousands of dollars from tax payer funds from a Department that the Deputy Prime Minister is in charge of, that's the real issue here. There have been all sorts of questions about the creation of the job to fix a personal problem for the Deputy Prime Minister, moving his former staffer to other offices on high paid jobs that weren't previously necessary apparently. These really are the questions; these already breached the Prime Ministerial code of conduct. What's the point of changing the code of conduct if you're not going to enforce it in the first place?


ROWLAND: Well he's changing it and bringing us back to that announcement though, is this realistic? To ban Ministers from having sex with their staff?


PLIBERSEK: I honestly think if common sense and common decency doesn't tell you it’s a problem to sleep with your staff then changing the code of conduct isn't really going to change that. We know that Malcolm Turnbull is too weak to enforce the code of conduct that already exists, so what changes?


ROWLAND: So there's no need to change the code in that respect?


PLIBERSEK: I think it is a real problem if people are having sexual relations in the office and you have to have proper HR processes to manage conflicts of interest that arise not just between the principals but all of the staff are affected in a situation like that, it can become very awkward and difficult for working relations. But my point is simply that if you've got a code of conduct you're already not enforcing, making a big show of changing that code of conduct doesn't fix anything, it's just a distraction from Malcolm Turnbull's weakness, his inability to actually move Barnaby Joyce on, which we all know is going to have to happen here. If you can't be the Acting Prime Minister you shouldn't be the Deputy Prime Minister.


ROWLAND: So you know, I know, everybody knows the Prime Minister can't move Barnaby Joyce on as you say because that is the prerogative of the National Party.


PLIBERSEK: Does he really have no moral authority? Head of the Government?


ROWLAND: It's the Nats who decide who is their leader and who isn't their leader.


PLIBERSEK: Well I think this really does show that it's a completely dysfunctional government. If between them the Liberal Party and the National Party can't sort this out in the national interest and get back on with governing then we've got a real problem.


ROWLAND: Do you expect him to still be Deputy Prime Minister when parliament resumes?


PLIBERSEK: On the one hand it would seem to me that his position is absolutely untenable. On the other hand does the Prime Minister have any authority to do what everybody seems to think is necessary? The answer to that is no.


ROWLAND: Now you're the Deputy Labor Leader, you're also the Party's education spokeswoman and this morning on Breakfast you're announcing a new policy you'll take to the election. A Labor Government will, if elected, set up what you're calling an Evidence Institute for Schools. What is it and how will it work?


PLIBERSEK: Labor has got $17 billion dollars more on the table over the next decade to fund our schools, we want to properly fund our schools but we want to make sure that every dollar of that money is well invested. Teachers, like doctors, are constantly bombarded with new information, including companies trying to sell products into schools. We need to have an Evidence Institute that takes that new discovery, new information about how kids best learn and converts it into easy to use guidelines that teachers can use in classrooms. Teachers are, as I say, bombarded all the time because we are discovering new things about the most effective way to teach children in the classroom, teachers want to be doing that but they're not going to be reading hundreds of pages of academic journals, we want to give them a way of keeping up to date and using these new discoveries in their classrooms for the benefit of their kids.


ROWLAND: Who will populate this Institute, where will you find the researches to carry out the research?


PLIBERSEK: The very important thing about this is that it will be an independent body. We will set up a board and advisory group of teachers, principals, parents, academic researchers and then we'll leave them to commission new research and most importantly and this is the really important bit, to translate that research. The equivalent in health is we do fantastic research in the laboratory but sometimes it takes a decade or twenty years to change practice at the patient’s bedside. In education that's happening too, we've got some great research, we've got some great practices in classrooms right across Australia but translating that so that it's going into every school, every classroom, helping every child can sometimes be too slow. So that's what the Evidence Institute will do.


ROWLAND: Also before we go, on education, the Chinese Government, you may have seen, has issued yet another warning to Chinese students on Australian university campuses to be concerned for their personal safety, this has been seen as push back against Australian government criticism of China. Should the Chinese Government back off here?


PLIBERSEK: I think one of the reasons that young Chinese people come to Australia for an education and travel to the US and go around the world is to benefit from academic freedom and the ability to have open, vigorous, rigorous debates and Chinese students in Australia should have that right like every other student does. It's one of the ways that we develop our intellectual capacity and I think it's very important that that freedom remains.


ROWLAND: Tanya Plibersek thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast this morning.


PLIBERSEK: Thank you.