TUESDAY, 23 MAY 2017

SUBJECTS:  One Nation, Medicare Levy, Malcolm Turnbull’s cuts to schools


VIRGINIA TRIOLI, PRESENTER: The Government is set to introduce its changes to school funding to Parliament today, so there’ll be an interesting discussion there. Shadow Education Minister and Deputy Labor Leader, Tanya Plibersek joins us now from Parliament House. Tanya Plibersek, good morning, good to talk to you.




TRIOLI:  We’ll get to education in just a moment, I just want to start with our top story this morning and that is the James Ashby tape. Queensland Labor Senator, Murray Watt says he's referring that controversial tape to the Federal Police. Why has he decided to do this?


PLIBERSEK:  Well, I think there are very clearly questions to answer here. I know that a larger part of that recording was released today as well. I think it is very important for me not to comment on the specifics of the case, but, in fact, for the police to be able to investigate whether there has been any illegal behaviour relating to the tape.


TRIOLI: I guess that's the point of the question, because by anyone's assessment, this morning at least, there's no evidence that the issues raised by One Nation staff James Ashby were ever acted on and it's not suggested that any wrongdoing actually occurred, so then, what would be the point of doing this?


PLIBERSEK: Well, I think that that is really a matter for the police to decide, if, in fact, these things have been acted on, then some very serious issues arise. This is a defrauding of the Commonwealth and, of course, tax payers, if it has occurred. But we can't pass judgement without a proper investigation. Let's talk to some of those candidates and get to the bottom of the story.


TRIOLI: It's a tricky one, isn't it? Because we know what riles One Nation supporters is that it seems to them that the major parties are always out to use any means possible to shut their party down. We’re hearing from the Prime Minister that he’s going to take advice from the head of the Federal Police as well. Do you fear that such action will backfire against you and consolidate support for One Nation voters and others?


PLIBERSEK: I don't think that we can give a free pass for potentially criminal behaviour because it might have a political backlash. It is proper for the police to investigate. I'm not going to run a witch-hunt politically on television about this. I think that the proper course of action is to refer it for investigation. That's what we've done. And it's up to the police now to do their proper work.


TRIOLI: Now, why did Bill Shorten dismiss the advice of a majority of his shadow Cabinet to support the Government's across-the-board 0.5% rise in the Medicare levy?


PLIBERSEK: I don't talk about what happened in shadow Cabinet. There was a clear decision made. I certainly take issue with the proposition that it was a majority, but we made a decision that protecting 10 million tax payers, 80% of tax payers from a tax increase, at a time when wages growth is at historic lows, was the right thing to do. We had a clear alternative, which is to keep the temporary deficit levy on people earning more than $180,000 a year. The temporary deficit levy was introduced, the deficit is still there. In fact, next year's deficit will be ten times higher than this Government predicted when they first came to office. If you’ve got a deficit levy, let's keep it while we’ve got the deficit creating such a problem. The idea that this Medicare levy increase is to fund the NDIS is a cheap scare campaign from the Government. The NDIS was clearly fully funded. The Budget papers showed the 10-year savings projections. In fact, I was the Health Minister who had to means test private health insurance as a contribution towards funding the National Disability Insurance Scheme, so I know it wasn’t an easy thing to do but we did fully fund it. And what this Government is saying is that they can afford a $65 billion tax cut for big business. They can afford to give someone earning $1 million a year a $16,400 a year tax drop on July 1, but they can't afford to properly fund the NDIS without taxing ten million Australians more at a time when wages growth is at historic lows. It just doesn't add up. It is not fair - it is fundamentally unfair that ordinary people pay more while big business and people on very high incomes get a tax break and you try to cover that inequity up by saying that it somehow has to happen to fund the NDIS which is already fully funded and the Government should stop frightening people with disabilities by pretending that if this doesn't happen, the services that they rely on, frankly, to get out of bed in the morning, to get to work or to get to school, will somehow be compromised.


TRIOLI:  Tanya Plibersek you say it wasn't a majority of Shadow Cabinet that disagreed with what was announced by Bill Shorten. You clearly have a different figure in mind, but I guess more broadly, the leaking itself from your shadow Cabinet is really rare, so that in itself, doesn’t it, shows us that there must be real disquiet in the Opposition ranks.


PLIBERSEK: I think that the fact that a conversation, a friendly conversation between colleagues with different views makes it to the paper shows how little we talk about what happens in shadow Cabinet and that’s a good thing. At the same time, you have Tony Abbott, actually out there giving this Budget a B - refusing to clap it, saying that it is the second best Budget, that the gold standard Budget was his 2014 Budget.


TRIOLI: That's just Tony Abbott being Tony Abbott.


PLIBERSEK: That's what I mean.


TRIOLI: Are you happy to compare yourself to Tony Abbott, are you?


PLIBERSEK:  The simple point I'm making is we are a united disciplined team ready for Government, and the Government has constant sniping from the backbench about how incompetent they are, and a former Prime Minister haunting the current Prime Minister and Treasurer, talking about how hopeless they are.


TRIOLI: I don't know about that Tanya Plibersek. You've got one Labor source telling the ABC that Anthony Albanese is using, at this stage, just water pistols against his leader, against Bill Shorten, and of course, he's made many implied suggestions just recently that Labor is not taking victories where you should. So if these aren't leadership rumblings, as your side insists, then why aren't you pulling all in the same direction?


PLIBERSEK:  Isn't it a terrific problem to have that we've got people in our team saying that we're not spruiking how well we're doing as much as we should be?


TRIOLI:  I don't know if that is a terrific problem.


PLIBERSEK:  And if you compare that to what's happening in the Liberals where you have got open warfare from Tony Abbott and the people around him making no apologies for the fact that they think that this is the second best Budget and the 2014 Budget is the gold standard. There's just no comparison. We're a very united, disciplined team - it doesn't mean we always agree. It wouldn't be healthy if we had a culture where people didn’t have different points of view. That’s how you make good decisions, you listen to everybody’s point of view, and then you make a decision.


TRIOLI:  Where do you imagine that the education funding issue is going to end? We’ve clearly got a strong indication from the Greens as this legislation enters the house that they're going to support it, they can see a reason for it. Is there a compromise with the states that you can see?


PLIBERSEK:  I would be absolutely shocked if the Greens end up supporting this legislation. I'm not really sure how they missed the central part of this package which is a $22.3 billion cut to schools funding over the next decade because it is right there in the Government's own briefing papers that this is a difference of $22.3 billion. And I was very disappointed to hear the Greens say that years five and six of Gonski are dead because the state Education Ministers don't think that they’re dead. They met with the Federal Education Minister last week and said that they will not accept these funding cuts that amount to about $850 million over the next two years for New South Wales public schools. $630 million over the next two years for Victorian public schools. About $85 million for Tasmanian public schools. About $265 million for South Australian schools and the list goes on. These are enormous cuts to public schools. You've also seen the reaction of the Catholic systemic system. There is very, very strong opposition to this and if the Government, and the Greens, don't listen to that Opposition from teachers, from principals, from parents, from children, then I think that they've got a real mess on their hands and a real problem. I'll tell you that we will be opposing these cuts every day in every possible way.


TRIOLI: Tanya Plibersek, always good to you, thank you.


PLIBERSEK:  Thank you, Virginia.