SUBJECTS: Repeal of Medevac Bill; Australia’s reading, maths, and science scores plummet; Angus Taylor and Prime Ministerial standards.

LISA MILLAR, PRESENTER: To Federal politics, it's Parliament's last sitting day of the year. And this week has seen the Medevac laws repealed and a major global study reveal the failures in Australia's education system. For more, the Shadow Minister for Education, Tanya Plibersek, joins me now from Canberra. Good morning and thank you for joining us.
MILLAR: Look I'll get on to education in a minute because I do want to discuss with you what we learned over the last day or two in regard to that, but can I start with the repeal of the Medevac Bill. If the by-product is, and there is still a lot to learn about this of course, but if the by-product is removing the remaining 400 or so asylum seekers, refugees, and getting them to New Zealand, is that not a good thing as far as Labor is concerned?
PLIBERSEK: Well we've been arguing for the government to accept New Zealand's generous offer for years now. I think the initial offer was 250 people a year. If we had accepted that offer years ago, we would have seen the resettlement of hundreds of people by now. So, of course, we’re supportive of resettlement in New Zealand but we don't know that that's the deal. This is a secret deal between Senator Lambie and the government and we don't know whether the government will uphold its end of the deal. Medevac was not a complicated piece of legislation, it wasn't a complicated issue. It was simply that people who were too sick to be treated on Manus Island or Nauru could be brought to Australia for medical treatment. The Minister retained the ability to reject people on character grounds, he did that on a number of occasions, so essentially what the Senate agreed to do yesterday is deny sick people medical treatment in Australia and I would hope that if the government has promised to accept the New Zealand offer, that happens quickly. But I don't think there was any need to deny sick people medical treatment to get to this place. The government should have accepted the offer years ago.
MILLAR: And you're suggesting that there's no guarantee the government would uphold the deal, but surely they'd have to continue relying on Jacqui Lambie's support, so if they have made this arrangement, she has delivered her vote based on this, then they'd have to follow through, that would be crazy not to?
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I think in a normal world that would be true but we've got a pretty shifty government, pretty shifty Prime Minister so we'll see.
MILLAR: On the education front yesterday, our program and other media were overwhelmed with people messaging in, upset about these numbers, upset about what’s going on with education. Watching Question Time yesterday, you were firing back at the government, blaming them. Isn't that part of the problem, that people are sick of the blame game?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I agree. But you've got a government that has cut funding to schools and turned its back on reform. It has to take some responsibility and we saw the Federal Education Minister yesterday trying to blame the states. I was simply saying that this is a national problem. The results have gone backwards in every state and territory, in every school system and it needs some national leadership. I don't think that's a controversial thing to say. We've got from being one of the best countries in the world, when these tests started, for reading, maths and science, around the top of the pack, to barely in the middle. And our analysis shows that if this trend continues, by 2030 we'll be around the bottom of the pack. So for example, on the current trend we'll go from being the fifth best country in the OECD for maths, so amongst the developed world we were the fifth best, we'll go to being, on this current trajectory, the fifth worst country in the OECD for maths.
MILLAR: But what would you do right now? What would you do?
PLIBERSEK: Oh well, there's so much that we need to do differently. We need to reform our schools to make sure that our kids are getting the basics under their belts. In those early years in particular, we need to supercharge investment. One of the reasons we did needs-based funding is so that schools themselves could decides how to allocate resources and I saw many primary schools, in those early years of needs-based funding, do things like hire literacy specialists so their kindy kids, so that kindy, Year 1, Year 2 - when children are getting the building blocks of their education we can invest in those early years. We need to know-
MILLAR: But it is a trend that has been going on…
PLIBERSEK: Sorry Lisa, can I give you a couple-
PLIBERSEK: That's not the only answer, there is a few things we need to do. We need to lift the standards to get into teaching degrees, we've seen a horrific decline in the standards and the marks you need to get into teaching degrees. High-performing systems around the world take their teachers from the top 30 per cent of academic achievers. Teaching used to be a prestigious, sought-after job in Australia. We need to make sure again that people are competing to get into teaching degrees the way that they compete to get into medicine. And, of course, we need to address funding. There will be parents this weekend who are on the tongs at the Bunnings barbeque raising money for their school. This government cannot continue to pretend that funding doesn't matter. Of course it does.
MILLAR: I just want to touch briefly on the Angus Taylor issue. It would appear – there’s only one more sitting day - that Angus Taylor likely to survive as much as the Opposition has tried to bring him down over this. We've learnt that reports of the identification of a staff member in his office who obtained the documents. You haven't really made any impact here on this - he’s going to get through it OK, isn't he?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I think this is a question for the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister had any courage he would enforce his ministerial standards and sack Angus Taylor. Honestly, what we are being asked is to believe is that there is a document on the City of Sydney website, it's there correctly on one date. It's there correctly on another date. Magically on a third date, a document with completely different numbers is downloaded only by the Minister and then the document goes back to having the correct numbers on the next date and the next date.
MILLAR: So should the staff member stay in the office?
PLIBERSEK: Ministers are responsible for their staff. That's our Westminster tradition. If the staff member has done something wrong, then the Minister should come into the Parliament and say this is what has happened, this is the truth, I’m sorry, I was misled, if he was misled. But he must account for the fact that he has used a document that is plainly a forgery and the Prime Minister needs to make him account for that. I mean, this comes on top of a Minister who has mis-used his Ministerial powers to benefit a company related to his family, in the Jam Lands saga. He has not properly accounted for shareholdings in a trust. I don't know what it takes to get sacked in Scott Morrison's government but surely this misleading and using his position for personal benefit really does tip over the edge into inappropriate Ministerial behaviour. The Prime Minister has a responsibility to enforce - they're the Prime Ministerial standards - they're his standards and if he is not prepared to do that he should explain why.
MILLAR: Tanya Plibersek, I bet there will be a few people relieved that the end of the year is sight. Thanks for joining us.
PLIBERSEK: Thank you Lisa.