SUBJECTS:  Government suspends Parliament; Labor’s National Schools Forum

KUMI TAGUCHI, PRESENTER: Deputy Labor Leader Tanya Plibersek says the Government has mounted an attack on democracy. She spoke to political reporter Julie Doyle about this as well as Labor's schools forum which is being held in Melbourne today.

JULIE DOYLE, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek thanks for joining me from Melbourne this afternoon where you are holding your schools forum. We will talk about that in a moment but firstly to the news we’ve had today that the House of Representatives sitting for next week has now been cancelled. Was the Opposition consulted about this?

TANYA PLIBERSEK MP, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Not to my knowledge. In my view this is an extraordinary attack on our Australian democracy. This is the sort of thing that a dictator would do. When democracy becomes inconvenient, to suspend it. The Parliament has before it dozens of pieces of legislation that we could be talking about next week, including legislation that the Government says is very important, like their $65 billion of big business tax cuts, but because democracy has become inconvenient, they're not going to go ahead with Parliament next week. It is extraordinary.

DOYLE: Did Labor have plans to try to exploit the numbers in the House next week with the Government down those couple of seats?

PLIBERSEK: Well we were going to try and pursue a Labor agenda, of course we were. If we could have done something about penalty rates we would have. If we could have done something about a banking Royal Commission, we would have.  But that's no reason for a Government to suspend Parliament. The fact that they have lost control of the Parliament, that's their responsibility. It's not a reason to suspend democracy in this country.

DOYLE: Well the Government argues that it wants to keep the focus on the same sex marriage legislation and the House can't deal with that until it's dealt with by the Senate, so Christopher Pyne was saying today there's the need to hold off...

PLIBERSEK: ...what nonsense Julie. I’m sorry, if you will forgive me, this is absolute nonsense.  Parliament deals with dozens of pieces of legislation at any one time. We have legislation before the House of Representatives that we could debate next week about tax, about the National Disability Insurance Scheme, about criminal laws, about child support. We've got legislation that would make a big difference to people's lives for positive or negative, and the Government is saying that they're not prepared to debate any of those pieces of legislation because they're a couple of numbers down. It is not acceptable for them to suspend democracy because they can't run their own Parliament because they can't background check their own candidates properly.

DOYLE: Is there anything Labor can do about this?

PLIBERSEK: I don't know, Julie. I think it is up to the Australian people to let the Government know that the Government doesn't get to suspend democracy in this country when democracy becomes inconvenient.

DOYLE: What about sitting longer? The Government is saying the option now of sitting that extra week on the week starting December 11. Doesn't that make up for the fact we're missing next week?

PLIBERSEK: So, next week, a normal parliamentary scheduled sitting week, will be cancelled, meaning that important legislation will be delayed even further. The expense of the Parliament won't be much reduced because it was expected that that week would be a sitting week. If we bring Parliament back for an extra week, we know that that incurs extra costs, unexpected costs. I think it is absolutely incredible that we now have a Government that changed the budget week because it was inconvenient for them to have the budget when they wanted it, and now they're actually suspending Parliament for a week, changing the weeks that Parliament sits. Maybe there will be an extra sitting week, maybe there won't. Honestly, it is like a dictatorship, having a Parliament that only sits when the leader finds it convenient for the Parliament to sit.

DOYLE: Let's move on now to what you're doing down in Melbourne. You're holding a national schools forum, where you have brought together all sorts of groups involved in the education sector. What are you hoping to achieve from this today?

PLIBERSEK: We've brought together parents, teachers, principals, education experts, because Labor knows that when we spend $17 billion more on our schools than the Government is prepared to spend, that Australian taxpayers want every single dollar to make a difference to children's learning. So today we're talking about how we can make the biggest difference with that extra $17 billion. We've heard from teachers and principals, education academics, about how we can best do that. That means making sure that we know where every child is up to in their learning, making sure that every day is a learning day, making sure that children progress every day that they are at school. Making sure every school is a great school, making sure we're attracting and retaining the best and brightest into the teaching profession. We've had some fantastic discussion, fantastic proposals for reform already today and I'm looking forward to this afternoon as well.

DOYLE: So really this is about the ideas that will form the policy that Labor will take to the next election?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we've already got very clear ideas, but there's always room for refining them. When we were last in Government, we had the National Education Reform agreements where we demanded from the states improvements to the way they ran schools, where we worked cooperatively with schools and school communities to make sure we were getting the best outcomes for our kids. So we have a strong foundation to build on. That's been thrown out by the Liberals. They are now in their fifth year of government and as well as cutting $17 billion from schools, they have junked Labor's agenda for school reform. We are rebuilding the agenda for school reform and that means looking at things from initial teacher education, right through continuing professional development for our teachers, the right resources in our schools, access to allied health, for example, speech pathology, occupational therapy, making sure that our disability systems support children with disabilities in our schools and our schools and disability systems work well together. Making sure principals get the support their need to be excellent school leaders. There is a big agenda that Labor has committed to but there's absolutely no harm in making sure that we continue to check in with the people who are in the schools every day to make sure we've got the best and strongest evidence for what works.

DOYLE: The Government is holding a review as well, looking at very similar areas that you mention, this is the one that's being done by David Gonski, looking into how to achieve academic excellence in schools. Why not allow that process to run its course?

PLIBERSEK: We will read that report with great interest when it's released. Indeed, I've met with the panel already. That doesn't replace Labor doing our own work on policy reform, guided by our own principles that say that every school should be a great school, that prioritises equity and excellence in our schooling system. We know that this Government has no agenda for school reform. They're in their fifth year and the reforms that states already agreed to, already signed up to, have been junked by this Government. There's no ambition in their fifth year of office for our school system or our schoolkids from this Government. We're not content to wait.

DOYLE: Alright, Tanya Plibersek, we'll leave it there, thank you very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thanks Julie.