SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan for renewable energy; Malcolm Turnbull’s $22 billion cut to schools; support for students with a disability.


JOE O’BRIEN, PRESENTER:The Federal Opposition is indicating it may back a plan for cleaner energy through a low emissions target, a move which could bring an end to 10 years of climate policy wars. Joining me now is Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Tanya Plibersek, welcome. So if this happens it'll be a big breakthrough because a lot of people agree that this has just been a toxic policy area over the last decade or so. Labor is offering support for what it calls a well-designed low emissions target, what's your definition of well designed?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSTION: Well we have to see what the Finkel Review comes up with but you know our preference has been for an emissions intensity scheme which is a scheme that is internal to the energy market. We believe, most business groups, most environmentalists believe that it is the most efficient, least-cost way of getting down carbon emissions. But a low emissions scheme of another design might be appropriate if it brings down emissions sufficiently, if it is cost effective. We want to see the environmental impact and of course what it does to energy prices.

PRESENTER: And would you settle for anything less than 50% of renewables at electricity generation by 2030?

PLIBERSEK: Look, our targets are very clear. We want to work with the Government to provide certainty in this area because certainty means investment, it means jobs, it means energy security, but we want to make sure that this has a good environmental impact as well.

PRESENTER: And so are you willing to get into specifics like that now? You want to stick to that 50% target by 2030.

PLIBERSEK: We really need to see what's recommended in the Finkel Review on Friday. We are open to a discussion in the national interest that meets our energy objectives and very importantly meets our environmental objectives as well. We are committed to increasing the proportion of energy that comes from renewable energy. It’s good for our environment, it’s also good for our economy. If you look around the world economies around the world are de-carbonising. Australia should be at the forefront of that not a laggard.

PRESENTER: And would you countenance any scheme that allowed for say more efficient coal fired, new coal fired power stations?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I don't think any well designed scheme is likely to come up with coal fired power stations because they are both very expensive to build now, they are very expensive to operate and the cost of renewables is coming down all the time. But I don't want to pre-empt this report on Friday. We've had a very distinguished Australian do a great deal of work to address these issues of climate security, of energy security, of making sure that our energy is both affordable but also meets our environmental objectives of reducing carbon emissions.

PRESENTER: And just finally on this subject, Adani has announced this week that it’s committed to pressing ahead with the Carmichael mine in Queensland. Are you happy to see that proceed in the context of the climate debate?

PLIBERSEK: Well I'm very concerned to see a business that originally said it didn't need taxpayer subsidies to operate, now saying that needs at least $1.3 billion of taxpayer subsidy to make it through the front door. I think this is a project that needs to, if it is to proceed, needs to go through all of the proper environmental approvals, it needs to convince Queenslanders and Australians that it will meet its environmental obligations and very importantly, that it also stacks up economically. I don't see how a claim now for $1.3 billion of taxpayer subsidy is a design to convince people that this is a project that stands on its merits.

PRESENTER: So is there any way that Australian Government should be stumping up $1.3 billion for the construction of that rail line?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I have been very clear. I think it’s a real concern and Labor has said that they wouldn't get a billion dollars under a Labor government.

PRESENTER: You've been very vigorous in your prosecution of this argument that with the Government's Gonski plan it would amount to a $22 billion cut to education funding. The ABC’s Fact Check unit has looked into this extensively and concluded that your line on this is misleading and there are a number of commentators who are perplexed at why you're continuing with this -

PLIBERSEK: Let me stop you there. The Government's own briefing document distributed by the Prime Minister's office says this is a $22.3 billion saving compared to Labor's arrangement. Now I think it’s a bit ridiculous for Fact Check to say a saving is not a cut. I think a saving in the education budget translates to any parent and any teacher in Australia as a cut to the resources available for their kids in the classroom.

PRESENTER: This was a Labor plan several years ago, in the Swan era when Wayne Swan was still talking about surpluses…

PLIBERSEK: It’s not. This is legislation that's in the Parliament - it not being debated, its passed by our Parliament, this is the legislation that exists right now -

PRESENTER: This is the Government policy now but what is the Labor policy now? Will Labor's plan for the subsidy per student equal what the Government is planning for the subsidy per student?

PLIBERSEK: Well we've said that we would absolutely replace every dollar of the $22 billion that the Government has cut. So $22 billion extra if Labor is elected at the next election, and under us the greatest increases will go in the fastest time to the neediest schools. When Labor was last in government, 80% of extra funding went to public schools, because public schools are teaching the bulk of kids who've come from a low income background, who have a disability, who are Indigenous, and so on. Under the Government's plan more than 50% goes to private schools. Under our plan all schools get to their fair funding level by 2019, or 2022 in the case of Victoria; under the Government’s plan only 1 in 7 public schools will get to their fair funding level within the decade. Under the Government's plan you'll see public schools in New South Wales, for example, lose $850 million over the next two years alone and The King’s School will get a $19 million increase over the decade. So it’s not fair, it’s not sector blind, and it’s not needs-based. It gives different treatment to government and non-government schools and, taking the New South Wales example, public schools lose $850 million, The King’s School get a $19 million increase.  Take Victoria - they lose $630 million from their public schools and Geelong Grammar gets a $16 million increase, so it’s not needs-based.

PRESENTER: But it’s a fairer funding model than the one that exists at the moment-

PLIBERSEK: No it’s not.

PRESENTER: - and the Government has effectively adopted Labor policy with this, and -

PLIBERSEK: I wish they had Joe. I wish they had.

PRESENTER: So why can't you go with that line. Claim the responsibility for that, claim the kudos for that and say how you're going to improve it, rather than continue with this line which a lot of people say is misleading - that there's been a $22 billion cut -

PLIBERSEK: A lot of people don't say that. Fact Check is wrong to say that a saving and a cut are two different things. That's just wrong. But this is not fairer because what this does in entrench a difference between government and non-government schools. It says that if you're a government school you will only ever get 20% of your funding from the Commonwealth Government, 20% of what it costs to educate a child properly in the school system. But if you're a non-government school you get 80%. So schools that are already over-funded, that are at 130% or 140% or 150% of their fair funding level will get an increase from the Commonwealth Government because the Commonwealth Government might be paying a smaller share. You look at the effect of this on public schools systems. Northern Territory public school children get the worst deal of any state or territory. Tasmanian Public School children get  the second worst deal. So the two poorest school systems in Australia get the two worst deals from this new arrangement. So it’s not fair, it’s not sector blind when you entrench different funding rates for government and non-government schools and it’s not needs-based when Lauriston Girls School in Melbourne with fees of $27,000 a year gets 7 times the funding increase of Anula primary school.

PRESENTER: But David Gonski is standing there supporting the Government, at the announcement of this, David Gonski…

PLIBERSEK: Do you know what? I have never heard David Gonski say he supports this model that the government’s doing. He's on air silence. He's radio silent.

PRESENTER: Well we’ll track him down on that.  We’d better move on.  Today you're raising concerns about the number of students with a disability needing support. Where have these new figures come from that the numbers are going to double over the next year or so?

PLIBERSEK: Well these are numbers that the Government has released in recent weeks. They show that schools previously had about 200,000 students who are identified as having a disability. The new nationally consistent collection of data on students with a disability now shows that there are about 400,000 students in Australia who are identified as having a disability. So all of the states and territories now have a consistent way of collecting data. That's meant that we've identified 200,000 extra students who have got a disability, and what we are very concerned about is while the number of students with a disability has increased by 100%,funding for those students has increased by 3%.

PRESENTER: OK, we will see what the government’s got to say about that later. Tanya Plibersek, thank you so much for coming in and having a chat with us.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks Joe.